Best and worst of 2018 in entertainment, the arts and lifestyle

(Clockwise from top left) Philippines' Boracay island, British singer Dua Lipa, a scene from the play Leda And The Rage, Manhattan at the Regent Singapore, A.I. Love by Wang Leehom, The Grilled Whole Fish from Fat Chap and a scene from the film Golde
(Clockwise from top left) Philippines' Boracay island, British singer Dua Lipa, a scene from the play Leda And The Rage, Manhattan at the Regent Singapore, A.I. Love by Wang Leehom, The Grilled Whole Fish from Fat Chap and a scene from the film Golden Job.PHOTOS: AFP, CRISPIAN CHAN, FAT CHAP, GOLDEN VILLAGE, LINFAIR RECORDS, MARCUS LIN/LIVE NATION SINGAPORE, REGENT SINGAPORE.

FILMS

Best

A STAR IS BORN

Directed by Bradley Cooper


A scene from A Star Is Born, starring Bradley Cooper and Stefani Germanotta, better known as Lady Gaga. PHOTO: WARNER BROTHERS

On the surface, this movie, the third remake of a 1937 original, clings to formula: As one performer rises, the other falls, and for a few blissful moments, they are happy together.

But inside that frame, first-time director and lead actor Bradley Cooper fills scenes with truth and humanity, proving that he is an avid student of the top directors he has worked with.

The second smart thing he did was to cast the luminous Lady Gaga, whose acting is as strong as her singing.

The third was to surround the couple with a stellar cast of supporting actors, including Andrew Dice Clay and Dave Chappelle. - John Lui

CRAZY RICH ASIANS

Directed by Jon M. Chu

Kevin Kwan's 2013 bestseller was smart and funny, but it was also a loose set of comic observations about the obscenely wealthy built on the slight framework of a couple in love and their meet-the-family moment.

Chu, with screenwriters Adele Lim and Peter Chiarelli, made priority one the creation of strong, believable female characters in Rachel (Constance Wu) and her antagonist, Eleanor Young (Michelle Yeoh).

Next was to keep the promise made by the "rich" in the title through set design. It might have been easy to make the Araminta-Colin society wedding opulent - but it takes a real film-maker to make the scene achingly beautiful. - John Lui

SHOPLIFTERS

Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda


Lily Franky and Jyo Kairi in a scene from Shoplifters. PHOTO: MAGNOLIA PICTURES

There is enough warmth, joy and sadness in this movie to fill three ordinary films. If Dickens lived in Japan today, he might have penned this story of the Fagin-like Osamu (Lily Franky), a thief with a weakness for giving space in his home to people with no place to go.

This cheeky multi-generational bunch have created an oasis in a city with no space for the losers.

Kore-eda lives for tiny, poignant moments of humanity - a parent teasing a child; older people looking at fireworks in the sky, wistfully talking about the time they used to be part of something larger, but which now seems like a lifetime ago. - John Lui

Worst

SHOW DOGS

Directed by Raja Gosnell


A scene from Show Dogs, starring Will Arnett. PHOTO: SHAW

If you want to know what is wrong with Hollywood, this is Exhibit A. Somehow, this atrocity featuring dogs with human voices was greenlighted, so this steaming pile of "edgy" comedy made its way to Singapore. Then someone noticed that one joke about male private parts crossed the line into paedophilia- an astounding feat of attention, considering how many excrement and genital jokes are in here - and the film was pulled for edits. Will Arnett, Ludacris, Stanley Tucci and others should be given corrective sentences at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for taking part in this crime. - John Lui

Best

BURNING


A scene from Burning, starring (from left) Yoo Ah-in, Jun Jeong-seo and Steven Yeun. PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE

Directed by Lee Chang-dong

The South Korean movie starts off as an intimate character study of deliveryman Jongsu (Yoo Ah-in) and model/promoter Haemi (newcomer Jun Jeong-seo) and their nascent attraction to each other.

The appearance of the enigmatic Ben (Steven Yeun) nudges the film in a different direction. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, Burning switches gears and turns into a deepening mystery.

The actors are all very good and Yoo, in particular, is excellent.

He is understated and utterly convincing as a young man figuring out his way in the world while saddled with the emotional baggage of an absent mother and a bad-tempered father. - Boon Chan

SHADOW

Directed by Zhang Yimou


Sun Li in a scene from Shadow. PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE

Chinese drama Shadow earned three technical awards - for visual effects, art direction, and make-up and costume design - as well as acclaimed Chinese director Zhang's first Best Director statuette at the recent Golden Horse Awards.

He takes a central visual idea - one that reinforces and amplifies the story about a shadow, a body double employed by kings and nobles to thwart assassins - and runs with it.

The monochromatic palette is a play on actual shadows and also intimates a shadowy world of deception and manipulation.

