Reality Bites (1994)
Part of me feels like all I need to say here is Winona Ryder + Janeane Garafolo + Ethan Hawke + Ben Stiller = Awesome, but I guess I’ll elaborate. I’ve watched a lot of movies and TV shows that shaped my twisted expectations of high school (Dazed and Confused, for example), but deep down, I always knew they wouldn’t mirror my real experience. However, I could actually see myself, post-college, ending up like Winona Ryder in Reality Bites—with a degree in something creative, trying to find a way to do something without selling my soul, and living off gas station snacks because my you-gotta-make-it-on-your-own dad gave me his gas card as a graduation gift. And guess what? I kinda did. And thanks to Reality Bites, I was prepared. It provided me with a healthy dose of, you know, reality, when Lelaina said things like, “I just don’t understand why things just can’t go back to normal at the end of the half hour, like on the Brady Bunch or something,” and Troy replies, “Well, ’cause Mr. Brady died of AIDS.” But more important, it also taught me that even when things weren’t turning out how I hoped or expected, I could always cheer myself up by dancing to the Knack in a gas station with friends. –Stephanie

Hey Arnold!
1996-2004, Nickelodeon

Hey Arnold! is my cat’s favorite cartoon. I’m serious. Usually she just fritters away her days sleeping and ignoring everything, but she’ll stare at the TV screen, totally alert for at least 30 seconds every time I watch this show on Netflix. What that cat finds so appealing, I’ll probably never know, but when I was younger, I lived vicariously through the characters on this ’90s Nickelodeon classic, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I continue to do so. Kind-hearted, idealistic, dreamboat Arnold and his ragtag posse traipsed around their urban neighborhood, often at night, without adult supervision. They ruled the streets, basically doing whatever they wanted, and they were only in the fourth grade! If you wish you could have searched for hidden treasure, played baseball in a vacant lot behind some apartment buildings, raced go-karts, and thrown a raging rooftop party when you were a kid, or if, like Helga Pataki (Arnold’s caterpillar-browed secret admirer), you’ve ever considered making a bubblegum statue of your crush, or if you’re just looking for something to watch with your cat, then you must start making your way through this show’s five seasons immediately! –Amber

All Over Me (1997)
From the opening scene in this movie, a snarling “HELLO!” courtesy of Babes in Toyland, All Over Me is a total revelation. Or at least it was to me when I randomly came across it on HBO in the wee hours of the morning. Claude (Alison Folland) and Ellen (Tara Subkoff) are best friends, and they do all the things that best friends do, like play guitar and hang out. There’s an underlying sexual tension, though, which makes Ellen’s boyfriend, Mark, jealous (from the first moment he appears on the screen, you totally know he’s bad news). Claude meets this cool gay dude Luke at the pizza place where she works (with Wilson Cruz from My So-Called Life!), and the next day she wakes up to find out that he has been stabbed to death. She knows Mark was involved, but Ellen tells her that if she goes to the police, Ellen herself might get in trouble, so she keeps it to herself. Meanwhile, Claude goes out at night and sees this awesome band and meets this really cool pink-haired chick named Lucy (Leisha Hailey, then of the Murmurs), and they hang out and Claude cries to Patti Smith’s “Pissing in a River” and they eventually make out. This movie is so incredible and moody and even though I did not live in New York City, nor was I ever involved in any murders, the whole attitude and vibe here felt so true to me. It’s about the kinds of things girls will do for friendship, about loving someone so much that you know you have to walk away, and about doing the right thing for yourself, but not in a smug way. This movie might change your life, and the soundtrack is the best (Sleater-Kinney, a SICK song by Helium, and the most gut-wrenchingly REAL “loving the wrong person” tune by the Murmurs). –Laia

