Saturday, 31 December 2011

My Highlights of 2011

As another year comes to an end, I would like to bring to the attention of my readers and fellow bloggers the books, films, music and dance pieces that made me go "Wow!" in the last twelve months. Difficult task it is, though, as I was exposed to so much quality in 2011. I hope you enjoy my selections. Happy New Year everybody!


Andrea Levy's The Long Song is one of those novels that manages to be both entertaining and clever, rooting the story it tells on so many facts that at times it feels like a documentary. Whether as part of your (expanding) bookshelf, or as a gift for your literature-loving friends, this is a must-read.

Virgilio Piñera's Complete Plays took me down memory lane to a place where I came across my adolescent self face to face once again. What made me fall at that young age for this (supposedly) snobbish, no-nonsense, Cuban intellectual who did not suffer fools gladly, and yet always had a kind word for up-and-coming authors? I don't know but, his love for language, his fearlessness when writing, his endless creativity and the fact that he exuded Cubanness whenever he put pen to paper, are elements that must have contributed to that.

A lot has been said about James Joyce's Ulysses. It's the novel that everyone talks about but whose plot people rarely discuss. That's because there's no plot per se. The book centres on one day in the life of both Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom. Above all, for me Ulysses is a very sensorial novel. We not only watch the main characters eating, brawling and (in Bloom's case) engaging in sexual acts, but we feel them, too. In a previous post I questioned Joyce's pole-high position as the pinnacle of modernism. At the time I had not read Ulysses, but now that I have I can tell you all that the hype is justified.

Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine is the type of book I wish it'd been fiction. But no, it's a very real piece of non-fiction. Which makes it the scariest piece I've read for a long time. Naomi carries out a thorough analysis of the economic ideas sponsored by the Chicago School under Milton Friedman's tutelage and traces their links with oppressive regimes across the globe.

Alice Munro's Too Much Happiness was the second book of short stories I bought by the Canadian writer and it like Open Secrets, it didn't disappoint me. She has a way of making the quotidian lives of citizens in and around Ontario extraordinary. But be careful, her fiction is brutal and takes no prisoners.


This was the year when I managed to have a proper taste of Anoushka Shankar's music. And what a treat it was! The two albums I bought, Breathing Under Water and Traveller have been playing on a loop at home, in the car and on my mp3. Breathing Under Water, where the star sitar-player teams up with percussionist Karsh Kale, is highly lyrical and rooted in Indian classical heritage.
Traveller brings the flamenco tradition back home (it has been widely acknowledged that flamenco has its origins in India) in an organic and fluent way.

The 1956 collaboration between the saxophonist Ben Webster and the piano prodigy Art Tatum, supported by Red Callender on bass and Bill Douglass on drums, was called simply The Legendary: the Album. Such a grandstanding title might attract accusations of hubris, yet each and every single note on the record is pitch perfect. If you like jazz, you must buy this album.

Three records later I consider myself a Concha Buika fan. Her voice should carry a health warning: "Quality on board! Consume carefully". This time around was "La Niña de Fuego" that got me. Concha possesses the type of vocal range that can soar or soothe, depending on its owner's will. Fabulous.

Calima Flamenca was my little surprise this year. They were the wild card about whom I knew very little, mainly through, and who ended up providing me with two of my favourite tunes of the year from their album Al Calor de la Noche.


I first saw Missing many years ago and watched it again recently with my wife, courtesy of Lovefilm. Against the backdrop of what's happened in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last ten years with British citizens being arrested and tortured abroad, the movie has a prescient feel. Jack Lemmon is mesmerising as the American, law-abiding, conservative father whose son is "disappeared" in an unnamed country in South America (but we all know it's Chile) and who is forced to acknowledge (with a little help from his daughter-in-law Sissy Spacek) the ugly truth about the US involvement in the dictatorships that sprung up in the 60s, 70s and 80s in the region.

There's not much beauty in Biutiful, by the acclaimed Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu. What there is, though, is a hell of a powerful script and a terrific performance by Javier Bardem as the heartless criminal who at the same time is concerned about the wellbeing of the illegal Chinese immigrants he himself exploits. Impartial and raw.