The film is a stunning visual achievement. In scenes where mountains loom in the rain, it is like watching a Chinese ink painting come to life- Boon Chan

SHIRKERS

Directed by Sandi Tan


A scene from Sandi Tan's documentary Shirkers. PHOTO: SFS

In 1992 in Singapore, a teenaged Tan wrote and starred in an indie flick titled Shirkers. But after the shoot, her mentor, American film teacher Georges Cardona, vanished with the reels.

 

For years, the loss haunted her and her friends. And then 20 years later, Cardona's widow contacts Tan to tell her she has the footage.

In the present day, Tan searches for answers, but finds that they, along with Cardona, remain elusive. There is surprisingly little anger here and instead, there is drily self-aware reflection.

A compellingly layered documentary about youthful dreams, the love of cinema and the strange turns life can take. - Boon Chan

Worst

GOLDEN JOB

Directed by Chin Ka Lok


A scene from Golden Job, starring (from left) Jerry Lamb, Jordan Chan, Ekin Cheng, Michael Tse and Chin Ka Lok. PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE

Maybe not the worst film of the year - action star Donnie Yen's Iceman: The Time Traveler was widely reviled - but Golden Job was possibly the most disappointing.

The Hong Kong crime flick offers a reunion of stars from the 1990s' Young And Dangerous triad titles - Ekin Cheng, Jordan Chan, Michael Tse and Jerry Lamb - only to stick them in a movie that leans heavily on cliches and stock figures. - Boon Chan

TELEVISION

Best

NANETTE

One of the biggest breakout hits on television this year was an obscure Australian comic named Hannah Gadsby.

Her stand-up comedy special on Netflix - sharp and erudite but also raw and personal - is like a hot knife through butter, taking on everything from sexism and homophobia to self-deprecation and artist Picasso's hidden misogyny.

Unafraid of challenging the viewer with moments of real sadness and discomfiture, Gadsby has disrupted the laugh-a-minute, adolescent and clinically observational comedy that has long dominated the form. - Alison de Souza

KILLING EVE

This is the story of two women at odds: a mercurial international assassin and the intelligence officer doggedly trying to catch her.

But the British series reinvigorates the tired serial-killer genre with its blend of eccentric humour, slick action and uncommon insights into femininity.

As killer-for-hire Villanelle (Jodie Comer) and Eve (Sandra Oh) become obsessed with each other - a mutual attraction that unfolds in delightful and terrifying ways - the audience cannot help becoming obsessed with them, too. - Alison de Souza

HOMECOMING


Julia Roberts in a scene from Homecoming. PHOTO: JENNIFER CLASEN

Julia Roberts turns in her best work in years with this unsettling psychological thriller. She plays Heidi, a therapist working in a programme to help army veterans such as Walter (Stephan James) re-enter civilian life. But the scheme turns out to be a Big Pharma conspiracy - and Heidi's claim to have no memory of it is bizarre. This was directed by Sam Esmail - creator of the existential hacktivist drama Mr Robot (2015 to present) - so it is no surprise that it is both arrestingly stylish and interested in weighty philosophical themes of memory, identity and self-curation. - Alison de Souza

Worst

GENIUS: PICASSO


Antonio Banderas in a scene from Picasso. PHOTO: NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

This is a far cry from the underrated first season of the Genius anthology, which revealed physicist Albert Einstein to be as flawed as he was fascinating - with the moving tale of his brilliant wife, Mileva Maric, as a bonus. Season 2, about artist Pablo Picasso (Antonio Banderas), tries to follow the same formula, but ends up being a paint-by-numbers portrait that is more hagiography and melodrama - an oddly conventional telling given the iconoclasm of the man himself. - Alison de Souza

ASIAN CONCERTS

Best

JJ LIN SANCTUARY WORLD TOUR

Singapore Indoor Stadium, Aug 15, 16, 18 and 19


Top-notch production value, a line-up of popular hits (Little Big Us, Twilight) and on-form vocals came together to make home-grown singer-songwriter JJ Lin's concert a most entertaining one. PHOTO: JFJ-PRODUCTIONS

Top-notch production value, a line-up of popular hits (Little Big Us, Twilight) and on-form vocals came together to make home-grown singer-songwriter JJ Lin's concert a most entertaining one.

He made a splash with his entrance by appearing in mid-air in a cocoon and transforming into a "butterfly" - and the pace rarely let up over the three-hour-plus show.

That he sold out four shows is testament to the fact that he remains a relevant musician, one who is able to please old fans as well as win new ones. - Boon Chan

JOKER XUE SKYSCRAPER WORLD TOUR 2018 IN SINGAPORE

Singapore Indoor Stadium, Nov 17


Chinese singer-songwriter Joker Xue impressed in his first concert in Singapore. PHOTO: IME PRODUCTIONS

Chinese singer-songwriter Joker Xue impressed in his first concert in Singapore, with a richly resonant voice that smouldered at its lower end and shone in its higher register.

