1 With “Mud,” writer/director Jeff Nichols creates richly realized characters in a Southern gothic tale that moves like a cottonmouth viper, advancing slowly until it strikes with sudden violence. Two young teen boys decide to help a drifter (a deeply committed Matthew McConaughey) who is wanted for murdering a man who abused his childhood girlfriend. “Mud” grapples with mythical ideals of American manhood and captures the region’s pastoral beauty and ugly civilization.
2 The dystopian thriller “Oblivion” is a breathtaking collage of welcome originality and references to a huge common cultural bank of fantasy images and themes. The grandiose film stars an intensely focused Tom Cruise as a futuristic repairman tending to weaponized drones that guard the giant rigs mining Earth’s final reserves of energy in 2077. Not the foundation for a projected franchise, “Oblivion” tells a self-contained mystery story that, for all its explosive action passages, feels like an epic episode of “The Twilight Zone.”
3 Minnesota author David Treuer has a foot in each of two worlds — the ancient and the modern. He lives and teaches in Southern California but still summers on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation where he grew up. In his memoir, “Rez Life,” which just won a Minnesota Book Award (and is now out in paperback), Treuer weaves together his own story along with stories from other times, other reservations, other tribes. It’s beautiful writing and an important book.
4 F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s turbulent relationship is the subject of the absorbing “This Side of Paradise” at the History Theatre in St. Paul through May 19. This musical focuses on Zelda’s perspective as she sits in a sanatorium in 1940, the year of Fitzgerald’s death. Figures from their past flow onto the stage to embody her tormented memories. Two sequences vividly impress — her resentment of her husband’s fabled competitive friendship with Ernest Hemingway, and her tyrannical manner with their young child Scottie for incorrect ballet moves. www.historytheatre.com
5 It was full of mopey, heartachey songs, but the Postal Service’s one and only album, 2003’s “Give Up,” was also a lot of fun. That side of it was lost on most of the drab digi-pop bands who palely imitated Death Cab singer Ben Gibbard’s side project with electro-wiz Jimmy Tamborello, but it’s apparent in Sub Pop’s new deluxe reissue of the album, which includes artful packaging and a bonus disc of outtakes and cool covers — them doing Phil Collins and John Lennon, and the Shins and Iron & Wine doing them. Doubly clever.