The Boyfriend of the Week

December 23, 2005

Hey, everybody! It's time for my annual nondenominational holiday write-up, but this year instead of featuring Santa Claus as a Boyfriend or writing an extremely ridiculous Boyfriend-related version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" (though, I have to say, I loved that last year), I'm going to do the wholly unoriginal thing and present you with a list of all my favorite books and movies from 2005.

Me and everybody else on the Internet, huh? I mean, how many of these lists have you seen in the last few weeks? Even Stephen-freaking-King did it in Entertainment Weekly recently. Nevertheless, I had fun going through everything from the past twelve months and putting my lists together, so suck it up and shut it, already. You can skim -- you have my permission. Go for it.

Before I get started, however, I should clarify that these are things I personally read, saw, or heard for the first time in 2005, not things that necessarily came out in 2005. Some are older -- in fact, many of them are. But it's all stuff I discovered this year and loved, and it's all stuff I heartily recommend to you guys too.

Favorite Books of 2005

Note: if you want to read my full reviews for any of the following books, just go to the Book Search page and plunk in the title or author's name.

1. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. (buy me!)

This was, hands-down, the best novel I read all year. It's about two young boys growing up in Afghanistan, coming of age the hard way just as the Taliban storms in and all hell breaks loose. It had some of the most heartbreaking scenes I've ever encountered in fiction, and I almost quit reading it at least three times. Ultimately, however, I simply couldn't give up on the story or its amazing characters, and I'm so glad I didn't. This novel is just absolutely stunning -- I will never forget it and cannot recommend it highly enough.

2. The Brothers K by David James Duncan. (buy me!)

My Mom passed this one along to me and it was as great as everybody always told me it was. Narrated by an 8 year old boy, it's about the Chance family, a family of kooky kids, a somewhat emotionally unbalanced mother, and a father who loves baseball more than life itself. It can be both hilarious and wrenching and I found it impossible to set down once I started it, despite the fact it's over 700 pages long. Definitely a must-read for anybody who loves father-son or baseball stories!

3. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed American by Eric Larson. (buy me!)

My husband read this book on a trip we were taking and after hearing him gasp every ten pages and exclaim, "MAN, I cannot BELIEVE this story!" I knew I'd have to read it too. It's a fascinating, gripping, non-fiction account of the World's Fair in Chicago -- but it's not just about the Fair. It's also about a serial killer who was operating in the area at the same time -- how he found his victims, what he did to them, why he was driven to kill. Despite the fact the latter story sounds juicier, I found the stuff about the logistics regarding the Fair to be even more riveting. This book is incredible; don't miss it!

4. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. (buy me!)

This novel is one of the most fascinatingly-formatted books I've ever encountered. The narrator is a young man who came across the book that forms the bulk of the text -- his narration takes place in the footnotes, as he annotates the main story for us. And the main story is a nonfiction (but it's all fiction, of course) analysis of a documentary film made by a guy who discovered that the inside of his house was bigger than the outside, full of corridors, rooms, and winding staircases that simply cannot, by the laws of physics, actually be there. Even weirder, there appears to be something alive in there. Something not human. But is it really a monster? Or is it just madness? Who cares? This was one of the most incredibly suspenseful stories I've ever read -- it kept me up late every night while I was reading it. A great book for anybody who loves an old-fashioned chill!

5. Articles of War by Nick Arvin. (buy me!)

This short novel is the story of a young boy, barely a man, who enlists into the Army during World War II and is shipped off to France just after D-Day. Things start out fairly well, until two things happen that shake him to the core. First, he falls in love with a local refugee just as he's sent into battle. And then, during his first, frightening exposure to combat, he makes a horrifying discovery about himself -- he's a coward. This is a short one, but it is beautifully written. It's a powerful story about the struggles a young man goes through when he leaves a peaceful life and gets thrown into the harsh, confusing world of war. Tremendous. And, unfortunately, quite timely.

6. Just a Geek: Unflinchingly Honest Tales of the Search for Life, Love, and Fulfillment Beyond the Starship Enterprise by Wil Wheaton. (buy me!)

