I know you’ve waited for this one peeps, and so here it is, another summary of the year’s best movies, television, music, video games & comic books. Call it a rundown of what I binge-watched, read, listened to, and generally loved in 2016. Enjoy or not.
Good fiction brings out the truth. Good science fiction brings out human truths. In 'Arrival', these are presented by a plot that is neither congested nor simplistic. The protagonist, Louise (Amy Adams), is a linguist who experiences the pain and loss of her only child. That loss, however, becomes meaningful, powerful, and salvific in light of the whole of her life, which culminates with a series of E.T. encounters. The question of finding meaning in pain grows deeper as the audience slowly pieces together Louise's backstory. In a year marked by 'MEH' and pessimism, this sublime, intelligent film about mankind working together was a mantra of hope. It also happened to be an exciting story about first contact with aliens, full of the awe and wonder that often makes sci-fi so appealing. Can..not...wait to see what Denis Villeneuve does with 'Blade Runner 2049'.
Kubo & The Two Strings
Why haven't more people seen this movie? In Laika animation studio’s best film to date, directed by Travis Knight, the Japanese-influenced designs are beautiful. The animation of the origami figures feels spontaneous. If paper could move on its own, it would move like this. Created with models, miniatures, and puppets (with some CGI for the backgrounds), the film, set in feudal Japan, features a young boy named Kubo (voice of Art Parkinson), an eye-patched li’l scamp who spends his days delighting villagers in the public square with his storytelling. (“If you must blink, do it now” is how the story always begins — a masterful opening line.) Kubo’s got some magic in him and it unfolds masterfully. There’s nothing I don’t like about 'Kubo and the Two Strings.' The story, which is about stories, and how we believe the stories we’re told, is tight and well-structured. It offers moments of outstanding humor, scary action, and intense conflict. Visually, it’s a stunning piece of work. It was the second best time I had at the theatre in 2016.
La La Land
'La La Land' is my manifesto. In the film, when Mia states “Do you think people are going to like it?” and Seb answers with a defiant, “F*ck' em' … I put my first in the air. 'La La Land' isn’t depressing. It’s not saccharine either, though. It’s got a bittersweet ending, and while it’s uplifting overall, it’s never 100% happy. I can’t think of the last film I saw that was this optimistic and this good. A toe-tapping, crowd pleaser, primary-colored fantasia about a struggling actress and musician falling in love in Tinseltown. By embracing its traditionalism without irony, the film feels almost revolutionary. A film about dreams and dreamers.
Honorable Mention: Hell Or Highwater, Zootopia, Moana.
Looking forward to 2017:
Star Wars Episode 8
Guardians Of The Galaxy: Volume Two
Blade Runner 2049
The Dark Tower
Mr Robot season two
Hello friend. Usually when I think an apocalyptic event, it's in the form of a major bomb, virus or something hitting us from space. Who would have thought that just one guy at a keyboard could create an Armageddon. The second season of the Emmy-winning USA Network drama spent a significant amount of time dwelling on Elliot living an illusory existence, converting his day-to-day life behind bars into a fantasy world, purely as a coping mechanism. Beyond being an imaginative way for creator Sam Esmail and the show's writers to visually represent the lead character's unfortunate circumstances and vivid imagination, it also shined a light on the very human tendency to willfully ignore harsh realities, for a multitude of reasons, often as basic as survival. I have MANY questions: What is WhiteRose’s endgame? What is going on at the Washington Plant? What happened to Angela and Elliot’s parents? Can Trenton make the world whole again? Will Mr Robot wake up when Elliot does? Season three should take us further down the rabbit hole.
Stranger Things season one
Take the best of 80's pop culture (Speilberg & S. King) mix them with D&D, New Order and Winona Ryder and end up with an algorithm-busting, genre-melding, word-of-mouth smash. The Netflix series from the Duffer Brothers became a pop culture sensation. From fans' obsession with Barb to Eleven-inspired Halloween costumes to the theory that Steve was the dad of Jean-Ralphio from Parks and Recreation, the word "sensation" honestly feels like an understatement. Season two should be aces in 2017.
