12 Sept 2013 backgroundPersonal Best (1982)
Personal Best has all the great qualities of a sports movie (montages, the takeaway that it doesn’t matter how you rank so long as you do your PERSONAL BEST), but it’s different from any sports movie I’ve ever seen, mainly because it explores those female relationships that teeter between friendship and lesbianism (especially in the world of competitive sports) and how the competitive part plays into and complicates that dynamic. Almost every YouTube comment about it is someone appreciating it as their first lesbian movie, and Team Dresch based one of their album titles and cover art on it, so there’s a real poignant history with this film. It’s a good watch, even if you only tune in for the multiple shots of Mariel Hemingway clad in cute ’80s athletic threads, running in slow motion to the sounds Billy Joel with her silky hair billowing in the wind. —Tavi

51+n6Agd9lL First Position (2012)
I love watching ballerinas get ready for action. There is so much that goes on before a pointe shoe goes on the foot, so many rituals specifically tailored to each dancer’s style. It really helps you see just how much work and effort it takes to be a great dancer, how much strength it takes to appear to be as light as a feather. The stress of ballet is magnified one million times when the dancers are kids, and this documentary showcases the drama of six kids ages nine to nineteen competing in a prestigious competition for dance scholarships. It is INTENSE. All of the dancers are incredible, but two just steal your heart: Michaela DePrince, an orphaned girl from Sierra Leone who dances through an injury, and Joan Sebastian Zamora, a young boy from Colombia whose inspired dancing brought tears to my eyes. This movie will captivate you even if you aren’t into ballet! —Laia

The_Burning_Bed_(DVD_cover) The Burning Bed (1984, NBC)
This made-for-TV drama has all the makings of a melodramatic Lifetime movie, but when I saw first saw it in a high school self-defense unit for gym it shook me to the core. It’s based on the life of Francine Hughes, a housewife and mother of four who spent 13 years in an abusive marriage before—and this isn’t a spoiler, because the movie begins with this powerful moment—she set her house on fire with her husband inside. He died in the fire (the kids were safe), but Francine was ultimately found not guilty by reason of insanity. Her case set a new legal precedent for domestic violence victims, and also made public an issue that had always been treated as a private family matter. It’s painful to watch, especially if you’ve gone through or known someone in an abusive relationship, but I found it so inspiring that after watching it I volunteered at a domestic violence agency. —Stephanie

MV5BMTYyMjc1MDAwNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjgzMDYyMQ@@._V1._SX334_SY475_ Above the Rim (1994)
Pickup basketball in New York City is near mythical at this point, having been documented in books, documentaries, and countless songs, but there was a time when Above the Rim was the only player in the game. The movie is about a teen baller hoping to get a scholarship to Georgetown, but his ambition loses him a great friend and ropes him up in some bad business with a local gangster. This movie is a classic, if only because said gangster is played by Tupac Shakur at the height of his film career, and he was such a formidable (and, ugh, so beautiful) actor that he dominates every scene in every movie and makes it just GLOW. Above the Rim‘s story is affecting, and the footage of the games will pump up your adrenalin. Bonus: amazing soundtrack, including some of the best gangsta rap of the era! —Julianne

imgres The Wrestler (2008)
I’ve never been into professional wrestling, so I wasn’t sure about this movie when a friend recommended it, but The Wrestler is less about wrestling and more about having everything, losing it, and fighting an uphill battle to get it back. Mickey Rourke plays a wrestler who achieved a Hulk Hogan level of success in the ’80s, but is now past his prime and wrestling on the indie circuit on the weekends. His career has taken a serious toll on both his body and his relationships, and only person still in his corner is a stripper from a club he regular frequents, played by Marissa Tomei. This movie is dark and sad, but it’s also as real as pro wrestling is fake, and it will leave you pondering the price of fame for days. —Stephanie

fridaynightlights Friday Night Lights (2006–2011, NBC)
For the uninitiated, Friday Night Lights is the story of a small Texas town fanatically obsessed with its championship high school football team, the Dillon Panthers. The main reason to watch this show is not for the football but for TIM RIGGINS. You will fall in love with this token troubled teen, you will be addicted to his eyes, and soon enough you’re in WAY deep and every game day will make you cry. You thought you hated football before this show, but things might change if you, like me, are a sucker for a great high school romance and/or inspirational pep talk delivered by a well-meaning sports coach. The greatness of FNL as a family/teen/small town/sports drama is not the contrived, soap-opera style DUN-DUN-DUN sort of melodrama, but the slow, steady buildup of meaningful stories that will suck you into being sucked a town united by one great love. —Dylan

