FILM By Garry Maddox
STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI First with The Force Awakens then with Rogue One, Star Wars has dominated cinemas for the past two Christmases. And there are few things surer than it happening again this year with The Last Jedi. Directed by Rian Johnson (Looper), Episode VIII has Rey (Daisy Ridley) joining Luke (Mark Hamill) on an adventure to unlock the mysteries of the Force. Johnson has hinted that Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) has a strong storyline as well. "I think Rey and Kylo are almost like a dual protagonist," he has said. Joining the adventure are Leia (the late Carrie Fisher), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac).
THE FLORIDA PROJECT American director Sean Baker showed his talent two years ago with the livewire Tangerine, a micro-budget film about transgender life on the streets of Los Angeles that he shot entirely on iPhones. Now he is been winning rave reviews with a more conventionally shot film about a precocious six-year-old (discovery Brooklynn Prince) who lives with her wild-child mother (Bria Vinaite) in a garish budget motel near Walt Disney World in Orlando. With Willem Dafoe playing the motel's long-suffering manager, it is a portrait of childhood the Los Angeles Times has called "raw, exuberant and utterly captivating".
THE GREATEST SHOWMAN Hugh Jackman plays entrepreneur P. T. Barnum as he creates the famous Barnum and Bailey circus in what shapes as a colourful, feel-good musical. A long-gestating project in Hollywood, it is directed by Australian Michael Gracey, whose background is in visual effects and commercials. He has assembled a strong cast around the charismatic Jackman including Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson and Zendaya, with music from Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who won an Oscar with Justin Hurwitz for La La Land this year.
COCO Pixar Animation Studios delivers yet again with a vibrant comic celebration of Mexican culture. Directed by Lee Unkrich (Finding Nemo, Toy Story 2 and 3) and screenwriter Adrian Molina, Coco centres on 12-year-old Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) whose quest to play the guitar like his hero, despite his family's long-time opposition, sees him trapped in the land of the dead. "It is another animated triumph from a studio that is known for animated triumphs," Forbes declared.
DOWNSIZING After Election, Sideways, The Descendants and Nebraska, any new movie from Alexander Payne commands attention, especially when it has a fun premise that will appeal to anyone stressed about the housing market in Sydney. After scientists discover how to shrink people as a solution to over-population, a couple played by Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig abandon their stressed lives to move into a tiny community. When it debuted at the Venice Film Festival, The Guardian called the movie a "gorgeous, giddy parable of a modern-day Lilliput".
THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI Frances McDormand is at her sassy best as a mother who rents three billboards attacking a police chief's failure to solve her daughter's murder. Woody Harrelson plays her nemesis in this dark comic drama written and directed by Martin McDonagh, the former playwright who has made his name with In Bruges then followed up with Seven Psychopaths. It's considered a likely best picture nominee at the Oscars. January 1
THE POST Steven Spielberg tackles the Pentagon Papers scandal in a movie that could hardly be more timely. Meryl Streep plays The Washington Post's trailblazing publisher Katharine Graham and Tom Hanks editor Ben Bradlee in a drama about how they both risked their careers – and a lot more – to expose a massive government cover-up of secrets about the Vietnam War. In an America where the freedom of the press is being challenged daily, Spielberg fast-tracked the movie, saying, "This was a story that I really felt we needed to tell today." January 11
THE SHAPE OF WATER Mexico's Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth) has been winning stellar reviews for a dark-edged romantic fairytale set during the Cold War. A lonely worker in a government aerospace research facility (Sally Hawkins) bonds with an amphibious creature in a film expected to feature strongly at the Oscars. The Hollywood Reporter called it "a visually and emotionally ravishing fantasy that should find a welcome embrace from audiences starved for imaginative escape". January 18
SWEET COUNTRY After Samson and Delilah, another landmark Australian film from director Warwick Thornton – a western set in the Northern Territory in the 1920s. Haunting for its beauty and brutality, it is based on a real-life story about an Aboriginal stockman (non-professional actor Hamilton Morris) who goes on the run with his wife (Natassia Gorey-Furber, also non-professional) after killing a white station owner (Ewen Leslie) in self-defence. There are also impressive performances from Bryan Brown, Sam Neill and Matt Day. January 25
I, TONYA Margot Robbie plays feisty figure skater Tonya Harding in a wickedly comic account of one of sport's craziest scandals – an ill-conceived plan to cripple rival Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver) so she could not compete at the 1994 Winter Olympics. Directed by Australian Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl, The Finest Hours), it has Sebastian Stan as her impetuous ex-husband, but the real stars of the rink are Robbie, who proves how good an actress she is, and Allison Janney as Harding's monstrous mother. February 15
MUSIC By Karen Hardy
