This bizarre black comedy-drama was a cult hit in 2002. When she's discharged from a mental hospital after self-harming, Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal, pictured) heads home. The atmosphere is clouded by her father's alcoholism, so Lee begins a shallow affair with Peter (Jeremy Davies). It does little to provide stability, so she focuses on getting a job.
Lawyer E. Edward Grey (James Spader) hires her as his secretary, but Lee is skilled only at making mistakes. One day he tires of her attitude, and summons her. But instead of the sack, she receives a firm spanking. It changes everything...
"Assume the Position", screams the poster for Secretary, showing Lee awaiting a punishment. Hardcore treats await, you'd assume, but there's more to this two-hander than the top shelf. Liberation through humiliation is no easy theme to convey, but Steven Shainberg matches Todd Solondz for masterful handling. The move from drama to fantasy is seamless, and Lee's growing self-confidence is conveyed through body language and demeanour.
Gyllenhaal's breakthrough role blends passion and pain, but it's her subtlety that impresses most. Spader adds another top-drawer creep to his roster, and all the other characters seem half-sketched in comparison.