As far as entertainment to be watched, read and listened to goes, it feels like we've never had it so good, so cheap, and so often.
And it's overwhelming. So we thought we'd round up twenty-one things you definitely, on pain of death must see/read/hear/visit this winter even though you don't have time and there are so many other things you absolutely, definitely on pain of death must see/read/hear/visit this winter...
1 | Black Mirror season four (TV)
Like your favourite indie band going Top Ten or a cult designer being swept up by a fashion conglomerate, Charlie Brooker moving Black Mirror from Channel 4 to Netflix ("in a $40m deal", no less) could feel like a poke in the eye — it was ours! — but that's surely churlish.
The strange and wonderful future-shock show has only benefited from bigger budgets and starrier casts and crew: last year's season three, the first on Netflix, was also the best. The fourth, coming fresh off a double Emmy win for Brooker and co-creator Annabel Jones, mixes genres like never before, including a Star Trek-y episode onboard the "USS Callister", a crime thriller, a horror and a comedy. Directors for the six new stories include John Hillcoat (The Road, Triple 9), Tim Van Patten (Game of Thrones, The Sopranos) and Jodie Foster (Jodie Foster).
Brooker has talked this season up as being the weirdest yet, teasing call-backs to previous shows. But each Black Mirror still works best as a snackable standalone. It's the perfect digital format for a show obsessed with digital formats. "I've been told I've got to watch The Good Wife, and there's, like, 17 seasons of it," Brooker says. "When is too late for me to jump in? At what point is the amount of available footage going to dwarf my lifespan?" JD
Launches later this year on Netflix
2 | Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Cinema)
So, where were we? Ah, yes: cliffhanging. When last we saw Rey, heroine of 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, she was standing on the edge of a windswept crag on a dim and distant planet (Northern Ireland?), offering a long lost lightsaber to Luke Skywalker, her predecessor as the plucky outsider kid who becomes spearhead of resistance to the Dark Side, embodied in the early films by leathery deadbeat dad Darth Vader, now by tantrum-prone emo tearaway Kylo Ren.
Skywalker, played by Mark Hamill, looked rather more grizzled, in that cliffhanger scene, than he had when last we saw him, as well he might, given that that was in 1983. (A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…) Having ceded the limelight to other old favourites in The Force Awakens — as well as to the new gen Star Wars kids (Rey, Finn, Poe, all names that now trip off pre-teen tongues with the same ease that Han, Luke, Leia did back in the day) — will Luke now take centrestage, or is Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, perhaps, the real last Jedi?
It's more than 40 years since George Lucas's space opera opened at cinemas in America, and — in commercial terms at least — the franchise, as we're obliged to call it, is more successful than ever. Writer-director Rian Johnson, who steps into JJ Abrams' moonboots for the second in a projected trilogy, would have been three years old when Star Wars changed the game.
Now, a man previously best known for the 2012 sci-fi Looper has the weight of interplanetary expectations, not to mention billions in ticket sales and merch, on his relatively callow shoulders. But he also has the forces of Walt Disney Studios behind him, plus arguably the most beloved group of characters in all sci-fi in front of him — and with the exception of Han Solo (sob) everyone else is back for more, from nasty General Hux to nippy BB-8. We are not predicting disaster. AB
Out on 14 December
3 | First Person by Richard Flanagan (Books)
In 1991, struggling Tasmanian novelist Richard Flanagan agreed to write the autobiography of John Friedrich, one of Australia's greatest conmen, for a flat fee of $(Aus)10,000 that he and his pregnant wife desperately needed. To make life trickier, his subject — who turned out to be a German national called Friedrich Johann Hohenberger — killed himself three weeks into the job.
But was Friedrich's death a hindrance or a help? Did it leave the author without the raw materials he needed, or free to invent them?