SUNNY BOYS In 1981 the Sunny Boys changed up a summer with Alone with You. This 2017 version (featuring all the original members) has actually been touring for longer than the bright-eyed boys who burned out fast in the 80s. But expect to hear all the back catalogue, some new songs, even a few b-sides for old time's sake. February 22, Canberra Theatre
REGURGITATOR Brisbane art-rock veterans Regurgitator may not be the first act to come to mind when picking teams for a The Velvet Underground & Nico tribute. But Regurgitator have never met a musical genre they couldn't lovingly poke a few holes in, or a tongue-in-cheek performance-art stunt they didn't like the flavour of. February 2, Canberra Theatre
CHRIS BOTTI The world's biggest selling jazz instrumentalist, Chris Botti, has worked with some of the world's best known recording artists – including Sting, Paul Simon, Andrea Bocelli, Joni Mitchell, John Mayer and Mark Knopfler. The American trumpeter has his origins in jazz but pushes the boundaries in a concert that will change the way you think about the trumpet. February 17, Canberra Theatre
VERUCA SALT AND THE LEMONHEADS With a knack for combining euphoria and melancholy, beloved US alt-rockers The Lemonheads and Veruca Salt are teaming up for the only double-header in the list of sideshows planned during their 2018 A Day On The Green appearances. Canberra audiences will have the chance to see both bands live on the same ticket. February 28, Canberra Theatre
STAGE + COMEDY By Karen Hardy
ALICE IN WONDERLAND The New York smash hit production of Lewis Carroll's timeless classic sees actors and puppeteers use their ingenious stagecraft and limitless possibilities of imagination to bring this beloved story to life. Tumble with the Tweedle twins, chase the White Rabbit, boo the boisterous Queen of Hearts, and have tea with the Hatter at the Maddest Tea Party of all! January 14, Canberra Theatre
AN EVENING WITH DAVID SEDARIS Best-selling American author and humourist David Sedaris heads to Canberra for a live performance featuring all-new stories and observations, audience Q&As and book signings. Guaranteed to be bursting with his signature acerbic wit and razor-sharp social critiques, don't miss your chance to spend an evening with one of the world's pre-eminent humour writers. January 23, Canberra Theatre
COURTNEY ACT, UNDER THE COVERS Courtney Act first hit the limelight on the same Australian Idol as Guy Sebastian and Shannon Noll in 2003. Fourteen years later she's her own force to be reckoned with appearing on RuPaul's Drag Race and as herself on Single AF. Now she brings her cabaret show to town, singing covers as you've never heard them before. February 6, Canberra Theatre
BOOKS By Linda Morris
TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN Sixteen-year-old Aza lives in fear of bugs and infection. She picks at her calloused finger until it bleeds, and bleeds again but her tendency to catastrophic thinking worsens when her neighbour's billionaire father disappears and there comes the chance of first love. A very personal story from John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars, that excavates teen anxiety from the inside out.
LA BELLE SAUVAGE: THE BOOK OF DUST A fantasy adventure akin to Huck Finn's coming-of-age journey down the Mississippi River with 11-year-old Malcolm Polstead piloting a storm-tossed canoe across the half-drowned world of Oxford with a precious cargo pursued by a crazed murderer. For the fans of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series and those who are not.
THE EXTREMELY INCONVENIENT ADVENTURES OF BRONTE METTLESTONE Bronte is 10 when she receives notice her parents have been "taken out by cannon fire" on board a pirate ship. Her parents bequeath to her a treasure chest filled with gifts which must be delivered to 10 aunts. Jaclyn Moriarity is equally talented as her famous writer sister Liane.
MANHATTAN BEACH From the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Visit from the Goon Squad comes something very different - historical fiction set on New York city's waterfront. Anna Kerrigan is 11 when her father goes missing and his absence follows her into wartime where she becomes a female navy diver and sole provider for her mother and disabled sister Lydia. Manhattan Beach is about the rip tides that push and pull on family.
THE LIFE TO COME Smug writers, vegetarians, casual racists – few escape Michelle de Kretser's sting in these five stories that roam Sydney, Paris and Colombo. Darting in and out of the narrative is the character of Narelle Reynolds, a writer of shallow ambition who changes her name to Pippa on her 18th birthday because "no one called Narelle's ever going to win the Booker". The Life to Come is a satirical novel for our short-attention-span, think-we-are-special-age and so full of acute observations and cultural blasphemies my copy was riddled in exclamation marks. Hilary Mantel is a fan. For good reason.
WIMMERA Mark Brandi's novel shares with Jane Harper's The Dry the brooding menace of drought and bushfire and suffocating small country town life, and the secrets, violence and lies of Craig Silvey's Jasper Jones. Brandi is the first Australian to have won the coveted British Crime Writers' Association's Debut Dagger Award and is a writer to watch.
A LONG WAY FROM HOME Peter Carey has long been fascinated by fakers and forgers and this road novel is told in alternating chapters between a radio quiz show champ and a rural housewife as they compete in a cross-country endurance car race in 1954. Nostalgia is leavened by sad truths.
SING, UNBURIED, SING I'm a sucker for a ghost story and in Jesmyn Ward's quintessential novel of a black American family there are two ghosts from the past hitching a ride as young Jo Jo's mother packs the family up to pick up the absent father from prison. Simply stunning.
