i-am-divineI Am Divine (2013)
When a drag queen like Divine, notorious for eating poop onscreen, becomes a Hollywood A-lister, the glittering queendom of John Waters’s underdog cinema will finally be be realized. We’re not there yet, but this documentary on the life of this trash-film chanteuse, born Harris Glenn Milstead, shows that we’ve been a lot closer than you might think. Determined to become the world’s first overweight, openly gay megastar, the famously generous queen followed onscreen success with turns as NYC nightlife royalty, a world-renowned disco star, and a top-billed theater actor. Divine/Harris even eventually made the tricky transition into playing male roles in Hollywood. Who knows where Milstead’s trajectory would have gone if he hadn’t died at 42, the night before Divine was scheduled to film a guest appearance on Married…With Children (which would have been epic)? Watch this flick if you have a seemingly implausible yet totally possible vision you must share with the world. —Caitlin D.

the-fifth-elementThe Fifth Element (1997)
This is one of those movies I watched over and over again as a child, but every time I see it now it still feels like the first, which is especially strange considering how much it visually references many of its famous sci-fi predecessors, including Blade Runner and Star Wars. Unlike those two films, though, The Fifth Element has a strong female heroine. Her name is Leeloo, and she is a divine humanoid who is one of five elements (the other four are stones) that, together, are the only thing that can stop an evil force that appears on Earth every 5,000 years. In the year 2263, Leeloo’s task is to recover the four stones from space and bring them back to Earth to stop the force. I admit: It’s kind of cheesy. But Milla Jovovich’s performance as Leeloo, as well as visual details like the costumes by Jean-Paul Gaultier, make for something I can get lost in time and time again. —Eleanor

my-cat-from-hellMy Cat From Hell (2011–present, Animal Planet)
Jackson Galaxy, aka the “Cat Daddy,” is more than a cat whisperer: He is a cat behaviorist, a cat aura-reader, a fixer of cat problems, and, by extension, a counselor for humans. My Cat From Hell is his reality show, in which he visits the homes of people who have out-of-control cats, and, over a period of about a month, helps them adjust their cat’s behavior so everyone can live together peacefully. It might sound like a basic premise, but most of these felines are extremely disturbed: They attack their owners, pee in the house, try to kill their fellow house cats, run around screaming and mewing like they are possessed, and tear apart everything in sight. Generally the cats’ behavior controls the lives of their owners, too, with roommates and lovers on the verge of moving out, spouses on the edge of divorce, and happy couples scared to have babies or even, in one third-season episode I just watched, sleep in the same bed. Jackson, who is a “musician by night,” drives around Los Angeles in his baby-pink 1950s Cadillac by day and rolls into these people’s homes with his full-sleeve arm tattoos, goatee, wild glasses, tiki-bar wardrobe, and guitar case filled with cat toys, and HANDLES THE PROBLEM. No matter how insane a cat seems, Jackson’s rockabilly ass can watch its behavior for, like, 30 minutes and know exactly what is wrong and how the owners can fix it. It’s truly uncanny; he is a real-world beastmaster. Often the problem with the cat is that it just needs to be played with more, which is totally unbelievable. Who doesn’t play with their cats? Isn’t that kinda the whole POINT of having one? In one episode, Jackson stays up all night in night-vision goggles (LOL!) and safe-traps a feral cat so he can get it neutered, which in turn stops his clients’ housecat from spraying indoors. Like, what? How does he know these things? He is a cat MAGICIAN. I almost wish my cats had issues so I could have him come over and just, like, hang out. The best part, though, is that he’s a true humanitarian, always making sure the cats have a safe home, are neutered or spayed, and don’t get declawed or subjected to inhumane behavior. Sometimes, he even cries. SO WILL YOU. —Julianne