This is just one question that Flanagan — now no longer a struggling novelist but the 2014 Booker Prize winner for The Narrow Road to the Deep North — takes on in First Person, a novel that fictionalises his real-life experiences into a twisting and tortuous locking of horns between a writer, Kif, and conman, Heidl, whose identities and fates become ultimately entwined. It's a dark, occasionally demented book, that is as unsettling as it is inspired. MC
Out on 2 November (Chatto & Windus); pre-order at amazon.co.uk
St Vincent, Masseducation (Music)
In 2016, five albums into a career that had seen her graduate from touring back-up musician to indie music press darling to the first solo female performer to win a Best Alternative Album Grammy in 20 years, the American singer and multi-instrumentalist Annie "St Vincent" Clark achieved another distinction: she became a British tabloid fixture. Thanks to then-girlfriend Cara Delevingne, the shapeshifting pop star was dubbed "the female Bowie" by the Daily Mail, who doorstepped her family.
For her part, Delevingne told Vogue she was in love and got a serpent tattoo. This is relevant because the relationship informs what Clark has called a collection of "the best songs I'd ever written" and, should you choose, you can play spot-the-supermodel on "Young Lover", which makes possible reference to a trip the two of them made to Paris, and on "Pill" on which Delevingne most definitely sings.
Or you could just make yourself content with this excellent set of Eighties-inspired tunes, from one of music's most fascinating artists. JD
Out now (Loma Vista)
5 | Hamilton (Theatre)
It's a musical that combines hip-hop with show tunes. It's about the Founding Father of America. It's nearly three hours long. Not feeling it? Then you also need to know that Hamilton won the Pulitzer Prize for drama, won 11 Tony awards after being nominated for a record-breaking 16, and that Donald Trump called it "highly overrated" — surely as good a recommendation as a show could get.
It is the smash hit Broadway show of our era, taking $30m before it even opened in 2015 and generating unprecedented box office demand ever since. At one point, the secondary ticket market had seats for $9,000. Now Hamilton is coming to London.
It is, of course, long sold-out (one Esquire editor did the hitting-redial thing the morning tickets went on sale in January 2017, eventually securing a pair for January 2018) but there are daily and weekly lottery tickets, starting at £20. Or there's always eBay. JD
6 December 2017 to 30 June 2018; hamiltonthemusical.co.uk
6 | The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Cinema)
Are you a professional male in early middle age, with a good job, a loving wife and maybe a couple of kids? Do you live a privileged life in a comfortably appointed home? Ever done anything you might have cause to regret? Welcome to the nightmare, in that case, of the Greek film-maker Yorgos Lanthimos's latest blast of chilly black-magic realism.
Following the success of their collaboration on The Lobster, the director's comic-satirical English-language debut, Lanthimos reunites here with Colin Farrell, who plays a successful heart surgeon with a beautiful ophthalmologist wife (Nicole Kidman, terrifyingly good) and two apparently well-adjusted kids. They live in a big house, drive smart cars, eat good food, wear expensive clothes. They have a cute dog. But something is wrong, something unnerving, potentially even horrifying, and the sins of the father — if, indeed, he has sinned — are about to be unleashed on his family.
Lanthimos, as if he were the twisted progeny of Michael Haneke and David Lynch, is almost distressingly accomplished at setting a mood of deep foreboding and psycho-sexual angst. Like those famous directors, he has an aesthetic entirely of his own, with weirdly blank dialogue delivered in robotic style — Farrell is a master of this — and disorientating camera work, plus discordant music cranking up the dread.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer is gruelling and gripping, another strange, discomfiting metaphor from a contemporary fabulist whose films seem to aspire to the conditions of myth. AB
Out on 13 November
7 | Stranger Things 2 (TV)
We were told it was going to be Winona Ryder's comeback. The Nineties style icon's triumphant return via a new sci-fi/ horror show on Netflix.
In fact, the stars of Stranger Things turned out to be Noughties children playing Eighties kids, wobbling around on BMXs, playing Dungeons & Dragons and rewinding cassettes on a Panasonic boombox — Will, Mike, Dustin, Lucas and the enigmatic-psychokinetic Eleven. Stranger Things, an ode to the 40-year-old work of Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, John Carpenter, Ridley Scott, Sam Raimi and Wes Craven was the best telly of 2016: a retro-homage that somehow chimed with the times the way Mad Men had a decade earlier.
