The Boyfriend of the Week

January 11, 2011 [comment on this write-up]

It's that time of year again -- that NEW time of year! The time of year when everybody starts talkin' smack about the past annum and taunting the coming one (2011: BRING IT!).

And it's the time of year when those of us who like to make lists start making lists like the ones I'm about to make: top ten favorites kinds of lists.

So here we go: the top ten good movies, top five good-bad movies, and top ten books I encountered in 2010. Cue bells, whistles, drum roll!

Note that these lists are never easy to make -- I always end up having to leave something off of them that I wish could've made it on (The Social Network and Toy Story 3, for example). But I also want to tell you about things you might've missed, not just things everybody agreed were great. And I bet you missed several of the films in my list this year. Lucky for you, it's not too late to unmiss them!

Now, read on, and then head over to the blog to comment on which of YOUR favorites *I* missed. And Happy New Year to the best set of readers and friends a gal could ever have. I adore you all.

GOOD MOVIES Seen in 2010

1. Marwencol (2010)
Genre: Documentary
[Prequeue at Netflix | View trailer]

This incredible documentary tells the story of 38 year-old Mark Hogencamp who, several years ago, was beaten nearly to death, suffering permanent brain damage as a result. To cope with his complicated emotions after recovering, Mark began to build and photograph an elaborate WWII-era village in his front yard, using dolls and intricately staged scenes to illustrate a tremendously creative story of battle, love, and triumph over evil. Mark's story, his struggles, his unblinking honesty, and the incredible art that emerged out of his tragedy had a tremendous effect on me. Don't miss this film -- just don't do it.  And while you're waiting for it to hit DVD, go check out the photos and stories on Mark's web site: [read full review]

2. (comedy tie!) The Trotsky and Easy A (2010)
Genre: Comedy
Cast: Trotsky: Jay Baruchel, Saul Rubinek, Colm Feore; Easy A: Emma Stone, Alyson Michalka, Penn Badgley
[Netflix Trotsky (available for streaming) | Netflix Easy A]

The Trotsky: This delightfully quirky film is about a 17 year-old boy named Leon who is completely convinced he's the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky.  Almost everything I can think of to say to further describe this movie makes it sound absolutely ridiculous (well, see, he tries to unionize his high school, and there's this theme of boredom vs. apathy, and there's a clever homage to Battleship Potemkin, and Leon is just crazy-adorable when he meets his "first" wife, and, er, um, so . . . well, hell, see what I mean?). The thing is, it IS totally ridiculous. But it's also whip-smart, absolutely charming from start to finish, and very thoughtfully filmed. Watch for a Boyfriend write-up on Jay Baruchel later this year! [read full review]

Easy A: Also absolutely charming from start to finish? Easy A, which is why I had to tie these two for comedy tops. It's about a high school girl named Olive whose fake story about the loss of her virginity ends up going viral, changing her social status from completely invisible to total head-turner. When she decides to embrace her new-found infamy, though, things get a little more complicated. And then a lot more complicated.  Laugh-out-loud funny, this movie felt a lot like a sweet homage to John Hughes films (in no small part because it features an actual homage to John Hughes films).  Plus, Stanley Tucci!  I want to marry him AND have him be my dad all at the same time. (I know -- that's weird. And somewhat gross. Sorry.) [read full review]

3. Cold Souls (2008)
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Cast: Paul Giamatti, Armand Schultz, Dina Korzun, David Strathairn
[Netflix it | Buy it from Amazon]

New Yorker Paul Giamatti is a middle-aged stage actor working on a new production of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya. The role is emotionally heavy, and the longer rehearsals go on, the more serious a toll it begins to take on Paul's mental health.  Concerned, his agent steers him toward the Soul Storage Company, a new biz that offers to extract and store your soul for you, freeing you of all your cares and emotions. Paul goes along with it, only to find that being soulless isn't as great as it sounds.  But when he returns to get his soul back, he finds it's been sold on the black market in Russia (mismarketed as Al Pacino's soul, oops!).  This film is a wonderful mix of comedy and thought-provoking social commentary, and Paul Giamatti was absolutely BORN to play Paul Giamatti. (Bah ha ha! I kill me.) [read full review]

4. Skeletons (2010)
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Cast: Ed Gaughan, Andy Buckley, Jason Isaacs
[Prequeue it at Netflix | View trailer]

