My best movies, music and other moments from 2019

This time last year, in introducing the lists of my favourite films, music, etc, etc of 2018, I expressed the admittedly somewhat forlorn hope that 2019 would give us less reason to have to seek solace in such things, and that peace, tolerance and reason would prevail. Well, it didn’t quite work out that way, and the way things are looking, I’ll probably be turning to the arts even more in 2020, partly as a distraction from the many dispiriting developments in the world around us, partly as reassurance that humankind can do something positive, intelligent, valuable and uplifting after all. Whatever,  once again I’d rather celebrate the highlights of the year just ended than go off on a rant, so that’s what you’ll find below.

And these really were the highlights of my year, since I saw around 150 movies, attended more than 120 live musical performances (mostly ‘classical’, for want of a better term), familiarised myself with around 80 new CDs (quite a few of them released in 2019), read around 30 books and visited around a dozen exhibitions. While I wish there had been more books and exhibitions, it wasn’t easy arriving at any of the final lists below, and I’m sure that in a few days – or even in a few hour – I’ll be regretting certain omissions. C’est la vie… Besides, this list-compiling thing isn’t intended by me – and certainly shouldn’t be regarded by you – as any kind of definitive statement about my 2019; it’s a bit of fun, part celebration, part recommendation, and part thank-you to anybody involved in one way or another with the artefacts and events listed below.

So, here’s wishing you all the very best for 2020. Don’t let the bastards get you down…


25 films released or premiered this year (very roughly in order of preference, though as the list descends I’ve sometimes paired or grouped titles according to shared themes):*

The Doll’s Breath (Brothers Quay)**

Pain and Glory (Pedro Almodóvar)

Varda par Agnès (Agnès Varda, picture at top)

The Traitor (Marco Bellocchio)

The Irishman (Martin Scorsese)

Parasite (Bong Joon-ho)

Sorry We Missed You (Ken Loach)

Little Joe (Jessica Hausner)

The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg)

Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach)

Non-Fiction (Doubles vies) (Olivier Assayas)

The Invisible Life of Eurídice Guzmão (Karim Aïnouz)

Ghost Town Anthology (Denis Coté)

By the Grace of God (François Ozon)

God Exists, Her Name Is Petrunya (Teona Strugar Mitevska)

Young Ahmed (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)

Bull (Annie Silverstein)

Roubaix, une lumière (Oh Mercy!) (Arnaud Desplechin)

Dark Water (Todd Haynes)

The Dead Don’t Die (Jim Jarmusch)

Atlantique (Mati Diop)

American Factory (Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert)

High Flying Bird (Steven Soderbergh)

Henry Glassie: Field Work (Pat Collins)

And Your Bird Can Sing (Miyake Sho)

(*A few films which I saw and greatly admired were not quite finished or are yet to screen publicly, so have been excluded from the list.)

8 films made before 2019 which I finally caught up with and especially enjoyed this year:***

De Chaque instant (Nicolas Philibert, 2018)

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Marielle Heller, 2018) 

The Eyes of Orson Welles (Mark Cousins, 2018)

A Single Girl (La Fille seule) (Benoît Jacquot, 1995)

The Incident (Larry Peerce, 1967)

The Vanquished (I vinti) (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1953)

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Elia Kazan, 1945)

Shoes (Lois Weber, 1916, picture below)


(***I should add that this year I finally got to see the various films which Michael Haneke made for television between the mid-70s and the mid-90s – revelations which overshadowed most other films I watched. I should also give a very honourable mention to John Bridcut’s superb television documentary, Janet Baker – In My Own Words. And while we’re on the subject of television, The Kominsky Method and Call My Agent also gave great pleasure.)

Terrific boxed sets on BluRay or DVD:

Nuri Bilge Ceylan: The Complete Films (New Wave)

Nicolas Philibert: Les Films, Le Cinéma (Blaq out)



CDs: 15 new ‘classical recitals’ and ‘new music’:

Jeremy Denk: c1300 – c2000 (from Machaut to Ligeti) (Nonesuch)

Thomes Zehetmair: Sei Solo – JS Bach: Sonatas and Partitias for Violin Solo (ECM)

Rachel Podger: Bach – Cello Suites [for] Violin (Channel)

Igor Levit: Beethoven – Complete Piano Sonatas (Sony)

Anna Gourari: Elusive Affinity (Bach, Schnittke, Kancheli, Shchedrin, Pärt, Rihm) (ECM)

Tamara Stefanovich: Influences (Ives, Bartók, Messiaen, Bach) (Pentatone)

Danish String Quartet: Prism II (Bach, Beethoven, Schnittke) (ECM)

Reto Bieri & Meta4: Quasi Morendo (Brahms, Pesson, Sciarrino) (ECM)

Julian Anderson: Poetry Nearing Silence (NMC)

Harrison Birtwistle: Responses, Sweet Disorder; Gawain’s Journey (Neos)

Erika Fox: Paths (NMC)

Ramon Lazkano: Piano Works (Kairos)

Kaija Saariaho: True Fire, Trans, Ciel d’hiver (Ondine)

Dobrinka Tabakova: Kynance Cove, On the South Downs & Works for Choir (Regent)

Toivo Tulev: Magnificat (Naxos)


CDs: 8 new ‘non-classical’ (jazz, folk, crossover, whatever):

Paul Bley, Gary Peacock, Paul Motian: When Will the Blues Leave (ECM)

Kit Downes et al: Dreamlife of Debris (ECM)