The Fugitive (1993)
Harrison Ford stars in this totally amazing adventure movie as Dr. Richard Kimble, a doctor who has been wrongfully convicted of murdering his beloved wife. Despite the fact that he witnessed a one-armed man escape from his house shortly after he discovers his dying wife, the police don’t buy his story and try to take him into custody. Luckily, the police van crashes and Kimble escapes, leading to a countrywide hunt for his hide. Kimble is a total badass: not only does he cleverly try to avoid getting captured, but he simultaneously attempts to solve his wife’s murder, which is pretty tough because he’s basically America’s most wanted man (which seems slightly exaggerated to me, but whatever). I won’t spoil the ending, but I WILL say that this movie features one of the best jumps-into-roaring-waters in cinematic history. Also, I think Harrison Ford is kind of hot. Is that weird? –Amy Rose

Y Tu Mamá También (2001)
I was so moved and impressed by this coming-of-age road movie that when I sat down to watch the DVD a second time, I forced my mother to join me. My brain was so clouded by all the love that I had for the story that I completely forgot that the very first scene was a sex scene with grunting and butts and everything. “This is what you wanted me to see?” my mother asked. “Uh, other stuff happens,” I said. Starring real-life pals Diego Luna and Gael Garcìa Bernal as best friends Tenoch and Julio, Y Tu Mamá También is about an impromptu road trip that these two sort of aimless, arrogant, immature-but-likable teens take with an older woman that they’re trying to impress. The journey ends up bringing secrets that they’ve hidden from each other to the surface, irrevocably transforming their relationship. The storytelling here is exquisite and unique. Beautiful, omniscient narration is seamlessly interwoven throughout, placing Tenoch and Julio’s tale within a larger framework—referencing Mexican politics, history, and class disparity. The movie is funny, honest, and at times tragic; it’s an illuminating exploration of male sexuality that surprisingly isn’t totally awkward to watch with your mom. But maybe don’t watch it with your mom. –Amber

Being John Malkovich (1999)
The tagline is “Ever wanted to be someone else?” This is accurate, sure, but it only captures, like, one percent of the epic adventure that is this movie. John Cusack is Craig Schwartz, an unemployed puppeteer who lands a temp job at this weirdo office located on the SEVENTH AND A HALF floor of a building. He finds a tiny door behind a filing cabinet that leads to the inside of actor John Malkovich’s head for 15 minutes, and then spews him out somewhere near the New Jersey Turnpike. Did you catch all that? I mean if the movie was just about this, it would be really enjoyable and all, but it goes so far beyond that. Craig falls in love with Maxine (Catherine Keener, arguably the best part about this movie), his tough-as-nails coworker, but she has an affair with Craig’s wife, Lotte (Cameron Diaz), who briefly inhabits Malkovich’s body. Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) wrote it and Spike Jonze directed, so as you can imagine, it gets weird, and then weirder, until it is the best. –Laia

The Sandlot (1993)
The sandlot of the title is a summertime dream kingdom where kids make their own rules and adults don’t really exist, except as scary specters over the fence. A big group of best buddies spends the days playing baseball, but the sport isn’t the entire appeal–it just gives them a chance to hang around outside with no responsibilities and tease one another relentlessly. But they’re also fiercely loyal in the most heartwarming way, sticking together for youthful hijinks off the field, like risking drowning to get a kiss from the cute lifeguard. The story takes place in a very wholesome version of the 1960s, where the most terrifying thing in the world is losing a ball to a big slobbering dog, but it’s mostly about friendship, sticking together, and coining awesome catchphrases for any situation. That includes the silly as well as the serious–“Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.” It’s timeless. –Joe

The Basketball Diaries (1995)
I have a lot of friends who swoon over Leonardo DiCaprio in movies like Titanic and Romeo + Juliet, and I get it, I really do, but The Basketball Diaries is the only movie that made me experience that Leo love. Of course, I wasn’t so much in love with Leo as I was his perfect embodiment of Jim Carroll, a New York City high school student who dreams of becoming a basketball star. Jim and his friends are on this incredibly awesome, seemingly unstoppable team, and they do things like go cliff-diving for fun, but then bad things happen. Like leukemia. Like a sketchy coach abusing his players. Like heroin. Jim keeps a diary through all of this, and it’s good he has words for it, because it’s so powerful that I can barely come up with any, except for “heartbreaking” and “very, very real.” To some degree, the realness makes sense, because Jim Carroll was an actual person, and this movie is based on his memoir (which I also highly recommend, along with his poetry and his music), but more than that, it is just a very realistic depiction of teenage life filled with the kind of freedom, escapism, and mistakes so many of us make whether we’re basketball players or poets or a bit of both. –Stephanie