I AM, I AM, I AM: SEVENTEEN BRUSHES WITH DEATH Some of Maggie O'Farrell's encounters with death – childbirth complications, plummeting planes and an encounter in a dark alleyway – are hair raising. Others seem a tad melodramatic until the purpose of her first autobiographical work unfolds: she is writing words of comfort for her young daughter who faces down death every day with life-threatening allergies.
SUNLIGHT AND SEAWEED, AN ARGUMENT FOR HOW TO FEED, POWER AND CLEAN UP THE WORLD In a summer in which heat records are sure to be broken, Tim Flannery dives into the clean technologies that just might sustain the world of our children and grandchildren: giant kelp farms that can do the work of forests, taking carbon dioxide out and deacidifying seawater,and concentrated sunlight stored to power homes and cities. Flannery offers some kernel of hope for us hopeless humans.
PODCASTS By Louise Rugendyke
AUNTY DONNA Approach with caution this absurdist delight from award-winning Melbourne sketch comedy group Aunty Donna (writer/actors Mark Bonanno, Broden Kelly and Zachary Ruane, with director Sam Lingham, filmmaker Max Miller, and sound designer Tom Armstrong). If you want a taste of their raucous, chaotic live show, this podcast does just that. Guests include Rove McManus, Anne Edmonds, Ronny Chieng and Tim Minchin. Just don't expect any type of narrative you can hang your hat on.
THE DOLLOP If US history served with jaw-dropping "whaaaat" moments is your thing, this podcast by comedians Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds is a must-listen. Every week, Anthony relays a true story – recent episodes have covered Donald Trump's business career, circus master P.T. Barnum and the rise of ride-sharing service Uber – to Reynolds, "who has no idea what the topic is going to be about". Cue informative banter with the comedy coming from Reynolds' horrified reactions to the more bizarre aspects of history.
DIRTY JOHN If true-crime podcast Serial was your jam, this popular offering from the LA Times should fill the gap until Sarah Koenig returns early in the new year. Reported and hosted by journalist Christopher Goffard, it tells the story of a successful businesswoman Debra Newell and the handsome man she falls in love with. John Meehan seems to be the ideal man, until he isn't. It's addictive and thrilling, the perfect summer binge-listen.
CHAT 10, LOOKS 3 This half-hour-and-a-bit of silliness hosted by ABC journalists and firm friends Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales isn't exactly new, but try resisting its charms. Now entering its fourth year, it has spawned a TV series, live shows, merchandise and a thriving Facebook community that delights in swapping recipes for smug bundts. Go back to the beginning if you want to find out why Sales hates fairywrens, or dip into a recent episode to learn about Crabb's hatred of certain book marketing techniques. It's like eavesdropping on a pair of friends having a particularly good natter at a cafe. Warning: Includes show tunes.
MODERN LOVE: THE PODCAST If you have ever stumbled across someone else's love letters and guiltily savoured the contents, this is the podcast for you. This is the greatest hits of the New York Times' Modern Love column as read by celebrities such as Jerry Seinfeld, Jake Gyllenhaal, Laura Dern, Sarah Silverman and Judd Apatow to name just a few. Topics include a Millennial's Guide to Kissing, Dear Dad, We've Been Gay Forever and Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Beautifully written and perfectly narrated, it ranges from the sweet to sad and everything in between.
SPORT By Chris Dutton
CRICKET Big Bash fireworks will light up Manuka Oval when Canberra hosts the Sydney Thunder and Melbourne Renegades in a blockbuster men's and women's double header on January 24. The match will be an audition for Canberra to secure a licence to the fastest-growing format of the game after a Cricket ACT group launched a bid to join the Big Bash. If you can't get to the Big Bash clash, the Prime Minister's XI will play against England at Manuka Oval on February 2.
SOCCER Canberra United has its sights set on W-League redemption after falling short of their grand final goal last season. The new-look team, led by star striker Michelle Heyman, is chasing a third W-League crown. Matildas great Heather Garriock is coaching for the first time and has called on a group of rising talent to avenge last season's finals mishap. Canberra United has three home games left in the regular season before a finals campaign in February.
GOLF International golf is coming back to Canberra in February with some of the world's best players to hit Royal Canberra for a lucrative women's tournament. The Royal Canberra Classic will be played from February 9-11 and the field will be bolstered by Hall of Famer Laura Davies, who is returning to the capital for another crack at the picturesque course. Former women's Australian Open champion Jiyai Shin headlines the list alongside European Solheim Cup captain Catriona Matthew and Australian duo Katherine Kirk and Sarah Jane Smith. The tournament is making a comeback for the first time since 2012 and could pave the way for hosting the Australian Open in the future.
BASEBALL The summer run will make or break the Canberra Cavalry's hopes of winning the Claxton Shield for a second time. The Cavalry are looking to bounce back from a disappointing season last year and play two of the last four rounds at Narrabundah before the semi-finals. Big Boss Moanaroa has been on fire early in the season, but manager Michael Collins has called on his pitchers to stand up in his absence in the coming weeks.