Easy A — Clean-cut high-schooler Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) shakes up her reputation when she is overheard — by a strict Christian classmate (Amanda Bynes) — insinuating that she lost her virginity over the weekend. Olive takes it a step further when she pretends to sleep with her gay best friend (Dan Byrd) so his schoolmates will stop taunting him. Partially inspired by The Scarlet Letter, this film features a star-making performance by Stone, who (like talented redheads Debra Messing and Lucille Ball before her) is a born comedian. Add to it solid support by Bynes, Lisa Kudrow, Patricia Clarkson, Stanley Tucci, and more, and you have the best teen comedy since Mean Girls.
Never Let Me Go — Think Merchant-Ivory with a bit of a sci-fi twist. Without giving too much away, Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Tommy (Andrew Garfield), and Ruth (Keira Knightley) grow up at a boarding school that never allows them off the premises, rarely allows visitors, and regularly probes them with medical tests and psychological examinations. Use your imagination from there. Knightley gives her most grown-up performance to date, and Mulligan, as she did in An Education, continues to channel Cate Blanchett — and expands her promising career.
Fruit Fly — Bethesda, a Filipina performance artist looking for a network of friends to support her artistic interests, finds a home among the gays in an artist commune before coming to the realization she’s a fag hag. Written and directed by H.P. Mendoza, whose Colma: The Musical opened to raves in 2007, Fruit Fly is another musical that has played the festival circuit — this one so bursting with energy and color, you can’t help but wish life were like an Mendoza musical.
The Town — Ben Affleck is a solid actor, but he’s a superb director, and here he’s doing both jobs. For his first film behind the lens since 2007’s Gone Baby Gone, he has assembled an all-star cast (Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall, Blake Lively) for what might be an even better movie. The Boston-set story focuses on a bank robber who falls for the executive he took hostage. Well acted and paced, The Town is not for the faint of heart — but it’s the first film of the fall with a real shot at being an Oscar contender.
Strapped — A cynical hustler looking to get off and move on to the next client finds his night turned upside down when he bonds with a beefy, newly out man — then can’t seem to find his way out of his apartment building. On its surface, Strapped looks like 100 gay films that have been done before, but Ben Bonenfant makes a likable, handsome lead, and the twist is just unusual enough to keep you watching.
Maroon 5: Hands All Over — The quintet returns with its third studio album, and it’s full of the expected cheery, irresistible, melodic pop for which the band is noted. Adam Levine’s smooth-as-silk voice glides over a dozen radio-friendly tracks, including standouts “Out of Goodbyes,” a breakup ballad with Lady Antebellum, and the buoyant second single, “Give a Little More.”
Selena Gomez and the Scene: A Year Without Rain — The tween pop movement might be enough to send you off a cliff some days, but here’s a pop star who knows exactly who she is. Selena Gomez isn’t trying to sell sex — at least not as overtly as Miley Cyrus. But she is trying to sell a slightly more sophisticated than usual dance album that you can crank in the car and sing along with — and with that in mind, she succeeds admirably.
Glee: The Complete First Season — Ryan Murphy’s musical sitcom about a high school show choir made a star of Jane Lynch and became a bona fide cultural phenomenon. The series attracted guest stars such as Olivia Newton-John, Kristin Chenoweth, and Neil Patrick Harris and had pop stars clamoring to have their musical catalogs reinvented by the show’s talented cast. “The Gleek Edition” contains more than two hours of never-before-seen extras, including behind-the-scenes footage from the “Power of Madonna” episode.
Modern Family: The Complete First Season — ABC’s fast-paced mockumentary that follows several nontraditional parents, including a same-sex couple (played by Jesse Tyler Fergusen and Emmy-winner Eric Stonestreet), is not only one of the breakout hits of last season, it’s also one of the best-written, scoring an Emmy as best comedy. All 24 episodes are available on the boxed set as well as a multitude of previously unseen extras, including cast interviews, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and deleted, extended, and alternate scenes.
Desperate Housewives: Season Six — For anyone who stopped watching Desperate Housewives a few seasons back because it seemed stale and over, stop what you’re doing, prepare to watch again, and kick things off with this season. It’s not as good as season 1, but it’s a throwback to what made Desperate Housewives fun in the first place — and a perfect appetizer for season 7, featuring new housewife Vanessa Williams. Few people play barefoot, pregnant, and over it like Felicity Huffman, and Eva Longoria’s tender relationship with desperate-to-become-dads Bob (Tuc Watkins) and Lee (Kevin Rahm) is a nice shake-up for her otherwise self-involved Gabrielle. This show can still pack a genuinely snarky laugh or three.