Take This Waltz (2012)
Sarah Polley makes beautiful films that pay close attention to details, particularly when it comes to women. She understands mundane tasks and what life looks like between the exciting parts. One scene I remember vividly in this movie has Michelle Williams (as Margot) standing in a kitchen, with sunlight flowing through the windows and catching the tiny hairs on her arms. In a world where everyone seems airbrushed and Photoshopped, it was so striking to see something so real and lovely. Margot seems happily married to Lou (Seth Rogen), but she isn’t sure what she wants—although you get the sense that she wants more, especially when a handsome stranger she meets on a plane turns out to be her neighbor. The choices made in this film are genuine and difficult—there’s no rom-com magic to save anybody (and Sarah Silverman gives a surprising and complex performance as a recovering alcoholic). It’s a movie about someone looking for a spark and ending up with a fire. —Pixie

Me Without You (2001)
This movie has everything I love: first love, complicated best-friendships, many shades of pink, really good teenage-bedroom decor, a hold-a-friend’s-hair-while-she’s-throwing-up scene, crimping irons, the actor who played Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), hickies as fashion statements, so many good posters (Patti Smith, Bowie, the Stranglers), DIY punk getups made from black trash bags, and Michelle Williams. The story checks in with Holly (Williams) and Marina (Anna Friel) as their friendship evolves from the early ’70s until 2001. Marina is the wild child to Holly’s good girl: she provides the excitement and danger, but also, later, the toxicity. It’s a familiar story, and totally heartbreaking, but it’s also just an awesome collage of girlhood. —Sonja

General Hospital
ABC, 1963-present

I was totally obsessed with the soap opera One Life to Live, and when it was canceled last year I felt like my life was over, which was a melodramatic response to my sudden lack of daily melodrama. Then I found out that three of my favorite OLTL characters (Todd, Starr, and John) were moving over to my mom’s favorite soap, General Hospital, so I started watching that and was immediately hooked. The show takes place in the fictional Port Charles, New York, and a lot of the drama takes place at, you guessed it, the hospital. There are tons of torrid relationships that you know are going to be torn apart by lies or blackmail or by someone developing a split personality. My fave GH character is the police commissioner/former super-spy Anna Devane, who is currently in a love triangle with her boyfriend, Luke, and her recently-returned-from-the-dead husband, Duke. That’s Luke as in Luke and Laura, the biggest couple in soap opera history. This week, Laura Spencer returned, which can only cause more sparks to fly on a show that, since I started watching a year ago, has already given me a baby swap, two tragic car accidents, a weird vampire subplot (I know, but it’s hilarious), and an entire town poisoned by the water supply. —Stephanie

Blue Valentine (2010)
This movie was originally rated NC-17 for its “explicit sex scenes,” but the rating was changed to R after Michelle Williams Feminist Ryan Gosling pointed out that, in the words of Gosling, “the MPAA is OK supporting scenes that portray women in scenarios of sexual torture and violence for entertainment purposes, but they are trying to force us to look away from a scene that shows a woman in a sexual scenario which is both complicit and complex.” The film follows a married couple (Gosling and Williams) through a few troubled days in their relationship. It’s painful to watch, especially as the story flashes back repeatedly to the happier period when the two met and fell madly in love. But it’s honest, and there’s a scene in a parking lot that is maybe the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever watched. Stick with it through the closing credits. —Pixie

Marwencol (2010)
This documentary seemed to me like a real-life Lars and the Real Girl. When a brutal beating outside of a bar leaves former alcoholic Mark Hogancamp brain-damaged and unable to afford rehabilitative therapy, he turns his backyard into a World War II-era Belgian town (dubbed Marwencol) and populates it with dolls representing everybody he knows: friends, co-workers, a married neighbor whom he is infatuated with, and his attackers. Doing so helps him heal, and the photos he takes of his work eventually attract national attention, but this is a devastating story with a twist that forces you to look at how and why people turn their lives around. —Danielle