This terrifically odd British film is about two schlubbs, Bennett and Davis, who, with the help of some magic rocks (don't ask me), can go into your house, open up your closet, and find all the metaphorical skeletons buried therein.  Secrets, mysteries, hidden pasts -- whatever it is, these two can pop over, wave their rocks around, and empty the deepest depths of your soul.  When they take a case involving a widowed lady and her mute daughter, life for both men begins to change dramatically -- for the delightfully better.  Thoroughly original, this film has a wonderful balance of humor and heart, and the whole complex "skeletons" element was absolutely fascinating. I left this one feeling all abuzz with joy, and dying -- DYING! -- to see it again. Come on, DVD release! Hurry up! [read full review]

5. The White Ribbon (Das weisse Band) (2009)
Genre: Drama
Cast: Christian Friedel, Ernst Jacobi, Leonie Benesch
[Pre-queue it at Netflix | View trailer]

This quiet, disturbing film from controversial Austrian director Michael Haneke is about a small village in Germany, set just before the start of World War I. A bunch of weird, violent things are happening -- people getting hurt, barns being burned, etc. -- and nobody knows who's to blame.  Only, there's this pack of kids in the village who act very unsettlingly nice, and the more we learn about them, the more we begin to suspect they are the ones responsible for the crimes.  This film is fascinating, beautifully-made, and extremely troubling, and it's one I'm still thinking about nearly a year later. That says a lot right there, if you ask me. [read full review]

6. Let Me In and The Crazies (2010) (horror tie!)
Genre: Horror
Cast: LMI: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloe Moretz, Richard Jenkins; Crazies: Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson
[Netflix Let Me In | Netflix The Crazies]

Let Me In: I was definitely wary of this movie, an American remake of an absolutely stunning 2008 Swedish film, about a little vampire girl, called Let the Right One In. As I'm sure all fans of the genre know, Americans who remake foreign horror movies almost always botch them, loading them up with extraneous gore and special effects, as well as tons of unnecessary exposition. In essence, they take out all the brains and scares and replace them with guts and gotchas! instead. Luckily, though this film commits all of the sins I just mentioned, surprisingly, it gets a lot of things right too.  Well done, U.S.A. [read full review]

The Crazies: This one made it onto the list as pure guilty pleasure.  When an airplane carrying a chemical weapon crashes into a river in Iowa, the toxins leak into the water source and begin infecting the locals.  The sheriff gets his first hint that something wonky is up when one of the townsfolk wanders onto the high school baseball field during a game and proceeds to point a shotgun at him. Everyone assumes he was just drunk, but when tox screens come back negative, well. . . what?   From there to horrific, zombie-esque, limb-munching violence: aw yeah!  I had an absolute blast watching this flick, and I'm not about to apologize for it. [read full review]

7. Winter's Bone (2010)
Genre: Drama
Cast:  Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Dale Dickey
[Netflix it | Buy it from Amazon]

This bleak, brilliant film is about a 17 year-old girl named Ree Dolly who lives in a rural community in the mountains.  Ree's been the primary "adult" of her household for years, taking care of her little brother and sister while her mother sits nearby, incapacitated by severe depression, and her father, Jessup, moves in and out of jails and meth labs. When a cop comes to the house one morning to tell Ree her dad's jumped bail and the Dolly family home will be sold out from under them if he doesn't turn up, Ree sets out to track him down -- an act that takes her deep into the world of meth addiction and almost costs her her life. Beautifully shot, brilliantly acted, and brazenly authentic, this movie is absolute aces. [read full review]

8. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
Genre:  Kids, Animation
Cast:  George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman
[Netflix it | Buy it]

Toy Story 3 would've taken the animated-film slot on my list this year had it not been for this strange, clever, engaging, and hilarious picture. Based on the Roald Dahl tale, it's about a young fox named Ash trying to earn the respect of his father, Mr. Fox, a newspaperman who is also "a wild animal" addicted to the thrill of stealing squab. Ash is small and cerebral, and when his cousin, karate expert Kristofferson, shows up and starts getting a lot of praise from Mr. Fox, Ash is spurred into taking greater and greater risks in an attempt to become the son he thinks his father always wanted. The animation is impressively-done (stop-motion: neat!) and the dialogue is absolutely sharp as a cussin' tack. [read full review]

9. Inception (2010)
Genre: Sci-Fi
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page
[Netflix it | View trailer]

I'm sure you've seen this one by now -- if you haven't, you're just being difficult.  While I had a few problems with parts of the plot (mostly not helped by a second viewing, I'm afraid), I absolutely loved this movie overall.  It's smartly written and fascinatingly filmed, and the love story between the main character and his dead wife is one of the more powerful ones I saw all year.  (Plus, Joseph Gordon-Levitt -- I can't get enough of that guy.)  I've always been fascinated by the way dreams work, and the thoughtfulness of this film's approach to that subject completely blew my mind. Dreams are cool; dreams within dreams within dreams triply so. Plus, that ending:  ach, so great.  I left this movie absolutely in awe, and I know it's one I'll watch again and again. [read full review]

