From Coda to White Lotus to Sweet Bobby – Here’s what you liked | Culture


It is remarkable – not to say impressive – that, given all the turbulence of 2021, we have been treated to such a formidable cultural year. As in 2020, endless innovation has been shown in all art forms as artists have found ways to create within the restrictions placed on them. The difference this year was that, alongside albums designed for lockdown, remote theatrical performances and the like, we were also treated to the large backlog of movies and TV shows originally slated for the previous year, from No time to die in Succession season three. And, for a while at least, there has been a return to top-notch live performances, from West End shows to music festivals.

In this week’s newsletter, we’re highlighting some of the best crops of 2021, chosen by both me and you. There is no ranking here; the Guardian has done this quite widely in film, music, television, games, stage, and art. Instead, it’s more of a celebration of the great culture you’ve probably caught (Dune, It’s a Sin) and those gems you almost certainly missed (unearthed records of the birth of house music from Chicago 1980s). Thank you for all your great recommendations and I wish you a very Merry Christmas.

Movie

World of spices… Timothée Chalamet and Rebecca Ferguson in Dune. Photograph: Moviestore Collection Ltd / Alamy

The guide’s choices

For a gargantuan spectacle on the big screen at a time when the future of cinema itself was being questioned, it is difficult to exceed that of Denis Villeneuve. Dune. Right on the other end of the scale was the hilarious and creepy low budget comedy baby shiva. Its frontman, Rachel Sennott, is a superstar on hold. Pablo Larraín’s psychological horror comedy Spencer was the boldest and most controversial film of the year, a Rosemary’s Baby by Sandringham with Kristen Stewart’s Princess Diana as Mia Farrow. And on the documentary side, two very different films stood out: MLK / FBIthe uncovered story of institutional mutilation leading to panting and Questlove’s happy 1969 concert film Summer of the soul (… Or, when the revolution couldn’t be televised).

Readers’ Choice

The best movie of the year for me is The power of the dog. I loved the cinematography and the slow pace, and the acting was awesome. It is a film that I would watch again to grasp its subtleties. Jane Campion is a superb director, well done to her.

Suzanne Gauthier

To have: Coda! I would come back to the theater for this one over and over again.

CG

I thought Minari was splendid: beautiful, original, touching and hilarious. Excellent acting too. What more could you want?

Yvonne durie [Further reading: Minari star Steven Yeun spoke about the film as well as his love of the great Bong Joon-ho, in an interview earlier this year]

My favorite movie was Another round, which I’m sure will get a lot of votes!

Karen Beesley

Music

Little Simz
Simz might say… Sometimes I might be an extrovert took Simbiatu Ajikawo to the next level. Photography: Nick Dale

The guide’s choices

Surely the most beautifully produced album of 2021, the daring, toned, expansive Sometimes I could be introverted saw North London rapper Little Simz keep his promises for a decade. Shame is tense and propulsive Drunk Tank Top Pink was my favorite of the many British post-punk / noise-rock albums that landed in 2021 (although Black Midi’s John L is still the most exciting track I’ve heard this year). Promises – Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders and the charming ambient-electronica-jazz hybrid of the London Symphony Orchestra – was the perfect aural escape in a hectic year. And for pure jangly eye-catcher, it’s hard to look past the Canadian Kiwi Jr’s outfit. Cooler Returns, perfectly positioned between the Strokes, the parquet floors and the sidewalk.

Readers’ Choice

Niall O ‘Donnell

Under the conditions by LeRon Carson. I don’t know if this really counts as new since Carson’s death in 2016, but a lot of these tracks are unreleased, made during the birth of house music in Chicago on the lowest of lo-fi equipment. It’s amazing stuff, up there with Virgo, Mr Fingers & co, at the start of Trax, DJ International, Underground, Mitchbal and all the other flagship labels.

Mike Firth

Rosa bartlett [Hailed by the Observer as their best album in years]

Cleo Sol took over from Max Richter for my personal lullaby.

Maggie Chute [Further reading: as well as her own soothing soul-jazz, Cleo Sol also found time to make yet another album with the prolific collective Sault, which found its way on to the Guardian’s best of 2021 list]

He is by Bicep got me through the lockdown.

