What: Dysfunctional dying dad and adult kids.
Why: Dad's mean, son's floundering, daughter's drifting--no wonder they all resent each other so intensely. Tamara Jenkins, in her Oscar-nominated screenplay, captures the nuances of bitterness, solidarity and projection that tie a family together. She makes something lively and contemporary out of the classic "Daddy's dying" story, with situations as shambling and frayed as the characters themselves. The Savage siblings, groping their way toward very delayed adulthoods, become two of the decade's most vivid movie characters embodied by the perfectly cast Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney.
What: High school newspaper reality show.
Why: Can arrogant Amanda rule her staff, who loathe and resent her? It's the latest installment in MTV's unfolding anatomy of women and power, from mouthy Coral on The Gauntlet to The Hills' Whartonian strivers, perpetually torn between love and career. Here we follow the machinations of a high school newspaper, where brash, brazen Amanda, newly installed as chief editor, can't (or won't) see how much her classmates mock and despise her. She's like the anti-Mary Tyler Moore, and the show's suspense lies in seeing whether her bubble of self-destructive self-regard will ever get punctured.
What: Classic 1950s Spanish melodrama.
Why: It starts like a shot, with the main action barely visible and over almost instantly. The drama's in the ripples--the anxiety and consequences after a man and his mistress run down a cyclist, then leave him in the road to die. The story--from pioneering Spanish filmmaker Juan Antonio Bardem (Javier's uncle)--wraps Hitchcockian guilt and suspense in an attack on the class structure, amorality and corrupt politics of '50s Spain. Freshly restored in a deluxe Criterion edition, it plays like the bridge between stark '40s neorealism and decadent '60s art movies about upper-class malaise.