As was done in 2015, so shall an obligatory list of the stuff that I loved exist for the year of our Lord twenty sixteen. Normally I might pad out this opening paragraph with clever little lines about how this was a year like any other that was mostly OK. Grass was still green, the sky was still blue, and water was still wet… ya’ know, stupid pap like that, but let’s be honest: 2016 sucked. It sucked hard and for a variety of different reasons for a lot of people around the world. It was wild watching 2016 devolve into the hot piping mess it would eventually become. Almost surreal, honestly. If I could sum up 2016 in one all encompassing display, it would have to be this GIF:
But I digress. Some high quality entertainment was doled out throughout the year and that’s what I’ll be rattling on about starting right… now! Also, should you be curious to see my best of 2015 list, click here.
Nerfed Llamas Official Best of 2016 List
Films of 2016:
Captain America: Civil War. This is epic superhero storytelling done right. The characters stay true, the drama is believable, and the action is top notch. For me, this is the gold standard for ensemble big budget classic superhero films. Marvel Studios will have a hard time topping this film when the new Avengers movie comes out in 2018. What works about Civil War is nearly everything. The weakest link in this film is that the villain is a tad milquetoast, but when the heroes are busy battling each other, the villain doesn’t need to be nearly as compelling as the reason why the heroes are falling apart in the first place. All in all it is a stellar film, even if you are not particularly a fan of superhero movies. I highly recommend checking Captain America: Civil War out. I blogged a full review for the movie way back when it first came out, which you can read by clicking here.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: I wasn’t sure how much I was going to like this film set within the same universe as Harry Potter and the entirety of J.K. Rowling’s ever growing wizarding world. To my surprise, this period piece set in the 1920’s is quite delightful. Newt Scamander, played with childlike wonderment by Eddie Redmayne, is a Doctor Who like wizard from the UK that is on a mission to deliver a very majestic beast back where it belongs in America. Along the way, an incident occurs that allows an assortment of beasts in Scamander’s possession to become free, and he goes on a mission to capture the beasts before they cause too much of a ruckus in New York City. At the same time, there is a massive amount of tension between the normal world and the magical world that could easily boil over into full blown conflict if magic is discovered to be real and dangerous by the public. Scamander, with the help of his new muggle (non-magic user) friend Jacob, must collect the beasts before they inadvertently cause a war. Straight laced American wizard Tina and her flighty sister Queenie join up with Newt and together the 4 try to set things right on a wild adventure that is both deeply engrossing and highly satisfying. Much like the Harry Potter movies/books grew up with the audience that was watching/reading them, Fantastic Beasts has grown even further with a fully adult quest that is entertaining for all ages. The cast is wonderful, and the film feels like a Harry Potter film, which is to the credit of director David Yates (who directed 4 of the Harry Potter films). I didn’t write a review for Fantastic Beast, but trust me on this one – it is a tremendously entertaining film that you should not miss.
Doctor Strange. In a year where Civil War did not exist, Doctor Strange would have easily made the top of the pile. Sadly, for the good Doctor, Civil War does exist in 2016 and it is fan-freaking-tastic. Benedict Cumberbatch puts in terrific turn as the miserably smug Doctor Strange as he transitions from a smart ass doctor to a humbled genius that is damaged beyond the point of scientific repair, but who comes to understand the world on a whole new level and finds a rightful place among others who have come to appreciate the more metaphysical potential of the universe. It is fun, trippy, and quite different from other Marvel Studios films. Definitely check it out!
TV of 2016:
Westworld: Westworld was without any doubts whatsoever, the single best new show on TV in 2016. Nothing else even came close. There was no other new show that drew me in immediately, and had me begging for the next episode like Westworld did. The cast was amazing. The writing was dense and layered in a complex yet easily digestible manner. The show tackled many significant scientific and moral questions about humans, artificial intelligence, and sentience. Westworld also taps into the messy truth about who some people might become in a world that has no rules and nothing is off limits. Not only did each episode keep you on the edge of your seat, the finale was a megaton bomb that completely changes the show for the second season. If you have not watched Westworld yet, drop everything you are doing and check it out! I wrote a little preview about the series and why it is important, not only for entertainment but for the future of science and robotics, click here to read it.
Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD: No other show that I can think of in recent years has grown and matured into something quite as special as Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. It had a rocky start in season 1, as the creative team struggled to find a way to move the overall story forward while trying to fill the front half of the season with character bonding stories. If you stuck with the first season, right around episode 11 everything started to take off and the show found itself in a wonderful and thrillingly entertaining rhythm. The show did a complete 180 and became genuinely good, with the humor, action, plot, and character development firing on all cylinders all the time. I figured that the show would have difficulty maintaining that pace, but so far that hasn’t been the case. Now in its fourth season, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD is must see TV for me on Tuesday evenings. The current season has seen the introduction of Ghost Rider, Life Model Decoys, and all new and daunting challenges for the core team as SHIELD re-emerges publicly for the first time since their destruction at the hands of Hydra in Captain America: Winter Soldier. It’s fun escapist TV with a lot of heart and camaraderie. Seasons 1-3 can be streamed on Netflix and the first half of season 4 can be streamed on ABC’s website and smart device app.
