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Film

Essential releases

The pick of the winter movies.

1.

Roma

Dir: Alfonso Cuarón

Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity) uses sleek black-and-white cinematography to make a semi-autobiographical Spanish-language drama, the compelling story of native Latina live-in maid Cleo (played by Yalitza Aparicio, a non-professional actor) and the upper-middle-class Mexico City family for whom she works. Although Emmanuel Lubezki, Cuarón’s Oscar-winning cinematographer, is not involved this time, the aesthetic is just as striking. Set during the 1970s, Roma is lyrical and calm; a filmic lesson in genuine love.


2.

Shoplifters

Dir: Hirokazu Koreeda

Something of a modern Oliver Twist, Shoplifters explores a poor family of Japanese grafters with a softness of touch that never strays into voyeurism. Palme d’Or winner Hirokazu Koreeda’s tale begins as a shoplifter called Osamu finds an abandoned young girl. After bringing her home, he and his wife are compelled to keep her as they notice signs of abuse on her body. The more she becomes cherished in their ramshackle multi-generational home, the more we realise this will lead to heartbreak, yet we can’t help but love Koreeda’s view that family means more than we think. This is social commentary that changes hearts and minds.


3.

Mary Queen of Scots

Dir: Josie Rourke

Set in 16th-century Scotland, Mary Queen of Scots stars Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie under the direction of Josie Rourke. Controversy always followed the two mighty subjects of this film in real life – on screen it’s no different, as historians might point out that the Scottish monarch and Elizabeth I didn’t actually meet. This isn’t a documentary, however, so we can still enjoy this opulent (if hypothetical) spectacle as well as its wonderful cast.


4.

The Old Man & the Gun

Dir: David Lowery

Before the release of The Old Man & the Gun, Robert Redford had announced his retirement from acting. This film convinced him to backtrack. Directed by David Lowery (A Ghost Story), Redford stars as Forrest Tucker, bank robber and Houdini-like jailbreaker laden with gentlemanly charm. Sissy Spacek is a fitting partner to the suave criminal whom she doesn’t quite believe. Look out for Casey Affleck as a lawman, along with a partners-in-crime dream team of Danny Glover and Tom Waits.


5.

Under the Silver Lake

Dir: David Robert Mitchell

David Robert Mitchell’s (It Follows) new film is a twisty-turny thriller starring Andrew Garfield as the directionless Sam, a schlubby geek beguiled by a Hitchcockian blonde called Sarah (Riley Keough). Her disappearance kickstarts a mystery that weaves through a Los Angeles evocative of Raymond Chandler’s. There are so many homages to classic films and legendary directors that Under the Silver Lake demands multiple viewings.


Music

Best albums of 2018

The records we have on repeat.

1.

Blood Orange

Negro Swan

An LP that sways and swaggers (a little) through jazz, r&b, hip-hop, funk and soft rock. Devonté Hynes (for Blood Orange is he) has Puff Daddy do spoken-word fills about vulnerability and ASAP Rocky check his bombast at the door. The year’s most bruised, beautiful fruit.


2.

Kali Uchis

Isolation

One minute you’re making mixtapes, the next you’re working with Damon Albarn and Thundercat on a debut that mixes bossa and reggaeton, dancehall with soul to nail your insta-classic debut aged 24. Where did she come from? Virginia, of Colombian parents.


3.

Khruangbin

Con Todo El Mundo

A mix of North African psychedelia and Thai funk is our new favourite thing and must never leave the turntable. These Texan teases are great and their groove, happily, knows no limits.


4.

Sunflower Bean

Twentytwo in Blue

Albums of the year by cool, skinny New Yorkers used to be ten-a-penny. Now if these sorts of cats sport spurs, they’ve earned ’em. Taking the spike of the band’s debut and adding a little sun and smoothness, this is an irresistible spin.


5.

