DUBAI: Here is the entertainment to get excited about in the year ahead.
It’s hard to see beyond the eighth and final season of “Game of Thrones,” due in April, when predicting what the small screen’s biggest moment will be in 2019. The epic fantasy drama has dominated ratings since its debut in 2011 — becoming the world’s most-pirated show in the process. And while the initial flood of critical acclaim has slowed somewhat over the past two seasons, there will still be millions of fans desperate to discover who will ultimately win the Iron Throne of Westeros. Expect plenty of brutal deaths, moral compromise, and eye-popping betrayals. The fact that there are so many convincing arguments for so many different outcomes is a mark of just how faithfully showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have managed to follow author George R.R. Martin’s ‘no one is safe’ philosophy throughout the series, despite long ago parting company with the books’ storylines. And that’s the main reason why this will be this year’s must-see TV event. Also: Ice dragon.
Elsewhere, everyone’s hoping that the third season of Nic Pizzolatto’s crime anthology “True Detective,” which begins January 13, can return to the dizzy heights of its thrilling debut year. That’s a big ask — particularly bearing in mind the (slightly unfair) lukewarm reception for the sophomore season, which really wasn’t as terrible as its reviews suggested, but admittedly wasn’t anywhere near the stellar standards of the original. Encouragingly, Oscar winning actor Mahershala Ali is the man charged with reviving the series. He plays detective Wayne Hays, investigating a crime involving two missing children. Once again, the series will switch between time periods.
And, of course, we’re looking forward to season three of Netflix’s smash hit “Stranger Things,” due on July 4. Eleven has been reunited with her gang of friends after spending almost the entirety of season two in hiding (although hopefully that doesn’t mean the end of her hugely entertaining double act with police chief Jim Hopper), and this season is apparently set in the summer holidays, so there’ll be less action in the classroom and corridors, and more around the town’s swimming pool and new shopping mall. Co-creator Ross Duffer has described season three as “the most fun yet” but also “the grossest.”
The year’s biggest release (if it happens) will likely be Adele’s “30” — which, rumor has it (yes, we know) will drop around the end of the year. At times over the past 10 years, it seemed as though her almighty voice was singlehandedly keeping the music industry going, so it’s a fair bet anything she releases will quickly become ubiquitous on the airwaves. Other likely international smashes include Rihanna’s ninth album (which will apparently be a reggae record), Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next,” and Beyoncé’s little sister Solange’s fourth studio album. The indie crowd, meanwhile, will eagerly be awaiting new LPs from Bon Iver and My Bloody Valentine.
Regionally, 2019 might be the year we get a new album from Mashrou’ Leila, the Lebanese indie darlings who, since 2015’s “Ibn El Leil,” have been building an international following to boost their already impressive regional reputation. At the beginning of last year, they spent a few months in the studio, and seem to have some time in their hectic schedule now until their biggest European tour to date kicks off in March.
Definitely coming is the long-awaited new record from Jordan-based indie-pop band Hayajan — fronted by YouTube sensation Alaa Wardi. “Khusouf Al-Ard” should be out early in the year.
Elsewhere, there’s some great female talent from the Arab world slated to release albums this year, including Jordan’s soulful singer Nur, and Palestinian singer-songwriter Mayssa Daw’s new project Kallemi, an all-female group featuring Jasmin Albash, La Nefera, and Rasha Nahas (also expected to release her solo debut this year). In Lebanon, Marie Abou Khaled’s wonderful voice has won her support from some indie-scene veterans for her full-length debut, with Zeid Hamdan producing and LUMI’s Marc Codsi lending instrumentation.
Post-apocalyptic survival is the theme of two (hopefully) of the biggest games on our radar for 2019. We say ‘hopefully’ because no official release date has yet been set for “The Last of Us: Part II” — the hotly anticipated sequel to Naughty Dog’s stunning 2013 masterpiece. The trailer at last year’s E3 looked awesome, and it’s widely rumored that (a grown-up, ass-kicking) Ellie (and probably Joel) will be returning to the PS4 this year.
“Days Gone” — another Sony release — does have a definite date, April 26. The third-person survival horror, in which you play as former outlaw Deacon St. John, has been building hype since its first trailers were released. The “freakers” (read: zombies) look to be challenging opponents, and — in case they’re not — it seems like you’ll have to battle infected animals as well as humans.
If you like your games slightly less bleak than world-threatening, ultra-violent dystopia, then “Kingdom Hearts III” should float your boat. The role-playing sees protagonist Sora (joined by Donald Duck, Goofy, King Mickey, and Riku) traveling through various worlds based on Disney and Pixar properties including “Frozen” and “Toy Story.” It’s due out January 25.
It’s going to be a box-office slugfest in 2019, as some of the world’s biggest action franchises battle for pole position. Hot favorite to come out on top would be “Star Wars: Episode IX,” which signals the end of George Lucas’s original ‘trilogy of trilogies’ idea for the sci-fi epic, but that’s only due to arrive in December.
Regardless, it’s going to face serious competition from April’s “Avengers: Endgame,” which will deal with the aftermath of *that* finger-snap from Thanos, which saw half of humanity (and half of the Avenger’s roster) wiped out at the end of “Infinity War.”
Marvel will also be waiting with baited breath to see how a female “Captain Marvel” (played by Brie Larson, set for release March 8) fares.
“Toy Story 4” will also be a huge earner. There’s a solid argument that the franchise has, so far, been the equal of any in movie history — laugh-out-loud funny, sweet, moving, absorbing, and hugely enjoyable — and hopefully the fourth installment will maintain its level of excellence. Although, as some commentators have pointed out, it already had a pretty much perfect ending, so it’s questionable whether a fourth outing can really be justified.
In the Arab world, look out for “The Letter Writer” — the debut feature from British-Emirati director Layla Kaylif — set in 1960s Dubai. And the Arabic remake of the hugely successful Italian ensemble comedy-drama “Perfect Strangers,” from 2016, in which seven longtime friends at a dinner party decide that — to prove they have nothing to hide — they will each place their mobile phone on the table to reveal every phone call and message they receive that evening, should be hitting screens before the end of the year.