14 items from 2013
From new voices like NoViolet Bulawayo to rediscovered old voices like James Salter, from Dave Eggers's satire to David Thomson's history of film, writers, Observer critics and others pick their favourite reads of 2013. And they tell us what they hope to find under the tree …
My favourite books of 2013 are Drama High (Riverhead) by Michael Sokolove, Sea Creatures (Turnaround) by Susanna Daniel, and & Sons (Harper Collins) by David Gilbert. Drama High is incredibly smart, moving non-fiction about an American drama teacher who for four decades coaxed sophisticated and nuanced theatrical performances out of teenage students who weren't privileged or otherwise remarkable and in so doing, changed their conceptions of what they could do with their lives. Sea Creatures is a gripping, beautifully written novel about the mother of a selectively mute three-year-old boy; when she takes a job ferrying supplies to a hermit off the coast of Florida, »
- Ali Smith, Robert McCrum, Tim Adams, Kate Kellaway, Rachel Cooke, Sebastian Faulks, Jackie Kay
"The Valley of Amazement doesn't waste any time. The long opening sentence leads us quickly into the only high-class courtesan house in Shanghai run by a white woman, where innumerable complications soon arise. Amy Tan maintains the pace skilfully as we follow the story of three generations of women, spanning the transition from dynastic rule to the early 20th century and travelling from Shanghai to San Francisco and on to a remote village deep in the mountains of China." Krys Lee in the Ft welcomed Tan's sixth novel, and pointed out that although the author has been "accused of exoticising her Asian roots, particularly by Asian readers", and although The Valley of Amazement "can indeed be seen as romanticising cliches »
Bradford Animation Festival | Cinecity Brighton Film Festival | Aldeburgh Documentary Festival | Korean Film Festival, China Image Film Festival | Russian Film Festival
Bradford Animation Festival
There's everything from CGI insects to lo-fi zombies on the screen at this inclusive event, which gives you features and shorts, for and by all ages, plus a dedicated gaming section. But there are also real, live people to recommend. Adam Buxton talks to anarchic image-mangler Cyriak, Steve Bell pays tribute to Roobarb creator Bob Godfrey, multi-disciplinary genius Dave McKean gives a masterclass, and stop-motion heroes Adam Elliot (of Mary And Max) and Lee "Claycat" Hardcastle are also here to talk about the finer points of plasticine.
National Media Museum, Tue to 16 Nov
Cinecity Brighton Film Festival
After 11 years, this festival knows what its citizens want: all things new and/or slightly leftfield. You'll get the hottest upcoming British and Us movies, led by Alexander Payne's latest, »
- Steve Rose
The Cruel Cut was a hugely powerful programme about a vitally important issue – but it was a pity about the silly pranks
'I heard really painful screaming, I knew it was my sister." Leyla Hussein has been campaigning against female genital mutilation since 2008, winning a Cosmopolitan award for her work in 2010. "I felt every single cut, pull, stitching. I was screaming so much I just blacked out." She has a devastating way of expressing herself, clear, practical and vivid. All the way through The Cruel Cut (Channel 4), in which she gets her message across any way she can, you can see the people she is talking to crossing their legs and wincing. There's a massive scale model of a plasticine vagina, vagina cupcakes, a counter-intuitive stunt, embroidered vaginas on fete decorations; so many means, verbal and visual, by which she takes her message to the world, and yet nothing »
- Zoe Williams
Documentaries about pornography and debauched British holidaymakers were eclipsed by Simon Schama's spellbinding history of the Jews
Porn on the Brain (C4) | 4oD
Booze, Bar Crawls and Bulgaria (BBC3) | iPlayer
The Story of the Jews (BBC2) | iPlayer
Nearly all journalism that deals with pornography wants to have its oats and eat them. The general rule is to trade on the titillation but make sure you establish the moral high ground from which to look down upon it all. But if Porn on the Brain's base camp was the familiar disapproving prurience, it also sought to scale the giddy heights of irrefutable science.
The film was presented by an effusive bloke called Martin Daubney. "Hello, my name is Martin," he said by way of introduction, "and I'm a wanker." His point was that like the vast majority of his audience he was no stranger to self-pleasure. Unfortunately he also seemed »
- Andrew Anthony
TV: Hello Ladies
Stephen Merchant steps out of the substantial shadow of his collaborator for this HBO series. Covering similar territory to Merchant's stand-up special of the same name, Hello Ladies follows the romantic struggles of Stuart, an expat looking for love in the sparkly superficiality of La, assisted by two equally inept wingmen. The series debuts on Sky Atlantic next week, but episode one is available to Sky On Demand users from Thursday.
Sky On Demand
TV: The Fried Chicken Shop
Truly, we are a nation of crispy poultry eaters, so a fly-on-the-wall series profiling one of the many chicken shops currently dominating high streets across the country feels, if anything, overdue. The Fried Chicken Shop profiles both the inebriated patrons of Clapham's Rooster Spot establishment, and those forced to deal »
- Gwilym Mumford
Simon Cowell's entertainment show had 37% share of viewing on Sunday night, maintaining stable audience week on week
The X Factor attracted an average of 9.6 million viewers for its third weekend outing on Sunday night, maintaining a stable audience week on week.
Simon Cowell's entertainment show managed a 37% share of viewing between 8pm and 9pm.
ITV said that X Factor's Sunday night show managed a five-minute peak audience of 10.7 million, the same as the previous week.
The ITV1 interview, Prince William's Passion: New Father, New Hope, managed a 16.5% share between 6pm and 7pm.