I had some misgivings about watching The King's Speech because of the buzz surrounding it. Plus, 2011 was the year when the monarchy got its mojo back. I, for one, neither Republican nor pro-Crown, didn't want to be a part of it. But The King's Speech is cinema at its best. No gimmicks, or CGI, just a plain, simple story, beautifully acted by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush (Helena Bonham Carter gets a look-in, but hers is a minor role) and capable of awakening feelings of mirth and commiseration.

The Secret in Their Eyes was the type of movie that reminded me of how good Argentinian cinema was. Ricardo Darín plays Benjamín Esposito, a retired legal counsellor, who wants to write a novel in an attempt to close a chapter of his life that remains unsolved. Throw in a psychopath, a dictatorship, a corrupt government official and an unfinished love affair and you have one of the better Latin American movies in recent times.

London River tells the story of Elisabeth (played by Brenda Blethyn) and Ousmane (played by Sotigui Kouyaté) whose offspring are killed in the terrorist attack on 7th July, 2005 in London. What starts as hatred, ignorance and racism is eventually transformed into understanding and sympathy. A movie I would watch again.


If with Into the Hoods, Katie Prince and ZooNation conquered the West End of London, with Some Like It Hip Hop she has elevated the urban dance form to new levels. Based loosely on Some Like Hot and Shakespeare's Twelth Night, Some Like It Hip Hop deals with mistaken identity, lost daughters and rulers in crisis. The acting is good, the story believable but the dancing, oh, my, oh, my! The dancing is out of this world. Enough to become my dance highlight of 2011.

What will 2012 have in store for me artistically speaking? I don't know but what I can assure is that the quality will be the same or higher. See you next year!

© 2011

Next Post: “From Here, There and Everywhere…”, to be published on 8th January at 10am (GMT)


  1. Happy New Year, Cuban! Thank you for all the recommendations -- I will definitely be checking them out. I saw a trailer for the new Wim Wenders movie about Pina Bausch last night and thought of you. It looked pretty damn fantastic to me.

  2. Some I know, some I don't - a good list.
    Happy 2012!

  3. There is a lot to savor in this list. Thanks. I hope 2012 is a great year for you.

  4. Many thanks for your kind comments. Happy New Year to you all!

    Greetings from London.

  5. Thanks for all these recommendations - plenty of inspiration and things to look out for :)

  6. Happy New Year ACIL! For sure variety is the spice of life as you reflect very well here with the diverse selections of reading and music recommendations. I have enjoyed reading your blogposts over time; they are rich and generous and interesting. For this highlights post, I have notebook paper and a pen! Asante sana and wishing you another fruitful year.

    Mama Shujaa.

  7. What a great list, Cuban! you know, when I read about the things you read and listen to and watch, I feel completely dull. I can imagine that there's a lot of very pleasureable stimulation from all that input. But I did see 'The Secret In Their Eyes' and I also love Alice Munro, and will have to pick up her latest.
    You have all my very best wishes - you and your family - for the coming year and I look forward to continuing along with you.

  8. what a great arts roundup of the year - thanks for this Happy new Year to you - my musical discovery this year at the end of 2011 is the African singer Fatoumata Diawara...

  9. Many thanks for your kind comments. Indeed, 2012 has got off to a flying start musically speaking. I've got Yo-Yo Ma's CD playing in the background now. Great music, whether for listening to or for writing to.

    Greetings from London.

  10. Thanks for all these recommendations. I’m reading Too Much Happiness too, but slowly as the title must be ironic. I love how she writes. I saw Missing years ago too and loved the King’s Speech, as did my family. Hip hop and Shakespeare? Wonderful!

    Although you didn’t list it, I very much enjoyed the movie Once, another of your recommendations. My son bought me the soundtrack for Christmas and I love it.

    Happy New Year!

  11. As usual, I agree totally with most of your recommendations. Anoushka and Buika are favorites of mine as well and I hesitated the same way about the King's Speech. I will put it in my queque now because of your recommendation. And that dance piece? There are no words. It makes me realize that I haven't seen a good dance performance in awhile. Hopefully that will be remedied when I see Broadway musical In The Heights next week. Prospero Ano!

  12. Thanks, everyone. Happy New Year to you, too!

    Greetings from London.

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