10. Cargo (2009)
Genre: Science Fiction, Foreign
Cast: Anna-Katharina Schwabroh, Martin Rapold, Regula Grauwiller
[Prequeue at Netflix | View trailer]

This Swiss sci-fi movie was a happy surprise for me last spring at the Seattle International Film Festival.  I wasn't sure what to expect from Switzerland's sci-fi geeks, but as it turns out, they can craft both an extremely creative and satisfying story and some pretty decent, if a bit cartoony, special effects.  Set in the future, citizens of a deathly-toxic Earth have all been evacuated to a series of overcrowded, dirty space stations.  Those with enough money, however, get to leave the stations and move to an ildyllic new planet, Rhea, where life is bright, clean, and happy.  Or so the rumor goes.  A young woman, Dr. Portmann, has been trying to save enough money to move to Rhea and, to that end, takes a well-paying offer for an 8-year job aboard a cargo ship.  Not long into the journey, though, the crew realizes there's a stowaway on board -- a stowaway who knows a terrible secret about Rhea. Exciting and well-made -- a real treat for space movie lovers! [read full review]

GOOD-BAD MOVIES Seen in 2010

1. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2009)
Genre:  Horror, Comedy
Cast:  Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden
[Prequeue it at Netflix | View trailer]

This delightful, gory movie is about two hillbillies, Tucker and Dale, who recently bought themselves a "fixer-upper" summer cabin in the woods of West Virginia.  Late their first night in the cabin, they're out fishing when a group of college kids camping in the area decide to go skinny dipping.  When one of the girls, Allison, falls into the lake and nearly drowns, Tucker and Dale save her, yelling out, "We've got your friend!" as her pals watch from the shore. The kids, who have clearly seen too many horror movies, assume the worst and form a posse to try to rescue Allison from the crazy inbred hicks in the woods. As the miscommunications pile up, they keep accidentally getting themselves killed as Tucker and Dale struggle to reunite Allison safely with her completely loony (from their perspective) friends.  This movie is riotously funny at times -- every hillbilly horror movie cliché you can think of is whipped back around in a perfectly curved satirical arc, and the filmmakers didn't miss a single beat. Great fun. [read full review]

2. Predators (2010)
Genre: Science Fiction, Action
Cast:  Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Alice Braga
[Netflix it]

I'm not sure what made me want to go see this film, not being a huge fan of the original Predator series.  But something about Adrian Brody and Topher Grace teamed up in a monster movie kind of intrigued me.  Surprisingly, it was pretty entertaining. The plot reminded me of the great sci-fi thriller The Cube, in that it's about a random group of people with varying skill sets thrown into a dangerous situation and forced to work together to get out alive (the Predators capture creatures from a variety of different worlds, drop them all onto a planet together, and then hunt them for fun).  Plus, the director's first name is NIMROD, which means you get to start out with a good guffaw before the opening credits have even ended. BONUS! (Sorry, man, but for reals.) [read full review]

3. A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
Genre: Horror
Cast:  Jackie Earle Haley, Rooney Mara, Clancy Brown
[Netflix it | Buy it]

I was expecting the worst from this movie, especially after having seen both the remake of Friday the 13th (terrible!) and the one of My Bloody Valentine (only marginally better!) last year.  Remakes of 80s slasher classics?  Not going well, my friends.  Surprisingly, I did not hate it.  That's about the nicest thing I can say about it, though.  Well, that and the words "Clancy Brown," which are enough to get me to watch just about anything. [read full review]

4. Polar Storm (2009)
Genre:  Science Fiction, Space Disaster
Cast:  Jack Coleman, Holly Dignard, Tyler Johnston
[Netflix it | Buy it]

Oddly enough, the review I wrote for this film was one of the most-read posts on my blog last year. Comments posted on the review also ended up being the source of this blog's fabulous new name, Senceless Pie (you'll have to read it to understand why). This information alone made Polar Storm worthy of mention here, but, even better, it's actually a pretty decent sci-fi movie.  The science isn't too ridiculous, relative to other movies in this genre, and the acting is pretty good too (HRG from Heroes!). Plus: the world catches on FIYAH! Well worth a rental to anybody who likes disaster flicks. (Hi, Mom!) [read full review]

