As 2016 draws to a close (thank goodness! It’s been a brutal and ugly year…), I decided to take stock of the entertainment I’ve enjoyed over the year. I’ve made two lists, for movies and for television, here goes…
FAVORITE MOVIES OF 2016:
1. The Arrival. This year’s “The Martian”/”Interstellar”; smart science fiction movie with blockbuster appeal. First contact with extraterrestrials happens, along with the multiple challenges it poses; linguistically, sociologically, militarily, and even personally. Amy Adams carries the movie effortlessly, and delivers a performance that is both haunted and haunting; despite the subject at hand, the movie is ALWAYS about Adams’ character, Dr. Louise Banks. This is her story, not just an ‘alien movie’. This is “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” for a new generation, only smarter and more personal. Wonderfully sparse look and twilight-illuminated ‘oddness’ throughout by director Denis Villeneuve (who’s also directing the upcoming Blade Runner sequel, “Blade Runner 2049”).
2. The Red Turtle. A dialogue-free animated film from Ghibli Studios (importers of the Miyazaki movies). Written and directed over years by Dutch-British filmmaker Michael Dudok de Wit, the movie is not too unlike 2000’s “Cast Away” but combined with the Sirens of the Sea myth; in this case, a red sea turtle that provides a shipwrecked man with companionship, love, and even family. Mythic and elegant in its simplicity. Not to be missed, if one has the opportunity. Not just a great animated film, but a great film PERIOD.
3. Star Trek Beyond. Nice return to form for the 50 year old franchise that kind of lost its way (and its soul) with the last movie (“Star Trek Into Darkness”). “Beyond” returns to the spirit of optimism and character interaction that highlighted the best of the TV series and movies. The visually impressive Yorktown starbase seems an embodiment of Star Trek’s inclusive philosophy in one gorgeous locale. Lovely onscreen tribute to the late Leonard Nimoy’s Spock Prime, and a nice credits dedication to both Nimoy and the late Anton Yelchin, who died in a tragic accident right before the premiere.
4. Rogue One. See blog entry: Rogue One: a spoiler-filled review
5. Doctor Strange. Marvel takes a detour ‘trip’ into Acid-land with this typical Marvel superhero origins story told in a most ATYPICAL way. Benedict Cumberbatch is predictably excellent, but beyond the wonderfully surreal imagery the movie has unexpected humor and a sense of fun.
6. Kubo and the Two Strings. Magnificent, hauntingly beautiful, stop-motion animated movie. A celebration of Japanese cultural myths and legends with lots of mass appeal as well. Another fantastic (and criminally underrated) effort from Laika Studios, who also produced the eerie “Coraline” (2009) and “ParaNorman” (2012). The movie is a labor of love, and it shows. George Takei has a vocal cameo and even squeezes in a trademark “Oh myyy…”
7. Deadpool. Deeply R-rated, micro-budget Marvel movie is the ANTI-superhero movie. Dirty, funny-as-hell and a clever parody of every trope of the superhero movie genre, even while using those very same tropes. Ryan Reynolds acquits himself of the former crime that was “Green Lantern” (2011), and “Firefly”/”Homeland” star Morena Baccarin gamely matches the hideously funny Reynolds with each cynical, mocking beat. You should NOT take little ones to see this movie… it’s not Marvel’s Avengers.
8. Sausage Party. Utterly puerile, but deeply funny. A very, very R-rated “Toy Story” in a supermarket, as the food ‘comes to life’ after the store closes. It’s also a surprisingly insightful treatise on religion and cultural wars, but you’ll be laughing too hard to give a poop. Same “Deadpool” warning about taking the little ones applies VERY much here as well; this is NOT a Disney movie.
9. Passengers. See: blog entry Passengers is a more enjoyable ride than expected
10. Finding Dorry. Commercial as hell, but still fun. It’s Pixar doing what it does best.
Honorable mention: Captain America: Civil War. It would have ranked higher, if it stood out a bit more from the pack. Enjoyable as I watched it, but somewhat forgettable afterward, sadly.
FAVORITE TELEVISION OF 2016:
1. Westworld. Instant must-see TV for both my wife and myself. Loosely based on the 1973 ‘robots-run-amok-in-amusement park’ cult movie of the same name (written/directed by future Jurassic Park writer, Michael Crichton), the HBO series takes the movie’s concept to a whole new level of sophistication and depth that I would’ve never imagined possible with the pulpy source material. Mesmerizing, with an elegant but brutal non-linear narrative. It’s this year’s “Battlestar Galactica” (the 2003 reimagining of the campy ’70s series). The all-star cast includes the amazing Evan Rachel Wood (she delivers clockwork precision), Ed Harris, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Jeffrey Wright (he’s just…. WOW), and Thandie Newton (she gives a deliciously vampish and lethal performance). Arguably the finest caliber ensemble on TV right now.
2. Doctor Who: Return of Dr. Mysterio. Doctor Who’s offering for the holiday season is an affectionate blend of The Doctor and the superhero genre; why hadn’t the show done this before? It’s an idea that seems as oddly perfect as peanut butter and jelly. Thought I wish Doctor Who writer/producers would stop shoehorning in the unnecessary Christmas connection; it’s becoming increasingly superfluous since it began back in 2006 with the David Tennant-Doctored “The Christmas Invasion” episode. Current Doctor Peter Capaldi has grown so strong in the role of the Doctor that I sincerely hope he stays on for longer than the rumors indicate.