Atlanta season one
Atlanta is one of the best, and it is like nothing else on television, maybe ever. Imagine a series with the ambition and charge of The Wire, the reflective gallows comedy of Louie, and Glover’s unique brand of subtle brilliance – and then you’ll be getting close to having some sense of where Atlanta seems to be heading. The series exudes warmth and grace even in its smallest moments without losing sight of its sense of humor. The show is masterful in eliciting a range of feelings — a combination of joy and horror, tension and relief — but none more so than surprise. The series on the whole acts as a great argument for why investing in young, mostly untested talent can be a boon for creativity.
Honorable Mentions: Game Of Thrones season 6, Catastrophe season 2.
Looking forward to 2017:
The Invincible Iron Fist season one (Netflix/March)
The Leftovers season three (HBO/April)
American Gods season one (Starz/April)
Twin Peaks season four (Showtime/2017)
Mr Robot season three (USA/2017)
Chance The Rapper 'Coloring Book'
I found Chance’s Coloring Book impossible not to love—for starters, it might be the most openly and unabashedly joyful hip-hop album I’ve ever heard. Chance’s gee-whiz vibe may not have (yet) won over every last human on Earth, but man, has he ever won me. Coloring Book rang out like a visionary work to me, a melding of gospel and hip-hop that felt positively heaven-sent. I’ve always been fascinated by art that shouldn’t work but does, which is the best way I know to describe Coloring Book. The ostentatious genre-straddling, the relentless enthusiasm and positivity, the choirs and trumpets and string sections—in the hands of a lesser artist this would all be so insufferably middlebrow, but Chance isn’t a lesser artist. I need faith in that at the end of a year like this, and Coloring Book makes me a believer.
A.T.C.Q. 'Thank You 4 Your Service, We Got It From Here'
What is 'Thank You 4 Your Service'? It's fun and playful, sonically progressive, lyrically relevant, all the things you want out of an A.T.C.Q. record. They don't try and sound current while simultaneously sounding more progressive and forward thinking than most new ish coming out. It’s about joy — about friendships reconnected, reputation reclaimed, and synapses firing the way they once did. Maybe it was terrible for Phife’s health, but the fact that the group recorded the album all in the same place is crucial to its easy, organic sound. Listening to the album, you can feel the camaraderie in that room — and that camaraderie is a huge part of what made Tribe great in the first place. I mean, can you believe that we have any Tribe Called Quest album like this? That we got it in 2016? That it captures a group that, after years of internal recrimination, once again sounds elated to be a group? I can’t. It feels like a mirage. It stands as a towering monolith of sweetness and playfulness and joy. It’s a feel-good story in a time when we desperately need one. Don’t take it for granted...The Quest will never be over, Tribe.
Childish Gambino 'Awaken, My Love'
This isn't my favorite of his albums. In fact, I have only listened to his LP's before...I have never actually bought one. I changed that with 'Awaken,,My Love.' As far as the C.G. Goes...It was the joke lyrics that initially hooked me - I wasn't used to hearing many artists reference Sufjan Stevens or Radiohead in their punchlines, and it made for a nice entry into all things Childish - but at a certain point the music started to become legitimately really interesting, which sustained my fandom after I grew out of 'Camp'. On 'Camp', he's an angry kid; on 'Because The Internet' he's an alienated young adult; on 'Awaken, My Love' he's a grown man with a child of his own. Progress not perfection.