Natalie Prass

The Future and the Past

As a pure expression of a “great record” – 12 excellent songs, produced beautifully – Prass’s latest is exemplary and all the more enjoyable for being so rare. A singer-songwriter with a classic gift honed after a decade singing-for-hire in Nashville makes Prass a strangely beguiling talent.


New Year’s Eve playlist

Bid farewell to 2018 with the year’s best party tracks.

1.

Sunmi

Heroine

It’s the South Korean anthem that swept the world and into your earhole like a benign breeze on a hot night in Seoul. Sexy, showy, blowsy, overproduced bliss.


2.

Chloe x Halle feat Kari Faux

Fake

The Beyoncé-endorsed teen sisters got a lesson in attitude and reals from Kari Faux on this clever, killer dancefloor filler.


3.

Tommy Genesis

Lucky

The simplest, laziest guitar figure since Johnny Cash fell off his tractor lights the touchpaper on this exercise in blush-making sultriness. “The only thing prettier than my face is my...” What?


4.

Fantastic Negrito

Plastic Hamburgers

The politically engaged San Franciscan uses raw roots rock to remind the language of civil rights from whence it came. Remember when the blues meant something?


5.

Starcrawler

Pussy Tower

Every year you need a band to save rock’n’roll and here they are, wrought like an amalgam of the best boy and girl punks ever: naughty, hot, wild, and wildly suggestive. And excellent.


6.

Peggy Gou

It Makes You Forget (Itgehane)

Young busy-decks Gou returns to her South Korean heritage to add a slick but tender vocal for this glorious, effortless dancefloor workout that thrills before it chills.


7.

Richard Swift

Broken Finger Blues

A big, beautiful Motown-through-the-ringer display from the gone-too-soon multi-instrumentalist. This and the beautiful “The Hex” are fitting tributes.


8.

Boy George & Culture Club

Let Somebody Love You

Boy George was always the best white reggae vocalist, doing it for love, with a lot of soul and with great pipes. This year’s return was mostly about selling tickets rather than records but this is a big-hearted standout track.


9.

Sudan Archives

Nont For Sale

The self-taught violinist and songwriter had a great year during which all her experimental leanings came good across a couple of fine EPs. How do you make a song as strange and beautiful as this?


10.

Khalid & Swae Lee

The Ways

The Black Panther soundtrack album was very good but this slow, soulful late-night lean into tomorrow is about as good a piece of pop as 2018 produced.


Books

The season’s page-turners

Worlds real and imagined.

Books to curl up with on a long winter’s night – or to wrap as handsome gifts.

1.

Transcription

By Kate Atkinson

London, 1940: Juliet Armstrong is 18 when she stumbles into the “underhand stuff” of espionage and is involved in the surveillance of Nazi sympathisers. Ten years later she is working at the bbc when a chance meeting with an old colleague drags her back into a world of danger and lies.


2.

A Different Drummer

By William Melvin Kelley

First published in 1962, this rediscovered American classic is set in an imaginary US state bounded by Tennessee and Alabama. When a young black farmer called Tucker Caliban sets fire to his house and leaves, the state’s entire African-American population follows him. This novel is told from the perspective of the white people left behind, trying to figure it all out.


3.

Evening in Paradise

By Lucia Berlin

Beauty and ugliness jostle in the less-ordinary lives painted by the author of A Manual for Cleaning Women. This dark, funny collection of tales spins from Texas to Chile to Mexico to New York, as the characters love, betray and leave each other while balancing their domestic life with a desire to make art.


4.

The Waiter

By Matias Faldbakkan

In this quirky Norwegian bestseller, our narrator caters to the regulars at 150-year-old Oslo restaurant The Hills, founded by a tragic English dandy. It’s no place for new blood, he thinks, so when an alarmingly different young woman joins the patrons, the waiter struggles to accept the changes she brings.


5.

A Winter’s Promise

By Christelle Dabos

In a world of floating celestial islands, Ophelia is an archivist who can travel through mirrors and tell an object’s history just by holding it. Life changes when the news comes that she is to be married and must live with her husband on distant, icy planet called Pole. This first book in the French series The Mirror Visitor is a bizarre and captivating cold-weather fantasy.


