Five of the best ... films
(Alfonso Cuarón, 2018, Mex/US) 135 mins
The Mexican director’s miraculous, beautiful family chronicle has found itself central in the ongoing tug-of-war between the streaming platforms and cinemas. After its acquisition by Netflix, the pushback began: it is, after all, a film that demands to be seen on the big screen. Netflix, so far, appear to have relented and extended its cinematic run – so catch it while you can.
(Craig William Macneill, 2018, US) 105 mins
Lizzie is Lizzie Borden, the woman suspected, but acquitted, of a double murder in 1892, and subsequently immortalised in the “40 whacks” rhyme. Now the case provides juicily gothic roles for Chloë Sevigny – as the frustrated, thwarted Lizzie – and Kristen Stewart, as the Irish maid for whom Lizzie conceives a tenderness.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (PG)
(Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti, Rodney Rothman, 2018, US) 117 mins
The latest attempt to reboot the Spider-Man franchise – for rights reasons a separate affair from the Marvel Cinematic Universe – is an enterprising response: an animated adventure that hits all the right superhero notes and bolts on a freaky parallel-dimension superstructure. New Spider-Man Miles Morales releases a string of alternative Spideys, ranging from Spider-Gwen to Spider-Ham.
The Last Movie (15)
(Dennis Hopper, 1971, US) 108 mins
Hopper’s Easy Rider follow-up is one of Hollywood’s fabled disasters: impenetrable, drug-addled, self-indulgent. Well, that’s the theory. In fact, The Last Movie stands up as a radical work that was simply ahead of its time. Incorporating cutting-edge ideas borrowed from Godard and Jodorowsky, it theorises a tribal cult in Peru who re-enact a film crew’s activity after they finish shooting. A deserved re-release.
(Sebastián Lelio, 2018, UK/Ire/US) 114 mins
Naomi Alderman’s debut novel is one of the most articulate accounts of growing up in a deeply religious community; that this is one of the few screen depictions of British Haredi Jews makes it all the more interesting. Rachels Weisz and McAdams do sterling work as women damaged in different ways.
Five of the best ... rock & pop
Now in its fifth year, Goulding’s annual Streets of London concert, which raises money for the titular homeless charity, features a pretty stellar lineup of British pop. Alongside Goulding’s own selection of breathy bangers, there will be sets from the omnipresent Dua Lipa; Olly Alexander and the other two, AKA Years & Years; and chart-slaying fiddle fiddlers Clean Bandit.
The SSE Arena, Wembley, Thursday 20 December
It has not been a bad year for Wolf Alice, who, according to certain quarters of the internet, represent the last bastion of guitar rock. In September, the band won the Mercury music prize for 2017’s second album, Visions of a Life, propelling it back into the UK Top 20. They say this is the last hurrah for this “era” so brace yourselves.
O2 Victoria Warehouse, Manchester, Tuesday 18; O2 Academy Brixton, SW9, Wednesday 19 & Thursday 20 December
Four years after “hanging up their iconic torch-glasses and parting ways for the final time”, brothers Phil and Paul Hartnoll are again to be found bobbing their heads behind some equipment in a darkened room. This UK jaunt is in support of September’s ninth album of mind-expanding ravey techno, Monsters Exist.
London, Saturday 15; Bristol, Sunday 16; Sheffield, Tuesday 18; Cambridge, Wednesday 19; Manchester, Thursday 20 December
It is worth reiterating that between 1980 and 1983, Stuart Leslie Goddard, AKA Adam Ant, was one of the biggest (and strangest) pop stars to come out of the UK. He scored 10 Top 10 singles, including three No 1s. Ahead of next year’s Bravest of the Brave album, he’ll play a pair of London dates to help solidify that legacy. Be sure to bulk-order some facepaint for the occasion.
Roundhouse, NW1, Wednesday 19 & Thursday 20 December
Helena Kay’s KIM Trio
For her catchy balance of peppery hard bop and thoughtfully cinematic compositions inspired by people and places in her young life, Scots saxophonist Kay has made waves since her prize-winning breakout in 2015. She launches her debut album Moon Palace (splicing originals and classics by Charlie Parker and Hoagy Carmichael) on this trio tour.
Brighton, Saturday 15; Newton Abbot, Sunday 16; Appledore, Monday 17; London, Tuesday 18; Birmingham, Wednesday 19; Edinburgh, Thursday 20; Perth, Friday 21; touring to 22 December
Three of the best ... classical concerts
The Destruction of Sodom
The final weekend of this year’s London contemporary music festival event takes in a world premiere by Gerald Barry. Composed three years ago and borrowing its title from an unfinished play by Federico García Lorca, The Destruction of Sodom is scored for an extraordinary lineup of eight horns (which are instructed to play as loudly as possible throughout) and two wind machines. It will be performed alongside new works from Elaine Mitchener and Neil Luck, as well as the UK premieres of scores by Chaya Czernowin, Julius Eastman and Annea Lockwood.
Ambika P3, NW1, Saturday 15 December
The Tallis Scholars
Peter Phillips and his outstanding chamber choir are regulars at the St John’s Christmas festival, where they can be relied upon to offer a programme that is distinct from the regular seasonal fare. Here, they frame their programme with double-choir Magnificats by Praetorius and Victoria, and include a sequence of anthems by William Byrd. Breaking up the Renaissance sequence will be Arvo Pärt’s Virgencita and John Rutter’s Hymn to the Creator of Light.