Even though ballads about the ins and outs of love dominated the show, it never felt too heavy-going or one-dimensional, thanks to the strength of the writing and his assured pipes.

And he turned out to be quite the joker when he chatted with the audience, happily prattling on despite his jet-lagged state. - Boon Chan

NO PARTY FOR CAO DONG - SAME OLD SAME OLD WORLD TOUR 2018

Esplanade Annexe Studio, July 22


No Party For Cao Dong delivered a gig that crackled with energy and was drenched in youthful fervour. PHOTO: KKBOX

The Servile (2016) is Taiwanese indie band No Party For Cao Dong's award-winning debut album; the rockers were anything but docile live.

They delivered a gig that crackled with energy and was drenched in youthful fervour. It had one dancing with abandon one moment and then yelling along with frontman Wu Tu as he took aim at materialism in the scathing Simon Says. There was anger and bleakness, but also moments of catharsis and dry humour.

The singer said at one point: "We take the awkward route when it comes to the bantering segments." - Boon Chan

WESTERN CONCERTS

Best

MS LAURYN HILL - SING JAZZ 2018

Sands Expo and Convention Centre, Halls E & F, Marina Bay Sands, April 7


American hip-hop/soul singer and songwriter Lauryn Hill eschewed crowd-pandering moves in favour of challenging her own artistry in her debut Singapore show. PHOTO: ST FILE

American hip-hop/soul singer and songwriter Lauryn Hill eschewed crowd-pandering moves in favour of challenging her own artistry in her debut Singapore show.

Performing songs from her seminal 1998 record The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill, she upped the intensity of the tracks with her impassioned singing and jazzed them up with progressive and complex arrangements. - Eddino Abdul Hadi

ST JEROME'S LANEWAY FESTIVAL

The Meadow, Gardens by the Bay, Jan 27


The eighth Singapore edition of the annual St Jerome's Laneway Festival shone with a stellar line-up performing on three stages. PHOTO: ST FILE

The eighth Singapore edition of the annual St Jerome's Laneway Festival shone with a stellar line-up performing on three stages.

Amidst a carnival-like atmosphere, the acts in the day-long festival included American band The Internet, who played a sensuous blend of hip-hop and R&B; British band Wolf Alice, who played a ferocious sundown set; and American rapper-singer Anderson Paak and his blistering and funky set. - Eddino Abdul Hadi

BOB DYLAN AND HIS BAND LIVE IN SINGAPORE 2018

The Star Theatre, Aug 6


American music icon Bob Dylan shone a new light on songs from the past five decades that have become part of the rock 'n' roll canon. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/AEG PRESENTS ASIA

Living up to his reputation as a master of reinvention, American music icon Bob Dylan shone a new light on songs from the past five decades that have become part of the rock 'n' roll canon.

His live rendition of tunes like Ballad Of A Thin Man had an almost spiritual quality, and he packed his setlist with songs that represented the various musical transformations that he went through in his long and prolific career. - Eddino Abdul Hadi

DUA LIPA

The Star Theatre (May 4) and F1 Singapore Grand Prix (Sept 16)


Dua Lipa brought with her boundless energy, flawless vocals and fabulous outfits as she belted out global hits like New Rules and IDGAF. PHOTO: MARCUS LIN/LIVE NATION SINGAPORE

It is not always that Singapore gets to see a pop star in her prime - much less twice in a year.

The British sensation thrilled, first with a sold-out show for 5,000 people in May, and again as headliner before a crowd of 60,000 at the Formula One (F1) Singapore Grand Prix in September.

Both times, the statuesque and stunning Dua Lipa, 23, brought with her boundless energy, flawless vocals and fabulous outfits as she belted out global hits like New Rules and IDGAF. - Anjali Raguraman

CLASSICAL CONCERTS

Best

Leonard Bernstein's Mass by Orchestra of the Music Makers

Esplanade Concert Hall, June 2


The concert's roaring success was underpinned by clear-headed direction and ecumenical multimedia visuals, which enhanced the music-making. PHOTO: YONG JUNYI

Conducted by Joshua Tan, this most moving of performances featured a large orchestra with electric guitars and rock drum-sets, two choruses with 130 voices, a semi-chorus of 16 street-singers and American tenor Kevin Vortmann as the Celebrant.

The concert's roaring success was underpinned by clear-headed direction and ecumenical multimedia visuals, which enhanced the music-making.

