What: Documentary about a small Michigan town.
Why: Watch out, Michael Moore--this eight-part movie gets inside life in the frozen, snowy Upper Peninsula with neither condescension nor sentimentality. It focuses on the tragically named Nimrods, a high school basketball team that has father/son conflicts, accusations of racism and a Greek chorus of codgers and curmudgeons who support it. Featuring hunting, ice fishing, local eccentrics, debates about real estate development and five-degree heatwaves, the addictive story plays out on Monday nights in December, with additional clips and updates online.
What: Drama about an elegant woman and her housekeeper.
Why: The maid stares out the bus window, quiet and impassive, like a figure in a silent movie. With no makeup and little dialogue, Norma Argentina--who never acted before this film--registers emotions in ways that feel almost eerie. As her longtime employer, regal Argentinean star Norma Aleandro subtly traces the physical decline of a proud woman losing her money and drinking too much. They're two of the year's best, quietest performances, evoking a shared life of dependence, regret, resentment and love.
What: Web drama about striving twentysomethings.
Why: "I say I'm honest but I'm really not. I am not honest at all. I'm scared to say how I really feel." It's like My So-Called Life's angsty Angela Chase, all grown up as a young blogger. The creators of that show--and the classic thirtysomething--have moved their navel-gazing to the Web in eight-minute episodes, updated twice a week for 36 weeks, which will eventually be shown on NBC. It's the most literate, high-end series ever made online, even though the characters' talky self-consciousness feels almost fake.