1 "Life of Pi" became a publishing phenomenon in 2001, but how could you convert the tale of a 16-year-old son of a zookeeper stranded on a lifeboat with a full-grown tiger to the big screen? The great humanist filmmaker Ang Lee thrillingly transforms this inconceivable premise into visual poetry, high adventure and sheer enchantment. He triumphs with the perfect combination of mystical exuberance, deeply personal drama and seamless special effects.
2 Given how many timeless songs the Beatles crammed into 10 years, it should be no surprise that "Minnesota Beatle Project, Vol. 4" is another winner even without any repeats. This year's installment ranges from faithful versions of "Mean Mr. Mustard" and "A Day in the Life" by Haley Bonar and John Mark Nelson, respectively, to wildly reimagined takes on "Baby's in Black" and "Misery" by bluegrassy acoustic champs Trampled by Turtles and electro-popsters Halloween, Alaska. Astronautalis, Molly Maher, Caroline Smith, Van Stee and Chastity Brown are also in on the fun. It hits stores Tuesday and once again benefits Minnesota music education.
3 "Sister," the dazzling Swiss contender for the foreign-language-film Oscar, is the story of an orphaned 12-year-old boy who supports himself and his hot-mess older sister by stealing expensive equipment at a posh ski resort and selling it to pay for rent, milk and pasta. When he reaches out to a wealthy, maternal English tourist, hoping to form an attachment with her family, he threatens his own con. Director/writer Ursula Meier balances the scenario's bleak, wrenching aspects with a stirring confidence in the redemptive power of love. Edina Theater
4 The History Theatre's remounting of "Christmas of Swing" takes us back to December 1944, where the Andrews Sisters are entertaining World War II soldiers at a stateside hospital. The harmonies, wit and energy are first-rate, with drama provided by the three singers reading letters to the soldiers from their families. Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Santa also appear. This show is a nostalgic, heartwarming greeting card -- with a dash of patriotism -- for the holidays. www.historytheatre.com
5 Oh, how we love the adverts on the telly that Walker Art Center brings to us for the holidays. The 24th annual showing of the British Arrow award-winning TV ads is a cornucopia of creativity, a 72-minute wonderland where cats develop opposable thumbs and organize a milk-stealing revolution, and angels fall from the skies for men wearing Axe body spray. Our favorite is a montage of women in rumpled hootchie-mama party dresses doing the morning-after walk of shame. If only they were in sensible Harvey Nichols women's wear, the spot suggests, they could face the neighborhood letter carrier without embarrassment. www.walkerart.org