Entries in My Humble Opinion (26)


Book Love


I have this great friend named Trevor. I haven't seen him in years, but he's one of those people who seems like a spiritual twin. Yesterday, he tagged me in an email conversation about favorite books. Here's what I wrote back to the group.

Trevor, I don't know that I've ever received a better compliment than being included in a group of "people whose lists [you] would almost kill to see."

I have lots of favorite books for lots of different reasons. Out of courtesy to you all, I had to make rules for myself: no more than five books per category; no mentioning a writer more than once.

Books that rescued me from Very Bad Places:
The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield
Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
On the Banks of Plum Creek, by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Eight Cousins, by Louisa May Alcott
The Diamond in the Window, by Jane Langton

Books I've re-read the most times:
Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell 
The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
The Weight of Glory, by C.S. Lewis

Cookbook upon which I rely most heavily:
The Way to Cook, by Julia Child 
(Though, YOU GUYS, I just got Kenji Lopez-Alt's The Food Lab for my birthday yesterday. I've read 40 pages so far this morning, and I am deeply infatuated.)

Books in which I see myself mirrored most clearly:
Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner
Kaaterskill Falls, by Allegra Goodman
The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls
Here Be Dragons, by Sharon Kay Penman

If at gunpoint I could choose only one book by my favorite British writers not otherwise mentioned:
Middlemarch, by George Eliot
Persuasion, by Jane Austen
Little Dorrit, by Charles Dickens
The Dead Secret, by Wilkie Collins
Possession, by A.S. Byatt

Same thing, gunpoint, favorite Americans:
The Children, by Edith Wharton
The Song of the Lark, by Willa Cather
The House of the Seven Gables, by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Shining, by Stephen King
Beloved, by Toni Morrison

Books that made me laugh the hardest:
Make Way for Lucia, by E.F. Benson
The Loved One, by Evelyn Waugh
Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris
Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott

Books that made me sob the hardest: 
Charlotte's Web, by E.B. White

Books in the sweet spot on the Evocation-Aesthetic Venn Diagram in my brain:
The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco
Orlando, by Virginia Woolf
All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr

Picture books I most love reading aloud to my kids:
Outside Over There, by Maurice Sendak
Little Bear, by Else Holmelund Minarik
The Piggy in the Puddle, by Charlotte Pomerantz
The Zoom Trilogy, by Tim Wynne-Jones
Busy, Busy World, by Richard Scarry

Books that most terrified me:
The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James
Ghost Story, by Peter Straub
Long Lankin, by Lindsey Barraclough
The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson

Speculative fiction most influential on my own writing:
Was, by Geoff Ryman
The Magicians, by Lev Grossman
Flora Segunda, by Ysabeau Wilce
Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson
Stranger Things Happen, by Kelly Link

Books I've discovered and most loved since starting my MFA:
The War that Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park
Bone Gap, by Laura Ruby
Lester's Dreadful Sweaters, by K.G. Campbell
There you have it. I wish people still blogged, so I could tag all of my friends and ask you to make your list of favorites. But you can tell me in a comment. :) 

All Things Dark and Beautiful--2016 Edition

Hope and Tess as the Grady twins from The Shining--a mothering pay-off moment for me. 

In years past, I've made lists of books, movies, music, and places that evoke the Octoberish feeling. All this month, I've been too busy with my wonderful graduate program (and, um, a trip to Paris), and haven't had enough leisure time in which to sink into a pleasurable melancholy. But I turned in a school packet Saturday night, so today's the day. Fittingly, it's Halloween. And November, my favorite month of the year, is a wonderful time to indulge in all things Octoberish. With that in mind, here are all the latest things I've found that bring me to that elusive, borderless place that Ray Bradbury called The October Country


The Elementals, by Michael McDowell

A haunted house story in high Southern Gothic style. You feel like your family is dysfunctional? Read this book, and you'll feel like you're part of the Brady Bunch. Images of Beldame, sitting on a desolate beach in Alabama, will stay with you.

Burnt Offerings, by Robert Marasco

The dream Long Island summer rental turns deadly for a couple from Queens. This book and The Elementals were re-released relatively recently by Valancourt Books, which looks like a treasure trove of forgotten horror classics that I'll be mining for quite a while. 

Long Lankin, by Lindsey Barraclough

Forget Neil Gaiman and John Bellairs (well, not really): this is THE scariest book intended for children that I've ever read. Barraclough expertly sustains dread and atmosphere to the very last page. The companion book, The Mark of Cain, isn't quite as well done, but it's still worth your time. 

Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead, by Barbara Comyns

An English village is plagued first by an epic flood and then by contagious, suicidal madness. The bizarre Willoweed family is at the center of all the action. This book was banned in Ireland for decades; it's definitely an unsettling little book.

Bone Gap, by Laura Ruby

A book doesn't have to be scary to be Octoberish. Lyrical magical realism also fits the bill. Finn goes in search of his missing friend Roza, who has been kidnapped by someone who doesn't appear to be of this world. Both lovely and suspenseful; I bought it in hardcover, because it's a keeper.

All Things Cease to Appear, by Elizabeth Brundage

Murder mystery? Ghost story? Hudson Valley idyll? In this compelling novel, Brundage does what Gillian Flynn tried (and failed) to do with Gone Girl.

A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness

Here's a nod to the younger kids. This lovely, only slightly creepy book featuring the most British of monsters is about dealing with grief. I read it on an airplane: big mistake. Sobbing in public is not my favorite thing. 

Bellweather Rhapsody, by Kate Racciula

The students and chaperones of an all-state music festival get snowed in at an upstate New York resort--where a grisly murder-suicide occurred years before. With many nods to The Shining (but working far more in the mystery genre than in horror), Racciula manages a quirky and complex ensemble cast with dexterity, wit, and compassion. 

The Flight of Gemma Hardy, by Margot Livesey

I approach retellings with strong caution--especially retellings of English classics I have cherished since childhood. This expert retelling of Jane Eyre met and exceeded my very high expectations. It is its own story. Set in 1960s Scotland and Iceland--two very Octoberish spots

The Little Friend, by Donna Tartt

Tartt, who wrote the Pulitzer-winning The Goldfinch, started out with this book. It's not perfect, but it's good. The best approximation I can give you is that this is what would have happened if Shirley Jackson had written To Kill a Mockingbird. Now: TKAM is one of my favorite books, and Jackson is one of my favorite writers, and The Little Friend is not as good as all that--but that description should give a sense of its atmosphere. 


I could write pages of posts about melancholy music in all genres, especially classical--but that's beyond the scope of today's exercise. Instead, I'll give you a few songs that I've played over and over this year to assuage my need for October. 

Sarah Calderwood "Through Bushes and Through Briars"

My favorite (and most Octoberish) composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams, collected this folk song at the close of the 19th century. Calderwood does it justice in this simple but haunting version.

Mandolin Orange "One More Down"

Life in the South can be depressing, you know? This very talented duo sing their hearts out on dozens of plaintive, original songs. This is one of their best. I love the simplicity and pathos.

François Couperin "Les Barricades Mysterieuses"

This piece puts me into a trance of otherness. I love it deeply. At this summer's residency, I was reading in the chapel, one of Vermont College's only air-conditioned rooms, during some free time. A woman I knew only slightly came in with some music and sat down at the Steinway. After she played a Bach Chaconne, I asked her if she had this piece with her. Startled, she said yes, and she played it for me. Magical. But it was only afterward that I realized what an odd coincidence this was; she'd only brought a few pieces of music with her from home, and this, a relatively obscure piece, was one of them. (At this point, my kids would say, "Connect the dots.")

John Rutter "Blow, Thou Winter Wind"

This chilling secular carol will carry your Octoberishness straight through to March. Words by Shakespeare; music by Rutter: it does not get better than that. I heard it once and immediately ordered the sheet music so that we could sing it at home. Gorgeous.

Led Zeppelin "When the Levee Breaks"

This is hands down my favorite LZ song of all time (and there are so very many to love). The echoing harmonica, John Bonham's driving, monstrous drums, Jimmy Page's otherworldly guitar, Robert Plant's mournful delivery of classic blues lyrics--perfection. This semester, I'm writing a ghost story set in California's Central Valley, and this song always gets me in the mood to work on it. 


Goodnight Mommy (R)

Holy crud, this movie is creepy. Twin boys become increasingly sure that the woman who came home from surgery at the hospital is not their mother. It's so immersive that you'll forget it's in German. Clever script, great camera work.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (PG-13)

The girls and I loved this one, based on the book by Seth Grahame-Smith (and borrowing more than heavily from Jane Austen). It didn't do well in theaters, but I think it's a gem. My friend Danae would call it "kick-donkey."