Any concern for the sanity of five children turned overnight superstars — handing out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on bikes at the Emmys, cosying up to Cara Delevingne at the MTV Awards — hasn't stopped expectation for Stranger Things 2 being sky-high. It begins one year after season one ended with — that old chestnut — an inter-dimensional portal opening up, unleashing a carnivorous demon and apparently obliterating Eleven.
Creators the Duffer Brothers promise a more intelligent, scarier monster, bigger-budget visuals plus a tiny creature Dustin finds then keeps as a pet, with the action now centred around a video arcade: so we can add Gremlins and WarGames to that Eighties' film ref Wiki. The trailer (set to "Thriller", natch) also teases the return of Eleven, apparently trapped in netherworld The Upside Down.
Will it be any good? If there's one thing Spielberg, Scott, Craven et al understood it was how to do sequels. So yeah, we'd bet our Chris Claremont comic book collection on it. JD
Launches 27 October on Netflix
8 | Dawn of the New Everything by Jaron Lanier (Books)
Not a household name here, but in his native America, Lanier has been nominated as one of Time magazine's "100 Most Influential People", appeared on The Colbert Report and headlined the Montreux Jazz Festival.
He is a computer scientist, philosopher, visual artist, technology lecturer and collector of leftfield wind instruments (the ruling flute, the khene mouth organ). But it's as a tech guru and author that he's most celebrated: The New York Times' best-of-year lists have included his two previous books, Who Owns the Future? and You are Not a Gadget.
Now the dreadlocked former video game programmer has set his sights on virtual reality, a subject he is uniquely qualified to talk about, given that he invented it. Or at least coined the term, way back in 1985 when he headed up the first company to sell VR goggles. They laughed then: they're not laughing now. From PlayStation to Apple, tech companies have made VR central to their plans: the cliché of science fiction has become science fact (yes, Lanier also advised on Spielberg's Minority Report).
His new book charts his adventures in the world of immersive avatars, for which he is as evangelical as he is entertaining. "No time for slowpokes in Silicon Valley," he writes. "What if... [we] make VR equipment, distribute it for free like the Free Print Shop up in the city?" JD
Out 16 November (Bodley Head)
9 | U2, Songs of Experience (Music)
Not for the first time, U2 faced ridicule. When Apple CEO Tim Cook announced "the largest album release of all time", gifting 500m iTunes customers 2014's Songs of Innocence for zero pence, both he and the band overlooked one thing. There weren't 500m people who necessarily wanted the new U2 album, free or otherwise. When it proved all-but-impossible to delete from iTunes, due to Apple's finicky settings, the PR disaster was complete.
Many assumed the delay in sequel Songs of Experience was of the permanent kind, something a celebration of 1987's The Joshua Tree, which suddenly found the band joining the classic album touring circuit for the first time, seemed to confirm. But U2 hasn't survived for 40 years without weathering some flak.
Reviews of that tour were excellent, and the two songs released so far from the album sound fresh and vital. Though if you want this one on your phone, you'll have to put it there yourself. JD
Out 1 December (Island)
10 | The Crown season two (TV)
When I interviewed Paul McCartney for Esquire a few years ago, we somehow got on to the subject of the Queen. At which point the former Beatle suddenly came over all unnecessary — very enjoyably so — remembering his and his friends' attitude to the monarch when they were boys and she was newly installed on the throne. "She was a babe!" he said. "We definitely admired her physical attributes."
The Queen, in the shape of Claire Foy, is a bit of a babe in The Crown, too. That's not the only reason for watching the show, by any means, but it helps explain some of its considerable appeal, which is that it is, like the family it depicts, a soap opera with airs and graces: a bit Dynasty, a bit Downton. Mostly respectful of its subject, occasionally very mildly subversive, not at all titillating, revealing of nothing you didn't already know, but all very skillfully done, and as comforting as a cup of tea and a dippy biscuit, The Crown can be exquisitely boring at times.
