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The best culture you may have missed in 2020 | Culture

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Film

Southern Journey (Revisited)
In the dark days of lockdown, it’s hard to believe the big outdoors actually exists. But that’s what you get with this lovely music documentary, which followed in the footsteps of celebrated musicologist Alan Lomax and British folk singer Shirley Collins on their landmark 1959 odyssey, recording rural American folk music in the field just as the major roots revival was taking off in urban coffee houses. Film-makers Rob Curry and Tim Plester do their own bit of cultural archaeology, looking up children and grandchildren of the original artists, and filming performances by modern-day folk artists. A breath of musical fresh air. Andrew Pulver

Lynn + Lucy
Any other year, this gritty exploration of violence, grief and betrayal would have been heralded as a masterpiece. But, perhaps understandably, the public mood has veered more towards the safe and comforting, meaning Fyzal Boulifa’s feature debut has passed somewhat under the radar. It’s a shame: set in an Essex of hair salons and too-loud whispers, it’s a fascinating dissection of female friendship and shifting sympathies that will haunt your thoughts for days afterwards. Available to buy on the BFI Player. Kathryn Bromwich

Slow and steady ... Away.
Slow and steady … Away.

Away
Overshadowed on its release in August by the Netflix sci-fi series of the same name, this wordless animated feature from 26-year-old Latvian one-man band Gints Zilbalodis is a quiet marvel. A boy on a motorbike, with a tiny yellow bird as his companion, races across an island of sweeping landscapes pursued by a mysterious, implacable giant. Simply but atmospherically rendered, Away took Zilbalodis three-and-a-half years to make, but the love in his labour is there for all to see. Simon Wardell

TV

Finding Joy
Amy Huberman’s comedy debuted in Ireland in 2018 but arrived in the UK this year on the unheralded Acorn TV streaming service and fitted right in to 2020. She’s Joy, a newly single Dubliner discovering that all her cute Instagram lifestyle fixes are no cure for heartbreak, or for general stepped-in-a-dog-turd awkwardness. Can a new job and a wacky sitcom flatmate (Aisling Bea) help? An easy binge, with a knack for unleashing a rude belly-laugh just when you think it’s getting too pastel-coloured. Jack Seale

It takes two ... Erinn Hayes and Rob Huebel in Medical Police.
It takes two … Erinn Hayes and Rob Huebel in Medical Police. Photograph: Netflix

Medical Police
Cult US weird-com Childrens Hospital has been spoofing medical dramas for a decade; this 2020 Netflix spin-off takes a bone-saw to macho geopolitical thrillers such as Jack Ryan or 24. A perpetually globetrotting mission to find a secret bioweapon, it is crammed with deft slapstick and daft cameos, including Jason Schwartzman as gregarious fixer “the Goldfinch”. But its secret bioweapon is the chemistry between central duo Erinn Hayes and Rob Huebel, who do deadpan with elan. Graeme Virtue

Wu-Tang Clan – Of Mics and Men
This deep-dive docuseries into Staten Island’s finest dropped without much fuss, but it was fascinating, funny and immaculately sourced. Fans of heavy-handed symbolism will be amused to learn that Method Man worked as a cleaner at the Statue of Liberty. Each member gets a backstory and what stories they are. The conclusion? They haven’t always liked each other but there’s still a lot of love. Available to view on Sky and Now TV. Phil Harrison

Music

High tea ... Aluna Francis.
High tea … Aluna Francis. Photograph: Universal

Cucina Povera & Haron – Plafond 6
If you need to build a psychic cocoon to deal with an incoming winter of jigsaw puzzles, Zoom bantz and other second-lockdown privations, pair some noise-cancelling headphones with this album by Glasgow-via-Finland singer-producer Maria Rossi, AKA Cucina Povera, and Dutch musician Haron Aumaj. The enveloping, static-haunted ambient pieces in the second half are straightforwardly gorgeous, but the real triumph is the opening 22-minute suite Riffittelyä, where vocals drift across church organ chords. Ben Beaumont-Thomas

SG Goodman – Old Time Feeling
From deep in the wilds of western Kentucky comes the righteous SG Goodman, a farmer’s daughter with a punk past whose rowdy, rootsy country music straddles the vintage twang of Patsy Cline and haunted balladry of Angel Olsen. But her striking, swinging debut Old Time Feeling – which dropped over the summer – was a protest album with a difference, looking at how to make change for the better within the rural community that raised her. Leonie Cooper

