In December 2017 and 2018, I posted brief pieces highlighting some of my favourites movies and music which had been released on disc during the previous 12 months; I hoped they might prove helpful for anyone wondering what to buy for Christmas presents. The posts seemed to go down quite well, so this year I’m repeating the exercise. This isn’t my ‘best-of-the- year’ list, which is still to come, though obviously some of the titles mentioned below will feature on that; rather, it’s a selection of eight films and twelve musical gems released in 2019 which I’ve deliberately made quite varied, in the hope that you might find at least one thing you might like to give to a loved one (or, perhaps, to yourself). As before, in the case of the movies, it’s the films themselves that have swayed my decision, rather than any ‘additionality’ (ie extras). In the interest of transparency, I admit to having made minor contributions to the extras on two of the titles listed. That, however, is definitely not why I chose them; what’s more, I should probably point out that I get no royalties from any sales. As for the music recommended, in the case of ‘contemporary classical’ or ‘new music’, since this is about Christmas gifts I’ve tended to steer clear of hardcore atonality and experimentation and have chosen music that would strike many folks as rather more readily ‘accessible’. But that, of course, is as always subjective. You can click on the links to find out for yourself.
Anyway, I hope you find one or two of the recommendations useful in making your seasonal shopping a little less frantic. Season’s greetings!
Films released on DVD/BlueRay:
Hold Back the Dawn (Arrow)
Charles Boyer, Olivia de Havilland and Paulette Goddard in Mitchell Leisen’s 1941 romantic weepie.
The Woman in the Window (Eureka)
Edward G Robinson, Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea in Fritz Lang’s 1944 noir thriller.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Eureka)
Peggy Ann Garner, Dorothy McGuire and Joan Blondell in Elia Kazan’s oft-neglected 1945 feature debut.
Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (BFI)
Catherine Deneuve, Françoise Dorléac, Danielle Darrieux and Gene Kelly in Jacques Demy’s 1967 musical. (Picture at top)
Sabine Azéma, Pierre Arditi, André Dussolier and Fanny Ardant in Alain Resnais’ 1986 adaptation of a 20s stage play.
The Koker Trilogy (Criterion)
Three of the best known films – Where Is the Friend’s House?, And Life Goes On… and Through the Olive Trees – by the late, very great Iranian artist and auteur, Abbas Kiarostami.
Everybody in Our Family + shorts (Second Run)
Romania’s always rewarding Radu Jude on the fraught dynamics of parent-child and other familial relationships.
Nuri Bilge Ceylan: The Complete Films (New Wave)
Every film made so far by the Turkish writer-director, in my opinion one of the best at work anywhere today.
Jazz, folk, crossover, or whatever:
Giovanni Guidi: Avec le temps (ECM)
The Italian pianist and leader in irresistibly lyrical form, with echoes here and there of Ornette.
Frode Haltli: Border Woods (Hubro)
The extraordinary Norwegian accordionist and other fine musicians pushing the boundaries of traditional folk.
Arve Henriksen, Eivind Aarset, Jan Bang: The Height of the Reeds (Rune Grammofon)
Another Scandinavian gem; this time, the virtuoso trumpeter’s commissioned piece to evoke the crossing of the Humber in Hull.
Jan Garbarek, Hilliard Ensemble: Remember me, my dear (ECM)
And yes, one more Norwegian, his definitive saxophone accompanying the celebrated vocal quartet on their final ‘Officium’ tour.
Classical – solo recitals:
Jeremy Denk: c1300 – c2000 (Nonesuch)
From Machaut to Ligeti via Bach, Beethoven et al, the development of musical form as written (or transcribed) for piano.
Igor Levit: Beethoven – the Complete Sonatas (Sony)
Exactly what it says. An epic undertaking, wonderfully achieved.
Rachel Podger: JS Bach Cello Suites [for] Violin (Channel)
Exactly what it says. The suites, impressively not quite as you have heard them before.
Thomas Zehetmair: Sei Solo – JS Bach Sonatas and Partitas for Violin Solo (ECM)
Exactly what it says. The solo sonatas and partitas beautifully played on baroque instruments and bows.
Classical – new music:
Toivo Tulev: Magnificat (Naxos)
Terrific vocal, choral and orchestral music by a contemporary Estonian composer (who’s not Arvo Pärt).
Dobrinka Tabakova: Kynance Cove, On the South Downs, and Works for Choir (Regent)
Luminous and evocative choral music from the Anglo-Bulgarian composer.
Harrison Birtwistle: Responses, Sweet Disorder; Gawain’s Journey (Neos)
A master’s orchestral gems brilliantly performed.
Julian Anderson: Poetry Nearing Silence (NMC)
Contemporary music that’s consistently imaginative, inventive and compelling.