Blood Simple” - Directed by Joel Coen; Written by Joel and Ethan Coen
“Blood Simple” is the film that heralded the arrival of the Coen Brothers. Their debut effort mapped out the thematic territory they would conquer in the following decades; the film is whip-smart and brimming with fiendish complexity. In addition to its characteristically elaborate plot twists, the neo-noir features shining depictions of infidelity and corrupt sleuths. An unkempt saloon owner (Dan Hedaya) hires a private eye (M. Emmet Walsh) to kill his wife (Frances McDormand) and her lover (John Getz), one of the bartenders. In typical Coen fashion, things obviously don’t go as planned, resulting in a film that is as dark and twisted as it is breezy and fun, albeit a gory affair. “Blood Simple” wowed audiences at Sundance in 1985, winning the Grand Jury Prize. A 15th anniversary director’s cut was released in 2000, cementing the film's undiminished staying power. [Julia Selinger]

Frozen River” - Directed and Written by Courtney Hunt
Courtney Hunt’s 2008 award-winning drama opens with a slow close-up on its protagonist’s face. Ray Eddy, played by Melissa Leo, wears a heavily creased face void of makeup. Her features are dry and wind bitten by upstate New York’s unrelenting Decembers. Much like the film’s frozen exterior, her face is gray, gritty, and hardened, yet also impassioned and powerful. It has good reason to be: Leo’s character has just found out her gambling husband has skipped town with the family savings. Like other families along the rural, freezing St. Lawrence, she is left impoverished and forced to care for two sons alone, resorting to family meals that consist of popcorn and Tang. “Frozen River,” fellow upstate denizen Hunt’s first feature film, tells the story of Ray’s relationship with Lila Littlewolf (Misty Upham), a Mohawk woman who becomes Ray’s unexpected colleague. To make ends meet, the two women smuggle illegal immigrants on nighttime drives across the U.S.-Canada border. Hunt had studied the Mohawk tribe for ten years before her efforts materialized as a short that made it into the 2004 New York Film Festival. The fleshed out and starkly realistic melodrama went to Sundance in 2008 where it won the Grand Jury Prize and met a wave of acclaim, leading to numerous other awards and two major Oscar nominations. [Julia Selinger]

"Like Crazy" - directed by Drake Doremus, written by Drake Doremus and Ben York Jones
"Like Crazy," is a grueling portrayal of new love being thrown into an unexpected long-distance relationship. British exchange student Anna (Felicity Jones) falls for American student Jacob (Anton Yelchin), but their young love is tested when she outstays her student visa and is deported. Separated by bureaucratic barriers and faced with pressures like the prospect of a green card marriage really makes them weigh the value of staying together. This film subjects the main couple, and the viewer, to painfully slow heartbreak. It makes you wonder -- if their love hadn't been subjected to this heavy-handed separation, would they have lasted? Is long-distance how we know love is strong, or is it a helpless predicament that no one should be subjected to? Anna and Jacob both fall into rebound relationships (with Charlie Bewley and Jennifer Lawrence, respectively) because it's immediate and easy, but is the convenience better than the love they have to fight unreasonably hard for? The film raises a lot of unresolved questions about the dynamics of real life relationships, as well as prompting a lot of tears. Maybe don't watch this one with your significant other. [Madeline Raynor]

"Primer" - written and directed by Shane Carruth
Shane Carruth's "Primer" seemingly came out of nowhere in 2004, as if it was beamed in from another time and place, which is very fitting considering the film's plot. The film follows a group of engineers whose casual experiments in their garage lead them to conjuring up a box that has the ability to travel its contents back in time. What follows is an endless array of unravelling mysteries and time-blurring, as the engineers travel back in time and try to prevent the future and past versions of each other from gaining too much control. Shot for $7,000 on the outskirts of Dallas, Texas, "Primer" is as cerebral as it is crafty, with its real locations and untrained actors (most of them Carruth's friends) giving the film a tremendous amount of realism as it stacks on the moral and time-shifting intrigue. Far from the fanciful and stylized sci-fi films of late, "Primer" seems to unfold in a world not too different from our own. Perhaps the ultimate achievement of this very accomplished film is that it really makes you believe. [Clint Holloway]