Hum – Inlet
These Illinois space-rockers had the misfortune of dropping their first album in 22 years into the middle of a pandemic, meaning it was missed by all bar the most assiduous fans of chunky 90s guitar music. A shame, as its shoegaze-meets-Sabbath soundscapes serve as a great release from lockdown claustrophobia. Heavy but never abrasive, these eight tracks are a fine soundtrack to contemplating your insignificance in Earth’s vastness; “an echo left on the mountainside” as vocalist Matt Talbott puts it. Gwilym Mumford

Aluna – Renaissance
At the start of lockdown, Aluna Francis, vocalist and songwriter in dance-pop duo AlunaGeorge, launched an online club billed as “an introvert’s palace of escape”. That sense of introspection carried over into her solo debut, Renaissance, an in-your-feelings party album that celebrated dance’s overlooked black history. Channelling house and dancehall alongside Caribbean dance and slinky R&B, it’s an expertly curated night in, augmented by a top-tier guestlist including Princess Nokia and Kaytranada. Michael Cragg

Podcasts

Mel Giedroyc Is Quilting.
Patch work queen … Mel Giedroyc Is Quilting. Photograph: Acast

The Socially Distant Sports Bar
In the absence of bonding over live sport, Elis James, Mike Bubbins and Steff Garrero created a haven where they ramble on about classic clips and random recollections. It’s ideal if you miss the sound of friends mocking each other in the pub, as the trio cry with laughter about Ray Reardon skateboarding, “Wembley widows” out on the town and cows on steroids. Like Athletico Mince, you don’t have to like sport to enjoy it. Hannah Verdier

Mel Giedroyc Is Quilting
If we continue at the current rate, there may soon be more celeb podcasts than actual celebs. Yet, a welcome 2020 effort – and one that flew under the radar – was the beautifully gentle Mel Giedroyc Is Quilting. Despite its Partridge-esque title, this was no joke: just a lovely show about two pals (Mel and radio DJ Andy Bush) making a patchwork quilt from offcuts sent in by listeners. Hannah J Davies

Games

Apocalypse now ... Wasteland 3.
Apocalypse now … Wasteland 3.

Nintendo’s Clubhouse
Regardless of class or culture, most childhoods feature some sort of board game shelf, a place usually associated with feelings of joy and togetherness (unless, that is, yours contained only Monopoly, that cleaver of households). Similarly, this is a virtual drawer crammed with 51 classics. Some – chequers, ludo, chess, poker – are familiar, but by plucking examples from different nations and, in some cases, history, this is also a compendium of fresh wonders. With rules, hints and increasingly skilled AI rivals, you’ll soon find competence at mancala and hanafuda via a collection that blazingly exceeds its constituent parts. Simon Parkin

Wasteland 3
Did we really need another post-apocalyptic RPG? Yes, as it happens. This old-school, top-down adventure throws you into a snow-smothered Colorado years after the bombs dropped, casting you as two Rangers trying to survive, forge alliances and eventually thrive. The writing is strong, the consequences of your choices far-reaching, and it’s marbled with great characters and a likable, larky sense of humour. It’s – wait for it – da bomb. (Sorry.) Luke Holland

Spiritfarer
You’re dead and on your way to the afterlife in Charon’s boat. Before you go, though, you’ve been given a job: help other lost souls conclude their earthly business so that they can move on, too. Ghibli-esque and fantastical, Spiritfarer is wonderful to look at and thought-provoking to play, as your barge becomes stacked with more and more travellers looking for closure. A game about helping people, building things and saying goodbye. Keza MacDonald

Art

Home sweet home ... The Keepers Project.
Home sweet home … The Keepers Project. Photograph: Thierry Bal

The Keepers Project
For this pioneering archive project, artist David Clegg and photographer Thierry Bal travelled to sites outside mainstream art’s purview to document seven labours of love by self-taught artists, explored through photographs and interviews. Launched online this summer, it’s as much about the creations – be they Italian buildings crafted from cement and chickenwire on a Powys hillside; Brighton beach’s flint grotto; or a replica Roman villa in Birkenhead – as a testament to the conservation struggles of those dedicated to their care. Skye Sherwin

Es Devlin and Machiko Weston – I Saw the World End
Amid all the tribulations of 2020, this meditation on the use of atomic bombs against Japan in 1945 was derailed for the strangest of reasons: planned August screenings on the screen at Piccadilly Circus, at the exact times of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, were postponed due to the accidental disaster in Beirut. Moved to September and also available to watch online, this digital lament splices quotes from prophets, designers and victims of the bomb into a moving montage of sound and light. Jonathan Jones