St John’s Smith Square, SW1, Friday 21 December
Airings of Handel’s best-loved oratorio abound at this time of year. Just as predictably, in their combination of historical awareness and musical authority, those given by the choir and orchestra of John Butt’s Dunedin Consort are likely to rank among the best. The soloists for this year’s performances are Sarah Power, James Laing, James Way and Matthew Brook; as usual Butt directs from the harpsichord.
Perth Concert Hall, Tuesday 18; The Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, Wednesday 19; City Halls, Glasgow, Thursday 20 December
Five of the best ... exhibitions
The simple and seductive style of this American painter of modern life is irresistible. But is it as easy as he makes it look? The beauty of Katz’s portraits and landscapes in this Artists Rooms exhibition lies in a discriminatory and ruthless feel for what matters. Far from being a pop artist, he is a poet whose eye is a window of memory.
Tate Liverpool, to 10 March
Clowns: The Eggs-hibition
A fun family exhibition for the holiday season – unless, of course, you are terrified of clowns. At the heart of this show, part of Circus 250, are the eggs on which professional clowns have been recording their personal clown faces for more than 70 years. It also offers kids the chance to wear giant clown shoes and learn circus skills.
Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, to 6 January
Ribera: Art of Violence
This gory bloodbath of an exhibition is unmissable. Spanish painter Jusepe de Ribera worked in 17th-century Naples, a violent and troubled place. Images of Inquisition torture and punishment reveal how his visceral scenes are rooted in reality. Yet his paintings are filled with pity as well as horror. He depicts Marsyas looking straight at you as he is flayed alive, his scream echoing silently.
Dulwich Picture Gallery, SE21, to 27 January
Escape into the magical realm that was Anglo-Saxon England in this captivating and haunting exhibition. Dragons slither through the pages of painted Bibles, monsters loom in the pagan twilight, and King Alfred makes a desperate stand against the Vikings. Glittering jewels and sinister weapons evoke an age that was like Game of Thrones for real. Many of the exhibits are genuine national treasures, including the Lindisfarne Gospels and Domesday Book.
The British Library, NW1, to 19 February
The Sun: Living With Our Star
With the sun in short supply, midwinter makes an atmospheric time to learn about the science of our star. There are astounding treasures here, from a model of the solar system made for the 18th-century Earl of Orrery to Galileo’s book on sunspots. His drawings revealed that the sun is a changing gaseous body, not a heavenly light. It all culminates in Nasa footage of the fusion reactor that gives us life.
Science Museum, SW7, to 6 May
Five of the best ... theatre shows
Mother Goose Cracks One Out!
This gem of a theatre, dedicated to LGBT+ work, expanded to a bigger base in Vauxhall this year, so now more people can view its lively repertoire. For the Stag’s latest Christmas show, pantomime writers Jon Bradfield and Martin Hooper have penned Mother Goose Cracks One Out!. Expect much goosing and some birds getting stuffed, among other adult innuendo.
Above the Stag Theatre, SE1, to 12 January
The Grand Old Dame of York
In terms of longevity, Berwick Kaler is the Ken Barlow of pantomime, having donned the OTT frocks and wigs as a dame (as well as writing and directing) in York for 40 years. But this Christmas sees his final show, which he has again penned. His co-director, the venue’s artistic boss Damian Cruden, will give a masterclass on the panto on 18 January.
York Theatre Royal, to 2 February
Danai Gurira, star of The Walking Dead and Black Panther, is the author of this play set in Southern Rhodesia – now Zimbabwe – in 1896, in which a young woman (Letitia Wright, also in Black Panther) is fleeing a forced marriage when she encounters a Catholic priest. The effects of colonialism and the price of faith are the themes explored by Gurira, an American who was born to South Rhodesian parents.
Young Vic, SE1, to 26 January
The Worst Witch
Daisy Pulls It Off meets Harry Potter in this new adaptation by Emma Reeves of the popular kids’ reads by Jill Murphy, which have already been made into films and TV series. A new story with some well-known moments from the books sees the accident-prone Mildred Hubble, an ordinary girl who finds herself in a school for witches, leaving a trail of chaos as she fights for the school’s future against an old enemy.
Royal & Derngate: The Royal, Northampton, to 30 December; touring 29 January to 1 June
The Double Dealer
Some suitably seasonal foppery in William Congreve’s early Restoration play; he was only 24 when he wrote it, before going on to pen Love for Love and The Way of the World. Here, the Machiavellian manipulator of the title – the appropriately named Maskwell – seeks to work his wiles on engaged couple Cynthia and Mellefont during an autumn house party. Actor Selina Cadell, now with several directing credits to her name, is in charge.
Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, to 26 January
Three of the best ... dance shows
Royal Ballet: Les Patineurs
A sweetly nostalgic view of Christmases past, Frederick Ashton’s clever ballet based on ice-skating comes with swirling skirts, fur hats and muffs, plus some impressive displays of virtuosity. It is presented here as part of a triple bill with Kenneth MacMillan’s Chekhov-inspired Winter Dreams and Jerome Robbins’s comedy The Concert.
Royal Opera House, WC2, Tuesday 18 December to 4 January
Holly Noble Company: Snow
If Snow White ran away with the circus, Holly Noble’s Snow is what you would end up with. Based on the Grimm fairytale, Snow is a family show incorporating ballet, circus, film, narration, British sign language and a soundtrack that ranges from David Bowie to INXS.
Deda, Derby, Wednesday 19 to 22 December
Based on a Hans Christian Andersen story, there is zero festive feelgood factor about this dark tale of a woman trying to save her child, adapted into a dance-drama by Arthur Pita with the dream cast of ballerina Natalia Osipova and contemporary dancer Jonathan Goddard.
Pentland Theatre, Edinburgh, Friday 21 December