i-like-killing-fliesI Like Killing Flies (2004)
HOLD UP, THIS DOCUMENTARY IS NOT ABOUT FLIES OR KILLING THEM. It’s actually about a diner in New York called Shopsin’s and its chef/owner, Kenny Shopsin. His menu has about 800 items crammed onto it, and it looks like a perzine because it is covered with looooong lists of crazy- and delicious-sounding dishes like bacon pumpkin cookie-dough pancakes and photos of Shopsin’s children, grandchildren, and staff. What I love about this movie is that it shows how the menu and everything else about Shopsin’s restaurant are part of one person’s very specific vision. The original space (it’s since moved) was so tiny that Shopsin had a long list of rules to keep it from getting too cramped. There’s a great scene in which passersby read a sign out front that forbids parties of five or more from entering, splitting up to form smaller parties, or in fact EVER COMING IN. Just go away, parties of five. This kind of policing wouldn’t get a free pass if his food weren’t so great and so creative—I had the mac and cheese pancakes the other day and basically passed out because they were so good—or if his restaurant weren’t also about the people he loves and his love of cooking. Definitely watch this if you’re a fan of food and/or of going your own way no matter what. —Estelle

charmedCharmed (1998–2006, the WB)
There were eight seasons of Charmed, and in pretty much every episode of every season, Phoebe Halliwell (Alyssa Milano) bumps into someone and seems like she is being electrified. But actually, she’s having a very clear premonition of things that could happen to that person! Sometimes Phoebe, who is a WITCH, sees people being hurt or killed by demons; in other instances she sees outcomes for them that are more mundane, like being wrongly found guilty in a trial. Then she and her witchy sisters Piper and Prue/Paige (the former was killed off after three seasons, then the latter arrived and it was like, “There’s a half-sister! Isn’t that convenient!”) use the “Power of Three” to save the day. —Brodie

a-patch-of-blueA Patch of Blue (1965)
My father and I shared many bowls of buttery popcorn (and tears) while watching Sidney Poitier’s films during my teen years. Poitier, the first African=American to win an Academy Award for best actor, gave a series of breakthrough performances in the ’60s that helped shift widely held racial and cultural stereotypes. A Patch of Blue focuses on the blossoming friendship between Poitier’s character, Gordon, and Selina (Elizabeth Hartman), a young, blind white woman from an abusive and bigoted family. Based on the book Be Ready With Bells and Drums, the overarching message of Selina and Gordon’s story is “love is colorblind,” a concept that was so controversial at the time that a scene depicting a short kiss between them was edited out for audiences in the American South. In spite of the tumultuous lives Gordon and Selina lead, their optimistic and inspired time with each other transcends social and physical barriers. I believe that seeing with our hearts gives us a more true vision than our eyes have alone. A Patch of Blue helps bring that notion to life. —Jamia

the-cellThe Cell (2000)
This sci-fi thriller came out right at the beginning of the millennium, when things like the internet, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality were just beginning to dominate our entire lives the way they do today. So there was an excess of imagination in movies like The Matrix, eXistenZ, and The Thirteenth Floor, all of which depicted virtual reality. But none was as beautiful, or as terrifying, as The Cell, directed by Tarsem Singh, whose every film (Immortals, Mirror Mirror) and music video (including REM’s “Losing My Religion” and En Vogue’s “Hold On“) looks like living conceptual art, brushed in broad, fantastical strokes. Jennifer Lopez was on the rise when she starred in this, and it’s one of her most enthralling moments. She plays a social worker who uses virtual reality to delve into the minds and memories of coma patients to try to awaken them, but her treatments go awry when she enters the subconscious of a comatose serial killer (Vincent D’Onofrio) to try to find his last victim before it’s too late. The thoughts of a serial killer are scary enough, but imagined by Singh, they’re terrifying. The man’s sadistic impulses are illustrated in highly stylized, very dark scenes replete with rope-bound dolls, sharp-teethed ghosts, a demonic overlord—all sorts of symbols that are at once familiar and completely new. Singh’s eye is a singular and precious thing, but you might want to watch this with the lights on! —Julianne

logans-runLogan’s Run (1976)
This dystopian sci-fi movie first drew me in because it was filmed in what is possibly the coolest-looking shopping mall I have ever seen. Its entire aesthetic is a fantastic reference to the kind of sweet-on-the-surface-but-dark-underneath cult imagery that was so popular in the 1970s (and that we still love). The story is about an overpopulated world in which all humans are free to roam through their lives—albeit in a strictly controlled, enclosed environment—without having to work. The catch is that no one can live beyond the age of 30, when they’re killed off in a kind of competitive ritual called Carousel. Logan’s job is to go after “runners”—people who try escape their looming fates. By the end, Logan starts to re-evaluate his role, and to consider bigger questions like society versus nature and dystopia versus utopia. What I find most inspiring about this movie is the way it juxtaposes a polished yet bleak man-made world world with a vision of the natural world coming back to reclaim what belongs to it. I even made my own version of the runners’ ankh necklaces, except with a Venus symbol to represent my own sense of freedom. ;) —Eleanor

