1 In the quick-witted thriller "Argo," actor-director Ben Affleck concocts the unlikeliest subterfuge in the history of espionage. And it's mostly true, based on a declassified CIA operation when Iranian militants stormed the U.S. embassy in 1979, taking 56 workers hostage, and six U.S. staffers escaped, seeking refuge in the Canadian ambassador's home. Despite its ironic comedic sequences, "Argo" is a tense film about a life-or-death diplomatic crisis, and Affleck ratchets up the tension mercilessly.
3 War doesn't end when the fighting is over, as friends Babe, Grace and Millie learn in Ellen Feldman's captivating novel "Next to Love" (new in paperback). One husband staggers home, profoundly shell-shocked; two others don't come home at all. And it's up to these women -- each strong-minded in her own way -- to keep things together and keep on building a future. Feldman's book is neither sentimental nor romantic. It's tough and believable and will fill you with admiration all over again for "the greatest generation" -- in this case, its women.
2 "The Turn of the Screw" is a classic gothic ghost story, adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher from Henry James' creepy novella. A governess has been engaged to care for two recently orphaned young children. When she discovers that the previous governess and her sinister lover recently died under mysterious circumstances, she becomes convinced the house is haunted by their ghosts. Unseen and unspeakable horrors lurk around every corner. Two actors take on all the roles, with the riveting Lindsay Marcy as the governess and Craig Johnson masterful in his various guises. www.torchtheater.com.
4 A younger generation might not know it, but Steve Martin was once a wild and crazy guy. "Steve Martin: The Television Stuff," a three-DVD set, focuses mostly on the comic's early stand-up performances, talk-show appearances and prime-time specials that earned him rock-star status. Much of the material is repeated, but there are classic moments in the collection, most notably the rodeo sketch "Turtle Boy" and "The Great Flydini," an ingenious piece of mime from 1992 that ranks among the most memorable moments ever from "The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson."
5 There's nothing cooler than having Jack White produce your record, but in Wanda Jackson's case there's something better. The 74-year-old rockabilly pioneer -- who came to the attention of young hipsters with last year's White-assisted "The Party Ain't Over" -- found more of a kindred musical spirit in Justin Townes Earle (son of Steve). Their new album together, "Unfinished Business," is more of an old-school country and boogie-woogie collection that sounds closer to Jackson's heart. Highlights include a twanged-up cover of Bobby Womack's "It's All Over Now" and a mellow remake of Wilco/Woody Guthrie's "California Stars."