Cold in July (R)

A movie doesn't have to be set in the fall to be Octoberish. A man shoots a burglar, whose newly-paroled father then seeks revenge. Heart-stopping, twisty, but a little more grisly than I'd prefer. That flaw aside, this is a story with staying power. 

Midnight Special (PG-13)

Things aren't always what they look like at first glance. A father must evade both the government and an apocalyptic cult in order to protect his son, who has otherworldly powers. Hypnotic. 

The Keeping Room (R)

This may be my favorite film of this year. Two sisters and a freed slave fight off a seige by two renegade Union soldiers. You feel the suffocating heat and humidity of the desolate plantation; you feel the paralyzing dread of the women in their vulnerability. Melancholy in the extreme. 

Lost River (R)

Okay, this movie is FAR from perfect, bless director Ryan Gosling's little heart. BUT there is real emotional power and atmosphere here. It's set in Octoberish Detroit, and is post-apocalyptic without the actual apocalypse. Will this family escape the crushing despair of its circumstances? The curse of Lost River indicates no, but watch until the end to see. 

Ex Machina (R)

A programmer wins a week at the estate of his company's reclusive CEO and must pass a Turing test with a beautiful, intelligent android. Love triangle becomes love square....Claustrophobic and dread-filled. 


The Returned (Les Revenants) (R)

You want the French series, not the failed American series that was based on it. Several inhabitants of a town in France's Haute-Savoie come back to life, with no memory of what happened to them while they were dead. Their attempts at reintegrating into society are heart-breaking and riveting. As with Lost River, a reservoir created by damming a valley (and flooding several towns) figures prominently. if I'd had the time, I would have binge watched the first season. I still haven't watched Season 2; I'm kind of hoarding it. 

True Detective, Season 1 (R)

Southern Gothic at its best and most modern. I don't know if I'll ever bring myself to watch further seasons of this show, because Woody Harrelson + Matthew McConaughey + a freaky serial killer + the Louisiana bayou = black magic. This series kept me guessing, and that is hard to do. More smexy (that's my portmanteau of "smut" and "sexy") than I'd prefer, but that's what the fast forward button is for.

The Leftovers, Season 1 (R)

What happens to the people who don't get caught up in the Rapture? This show explores that question. I liked the series much more than the Tom Perrotta novel on which it's based. Again, too much smex for my taste, so consider yourself forewarned. 

The Magicians (R)

I loved Lev Grossman's trilogy about college-age magicians who discover a Narnia-like otherland, and I was cautiously delighted when I heard that Syfy was going to make the books into a series. Patrick and I LOVED Season 1 and can't wait for Season 2. 

Stranger Things (PG-13)

We've only watched two episodes so far, but I'm hooked. It feels a little Twin Peaks-y, a little X-Files-ish--which means it's right in my wheelhouse. Hoping to watch episode 3 tonight after trick-or-treating.

What would you add to this year's Octoberish edition?


Ten Great Reasons to Live in L.A.

It's no secret that I miss the New York. What do I miss about it? Pretty much everything. I was constantly near tears when we visited this summer. Our friends and family, the seasons, the culture, the food...It has been hard to leave all those things behind. 

And then there's France. I actively hope that we can move there in 15 years or so, and I try on a daily basis to prepare for that, language-wise and otherwise. 

But I'm here now. I knew moving to Los Angeles was the right thing for our family, and Patrick has never been happier in his work. And I believe strongly in savoring and living in the moment, even while preparing for a different future. As I've struggled to adjust to life in Southern California--finding zen despite the traffic, enduring the relentless sun, dealing with homesickness--I've identified at least ten great reasons to be here and be happy about it. Some are general, while a few are personal. See what you think.

10) It's always easy to be a dog owner here. 

As much as I love the seasons on the East Coast, I'm not sure I'd want to own a dog there, where every element must be braved to ensure dogs' comfort and hygeine. Here, my morning walks with Moneypenny (above right) are delightful. It's almost always cool and pleasant, with no violent weather to endure. This may sound like a small thing, but since I spend nearly an hour walking Penny almost every single day, it's a significant portion of my time, and I appreciate the ease and convenience.

9) Excellent ethnic grocery stores are close by--and mad inexpensive.

My favorite of these is 99 Ranch Market, a Chinese supermarket less than ten minutes from our house. The fish, poultry, meat, and produce are amazingly priced and much fresher than what you find in more mainstream stores. Ditto goes for Baja Ranch, which is just a little farther away. (Fresh, house-made tortillas...drool....) And when we want to make sushi at home? We go to Mitsuwa to get all the essentials. I can never resist trying new things--the Asian cookies, the Mexican drinkable yogurt. I don't love shopping, but these stores make it more of an adventure.