One episode in the first series was entirely devoted to a fog that shrouded London, and what Winston Churchill was going to do about it. This was an hour quite hilariously lacking in tension. I was glued to it. But then I like things that are slightly boring. I find them relaxing. Like a cup of tea and a dippy…
That first series followed the young Elizabeth up to 1956. Created by Peter Morgan, it delivered plum parts to John Lithgow as Churchill, Matt Smith as Prince Philip, Alex Jennings as the Duke of Windsor, and — best of all — Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret, the other royal crumpet.
Series two takes us up to 1964 (shortly after the entrance on to the scene of McCartney et al). So expect marital discord for Liz and Phil, Margaret's ill-fated marriage to the dangerously bohemian Tony Armstrong-Jones and the entrance of a very young Charles, all set against the inevitable backdrop of a Changing Britain, post-Suez Crisis, pre-Swinging London.
The best reason for watching is the outlandishly talented Foy. Hers is a magisterial performance, perfectly judged, stately but human, like HRH herself. And it ends here. In series three, as she enters her forties, the Queen will be played by an older actor.
Whether she will also be a babe we, and Macca, shall have to wait and see. AB
Launches 8 December on Netflix
11 | Molly's Game (Cinema)
As directorial debuts go, Aaron Sorkin's stepping out has been anticipated with equal measures of excitement and cynicism.
Is The West Wing creator a writer whose penchant for hyper-articulate (and some say, too infrequently female) central characters needs to be reined in by a director of a more staid persuasion? Or might he be actually quite good when left to his own devices in the collapsible canvas chair?
If early Oscar hoo-ha is anything to go by, it's the latter, though he's helped by a central performance by (consistently female) actress Jessica Chastain in this true story about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier who ended up running the most glamorous underground poker game in LA. It attracted Hollywood stars, poker celebrities, the Russian mob and, not unsurprisingly, the FBI, who sent 17 of their finest automatic- weapon-toting agents to arrest Bloom in the dead of night.
Luckily when it came to trial Bloom had criminal lawyer Charlie Jaffey, played here by Idris Elba, to help improve her hand. MC
Out on 26 December
12 | Martin Parr Foundation (Art)
Photographer Martin Parr is something of a British institution, given that he has so often trained his famously steely-but-compassionate eye on the subjects of these sceptred isles.
Now he's opening an actual British institution, the Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol, which will show three or four exhibitions a year in its gallery as well as providing a home for Parr's archive and his extensive collection of work by other mainly British and Irish photographers.
The opening show is of Parr's own series, Black Country Stories, which focuses on the part of the Midlands that Parr admits was a personal blind spot, "despite driving past this on the M6 on my journeys north on many occasions".
Should you find yourself pootling westwards along the M4 at any point in the autumn, a detour to Parr's new space will also be well worth taking. MC
Opens on 25 October, Paintworks, Bristol BS4; martinparrfoundation.org
13 | Albion (Theatre)
The brilliant Victoria Hamilton — last seen as the Queen Mum on Netflix's The Crown — takes centre stage at the Almeida in Islington, north London, in the new don't-miss drama by Mike Bartlett, writer of the Olivier Award-winning King Charles III, which premiered at the same theatre in 2014 before transferring to the West End, and to TV.
Bartlett, who also wrote the BBC drama Doctor Foster, is a state-of-the-nation playwright, fiercely engaged in the now and the next, in questions of who we are and where we're going. (In King Charles III, a sort of Shakespearean tragedy set in the very near future, Britain lurches into crisis then chaos after the new monarch dissolves Parliament.)
The new title is no surprise and neither is the dystopic subject matter. Albion is set "in the ruins of a garden in rural England, in a house which was once home, [where] one woman searches for seeds of hope." Do expect: hard questions about our fractured national identity, and hard truths about what comes after Brexit, especially a hard one. Don't expect: cosy country house costume drama.