5. Prey (2006)
Genre:  Adventure
Cast:  Peter Weller, Bridget Moynahan, Carly Schroeder
[Netflix it | Buy it]

This surprisingly suspenseful movie is essentially Cujo set in the African desert. A new stepmother and her husband's two sulky kids find themselves stranded in a Jeep after their tour guide takes them off-road and promptly gets eaten by a lion. The lions, having tasted the deliciousness of human blood, decide to hang out for a while and see if the Jeep's other tasty snacks are dumb enough to venture out (spoiler: they are!).  It's not terribly original, of course, but the suspense was authentic and the reasonably-well-acted characters create their own intriguing interpersonal drama when the lions are off napping or plotting.  Not too shabby! [read full review]

GOOD BOOKS Read in 2010

1. The History of Love by Nicole Krauss (2005)
[Buy it from an independent bookstore | Buy it from]

This novel features two stories from two different narrators that end up weaving together wonderfully at the end. The first is about Leo Gursky, an elderly Jew who lost his entire family, and the love of his life, in the Holocaust.  Leo is a lonely man, and his greatest fear is that he'll die completely unseen. For that reason, he goes out every day and does things like knock over display stands in stores -- on purpose, simply to be seen, noticed, maybe smiled at.  The second story is about a young girl, Alma Singer, desperately trying to find a boyfriend for her widowed mother.  When a man writes Mrs. Singer asking for her help in translating an old book from Hebrew to English, Alma sees it as the perfect opportunity for her mom to find love again.  How these two stories end up converging, I'll leave for you to discover. Suffice it to say I found this entire book absolutely breathtakingly-written, with sentence after sentence of the most empathetic and powerful prose I have encountered in a long time. I could hardly stand to read it at times, it was that goddamn good. Oof. [read full review]

2. Away by Amy Bloom (2008)
[Buy from an Indie Bookstore | Buy from Amazon]

Lillian Leyb is a 22 year-old Jewish wife and mother with a happy life, a solid (if uninspiring) marriage, and a warm home. One night, however, that life is destroyed when her entire family is viciously attacked in a Russian pogrom. Desperate to save her 4 year-old daughter Sophie, Lillian shoves her out the back door, tells her to run, and never sees her again. Told later Sophie was found dead, Lillian packs up her grief, stuffs it deep into her suitcase, and does the only thing she can think of -- she gets on a ship bound for New York City. In America, she struggles to find a purpose until the day she gets news from a cousin that Sophie is alive and living in Alaska.  Lillian immediately sets out on a journey that takes her across the U.S. from New York City, to Chicago, to Seattle, and finally into to the Alaskan wild, where she nearly dies more than once and, ultimately, finds her salvation. The ending may strike some as pat; it made me weep. [read full review]

3. Edisto by Padgett Powell (1984)
[Buy from an Indie Bookstore | Buy from Amazon]

This short novel, about a precocious 12 year-old boy named Simons who spends a summer learning about life from a wise, laid-back young man named Taurus, is pretty straight-forward story-wise.  What makes it truly great and utterly addictive is its language. Powell not only has a masterful grasp of the nuances of childhood thinking, something that shines through even while disguised by Simons's precocious speech, but the language of the locals -- the dialect of the Doctor, Theenie, and the other characters we meet in the story -- is brilliantly, sharply captured. This is a simple coming-of-age story, but one with an intensely emotional sense of place and time. It's inventive, smart, hilariously funny at times, and absolutely on fire with the author's obvious love for both his characters and his craft. [read full review]

4. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (2008)
[Buy it from Amazon]

This quietly moving collection of short stories focuses on a small town in Maine and the wide variety of people who live therein. Tying each story together is the Kitteridge family, a local clan headed by matriarch Olive, a retired schoolteacher with all the social graces of a chainsaw, and her husband Henry, a passive, loyal man who reacts to most of the world around him with a sweet sort of gentle bewilderment.  Olive is a hard, wise, straight-talking older woman who doesn't believe in beating around the bush, and while I started the book bristling at her every brusque move, by the final story, I was wrenchingly in love with her. Underneath her armor is a woman all too painfully familiar with loss. In fact, almost every story in this book, about her or not, is a story about loss of some sort: lost love, lost children, lost chances, lost will. And through it all, Olive remains wrapped up snug in her toughness, bruises buried deep, enduring, persevering, pressing on. Wonderful. [read full review]

5. Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin (2007)
[Buy from an Indie Bookstore | Buy from Amazon]

This entertaining mystery is set in the time of King Henry II's reign in England and begins with a terrible crime: four local children have been kidnapped, tortured, and brutally murdered. The king, desperate to find the killer, asks his pal, the king of Sicily, if he can borrow one of that nation's famous experts on death. Sicily promptly sends over a female doctor named Adelia, sending a bit of a shockwave through the village (a CHICK?!).  As the mystery begins to unfold, Adelia finds herself blocked at nearly every turn by both her sex and the religious and superstitious villagers around her. In the process, we readers get a delightful education in the history of forensics, women in science, and religious upheaval during the Middle Ages. Well-written and suspenseful, I really enjoyed this one and am looking forward to reading the others in the series. [read full review]

