The 50 Best arts events

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In search of a cultural fix? From a celebration of Schubert to Will Ferrell's latest puerile-comedy instalment, our team of critics selects the season's hottest tickets

Film: Ben Walsh is a DVD reviewer for The Independent

Theatre: Alice Jones is deputy arts editor of The Independent

Classical: Micheal Church is a classical music critic and reviewer for The Independent

Dance: Zoe Anderson is a dance critic for The Independent

Visual arts: Adrian Hamilton is a columnist and art critic for The Independent

Rock & Pop: Elisa Bray is music editor of The Independent

Television: Gerard Gilbert is a TV critic for The Independent

Film:

Argo

Ben Affleck, who proved to be an adroit director with the entertaining heist thriller The Town and the excellent Gone Baby Gone, helms and stars in this peculiar true story about the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. Affleck, sporting an impressive beard, plays a CIA operative with a particularly bold scheme to free the six US diplomats being held hostage at their embassy in Iran. Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston and John Goodman also star.

Due out 9 November

Killing Them Softly

"I like to kill them softly… from a distance," maintains Brad Pitt's goatee-wearing enforcer Jackie Cogan in Andrew Dominik's tangy thriller. Cogan is asked to investigate a heist that occurred at a Mob-protected poker game and recruits James Gandolfini's hitman to help out. Richard Jenkins, Ray Liotta and Sam Rockwell also star in this deeply cynical noirish tale.

Due out 21 September

The Campaign

"My hair could lift a car off a baby if it had to," says Will Ferrell's preening Republican Congressman in his latest slice of puerile comedy. Feral Ferrell plays a North Carolina politician with presidential aspirations who comes up against a ridiculous and idealistic rival (Zach Galifianakis). They end up trading insults and grappling with each other. Silly.

Due out 28 September

Skyfall

"Some men are coming to kill us, we're going to kill them first." After the dreary, Bourne-lite Quantum of Solace, the franchise has recruited the directing heavyweight Sam Mendes to direct this latest serving of Bond. And the American Beauty director has recruited a stellar cast, including Javier Bardem, Albert Finney and Ben Whishaw, for a plot that centres on 007's loyalty to M (Judi Dench), whose past comes back to haunt her. Let's hope it's more Goldfinger than Goldeneye.

Due out 26 October

The Master

The very welcome return of Joaquin Phoenix and the auteur Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia, Boogie Nights) in this visually arresting 1950s-set drama. Phoenix plays a rudderless former soldier who becomes the right-hand man for a charismatic intellectual known as "The Master" (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Amy Adams and Laura Dern also star in this unsettling tale. There will be blood….

Due out 9 November

Gambit

The Coen brothers take on the writing duties for this remake of 1966's frothy comedy thriller Gambit, which starred Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine. Colin Firth plays an art curator who plots a devilish scheme to con a rich man out of one of his paintings with the help of Cameron Diaz's Texas rodeo queen. Alan Rickman, Cloris Leachman and Tom Courtenay also star.

Due out 21 November

Sightseers

Ben Wheatley, after the superb, low-budget Down Terrace and the deeply unnerving horror Kill List, delivers another slice of British dysfunction here. This very dark material, which is a blend of Nuts in May and Badlands, centres on two unhinged Brummie ramblers (Steve Oram and Alice Lowe) who casually slaughter other walkers on a caravanning holiday in Yorkshire.

Due out 28 November

 

Theatre:

Mademoiselle Julie

The Barbican is on a bit of a roll. First it brought us Cate Blanchett in Sydney Theatre Company's Gross und Klein, now, fresh from the Avignon Festival, comes Juliette Binoche as the heroine of Strindberg's tense domestic drama. Director Frederic Fisbach has given the 19th-century classic a contemporary setting with Mlle Julie, dressed in gold Lanvin sequins, playing out her doomed dalliance with her father's valet on a stark, bright white set. In French, with subtitles.

Barbican Theatre, London, 20 to 29 September (barbican.org.uk)

Twelfth Night

Mark Rylance as Olivia, reprising the role he first played at the Globe in 2002, is the main draw of this all-male production. Although it's hard to choose a stand-out attraction in a cast which also includes Stephen Fry as Malvolio (his first stage role since his notorious walk-out on Cell Mates 17 years ago), Roger Lloyd Pack as Andrew Aguecheek, Johnny Flynn as Viola and Samuel Barnett as Sebastian. Tim Carroll directs. And, as soon as the nights draw in, it transfers from the riverside outdoors to the warmer West End.