L’Auberge Espagnole (2002)
Xavier is an economics student from Paris who decides to study abroad in Barcelona, after he’s told that being familiar with the Spanish market will help him secure a job when he graduates. During his year away from home, he immerses himself in the culture, pursues a married woman, grows close to his roommates who come from all over the European Union; and though he’d gone to Spain, trying to do the responsible thing, the whole experience is liberating, and he eventually begins to reevaluate his career goals. On a lark, I rented this very cute French comedy from a video store. At the time, I didn’t even know what the title meant (the literal translation is “The Spanish Hotel”), so it was clearly fate that brought me to the movie, which has become one of my absolute favorites. It has Audrey Tautou in a supporting role, a great soundtrack (it introduced me to Ali Farka Toure’s amazing “Ai Du“), and features several very cool shots of Barcelona that will definitely make you want to visit the city. L’Auberge Espagnole is light, fun, and a must-see for Francophiles, aspiring writers, and anyone consumed by wanderlust. –Amber

Adventureland (2009)
I saw this movie four times in the theater, something I haven’t done since Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (and that was only because I had a crush on this random dude when I was 10). But I am in love with everyone and everything here: Kristen Stewart, Martin Starr, Kristen Wiig, Jesse Eisenberg, rundown amusement parks, Bill Hader, the Replacements (who supplied the climactic song “Unsatisfied”), the ’80s, summer, and most of all, writer/director Greg Mottola (The Daytrippers also stands up to multiple viewings). If I could write the perfect movie, this would be it, and so in some deluded way, I felt like I was partially responsible for it just by wanting it so badly to exist, and therefore I had to individually accompany any friend who wanted to see it to the theater lest they discover it on their own, making it less mine. (Yeah, I’m kind of nuts about this movie.) It’s like The Lost Boys meets Dazed and Confused meets Say Anything, and how can that go wrong? Perhaps my favorite part, besides the romance between Em (Stewart) and James (Eisenberg) and the casting of the increasingly-hot Haverchuck, is the use of the song “Rock Me Amadeus,” which is exactly what would have been played back then (1987) on the Himalaya, and which would drive any employee absolutely nuts by the end of the summer. The Adventureland park is the perfect backdrop for feeling restless and bored and wild, but also for the gentle expiration of adolescence. It’s a formerly magical place that the characters maybe once visited, now work for, and will probably never return to. –Phoebe

Absolutely Fabulous
1992-1996, 2001-2004, 2011-2012, BBC One

Edina and Patsy are the most outrageous, most free, most fun, and (often simultaneously) best- and worst-dressed characters on TV. They’re middle-aged BFFs still clinging to their glory days in swinging London and partying hard while Eddy’s studious teenage daughter Saffron attempts to rein them in–a brilliant and hilarious role reversal. It’s the perfect spoof on the fashion world, making you laugh while you cringe at the uglier side of it, like the cocaine, the obsession with being thin/young/hip, and of course the dreadful clothes–though I have to say that, somehow, their outfits are still inspiring and fabulous, especially those of Edina’s kooky assistant, Bubble. This show has gone on and off the air, and I recently learned it was back for an anniversary special. Still haven’t seen the new episodes yet, but I’m pumped, because the first three seasons are my go-to DVDs whenever I’m sick or feeling bummed out. There are few things that make me laugh harder than watching Patsy fall down or Eddy freak out in an isolation tank while poor Saffy’s head nearly explodes from embarrassment. –Stephanie