This two-hour-long reflection of the liturgical mass enabled every man to find his own faith, unfettered by rigid doctrines or dogmas. - Chang Tou Liang

A SINGAPORE TRILOGY

L'arietta The Arts House, Oct 12


Given the paucity of Singaporean opera, it was a coup for little opera company L'arietta to mount three single-act operas by composer Chen Zhangyi and librettist Jack Lin in a single sitting. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/A SINGAPORE TRILOGY

Given the paucity of Singaporean opera, it was a coup for little opera company L'arietta to mount three single-act operas by composer Chen Zhangyi and librettist Jack Lin in a single sitting. This included the world premiere of Kopi For One (2018), featuring the vocal talents of sopranos Akiko Otao and Yee Ee Ping, and tenor Jonathan Charles Tay accompanied by a small ensemble led by the composer himself.

His earlier operas, Laksa Cantata (2013) and Window Shopping (2014), were also performed.

All three had realistic local settings and scenarios which audiences could easily relate to and, given the high quality of singing and directing, this marked a landmark in the short and chequered history of Singapore opera. - Chang Tou Liang

CLARISSE TEO - PIANO RECITAL

Esplanade Recital Studio, Aug 12

It was sheer audacity for young law graduate-turned-pianist Clarisse Teo to offer a programme of absolute esoterica in works by Mompou, Medtner, D'Indy, Alexandrov and Villa-Lobos, much in the hallowed tradition of the Rarities of Piano Music at the Schloss vor Husum festival in Germany.

That she conducted herself with utter confidence and supreme musicality was beyond doubt. Equally admirable was a sizeable audience that was totally enthralled by her performance and reciprocated with the same warmth and enthusiasm that she displayed. - Chang Tou Liang

Worst

VISITING ARTIST SERIES - QUENTIN KIM (PIANO)

Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Orchestra Hall, March 14

It was difficult to find any redeeming features in South Korean pianist Quentin Kim's recital.

His programme comprised two of the major sonatas in the repertory and a work of his own creation; he also threw in an unwanted encore by Liszt.

The less said about his own piece, the better. But when it came to Beethoven and Haydn, one suspected that anyone in the audience of music students, local pianophiles and critics could have played them just as well. - Marc Rochester

ASIAN ALBUMS

Best

SONGS OF THE BARDS

Kowen Ko


Three years in the making, Kowen Ko's second album sounds richer when it comes to the arrangements and production. PHOTO: MR.WING CREATIVE

Taiwanese singer-songwriter Ko has a set of wonderfully raspy pipes: a little weathered, but also warm and gentle. And they are perfect for the peripatetic vibe here.

Three years in the making, his second album sounds richer when it comes to the arrangements and production. Take the opener, Man Without A Mission, which is propelled by guitars, drums and a stirring melody.

He has a ear for minor-key melodies and some of his songs would not be out of place on an album by, say, Irish troubadour Damien Rice, of whom he is apparently a fan. - Boon Chan

WHEN I LEAVE TAIPEI

Leon Zheng Xing


The debut album from Chinese singer-songwriter Leon Zheng Xing is a tale of three cities. PHOTO: HOVE

The debut album from Chinese singer-songwriter Zheng is a tale of three cities. It traces a trajectory from Taiwan to Jiangsu province in China via tracks such as The Rain In Taipei, Hear It's Snowing In Beijing and Yangzhou Slow. He has a voice that is without artifice or showiness, and perfect for these keenly observed folk-pop songs. Touchingly, the album is also an aural keepsake, with sounds from nature and of the city, such as ambient noise at a metro station, finding their way here. - Boon Chan

FREYJA

Valen Hsu


Valen Hsu's effortlessly lambent vocals continue to shine in her first album since 2014's Miracle. PHOTO: ASIAMUSE ENTERTAINMENT/ROCK RECORDS

The Taiwanese singer's effortlessly lambent vocals continue to shine in her first album since 2014's Miracle. She reaches out to fans old and new with production and arrangements that feel of the moment without being slavishly faddish. The opening title track is a swoonsome slice of electro-pop, with her ethereal voice floating lightly over it.

Hsu, known for her love ballads, delivers a winner here with Springtime Allergies, a track about denial with memorable lyrics. - Boon Chan

Worst

SINGLE - A.I. LOVE

Wang Leehom


Wang Leehom's synth-pop title track is just too clunky and unwieldy. PHOTO: LINFAIR RECORDS

The Chinese-American singer-songwriter's synth-pop title track, about the impact of artificial intelligence on people's lives, seems to stem from concern for his children's well-being, as they grow up in uncertain technological times.

