pleasantvilleposterPleasantville (1998)
David doesn’t have many friends, his family is always fighting, and he’s obsessed with this black-and-white 1950s sitcom called Pleasantville, which is about a town where—you guessed it—everyone is pleasant. One night, David and his sister, Jennifer, are mysteriously transported to a real-life black-and-white Pleasantville. They have to pretend they’re fictional kids from the show, and David begs Jennifer to keep up the act so they don’t mess anything up. But then Jennifer and her TV boyfriend have premarital sex (gasp!) and things in their once-perfect world start appearing IN COLOR. Soon, people all over Pleasantville feel new bursts of emotion and begin to transform out of their black-and-white identities. Teenagers start getting it on. Women slack on their housewifery, and their husbands freak out—it’s awesome! Sometimes I say things like, “Ugh, today sucks, I wish I lived in the 1950s,” because I love the era’s aesthetics (all the soda fountains, poodle skirts, and jukeboxes), but I’m forgetting its horrifying politics. Watching Pleasantville reminds me to appreciate my life now because there was never a “simpler” time, just simpler TV shows. —Gabby

twinpeaks_logo-ep4Twin Peaks
1990-1991, ABC

This show is responsible for helping to make TV weirder. It is responsible for everything from Lost to The Killing. Most important, Twin Peaks is responsible for that time I jumped up in fear and spilled milk all over my computer and had to hit up the Genius Bar in shame. IT’S SO GOOD YOU GUYS. Set in a seemingly quaint, tight-knit community, everything slowly falls apart when the homecoming queen is found dead—giants give cryptic clues, doughnuts are consumed, diaries found, and, perhaps most impressive, the SCARIEST, MOST HAUNTING character on the show (and maybe in television history?) only has under six minutes of screen time. In the whole series. THIS SHOW WILL STAY WITH YOU. I think my favorite thing about it is that the seedy underbelly isn’t purely related to sex, violence, crime, and drugs, but also the SUPERNATURAL. And the vibe feels like that of some parallel universe, because there’s tacky ’80s hair and soap operas, but also a sweater girl dancing to a jukebox as though the whole town is still stuck in some idea of, like, the golden age of family and marriage and everything else that turns to shit in this series’ two seasons. Your life will improve when you watch it. DO NOT, DO NOT, DO NOT look up the spoilers. My post-pilot Wikipedia search of desperation may be my life’s regret. —Tavi

primesuspectpromoPrime Suspect
1991–2006, ITV
This excellent, super-feminist British production blew me away when it first aired in the early ’90s. It was a time when I found TV (aka “the idiot box”) to truly suck, the exception being Twin Peaks, which was on the air for what felt like five minutes. Humans like me were desperate. Then along came this series, which was GROUNDBREAKING in so many ways. It stars the beloved Helen Mirren as Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison—the first truly complex TV character I’d ever seen. She is deeply flawed (her work addiction ruins her relationships and keeps her from quitting her many vices), but still brilliant and ballsy and inspiring. The series opened my eyes to critical social issues, and DCI Tennison’s detective work really did keep me guessing. It made me realize how much I love the tightly wrought and intelligent crime dramas (Wallander is a recent one) that the Brits do so, so well. —Sonja

dragontattooposterThe Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009, Sweden; 2011, U.S.)
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo—either the Swedish original or David Fincher’s American remake—is one of the most disturbing and compelling mysteries I’ve seen in a long, long time. Based on a book series by the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson, the story focuses on the unexplained disappearance of a girl named Harriet Vanger. About 40 years after she goes missing, Harriet’s great-uncle hires an investigative journalist named Blomkvist to re-examine the case. Blomkvist needs an excellent researcher to help him, so he taps Lisbeth Salander, a computer hacker who also happens to be a hyperintelligent goth girl hell-bent on destroying misogynists and rapists. (I really like her.) Salander and Blomkvist try to decipher the mystery that has plagued the Vanger family for decades—and that mystery gets more confusing and frightening as the duo goes deeper into the case. Everyone should see both the American version (starring Rooney Mara) and the Swedish version (starring Noomi Rapace), but if you plan to watch either, be warned that they include extremely graphic depictions of sexual assault and violence against women that are difficult to watch. Still, TGWTDT is beautiful, complex, and hard to forget. —Hazel

americanhorrorstorypromoAmerican Horror Story
2011–present, FX
American Horror Story is a campy, genuinely scary, disorienting, disturbing, and totally bonkers show. But mostly it’s mesmerizing—half the time I have no idea what’s going on, but I can’t stop watching. Each season starts with a different twisted tale: The first one is about a family that moves into a demented haunted house, and the second is set in a 1960s institution for the “criminally insane.” AHS brazenly depicts almost every taboo subject imaginable (serial killers, children hidden in attics, and electroshock therapy, to name a few) and stylistically it’s unlike anything else on TV—sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s fantastical, and sometimes the horrors are very real and unsettling. I like it because it challenges me. If you’re into a good scare, don’t mind off-the-wall twists, and can handle watching some truly brutal imagery, AHS will suck you in. —Amber