Shakespeare's Globe, London, 22 September to 14 October (shakespearesglobe.com); then Apollo Theatre, London, 2 November to 3 February 2013 (0844 482 9671)

Medea

Mike Bartlett (Love, Love, Love; and Cock) is one of the UK's most promising and prolific young playwrights. His take on Euripides, in a production by the always dazzling Headlong, promises to be startlingly contemporary and fresh. Rachael Stirling (daughter of Diana Rigg) plays the tragic heroine.

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, 27 September to 13 October (citz.co.uk); then touring to 1 December (headlongtheatre.co.uk)

The River

The very definition of a hot ticket. Jez Butterworth follows up his smash-hit Jerusalem with an atmospheric three-hander set in a remote clifftop cabin, "on a moonless night". Dominic West, Miranda Raison and Laura Donnelly star; Ian Rickson directs. Staged in the tiny theatre upstairs, the tantalisingly few tickets available will go on sale on the day of performance only – online at 9am and at the box office from 10am. Expect queues.

Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, London, 18 October to 17 November (royalcourttheatre.com)

The Merry Wives of Windsor

This sounds like fun. Desmond Barrit and Anita Dobson star as Falstaff and Mistress Quickly in the RSC's new version of Shakespeare's comedy. Rapidly rising star Phillip Breen (last seen directing Russell Tovey and Jaime Winstone in Sex with a Stranger and Humphrey Ker's Edinburgh Comedy Award winning show) sets the tale of "not so desperate housewives" in November 2012 – in Windsor, of course.

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, 25 October to 12 January (rsc.org.uk)

Uncle Vanya

Lindsay Posner has assembled a mouthwatering cast for this, probably the stand-out show in a Chekhov-heavy Autumn. Ken Stott will bring his finest world-weariness to bear on the title role, with Samuel West providing high-class support as Astrov and Anna Friel as the beautiful Yelena. Christopher Hampton has written a new version, too.

Vaudeville Theatre, London, 25 October to 16 February (unclevanyatheplay.com)

People

A new play by Alan Bennett is the highlight of a glittering season of new writing at the National Theatre which also includes Billie Piper in The Effect, the latest from Lucy "Enron" Prebble and a fresh take on Hansel and Gretel from Lucy Kirkwood and Katie Mitchell. People stars Frances de la Tour as Lady Dorothy, a fading aristocrat who resolves to sell off her worldly possessions. Nicholas Hytner directs.

National Theatre, London, from 31 October (nationaltheatre.org.uk)

Viva Forever!

Aka the Spice Girls musical, or the noisiest new arrival in the West End for Autumn 2012. Directed by Judy Craymer (the brains behind super-hit Mamma Mia!), with a book by Jennifer Saunders, this is Girl Power: Theatreland style. Like Mamma Mia!, the show isn't about the band but rather uses its songs as a jumping-off point for a coming-of-age tale about one girl and her journey to fame and fortune.

Piccadilly Theatre, London, from 27 November (vivaforeverthemusical.com)

 

Classical:

Schubert: A celebration

For chamber musicians from all over the world, the Wigmore is Mecca – if you haven't performed there, you haven't arrived. And the line-up for its long and varied Schubert season is very impressive, starting with pianist Elisabeth Leonskaya, then bringing in singers like Christian Gerhaher, Angelika Kirchschlager, Ian Bostridge, and Christopher Maltman.

Wigmore Hall, from 18 September (wigmore-hall.org.uk)

The Magic Flute

After 25 glorious years, this will be positively the last revival of Nicholas Hytner's charming take on Mozart's perennially mysterious opera. Duncan Rock sings "Papageno" and "Rhian Lois Papagena", with Robert McPherson as Tamino and Elena Xanthoudakis as Pamina. And I look forward to seeing its well-trained resident doves just one more time.

English National Opera, until 13 October (eno.org)

Der Ring des Nibelungen

This is the first revival of Keith Warner's Ring Cycle with a world-beating cast. Bryn Terfel sings Wotan, with Wolfgang Koch as Alberich, Gerhard Siegel as Mime, Sarah Connolly as Fricka, Eva-Maria Westbroek as Sieglinde, and the indestructible John Tomlinson as Hunding. Sustained over four nights, this is as powerful as opera gets.

