Of the select number of serious contemporary directors whose work is scrutinized in the international press, Lars von Trier (b. 1956) is one of the most polarizing. While even his detractors will concede that he possesses a virtuoso's command of cinematic technique, it's hard to make a case for his subtlety. Von Trier is given to creating emotionally blistering movies that pirouette around an idealist who is obliterated by a hostile environment. Such is the premise on which his 1991 cinematic nocturne, Europa, rests. Purposefully intended to be one of the Danish director's most accessible movies, Europa tells the story of Leopold Kessler (Jean-Marc Barr), a young American of Germanic heritage who, in October 1945, travels to Germany to take up a position as a sleeping-car conductor on a train. Proud of the fact that he refused to take sides during the war, he represents himself as a conciliatory figure who wishes to further the restoration of German-American relations. Unlike von Trier's more harrowing movies, like Breaking the Waves, Europa contains a generous amount of levity, which helps because the film's symbols do come on strong, particularly in one scene that juxtaposes sex and death. Nonetheless, von Trier's use of the sleeping-car as a metaphor for Europe's desire to whitewash its recent past remains piquant. So is the film's use of meticulously paired foreground and background shots to produce collages as mesmerizing as nearly anything captured on celluloid.

April 19: "What you see first, after the starting gun's crack, is a column of bobbing runners, thousands of them, surging downhill..."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.