Directed by Rupert Goold, fresh from the soaraway success of the Almeida's newspaper drama, Ink, now on in the West End — and if you haven't seen that yet, you really should… AB
Now until 24 November, Almeida, London N1; almeida.co.uk
14 | Blue Planet II (TV)
We wouldn't dream of describing Blue Planet as "water cooler television" (not only because we dustbin the term elsewhere in this issue, but also because it's a terrible joke), but if anything is going to cause us to squish up on the sofa, faces bathed in a bluey-green glow, it's the second series of this landmark natural history show.
It has been 16 years since the last one, but exploring the vastness of the oceans, discovering new species, filming others in radically innovative ways, and creating custom-made technology to do so, takes time and effort.
The lengths — and depths — the BBC Natural History Unit went to are, as usual, astonishing: for one sequence a camera operator sat in a submarine a kilometre down for 1,000 hours. But the results are even better: from dolphins surfing enormous waves in South Africa to tuna feasting on lanternfish off Costa Rica and appearing to make the sea boil, all with the narration of Sir David Attenborough steadying the tiller.
Begins 29 October on BBC One
15 | Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (Books)
There's an absence at the centre of this brimming, capacious and vivid novel, set in New York during World War II. His name was Eddie Kerrigan, a bag man for the unions and the mob, and one day during the Great Depression he disappeared, leaving a young family: wife and two daughters, one severely disabled.
Eddie is the link between the novel's two central characters, drawing them into each other's orbits: Dexter Styles, wily nightclub opener and gangster, and Anna Kerrigan, Eddie's beloved, abandoned daughter, a young woman of exceptional smarts and strength, brilliantly realised by Egan, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Visit from the Goon Squad.
Readers of that 2013 bestseller — a tricksy, pyrotechnic, fiercely contemporary work — might be surprised at the traditional style and structure of Manhattan Beach. But the new book offers a wholly immersive experience -— appropriately, given the fact that Anna is learning to be a military diver — that Egan's previous, formally inventive work never quite managed, for this reader at least.
It is a novel of the sea and the land, full of watery metaphors but also concrete situations and people so real you feel you could reach out and touch them. Anna Kerrigan is a heroine for her times, and ours too.
There won't be many better works of fiction published this year. AB
Out now (Corsair). Buy it now at amazon.co.uk
16 | Young Marx (Theatre)
Rory Kinnear is one of those excellent actors who finds another gear on stage, and if watching him playing a penniless, libidinous Karl Marx skulking about Soho after he was exiled to London in 1849 wasn't enough of a draw, how about the fact this new play is written by Richard Bean, he of the James Corden theatrical mega-hit One Man, Two Guvnors (and also BBC legal correspondent Clive Coleman) and is directed by Nicholas Hytner in his first outing since leaving the National Theatre in 2015.
And even if broader comedy doesn't sound like your bag, consider that it is the debut production at The Bridge Theatre, Hytner and Nick Starr's new 900-seater and the first major theatrical venue outside the West End to be built in London in 80 years.
Looking at it that way, buying a ticket is more or less a civic duty. MC
18 October to 31 December, Bridge Theatre, SE1; bridgetheatre.co.uk
17 | Happy End (Cinema)
Happy End opens with a view through a phone screen. A woman gets ready for bed. She brushes her teeth, rinses, brushes some more, gargles, spits. As she does so, text bubbles appear below, describing her routine a fraction of a second before she does each step. Rincer. Gargariser. Cracher. Someone is watching and has been for a while.
Is it a stalker? A voyeur? A guardian angel? Or an angel of another kind? You'll soon find out, and it's a typically inauspicious start to the new drama from director Michael Haneke, who knows how to infuse even the most benign domestic circumstances with smouldering menace (watch his 1997 film Funny Games, or his lesser US remake of 2007, and you may never answer the doorbell again).
Happy End focuses on a wealthy family in a grand house in Calais whose de facto matriarch — played, naturally, by Isabelle Hupert — is struggling to keep it intact while all around the barbarian hordes are looming (Calais, remember?) and the ground is, quite literally, caving in.
