1. Hear the Z100 Jingle Ball
A holiday buffet.
The annual Top 40–palooza at the Garden is the bargain of the year. Or (at $490 for the best tickets and $51 for obstructed seats) is it a huge ripoff? Depends on whether you prefer quantity over quality time; also depends on whether you’re 13, or at least in touch with your inner teenybopper. Those who qualify will get a bunch of big stars—Miley Cyrus, Robin Thicke, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Fall Out Boy, Pitbull, Selena Gomez, Enrique Iglesias, Ariana Grande, et al.—playing brief sets for a very loud and appreciative crowd. Warning: There may be twerking. —Jody Rosen
Madison Square Garden, December 13, 7:30 p.m.
2. See Michael Light: Some Dry Space
Man-made, monstrous beauty.
To see Michael Light’s aerial pictures of western landscapes, oil derricks, exurbia in mid-sprawl, and drying-up rivers is to simultaneously love these pictures and the Earth, and feel sick to your stomach about what we’re doing to our water and air and soil. In Light’s pictures, nothing is safe in our path—yet we turn destruction into beauty. —Jerry Saltz
Danziger Gallery, through January 18.
3. Watch The Blacklist
James Spader, creeping us out.
Why is Spader’s Raymond “Red” Reddington so watchable? Because he is a monster you find yourself queasily liking, the way you did Walter White, and because at this point in the show’s first season, we aren’t sure where he’s headed.
NBC, Mondays at 10 p.m.
4. See Frozen
Let yourself go.
When Disney does it right, one’s defenses melt—as is the case with this cheerfully colorful portrait of two sisters (one a manic pixie dream girl, the other an X-Men-worthy mutant) and the super-power that separates them and nearly brings down a kingdom. Hans Christian Andersen would be appalled at the happily-ever-after stuff and wisecracking snowman sidekick, and some of the music is Disney Channel bad. To which I say—to you and to myself—shut up and love it the way you want to.—David Edelstein
In theaters now.
5. See A Murray Little Christmas
With Santa hat and pencil mustache.
Murray Hill—the downtown drag king, not the fratty neighborhood—tops the bill at this buoyant Christmas show, along with Bridget Everett, Perle Noire, and more.
(Le) Poisson Rouge, December 14, 7 p.m.
6. Or Try A John Waters Christmas
Possibly less strange, possibly with more vomit.
In case Murray isn’t quite blasphemous enough for you: The Pope of Trash is also in town that night.
Stage48, December 13 and 14, 8 p.m. (doors at 6).
7. Read Inside the Dream Palace
The definitive history of the Chelsea Hotel.
An impossible order for any writer: Get the Chelsea’s romance down on paper and try to keep up with Patti Smith and Joni Mitchell and Arthur Miller. But Sherill Tippins’s history does a vivid job of taking you up into those seedy, splendid hallways, now gone forever.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
8. Hear A Lotta Lutoslawski
The great Polish composer is best known for extracting great cosmic washes of sound from huge orchestras, but he was also a refined maker of miniatures. The American Contemporary Music Ensemble pairs his chamber music with that of his Pulitzer Prize–winning kindred spirit Steven Stucky, and a day later, the violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter launches a Carnegie Hall recital with his solo Partita. —Justin Davidson
Symphony Space, December 13, and Carnegie Hall, December 14.
9. Watch Playwright: From Page to Stage
The making of a great show.
This Independent Lens documentary follows the productions of Rajiv Joseph’s Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, which ultimately ended up starring Robin Williams, and Tarell McCraney’s Brother/Sister Plays. It’s also a look at how personal biography drives creativity. Directed by Robert Levi (who made the excellent Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life), it paints concise, elegant portraits of Joseph, an Indian-American from Cleveland, and McCraney, whose story of growing up gay and black in a poor Miami neighborhood is a drama all its own. —Matt Zoller Seitz
PBS, December 16, 10 p.m.
10. See The Last Two People on Earth
It’s hard to imagine the shvitzy warbler Mandy Patinkin paired with the adorable genderkind Taylor Mac, yet here they are in “an apocalyptic vaudeville,” singing and dancing to Sondheim and Queen as the floodwaters recede. Classic Stage Company offers this workshop production, directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman. —Jesse Green
Abrons Arts Center, December 14 through 31.
11. And Catch Big Fish
Before it gets away.
Susan Stroman, working the other end of the scale, was the moving force behind the fall’s most disappointing fizzle, but there was much to admire in this feel-good musical about, well, death. Maybe that was the problem? In any case, see Norbert Leo Butz’s overwhelming central performance (and Stro’s great opening number) before they breathe their last.—J.G.
Neil Simon Theatre, through December 29.
12. Hear The Messiah
Which one? This one.
This is the time of year when virtually every chorister in town hops from Messiah to Messiah, only to have the audience drown out the pros. If you prefer just staying put and listening, you couldn’t ask for a better guide than conductor Andrew Manze, leading the New York Philharmonic and the Westminster Symphonic Choir. —J.D.
Avery Fisher Hall, December 17 through 21.
13. Attend the Reading of A Christmas Carol
Marley and you.
It’s shorter than the (mostly) annual Moby-Dick marathon and significantly more kid-friendly. This Saturday, Housing Works will host a read-aloud of A Christmas Carol, beginning at one and continuing until God Bless Us, Every One! (though you can drop by at any time). Bonus: The store is a great place to round out your holiday shopping. —Kathryn Schulz
Housing Works Bookstore Café, December 14, 1 p.m.