6. Shell Games: Rogues, Smugglers, and the Hunt for Nature's Bounty by Craig Welch (2009)
[Buy from an Indie Bookstore | Buy from Amazon]

The bulk of this non-fiction book is about a surprisingly enormous and dangerous ring of geoduck poachers that's been operating in the Pacific Northwest for years.  Along the way, Welch also tells us a crazy set of stories about a variety of other wildlife smugglers, everything from moss thieves to women sneaking small monkeys onto airplanes in their hair. A long passage about a butterfly thief from Japan kept me up way past my bedtime, and the story of the cops who brought down the geoduck gang was as gripping as any crime novel.  Shell Games is an absolute must-read for anyone interested in protecting our wildlife, or, for that matter, anyone who loves a brilliantly-wrtiten and completely bizarre story (monkeys?  in their HAIR?!). [read full review]

7. Dreadnought by Cherie Priest (2010)
[Buy from an Indie Bookstore | Buy from Amazon]

This delightful adventure, the second in Priest's Clockwork Century series (steampunk zombies, yo!), is set during the same era as the first book, Boneshaker, but takes us all the way across the country to Richmond, VA. There, a nurse at a Confederate hospital, Mercy Swakhammer, learns in a single day both that her husband has been killed in Andersonville and that her estranged father is on his deathbed in Seattle.  Reeling from her loss, Mercy decides it's time for an adventure, so she quits her job and heads for the Northwest.  As it turns out, though, the only train going that direction is the infamous Union battle train the Dreadnought, a train that features a mysterious caboose with all its windows blackened, a dodgy scientist so protective of that car he's willing to shoot anyone who goes near it, and a whole host of Confederate soldiers hot on the Dreadnought's tail.  The train vs. train shoot-out towards the end of the book is absolutely thrilling, and Mercy herself is kick-ass: a young woman with three times the balls of half the men she meets.  Great fun, and I can't wait for the next one in this series! [read full review]

8. Push by Sapphire (1996)
[Buy from Amazon]

This novel centers on a 16 year-old, dirt-poor, African-American girl in Harlem named Precious Jones. Pregnant with her second child (both conceived through incest), Precious is kicked out of school. She signs up for a local alternative program, hoping to learn to read and write, and there meets Blue Rain, her teacher and ultimately the woman who inspires Precious to get back on her feet and press on towards a brighter future. It's a hard journey, and one very painful to read, but the novel is written as though by Precious herself, and watching her writing change as she begins to learn from and be inspired by her teacher is a revelation.  Much better than the film, if you ask me, though the film is also quite good. [read full review]

9. I'm Not Scared by Niccolo Ammaniti (2004)
[Buy from an Indie Bookstore | Buy from Amazon]

This short novel is about a 9 year-old Italian boy who finds a pit in the woods that contains what appears to be the dead body of a little boy about his age.  When he rushes home and tells his father what he's found, his dad strangely brushes him off. The next day, the kid returns to the woods to take a second look and discovers the boy is actually alive -- weak and disoriented, but alive. This short novel is a gripping tale about the vagaries of the little-kid mind, the earnest bravado with which children confront adult situations, and the unique, self-preservingly-incomplete way that kids process inconceivable information. If you're in the mood for a tight little thriller, you need go no further. [read full review]

10. Hunger Games trilogy: Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (2008-2010)

After all the buzz about these novels, I finally caved to the pressure and picked up the first one last October. It's the story of a post-massive war North America, divided up into twelve districts and ruled by a corporation named Panem.  Every year, two lottery-selected teenagers from each district are thrown into the wild together and forced to kill each other until only one remains -- while the rest of the nation watches the game live on television. The reason?  Panem wants to make sure nobody forgets who's in charge.  The outcome?  Well, when a young girl named Katniss Everdeen wins the games by staying true to herself and her sense of right and wrong, the outcome is REVOLUTION. This series is neither brilliantly written nor brilliantly original (it's an age-old story, this one, and not retold here all that uniquely), but it's incredibly gripping, and had I first picked it up as a 13 year-old, it would've completely consumed me, no doubt about it. There are movies coming -- I sincerely hope they do not suck. In the meantime, give the first book a shot and see what you think.  [read full review]

So, there you have it! I hope you'll give some of the films and books in this list a shot! And that you'll let me know what you think if you do!

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