But while it may be well-intentioned, the track is just too clunky and unwieldy - from the juxtaposition of A.I. with "ai", the Chinese word for love, to the awkward refrain of "Where should ethics be placed?". - Boon Chan

WESTERN ALBUMS

Best

A BRIEF INQUIRY INTO ONLINE RELATIONSHIPS

The 1975


In their third album, The 1975 capture the millennial zeitgeist with a collection of songs that encompasses glossy pop, rock swagger, electronic music and jazz. PHOTO: UNIVERSAL MUSIC SINGAPORE

In their third album, the British band capture the millennial zeitgeist with a collection of songs that encompasses glossy pop, rock swagger, electronic music and jazz. Frontman Matty Healy sings convincingly of the personal and political and taps everything from his struggles with addiction to the erosion of human connection in an age of instant gratification. "Modernity has failed us," he declares on Love It If We Made It, with lyrics that come straight from gloomy headlines in recent times. - Eddino Abdul Hadi

HONEY

Robyn


Robyn's Honey is full of pop tunes that get you emotional, whether you are on your own or on the dance floor. PHOTO: KONICHIWA/INTERSCOPE

Dance-pop icon Robyn from Sweden returns in spectacular fashion, eight years after her last album, with a batch of intricate, heart-wrenching tunes drenched in club-friendly beats.

Wearing her heart firmly on her sleeve, the shimmer and shine of her past discography is still there, but refined with a delicate and nuanced palette of electronic sounds.

Honey is full of pop tunes that get you emotional, whether you are on your own or on the dance floor. - Eddino Abdul Hadi

BLACK PANTHER: THE ALBUM

Various Artists


Rapper Kendrick Lamar cast his net far and wide to assemble a diverse bunch of urban music collaborators for the music soundtrack to Black Panther. PHOTO: TOP DAWG/AFTERMATH/INTERSCOPE

Rapper Kendrick Lamar cast his net far and wide to assemble a diverse bunch of urban music collaborators for the music soundtrack to acclaimed superhero flick Black Panther.

While his adroit and wildly shifting flow elevates the songs beyond your usual hip-hop bangers, the album also shines with immersive slow jams by R&B singer Khalid, impassioned vocals from South African artist Sjava as well as mesmeric production from producer Sounwave and jazz/hip-hop instrumentalists BadBadNotGood. - Eddino Abdul Hadi

Worst

MAN OF THE WOODS

Justin Timberlake


In his fifth album, Justin Timberlake tries to meld sensual R&B and futuristic pop with rootsy, heartfelt Americana, but comes across as biting off more than he can chew. PHOTO: RCA

In his fifth album, the pop wunderkind tries to meld sensual R&B and futuristic pop with rootsy, heartfelt Americana, but comes across as biting off more than he can chew.

Several tracks sound too gimmicky, with guitar riffs that sound out of place, while others are let down by lyrics that are either too on-the-nose or worse, cringeinducing. - Eddino Abdul Hadi

CLASSICAL ALBUMS

Best

GRAND RUSSIAN

Albert Tiu, Piano


This appears to be the first recording coupling the two mammoth piano sonatas of the great Russian composers Piotr Tchaikovsky and Sergei Rachmaninov. PHOTO: CENTAUR RECORDS

This appears to be the first recording coupling the two mammoth piano sonatas of the great Russian composers Piotr Tchaikovsky and Sergei Rachmaninov.

Tchaikovsky's Grand Sonata In G Major and Rachmaninov's First Sonata In D Minor play for well over half an hour each and Singapore-based Filipino pianist Albert Tiu goes for the big picture.

He paces each very well, building up arch-like to thrilling climaxes. Further contrasts provided in the slow movements are brought out with idiomatic feeling and unfailing imagination.

Tiu is a Romantic at heart and this production of Singapore's Yong Siew Toh Conservatory can stand up to scrutiny with the best recordings of the classical catalogue. - Chang Tou Liang

WILD & IN LOVE

re:mix / Foo Say Ming


Here is a new album of popular songs, golden oldies mixed with more recent ones, performed by the land's leading purveyor of musical nostalgia. PHOTO: RE:MIX

Here is a new album of popular songs, golden oldies mixed with more recent ones, performed by the land's leading purveyor of musical nostalgia, the crack string ensemble re:mix led by Singapore Symphony Orchestra first violinist Foo Say Ming.

The two major works are by Hong Kong-based British composer-conductor Dominic Sargent. Sonatina headily brings together Bee Gees, Lady Gaga and Michael Jackson, while Sonata Latina recycles songs like Solamente Una Vez, Quizas Quizas Quizas, Besame Mucho, Desafinado and Conga.

Singaporean arrangers Chen Zhangyi and Derek Lim also get a look in. Foo and his charges are sumptuously recorded, making this classy trip to yesteryear a most memorable one. - Chang Tou Liang

CHOPIN THE COMPLETE PRELUDES

Shaun Choo, Piano


With this self-produced and self-recorded album, young pianist Shaun Choo became only the second Singaporean (after Azariah Tan) to record an all-Chopin disc. PHOTO: MUSICSHAUN

With this self-produced and self-recorded album, young pianist Shaun Choo became only the second Singaporean (after Azariah Tan) to record an all-Chopin disc. The main work is the complete set of 24 Preludes. Choo finds a wealth of nuances and kaleidoscopic responses in this seemingly disparate set of miniatures.