I read Wil's book, a memoir of sorts, when I was researching him for his Boyfriend of the Week write-up. I didn't actually expect all that much from him -- how many child actors do you know who go on to be great writers? But, boy, did he ever surprise me. This is a funny, thoughtful book about what his life was like after his role on Star Trek ended -- the struggles he went through trying to stay in the acting biz, the difficulties and joys of becoming a stepfather to his sons, etc. I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to his next one, "Do You Want Kids With That?," which will focus even more on his role as a stepdad. If you're intrigued, be sure to check out his blog, one of my current favorites, at http://wilwheaton.net (currently in exile due to technological difficulties at http://wilwheaton.typepad.com/).

7. We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch. (buy me!)

This nonfiction book tells the story of the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, when the government issued an order to its entire populace demanding that every single Hutu pick up a weapon and kill every single Tutsi. In only 90 days, over 800,000 men, women, and children were slain. Reporter Gourevitch was in the country towards the end of the massacre, and saw many of the horrors firsthand. This book is an account of what he experienced there, as well as an examination of the factors that lead to genocide, and the failures of the world around us to stop it when it starts. It also features a section about Paul Ruseabagina, the subject of last year's film "Hotel Rwanda." A hard book to read, but one I wish everybody would pick up. And, what the heck, make your teenagers read it too. Maybe the next generation can do a better job than we've done ourselves in keeping these sorts of horrors from ever happening in the first place.

8. The Disapparation of James by Anne Ursu. (buy me!)

Strange and wonderful tale of a little boy who is disapparated by a circus clown/magician and never reappears. The clown is immediately arrested and the entire town starts searching for James, but despite everyone's best efforts, James is just. . . gone. It sounds fairly straightforward, like an episode of "Without a Trace" or something -- missing kid, guilt-ridden and tortured parents -- but Ursu is a talented and unique author with an amazing way to turn this story into something almost magical. There's a scene in which the mother looks down at her own hands and suddenly doesn't recognize them as belonging to her -- her whole world has become so utterly foreign now that her son is gone. Somehow, that simple image alone conveyed more intensely painful emotion than almost anything else I've ever encountered in fiction. I've never read anything like it. Loved every word.

9. Codex by Lev Grossman. (buy me!)

This was a really entertaining and somewhat odd one. It's about an investment banker who is assigned by his company to take on a rather strange case -- one of their oldest clients, the Duchess of Weymarshe, wants Edward to come and organize and catalog her large collection of medieval books. At first, he's outraged -- this is no job for a prestigious banker like him. But as he's hip-deep in book dust, he makes a remarkable discovery: a medieval codex (a type of old book) has been hidden in the collection, one that scholars have denied even existed. He quickly hooks up with a medieval scholar, Margaret, and the two of them soon find themselves stuck in the middle of a familial battle, the outcome of which depends entirely on the contents of the codex itself. This was just a strange and extremely engrossing novel -- delightfully odd and very fun!

10. Cross Bones by Kathy Reichs. (buy me!)

I wanted to have one book in my list here that was just plain ol' fun, and this one is it. Kathy Reich's novels, featuring forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan, are always wonderful -- consistently well-written and suspenseful, and packed with just enough science to keep things interesting without bogging the story down. Some of you may be fans of the new show "Bones," which is based on Kathy and Tempe's fictional and non-fictional lives. But the show is a poor substitute for the books (for one thing, the Tempe in the books is nothing like Emily Deschanel's character, who is a sourpuss to the extreme). Can't recommend this series highly enough!

Favorite Movies of 2005

1. Hero (2002) -- foreign -- Jet Li, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Maggie Cheung, Ziyi Zhang. (buy me!)

Hero is, in a nutshell, the most visually stunning film I have ever seen -- the colors, the choreography, everything about it was just breathtakingly intense and beautiful. Plotwise, it's about a young warrior who shows up at the Emperor's chambers one day and says, "Hey, man, I just killed all your royal assassins and here's how I did it -- how do ya like them apples?" The Emperor listens to his stories, then says, "Oh yeah? That's not what *I* heard." And then he lays out a completely different series of events in return. The warrior chills for a bit, then replies, "Hah! I was lying the first time -- here's the REAL truth" and he goes through it all one more time. Thus, we end up getting to see the same story told three separate ways, with each rendition getting more and more fabulous and complex. And then, ooh! The final twist was just awesome! This movie is, put simply, a complete masterpiece. Flawless. Don't miss it!

