Each year each of us at Illuminations and at our sister company Illuminations Films contributes a top ten of cultural highlights of the year (although we missed this in 2011), We are running these daily through this holiday week, with first up our colleague at Illuminations Films and producer of Berberian Sound Studio, Keith Griffiths.
Keith: I didn’t get out much this year and perhaps my list reflects somewhat the life of a reclusive hobbit. My top ten is not in any particular order – except for No 1.
1. Tour de France
Each year I seem to congratulate ITV more than any other television network and so it is again this year. The daily coverage and repeats of Le Tour were brilliantly commentated and succeeded in the almost impossible – making cycling enthralling and more exciting than most Hollywood blockbusters. With a TV set up on the bookcase next to my desk I managed to view nearly every Stage, and if I missed one due to a trip to the Smoke, the High Speed Rail link got me back in time for the edited version. Fantastic sport, fantastic TV.
2. Nordic Gloom
By which I have to include Borgen, The Bridge and of course The Killing. So many words spilled on figuring out why across the sea they can produce such gripping and well-structured crime drama – and we can’t get close. It doesn’t matter: sit back on the sofa and creep to the edge of your seat, it was mostly all very engrossing and beautifully crafted. These pleasures were increased by the fact that in between each series one could escape into the sun and blue sky of Sicily and enjoy good food with the Poirot of Italy, Montelbano. I never made it to Italy this year myself, so had to indulge the pleasures of Mafia-busting and of the sea from afar.
3. Bruckner’s Ninth
In February in Berlin, on a rare trip out, I caught Sir Simon Rattle conducting the Berlin Philharmonic playing Anton Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony with a newly reconstructed finale. Completely breathtaking and heart stopping performance, and I had to choke back the tears. Can’t wait to discover what he throws at us this coming winter – whatever the vast expense, it will be worth it. Brilliant orchestra at the height of its skills under a charismatic conductor.
4. The Quays at MoMA, NYC
Marvellous and inspiring show (until 7 January) of the films, graphic art, models and puppets of the Brothers Quay under the tantalising (or confusing) title of On Deciphering the Pharmacist’s Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets, which The New York Times headed as ‘A Universe Like Ours, Only Weirder… both marathon and marvel. Real congratulations must go to the organiser of this spectacular show, Ron Magliozzi, associate curator in the Museum of Modern Art’s film department, for managing to collect together and curate a history of work often imagined as lost. Even I was surprised, despite having known and worked with the Brothers closely since the seventies. Afterwards, exhausted, one could escape to the flash bar next door The Modern, for a unique cocktail created by the Brothers – A Crushed Nun.
I feared this V&A exhibition (until 27 January) would be pure Disney and kitsch – but it was not only an inspiring and educational show, but brilliantly designed, if finally exhausting. Yes, I had to go twice to even half absorb the content. The presentation of the flat screen ‘conversations’ between designers and talent was surprising, intelligent and totally engaging. A rather well-dressed German (probably from Munich bearing in mind his Jermyn Street wardrobe) collared me to say (and use silly accent here for affect) : ‘This show could only be created in England: history, art, entertainment and the use of new technology!’ He wasn’t wrong.
[Advance tickets for the exhibition are now sold out, but there is a V&A video on Vimeo, the embedding of which is restricted.]
6. Turner in Margate
Though it is just along the coast from me, I had not visited the fantastic new space of the Turner Contemporary gallery before. Standing on the edge of the sea with scudding clouds and unbelievable changes in light every few minutes, what better space can there be to present Turner and the Elements (28 January – 13 May 2012), a small show of twelve oil paintings and seventy two incredible water colours by J M W Turner himself. With a focus on Turner’s lifelong fascination with the elements, both entering and exiting the show placed one within a 3D world. Everything was perfectly clear.
It seems that some of the best cultural documentaries of late have been centred around the fashion industry, and this portrait of the steely and unique former editor of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue is no exception. The film was directed by Vreeland’s grand-daughter-in-law, who obviously benefited from unique access to archive material, though the intelligence and sharp wit of the subject shine from the screen. Not sure if our future Ambassador to the USA (?) Anna Wintour, who is herself pretty unique, has quite the same chutzpah.
I haven’t yet digested the big hitters of the autumn release cycle yet, so we will have to see if they survive in the mind for a year. Tabu, however, is the latest feature directed by Portuguese auteur Miguel Gomes, and has, as they say, ‘shelf life’. A quasi-silent movie in black and white, it’s a drama that elegantly and intriguingly unfolds and is both deadpan yet extremely witty. One of the best movies of the year for sure.
This BBC Two series goes from strength to strength, though this year benefited from three really great finalists. As people increasingly grow tired of me repeating, the connections between cooking food well is intricately linked to the talents and skills required of great filmmaking. As Falstaff on the sofa, I was completely hooked, though my confidence for applying has been severely dented by the talents on display this season.
10. The Real Housewives
Last but not least – daytime TV is a cruel spectacle even if watched with only one eye on the screen. My autumn and winter, however, have been significantly lifted by two afternoon series: The Real Housewives of New York City and The Real Housewives of Washington DC. Well done ITV 2. Bring them back; I can’t wait. The petty domestic mini-hysterical-dramas and louche life styles of the subjects are completely hypnotic. Little between them to determine which was the best – but the closing season’s round-ups where the ladies are interrogated by a presenter is jaw-dropping entertainment. Top votes go to Michaele and Tareq in the Washington series for gatecrashing a dinner to be hosted by Obama in the White House – a real life security scandal that dwarfs anything from the shires of Merrie England. And they pleaded the Fifth Amendment when questioned. Unbelievable! Need to understand the USA? Watch this space.
Header image: Vue du passage du peloton du Tour de France 2012 à Tohogne (Durbuy) during the 2012 Tour de France, photographed by Jean Housen and kindly shared the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.