There is threat from within, and there is threat from without. And there is Haneke's exquisitely dispassionate gaze, beneath which his humans dutifully enact the most banal, depraved, and absurd instincts of their species, right up to a final scene that might be the best ending you'll see this year, happy or otherwise. MC
Out on 1 December
18 | Dali / Duchamp (Art)
Sometimes joint exhibitions, even the big ones, only serve to highlight the superiority of one artist over another (this year's Michelangelo and Sebastiano show at The National Gallery was a case in point). But the Royal Academy of Art's decision to show the work of Salvador Dali and Marcel Duchamp — credited as founding fathers, or perhaps weird uncles, of Surrealism and conceptual art respectively — is inspired.
Not least because Dali and Duchamp were actual pals, who spent a week together every year at Dali's house in Cadaqués, Spain, sharing ideas and, famously, a love of chess, but also because their correspondence — included in the exhibition — gives us a glimpse of two brilliant minds as they could only be revealed to each other. MC
Now until 3 January, Royal Academy of Arts, London W1; royalacademy.org.uk
19 | Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson (Books)
These days, we call someone a polymath if he can whistle while tying his shoelaces, but Walter Isaacson's new comprehensive biography of Leonardo da Vinci suggests that really, there has only ever been one.
Isaacson has written about famous original thinkers before — Steve Jobs and Benjamin Franklin among them — but Leonardo's achievements are staggering in their quantity and variety. "The Mona Lisa"! "The Last Supper"! "Vitruvian Man"! That helicopter thing! (Which, Isaacson argues, was only ever supposed to be a theatre prop.) Leonardo designed cities, invented military technology, created new literary forms, discovered the centre of gravity of a triangular pyramid, and then went home for tea.
His was a long(ish) and colourful life with an unusual upbringing, juicy love life and plenty of run-ins with the great and the notorious of Renaissance Europe; Leonardo DiCaprio — who else? — who has optioned the film rights for Isaacson's fascinating and meticulously detailed book, will have quite an edit on his hands. MC
Out now (Simon & Schuster); order at amazon.co.uk
20 | Bright (Cinema)
Just in case you thought Netflix wasn't ambitious enough with its original content commissioning, in December it will unleash a £75m sci-fi movie starring Will Smith and Joel Edgerton as a human policeman and an orc policeman respectively, who are forced to work together as a diversity measure.
So far so buddy-cop movie, except did you notice that bit about one of them being an orc?
Bright, which also stars Noomi Rapace and is directed by David Ayer (Fury, End of Watch), is set in a futuristic world where class divisions are determined by species, with orcs at the bottom, humans in the middle and elves as the one-percenters at the top, so expect it to be about a lot more than a missing magic wand (though it is about that, too). MC
Launches 22 December on Netflix
21 | Beck, Colors (Music)
Often when you hear someone described as a "master of reinvention" it's a veiled criticism of sorts, suggesting the person to whom the term is being applied has never quite been able to settle on and stick with those essential qualities that are entirely "them".
But Beck Hansen, the Los Angeles-born musician who can't sneeze without being nominated for a Grammy, has managed to maintain a career that has encompassed folk, garage rock, alt-country, electro-pop, rap and everything in between without in any way diluting his own Beck-ness. And his inventive, energetic and endlessly surprising new album Colors, his 13th, might just be his Beckiest of all.
Recorded in Los Angeles with super-producer Greg Kurstin, Colors roams from the juicy electro of the title-track opener with its ping-pong ball melody and outrageous panpipes, and "Seventh Heaven", which sounds like blissed-out shoegaze with an all-important firecracker up its backside, to the heart-rending Eighties synth-pop of "No Distraction", and the lilting lurch of recent single "Wow" which teeters on the sounds of Atlanta rap while also recalling Beck's breakthrough single, "Loser".
Oh, and did you know that "Loser" is nearly a quarter of a century old? And have you heard it recently? It's as fresh and weird as ever.
Beck may be a 47-year-old practising Scientologist and a dedicated wearer of brimmed hats, but it's impossible not to appreciate — and maybe, if you feel so moved, to bow down before — a man so at one with his oeuvre. MC
Colors by Beck (Capitol Records) is out now