In the scintillating Grande Valse Brillante in E flat major, he combines elegance with exuberance. The programme is completed by the brooding Nocturne in C minor and the very familiar "Heroic" Polonaise in A flat major, performed with passion and polish. Choo is a compelling home-grown artist destined for even bigger things. - Chang Tou Liang

Worst

CLAIR DE LUNE

Menahem Pressler, Piano


Menahem Pressler's solo album of French piano music does his legacy scant justice. PHOTO: DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON

The Germany-born Menahem Pressler (born 1923) is the "grand old man" of the piano. However, his solo album of French piano music, recorded last year, does his legacy scant justice.

Almost every item is played at a funereal and lugubrious tempo. Claude Debussy's First Arabesque, Reverie and Clair De Lune (from Suite Bergamasque) are so dragged out that one's patience is sorely tested. A dispiriting showing from a great pianist. - Chang Tou Liang

THEATRE

Best

ALKESAH

ESPLANADE PRESENTS: PESTA RAYA - MALAY FESTIVAL OF ARTS

Esplanade Theatre Studio, July 12 to 15


Written by Zulfadli Rashid and directed by Aidli Mosbit, Malay pantomime Alkesah was one of the best new musicals of the year. PHOTO: JACK YAM

Written by Zulfadli Rashid and directed by Aidli Mosbit, Malay pantomime Alkesah was one of the best new musicals of the year.

The script drew on South-east Asian folklore, reminding viewers of the rich, diverse heritage Singaporeans are heir to.

It followed the folkloric tradition of asking hard questions of society - forgetful Pak Pandir (Hatta Said) and his exasperated wife Mak Andir (Siti Khalijah Zainal) turn into a loving couple who upend traditional gender roles, for example.

The ensemble also displayed perfect comic timing and superb vocals, with hip-shaking music from music director Elaine Chan and well-choreographed dances by Norhaizad Adam. - Akshita Nanda

LEDA AND THE RAGE

ESPLANADE PRESENTS: THE STUDIOS

Esplanade Theatre Studio, April 26 to 29


This two-hander written, directed and performed by Edith Podesta showed how hard it is for a survivor of sexual assault to take back control of her life, and also how necessary and possible it is to reclaim her power. PHOTO: CRISPIAN CHAN

It was impossible to watch Leda And The Rage and leave untouched. This two-hander written, directed and performed by Edith Podesta showed how hard it is for a survivor of sexual assault to take back control of her life, and also how necessary and possible it is to reclaim her power.

The production focused on the role of language in enabling survivors to reclaim their narrative. It even added to its message by incorporating shadow interpreters who translated the play into sign language for the hearing impaired.

Podesta was brutal and anguished as an academic grappling with post-traumatic stress disorder after being raped. Actor Jeremiah Choy was the perfect foil as her therapist, a non-threatening and essential masculine presence who created a safe space for the character to work through her distress. - Akshita Nanda

SHAKESPEARE IN THE PARK: JULIUS CAESAR

Singapore Repertory Theatre

Fort Canning Park, May 2 to 27


Directed by London-based Guy Unsworth, this production neatly edited Shakespeare's text into a timely political thriller, showing how fake news and social media churn can stir a population to riots and bloodshed. PHOTO: SINGAPORE REPERTORY THEATRE

Directed by London-based Guy Unsworth, this production neatly edited Shakespeare's text into a timely political thriller, showing how fake news and social media churn can stir a population to riots and bloodshed.

Jo Kukathas played the would-be despot Caesar, whose assassination leads to a bloody civil war under the aegis of rabble-rouser Mark Antony (Thomas Pang). As news screens projected his face and tickers echoed his words, the honest truth was no match for someone who knew how to sell himself on television. - Akshita Nanda

Worst

McBETH

Delta Force Improv

The Projector Blue Room, May 29


This attempted parody of Shakespeare's Macbeth fell as flat and oddly as the rubber chickens the cast threw about during the performance. PHOTO: DELTA FORCE IMPROV

This attempted parody of Shakespeare's Macbeth fell as flat and oddly as the rubber chickens the cast threw about during the performance. Despite being a work of improv theatre, the production directed by Phil Gruber wrongly decided to play up props and sexual jokes instead of the comic potential of the 20-strong cast. There were a few funny moments in the show, such as when Shakespeare's text got a Singlish update, but these only underscored the wasted potential. - Akshita Nanda

NOVELS

Best

MILKMAN

Anna Burns


This experimental novel, with its nameless cast and run-on paragraphs, was a dark horse in the Man Booker Prize, but deservingly won. PHOTO: FABER & FABER

This experimental novel, with its nameless cast and run-on paragraphs, was a dark horse in the Man Booker Prize, but deservingly won.

It depicts a young woman's experiences during the Irish Troubles of the late 20th century, as she is sexually harassed by a senior paramilitary figure in a society fraught with paranoia.

