Rey (Daisy Ridley) gets in touch with the Force in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
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).??? December 14
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". December 21
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. December 26
Zac Efron and Hugh Jackman star in The Greatest Showman.
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. December 26
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". December 26
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
Tom Hanks (as Ben Bradlee) and Meryl Streep (as Kay Graham) star in The Post. Photo: Niko Tavernise
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 George Palathingal
The fabulously be-wigged Sia brings her pop anthems to Allianz Stadium. Photo: Chugg Entertainment
SIA As the festive season approaches, Sia Furler continues to be the gift that keeps on giving. Not content with being music's only global megastar from Adelaide, she has just released her first Christmas album. But don't worry; she also has about a million proper pop anthems to choose from for this enormous stadium tour. December 2, Allianz Stadium, Moore Park
THE WEEKND In a world where just about every modern R&B star feels the need to jump on the hip-hop bandwagon, it's refreshing to find one that actually sings his songs all the way through. And God knows Canadian Abel Tesfaye, the badly spelt boy who is The Weeknd, has some crackers, from Can't Feel My Face to Starboy and far beyond. December 2-3, Qudos Arena, Olympic Park
POLISH CLUB So, this first weekend of summer is pretty huge. You've seen who else is playing (above) yet still the most fun you can have might be watching a rock'n'soul two-piece from Sydney thrash out not only one of the albums of this year (debut Alright Already) but also the terrific, all-new EP (Okie Dokie) with which Polish Club casually followed it mere months later. December 2, Metro Theatre, city
Polish Club's Dave Novak (left) and John Henry.
SAM SMITH Now here's a truly special show: the only Australian date (and at the Opera House, no less) for the golden-voiced Englishman who hasn't performed Down Under since his Grammys-conquering and Oscar-winning 2015. You'll be among the world's first to hear, live, tracks from Sam Smith's second album, The Thrill of It All, before he donates all profits from the gig to three Australian charities. Whatta guy. January 16, Sydney Opera House
THE XX It isn't every act that gets to headline their own show in the Domain, but when your band boasts both one of your country's most talented producers (Jamie Smith) and one of its most sublime voices (that of Romy Madley Croft) such good things are inevitable. The Brit indietronic trio have been surprisingly upbeat lately, too, which should make their live show even more appealing. January 20, The Domain
ALANIS MORISSETTE The Canadian alt-rock queen strips things back for an acoustic gig that will attempt to make the cavernous International Convention Centre feel intimate ??? so good luck to her with that. There will be nostalgia aplenty for those who fell for Alanis Morissette during the Jagged Little Pill days of the mid-'90s, and empowerment and inspiration for, well, everyone. January 24, ICC, Darling Harbour
Dave Grohl (centre) brings the Foo Fighters to town in January as part of their world tour.
FOO FIGHTERS After the fun and folly of August's covers-tastic Chevy Metal show that capped off the promotional tour for the Foo Fighters album, Concrete and Gold, Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins are rejoining the rest of the Foos for what they do best: rock a bloody big stadium like no one else currently out there can. January 27, ANZ Stadium, Olympic Park
MARIAH CAREY All you want for Christmas is what? A ticket to see Mariah Carey? There certainly aren't many divas left in the Carey mould. It remains to be seen if her voice can still hit the extraordinary high notes of her '90s peak but she certainly still has star quality to burn, not to mention nearly 30 years' worth of R&B-inflected pop gems. February 10, Parramatta Park
???STAGE + COMEDY By Elissa Blake
Maggie McKenna is the eponymous Muriel in Muriel's Wedding the Musical.
