October 27, 2014 12:00 PM



No. 1 Birdman
Life, art and hallucinations collide in this wildly unpredictable—and inventive—theater drama



Birdman moves with an energy and rhythm that are not quite like anything you’ve seen at the movies. Using extended takes seamlessly stitched together, this drama about a floundering theater production plays out in real time, zigzagging from performances to rehearsals to backstage flare-ups. Stage left is Riggan (Michael Keaton), a movie star once famous as screen hero Birdman, now launching a comeback with his stage adaptation of a tale by short-story master Raymond Carver. The hitch: Riggan’s costar (Edward Norton) doesn’t respect him, his assistant-daughter (Emma Stone) loathes her once-absentee dad, and he routinely hallucinates arguments with his Birdman alter ego, who deems theater a waste of time. The emotional stakes rise as director Alejandro G. Iñárritu pivots between drama, dark comedy, romance and regret, creating something of a film within a film within a film. All three are sensational. (R, Oct. 17)

No. 2 Fury
A harrowing last stand during the final days of war



Playing a World War II tank commander, Brad Pitt gives a performance that’s old-fashioned—self-effacing, minimalist, manly—while still exuding the appeal of a modern, nicely seasoned sex symbol. You can’t help noticing that, even grimed up, his hairline is beautiful. Fury has a few too many slow passages, used to convey the numb calm between storms, but the final standoff between the solitary tank and the Germans is an impressive display of munitions and machismo. (R, Oct. 17)

No. 3 Florida Georgia Line, Anything Goes



With love songs like “Smoke” and “Angel,” this follow-up to the duo’s double-platinum debut studio album gives fans a chance to hear Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley’s sensitive side. But not to worry, there’s still plenty of party here. (Oct. 14)

No. 4 Web Therapy


A new season of Lisa Kudrow’s improvised, spikily absurd comedy about a narcissistic, on-the-make therapist Skyping with her patients— who seem sicker, but not by much. Guest appearances this season will include Billy Crystal, Minnie Driver and Gwyneth Paltrow. (Showtime, Oct. 22, 11 p.m.)

No. 5 Alan Cumming, Not My Father’s Son
In an emotional memoir, the Good Wife star opens up about his traumatic past


“People think of me as sort of a cheery chappy,” says Alan Cumming—who is, in fact, rather cheery during a chat over a vegan lunch in his bright yellow Broadway dressing room before a performance (his 601st!) of Cabaret.

But in his memoir, Cumming, 49, makes it clear he’s had more than his share of pain. Growing up in rural Angus, Scotland, with a father who beat and verbally abused him, “I had to pick up on [his] every mood” to make it through the day, Cumming says. “Probably I became an actor because of that.” By his late 20s, Cumming—who got his start in high school plays (“It was the first thing anyone told me I was any good at”)—had cut off contact with his dad, a forester. Then, in 2010, he got shocking news: His estranged father, Alex, told him that they were not related, alleging that Alan’s mother (from whom Alex was divorced) had had an affair. “Loads of things made sense,” he says—until a DNA test proved his father wrong and “everything changed again.”

After his dad died in 2010, Cumming started writing about his troubled past. “I wanted to expunge it. I think I suffered from PTSD, and my father was the trauma.” The rest of the family (his mum still lives in Scotland, where Cumming campaigned for independence) has been supportive. “It was a courageous decision for Alan to write this,” says older brother Tom. Now married to an illustrator, Grant Shaffer, Cumming is happily, if exhaustedly, darting between the Brooklyn set of The Good Wife (this season his character Eli Gold “has good things to do, other than raising his eyebrows”) and Broadway. “Everything that happened brought me to where I am,” says Cumming. “Obviously I would have rather not been beaten up by my dad. What could I do? But now I’m me, and I really like me.”


Jodi Picoult Leaving Time
This moving tale of a girl searching for her missing mom blends suspense, the supernatural and heartbreaking insights into elephants (yes, elephants).

Bill Roorbach The Remedy for Love
Snowbound in Maine, two strangers struggle to survive—fighting, flirting, baring secrets. Their sexy, snappy dialogue will keep you racing through.

Charles M. Blow Fire Shut Up in My Bones
“The first memory I have in the world is of death and tears,” writes journalist Blow in this memoir of his troubled youth in the segregated South. Searing and unforgettable.

No.6 American Horror Story: Freak Show


In this season’s incarnation, Jessica Lange plays Elsa Mars, a washed-up actress who runs a carnival of human curiosities, including Sarah Paulson as a two-headed lady. You’ll also see a three-breasted Angela Bassett and a killer maniac clown named Twisty, who looks like Jack Nicholson’s Joker after too long at the carnival. The acting is superb and deepens as we learn more about the secret links in what may truly be a family circus. (FX, Wednesdays, 10 p.m.)

No. 7 Camp X-Ray


Kristen Stewart shines in this Guantanamo Bay drama, playing a new camp guard who bonds with one of her detainees (a despairing Payman Maadi). Wisely avoiding the broader war on terror, Camp X-Ray instead offers a stirring portrait of a friendship that can never be. (Oct. 17, VOD)

No. 8 The Overnighters


The oil boom has hit North Dakota, and job seekers have flocked north to Williston, a small city that lacks sufficient housing and is home to residents growing wary of the influx. This tense and candid film reveals the dark side of the recession where desperation collides with resentment. (PG-13, limited release)

No. 9 St. Vincent


Bill Murray’s Vincent is little more than a drunken loner until a divorced mother (Melissa McCarthy) moves in next door, asks him to babysit her boy and discovers the sweeter side of an old man hiding deep scars. Utterly predictable yet undeniably touching, St. Vincent gains momentum as mentor Murray teaches young Oliver all the life lessons missing from his textbooks. But it’s McCarthy who steals the show, breathing life into a fearless woman who’s every bit as tough as Vincent—and who’s also brave enough to open her heart. (PG-13, in theaters)

No. 10 Big Driver


When famed writer Tess Thorne (Maria Bello) takes the wrong shortcut home, she’s brutally assaulted and left for dead on the side of an idyllic New England road. Fueled with rage (and armed with a gun), she hunts down her would-be killer in this adaptation of the 2010 Stephen King novella. There’s no shortage of revenge fantasy enactments these days (see: Gone Girl), but that doesn’t diminish the satisfaction of watching Tess exact her bloody payback. (Lifetime, Oct. 18, 8 p.m.)

No. 11 The Book of Life
A matador’s surrealistic quest to rescue his true love



Director Jorge R. Gutierrez, who co-created the visually inventive animated TV series El Tigre (2007), works on a wider canvas and with an even wilder palette for this family-oriented fantasy about a Mexican matador. To win the love of Maria (voiced by Zoë Saldana), Manolo (Diego Luna) journeys into the underworld—and the under-underworld. (PG, Oct. 17)

No. 12 Milky Chance, ‘Stolen Dance’



This infectiously catchy alt-folk single by German duo Milky Chance has gone viral globally, racking up more than 75 million views on YouTube. While just now cracking the U.S. Top 40, it’s been No. 1 on the adult-alt charts for nine weeks. Next stop? Probably Glee. (Out now)

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