Arts & Life

NPR TV critic Eric Deggans spoke to Carrie Kahn on Weekend Edition Sunday about the plethora of television available on broadcast, cable and streaming outlets, and you can hear that conversation at the top of the page. Eric has, however, picked 12 shows that rose above the rest for this year-end wrap.

You may see a lot of teeth-gnashing from critics in year-end pieces lamenting how the flood of TV shows this year undermines the industry and makes picking out the best stuff of 2015 nearly impossible.

Don't believe it.

It's been a year since the U.S. and Cuba began normalizing relations. Tourism, business and cultural exchanges are booming. And there is another curious benefactor of those warmer ties — Ernest Hemingway, or at least, his legacy. The writer lived just outside of Havana for 20 years, and that house, called the Finca Vigia, has long been a national museum.

For a glimpse of what's happening in Africa, Guggenheim Bilbao curator Petra Joos recommends watching a film called "The End of Eating Everything."

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Give a Lot, Get a Lot

Dec 26, 2015
JaseCurtis [Flickr]

In just a few days, this year will come to an end and we'll all be gathering our information for our tax returns.  Making a contribution to a charitable organization now will save you some taxes and help those who make our world a better place!

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2015 In Music: Playlist Refreshers

Dec 26, 2015
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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

A bountiful year in music is coming to a close, so we have invited NPR's musical mastermind Stephen Thompson into the studio to point us toward some favorites. Welcome, Stephen.

STEPHEN THOMPSON: Hi, it's nice to be here, Linda.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Frank Stella does huge work — some of it 20 feet tall and twice as long — so he has a suitably supersized studio about an hour's drive north of New York City. With hundreds of artworks and tables strewn with ideas in progress, the studio is a museum in itself.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

The Girl on the Train is a psychological thriller, set in contemporary London, with a female protagonist and a female author — Paula Hawkins. It was published this year, and received wide acclaim.

Girl on a Train is a psychological thriller, set in contemporary London, with a female protagonist and a female author — Alison Waines. It was published in 2013, and received almost no attention.

You might be able to predict where this is going.

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His resume is unimpeachable and he has great approval ratings. Santa Claus sounds like the perfect candidate — so what if he ran for president? That's the central question in this work of audio fiction by the podcast The Truth

The story begins at the North Pole, where two mysterious strangers have just arrived by sled to Santa's office.

An Oscar-winning director, a major star, a survival saga that makes Heart of Darkness look like a pleasure cruise... and all anyone wants to talk about is the bear attack.

And in fact, it's hard not to start there. It comes about comes 24 minutes in. Fur-trapper Hugh Glass, played by a hirsute, bundled-up Leonardo DiCaprio, has helped his fellow trappers escape a harrowing Arikara massacre. In most movies that would be the scene everyone's talking about — arrows piercing vocal cords in mid-cry, death raining down from trees.

Blending up eggs, milk, sugar, booze and with a bit of spice grated on top — sounds like eggnog, right? But use pisco instead of rum; sweetened, condensed milk in place of fresh milk and cream and a special ingredient — and you've got a cocktail de algarrobina. In Peru, it wouldn't be Christmas without it.

In Charles Dickens' famous tale A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge's spectral-induced transformation leaves him with a longing for an old-fashioned Christmas drink.

"I'll raise your salary and endeavor to assist your struggling family," Scrooge promises his much-abused employee, Bob Cratchit, "and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of Smoking Bishop, Bob!"

A Holiday Favorite: David Sedaris' 'Santaland Diaries'

Dec 25, 2015

You might not expect "Santa's helper" to be a career-altering gig, but for David Sedaris, it changed everything. The writer and humorist spent a season working at Macy's as a department store elf. He described his short tenure as Crumpet the Elf in "The Santaland Diaries," an essay that he first read on Morning Edition in 1992. He was brought to NPR by an up-and-coming producer named Ira Glass.

Instantly, a classic was born. Sedaris' reading has become an NPR holiday tradition. Click the "Listen" link above to hear Sedaris read his tale.

Is Santa An Elf? Discuss

Dec 24, 2015

Earlier this week, I tried to describe Santa in a story as an elf. But I ran into some serious opposition from my editor, Rose Friedman, who was convinced Santa was definitely not an elf.

"Think about every Christmas movie you've ever seen," she said. "It's always Santa and the elves. He's like twice their size."

I backed up my argument with literature — just look at the famous Clement Clark Moore poem, "A Visit From St Nicholas":

Depending on your perspective, Quentin Tarantino's career either comes full circle or spins its wheels with The Hateful Eight, a three-hour Western pastiche that combines the single-setting theatricality of his first feature, Reservoir Dogs, with the explosive Civil War politics of his last, Django Unchained.

The business of America is business, to paraphrase a line delivered by Calvin Coolidge four years before 1929's version of The Big Short. But Hollywood, no small industry itself, rarely tells the stories of people like Joy Mangano, inventor of the Miracle Mop and the inspiration for David O. Russell's Joy.

In 2011, the British director Andrew Haigh made Weekend, an achingly wistful chamber piece about a lifetime of unfulfilled longing poured into a brief encounter between two very different gay men. Weekend comes highly recommended, as does Haigh's new film, 45 Years, which also spans a few days, here slogged through by an aging couple forced by startling news to reassess their long marriage. Neither film has a plot in the received sense, nor does either lead us to a foregone conclusion.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Actor Eddie Redmayne won an Oscar last year for playing Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. Now he's been nominated for a Golden Globe for his role in another biopic, The Danish Girl. The film tells the story of transgender woman Lili Elbe, one of the first people known to have had gender reassignment surgery.

In Latin American cultures, Christmas Eve is Noche Buena and time for a big family celebration, often featuring a pig roast. There are lots of ways to cook a whole pig. But at Noche Buena parties in South Florida and, increasingly, around the country, the preferred method for roasting a pig involves something known as a "China box."

Film critic David Edelstein had no shortage of material to consider when it came time to make his top 10 list this year. He shares his favorites with Fresh Air's Terry Gross:

1. Room
"The story of a woman held captive ... by a sexual psychopath and the child she raises remarkably well in that space."

Recess!

Dec 24, 2015

Host Ophira Eisenberg and house musician Jonathan Coulton ring the bell for recess and take classic games to the next level in "Playground Nationals." Then contestants make some of the silliest sounds ever heard on the Ask Me Another stage in a game called "What's That Sound?"

Heard in Kids' Favorites!

Snack Time!

Dec 24, 2015

Sesame Street's Sonia Manzano and co-star Emilio Delgado joins us to play "The Muppets in Your Neighborhood." Then, the two serenade our audience with the Sesame Street classic, "Hola!" Our next game, "Name That Candy Bar," is sure to make your mouth water. Then make sure to warm up your thumbs for our Ask Me One More Final Round, "Initial This," about texting abbreviations.

Heard in Kids' Favorites!

Arts And Crafts!

Dec 24, 2015

We welcome an unusual VIP to the studio (he couldn't make it to a live taping). Host Ophira Eisenberg, house musician Jonathan Coulton, and puzzle editor Art Chung quiz an 8-and-a-half-year-old fan who's a precocious superhero expert. Then "Be Our Guest" and sing along in "The Disney Wrongbook" before we break out the crayons for "Color Me Badd."

Heard in Kids' Favorites!

In October, Hilda Mascarenhas, who writes a popular food blog in Pune, India, began her Christmas preparations with an unusual request to her fruit seller.

After buying a pineapple, she asked the vendor to separately pack the peel and eyes that he had skillfully removed with his long knife.

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