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No. 1 Kelly Clarkson, Piece by Piece
Miss Independent got married and had a baby. Now she’s singing a happy new tune
Between settling down with a husband and welcoming a daughter, Clarkson’s had a busy four years since releasing her last (non-holiday) album, Stronger. For anyone worried that all this may have turned the kiss-off queen soft, don’t fret. Piece showcases the original Idol’s I-can-sing-the-phone-book voice in both anthems and ballads covering the joys and pains of love. From the autobiographical title track (a woman, abandoned by her dad as a child, falls for a guy who restores her faith “that a man can be kind and a father could stay”) to a synthy pop confection about getting down with a lover (“Dance with Me”), Clarkson rebuilds her life, piece by piece. The end result: a record to put on repeat.
No. 2 The Returned
Dead people are popping up fully alive in an isolated Washington town. Seemingly no worse for wear, they’re embraced (up to a point) by their loved ones. This reboot of the brilliant French series can’t replicate the original’s restrained but deep sense of dread – French corpses have their own je ne sais quoi. But what a good, creepy premise, and so easy to get hooked on. (A&E, March 9, 10 p.m.)
No. 3 Madonna, Rebel Heart
She may have stumbled in Britain, but this is a triumph
The beauty of the indefatigable provocateur’s latest is how she reaches new levels of invention even while looking back to classic moments. Teaming up with A-list producers like Diplo and Kanye West, Madge nods just enough to her prime moments – you recognize the gospel-pop of “Like a Prayer” in “Living for Love,” the brash sensuality of Erotica in “Holy Water” – to make this her best album in a decade. (March 10)
No. 4 The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
In a few years Katniss will probably become a trendy name for girls, and maybe boys too. And that will likely be due to Jennifer Lawrence’s powerful turn as a rebel heroine in the third installment of the fantasy series. With a wide, open face that shows both passion and purity, she could sit for a portrait of Joan of Arc or stand in the foreground of an old Soviet poster rallying farmers to grow wheat. That’s a great actress. (March 6)
No. 5 The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Richard Gere, Judi Dench and a fine cast spruce up a retirement home
MOVIE ROMANTIC COMEDY
Comfy and familiar, if a little worn at the edges, this sequel feels more like season 2 of a BBC series. But like the movie’s hotel, it works because of its quirks. As Sonny (Dev Patel) and comanager Muriel (Maggie Smith) try to expand their senior dorm, Yank Guy Chambers (Gere) checks in, flustering the guests. Smith and Dench have the best scenes; underneath their jousting is real warmth. And if Second Best feels, well, second best, at least the clothes and dancing are great. (March 6, PG)
No. 6 Battle Creek
Josh Duhamel, an FBI agent who gives off the soft gleam of polished nickel, teams up to solve crimes with Dean Winters, a cop who looks as if he woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Most likely the floor. They’re a well-matched odd couple – they josh, clash and, as performers, click. (CBS, Sundays, 10 p.m.)
No. 7 YouTube Kids
YouTube’s child-friendly version, crammed with prescreened shows, movies and clips, includes some ingenious tweaks. A built-in timer with a silly “shut off” cartoon eases the pain of a tyke’s tech withdrawal. (Available on iOS and Android)
No. 8 Taylor Berrett, Great Falls
Breakout Berrett thrills with a tuneful debut
Berrett’s honest lyrics bring to mind another singer-songwriter named Taylor. Like chart topper Swift, the 22-year-old newcomer wears his heart on his sleeve on Great Falls. Look no further than the acoustic standout “Hypnotize Me.” With its sincere confessions – “I’ve walked this road alone, Dear / And I used to think it made me free / But if letting love stay makes a man a slave, come on, Darling won’t you hypnotize me?” – his debut will have listeners falling hard. (March 10)
No. 9 ’71
A riveting thriller traps a soldier behind enemy lines
A sense of panic is inescapable when British soldier Gary Hook (Unbroken‘s Jack O’Connell) finds himself stranded in hostile territory at the height of sectarian violence in early 1970s Northern Ireland. Director Yann Demange sets a pounding pace as his hero darts through alleys, dodges bullets and doubts whether he’s on the right side. In an intense role, O’Connell keeps you rooting for his survival. (In wide release March 13, R)
No. 10 Zedd featuring Selena Gomez, “I Want You to Know”
Like his previous hits (Hayley Williams-assisted “Stay the Night,” “Clarity” with Foxes), Zedd’s new single recruits a pop diva – in this case, Gomez, whom he’s reportedly dating – to sell an irresistible hook. Paired with Gomez’s pipes is the infectious beat we’ve come to expect from the Grammy-winning Russian-German producer.
No. 11 Girls
Hannah is hanging out with teenagers. Mistake!
Girls fans are always looking for signs that the show’s creator and star Dunham will put on a pair of water wings, wade into the East River and jump the shark. (Remember nude Ping-Pong? That was close.) But season 4 began brilliantly and looks likely to stay that way clear to the March 22 finale. Dunham’s Hannah has become a substitute teacher and, true to form, has no idea how to respect or detect boundaries. Best buds with a student (Maude Apatow), she decides to cement the friendship at a tattoo parlor. This results in an excruciating scene that exposes (again) Hannah’s self-deception, hypocrisy and – the reason we still love her – genius for papering over her flaws with killer jokes. (HBO, March 8, 9 p.m.)
No. 12 The Best New Books
An end-of-life love story, a memoir with recipes, and the adventures of a once-posh family by the author of Love, Nina
Life from Scratch
Martin spent parts of her childhood in foster homes after her eccentric single mom gave her up. Now a food blog-ger, she decided to seek healing in a culinary adventure: cooking a meal from a different country each week for 195 weeks. Her memoir (with recipes!) about finding love and forgiveness in the kitchen nourishes body and soul.
Man at the Helm
Moving to the country doesn’t suit Lizzie. The villagers look askance at her divorced mum, who drinks and writes bad plays as the family fortune dwindles. So Lizzie and her sister set out to find a “man at the helm” to replace their dad—with hilarious results. Stibbe’s astute, deadpan charm – first showcased in last year’s Love, Nina – is impossible to resist.
Rachel Joyce The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy
Joyce’s bestselling The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry followed a 65-year-old man walking the length of England to visit his dying friend Queenie. This deeply affecting novel tells Queenie’s story as she awaits him, writing a letter confessing her love and long-ago actions she fears are unforgivable. Culminating in a shattering revelation, her tale is funny, sad, hopeful: She’s bound for death, but full of life.
John L. Allen Jr.
The Francis Miracle
Get ready for the Pope’s September visit to the U.S. with this in-depth look at the man and his transformative powers. (From Time Books)
I Left It on the Mountain
Journalist Sessums looks back on his celebrity interviews, his struggle with addiction and the spiritual redemption he found climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Born To Be King
Poor Prince Charles – he’s 66 and still throneless. TIME Editor-at-Large Mayer provides a fascinating look at the man she’s said has “the loneliest existence I’ve ever seen.”