8) The Pacific Ocean is better than the Atlantic.

It's true. The waves and tides are more interesting, the topography is more varied and wild. The abundance of beaches can't be beat. And then there are the sunsets. We don't get to the ocean all that often, but when we do, the Pacific refreshes my soul. 

8a) Corgi Beach Day

7) White flowers are my favorite.

For a good portion of the year, jasmine, mock orange, all kinds of citrus, and gardenias are blooming in our yard and neighborhood. Their exotic, bewitching scents fill the air, making every inhalation a luscious treat. Oh, and the datura. Last night, we were watching a movie in our room, and as usual, our French doors were wide open to let in the evening air. The datura beneath our balcony, which releases its fragrance mainly at night, was out of control scent-wise. Bliss. 

7a) We sleep with our windows open nearly year-round.

As hot as it gets in the summer, it's almost always cool enough to turn off the A/C at night. And, you know, winter doesn't really exist here. I love to fall asleep looking out at the palm trees and the city lights far beyond. It's like living in a treehouse, and it's amazing.

6) We never run out of terrific, inexpensive restaurants to try.

It's true that great Italian food is scarce and great French food is almost nonexistent. (But we've squirreled out a few favorites in that regard, so we'll get by.) But when it comes to Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, and Mexican options, the San Gabriel Valley is a treasure trove. Oh, the dumplings; ah, the scallion pancakes, tacos, beef rolls, banh mi, and pho. I mine two excellent food blogs: 626 Foodettes and Gastronomy, for ideas, and haven't been steered wrong yet. Also: donuts and burgers. In these things, L.A. excels. (But don't get me started on In n Out. It's not good and never will be.)

5) I love me some Trader Joe's.

Here's another great thing about L.A. that may seem trivial, but affects our life for the better on a daily basis. (And I fully realize that 30% of this list concerns food. That shouldn't surprise anyone who knows me.) I'm at Trader Joe's at least three times a week for lovely dairy, produce, and other groceries that make life good. Just this week, we discovered Thomcord grapes, a hybrid of sweet, crunchy Thompson and luscious, full-bodied Concord. Insanely delicious and affordable. They'll likely only be around for a few weeks, because Trader Joe's likes to focus on seasonal stuff, but we're eating them while we can. 

We're doubly fortunate, because Trader Joe's is notorious for having horrendous parking options--or lack thereof. If I lived in Toluca Lake, for example, I'd likely only walk to TJ's. But our local branch is close, convenient, and has ample and sane parking, which again is a bigger deal than it may appear.

4) The independent bookstores and movie houses are the best.

I've never been to a better bookstore than Vroman's. It boasts a huge selection of wonderful books, intelligent staff reviews and recommendations, lovely stationery and gifts, international magazines, and a really cool program that rewards the community with every purchase you make--Vroman's rocks. But then there's Once Upon a Time in Montrose, Kinokuniya downtown, San Marino Toy and Book, and a host of others over on the West Side that I haven't even gotten to explore. Yet.

Movie-wise, we favor either ArcLight, a local, upscale chain, for mainstream movies, or Laemmle for independent and foreign movies. I love them both.

4a) Also: the Pasadena library is great: branches all over town, and the ability to order any book in the Pasadena/Glendale system online. The Central Branch in Old Town is gorgeous. 

3) L.A. has given my children opportunites they didn't have in New York. 

Specifically, my younger four have become avid, skillful swimmers. Hope and Tess swim and play water polo in Pasadena High School's aquatic program, and Daniel and Anne are on the town swim team here in Sierra Madre. They're fit and having a great time. Marching band and orchestra are two other activities that weren't available to us in New York. And I doubt that James would have decided on UC Berkeley had we been on the East Coast--and it has turned out to be the perfect place for him to attend college. 

2) I'm closer to my family.

We miss Patrick's family in New Jersey terribly; there's nothing good about that. Visits with my family, however, have gotten much easier. My mother is in Reno, my grandmother is in St. George, and nine of my ten siblings are in the San Francisco Bay Area (2), Portland (2), Utah (2), and Arizona (3). This was a blessing when my father died, but being closer to my family under non-tragic circumstances has also been a boon. And we've even seen Patrick's family from Texas a lot more often. 