Suzanne Stockton

TV

Olly Alexander
A hell of a trick … Olly Alexander and the cast of It’s a Sin. Photography: Canal 4

The guide’s choices

While I’m still not convinced this blocked the landing, Russell T Davies’ deeply moving AIDS drama It’s a sin is the show that has marked me the most this year. The ridiculously coherent Succession must be mentioned in any year-end summary, while the dark satire of The white lotus more than deserved its status as a sleeper hit. It’s been a big year for small screen documentaries: Beeb’s policy of letting Adam Curtis just get it right has paid off with his most ambitious series to date, I can’t get you out of my head, while Steve McQueen’s document on the 1981 fire in New Cross, south London, Uprising, served as a sobering postscript for his drama series Small Ax. And two British comedies – Jamie Demetriou’s madman Stath rents apartments and Liam Williams’ series of perfect notes on coming of age Ladhood – came back with new releases that kind of improved on what came before.

Readers’ Choice

I have heard of the Netflix series Somos of the Guardian. This is a Mexican city that is slowly being overrun by drug dealers, and it is brilliantly done. Lives are turned upside down and destroyed by a wrong turn, an inappropriate word, an involuntary gaze. It’s terrifying, tragic, subtle, and with superbly mastered performances from mostly unknown actors. An addition worthy of the best of the year.

André Downie

The best series, without a doubt, and not just because I live in Bristol was that of Stephen Merchant The outlaws. Great cast, great writing, funny, serious, political and captivating.

Josephine Eliot [Further reading: earlier this year, Stephen spoke to our magazine Saturday about his “low rent western” The Outlaws, and also walking through a plateglass window at a party hosted by Sarah Silverman]

There has recently been a series of very good BBC television series that have been broadcast in four to six parts. Showtrial was first class.

Sheela Kehoe

Unforgettable‘s Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar are the best double act on television – bar none. Continuing the theme of Nicola Walker, a cry for Annika – an original police proceeding broadcast on Alibi, set in Scotland with her as the eponymous Detective Inspector. She constantly breaks the Fourth Wall, drives a boat to work, and references Viking words and customs to make sense of the plot. Completely bizarre, but rather charming.

Rob Mansfield

I loved The white lotus, and of course Succession!

Elaine Dunlap

Time by Jimmy McGovern, with Stephen Graham and Sean Bean. Incredible story and play from this awesome duo.

Louise Carr

Podcasts

sweet bobby
Kirat Assi, subject of the captivating Sweet Bobby podcast. Photography: Andrew Testa for Tortoise Media

The guide’s choices

In an era when podcasts have somewhat lost that buzzy, blockbuster quality, Tortoise’s addictive catfish investigation sweet bobby was an exception, recalling the glory days of pods like Serial. Filmmaker Adam McKay hosted the captivating Wing death, which recounted the tragic deaths of leading basketball players in the ’80s through the lens of Reaganism, while Karina Longworth’s old Hollywood podcast You must remember this had a particularly good season on Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. My favorite of the ‘friendly chat’ genre this year was the movie pod The big picture, which seems to have come into its own during the lockdown, with its animated ‘movie project’ episodes, top five directors, and energetic back-and-forth from hosts Sean Fennessey and Amanda Dobbins.

Readers’ Choice

Global Service Deeply human. Great presenter and subject.

Maggie Chute

sweet bobby arrived at the end of the year, but it was fantastic listening. The timing of the mic drop in episode three was worth it on its own. It was left incredibly open for follow-up, but I had to count the days between episodes.

Rob mansfield [Further reading: the Observer’s Miranda Sawyer was just as hooked by Sweet Bobby]

I love boring historical podcasts, so this is Rex factor.

Suzanne Stockton

Books

Books
Page Turners… this year’s literary highlights included books by Sally Rooney and Warren Ellis. Illustration: Maïté Franchi / The Guardian

The guide’s choices

The Guardian’s Book of the Year list is an absolute monster this year, covering everything from Sally Rooney Beautiful people, where are you to the imaginative musical biography of Warren Ellis, Nina Simone’s gum. You can explore it all here, helpfully divided into categories ranging from politics to food. Meanwhile, the Observer handed its list of books of the year to the experts, with authors ranging from Bernadine Evaristo to Kazuo Ishiguro highlighting their 2021 favorites.

Readers’ Choice

Four thousand weeks by Oliver Burkeman. To call it a time management book is an understatement and a major injustice. It goes to the heart of our existence and what, individually, our place here – it’s part self-help, but a bigger part of the philosophy of life. I challenge you not to find something here that will make you re-evaluate the way you live your life.

Rob Mansfield

civilizations by Laurent Binet, translated by Sam Taylor. Mary bailey
[This does sound fascinating: a counter-factual novel imagining what would have happened if the Incas had settled in Europe]

Karen beesley [Further reading: we interviewed Ethan for his first novel in 20 years, as well as his unlikely love of Doris Kearns Goodwin]

Great culture does not stop. Next week we’ll highlight some of the best things to come in 2022!


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