beyonce-life-is-but-a-dream Beyoncé: Life Is But a Dream (2013, HBO)
I base much of my feminism on Beyoncé, and I consider loving her a necessity when it comes to true sisterhood bonding. My best friend and I watched this movie together when it first aired—we dyed each other’s hair as we watched, cried at the same moments, screamed at the same moments, and grabbed for each other at the same moments because Beyoncé unites us as a people. All this inspirational goddess wants to do is let you know that you CAN succeed without breaking others down, you CAN demand what is best for you and not apologize for it, you CAN control your own image, you CAN be sexy, powerful, and pro-woman, and YOU CAN HAVE IT ALL sometimes. Bey has such a blessed life, full of love and inspiration, and watching this doc made me feel like I had just been kissed on the forehead and sent off to school after a nice breakfast with people I love. —Arabelle

Bring-It-On-2000-movie-poster Bring It On (2000)
I love how this cheerleading movie takes an activity typically dismissed for its frivolity and shows the participants to be strong, tough, hardworking athletes. It also has A+ training montages. It’s about Torrance Shipman, a high school senior who is named captain of her school’s champion cheerleading squad. She figures another championship is a lock until she discovers that the previous captain stole their routines from another team. Torrance then has to decide between throwing out everything her team has worked on so far and being a horrible cheer-stealer. Bring It On is far from revolutionary in its treatment of race and class, but it does touch on those topics in a way that most mainstream teen movies of the ’80s and ’90s never did, while being fun and unbelievably quotable. —Anna F.

Great-British-Bake-Off-logo The Great British Bake Off (2010–present, BBC2)
I am a crappy cook but an awesome baker, and it turns out I love watching pastries being made as much as I love to cook and then eat them. I got hooked on The Great British Bake Off by accident when I looked Googled Sue Perkins, one of the hosts, after watching her in another show about food, The Supersizers Go…. The premise is like most reality show competitions—talented people fighting for glory (and money)—but the challenges are RIDICULOUS. In a given episode you might see a person try to make 200 petits fours, a towering Dr. Seuss–ian cake, and, just for kicks, an outdated Edwardian dessert like arrowroot jelly, all in the span of a day or two. Mild-mannered grandma types turn into frothing weirdos, peeking into ovens and shedding tears by the gallon over fallen meringues and ruined custards. The judges are unapologetically mean and intimidating, and every episode is intense. A new season just started—do not watch this show on an empty stomach, but do watch it. —Danielle

talladega_nights_xlg Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)
I think a movie studio executive probably said, “What if we got Will Ferrell to do his loud schtick that endeared audiences to him in Anchorman and Saturday Night Live, only this time we add a bunch of race cars?” and thus, Talladega Nights was born. The basic premise is that Ferrell’s character, a race-car driver named Ricky Bobby, loses his title and tries to win it back while dealing with his funny family and his weird best friend, but what makes this movie great is the jokes. There are jokes about Nascar drivers. There are jokes about people who make jokes about Nascar drivers. There are jokes about Applebee’s. There is a lot of Will Ferrell running around in his underwear shouting at the top of his lungs. It shouldn’t be hilarious the 30th time around, but it is. —Anna F.

MV5BMTgxMTgzNjc0MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODkxMzMyMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR2,0,214,317_ National Velvet (1944)
National Velvet tells the story of Velvet Brown, a fiery 12-year-old English girl played to perfection by a young angel named Elizabeth Taylor. Maybe you’ve heard of her? Velvet wins a horse in a raffle, and, oh my gosh, I was always SO JEALOUS of that part of the movie when I was a kid because I was positively obsessed with horses. She works with a horse-hatin’ hired hand to train the horse, which she’s named the Pie, to race in the Grand National steeplechase. The jockey they’ve hired doesn’t seem to believe in the Pie the way Velvet does, so she decides to masquerade as a man and ride the horse herself! She wins (OF COURSE) and when her secret is discovered she becomes a media sensation. I was very young when I first watched National Velvet, and it showed me that, yes, girls can do anything that boys can, and that if you’re really lucky you’ll win a horse in a raffle. Maybe. Still waiting on that. —Hannah

