Boogie Nights (1997, dir. Paul Thomas Anderson) Listen. At this point I just assume that everyone has seen Boogie Nights, one of my favorite movies ever made and -- I really do think this -- one of the best movies ever made. But it's not fair to assume that, because some movies just slip past us. Maybe you've always meant to see it and never have. Maybe you've been avoiding it because you heard it was about porn. In either case, you must correct this mistake as soon as possible. This is a brilliant, beautiful, funny, tragic and deeply moving story of family and filmmaking and about the cultural shift in America as the 1970s gave way to the '80s. I can never say enough good things about it.
Starlet (2012, dir. Sean Baker) Hopefully you've seen writer/director Sean Baker's Tangerine, one of my favorite movies of last year (and if you haven't, it's also streaming on Netflix). It's terrific and should make you want to go back and catch up on Baker's earlier work, which includes this 2012 movie in which Dree Hemingway plays a porn star who befriends an old woman through an unlikely series of events. Hemingway is great -- I don't know why I haven't seen her in more -- and the movie, like Tangerine, is yet another character study about people who live and work on the fringes. It deserves to be seen.
24 Exposures (2014, dir. Joe Swanberg) While not explicitly about the porn industry, Joe Swanberg's 2014 thriller focuses on a photographer (played by director Adam Wingard) who takes pictures of women in states of undress, made up to look like they've been murdered. It may not be porn, but it's certainly a dark sexual fetish. A series of murders begin actually occurring that resemble Wingard's photos, which brings him to the attention of a cop (screenwriter Simon Wingard). One of Swanberg's less commercial efforts, 24 Exposures is not for all tastes. I like it as part of the director's unusual filmography and as a deconstruction of erotic thrillers, but it's not the movie to put on if you're just looking to be entertained this weekend.
After Porn Ends (2010, dir. Bryce Wagoner) I considered adding the Rashida Jones-produced documentary Hot Girls Wanted on here, but while that movie can be very interesting and upsetting it also takes a complete finger-wagging position on pornography and its contributions to all of society's ills. Better is After Porn Ends, which follows a number of former adult stars as they look back on their careers and attempt to adjust to new careers with a past that's just a quick Google search away. I will always find the business of porn infinitely more interesting than porn itself -- particularly documentaries like this in which the stars let their guards down and just act like people instead of always trying to say exactly what they think people want to hear.