Honorable Mentions: Kendrick Lamaar 'Untitled Unmastered' , J-Zone 'Fish N Grits' , Swet Shop Boys 'Cashmere' & Elzhi 'Lead Poison'
Looking forward to 2017:
Zack De La Rocha
The best 'GAME' of 2016? I'm crazy, right? I mean it wasn't the 'BEST' best game. It was however a cultural phenomenon. What it is...'Pokemon GO' is a game you play on your smartphone – Android or iPhone. You sign up and pick a nickname for yourself and you’re given a few items with which to capture and take care of Pokemon. Pokemon, if you for some reason do not know at this point, are cartoon creatures that live in this game, taking the place of animals in this universe. Your job is to capture Pokemon and use them to battle other people like yourself using these creatures as warrior minions. It sounds worse than it is. In the game it’s not at all violent, and the vast majority of the game has more to do with finding Pokemon than it does with battling them against your opponents. But you already know this. 'Pokemon GO' got people outside who may have hidden inside their homes without it; 'Pokemon GO' caused strangers to help each other out and ironically connect through a mobile application in an era where smartphones have made real-world interactions borderline irrelevant. As a mobile game, 'Pokemon GO' is flawed and may not be particularly deep, but it's still the most fun millions - including myself - have had playing a video game in years. And yes, people are still playing it.
'Virginia 'is about two women working for the FBI in the early 1990s, tasked to find a boy who has gone missing in the titular state. However, this missing person case isn’t quite what it seems. Nor is your own objective. Nor even is your character or, it seems, much of what’s going on around you. By its conclusion, I wasn’t entirely sure what 'Virginia' was about and I’m not sure how much of this I could attribute to imperfect storytelling, to elements of very deliberate obfuscation or to my own ignorance. 'Virginia' is strange and fascinating. It takes many stylistic cues from '90s sci-fi crime noir, like "Twin Peaks" or "The X-Files," but those are really just a jumping off point for a game that tells a story unlike anything else I've ever experienced. It definitely isn’t for everyone, but it certainly is remarkable.
'Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End' is a masterpiece. The game represents the pinnacle of what this medium can achieve and what the rest of the industry should strive to emulate. Its personal tale is complemented by its slower and more thoughtful pacing, in addition to its thematic gameplay. Visuals emphasize the game’s beauty in a literal sense, however, its intimate and grounded story only heighten its charm and its importance within the industry. 'Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End' feels the most complete, coherent and cohesive title in the series. Its gameplay has been fleshed out and expanded, its characters and world fully realized, and its story sadly concluded in order for the series to finally rest as a united and truly magnificent whole.
Honorable Mentions: Dishonored 2, Overwatch, Oxenfree.
Looking forward to 2017:
Red Dead Redemption 2
Mass Effect: Andromeda
Bloodstained: Ritual Of The Night
Guardians Of The Galaxy: The Telltale Series
Paper Girls volume two
It is a pretty simplistic set up...Young, female newspaper carriers in 1988 get caught up in an otherworldly event and find themselves displaced to what seems to them a terrifying future: the world of 2016. While being sentimental for the 80's is not going to take us where we're going. 'Paper Girls' shows that getting too nostalgic about what came before, or fretting too deeply about what’s to come, is really no way to spend the present. This one also tugs at the heartstrings and makes you think… John Carpenter. Now you know you have a winner.
Moon Knight volume one 'Lunatic'
Even if you had super-powers, you’d have to wonder just what kind of a person would willingly use them to punch crime every night. But somebody who patrols the streets without much protection in a world where super-crime is a part of everyday life? There’s clearly something wrong upstairs with any such individual, an idea which Moon Knight continues to examine with its lunatic star Mark Spector. Gripping, brutal and trippy, Jeff Lemire’s take on the very visible vigilante of the Marvel universe is an intriguing analysis of what it takes to put on a mask every night and risk life and limb in pursuit of justice. Talk about a psychological thriller. It isn’t whodunit but more of a whatisgoingon? And that’s the fun part.
The Vision volume one 'Little Worse Than A Man'
No book is more compelling and frightening than 'The Vision.' The android Avenger has put together his own synthezoid family – his wife Vivian and children Viv and Vin -- hoping they will live a normal suburban life just like any other American family. But it doesn’t happen that way. There’s murder, duplicity, and a chilling thought that the Vision may be headed down the road of Ultron. It has to be read to be believed.
Honorable Mentions: Black Panther volume one 'A Nation Under Our Feet'
Looking forward to 2017:
America a.k.a America Chavez (Marvel Series)
Warren Ellis 'Wildstorm' relaunch
Snyder/Capullo 'Batman' themed DC Event
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