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No. 1 Boardwalk Empire
When booze again flows legally in America, will Steve Buscemi’s Nucky still be lucky?
As the 1920s saga moves into the Depression for its fifth, final season, the rival gangsters continue to winnow themselves down with the occasional bloodbath. But Atlantic City bootlegger Nucky Thompson (Buscemi) has an eye toward the end of Prohibition. He’s setting himself up as a legit rum importer. However, after running into Joseph Kennedy, father of the future President, he laments that he has none of the Bostonian’s swagger or connections. This sourness is the enduring if paradoxical appeal of Buscemi’s performance. He may not have the heft of a James Gandolfini, but his biting displeasure with the world is original and real. We get flashbacks into Nucky’s childhood, but Buscemi has already done all the work: One look at his eyes tells you everything about Nucky’s past, present—and future. (HBO, Sept. 7, 9 p.m.)
No. 2 Love Is Strange
A gay couple endure an unwanted split
Alfred Molina and John Lithgow are George and Ben, a Manhattan couple who marry after years together. George is promptly fired from his job at a Catholic school, and the financially strapped pair must sell their apartment. Searching for a new home, they split up, bunking with friends and relatives. Everyone’s nerves are soon fried. This is a gentle but meticulously observed story, not so much about love as the frayed fondness that replaces it over time. The end, though, quietly stuns us with the real thing. In an excellent cast, Lithgow is the standout as a man delicately out of sync with his new environment. (R)
No. 3 The Longest Week
Rushmore meets Amélie in this clever-cynical fantasy about a rich bachelor (Jason Bateman) who’s been cut off by his parents and temporarily thrust out into the real world—where he promptly steals his best friend’s (Billy Crudup) girlfriend (Olivia Wilde). Bateman’s aloof naivety may be the hook here, but it’s Wilde’s earnest charisma that elevates things beyond mere homage. (PG-13)
No. 4 Fusic
A novel app that blends selfies with music videos, Fusic empowers fans to insert their own performance into their favorite stars’ videos. Fusers can flip through celebrity uploads, view amateur mashups or compete in A-list challenges, like the ongoing Ariana Grande “Break Free” competition. Winners are included in Grande’s official “fan clip.” (fusic.com)
No. 5 The Best New Books
A marriage drifts toward disaster, a medical crisis comes up against a question of faith, and a retail queen shops without ever dropping.
Randy Susan Meyers Accidents of Marriage
The premise is familiar—a couple raising a family and accumulat-ing grievances about marriage as they reach middle age. But this novel’s unsparing look at emotional abuse and its devastating consequences gives it gravity and bite, while a glimpse into a physically damaged mind both surprises and fascinates.
Ian McEwan The Children Act
Religion, law and a marriage on the precipice intertwine in a short, powerful tale built around a hot topic—whether a devout Jehovah’s Witness teen should be forced to accept a lifesaving blood transfusion. Heartbreaking and profound, it skillfully juxtaposes the dilemmas of ordinary life and tabloid-ready controversy.
BOOK OF THE WEEK
Betty Halbreich I’ll Drink to That
Know your style, know yourself. At least that’s the philosophy of this charming memoir. Halbreich’s journey from cosseted Park Avenue wife to Bergdorf Goodman’s legendary director of per- sonal shopping is, surprisingly, an inspirational feminist tale: Analyzing the desires of her clients (who include the cast of Sex and the City), she helps them find their richer, truer selves. She is to retail therapy what Freud was to, well, therapy-therapy.
NEW IN NONFICTION
Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton Women in Clothes
All about the intent behind that fundamental act of dressing—and how it makes a statement about style and self.
Ginger Alden Elvis & Ginger
Engaged to Elvis Presley but destined never to reach the altar by his side, his fiancée recalls her final days with the King in that strange paradise called Graceland.
Randall Munroe What If?
The online author, famous for stick-figure drawings and mind-pausing questions (“How long could the human race survive on only cannibalism?”) makes the move to print.
No. 6 Greyson Chance ‘Thrilla in Manila’
Puberty has been good to Greyson Chance: The charming young moppet who rose to fame on YouTube and once plied his spot-on Lady Gaga covers for Ellen DeGeneres has grown into a mature and masterful blue-eyed soul singer. In the slinky, punchy “Thrilla in Manila” (inspired by the singer’s massive popularity in the Philippines), Chance croons a series of boxing-based come-ons over a disco beat straight out of 1979. Even his falsetto has a falsetto.
No. 7 The World Wars
An improbably riveting docudrama traces the links between conflicts
This insightful miniseries mixes interviews and archival footage with staged reenactments, linking key moments from World War I (like the flawed negotiations of the Treaty of Versailles) to the motivations that later fueled and extinguished World War II. Casting pairs of actors to play young/old Adolf Hitlers, Winston Churchills and Franklin Roosevelts, World Wars captures the personal demons and failures that would decades later guide world leaders toward victory, vindication and villainy.
No. 8 Party Down
This short-lived cult classic would deserve to be celebrated simply as a launching pad for so many tart, smart TV stars, like Parks and Recreation’s Adam Scott and Masters of Sex’s Lizzy Caplan. And Jane Lynch went from here to Glee. It also happens to be an incredibly funny show about L.A. caterers who dole out canapés while hungering for showbiz success. (Hulu Plus)
No. 9 My Old Lady
A last tangle in Paris for Maggie Smith
The setup of My Old Lady promises light French fun and froth—Kevin Kline inherits an expensive Paris apartment only to discover Maggie Smith living inside as his legal tenant—but for every shrug of C’est la vie there’s a bitter confrontation or revelation. La vie, in short, is not always so c’est. Smith, perhaps relieved not to be in high-crinkled Lady Violet mode, rumbles and wheezes with the sad, wary fatigue of old age. Kline’s moods swing violently, but his ironic charm gives the role a dancing grace. (PG-13)
No. 10 Ryan Adams
His self-titled 14th album—which comes three years since his last, a record for the prolific songwriter— delivers what he’s known for: beautiful lyrics and well-constructed strains. Don’t miss “My Wrecking Ball” and the mildly Tom Petty-esque “Let Go.”
No. 11 Banks Goddess
Get ready to fall in love. Banks’s hotly anticipated debut studio album was well worth the wait. From the smooth, sensual strains of the title track, “Goddess,” to the luscious “Beggin for Thread,” her silky, lush vocals proclaim her presence as a force to bow down to (and play on repeat). She’s arguably most moving on the stripped-down tracks: the heartbroken, romantic “Someone New” and the pleading, piano-driven finale, “Under the Table.” With this strong introduction, Banks embodies her album’s name.
No. 12 The Specials
Welcome to the ordinary life of some extraordinary kids in Britain
This sensitive, touching show, which began as a prize-winning British Web series, is about a group of mentally challenged young people living together in a supervised home in Brighton. And, of course, hanging out together, just as they would if this were The Real World or—where are the sands of yesteryear?—Jersey Shore. They sing at karaoke clubs, vacation in Malta, date and break up. The difference is that the more you know them the more you feel for them and appreciate their company. This airs as a marathon, by the way, so program the DVR. (OWN, Sept. 7, 2:30 p.m.)