Stomp-the-Yard-dvd Stomp the Yard (2007)
At some point every competitive dance movie tries to appeal to your soft side, but I think Stomp the Yard has the most effective heartstring-pulling since West Side Story. When I saw it in a Brooklyn theater populated almost entirely by girls, we were all screaming and crying in the first 10 minutes. DJ (Columbus Short) is the BEST crew-dancer/krumper in South Central L.A., and he wins all of the awards at all the underground dance competitions that always exist in movies. After some bad stuff goes down, he moves to Atlanta to attend a fictional HBCU (Historically Black College/University) where dancing is not as important as stepping. As DJ learns about the historical importance of stepping, he also finds inspiration in his school’s distinguished alumni, which makes for a REALLY emotional and pretty long montage of uplifting imagery and music. The wildly creative choreography and super-slick cinematography is bananas, but the moral of this story is that the world cares about what’s in your heart almost as much as how buff you are or how effortlessly you can backflip. —Julianne

MV5BMTM2MTI5NzA3MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODExNTc0OA@@._V1_SX214_ Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Recently released from a mental health facility, Pat (Bradley Cooper) is living back home with his folks. He’s estranged from his wife and he’s lost his job, but he believes that if he has a positive attitude and devotes his time to self-improvement, he’ll find the so-called silver lining in his bleak circumstances. His plan to win back his wife is complicated by the volatile friendship he forms with Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence in an Oscar-winning performance) as the two train to compete in a local dance competition. Silver Linings Playbook is an authentic and sensitive portrayal of what it’s like to live with a mental illness or love someone struggling with mental illness, but it’s also sort of a romantic comedy. Really, this movie is all over the place, but in the most enchanting way. —Amber

20101714.jpg-r_640_600-b_1_D6D6D6-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxx She Monkeys (2011)
Equestrian vaulting is like gymnastics, except it happens ON THE BACK OF A MOVING HORSE. She Monkeys follows Emma (Mathilda Paradeiser), a Swedish teenager who joins a new equestrian vaulting team in a super-small town and meets an older girl named Cassandra (Linda Molin) who immediately begins testing the boundaries of their friendship. The director, Lisa Aschan, said she wanted the film to feel like a Western, with the girls constantly dueling, and she succeeds in the many scenes where they’re staring each other down and picking away at one another’s emotions and insecurities. If you’ve ever had a friend you kind of hate as much as you love, you might recognize some of the mind games Cassandra and Emma play. —Brodie

MV5BMjEzMjI0ODgzOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDQyMDkyNg@@._V1._SX520_SY735_ The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (2011)
This documentary about the black power movement comprises footage that sat undiscovered in a Swedish television storage cellar for 30 years. That footage is mixed with never-before-seen interviews, and together it all gives you an interesting look at what life was like for people on the front lines of America’s most intense civil rights struggle. Angela Davis’s interview from jail is chilling and fascinating, and though I already admired her, it gave me a new respect for her commitment to social justice. This is a really rad and inspirational look at a revolutionary way of life, and not to be missed. —Danielle

MV5BMTkwMjkyNzQ0MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwMzMzMjE5._V1._SX288_SY475_ The Sandlot (1993)
I usually have zero feelings for sports movies UNLESS they follow rag-tag teams of no-hopers just givin’ it a go against all odds (see: The Mighty Ducks, Bad News Bears, Little Giants). In this sub-genre, The Sandlot is number one. It’s set in the 1960s and the main character is a bookish kid called Scotty Smalls who moves to a new town and learns to play baseball by hanging out with a misfit team on the lot near his house. He’s taken under the wing of Benny Rodriguez, the super-handsome leader of the gang, and gradually earns his spot on the team. The snarky kid in the group is responsible for one of the best monologues in any movie, and is played by Chauncey Leopardi, whose excellent name you might recognize from Gilmore Girls and Freaks and Geeks! I learned what s’mores were from watching this movie repeatedly (I grew up in Australia, where this movie was called The Sandlot Kids), so this movie was important for me educationally. —Brodie

jeopardy_season_21-800x510Jeopardy! (1964—present)
Jeopardy! is the most iconic game show ever (official judge: me), so you probably at least know that it’s a general-knowledge trivia show. I like that it gives you the answer and makes you guess the question, that I still get shivers from the theme music. The record-breaking champion Ken Jennings is really funny on Twitter, and I love Alex Trebek even though he over exaggerates his pronunciation of foreign words. If you’re obsessed with trivia like me, Jeopardy! is a fun game show to watch and to play along with with friends, although I always seem to do the best when nobody’s around to watch me kill it. —Anna F. ♦