Harrowing yet somehow also hilarious, the book stretches language in unfamiliar ways to tell a story that resonates heavily in the #MeToo era. - Olivia Ho

PONTI

Sharlene Teo


This dreamy, disquieting debut makes teenage girlhood in Singapore into something rich and strange, yet at the same time achingly familiar. PHOTO: PICADOR

In hazy 2003 Singapore, 16-year-old Szu is trapped in a convent school with her best friend, the wealthy, acerbic Circe. Szu's unbearably beautiful and distant mother Amisa, once briefly famous for starring in a cult horror film series about a pontianak, is dying.

This dreamy, disquieting debut makes teenage girlhood in Singapore into something rich and strange, yet at the same time achingly familiar, and marks Teo as a writer to watch. - Olivia Ho

WARLIGHT

Michael Ondaatje


In exquisite lines that layer beauty with menace, Michael Ondaatje's haunted post-war novel takes the breath away. PHOTO: JONATHAN CAPE

In 1945, 14-year-old Nathaniel and his older sister are left behind by their parents in the care of a group of mysterious maybe-criminals. Years later, an adult Nathaniel tries to piece together his mother's covert career as a war spy and reconcile himself with her sins.

In exquisite lines that layer beauty with menace, Ondaatje's haunted post-war novel takes the breath away. - Olivia Ho

Worst

BOB HONEY WHO JUST DO STUFF

Sean Penn


Bob Honey may Just Do Stuff, but perhaps Sean Penn Just Should Not. PHOTO: ATRIA BOOKS

This celebrity novel by Hollywood star Penn has earned praise from the likes of Booker Prize-winner Salman Rushdie, but this reviewer lost it at the line: "Never one for psychosexual infantilism or paedophilic fantasy, after their sex he said, 'Good vagina. Maybe more Vietnam.'"

The tale of Bob Honey, septic specialist and serial killer of senior citizens, is laughably, grandiloquently awful. It is the fantasy of a man who firmly believes, despite mediocrity and incoherence, that he should be the centre of the narrative. Bob Honey may Just Do Stuff, but perhaps Sean Penn Just Should Not. - Olivia Ho

NEW RESTAURANTS

Best

FINE-DINING

ZEN

41 Bukit Pasoh Road


What is so exceptional about this restaurant by celebrated Swedish chef Bjorn Frantzen is not so much the food, good as it is, but the whole dining experience. PHOTOS: RESTAURANT ZEN

What is so exceptional about this month-old restaurant by celebrated Swedish chef Bjorn Frantzen is not so much the food, good as it is, but the whole dining experience - from the rock music to the table-side plating to the easy camaraderie among the staff, who often tease one another as they serve.

Few four-hour dinners pass by so pleasantly - until you are faced with the $450 bill. And that is for one person.

MID-RANGE

ATOUT

40C Harding Road


The Oven Roasted "Forty Garlic" Chicken from Atout. PHOTO: ST FILE

For me, French restaurants are usually for special occasions, but I will happily go back any time for chef Patrick Heuberger's rustic French dishes.

Simple but honest cooking never goes wrong, and the hearty food here - including the housemade charcuterie and, my favourite, the Oven Roasted "Forty Garlic" Chicken - just warms my heart. Plan to spend $50 to $70 a head. - Wong Ah Yoke

BUDGET-FRIENDLY

FAT CHAP

Suntec City Mall East Wing 01-643, 3 Temasek Boulevard


The Grilled Whole Fish from Fat Chap. PHOTO: FAT CHAP

This two-month-old restaurant serving Indonesian food as well as bar-friendly Asian-inspired snacks is for the spice lover.

There is no fat chap in sight. Instead, chef Selamat Susanto is a slim, boyish-looking Chinese-Indonesian who whips up an excellent Oxtail Soup and Asam Pedas. The Grilled Whole Fish is excellent - a golden snapper rubbed with spices and grilled until it gets really aromatic.

What's even better? The average bill is $40 to $50 a person. - Wong Ah Yoke

BARS

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MANHATTAN

Level 2 Regent Singapore, 1 Cuscaden Road


The consistency of the quality cocktail programme and high service standards at Manhattan help place Singapore as a bona fide world cocktail capital. PHOTO: REGENT SINGAPORE, A FOUR SEASONS HOTEL

The accolades keep piling up for 4½-year-old Manhattan at the Regent Singapore, which surged to the No. 3 spot on the World's 50 Best Bars list in October - the highest position for an Asian bar on the annual list. This was after it claimed the top spot on Asia's 50 Best Bars list earlier this year, for the second year running.