Royal Opera House, from 24 September (roh.org.uk)

Don Giovanni

The resourceful young director Alessandro Talevi will direct this new production, with Madeleine Boyd designing, and the cast is very strong. William Dazeley sings the Don, with Alastair Miles as Leporello, Elizabeth Atherton as Donna Elvira, and Meeta Raval as Donna Anna.

Opera North, from 28 September (0113 243 9999)

Glyndebourne on tour

This is the chance for those who can't afford the astronomical seat prices of Glyndebourne itself – and who can't make the complicated journey – to catch three shows. Melly Still's new production of Dvorak's Rusalka is fussy and irritating, but Michael Grandage's new "Nozze di Figaro" is superb, and the studio production of Julian Philips's 'The Yellow Sofa' is inventive.

Glyndebourne on tour, from 4 October, to Woking, Norwich, Wimbledon, Plymouth, Canterbury, Milton Keynes, Stoke-on-Trent (glyndebourne.com)

Benjamin Grosvenor

There's no stopping this brilliant young pianist, and this will be his Southbank debut, with a typically varied programme including Bach, Chopin, Scriabin, Granados, and a fanciful elaboration of "Blue Danube" in which he will deploy all his skills as a light entertainer.

Queen Elizabeth Hall, 31 October (southbankcentre.co.uk)

Oliver Knussen at 60

This British composer may be parsimonious in his productivity, but his operatic settings of Maurice Sendak's children's fantasies Where the Wild Things Are (1983) and its semi-sequel Higglety Pigglety Pop! (1985) are timeless classics – and, until director/designer Netia Jones had her brainwave, unrevivable. Singer-actors Claire Booth and Lucy chaufer will interact with of Sendak's drawings, which Jones animates in real time.

Barbican, 3-4 November (barbican.org.uk)

 

Dance:

San Francisco Ballet

Choreographers love San Francisco Ballet, a company with a high reputation and an adventurous approach to new work. This London season features eight ballets created for the company, by choreographers Mark Morris, Christopher Wheeldon, Ashley Page, Yuri Possokhov, Edwaard Liang, Yuri Possokhov and artistic director Helgi Tomasson. There's also the chance to see Balanchine's tutu classic Divertimento No 15.

Sadler's Wells, London EC1, 15 to 23 September (sadlerswells.com)

Michael Clark Company

Michael Clark's career has included enfant terrible excesses, wilderness periods and iconic success. Following a residency in Tate Modern's huge Turbine Hall and a special work riffing on Glasgow's Barrowlands Ballroom, Clark returns with a double bill of new works. The new music is by Relaxed Muscle, with lighting design by Charles Atlas and costumes by Stevie Stewart, formerly of Bodymap.

Various venues nationwide, from 3 November (michaelclarkcompany.com)

Dance Umbrella

Dance Umbrella, which started out as an experimental festival of contemporary dance, goes back to its roots this year. Choreographer Jonathan Burrows joins artistic director Betsy Gregory to curate a programme of new international dance, with performances, installations and events in and around the shiny new campus at Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design.

Platform Theatre, Central Saint Martins, London N1C, 5 to 14 October (danceumbrella.co.uk)

Swan Lake

This Royal Ballet revival will include guest performances by Natalia Osipova, a wildly charismatic Russian ballerina with explosive technique and a burning sense of drama. Making her debut with the company, she'll be partnered by the Cuban star Carlos Acosta. Other ballerinas dancing the role this season including Marianela Nuñez and Alina Cojocaru.

Royal Opera House, London WC2, 8 October to 24 November (roh.org.uk)

Rambert Dance Company

The leading contemporary company's autumn tour is headlined by Labyrinth of Love, a new work by the Irish choreographer Marguerite Donlon, to new music by Grammy Award-winning choreographer Michael Daugherty. The repertory also includes Richard Alston's playful "Dutiful Ducks", Paul Taylor's luscious "Roses" and Merce Cunningham's exuberant "Sounddance".

Various venues, from 10 October (rambert.org.uk)

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet

This New York company mixes classical and contemporary dance, with an emphasis on new work; it recently featured in the Hollywood film The Adjustment Bureau. The repertory includes Hofesh Shechter's "Violet Kid", which examines the struggle for harmony in a complex universe. Shechter's own score will be played live. Alexander Ekman's "Tuplet" is danced to a score created in collaboration with the dancers, using their bodies as percussion. There's also a new work by the rising choreographer Crystal Pite.

