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Friday, 30 December 2011

Cultural Tales of Two Cities Annual Awards 2011

Best Film

Both my favourite films come from early on in the year – nothing since has quite matched their brilliance. So it’s a double award this year:

Blue Valentine – simply the most beautiful, saddest love story ever – with stand out breathtakingly good performances from both leads Michelle Williams, and the gorgeous, fantastic, not to say slightly ubiquitous Ryan Gosling. How Oscars escaped this pair of actors I do not know. Heartbreaking perfection.

And Animal Kingdom – brutal brilliance in the dark underbelly of the Melbourne suburbs. This is a mesmerising example of the crime genre which will be hard to beat.

Special mentions also go to Ryan Gosling in Drive, slightly over violent in places I admit, but if this doesn’t spark a revival in brown leather driving gloves nothing will. Gosling is too cool for school – more please.

Also to the most brilliant documentary I have ever seen – Senna. Even if you have no interest in Formula 1 motor racing or sport in general, I defy you to watch this film and not be moved to the tips of your toes and emerge with a new hero in Ayrton Senna. Sheer class.

Turkey of the year award has to go to The Eagle – even the very easy on the eye Channing Tatum couldn’t save this swords and sandals Roman tale from descending into farce. But with no Frankie Howard...

Best play

The prize is again shared for the best theatre production this year – not a crisis of decision making on my part you understand, just two brilliant comedies that were master classes in plot, timing, and the precise art of a great adaptation, both of which have deservedly transferred to sell out West End runs.

Firstly One Man Two Guvnors at the National Theatre (which I saw via the magic of NT Live – much more of that please) was a fabulous farce for which James Corden has rightly received much praise. He really makes the show, and it is pure joy to watch his brilliant ad libs, even if some were rehearsed – who cares?

Secondly, The Ladykillers at Liverpool Playhouse was also comedy perfection, as this new adaption starring the brilliant Peter Capaldi, and a set the like of which I have never seen was a surprise - sheer delight.

Special mentions must also go to the mesmerising power of David Morrissey as Macbeth at Liverpool Everyman (R.I.P. until it rises phoenix like in a couple of years time); and to Michael Sheen as Hamlet in a secure hospital at the Young Vic. His was a performance of impressive passion and stature, even if the overall setting was slightly weird. It was a total pleasure to see such great actors each at the top of their not inconsiderable games. And the Royal Exchange had some great plays early on in their season – Private Lives, A View From the Bridge, and As You Like It were all fantastic.

Turkey of the year was Winterlong in the Royal Exchange Studio – both for the play itself, and for the ungracious attitude to criticism in this very blog by its author Andrew Sheridan – boo hiss.

Best Book

My favourite novels were The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, which deservedly won the Booker Prize for its brilliantly observed account of relationships via an extremely unreliable narrator; and the unaccountably overlooked The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst, which was to my mind equally brilliant and haunting.

I also very much enjoyed a couple of noteworthy biographies this year: Cleopatra – A Life by Stacy Schiff, and Charles Dickens – A Life by Claire Tomalin.

Turkey of the year for my was Great House by Nicole Krauss. I know it was critically acclaimed in all the right places, but it just goes to show that there is no accounting for taste – I found it practically unreadable. C’est la vie.

Best exhibition

Nothing in this country topped my Russian adventures this year, with the St Peterburg Hermitage and the art of the Moscow Metro artistic experiences so special that I would thoroughly recommend a trip for those two destinations alone.

Two Temple Place near the banks of the Thames is a hidden gem which is well worth seeking out, and the William Morris exhibition there was also sheer pleasure.

Turkey of the year most definitely goes to the new Museum of Liverpool – it is a jumble sale of a place, with confused and cluttered cases of not very much at all, housed in a building which is simply an affront to its beautiful and majestic neighbours on the Liverpool Waterfront. Sorry and all that...

Best gig

Although my firm favourites I Am Kloot and their lead singer troubadour John Bramwell have been brilliant on all six times I have seen them/him this year (really looking forward to the new album in 2012 guys), the stand out best live gig was a real unexpected pleasure (always the best kind I think). The award proudly goes to Justin Townes Earle at the Deaf Institute. He is a real showman, who sings brilliantly and plays his guitar with jaw dropping musicianship. I enjoyed every minute of his set, including his very entertaining stories in between songs. A very charming and charismatic country performer indeed.

Turkey award sadly goes to The Lemonheads at the Ritz last month – lack of attack, lack of connection with the audience, sticky dance floor , need I say more?

Best classical concert

For atmosphere and seasonal cheer this has to go to Manchester Baroque’s performance of Handel’s Messiah at Manchester Cathedral. Great setting, great soloists, great night.

Highly commended were also a couple of offerings from the ever inspirational Manchester International Festival this year – the genius that is Damon Albarn produced a visually stunning and thematically interesting opera in Doctor Dee at the Palace Theatre; and Alina Ibragimova and The Quay Brothers produced a concert to remember in the glorious setting of Chethams School.

No turkeys in this section– I am, after all, a vegetarian...

So it’s been a great year for culture in Manchester and beyond. Thanks for reading my blog. Here’s to a great 2012 with all the cultural delights that it will surely bring for those who endeavour to seek them out. Happy New Year!

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