1b. Serenity (tied for first with Hero) (2005) -- sci-fi/western -- Nathan Fillion, Alan Tudyk, Gina Torres, Morena Baccarin, Adam Baldwin, Sean Maher, Jewel Staite, Summer Glau, Ron Glass. (buy me!)

This hilarious, clever sci-fi/western, based on the canceledJoss Whedon TV show "Firefly," was the most thoroughly entertaining movie I saw all year. But don't take my word for it here -- instead, go back to the write-up I did a couple of months ago, when I featured the ENTIRE CAST. If that doesn't convince you that you shouldn't miss this one, I don't know what else to tell ya. "Hero" was beautiful, but "Serenity" just plain kicked my ass with it's awesomeness. Don't worry -- you don't have to know anything about "Firefly" to figure out who everyone is and what they're up to (my husband had no clue and he loved the movie as much as I did). You know what? Honestly? This is my favorite science fiction movie of all time. How's that for a recommendation. Don't let this one pass you by!

2. Crash (2004) -- drama -- Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito, Thandie Newton, Terrence Howard, Sandra Bullock. (buy me!)

This is an incredible film about the collision of a group of different characters and races during a one or two day period in post-9/11 Los Angeles. The movie is about racism -- the way almost every person of every race struggles with racist feelings of their own, some better at hiding it than others, but absolutely none actually immune to it. And when these feelings are released, purposefully or by accident, they never fail to impact everyone who encounters them. This is an extremely intelligent movie, something that is pretty darn rare these days. Loved it.

3. The Station Agent (2003) -- comedy/drama -- Peter Dinklage, Bobby Canavale, Patricia Clarkson. (buy me!)

Sweet, sweet movie about a dwarf who inherits an abandoned train station on the outskirts of a small town and decides to move into it. After years of city living, where he was constantly mocked for his short stature, he relishes the idea of being left alone and living a simple, solitary life. But almost immediately two of the locals take an interest in him, and soon he is forced to actually, *gasp*, have friends! This is just a wonderful, good-natured, and funny film, and it's the movie that made me fall in love with Peter Dinklage, something I can't thank it highly enough for. Amen.

4. Off the Map (2003) -- drama -- Joan Allen, Sam Elliot, Jim True-Frost, J.K. Simmons, Valentina de Angelis (written by Campbell Scott). (buy me!)

This is another truly sweet movie, and it's one I rushed right out to buy a copy of the day after I saw it for the first time. It's narrated by a young girl -- probably about 12 years old or so -- who lives in a cabin with her two parents "off the map" (that is, off the grid -- without electricity, city water, etc.) in New Mexico. One day, a tax collector (ex-Boyfriend Jim True-Frost) shows up to tell the family they own thousands in back taxes. But he becomes so smitten with the family and their lifestyle, that he just sort of. . . never leaves again. I loved everything about this film. The girl is quirky and sharply funny, and Sam Elliot does a breathtaking job playing her severely depressed father. Plus, Joan Allen -- always flawless and nekkid this time too! Absolutely wonderful. Two mighty, mighty big thumbs up.

5. Undertow (2004) -- thriller -- Jamie Bell, Dermot Mulrouney, Josh Lucas, Devon Alan. (buy me!)

This is an extremely suspenseful film, in a very non-Hollywood kind of way, about two boys whose father had sort of spirited them away from big city life after the death of their mother, moving the family to a little rural town in the middle of nowhere in Georgia. But when their father's estranged brother Deel shows up, demanding that he hand over some antique gold coins, all hell breaks loose and the father ends up dead. Soon the two boys are running for their lives, gold coins in tow, encountering a wide array of strange, almost unreal people on their way. Eventually, Deel catches up to them, and while I found the climax somewhat anticlimactic, that just further supports my point -- this film is strange and nontraditional. Sometimes, it's even downright weird. But I loved it. And Jamie Bell proves once again that he is an amazingly talented kid. I hope to see a lot more of him over the next few years. This one made me think. That's always nice, right?