14. See Whatever this is.
This witty web series about twentysomethings scraping by in their quasi-chosen professions—a little like a small-scale Girls, with slightly less bad sex—has wrapped its first season and is celebrating with a public screening of the finale, complete with drink specials and live music.
Streaming at whateverthisis.com; finale party at the Knitting Factory, December 16, 7:30 p.m.
15. See MOMIX
Wade through the snowstorm of Nutcrackers to see Moses Pendleton’s acrobatic dancers, who—with ingenious lighting and Pendleton’s illusionist vision—transform into pulsating flowers and glowing, floating alien forms from favorites like Lunar Sea and Botanica in “MOMIX reMIX.” —Rebecca Milzoff
Joyce Theater, December 17 through January 5.
16. Hear MGMT, Dinosaur Jr, and Kuroma
Two plus one.
The neo-prog-rockers MGMT and Kuroma—who share guitarist Hank Sullivant and two other band members—make an odd pairing with J. Mascis’s grunge outfit, but why not?
Barclays Center, December 13, 8 p.m.
17. See The Thin Blue Line
Twenty-five years ago, Errol Morris changed the face—literally: the façade—of his genre with The Thin Blue Line, in which the former private investigator solved a murder and got a man out of a life sentence. (The man later sued him, but that’s another—very sad—story.) Not everyone loves Morris’s heavy use of irony, stylization, and tendency to give his subjects enough rope to hang themselves. But it’s a thrilling piece of work—and you can see it again on the big screen in the IFC Center’s anniversary one-week run. —D.E.
IFC Center, opens December 13.
18. Bring the Kids to The Magic Flute
Now that Spidey’s leaving town.
Mozart’s opera returns in the company’s compressed English-language holiday edition, directed by Julie Taymor in her signature over-the-top style. —J.D.
Metropolitan Opera, opening December 16.
19. Watch Mob City
Frank Darabont, cinema’s premier adapter of Stephen King (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, The Mist), left The Walking Dead owing to that vague old bugaboo “creative differences,” but he’s recovered nicely with Mob City, a sumptuously photographed and designed crime thriller that has the hats-and-tommyguns meanness of Boardwalk Empire and some of the glacial cool of L.A. Confidential. —M.Z.S.
TNT, Wednesdays at 9 p.m.
20. See Tim’s Vermeer
As a bunch of smaller films open briefly before the end of the year to qualify for an Oscar (or an award from the mighty New York and Los Angeles Film Critics Circle), New Yorkers and Los Angelenos get to see them for a week. Hiyao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises (allegedly his final film) had its short run already, but this week you can catch the 80-minute documentary Tim’s Vermeer, by Teller (of “Penn & …”), which chronicles one guy’s obsession with the seventeenth-century Dutch master’s uncanny technique. —D.E.
Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, through December 13.
21. See Inside Llewyn Davis
Joel and Ethan Coen’s film is a hell of a mix of tones, but that’s the challenge: How do we reconcile their cheerfully disparate impulses? The pre–Bob Dylan Greenwich Village, scarred by McCarthyism but more and more alive to the stirrings of protest, is lovingly evoked, transcendently soundtracked—but it’s also the stage for a definitively downbeat story of an asshole folksinger who pays the piper for his bad personality. The film might be the ultimate proof that the Coens can find hopelessness in the darnedest places. —D.E.
In theaters now.
22. Watch How Sherlock Changed the World
Not so elementary.
This special starts with the assumption that fiction can shape life, a truism that’ll be co-signed by any attorney who’s had to explain to a jury that the state can’t do CSI work to figure out who’s been stealing the flowers off someone’s front porch. Sherlock Holmes, it seems, is ultimately responsible for the CSI effect, as well as the modern conception of the detective as a combination journalist, psychologist, and scientist. —M.Z.S.
PBS, December 17, 9 p.m.
23. Read The Best of McSweeney’s
Eggers & Co. reach a magazine milestone.
In honor of its fifteenth (!) anniversary, McSweeney’s has published a best-of collection, edited by Dave Eggers and including contributions from the likes of Zadie Smith, George Saunders, Wells Tower, and A. M. Homes. Several contributors will be on hand at the Y to celebrate. —K.S.
Available at mcsweeneys.net; event at 92nd Street Y, December 12, 8:15 p.m.
24. Hear Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue
No one knows how to party quite like musicians from New Orleans. Trombone Shorty (who also plays trumpet) takes in a century-plus worth of sounds—ragtime and jazz and gospel and soul and R&B and hip-hop—and attacks everything he plays with festive fervor. But he’s subtle, too; listen to his ballads and you’ll hear the thinker that inhabits the funker. —J.R.
Terminal 5, December 14, 8 p.m. (doors at 7 p.m.)
25. See Lucy Dodd: Cake 4 Catfish
Look, don’t lick.
Think of the paintings of Lucy Dodd as very low-relief earthworks along the lines of Robert Smithson’s or Michael Heizer’s. She widens the senses, uncrumples something fundamental. Although just looking at (or smelling) her large begrimed art is exhilarating, I wanted to run my tongue on a couple of the paintings that the gallery checklist says contain leaf extract, wild walnut, yew berries, liquid smoke, and flower essence. Her secret artistic caramelizations and painterly photosynthesis convert liquids and semi-solids into bliss. —J.S.
David Lewis Gallery, through January 12.