The consistency of the quality cocktail programme and high service standards at Manhattan help place Singapore as a bona fide world cocktail capital. - Anjali Raguraman

BRASS LION DISTILLERY

40 Alexandra Terrace


The two-storey Brass Lion Distillery in Pasir Panjang combines a micro distillery, bar and workshop space in a spruced-up former warehouse. PHOTO: BRASS LION DISTILLERY

The recently opened two-storey Brass Lion Distillery in Pasir Panjang combines a micro distillery, bar and workshop space in a spruced-up former warehouse.

On one of its tours, you can see how its gin is made, as well as touch and smell the 22 botanicals - including torch ginger flower, chrysanthemum and pomelo peel - that go into the distillation process.

One can also head up to the stunning bar on the second floor to savour the gin and its variations (the pink-hued Pahit Pink and the blue-hued Butterfly Pea) in cocktails.

Its aromatic gins work perfectly, whether in a classic gin and tonic, martini or negroni, or one of its several signature drinks. - Anjali Raguraman

SKAI BAR

Level 70 Swissotel The Stamford, 2 Stamford Road


Skai Bar's menu is innovative and on trend with the way the drinks blur the line between kitchen and bar. PHOTO: SWISSOTEL THE STAMFORD

Skai Bar's menu is innovative and on trend with the way the drinks blur the line between kitchen and bar.

The gin-based Samphire Cocktail, for instance, is a masterfully balanced distillation of the sea in a glass, with its use of samphire, a salty succulent, and oyster leaf, which tastes like oysters.

While cocktails that incorporate kitchen techniques and savoury flavours are all the rage, Skai Bar is one of the few spots that manages to get the delicate balance right. - Anjali Raguraman

FASHION DESIGNER DEBUTS

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VIRGIL ABLOH FOR LOUIS VUITTON


Virgil Abloh's first collection for the luxury label combined his cool street style with elements of Louis Vuitton's signature bag silhouettes, creating cool hybrid garments and accessories. PHOTO: REUTERS

American designer and founder of streetwear label Off-White Virgil Abloh was appointed as artistic director of menswear at Louis Vuitton back in March.

His much-anticipated first collection for the luxury label combined his cool street style with elements of Louis Vuitton's signature bag silhouettes, creating cool hybrid garments and accessories. Highlight pieces include a white zip-up west with pouch-like pockets and a holographic version of Louis Vuitton's iconic Keepall bag. - Melissa Heng

KIM JONES FOR DIOR HOMME

British designer Kim Jones drew inspiration from Dior's rich heritage for his romantic Dior Homme debut.

Wallpaper patterns from the first Dior boutique were used on caps and tailored loose-fit coats. Floral motifs which reflected Dior's love of horticulture and pink and grey, shades synonymous with the brand, were also sprinkled throughout the collection. The overall aesthetic was a refreshing take on menswear with its softer and more feminine approach. - Melissa Heng

RICCARDO TISCI FOR BURBERRY

The Italian designer, known for his dark romantic aesthetic that revived Givenchy, joined the British luxury label as chief creative officer in March.

Many in the fashion world wondered if this would lead to a goth-like and unfamiliar Burberry.

But Tisci's debut collection featured a refined palette of beige and nude tones, flowing lace dresses and tailored men's suits - all elevated by sensual silhouettes and hints of his signature sexy punk style. - Melissa Heng

Worst

HEDI SLIMANE FOR CELINE


Fashion critics and fans of Celine panned Hedi Slimane's first collection for being too similar to his previous work at Saint Laurent and Dior. PHOTO: AFP

The French designer joined Celine as creative director in February.

Fashion critics and fans of the label panned Slimane's first collection for being too similar to his previous work at Saint Laurent and Dior: skinny men's suits matched with skinny ties.

His super short dresses were also deemed sexist and more high street than sophisticated couture. - Melissa Heng

TRAVEL

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SIA'S NON-STOP FLIGHT TO NEW YORK

Singapore Airlines (SIA) relaunched its non-stop flight to New York on Oct 11, five years after axing it. Flight SQ22 remade history with the sleek, fuel-efficient Airbus 350-900ULR, which SIA is the first airline to fly.

Now that the airline is delving deep into the lucrative United States market with new non-stop flights to New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and, next September, Seattle, travellers will fly in style and comfort on game-changing long-haul planes to the US, a desirably diverse destination with world-class cities, nature unbound and everything in between. - Lee Siew Hua

DESTINATION BORACAY


Boracay had a soft opening on Oct 26, after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte had shuttered it for six months to reboot the island-paradise turned "cesspool". PHOTO: AFP

Boracay had a soft opening on Oct 26, after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte had shuttered it for six months to reboot the island-paradise turned "cesspool", as he derisively called it. Turtles have reportedly returned and the beaches are cleaner.

In beloved destinations as diverse as Amsterdam and Antarctica, the push to fix over-tourism is picking up speed. Travellers are also doing their part to avoid stressed destinations, or to explore less-trampled places. - Lee Siew Hua