Giovanni Guidi et al: Avec le temps (ECM)

Frode Haltli: Border Woods (Hubro)

Arve Henriksen: The Height of the Reeds (Rune Grammofon)

Joe Lovano, Marilyn Crispell, Carmen Castaldi: Trio Tapestry (ECM)

Craig Taborn, Vijay Iyer: The Transitory Poems (ECM)

Enrico Rava, Joe Lovano et al: Roma (ECM)


Live music (in the order seen and heard):

25 ‘classical’ concerts:

Juliet Fraser, Ensemble Modern, Vimbay Kaziboni: Jennifer Saunders, Queen Elizabeth Hall, 19/1

Riot Ensemble: Haas (‘Solstices’, in darkness), Royal Academy of Music, 29/1

3 x Tamara Stefanovich, Casals Quartet, Gerard McBurney: Bartok, Ligeti, Kurtág, Milton Court, 3/2

2 x George Benjamin, Ensemble Modern (*with Anu Komsi, Helena Rasker): Benjamin, Christian Mason, Cathy Milliken, Luigi Dallapicolla, *Wigmore 5/3; Benjamin, Boulez, Messiaen, Ustvolskaja, Ligeti, Roundhouse, 6/3

Denis Kozhukhin: Brahms, Schoenberg, Boulez, Prokofiev, Wigmore Hall, 7/3

Heath Quartet: Haydn, Ligeti, Beethoven, Wigmore, 16/3

Stephen Isserlis, Jeremy Denk, Joshua Bell, Timothy Ridout: Fauré, Schumann, Wigmore, 23/3

2 x JACK Quartet: Carter (complete string quartets), Wigmore, 6/4

Nash Ensemble, Laurence Power, Adrian Brendel, Claire Booth: Birtwistle, Carter, Knussen, Wigmore, 12/4

Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Polina Leschenko, Reto Bieri: Enescu, Bartók, Poulenc, Milhaud. Schoenfield et al, Wigmore, 27/4

Hagen Quartet: Beethoven, Shostakovich, Schubert, Wigmore, 29/4

András Schiff: Bach (complete partitas), Wigmore, 10/5

Alban Gerhardt, Steven Osborne: Schumann, Brahms, Falla, Debussy, Ravel, Wigmore, 11/5  

Igor Levit: Ronald Stevenson, Wigmore, 27/5

Paul Lewis: Beethoven, Larcher, Haydn, Snape Maltings, 8/6

Rachel Podger, Brecon Baroque: Vivaldi, Wigmore, 2/7

Mark Padmore, Kristian Bezuidenhout: Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin, Wigmore, 20/9

Kyrill Gerstein, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Thomas Adès: Adès, Holst, Sibelius, Royal Festival Hall, 23/10

Tamsin Waley-Cohen: Freya Waley-Cohen, Bach, Benjamin, Kurtág, Knussen, Wigmore, 2/11

Takács Quartet: Haydn, Bartok, Mendelssohn, Wigmore, 5/11

Steven Osborne: Messiaen’s Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus, Queen Elizabeth Hall, 6/11

Cédric Tiberghien: Beethoven, Brahms, Schoenberg, Wigmore, 9/11

Christian Tetzlaff, Lars Vogt: Lutoslawski, Beethoven, Kurtág, Franck, Wigmore, 12/11  

Claire Booth, Susan Bickley, Nicky Spence, Andrew Matthews-Owen: Dove, Wigmore, 8/12

Belcea Quartet: Beethoven, Wigmore, 18/12 & 20/12


3 operas:


Thomas Larcher: The Hunting Gun; Knussen Chamber Orchestra, Exaudi, Ryan Wigglesworth, Boden, Aristidou, Peri, van Wijnen, Schöne; Snape Maltings, 9/6 (above)

Benjamin Britten: Peter Grimes (semi-staged); Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Edward Gardner, Skelton, Wall, Williams, Bickley, RFH, 30/11

Benjamin Britten: Death in Venice; Royal Opera House, Richard Farnes, Padmore, Finley, Scotting, ROH, 6/12


3 ‘non-classical’ concerts:

Carla Bley, Steve Swallow, Any Sheppard, King’s Place, 8/10

Trio Tapestry, Queen Elizabeth Hall, 17/11

Jan Garbarek Quartet, Royal Festival Hall, 17/11


Other stuff

6 books (fiction and non-fiction):

Jonathan Coe: Middle England

Henry James: The Spoils of Poynton

Stephen Johnson: How Shostakovich Changed My Mind 

Charles Nicholl: Leonardo da Vinci – The Flights of the Mind

Amy Sackville: Painter to the King

Ivan Turgenev: Fathers and Sons (re-read after 40 years)


6 exhibitions and 1 installation:

Don McCullin (Tate Britain)

Vivian Maier: Street Photographer (Kutxa Kultur Artegunea, San Sebastian)

Félix Vallotton: Painter of Disquiet (Royal Academy)

From Monet to Picasso (Albertina, Vienna)

Helene Schjerfbeck (Royal Academy)

Bridget Riley (Hayward)

Víctor Erice: Stone and Sky (Museo de Bellas Artes, Bilbao, picture below)**

(**I hope to write about the Quays’ The Doll’s Breath and Víctor Erice’s Stone and Sky at a later date – watch this space.)

stone and sky


Little or nothing to do with art:

Cronies in Cannes
North Norfolk, inevitably
First visit to the Aldeburgh Festival
Grüner Veltliner galore
Self-portrait, Christmas Day lunchtime, Basque Country







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