It’s that time of year again—the time when we reflect on all the things that have happened this year, all the things we’ve read and watched and played, and decide what we loved and what we…didn’t love. This has been an odd year all the way around, full of political strife, natural disasters, and the deaths of some of our most beloved pop culture icons–David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Alan Rickman, and Gene Wilder, and so many others. But while 2016 has certainly had its share of horrible moments, there have also been some great moments, particularly in pop culture. Here are some of my favorites (and a few not-so-favorites):
I didn’t make it to see as many films as I would’ve liked to this year, especially given that we have an annual pass since my husband works for a company that owns and oversees a lot of the major theaters in the area. And while we have watched a lot of movies this year, we’ve mostly watching movies that weren’t new. So, with that disclaimer, here are the best movies of 2016 that I’ve seen–
This is an odd entry for me, because I’ve long had superhero fatigue. I’d generally rather Sam and the Little Jedi watch the superhero films while I’m doing something else or while I am elsewhere. But I watched this one, because Ryan Reynolds, y’all. I’m quite glad I did, because the movie was irreverent and amusing, poking fun at all the things I’ve gotten tired of seeing in those other movies while being one of those movies.
This one is going to be contentious, but…I loved this debut from Robert Eggers. It was dark and moody, with an extraordinary amount of tension building up to those rare witch sightings. Just the right amount of monster, really. And while the film seems simple on the surface, with a small set and cast, there is quite a lot of complexity in the subtlety of that simplicity.
Most Anticipated Movies I Haven’t Seen Yet:
Star Wars: Rogue One
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
We did watch quite a bit of TV this year. It’s an easy thing to pick up and put back down, and I tend to enjoy long, more involved stories (I also tend to read a lot of series books). We kept up with some old favorites–some of which have only improved (ahem, Game of Thrones, I’m looking at you, since you almost lost me last year), while others didn’t do so well (looking at you, Walking Dead, since I’m still reading the comics but have only seen the first episode of the show this season).
Netflix once again proved that it can churn out a well-conceived and well-developed show with the Duffer brothers’ Stranger Things. The show functions as both a love letter to the culture of the 1980s and a fresh take on sci-fi horror, and I’m more than excited about the upcoming second season.
I came to this one a bit late, when the show was about to air its penultimate episode of the season. But I could not look away. My husband and I watched the first 8 episodes in about two days–a feat not unusual for me but definitely for him, as binge-watching is not his forte. The HBO reboot of Michael Crichton’s 1980s directorial debut offers a fascinating perspective on our ever-developing anxieties and fears about technology and artificial intelligence.
Orange is the New Black.
This might have been my favorite season of the Netflix show. It was certainly the most nuanced and the most emotional, with astounding performances from its cast as the characters dealt with parenting from prison, emotional abuse and sexual assault from staff members, the effects of solitary confinement, and the brutalities of life in a for-profit prison.
The 3rd season of the show, released through Netflix, churned out several solid episodes. The anthology format continues to serve the show well, with “Man on Fire” and “Hated in the Nation” being two of the most haunting episodes I’ve seen throughout the entire run of the show.
It makes me sad to put this show under my biggest disappointments of the year in TV, but the series finale (which was not billed as such until after it aired) left a lot of questions unanswered and shoe-horned endings for many of the shows’ most interesting characters. The season had actually been quite a strong one, with Billie Piper giving a spectacular performance virtually every week, but the finale was an unforgivable error in the show’s history.
I did a lot of reading this year–a *lot.* I’m still reveling in my post-graduate-school-freedom-to-read-things-for-pleasure, and books have been a welcome distraction from the various looming political crises during what turned out to be a rather traumatic election year.
The world-building here is enormous and complex, the art is beautiful, and the story is dark and haunting. Not for the faint of heart–in addition to an incredibly dense story, the content is sometimes truly horrifying, with extreme violence and sometimes truly terrible characters. The comic is female-dominated, with almost no male characters, a refreshing take on a vengeance quest as Maika Halfwolf, a fugitive and former slave with a literal demon inside, works to avenge the murder of her mother.
East of West:
This is a comic I came to late in the game, having just read the first 5 volumes last week, but damn if it isn’t one of the best things I’ve read. As with Monstress, the world-building in East of West is extraordinary, a huge part of the comic’s overall success. All things considered, the alternative history of the comic is a fascinating comparison to our current political climate. And this comic may have my favorite incarnation of the four horsemen of the apocalypse–certainly of Conquest and Famine–actively working to end the world.
The Wolf Road:
Beth Lewis’s post-apocalpytic landscape is a fitting landscape for the haunting, bleak tale of 19 year old Elka as she comes to terms with the true identity of the man who raised her. Elka runs from her home in the deep woods after finding out that Trapper, who she has come to think of as a father, is actually a wanted murderer. Elka’s journey is both a literal journey and a metaphorical one, down the Wolf Road and back to herself.
The Star-Touched Queen:
When handsome and mysterious Amar offers to marry Maya, a raja’s daughter whose horoscope has declared her cursed, Maya’s world is turned upside-down. She finds herself in a place full of locked doors, married to a kind but mysterious husband, queen of a land that doesn’t quite seem to obey the laws of the physical world. The story is heavily influenced by Hindu myths, and the tale is a lovely one.
The View from the Cheap Seats.
Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors, and I particularly enjoy his shorter works. I was excited to finally get my hands on some nonfiction from him, and I was not disappointed. The book collects essays, lectures, and various other musings on everything from the craft of writing to classic horror films to the comics industry.