inlandempireposterInland Empire (2006)
If you’ve ever heard the term “Lynchian,” that’s a reference to the director David Lynch and his strange mind, where normal things (like diners) are creepy, and creepy things (like the witch-woman who works at the diner) are normal. Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, and Lynch’s other classics are twisted in their own special ways, but Inland Empire makes them look like Sesame Street. A follow-up to Mulholland Drive, this movie is loosely about a lost actress (played by the always amazing Lynch muse Laura Dern) and L.A.’s dark corners. It’s more concerned, however, with exploring the magic of filmmaking and turning traditional ideas about plot and chronology upside down. It’s probably the scariest movie I’ve ever seen—but not in the traditional horror-flick sense. It features cutaways to a TV show about a walking, talking rabbit family dressed like humans, as well as a fair amount of doppelgängers and gore, all of which are distinctly frightening. The first time I saw it, at a matinee with two friends, it felt a little bit like torture—but none of us fidgeted or said a word about how uncomfortable we were for the entire three-hour-plus runtime. Walking back out into the world—by that time it was dark—felt like leaving a funhouse. We might’ve wanted to get out sooner, but we couldn’t find our way. –Joe

phenomenaposterPhenomena (1984)
Dario Argento is a master of weirdo horror movies. Phenomena (also released as Creepers) may not be his best, but it’s one of my favorites, because the main character is so strong and sweet at the same time. It stars Jennifer Connelly in her babe-ly teen years. Her character (also called Jennifer) is constantly accused of being crazy because she sleepwalks and communicates with insects, so she makes it her mission to run away from her boarding school (where a serial killer also happens to be on the loose). Some scenes are super, super gross (like the one where hordes of flies eat a dude alive), but it’s cool to watch—if you’re into that kind of thing (and I am). And despite all the crap she goes through, Jennifer (the character) stays sensitive and powerful and sure of herself, which is a really refreshing change from a lot of horror-movie heroines. —Arabelle

thegirlhbopromoThe Girl (2012)
The HBO movie The Girl begins with this quote: “Blondes make the best victims. They’re like virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints.” It’s attributed to Alfred Hitchcock, the late director known as the Master of Suspense, whose reported obsession with Tippi Hedren—one of his BLONDE leading ladies—is what The Girl is all about. Hedren starred in Hitchcock’s Marnie and The Birds, and she says she was basically tortured psychologically and physically by Hitchcock during filming. In The Girl, Sienna Miller does a beautiful job playing Hedren, and really exposes the inner hell the actress experienced while working with Hitch. As a viewer, you can practically feel it. Knowing this backstory taints Hitchcock’s “genius” for me, and I’ll leave you with another one of his doozies: “The trouble today is that we don’t torture women enough.” Was he trying to be funny? Or was he insane? —Sonja

thebirdsposterThe Birds (1963)
Like Sonja said, Alfred Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren had a terrible working relationship, though Hedren maintains Hitchcock ruined her career, and not her. Melanie, the actress’s character in The Birds, doesn’t fare as well. She endures unexplained avian attacks that look like actual torture, which may be because, according to Hedren, Hitchcock ditched mechanical birds for real ones while they were filming, without warning. If you have a feather phobia, this movie is not for you. After all, birds are everywhere! I can see some now! It’s the kind of thing that could make you afraid to go outside. But, if you’re a fan of 1960s skirt-suits or suspense, it’s a good entry into Hitchcock’s spooky canon. —Emma

blowupposterBlow-Up (1966)
Directed by the Italian auteur/legend Michelangelo Antonioni, Blow-Up is the story of Thomas, a shallow, easily distracted fashion photographer. While developing pictures that he’d taken in a park of two lovers, Thomas realizes there’s a lot more to the scene than he thought. As he enlarges the images and studies them, he sees that he accidentally captured the aftermath of a crime—or maybe he didn’t. Blow-Up has the sorts of thrills and suspense you’d expect from a mystery, but it’s also a fun look at mod London. I’m obsessed with it, though, because it questions the camera’s ability to accurately capture reality: we look at an image and think we see one thing, but is the thing we’re seeing really even there? I’ll spare you the long-ass film-nerd essay that I feel I’m on the verge of writing here and instead just say: watch this movie. It’s very cool. —Amber

ffaloBuffalo ’66 (1998)
This is a thrilling, disturbing film about a teenage girl named Layla (Christina Ricci) who is kidnapped from her tap-dancing class by Billy (Vincent Gallo), a recently released prisoner. Billy brings Layla home to meet his parents and introduces her as his fiancée, and she willingly goes along with it. She even starts to develop genuine feelings for him, and talks to him in ways that make it seem like they’re together by choice. It’s a plot twist that could have been lifted from a page in the Stockholm Syndrome textbook (if one existed), which didn’t stop me from wondering, Why is she going along with this? Isn’t she scared at all? I’ll admit that Buffalo ’66 can be confusing sometimes, but the plot is so interesting and surprising that you have to keep watching until the end. —Britney