1) I've made life-changing friends.

Again, it's a bitter thing to be so far away from people I cherish in New York. Four groups of people have saved me. We are surrounded by kind, generous, interesting neighbors. My amazing book group is full of diverse, fascinating women who treasure each other and make excellent conversation (and meals). My world-class writing group (above)--I can't even believe these famous, skilled ladies want me around, but I've learned so much from our weekly meetings. And a few stalwart friends at church, who both understand and inspire us. I can't imagine life without any of these people--and I would never have met them if we hadn't moved here. 

I wrote this post mainly as a count-your-blessings exercise, a reminder to ground me either when the challenges of living here loom large, or when being away from New York seems intolerable (friends; bagels; autumn leaves). But maybe a few other immigrants to the Southland will find it helpful. If so, let me know by leaving a comment.  


Top o' the Pops: The Best of 2013

Best Acquisition of 2013: Our darling Moneypenny--This was back in May; now she's a grown-up girl.

Long-time readers of this blog know that in years past, I've always posted a retrospective on or around January 1st. Well, my report on 2013 is late in coming, due to a series of unfortunate events we have dubbed "Janupocalypse" at our house, but it's finally here. 

2013 was our first full year as a family in the Golden State, and we've had quite a grand time exploring our new home town and its environs. Here's what I liked best:

Favorite Books Read: 

10. Joyland, by Stephen King

9. Callender Square, by Anne Perry

8. Mastering the Art of French Eating, by Ann Mah

7. The God Who Weeps, by Terryl and Fiona Givens

6. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne Valente

5. I Shall Wear Midnight, by Terry Pratchett

4. Dancing on Broken Glass, by Ka Hancock

3. Forever Chic, by Tish Jett

2. Night Film, by Marisha Pessl

1. The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

(Once again, I did not rank books by close friends, many of which were superb.)

Most Disappointing (not the worst) Book:

Harrowgate, by Kate Haruyama

Favorite Movies Seen:

10. 42

9. Up on Poppy Hill

8. Man of Steel

7. Monsters University

6. World War Z

5. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

4. Austenland

3. The Way, Way Back

2. Gravity

1. Blue Jasmine

I'm super way behind on filmgoing. One of my goals in 2014 is to see a lot more movies. I live in Movie Central, after all. Sheesh.

Favorite TV Watched:

5. Game of Thrones

4. Modern Family

3. Downton Abbey

2. Breaking Bad

1. Call the Midwife

And I have to mention Almost Human, which we are recording on DVR, and which I'm thoroughly enjoying. It features interesting science fiction-based plots and about the most attractive cop duo of all time. Give it a try.

Music: It's been a year of treasuring the old stuff: The Beatles, Great Big Sea, Niamh Parsons, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Bach, Brahms. I just haven't had a need or a desire for anything new, really. We'll see if and when that changes this year. 

Food, on the other hand: It's all about the new and fabulous. LA County is a motherlode of inexpensive, world-class Asian food, so we've hit that hard: Din Tai Fung, Vietnam House, Luscious Dumplings, Gin Sushi, Sweethome Grill, and many more.

We also found Da Pasquale, an absolute gem of an authentic Neopolitan restaurant in Beverly Hills, a stone's throw from the temple in Santa Monica, and it has been our go-to spot for pizza and the like. I keep heading back to Eagle Rock's The Oinkster for top-notch pastrami sandwiches and luscious fries with homeade aioli. For artisanal ice cream of the freshest and most delicious sort, we alternate between Carmela's in Pasadena and Mother Moo's right here in Sierra Madre. Awesome tacos abound; we love Taco Fiesta, conveniently an easy walk from our house. And burgers? The Counter, Hook Burger, and Pie n' Burger have all been on hand to satisfy the craving. 

Top Local Tourist Sites Visited:

10. Descanso Gardens

9. Chinatown/Olvera Street

8. Santa Barbara Zoo

7. Lake Hollywood

6. Bolsa Chica Beach

5. La Brea Tar Pits

4. The Norton-Simon Museum

3. Huntington Dog Beach

2. Huntington Library & Gardens

1. The Getty Center

We plan to do a lot more exploring in 2014. I don't know if we'll ever discover all there is to experience around here, but we'll give it our best shot.

Best to you in the coming year! Let's make it the greatest year ever, shall we?