Sid & Nancy (1986)
The story of Sid Vicious’s romance with Nancy Spungen is the ultimate punk tragedy: They fall in love with each other and with heroin. Sid, the bassist for the punk band the Sex Pistols, carves Nancy’s name into his chest. Nancy screams “SID!” approximately 88 times throughout the movie. (My best friend and I actually counted.) I romanticized their story a bit too much during one phase of my life, but it’s still a gorgeous and powerful movie. The kiss that happens 30 seconds into this video is probably my favorite movie kiss of all time, even if the scene that follows it proves that Sid and Nancy loved drugs more than they loved each other. —Stephanie

Chungking Express (1994)
Chungking Express focuses on two completely unrelated love stories, both of which take place in Hong Kong. The first is about a cop who is getting over a tough breakup by eating lots of pineapple (it’s way more poetic than I’m making it sound). The second—and best—part is about a different cop who is also getting over a breakup, not by eating pineapple but by meeting a woman who works the counter at a snack bar. That woman, played by the pop star Faye Wong, is really the star of the movie, and she infuses every scene she’s in with so much magic and badassness. This is a great movie about those little moments that happen in a relationship or in the course of being obsessed with someone, and it’s a good choice if you want something that’s sentimental but not the least bit mushy this Valentine’s Day (or President’s Day, or any day, really). —Anna

Fight Club (1999)
The unnamed main character in this David Fincher movie (adapted from the novel by Chuck Palahniuk) is a disgruntled automotive-company employee played by Edward Norton, whose life changes when he meets a charismatic soap salesman named Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) on a business trip. “I want you to hit me as hard as you can,” Durden says after a couple of drinks, and Norton realizes how boring and empty and meaningless his life has been up to this point. He and his new BFF form fight clubs, where men get together and beat one another to a pulp, and from there they get the idea for Project Mayhem—a total takedown of corporate America and the world. The movie is violent and disturbing, but watching it has always felt cathartic for me, especially the very last scene, which includes the Pixies song “Where Is My Mind” in what has to be the most perfect synchronicity between film and music ever. —Stephanie

Kings of Pastry (2009)
Do you ever watch that Food Network show where people compete to see who makes the best cupcake? This documentary is similar, except the pressure is 1,000 times more intense, the scrutiny is unbelievable, and the stakes are life-altering. Imagine taking the SATs every single day for six months—it’s like that. Over the course of a few days, you follow a handful of stories as 16 people compete for the Meilleur Ouvrier de France, or MOF, France’s most prestigious craftsman award. Many of the challengers have been preparing for months, even years; one competitor built a test-kitchen in his basement. It’s fascinating to see the sacrifices these people make for their art, and how intensely they will beat themselves up for using the wrong cookie cutter. Some dudes spend hours hand-making and stretching candy ribbon to use only a millimeter of it for the corner of a cake! But everything needs to be PERFECT, as the judges scour their creations for the tiniest screw-ups. There are some tense and devastating scenes as cakes crash and tears are shed, but overall it’s just impressive to see how far some people are willing to go in pursuit of their passion. —Danielle

3 Women (1977)
In this Robert Altman classic, Sissy Spacek plays Pinky, a naïve and enthusiastic teenager who takes a job at a spa, where she becomes completely obsessed with her co-worker Millie (the divine Shelley Duvall). Millie’s life is pretty mundane—she doesn’t have much in the way of friends or aspirations—but Pinky doesn’t care, and the two move in together. That’s essentially the plot, but the movie is gorgeously shot and styled, imbued with an atmospheric eeriness. The first time I watched it, I kept expecting Pinky to cut Millie’s face off and wear it as a mask. Can I help it if I love The Shining and Carrie, two movies starring these actresses in which pretty bad stuff happens? But 3 Women is different. It’s about bizarre, enchanting characters, and being unsettled by the most innocent interactions. —Anna

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)
I never thought a movie about sushi would change how I think about my own ambition, but when you see someone dedicate their entire life to one thing, it really gets to you. This documentary is about Jiro Ono, an 85-year-old sushi chef who owns what lots of people think is the best sushi restaurant in the world, located in a Tokyo subway station. Ono trains people for 10 years before he will let them even cook rice, never mind handling fish. The film is shot beautifully: the close-ups of brightly colored sushi rolls will have you salivating. At the same time, the story explores the relationship between fathers and sons, and digs into tradition, legacy, and what it means to dedicate one’s life to doing everything just right. —Danielle ♦