FOR ADDITIONAL REVIEWS OF MOVIES, TV SHOWS, MUSIC AND BOOKS, GO TO PEOPLE.COM/PICKS
No. 1 Avengers: Age of Ultron
Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson and the other heroes face a wily foe
Now you can panic. Aliens, terrorists and fancy weapons systems were no match for the Avengers, but when Tony Stark (Downey) accidentally invents a “murder-bot” named Ultron (voiced with a rakish sneer by James Spader), the Marvel superhero group may have met its match. Age of Ultron explodes with humor, battles and heart from a crew who feel like old friends. If it’s overstuffed, blame a world that’s too rich to give everyone shine time. But you’ll dig the new kids: mutant sibs Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen). As one character quips, “He’s fast, she’s weird,” and the good guys need all the help they can get. (May 1, PG-13)
No. 2 Scandal
Like a nice red wine, this soapy drama is getting better with age
The honeymoon is over. And that’s a good thing. No longer fixated on the forbidden love between a President (Tony Goldwyn) and his former staffer (Kerry Washington), Scandal has made room for the stellar cast to make some riveting TV moments (check out these pics) as the show races to its season 4 finale. (ABC, Thursdays, 9 p.m.)
No. 3 Far from the Madding Crowd
The classic novel gets a vivid new adaptation
Somehow, Carey Mulligan puts together the puzzle that is Bathsheba Everdene. The Thomas Hardy heroine is a planner but rash, savvy about everything but men. And oh, the men: Michael Sheen whimpers admirably as her lovesick neighbor, while Tom Sturridge preens as a sexy soldier. But odds are you’ll fall for her shepherd Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts, Rust and Bone), a man whose name suggests strength and stability. Schoenaerts quietly matches Mulligan’s intensity, while lush locales and a fine script pull it all together. (May 1, PG-13)
No. 4 Mumford & Sons, Wilder Mind
The British quartet bid farewell to their folksy vibe on album No. 3. Teaming up with producer James Ford (Florence + the Machine, Arctic Monkeys) and swapping in synthesizers and electric guitars for their trademark acoustic strings, the newly banjo-less rockers hold on to their defining sound: swooping choruses and sweet harmonies like on “The Wolf,” a driving, arena-ready love track with a hook as big as their 2012 hit “I Will Wait.” (May 4)
No. 5 Penny Dreadful
Season 2 of the Victorian monster mash-up is very Drag Me to Hell—or, as it might have been called back then, Dash It All, I Seem to Have Gotten Myself D—ed. Supernaturally hypersensitive Vanessa (sickly-lovely Eva Green) is being pursued by witches in the presumed employ of Satan. The head witch looks perfectly fashionable out in society, but alone at home, she does ritually disgusting things with dolls. It’s wicked fun. (Showtime, May 3, 10 p.m.)
No. 6 The Willis Family
The Willises, who appeared on America’s Got Talent, are the Duggars with a dash of von Trapp. Brenda and Toby have 12 clean-cut, singing-and-dancing kids: Jessica, Jeremiah, Jennifer, Jeanette, Jackson, Jedi, Jasmine, Juliette, Jamie, Joy Anna, Jaeger and Jada (like TLC’s star megafamily, they like J’s). In the premiere they perform a new song for Mom’s birthday. The music is nice—country with a Celtic touch—but more riveting is how Brenda and Toby ride herd over their herd. Having four bathrooms helps. (TLC, May 5, 10 p.m.)
No. 7 Fight of the Century
Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Pacquiao, 36, takes on undefeated Mayweather, 38, in the welterweight showdown at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. After years of dancing around—the bout was first anticipated in 2009—the fists will fly, and so will the money: Pacquiao reportedly will earn $2 million for selling logo space on his trunks. (PPV/Showtime and HBO, May 2, 9 p.m.)
No. 8 Paddington
It sounded like a horrid idea—filming a live-action adaptation of the beloved bear of children’s literature. But Paddington was easily one of the year’s most joyous movies, with inspired action, a charming vocal performance by Ben Whishaw as Paddington, and game turns by Sally Hawkins and Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville as his new family. There aren’t tons of extras, but you won’t miss them. (Available April 28, PG)
No. 9 Selma
It’s no easy trick re-creating one of the most indelible events in U.S. history, the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo). The Blu-ray disc extras explain how director Ava DuVernay did it, including a chilling account of how the filmmakers stumbled across one of Dr. King’s original pulpits. (Available May 5, PG-13)
No. 10 Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
The life of the grunge-rock god, who was only 27 when he killed himself in 1994, is pieced together from interviews, home movies, notebooks, doodles and more. The man who emerges is ragged, haunted, frightened and also rather frightening. Montage is an identikit portrait of a lost soul. (HBO, May 4, 9 p.m.)
No. 11 Best Coast, California Nights
Lead singer Bethany Cosentino has been compared to Patsy Cline, and rightly so. Her voice is big, full and never strained. She sounds like she can sing while napping—and you wonder if she does: Her lyrics describe relationships, good and sour, with a listless, dreamy detachment. But unlike Lana Del Rey, whose notes float like blobs in a lava lamp, Cosentino is a rocker, not a moper. This guitar-charged music is fast, loud and ideal for summer. (May 4)
No. 12 The Best New Books
A companion novel to an award-winning bestseller, a sexy debut about a young lawyer and a writer’s struggle with depression
I Take You
FICTION Lily Wilder is a young lawyer who compulsively drinks, swears and sleeps with random strangers— even as she prepares to wed her fiancé in just a few days. But she grows on you. This debut novel’s take on modern gender roles is aggressively provocative, with graphic sex. It’s also funny and, eventually, wise.
Welcome to My Breakdown
MEMOIR Benilde Little (Good Hair) has a doting husband, beautiful kids, friends and a career. Then her force-of-nature mother dies, and she falls into a depression so deep she’s sure she can’t recover. Revisiting her past helps her build a sunnier future. An eminently readable memoir about turning darkness back into light.
BOOK OF THE WEEK
A God in Ruins
FICTION Atkinson follows up her Costa Award-winning Life After Life with another dazzling novel about the genteel Todd family, this time focusing on Ursula’s sweet-natured brother Teddy. It’s not a sequel but more of a companion piece. A heroic World War II pilot martyred for England in the first novel, Teddy survives this time, marries the girl next door and fathers a self-absorbed bohemian daughter. The narrative is less slippery but no less compelling.
NEW IN PAPERBACK
One Plus One
Jess, single mom to a tortured stepson and a genius daughter, pursues her mission to get to the Math Olympiad. A modern family story brimming with heart and wry humor.
Inspired by events in the life of anthropologist Margaret Mead, this sexy-smart novel transfixes with the tale of three brilliant minds caught in a love triangle.
Summer House with Swimming Pool
The water’s decidedly cold in this dark novel, which explores the psychological storm around a famous actor’s death.