Sadler's Wells, London EC1, 11 to 13 October (sadlerswells.com)

Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty

Britain's most successful choreographer takes on Tchaikovsky's most perfect ballet score in this new work. Bourne promises to rework the fairy-tale with gothic and modern twists. His heroine will be christened in 1890 – the year of the original ballet production – a time of fin de siècle decadence. Her awakening takes place in the modern day. The designs are by the award-winning Lez Brotherston.

Sadler's Wells, London EC1, 4 December to 26 January (sadlerswells.com)

 

Visual arts:

Everything Was Moving: Photography from the 60s and 70s

The Barbican kicks off the season with a show of the decades when photography defined the world as it changed. Over 400 works from photographers around the world, East and West. Capturing the moments and the moods of everything from the Cold War to the student revolts.

Barbican Art Gallery, London, 13 September to 13 January 2013 (barbican.org.uk)

Richard Hamilton: The Late Works

Planned with the artist before his death last year, the show now becomes a tribute to one of Britain's finest post-war artists, the pioneer to pop, with a moral passion all of his own. Concentrating on the works of the last decades, the exhibition explores his fascination with the perspective and imagery of the old masters climaxing in the three large-scale studies he made for a painting to be based on Balzac's Le Chef-d'oeuvre inconnu.

National Gallery, London, 10 October to 13 January 2013 (nationalgallery.org.uk)

Bronze

In Britain marble has always been regarded as the top medium of sculpture but across the world it is bronze that has been treated as the material best able to express the subtleties, detail and majesty of the figure. Here ancient vessels give way to Renaissance masterpieces and modern castings of Matisse and Picasso. Big in every sense of the word.

Royal Academy, London, 15 September to 9 December (royalacademy.org.uk)

Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde

The Tate tries where Andrew Lloyd Webber has failed: to convince us that the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was not only made up of great painters but paved the way to the future. All the well-known names – Rossetti, Holman Hunt, Millais and Madox Ford – will be present with their masterpieces plus some lesser-known works. Birmingham will be holding a show of Victorian art in parallel. Most critics will join the acclaim but will the public?

Tate Britain, London, 12 September to 13 January 2013 (tate.org.uk)

Jean Dubuffet: Transitions

Always the odd man out among the French painters of the post-war era, Dubuffet is being seen more and more as the major figure he was as his innovations with materials, his cartoon-like images of man and his brilliant colours have influenced succeeding generations. After the Waddington Gallery's revealing show of the artist's late works earlier this year, Pallant House comes in with a full-scale review of his work.

Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, October to 3 February 2013 (pallant.org.uk)

Jim Shaw: The Rinse Cycle

We see too little of the West Coast artists over here. Jim Shaw, one of the generation which came out of CalArts in the 1970s, is one of the most interesting and most extraordinary. With an imagination steeped in the images of pop culture and art history, he plays with dreams and visions, challenging the viewer and playing with his visual memories. A graphic artist of considerable power.

Baltic, Gateshead, 9 November to 17 February 2013 (balticmill.com)

John Bellany: A Passion for Life

A welcome and deserved tribute to Scotland's finest figurative artist on his 70th birthday. Through half a century he has sketched, painted and engraved people and himself through light and dark, including his own liver transplant and the emotions of a visit to Belsen. As his pleasure has returned so his brush has freed. A major retrospective of a formidable artist.

Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, 17 November to 27 January 2013 (nationalgalleries.org)

 

Rock and pop:

iTunes Festival

Some of the biggest names in pop and rock play the intimate Roundhouse. There will be a celebratory feel as folk-rockers Mumford and Sons perform the same day that their long-awaited second album, Babel, is released, while Elbow, Lana del Rey and Muse are also on the starry bill.

Roundhouse, London, until 30 September, free (itunesfestival.com)

Ellie Goulding

The Starry Eyes singer, who followed Adele to win both the Brits Critics' Choice Award and top the BBC's Sound Of poll in 2010, returns for a couple of intimate shows and her much-anticipated second album.

Jazz Café, London, 5 October, £20 (elliegoulding.com)

Ghostpoet and Soap & Skin

A winning double bill: Ghostpoet plays tracks from his moody, intense 2011 Mercury Prize-nominated album Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam, while the 22-year-old Soap & Skin returns to the UK with her rhythmic, piano-led arrangements.