ai-weiweiAi Weiwei: Never Sorry (2012)
I first watched Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry last January when I was staying with relatives in the suburbs of L.A., in the midst of depression. I was feeling really uninspired and adrift and had basically run away to the opposite side of the country to escape things, though I soon realized that you can’t run from your own head. This documentary really helped me understand how strong we all are just to survive from day to day. The kind of unbending, unshakable resolution Ai Weiwei has as an artist and political dissident is really inspiring. He is an enemy of the Chinese government because he follows the will of his community and his art. It reminds me of the kindness and strength art can give someone, and how that person can in turn extend that strength to a community and the world. There’s this one line that Ai Weiwei says directly into the camera that I take with me everywhere: “I think optimism is whether you are still exhilarated by life, whether you are curious, whether you still believe there is possibility. From this perspective, I am still very much an optimist.” This is coming from a man who watched his country’s government tear down his studio, who was held in detention, and whose work has been called an insult to his culture. If he can keep going and believing in the good of the world and of people and the value of art, then so can I. —Arabelle

the-punk-singerThe Punk Singer (2013)
I saw this documentary about Kathleen Hanna—frontwoman of Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, and the Julie Ruin, and one of the people who helped launch the Riot Grrrl movement—in a cozy indie theater in Seattle on its opening night in December. It introduces Kathleen when she’s a student at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, where she put on feminist fashion shows and did spoken-word poetry. Old photos and footage of her performances are interspersed with recent interviews with Kathleen, as well as with people who have known her or been impacted by her art (including Tavi!). One of the first things Kathleen says in the movie is that she used to want to be a writer, then the author Kathy Acker told her to be in a band instead because she’d find a larger audience that way. Kathleen found an audience with Bikini Kill, but she also faced so much hate for her outspoken feminism that it nearly destroyed her as an artist. Her work with Le Tigre revived her, but then a mystery illness, which was ultimately diagnosed as Lyme disease, nearly knocked her out again. The Punk Singer perfectly illustrates Kathleen’s journey and the power of artistic vision—how it helps us survive and how it changes the world. Whether you’re into Kathleen’s music or not, I think anyone, especially people who make art, will be blown away by this film. The theater where I saw it was sold out, and when it ended, everyone applauded. My friend and I had planned to meet up with people after, but we couldn’t. We needed time together to discuss all the empowerment, fury, and hope that the movie had stirred up in us. —Stephanie

harry-potter-recsHarry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
When this film opens, our teen-boy wizard-hero is having distressing fever dreams over the death of Cedric Diggory at the hands of Lord Voldemort. They’re just the first of MANY intense vision-related examples I picked up on when I recently rewatched this movie. It is the most hormonally charged chapter in the Harry Potter series: Harry gets his first kiss and deals with unexplained “YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!”-style anger at his friends. He eventually works out that the feelings are coming from Voldemort and being channeled through himself. Harry’s strength in this film is in his ability to see through Voldemort’s eyes, and to use that connection to get the one-up on him. —Brodie

2001-a-space-odyssey2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
It almost feels a little condescending to recommend 2001: A Space Odyssey, because even if you haven’t seen it from start to finish, you probably already know a lot about it, if only via references like this one or this one. It’s one of those films that will always be on those “Top 100 Movies to See Before You Die” lists, but I think that can sometimes be a turnoff because it makes entertainment feel like homework. This movie is absolutely worth seeing, though. Like most of director Stanley Kubrick’s work, it is a visual and auditory feast, particularly for its time (I still can’t believe it was made in 1968!). It’s almost 50 years old, and the year 2001 came and went differently than the movie predicted, but the competition between humankind and computers that it foresaw seems more relevant now than ever. —Eleanor ♦