lauraposterLaura (1944)
One of the most fun noir films ever. Not only is it witty and surprising, and but it also cleverly subverts audience expectations. Gene Tierney stars as Laura, who’s dead when the movie starts. Or is she? I won’t spoil it for you, but I will sing the praises of my favorite characters, including the newspaperman and would-be paramour Waldo Lydecker, who’s often found typing and smoking in his very grand bathtub. Vincent Price is young and vital as Laura’s main man, Shelby Carpenter, a guy who clearly doesn’t deserve her. So, who killed Laura? Because it’s the 1940s, there’s a handsome detective who’s on the case—and he won’t stop until he’s cracked the thing wide open. —Emma

queenofversaillesposterThe Queen of Versailles (2012)
A documentary about the largest single-family home in America might not sound too exciting. To its credit, The Queen of Versailles spends less energy on said house, which happens to be MODESTLY modeled after the Palace of Versailles, and more time with the wealthy, stubborn Siegel family in its disillusioned quest to build it. The patriarch, David, made his millions selling timeshares, which basically means he locked people into renting his condos for their annual vacations—whether they had enough money that year or not. It turns out he made deals he couldn’t afford, too; when the economic bubble burst in 2008, he was screwed. Siegel was part of the gluttonous system that created that crisis, so I fluctuate between wanting him to shut up forever and trying to understand why I still sort of feel bad for him. Jackie Siegel, his relatively young wife, is much easier to sympathize with, but even she reacts to the family’s financial downfall in ways that are as humble as they are out-of-touch. The entire movie is sad and infuriating: sad because it emphasizes how greed creates a culture of disappointment, and infuriating because these people mostly come off as disgustingly entitled. —Danielle

Pretty-Little-Liars-pretty-little-liars-tv-show-12853960-1280-1024Pretty Little Liars
2010–present, ABC Family
PLL is the giant cubic zirconia gem in ABC Family’s tiara of tween drama. It follows four high school girls—Spencer, Aria, Emily, and Hanna (aka the Liars)—who are suspects in their friend Alison’s unsolved murder. The audience knows they didn’t do it, but the citizens of their town, Rosewood, aren’t so sure—and the Liars start getting threats from a mysterious person named “A.” They all block A’s number and email address, but the messages keep appearing—scrawled on mirrors in lipstick, traced in the steam from their showers, inside fortune cookies, etc. A knows their worst secrets, which the girls are desperate to hide from Rosewood—and one another. The first episode hooked me with the characters’ hidden agendas (Rosewood is full of shady people who could be A). If you like watching girls behave badly, but you’re not as concerned with stuff like exposition, start watching this show immediately! —Emily Gaudette

16333Suburbia (1983)
This early-’80s cult classic opens with a jarring scene: a wild dog attacks and kills a toddler. It sets a grim tone for a powerful movie that’s actually about punk-rock runaways (who, for the most part, are played by real teenagers from the L.A. punk scene, including the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist, Flea). Throughout, dogs are a metaphor for how people in suburban Southern California see the runaways—untamed and vicious—even though, like the dogs, many act the way they do because they feel abandoned. They squat in a deserted home they call the T.R.—short for “total reject”—house. Some are there because of drunk or abusive parents. Others are rebelling, like a character who doesn’t like that his dad came out as a gay. The movie captures the energy and escapism of ’80s punk, but also shows its drawbacks—homophobia and violence among them. There are fucked-up moments, especially as the characters’ backstories are revealed, but Suburbia is still one of the most honest portraits of alienation and the search for a real home that I’ve seen. —Stephanie

veronicamarspromoVeronica Mars
2004–2006, UPN; 2006–2007, The CW
When this now-cancelled cult series first aired, its eponymous main character—a quick-witted, ironic, and hilarious high school detective—became the Nancy Drew for a new millennium. Each season followed Veronica (Kristen Bell) through one big case, starting in the first season with the murder of her best friend, Lilly Kane (Amanda Seyfried). In her gumshoe exploits, Veronica is surrounded by a host of memorable dude characters: her private-eye dad; Wallace, her loyal best friend; and, best of all, Logan, an obnoxious punk-turned-love-interest who still makes me swoon. The show gets extra points for introducing a pre-New Girl Max Greenfield as the young policeman who falls for Veronica’s many charms. But it was Veronica who was always the best and the strongest. Watch all three seasons back to back, weep for the end of the series, and then join the rest of us weirdo fans in the online campaign (led by Bell herself!) for a Veronica Mars movie. —Emma

touchofevilposterTouch of Evil (1958)
One of the creepiest movies I have ever seen. It’s a film noir by Orson Welles about criminals and lawmen along the U.S.–Mexico border, and it plays with darkness and proximity and weird desolate spaces to make you feel really off-kilter the whole time. What I love most about this movie is how Welles takes the free-floating anxiety that’s the hallmark of all film noir and attaches it to people’s real-world fears in the ’50s (and now!) about the porous boundaries between genders, races, nationalities, and personal identities. As the literal border between the two countries keeps getting violated, all kinds of lines get crossed, and you’re flung into this shadowy world where NO RULES APPLY, and it’s totally discombobulating. Try to get your hands on the 112-minute 1998 cut, which follows Welles’s own vision for the film, as expressed in this 58-page memo to Universal—read it if you’re interested in becoming a film or TV editor, or any kind of editor, for that matter. —Anaheed ♦