FOR ADDITIONAL REVIEWS OF MOVIES, TV SHOWS, MUSIC AND BOOKS, GO TO PEOPLE.COM/PICKS
No. 1 Cake
Jennifer Aniston misses a shot at Oscar, but she’s still great in a drama tinged with dry humor
Cake is not Aniston’s best film, but it is some of her finest work. As Claire Bennett, she’s a caustic pill-popper, alienating her husband (Chris Messina) and sporting emotional scars grislier than the ones scoring her body. But when Nina (Anna Kendrick), a member of her pain-management support group, commits suicide, Claire becomes fixated, trying to get into the dead woman’s head as a way to get out of her own. The performance is gutsy, and Aniston is helped by terrific turns from the cast, particularly Adriana Barraza as Claire’s exasperated housekeeper. Here’s hoping Aniston keeps challenging herself. (Jan. 23, R)
No. 2 Sons of Liberty
In a three-night miniseries, the spirit of 1776 gets newly revved up
Scene: a tavern in colonial Boston. Enter Officer of the Crown, thin-lipped and insufferable, who confronts a young, smoking-hot American rebel. Officer: “You are the famous Samuel Adams, are you not?” Adams, with surly attitude: “What’s the problem?” The miniseries Sons of Liberty is like that—it has a Sons of Anarchy macho swagger, only with tricorn hats. The large cast of dudes, including Ben Barnes as Adams, keeps it all fun and rowdy. (History, Jan. 25, 9 p.m.)
No. 3 Puss in Boots
The swashbuckling cat, one of the best and surely most profit-generating characters from the Shrek franchise, gets his own series. It’s silly and obvious, but what else should a cat wearing boots be? Trying to solve the riddle of the sphinx—long story—he guesses, “Yellow?” (Now streaming)
No. 4 Fifth Harmony, Reflection
Fifth Harmony—the Simon Cowell-signed X Factor alumnae—burst onto the charts last year with their underrated singles “Bo$$” and “Sledgehammer.” From come-ons (the standout “Worth It”) to love songs (“Like Mariah,” which samples Mariah Carey‘s “Always Be My Baby”), their debut LP is full of their trademark sass. (Feb. 3)
No. 5 The Best New Books
A touching novel about worlds colliding, If I Stay author Gayle Forman’s latest, and an undertaker’s child looks back.
I Was Here
FICTION “It’s not your fault.” So ends Meg’s suicide note to Cody. Still, Cody can’t help but feel guilty—how could she not have known that her best friend was suicidal? But when Cody goes to Meg’s college to pack up her things, she realizes there’s a lot she didn’t know. A heartbreaking novel about coping with loss from the bestselling author of If I Stay.
The Undertaker’s Daughter
MEMOIR This tale of growing up in a funeral home could be morbid—but instead it’s a humorous look at one woman’s complicated coming of age. She writes about romances with black men in a racist town, her undertaker dad’s secrets, her troubled sister and eccentric locals. It’s as much about living as it is about dying.
BOOK OF THE WEEK
Amanda Eyre Ward
The Same Sky
NOVEL In Austin, Texas, the 40-year-old wife of a restaurant owner longs for a child. In Honduras, an 11-year-old girl struggling to survive amid poverty and crime embarks on a dangerous journey north seeking a better life. Ward (How to Be Lost) connects those disparate stories in the final pages of her fifth novel, a deeply affecting look at the contrast between middle-class U.S. life and the brutal reality of Central American children so desperate they’ll risk everything.
NEW IN PAPERBACK
The Unexpected Waltz
Adrift after losing her husband, Kelly Wilder discovers ballroom dancing and regains the spring in her step. A charming novel about midlife rebirth.
Drawn from the author’s own family history, this beautifully written novel about a German family in the 1940s illuminates the reality of war.
The Sixth Extinction
The Earth is headed for a loss of living species as cataclysmic as the end of the dinosaurs, writes Kolbert in this sobering but fascinating book.