- Mark Sweney
ITV show had highest peak of any programme over the weekend with a 9.6 million average and 37.6% share during 8pm to 9pm
The X Factor attracted an average of 9.6 million viewers for its second weekend outing on Sunday night.
ITV's flagship entertainments show had a 37.6% share of viewing between 8pm and 9pm.
The average audience fell by 300,000 viewers compared to the previous Sunday, but was up by more than 1 million on the 4th episode of the 2012 series.
ITV said that X Factor's Sunday night show managed a five-minute peak audience of 10.7 million, the highest peak audience of any show over the weekend.
BBC1's celebrity dancing show drew an average audience of 8.4 million, narrowly ahead of The X Factor which managed 8.3 million.
Vera keeps them gripped
- Mark Sweney
Do we really want to see any more small-town whodunnits about child killing? Well, maybe just this one…
The Guilty (ITV) | ITV Player
Rebuilding the World Trade Centre (C4) | 4oD
The Lost Hero of 9/11 (C4) | 4oD
The Story of the Jews (BBC2) | iPlayer
Jamie's Money Saving Meals (C4) | 4oD
The Guilty was a guilty pleasure indeed. It has been a splendid summer for drama across all channels, during a season normally draped in the salty and slightly niffy flannel of so-so. There was – forgive me if I've got any wrong – Broadcliffe, Southchurch, Cliffdeath, Deathchurch, Laketop-Church, Deathcliffville, Southkill – and if I ever had to inexplicably leave my post and go to bed, there was always the BBC World Service telling me at 4am in sonorous voices, indefatigably those of Orla Guerin, about the death of a child in some yakhole I can't presently do anything about.
But did we need another murdered-child drama, »
- Euan Ferguson
Two examples of TV's most enduring form – a brainy person talking straight to camera – arrive next week in Robert Peston Goes Shopping and The Story of the Jews. But will they avoid the genre's numerous potential pitfalls?
Although television has changed rapidly in recent years in both content (the explosion of talent shows) and structure (the arrival of video streaming on demand), one form of TV has remained impressively constant: the historical travelogue, in which an academic or quasi-academic presenter reports from various locations around the world.
In the past, this genre was known in commissioning shorthand as man-in-suit and, though gender and wardrobe have slightly widened with the recent admission of Mary Beard and Bettany Hughes, they remain blokey sorts of shows, pioneered by David Attenborough and sustained more recently by Andrew Marr. And, within 24 hours next week, two more are launched: The Story of the Jews (Sunday, 9pm), presented by Simon Schama, »
- Mark Lawson
Michael Hogan: Brian, your speech at the recent Sandford St Martin Trust awards for religious broadcasting said TV was blighted by "ever-increasing vulgarity and ever-lower intellectual levels". Strong words. Did you have a particular programme in mind?
Brian Sewell: Nothing and everything. Now it all conforms to a formula. Even Islam: The Untold Story (C4), to which we gave one of the awards, immediately descended into a travelogue and became virtually indistinguishable from anything in which Michael Palin rambles around. Religious broadcasting, all broadcasting, ought to be better than that. We looked at David Suchet's In the Footsteps of St Paul and again, it just turned into a travelogue. Someone in the city of Tarsus said, "St Paul's father was a tentmaker here. »
- Michael Hogan, Brian Sewell
How did Jmw Turner make such fine sunsets? With science and an eye for all that was going on around him
Think of Turner and you think of ... Anthea? No! You think of sunsets right? Plus dramatic skies, daunting crags, wild seas. Well, maybe you need to think again – about machines, technology and industry, too. So says The Genius of Turner: Painting the Industrial Revolution (BBC2).
Obviously, Turner embraced steam. There's Rain, Steam and Speed, of course. And The Fighting Temeraire, the tugboat towing the ghostly sailing ship of war to her grave, the future pulling the past, noise versus silence. Jenny Uglow thinks it's not a sad painting, though. And it's not just about faded glory, says Simon Schama. "The faded glory is being pulled on by an equally tough, glorious, solid, black, energised future," he says. And the nation agrees. The Fighting Temeraire is Britain's favourite painting: it makes us happy. »
- Sam Wollaston
BBC Radio 4 is lining up 75 leading public figures, including film director Bernardo Bertolucci, singer Paul Weller and novelist Jeanette Winterson, to reveal their most treasured cultural influences for what the station claims will be one of the most comprehensive arts events broadcast.
The network has already confirmed 30 names for the project, Cultural Exchange, which will see individuals selecting a single item to talk about, with the choices ranging from the King James Bible to an obscure 1960s album.
It will feature every weekday on Front Row until the end of July.
Artist Tracey Emin will launch the series on 22 April with her insights into a Vermeer painting – Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid. She describes Vermeer as "one of the first feminists", pointing to the unusual and fascinating way he depicted women. "He showed that »
- Ben Dowell
From a full programme of film and stage adaptations to a new James Bond novel, unpublished works by Rs Thomas and Wg Sebald and a new prize for women writers, 2013 is set to be a real page-turner
10th The Oscar nominations are announced unusually early this year. Keep an eye out for a bumper crop of literary adaptations, including David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, Yann Martel's Life of Pi, the David Nicholls-scripted Great Expectations, as well as Les Miserables, Anna Karenina and The Hobbit.
18th A new stage adaptation of Henry James's The Turn of the Screw at the Almeida theatre in London. In the year of the centenary of Benjamin Britten's birth, his musical version will also feature around the country in both concert and stage performances.
24th The finalists for the fifth Man Booker International prize will be announced at the Jaipur festival. »
14 items from 2013
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