My Top 13 Overlooked Creepy Movies

So, it's Halloween night. You want to watch a movie after all the kids are safely tucked away in candy-induced comas. But you've seen The Shining too recently, you're not in the mood for gore, and you're out of ideas. Well, I'm here to help. Here are 13 movies you may not have seen that might be just the ticket.

13) Manhunter (1986) Based on Thomas Harris's novel Red Dragon, the prequel to Silence of the Lambs. William Petersen, who would go on to play Gil Grissom in CSI, plays an FBI profiler looking for a serial killer known as the Tooth Fairy. Ignore the 80s cheese and give in to the creepy. The scene with the tiger. The "In a Gadda Da Vida" scene. Brian Cox as Hannibal Lecter. Holy cow. 

12) Flatliners (1990) Kiefer Sutherland's character convinces his fellow medical students to participate in an unorthodox experiment--they'll each take turns dying, be brought back by the rest of the team, and report on what they found in the great beyond. It also stars Julia Roberts, Oliver Platt, and Kevin Bacon--and almost feels like a John Hughes movie gone very, very dark.

11) The Woman in Black (2012) Based on Susan Hill's excellent novella, this movie tells the story of the grief-ridden Arthur Kipps and his attempts to clear up the estate of Alice Drablow, which includes the forlorn Eel Marsh House. Daniel Radcliffe plus Ciarán Hinds? Yes, please. 

10) The Messengers (2007) I do love me some Asian-influenced horror, and this is probably the most accessible of the lot. It was directed by the Pang brothers and stars Kristen Stewart--but don't hold that against it, because it came out before Twilight. A Chicago family buys a creepy old farmhouse, and the rest is history. Bonus: Dylan McDermott. 

9) Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) So. Super. Freaky. The 1956 version was filmed in my new hometown, but this one stars Donald Sutherland and Leonard Nimoy. It was a huge hit 35 years ago, but deserves attention from today's audiences. The last scene: gahhhhhhhhhh.

8) The Hearts of Age (1934) It's almost 80 years old, it's silent, and it's only 8 minutes long. Never mind that; Orson Welles's haunting first film (he made it when he was 19) will stay with you (this time the link takes you not to the trailer, but the entire film). There used to be a version of it on YouTube set to a string quartet by Philip Glass, and the pairing was fantastic. It's gone now, unfortunately, but the original is plenty creeptastic. 

7) The Omega Man (1971) I adore the 2007 Will Smith movie I Am Legend, based on the novel by Richard Matheson, but this version of the story, starring Charlton Heston as a scientist who believes he's the only survivor of a plague-induced apocalypse, is more subtle in its unsettling despair. 

6) Lake Mungo (2008) I'm a huge fan of the found footage genre, and this one from Australia is a doozy. This mockumentary tells the story of the grieving family of 15-year-old Alice Palmer, who has drowned. Watch all the way to the end of the credits. 

5) Mirrormask (2005) Neil Gaiman wrote it. Need I say more? If you've got older kids (say, 9 and up) hanging out with you, this is the one to watch. 

4) Brazil (1985) This is my favorite Terry Gilliam film. Psychedelic, dystopian, and satirical: it's a 143-minute geekfest. 

3) 1408 (2007) I couldn't make a spooky movie list without including something by Stephen King. John Cusack (HEART) plays Mike Enslin, a grief-stricken writer who deals with the loss of his daughter by investigating haunted houses. An anonymous postcard leads him to check into Room 1408 in New York City's Dolphin Hotel. Bad, bad things ensue. You'll never hear the Carpenters' "We've Only Just Begun" in the same way. Bonus: Samuel L. Jackson! Double bonus: if you're a writer, the opening scene, in which John Cusack sits at a bookstore signing with an audience of two customers, is priceless. 

2) Upstream Color (2013) I love, love, love this independent film by Shane Carruth; it will likely be my top film of 2013. A young woman named Kris is drugged by a thief at a club; afterward, she remains in a highly suggestible state for some time. Her frustration with her subsequent intermittent amnesia leads her to search for answers regarding what really happened to her. 

1) Donnie Darko (2001) Dig the haunting soundtrack by Michael Andrews, including the best cover theme song ever. Watch the movie at least a couple of times, because it gets better with repeated viewings (and it's great to begin with). A young Jake Gyllenhaal plays Donnie, a disturbed teenager, who is given a vision of the future by a monstrous rabbit named Frank. Donnie finds a way to change that future--at great cost. 

There: problem solved. Feel better? What under-rated or overlooked creepy film would YOU add to the list?