The Best of 2012

29 Dec

Gerhard Richter

Ah… 2012. The year when Britain stopped huffing and rolling its eyes sarcastically and saying “Mustn’t grumble” for a whole month. When the Apollo-Mission-doubting, climate-change-questioning and Roswell-believing masses who’d been waffling on about the Mayan Calendar for years were (finally) heard to say, “We didn’t mean an actual apocalypse… We were talking about the spiritual realm…”. When Noel Edmonds’ beard got another shade more terrifying…

Seriously. What the fuck is up with Noel Edmonds' beard?

Seriously. What the fuck is up with Noel Edmonds’ beard?

I’ve already written about my top 5 boys’ films of the year, but here’s my best of (almost) everything else from 2012.

TV: The Hollow Crown

The Hollow Crown

Despite the Olympics straddling our summer schedules like a morbidly obese 30-year-old riding a child’s tricycle, and far too many hours of Nicholas Witchell speculating pointlessly about a family of German-Greek tax spongers, there was some great television in 2012. After one or two uneven series Doctor Who was back on consistently excellent form and BBC 4 continued to provide safe refuge from Channel 4’s ongoing obsession with sneering pseudo-documentaries (eg., “Hey, Everyone, Look! It’s a Poor Person!”).

"We are aware of... cultural sensitivities..." Channel 4 Commissioning Editor Nick Hornby

“We are aware of… cultural sensitivities…” Channel 4 Commissioning Editor Nick Hornby

The Hollow Crown topped everything. A four-part adaptation of the plays Richard II, Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, and Henry V (known collectively as the Henriadit certainly helped that they had Shakespeare on script duties, but this epic drama also gave us one of the best ensemble casts in living memory. From Ben Wishaw’s petulant and messianic Richard through to Tom Hiddleston’s preening and often callous Prince Hal/Henry V, The Hollow Crown was a showcase of excellent British acting. Richard II alone featured Patrick Stewart, David Suchet, Lindsay Duncan, David Morrissey, and the brilliant Rory Kinnear. Both parts of Henry IV were a beautiful reminder that Jeremy Irons (playing the title role) can act, can really act, and not just turn up and growl.

From 'Dungeons & Dragons', the reason Thora Birch's career is no longer a thing.

From 2000’s Dungeons & Dragons, aka The Reason Thora Birch’s Career Is No Longer A Thing.

If and when Channel 4 or Sky Arts produce anything as good as The Hollow Crown, there may be a good case against the TV licence.

I won’t hold my breath.

Music: Django Django by Django Django

Django Django

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not exactly the country’s leading authority on contemporary music, but a few acts caught my attention this year, and catching my attention is an achievement in itself. I thought Sam Lee’s debut album A Ground Of Its Own was excellent (thanks to Gareth Roberts for introducing me to that one), but my album of the year was, without a doubt, Django Django by Django Django.

I was turned on to this band by my friend Ben (he likes music) who suggested I give it a go, earlier in the year. At the time I was working on the script to a kind of sci-fi western and listening to an awful lot of Ennio Morricone. As their name suggests, Django Django songs often sound like the soundtrack to a weird western, mashed up with a sprinkle of The Dandy Warhols, so they were ideal listening while I finished working on the script.

There isn’t a duff song on the album, and it’ll remain a source of bafflement until the sun goes cold that they lost out on this year’s Mercury Music Prize. On the plus side, this means they will at least release a second album and still be around in 5 years’ time.

Film: Rust and Bone

Rust and Bone Poster

I’ve already written about this movie, but if forced to pick one standout film from 2012, this comes barging its way to the front of the queue every time. There were many other excellent films this year, but Rust and Bone stayed with me for days and weeks after I’d seen it in a way few others did. Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts make an engaging and sympathetic – though never schmaltzy – onscreen couple, and director Jacques Audiard navigates the treacherous path  between drama and melodrama with breathtaking skill.

Book: On The Eve: The Jews of Europe before the Second World War – Bernard Wasserstein

On The Eve

Despite loving books and being a writer I’m rubbish at keeping up to speed with what’s happening in the World of Contemporary Letters. I only got around to reading Hilary Mantel’s Booker-winning Wolf Hall in 2011 (meaning I should get around to reading its also-Booker-winning sequel Bring Up The Bodies in 2014), and have yet to read anything by the David Mitchell who isn’t on Peep Show, let alone his Booker-shortlisted-and-soon-to-be-a-blockbuster-movie-from-the-team-that-brought-us-The-Matrix novel Cloud Atlas.

Fortunately, I have read a few books that were actually published this year, most of them non-fiction, and my favourite was this fascinating and often heartbreaking account of Jewish history and culture in the first half of the 20th Century. Full of interesting characters and eccentrics, this endlessly illuminating book further exposes the myth that Jews were ever an homogeneous mass with a clear-cut list of aims, objectives and desires. There are timely lessons here for those who would tar entire peoples with one brush or downplay that period of Europe’s history altogether, but more than that this provides us with an essential record of peoples and cultures that could all too easily have been wiped from the pages of history altogether.

Art: Gerhard Richter: Panorama (Tate Modern)

Gerhard Richter 2

I may be cheating with this one, as I can’t remember whether I caught the exhibition late in 2011 or early in 2012, but it ran until January 8th 2012, so it’s in, and big fat raspberries to anyone who complains.

Before seeing Panorama, I’d heard of him but hadn’t seen any of Richter’s work. The Boyfriend, a painter, is a big fan, and was eager to go. He told me Richter’s work spans five or six decades, and encompasses a wide range of styles and techniques, from pop to photo-realism and abstract, and from large canvasses to sculptures and installations, but nothing prepared me for the sheer breadth and scale of this retrospective. Richter’s paintings are among the most beautiful and skillful I have ever seen, and there’s something deeply moving about seeing so much talent and experimentation from an artist willing to engage with the world. Though some of his work can be almost surgical in its precision, there’s nothing cold about Richter. He’s unafraid of emotion in a way that all too few contemporary artists are. Of all the blockbuster exhibitions I’ve seen in recent years, this is the one to beat, and I’ve a feeling it’ll stay that way for many years to come.

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