We're liking "Smashed," the charming "Mrs. Queen Takes the Train," P.O.S., "Bye Bye Birdie" and the latest by Ballet of the Dolls.
1 In "Smashed," Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays a high-functioning alcoholic who manages to be a capable first-grade teacher by day and a tipsy karaoke clown by night. The film could be pigeonholed as an addiction drama but it conveys a rare depth of understanding and compassion for its protagonist. Winstead is an immensely appealing and subtle talent, and her performance is a careful balancing act. We'll see her on the red carpet at the Oscars.
2 Oh, mischievous Queen Elizabeth, with her handbag and sensible shoes. What chaos she throws Buckingham Palace into when she walks away, alone, unscheduled, to buy a bit of cheese for her favorite horse -- and ends up boarding a train to Scotland. She's been down in the dumps ever since Diana died and Windsor burned. "Mrs. Queen Takes the Train," by William Kuhn, is a delightful read, a bit of fiction (the train journey) set into nonfiction (everything else), and a sly look at how the monarchy is changing along with -- or maybe two beats behind -- the rest of Britain.
3 So this is what futuristic, danceable, angry, punk-infused hip-hop sounds like. Minneapolis rapper P.O.S. has proven to be that rare talent who has consistently improved with each of his four solo albums. His latest genre destroyer, "We Don't Even Live Here," is loaded with speedy rhyme schemes and dense action-packed production. The guest spot by Bon Iver's Justin Vernon on the epic "Where We Land" belongs in a Ridley Scott film. To make the record as loud -- and pristine -- as possible, P.O.S. linked up with Kanye West's engineer, Twin Cities-reared Andrew Dawson. The result is P.O.S.' best album to date.
4 "Bye Bye Birdie," the 1960 Broadway hit that became a school-musical perennial, is a product of its time, but Chanhassen's production has enough fun, wit and song to make it worthwhile. It's the story of an Elvis-like rock star who, before leaving for the Army, travels to a small town to kiss a member of his fan club. The buoyant tunes and the romance between the star's manager (Michael Gruber) and his secretary (Ann Michels) keep this naive, nostalgic musical bouncing along. www.chanhassentheatres.com.
5 Ballet of the Dolls choreographer Myron Johnson interprets the classic Hans Christian Andersen story "The Peruvian Nightingale" as a vibrant, almost cinematic romp, set to vocals by Yma Sumac and Peruvian folk music. It's the story of the emperor of Peru falling in love with a nightingale, as she serenades him every evening until he becomes distracted when a mechanical version of the bird arrives in his court. Stephanie Fellner uses her delicate frame and alert face to fully animate the nightingale. Closes Sunday. www.ritzdolls.com.