Royal Festival Hall, London, 6 October, from £12.50 (southbankcentre.co.uk)  

Hot Chip

The electronic London band with heart and soul play from a vast back catalogue of hits including "Over and Over", "Ready for the Floor", "One Life Stand" and their new album In Our Heads. If you're lucky, you'll catch experimental psych-rock support act Django Django.

UK tour 8 to 19 October, from £17.50 (hotchip.co.uk)

Aphex Twin: Remote Orchestra

A rare show from influential electronic wizard Richard James sees the UK premiere of his ground-breaking Remote Orchestra concept, in which he'll conduct The Heritage Orchestra (a 28-piece string section) and a 12-strong choir by remote control.

Barbican, London, 10 October, from £25 (barbican.org.uk)

Bon Iver

It will be something special to see the rapidly risen Bon Iver take their unlikely falsetto folk-rock to the heady heights of Wembley Arena and other giant UK venues. Justin Vernon and co's captivating live show is always spellbinding.

UK tour 8 to 10 November, from £25 (boniver.org)

Beth Orton

Known as the "comedown queen" for ravers for her idiosyncratic melding of folk and house music, Beth Orton makes her return to the stage with her first album in six years, Sugaring Season. Here's your chance to hear it live.

UK tour from 25 November to 14 December, from £18.50 (ticketmaster.co.uk)

 

Television:

 

Girls (Sky Atlantic, October)

HBO's realistically grungy, lo-fi antidote to Sex and the City follows four impoverished (no Jimmy Choo-fest this) 20-something females adrift in Manhattan. Produced by Judd Apatow (Bridesmaids), the Emmy-nominated comedy drama was created by the 26-year-old Lena Dunham, who also stars as an aspiring writer suddenly cut off from the bank of mum and dad.

The Hour (BBC 2, November)

The year is now 1957, with cultural change and Commonwealth immigration sweeping the nation, as Abi Morgan's period newsroom drama returns with Peter Capaldi (The Thick of It) joining as the new boss of Hector (Dominic West), who is being lured to ITV, Bel (Romola Garai) – who is now swearing to avoid married men – and hot-head reporter Freddie (Ben Whishaw).

All in the Best Possible Taste (BBC 4, October)

Kenny Everett is the latest tortured comic genius to have his life "celebrated" by a BBC 4 biopic. Newcomer Oliver Lansley is apparently uncanny as the zany performer, in a drama that focuses on Everett's relationship with his wife, the singer Lee Middleton (played by Coronation Street émigrée Katherine Kelly), and featuring his famous characters Sid Snot and Cupid Stunt.

Homeland (Channel 4, October)

Despite the electric shock therapy and her sacking from the CIA, bipolar agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) is back pursuing her obsessive hunch that US Marine Sgt Brody (Damian Lewis) has been turned by al-Qa'ida. Carrie disguises herself in a brunette wig and dark contact lenses, while Brody continues his bid to be elected to Congress.

Coup (Channel 4, November)

The Usual Suspects and In Treatment star Gabriel Byrne returns to British TV – his first UK role in over 20 years – in a four-part thriller based on the Labour MP Chris Mullins' book A Very British Coup, which Channel 4 filmed once before (in 1988). Byrne plays a politician who takes on the establishment over an industrial accident in Teeside.

Fresh Meat (Channel 4, October)

The start of the spring term in the undergraduate comedy that will strike a chord with anyone who has been through so-called higher education. Vod (the fabulous Zawe Ashton) is skint and paying people back in Nectar points, Kingsley has a new image (a soul patch), Howard takes a job at an abattoir and there's a new housemate, an uber-sensible Dutch PhD student.

Hunted (BBC 1, October)

Australian soap star Melissa George has grown into a wonderful actor. In this eight-part thriller she plays Sam, an operative in a private espionage company who survives an assassination attempt and goes undercover… as a nanny.

 

Best for... Spy movie

Argo: Directed and starring Ben Affleck, Argo follows the true story of a CIA plot to rescue six trapped US diplomats from post-Shah Iran in 1979

Best for... Modern dance

Cedar Lake Ballet: This will be a real treat with scores from Hofesh Shechter and dance from Alexander Ekman's "Tuplet", using their bodies as percussion instruments

Best for... Mood music

Ghostpoet and Soap & Skin: It's two for the price of one on the South Bank with Ghostpoet and Soap & Skin coming together for an award-winning double bill

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