6.

Christmas Stories

By Noel Streatfeild

Lost ice skates, twins with measles and a dachshund called Charles all feature in this charming collection of festive stories written by Streatfeild for magazines and radio between the 1940s and 1960s – made for reading aloud by the fire.


7.

The Light in the Dark

By Horatio Clare

After a winter when he thought he would go mad with depression, the author used the act of writing a journal as a torch to show him the way forward. The result is rather magical – a beautiful guide that illuminates the beauty to be found in the darker months of the year.


8.

In Miniature

By Simon Garfield

A perfectly formed treat, Garfield’s (small format) book is an engaging exploration of tiny things, from the shabti figures buried in Egyptian tombs to a doll’s house fit for a queen. Small things can have big consequences – for proof, head to the chapter on how a model of a slave ship played a crucial role in the UK’s abolition of slavery in 1807.


9.

Books do Furnish a Painting

By Jamie Camplin and Maria Ranauro

A delightful tome that features paintings of people reading books. Flick to Edvard Munch’s Christmas in the Brothel, where the Norwegian artist paints himself passed out in a stupor as the madame sits with a novel.


10.

Black Sea: Dispatches and Recipes

By Caroline Eden

This culinary journey from Odessa to Trabzon is a feast for the senses. Highlights include the menu from Tsar Nicholas II’s nine-course gala at Constanta in 1914, Mark Twain eating too much ice cream and Gogol’s tortured relationship with his stomach.


Television

What to watch

The key series of 2019

By Toby Earle

For millions of viewers the TV compass of 2019 is pointing towards Westeros, where the family arguments of Game of Thrones finally wrap up. But there’s plenty more on the schedule to look forward to.

1.

Hanna Amazon 

Prime Video

In 2011 Saoirse Ronan played home-schooled assassin Hanna in Joe Wright’s sort-of forgotten thriller film. The adventures of a young woman pursued by the cia are now coming to the small screen and have plenty of scope for a global game of cat-and-cat. David Farr, the film’s co-writer, is penning the series. This show features another reunion too: Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman from The Killing will play adversaries, while Esme Creed-Miles is the titular heroine.


2.

The Gilded Age

NBC

Julian Fellowes’ Edwardian fantasy drama Downton Abbey turned into an international phenomenon and a movie version of his multi-award-winning series is now being filmed. Fellowes stays on familiar turf in this depiction of New York in the 1880s, focusing on an aspirational family competing to make its mark in a high society dominated by Astors and Vanderbilts. The desperately poor slum dwellers of NYC will surely feature in a heart-wrenching but easily resolved secondary plot.


3.

The Central Park Five

Netflix

In 2016 the now president of the US claimed that the five black and latino teens cleared of the rape of Trisha Meili in Central Park were guilty, despite their 1990 convictions being overturned by DNA evidence and the confession of a serial rapist. Ava DuVernay is the creator, writer and director of this drama series exposing a miscarriage of justice that resonates ever louder during this administration.

Overheard at Mipcom

Small-screen soundbites from the TV summit in Cannes.

The world’s largest TV content market took place in Cannes in October – 13,800 delegates, 4,800 buyers, 110 countries represented. As usual it was a tale of the varnished version and the real; the press release and the beans-spilling in the Carlton bar.

One truth is that the “content revolution” continues apace and smoke from the “drama boom” continues to billow. In fact, the architects of the content revolution – Facebook,
Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google – kept a very low profile, perhaps even disrupting the idea of the TV trade fair itself by not joining in.

Meanwhile the big studios, broadcasters and production companies paid millions of euros to tent themselves on the Croisette. nbc brought talent show Songland, which people found less gossip-worthy than the network’s owner Comcast buying up Sky. itv Studios was buoyed by its recent success, Bodyguard, and its next, The War of the Worlds. Lame moderators meant the only memorable keynote was Endeavor head and super-agent Ari Emanuel, who described himself and his employees as “geniuses”.

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