6. Murderball (2005) -- documentary -- Keith Cavill, Andy Cohn, Christopher Igoe, Joe Soares, Mark Zupan. (buy me!)

This documentary about the American Paralympic Quad Rugby team totally blew my all my misconceptions about quadriplegics right outta the water-- including the one wherein I thought "quadriplegic" meant you had no use whatsoever of any of your four limbs (it actually just means you have impaired use in all four -- all of the quads on the team have some function in their arms, for example). This is a really fascinating, suspenseful, funny, and just plain entertaining documentary. Not safe for kids, as there's a lot of swearing and also a little sex. But everybody else should be sure to check it out. It's a blast!

7. The Snow Walker (2003) -- adventure/drama -- Barry Pepper, Ennoble Piugattuk, James Cromwell. Directed by Charles Martin Smith. (buy me!)

I looooooved this film. In fact, I loved it so much I've seen in three times in the span of only six months! It's set in the 1950's and is about a young hotshot bush pilot in Alaska who has just made a delivery to a group of Eskimos when he is stopped by two of them. They try to communicate with him, but he doesn't understand what they want -- until they bring out a young woman who is coughing and he realizes they are asking him to take her to the hospital. He begrudgingly agrees, but as they are on their way back, the plane crashes and the two are left stranded together in the middle of a frozen wasteland. Luckily, she's lived all her life in just such a place, and they soon begin to depend on each other -- eventually falling in love. Not necessarily in romantic love -- but the kind of love you have for another person that completely changes your life. There's no kissing. There's no sex. But both of them are transformed forever by their bond. This is a wonderful, wonderful movie, and one I know I will watch over and over again. I can't recommend this one highly enough. Rent it!

8. Casa de los Babys (2003) -- drama -- Vanessa Martinez, Lili Taylor, Mary Steenburgen, Marcia Gay Harden, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Daryl Hannah, Rita Moreno. Directed by John Sayles. (buy me!)

This film is about a group of American women who are all in a small South American town at the same time, each one there to try to adopt a child. Each mother has her own set of problems -- one is a control freak, one has an eating disorder, one is unhappy in her marriage, etc. And each mother brings their own preconceptions of motherhood into play. Meanwhile, the local adoption agents torment them with lengthy delays and incomprehensible paperwork, creating piano-wire tension at times and breakdown after breakdown for each of the women involved. This is a well-written, well-acted film that takes a very different look at parenthood, bringing us into the heartbreaking world of women who are so desperate for a child that they will do almost anything to fill that void. Plus, what a cast! Marvelous. And it's always great to see Vanessa Martinez, who I have loved since her role in Sayles's film "Limbo."

9. Finding Neverland (2004) -- drama -- Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, Radha Mitchell, Freddie Highmore. (buy me!)

I wasn't sure if I was actually going to like this movie, to be honest -- I tend to shy away from the smash hits, finding the hoopla over them kind of annoying. But I knew I was going to love this movie once I started watching it, because I could immediately see it was more than just a cute story. Some of the scenes in this film are simply magical -- just brilliantly conducted by the director and writer. Take, for example, my favorite moment of the film -- it's the scene just after Barrie and his wife have been having one of their cold conversations, and each retires to their separate bedrooms, which are next door to each other. Mrs. Barrie opens her door and it reveals a dark room. Then Mr. Barrie opens his, and what we see inside it is a light, wondrous world that we know isn't really there. That was a beautiful, thoughtful, and simple way to express visually the differences between their two characters -- a real "show, don't tell" moment. I love moments like that. For that scene alone, I love this film. Gorgeous. And the rest of it? Pretty damn good too.

· · · · · · · · · · · · · ·

Well, folks, that's it! I hope you've enjoyed my little "Best Of" lists, and that you read or see a few of these and love them as much as I did. I'm heading off for a little Christmas vacation time with my family, but will be back in 2006 for another fun, fun, fun-filled year of Boyfriends and books! Before I go, however, I wanted to say that I have loved and, as cheesy as this sounds, truly cherished all the conversations I've had with so many of you over the last few years. It makes my day whenever any of you write to me with your funny comments, kind words, and Boy or book suggestions. I've learned so much from you guys, and I've had a damn good time doing it. You're the best fans a gal could ever dream of having, and I look forward to another year of trying to make you laugh. Love you guys! So, happy holidays to you and your families, and all the best wishes for 2006! I'll see you next year!


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