Like my post on my favorite books of 2016, following are my favorite movies and TV seasons that I saw in 2016 (not necessarily ones that came out in 2016, though I prioritized those when making my decisions).
BoJack Horseman, season 3
Simultaneously hilarious and poignant (in the most unexpected ways), the third season continued to impress me, and picking up from the gut-punch of season two’s finale, tops the prior season with just as many sight gags, clever dialogue, and heavy moments as before, but threw on top of it one of the most hypnotizing episodes of any show I’ve seen in awhile. If you’ve seen this season you know what I’m referring to; it’s an episode that cuts off all dialogue a few minutes in, and then succeeds in some remarkable visual storytelling that was buoyed along by a fantastic score and perfectly matched the sense of isolation that permeates the show.
House of Cards, season 4
I’ll be honest: I almost gave up on House of Cards. Season two (following that explosive opening) and season three were, for the most part, a slog, but the newest season brought back the unpredictable edge and vigor of the show’s finest moments and kept them up for a whole season. I’m back in. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Robin Wright specifically, whose performance is remarkable, and Mrs. Underwood’s presence has perhaps begun to eclipse the show’s main protagonist as a result.
Lady Dynamite, season 1
There are the obvious parallels here between Arrested Development and Lady Dynamite, thanks to the idiosyncratic (and ever visible) hand of their shared producer, Mitch Hurwitz. Thankfully, that hand is expert as ever, and has found an exceptional partner in Maria Bamford; Lady Dynamite is bold and unafraid to tackle difficulty head on, whether it be structure (that would be Hurwitz) or topic (Bamford). Maria Bamford has long been one of my favorite comics, with a unique style and an powerful take on mental illness (something we always need more of), and she brings those along with terrific acting chops and range to the show. Lady Dynamite is both Bamford and Hurwitz at their best, and the sum is still greater than the parts. Looking forward to more seasons of this one.
Orange is the New Black, season 4
Beginning Orange is the New Black, I did not expect this show to shine largely because of the ensemble cast, but over the years the writers have successfully (and smartly) made the move from a show about one white woman’s time in prison (with everyone else in the background), to a tableau of the prison industrial complex of the 21st century. Piper is now just one of many voices, instead of shadowing over all the other characters, and the smart writing has kept the show growing and evolving, even if it knocks the wind out of the viewers on occasion (the end of season four has maybe the hardest hit yet).
West Wing, seasons 1-2
Having never seen West Wing before, my partner Catherine Campbell showed it to me late in the year, and my goodness it’s remarkable. The writing is crackling, it’s surprisingly funny, and most importantly its governmental optimism might have been the thing that helped me survive the final, trying months of 2016.
The Big Short
“Let’s make a movie explaining the 2007 financial crisis.” “Okay, so like a documentary?” “No, a comedy.” At some point, this absurd-sounding conversation must have happened, but they pulled it off. The Big Short is funny, fascinating, and makes palatable one of the more complicated (but extremely important) economic forces at work in this country.
In my opinion it’s hard to pull off something fresh and surprising in the horror genre; the tropes have been so well established that they’ve been lampooned, inverted, and re-established; it’s a self-conscious genre that, unfortunately, forces its entries to either go consciously with or against the grain. It’s hard to create something that steps entirely out of that dichotomy, but that’s what The Babadook feels like. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, and its terrifying without being overdone, or gory, or cheap.
Think the superhero movie craze is a little ridiculous, maybe getting a little stale? Deadpool is for you. Marvel movies can’t be accused of having no sense of humor about themselves, but Deadpool takes that to the next level. It’s gleefully bombastic and over the top, and it works for this film. Ryan Reynolds clearly had a blast making this movie, and that joy transfers over to the viewer.
Is it as far-reaching or as grand as the main entries in the Star Wars franchise? Nope, but it didn’t set out to be, and it certainly didn’t have to be. This is an auspicious beginning for Star Wars “spinoff” titles; one of the allures of the SW universe has been just that, that it’s a whole universe and we’re only seeing one plotline within it (albeit a very important one). Entries like this that flesh out what’s going on in the background of that plotline go a long way into creating the tapestry of the full world that has been hinted at. Plus, it’s visually dazzling, full of enjoyable action, well-plotted out and has the best droid comic relief to date.
An acting tour de force, and a great reminder of the power of good journalism. If there is a more important topic in the America of 2017, I don’t know of it. Watch this, and subscribe to good journals; we need them more than ever.