House of Cards, Netflix
If you were awaiting the results of Netflix's watch-at-your-own-pace experiment — releasing all 13 episodes of Season One at once — to decide whether to indulge, now’s the time. House of Cards, the Capitol Hill thrill starring Kevin Spacey as a wicked politician, has been officially declared a success. It's the most-watched program on Netflix right now, with 36 percent of viewers calling it "exceptional." Not surprisingly, the leading man is grabbing much of the credit. Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker summed it up: “The show finds Spacey being waspish, supercilious and meanly clever — in other words, just the way we like him.”
"This is an epic story, the story of a triumph," says Pablo Larrain, the director of No. "It's how the people defeat a dictator, probably one of the biggest bastards that we ever had in humankind." No uses archival footage and a mix of real and fictional characters (think Argo) to chronicle the historic moment when 56 percent of Chileans voted in a national referendum to oust Gen. Augusto Pinochet — thanks largely to a TV ad that looked like a Coke commercial filled with dancing, singing, smiling people. Gael Garcia Bernal is the hotshot ad man who pulls it off. And you thought Don Draper had skills.
Old Yellow Moon, Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell
Emmylou Harris just made a rewarding “X” on her bucket list. Ever since she first heard Rodney Crowell in 1974, Harris says she “knew immediately from his voice and lyrics he had the right stuff.” They’ve been bandmates and lifelong friends, but this album marks the first-ever collaboration between two of country music’s most revered artists. With a mix of originals and covers, the album dips into honky-tonk and folk rock, but fans of the duo’s country roots will find it as satisfying as a conversation between old pals.
Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
If you find yourself helpfully waving the other guy into that coveted last parking space, there may be a reason: our win-at-any-cost tendencies start to wane on the other side of the Big 5-0. That’s just one of the fascinating revelations in Top Dog, which explores the science behind our competitive nature. Gender counts, too: Women are better at judging risk, while men are better at ignoring it.
WORTH THE TRIP
Matisse: In Search of True Painting, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, through March 17
There’s no better time than the last dreary weeks of winter to invigorate your spirit with a bracing blast of tangerine goldfish. New York magazine art critic Jerry Saltz likened the arrangement of this Henri Matisse show to an art history class slideshow timeline: “The revelations produced by this back-and-forth viewing make these 49 paintings blossom anew — this after a lifetime of being overwhelmed by the swarming multiplicity of Matisse’s paintings.”
Pamela Miller is a freelance writer who lives in Los Angeles.