No. 6 The Humbling
While Birdman does bolder things with its story of a washed-up actor who loses sight of the line between reality and fantasy, the similarly themed Humbling has its own charms. Al Pacino digs deeper than he has in ages as theater vet Simon Axler, who hides at his estate after a breakdown, then has a dizzying affair with a lesbian (Greta Gerwig). He also might be hallucinating a stalker. Hard to say. But gosh, Charles Grodin is fun as Simon’s blithely heartless agent. (Jan. 23, R)
No. 7 The Americans
A taut new season of spying, lying and dying for a cause
Leonid Brezhnev has joined that most egalitarian of societies, the dead, and the Soviet war in Afghanistan is going badly. This is the moment for American-based spies Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Rhys and Russell) either to bail on Mother Russia or redouble their efforts and introduce their teen daughter to espionage—a Cold War debutante. The Americans somehow keeps getting better: It’s a bleak, biting portrait of both an empire in free fall and a marriage in deep trouble. (FX, Jan. 28, 10 p.m.)
No. 8 2015 Grammy Nominees, Various Artists
Tunes from the year’s best
Gear up for the 57th Grammy Awards (broadcast live on CBS, Feb. 8, 8 p.m.) with the Recording Academy’s annual preshow compilation. Boasting chart toppers from the current crop of nominees, the 21-song playlist includes awards-season warriors (Taylor Swift, Pharrell Williams, Beyoncé) and breakout stars (Iggy Azalea, Sam Smith, Hozier and Meghan Trainor).
No. 9 A Path Appears
Blake Lively, Jennifer Garner and more undertake a moving journey of exploration, change and hope
From the creative team behind the series Half the Sky, Path follows author/reporters Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn and a group of celebrity activists—each spearheading the causes they’ve championed—as they fan out across the globe to explore gender inequality, poverty and the ripple effects that follow from these blights—including sex trafficking, teen pregnancy and child slavery. They also visit inspiring programs that are making a difference. “These people will do something amazing with their lives and for the lives of others,” says Mia Farrow. For more information go to apathappears.org. (Jan. 26, PBS, check local listings)
HER CAUSE: SAVE THE CHILDREN’S EARLY STEPS
Jennifer Garner returned to her native West Virginia to help introduce reading to children in poverty. Her visit “has given me so much more empathy,” she says.
HER CAUSE: MAGDALENE PROGRAM
Ashley Judd visited Nashville (and the Tennessee Prison for Women) and heard from victims of sex slavery. “I felt a lot of joy seeing the women in the program but also a lot of righteous anger,” she says.
HER CAUSE: MY LIFE MY CHOICE
Blake Lively went to Boston to see how sex- slavery survivor Audrey Morrissey mentors victims. It’s important to “remind women to empower each other,” she says.
HER CAUSE: SHINING HOPE
Along with son Ronan, Mia Farrow went to the Kibera slums of Kenya where sexual abuse and a lack of running water, electricity and education are all problems. “I never dreamed that change like that could happen,” she says.
HER CAUSE: SOPUDEP
Alfre Woodard traveled to Haiti where “they need so many things,” she says. “But the thing that transforms and liberates a human being and their family is education and schooling.”
No. 10 Katy Perry’s Halftime Show
Will she bring her fireworks to the Super Bowl? Will millions of fans roar? You bet
The pop star has said that her performance will run for 12 minutes, include Lenny Kravitz and feature anthems of female empowerment—which the NFL could use after an image-bruised year. And her happily shiny, extravagant pop style should add a kick, maybe even a welcome silliness, to a show that has to be choreographed with martial precision and carried off with the blasting rigor of a marching-band convention. (NBC, Feb. 1, 6:30 p.m.)
No. 11 Song One
After her brother slips into a coma, anthropologist Franny (Anne Hathaway) connects with him through his journal, tracking down his musical idol, folksinger James Forester (Johnny Flynn). Their tentative romance is involving, backed by a mellow-groove soundtrack that’ll have you swaying in your seat. It’s not Hathaway’s strongest role, but it is a sweet one. (Jan. 23, PG-13)
No. 12 Screen Actors Guild Awards
In the rush of trophy season, let’s pause as the performers themselves decide who best acted up a storm (Michael Keaton in Birdman?) or maybe a devastating quiet (Julianne Moore in Still Alice?). Plus all those television nominees, from Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) to Robin Wright (House of Cards)! (TNT, TBS, Jan. 25, 8 p.m. ET)
THIS WEEK’S LOSERS & MUST-AVOIDS
Men, Women & Children
Adam Sandler and a fine cast (Ansel Elgort, Rosemarie DeWitt) can’t do much with this self-important tale of life in the age of social media. It’s like a Facebook page begging you to like it.