Theatre

Qendra Multimedia & National Theatre of Kosovo’s The Return of Karl May (Entertaining play for the German people), part of Postwest festival.
Qendra Multimedia & National Theatre of Kosovo’s The Return of Karl May (Entertaining play for the German people), part of Postwest festival. Photograph: Postwest festival

Postwest festival
This ambitious festival of work by theatre-makers from across eastern Europe was set to play Berlin’s Volkbühne Theatre in May. When it was clear that would no longer be possible, the artists (from countries including Germany, Lithuania, Hungary, Kosovo and Ukraine) hastily and ingeniously remade their work for new formats – video, audio, one piece took the form of a virtual birthday party, another an online “blind date” – and the results can be viewed on the festival’s website. Natasha Tripney

Small Acts – The You Play
An audio play – but make it interactive! You, the listener, play the main part in Rafaella Marcus’s inventive piece, with Katherine Parkinson’s voice guiding you through a sensory adventure taking place around your own home. Loosely based on The Winter’s Tale, it also speaks to our socially distanced times. Part of the digital storytelling project Written on the Waves, The You Play is available online. Holly Williams

Comedy

Transaction
Best known for a stint on The Voice, singer-turned-comic Jordan Gray has mined her vocal skills in the winning Transaction, where she plays snarky supermarket shelf-stacker Liv. You could call its five-minute episodes (available on Comedy Central’s YouTube page) nuggets of fun, or you could call them a step forward for diversity, breaking down tired old stereotypes in the representation of trans people. Either way, it just won a Broadcast Digital Award for best short-form comedy. Brian Logan

Middleditch and Schwartz
Silicon Valley’s Thomas Middleditch and Parks and Rec’s Ben Schwartz team up for a Netflix series of three, hour-long, unplanned improv pieces, filmed in front of an audience. The risk with this sort of thing is that the viewers can often have less fun than the performers, but the pair manage to keep everyone onside with the sheer energy of their imaginations. That they can improvise coherent stories is impressive; that they can do it while trying to throw each other off balance is incredible. Stuart Heritage


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Don’t expect an ‘explosion of cases’ from China’s antitrust push: Professor

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Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba Group, attends opening ceremony of the 3rd All-China Young Entrepreneurs Summit on September 25, 2020 in Fuzhou, Fujian Province of China.

Lyu Ming | China News Service via Getty Images

SINGAPORE — China’s latest antitrust push will not likely lead to a “sudden explosion of cases” against online platforms, according to legal expert Angela Zhang.

Her comments came after shares of Chinese tech giants like Alibaba, Tencent and Meituan were rattled earlier in November following the release of draft rules by Beijing that defined for the first time what constitutes anti-competitive behavior.

“It’s a bit early to tell what is the next step the government is going to take but … at least this is kind of signaling a trend of stricter regulatory enforcement over these tech businesses,” said Zhang, who is associate professor of law and director of the Center for Chinese Law at The University of Hong Kong.

Commenting on the potential impact of the draft anti-monopoly rules, which are currently in a public consultation stage until Nov. 30, Zhang told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia” on Monday that there are two factors to keep in mind.

We shouldn’t expect … a sudden explosion of cases against these online platforms.

Angela Zhang

associate professor of law, Center for Chinese Law at The University of Hong Kong

Firstly, such investigations typically involve a “lengthy process” and Chinese agencies could take a long time to complete an investigation, Zhang said.

“The last big case that they brought against Tetra Pak took almost five years to complete,” she said referring to the Swedish packaging firm that was slapped with a fine of about $97 million by Chinese regulators over anti-monopoly practices.

Secondly, Chinese agencies are “very thinly staffed,” she added.

“We shouldn’t expect … a sudden explosion of cases against these online platforms,” Zhang said, as it would “consume a lot of time” and human resources for government agencies to bring any big cases against the tech giants.

As for competitors, the professor said they may pursue their cases in court, though so far no plaintiff has successfully launched an antitrust case against the online platforms. It also “remains to be seen” how judges will interpret the issues.

Still, she admitted that many details “remain to be finalized” and it is still not known when the new rules will actually be announced. Even when the new rules are released, they will only be “guidelines” and won’t change existing regulatory frameworks.


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Restaurant tech start-up Toast worth $8 billion in employee share sale

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Restaurant tech start-up Toast worth $8 billion in employee share sale