MURIEL'S WEDDING If the reviews are anything to go by, the Sydney Theatre Company has a hit on its hands and the show's lead Maggie McKenna is a star in the making. Until January 28, Roslyn Packer Theatre
THE BEAR PACK Off the back of a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Steen Raskopoulos and Carlo Ritchie bring their tremendous improv skills home to Sydney for 60 minutes of storytelling mayhem. Audience participation is pretty much compulsory in this hugely fun show, as the Raskopoulos and Ritchie pick the audience's brains for ideas. December 14, Enmore Theatre
THE UNBELIEVABLES New York's Harrison Greenbaum emcees this big-budget evening of magic, illusion and circus skills featuring magician Shin Lim, ventriloquist Jay Johnson and Roberto Karlos, one of the world's greatest jugglers. December 19-29, The Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House
THE WIZARD OF OZ Anthony Warlow stars as the Wizard in this eye-popping production first seen at the Palladium in London. Samantha Dodemaide is your Dorothy and you'll be as swept up in the twister as she is. December 30 - January 28, Capitol Theatre
THE MERRY WIDOW Australian soprano Danielle de Niese takes the role of the bubbly, high-living Hannah, a woman left alone after just eight days of marriage, in this fabulously costumed production of Franz Lehar's evergreen operetta. Graeme Murphy directs. January 2 - February 3, Sydney Opera House
Danielle de Niese stars in the evergreen operetta The Merry Widow. Photo: Jeff Busby
MODEL CITIZENS What must you be to be a model citizen in the 21st century? Compliant? Online 24/7? Melbourne's always subversive, always funny Circus Oz has a different idea. Created by new artistic director Rob Tannion, Model Citizens promises high energy, thrill and spills and a show that pleases adults as kids. January 2-28, Prince Alfred Square, Parramatta
MY NAME IS JIMI A favourite son of Mabuiag Island and of Belvoir audiences, Jimi Bani returns to Sydney with a performance inspired by and featuring four generations of his family. An evening of music, dance, stand-up and stories (in three languages) about survival and hope for the future. January 5-21, Belvoir
TREE OF CODES Inspired by an intricately sliced-up book by Jonathan Saffron Foer, British choreographer Wayne McGregor has created a visually ravishing high-tech dance-theatre performance scored by producer Jamie xx and featuring sets by the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson. January 6-10, ICC Darling Harbour
TOWN HALL AFFAIR Maura Tierney (who collected a Golden Globe for her role in The Affair last year) features in New York theatre mavericks The Wooster Group's Town Hall Affair, an edgy and hugely topical recreation of the fiery debate (famously captured on film in the 1971 documentary Town Bloody Hall) between author Norman Mailer and leading feminists including Germaine Greer. January 7-13, Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House
HANNAH GADSBY Sell your grandmother to snag a ticket to this encore performance of comedian Hannah Gadsby's critically acclaimed, hilarious and heart-ripping show Nannette. Don't expect a laugh-a-minute stand-up routine, though, as Gadsby covers some confronting territory in her journey to thrive as "not normal". January 20, Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House
Hannah Gadsby brings her acclaimed show Nannette back to the Opera House for an encore.
WILD BORE One critic described it as "an eye-watering miasma of self-obsessed guff". Another thought it "truly, outrageously funny". Zoe Coombs Marr, Ursula Martinez and Adrienne Truscott take everything on board and fire it back at the critics in a show that will make you glad you're not in the firing line. January 24-28, Carriageworks
TOP GIRLS British playwright Caryl Churchill's Thatcher-era classic has been overdue for a mainstage production in Sydney. Sydney Theatre Company obliges with an Imara Savage-directed staging starring Helen Thomson as Marlene, host to a table of the wittiest women in world history. February 12 - March 24, Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House
KITTY FLANAGAN You could build a solid argument that Kitty Flanagan is one of the hardest-working comedians around. When she's not on TV - either as foil to Charlie Pickering on The Weekly, as the obnoxious Rhonda on Utopia, or as a panellist on Have You Been Paying Attention - she is doing the rounds of country Australia with her stand-up show. Amongst all that, she has somehow found time to write a new show, Smashing, which covers "love songs, sex, algorithms, chimps, clowns and psychics". February 13-25, Roslyn Packer Theatre, Walsh Bay
THE BOOK OF MORMON Who would have thought an all-singing, all-dancing Broadway-conquering musical would emerge from the twisted minds of the men behind the animated TV comedy South Park? Trey Parker and Matt Stone surprised everyone when they debuted their show about a pair of Mormon missionaries who go to Africa to try and convert the locals in 2011 to critical praise. Beware, though, with song lyrics such as "the story that I have been told is that the way to cure AIDS is by sleeping with virgin" this is not the Lion King. From February 28, Lyric Theatre
BOOKS By Linda Morris
Turtles All the Way Down author John Green. Photo: New York Times
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.
Michelle de Kretser's The Life to Come is full of acute observations. Photo: Jessica Hromas
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
Sketch comedy group Aunty Donna have turned their talents to podcasting. Photo: Simon Schluter
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.
Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales are the women of Chat 10, Looks 3. Photo: Daniel Boud
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.