3. Better Call Saul. Not science fiction/fantasy or horror (gasp! Yes, I do watch other things every now and then…). The amazing Bob Odenkirk is Jimmy McGill (future Saul Goodman of Breaking Bad; “issall good, man”) in a Breaking Bad prequel that shouldn’t work half as well as it does. Jimmy is an upstart ambulance chaser whose greatest rival is his own big corporate firm brother Chuck (Michael McKean, who’s Emmy-worthy here, as is the entire cast), who’s recently taken a leave of absence to deal with an acute electrophobia. There is much more to the show than that of course, including much scene/episode stealing from future Breaking Bad ‘fixit’ man, Mike Ehrmantraut (the crazy-intimidating and talented Jonathan Banks; the scariest senior citizen you’ll never f–k with). Must-see TV.
4. Ash vs the Evil Dead. Knowingly self-aware, unapologetically guilty pleasure; based on the cult Evil Dead movies produced by Sam Raimi (“Spiderman”) and starring cult actor Bruce Campbell as loser antihero Ash, who assembles a Scooby gang to kick Deadite ass and recover the Necronomicon (the book of the dead that created the Deadites in the original 1981 movie). Silly, crude, deliberately juvenile and almost vomit-inducingly disgusting at times, but dumb fun all the same…
5. Mythbusters. Longtime Discovery channel series, starring renaissance men Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, went off the air this season. It was arguably one of the best reality shows ever made. Missing it already, though a Netflix quasi-spinoff “White Rabbit Project” (starring the second set of original Mythbusters, Torri, Grant and Kari) looks promising…
6. Humans. British/American (AMC) coproduction based on the Swedish scifi series, “Real Humans.” This show imagines a very now-looking near future where the only major technological difference seems to be humanoid-looking androids that act as lifelike computers/maids for their owners; who treat these emergent Artificial Intelligences alternately with indifference, sympathy or as vessels for their own negative behaviors. These ‘humans’ are a new underclass… but some of them are starting to become self-aware, and not liking their ranking in the order of things. A more meat-and-potatoes approach to AI than the more esoteric Westworld, but no less worthy.
7. The People vs. OJ Simpson. Another guilty pleasure that took me back to the ’90s in a major way… Travolta’s terrible acting and freakish eyebrows/hairpiece were almost hypnotic.
8. Supergirl. Started off SOOO good in S1 (“Working Girl” meets “Superman”) but with the reduced role of Gat Grant (the irreplaceable Callista Flockart) in S2, I’m starting to lose interest. Melissa Benoist’s charm and spunk in the leading role are the best things left in this rapidly-turning-routine superhero show. This is the kind of offering Deadpool would no doubt mercilessly skewer.
9. Designated Survivor. Not the best or smartest show on the air, but the pilot was outstanding. The show opens with a chillingly realistic 9/11-scale attack on the Capital building in DC that leaves HUD Secretary Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) as president of the United States. What followed is rapidly descending into soap opera and silly conspiracy theories, but I still give it up for that amazing pilot… wish the following series were as good, but its still watchable pulp TV.
10. The Exorcist. Saw the pilot at Comic Con over the summer, and it looked quietly intriguing, if not exceptional. The series slowly grew on me, and a revelation occurs in mid-season that made it feel instantly related (literally) and relevant to the 1973 original (my favorite horror movie of all time). While the series is nowhere near as good as Friekin/Blatty’s classic movie, it has many moments that rival it in creepiness if not intensity. Occasionally dips into unintentional silliness at times, but a solid horror series nevertheless.
DISHONORABLE MENTION: The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead. I used to love both TWD TV series and the graphic novels, but somewhere midway in season 6, with Glenn’s ‘fakeout’ death, the show began to show a cynical, almost visible contempt for its audience. And this year in S7, the show introduced the comics’ big bad, Negan (Jeffrey Morgan; chewing enough scenery to choke on). Granted, Negan was pretty much the same sadistic bastard in the comic books, but the TV show now seems to revel in his swaggering ugliness. It’s become HIS show, not Rick and the group’s show. In the year of Donald Trump and all of the ugliness that he represented in his despicable campaign, it was a bit too much for me and I happily jumped ship. The show, via Negan, seems to take the same gleeful joy in its newfound sadism. Glenn’s death for example, was WAY too graphic and extreme. We didn’t need to see Glenn’s eyeball popped out of his HEAD, for gods’ sake. A simple quick cutaway shot would’ve more than sufficed. That wasn’t heart-wrenching as much as it was disgusting. There is a difference.
There is also the never-ending pattern emerging as well; each season seems to have a new ‘big bad’ emerge to threaten Rick and the group, only to be defeated by season’s end. It’s getting tiresome.
“Fear the Walking Dead” had an equally bad sin. It was boring as hell. Stuck with it though S1 and the first 2 episodes of S2, but I’ve given up. I don’t miss either show, to be honest.
Anyway, those are my picks for the best of 2016. I’d include “Game of Thrones”… if I watched. Now before you hurl heavy objects at the screen? I have to say two things: first, my wife is a devoted fan of the show and she respects my right not to watch, and second? I’m just not a fantasy guy. Science fiction yes, fantasy no. Not sure why, but that’s the way it is, folks. Never got into “Lord of the Rings” or “Harry Potter” either, though I don’t hate them. They’re just not my thing… there; full disclosure. I see wizards, warlocks and dragons and I bolt.
Peace to all, and best wishes/hopes for 2017… after the emotional roller coaster that was 2016? We’ll need it.