11.22.63: 11.22.63 is one of my surprise favorites of 2016. It is a tremendous mini-series event made especially for Hulu that adapts Stephen King’s novel by the same name. It tells the tale of a High School teacher in present day that is presented an opportunity to go back to the 1960’s to stop JFK from being assassinated in Dallas. The conceit being that the United States would be a far better, more forward thinking country had JFK survived. What transpires is a hot mess of time travelling shenanigans that potentially effects the lives of nearly everyone the teacher knows, as well as everyone else in the country. What really works about 11.22.63 is that it doesn’t take the burden of time travel lightly, and it doesn’t candy coat the outcomes of messing with events that have already transpired. The show is a delight to watch as a snapshot of world that use to exist (and is painstakingly realized for this series), but it is also intense and harrowing. I could go on and on about this series, but it’s probably best if you read my full review of 11.22.63 here.
Shut Eye. Shut Eye might not be for everyone. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great dark comedy with dramatic leanings, but it has two main points of contention. First, it is a slow simmering story, which is OK for binge watching but might lose your interest if you are watching it one episode at a time here and there. The slow moving plot is definitely worth it, as the payoff is quite thrilling and fun to watch, but at the same time it takes the series of 10 episodes at least 3 to get off the ground. Second, the show has some surreal moments that don’t make a whole lot of sense that are specifically ties to Charlie (the main character) and the potentially psychic visions that he is having. This is not an issue for me, as I actually liked the bizarre nature of the visions and how Charlie doesn’t even understand them, but I have read multiple reviews that seemed to disagree with my take. Bottom line: I liked Shut Eye quite a bit, enough so recommend it in a full review, however overall reviews have been all over the place and the show itself can be polarizing. It is certainly worth a watch, but your mileage may vary. For my full review of Shut Eye, click here.
Music of 2016:
The Monkees – Good Times: If you had told me that a Monkees album in 2016 would be my album of the year, I would have told you that you were crazy. Don’t misunderstand, it’s not that I don’t like the Monkees. On the contrary, I happen to like them a whole lot. Unfortunately, it’s my love for the Monkees that had me apprehensive of another reunion album. The 2 reunion efforts that preceded it, the 80’s “Pool It” and the 90’s “Justus” were fairly mediocre albums. In general, with the exception of Michael Nesmith’s solo work (which you can sample here), the Monkees artistic output since the late 60’s has been filled with highs and lows, but certainly not greatness. Good Times is not only a 50 year reunion album for the Monkees, it is a renaissance of sorts. Gone are the synthesizers and modern pop sounds that invaded their 80’s and 90’s album, and back are the bubblegum pop sounds of the late 60’s and early 70’s. The lads feel right in their element, and the music sounds terrific. The tunes themselves are written by some of the best in the biz, Andy Partridge, Noel Gallagher, Rivers Cuomo, and many other contemporary rock performers. On top of that, they even reworked an archival track for the late Davy Jones and added it to the album so that all 4 Monkees could have a cut on the album. In the end, this is about the best send off any 50 year old group could hope to have, and you should definitely check it out. You can read my full and comprehensive review for Good Times by clicking here.
White Denim – Stiff: This is an album that I likely would have overlooked on the basis that it would have never hit my radar. I don’t listen to nearly as much new music as I do music from the 1950’s through the early 2000’s. That’s for a variety of reasons: convenience, time, disposable income, and a bit of modern music ennui. But, as fate would have it, Nintendo released a video for their new gaming device the Switch which featured an infectiously groovy blues cut that I couldn’t get out of my head. A quick Google search later led me to a band named White Denim. The album “Stiff” was released in early 2016 and from what I can gather online it features a new line up for the band, so it serves as a sort of debut album in a way, which meant it was an excellent jumping on point for new listeners like me. “Stiff” blew me away with how deep the content is, while at the same time maintaining a tremendous amount of energy and playfulness. Also, there’s a little bit of something for everyone on this album: rock, blues, R&B, punk, jam, jazz, progressive, and experimental. On top of that, there are some top notch hooks and melodies to be heard, along with clever lyrics to keep you entertained for days trying to decipher them. All in all, I’m glad that my nerdiness somehow magically brought White Denim into my life, as their album has been a consistent listen all year long and well worth your time. Definitely give it a listen ASAP!
Video Games of 2016:
Overwatch: I don’t play online competitive FPS games. I just don’t. They lose my interest in less than a day usually. Overwatch is an anomally, in that it is an always online multiplayer FPS that I can’t seem to put down. I enjoy the extraordinary level design and bright colors. I love the wide variety of characters that you can play as and how they all feel different and unique. I marvel at teh little bits of story and dialogue that the characters randomly say in a match. Having played Overwatch for over 6 months, I am still hearing new bits of dialogue here and there. The game is wonderfully put together with enough variety to keep me coming back for me. Frankly, other FPS games are boring in comparison to Overwatch. This is a game that you should check out, even if you are not a fan of the genre. Trust me, Overwatch is something special. Check it out!
Final Fantasy XV: As a fan of the Final Fantasy series of games, I often find myself at odds with each new Final Fantasy that gets released. Of the modern Final Fantasy games, VIII is my favorite, and then things went pair shaped for the series starting with IX (which clearly I did not like). X was decent, XI was an online MMO that I could not get into, XII was OK, XIII was OK, and XIV (another MMO) was a hot mess at launch. There just hasn’t been a Final Fantasy that knocked it out of the park, certainly not like VI, VII, and VIII did. I do, however have good news for FF fans. Final Fantasy XV is a fantastic game! To me, it’s the best main series game since VIII, and a step in the right direction for the franchise. The main characters are instantly endearing, the open world setting is fun, the game gives you ample reasons to explore, the side quests and monster hunts are a blast, and when the game gets serious near the end it is an emotional roller coaster. That’s not to say that FFXV is perfect, mind you, but it is a major step in the right direction for the franchise. The story starts simply enough, two countries are at war and in a negotiation for peace the King of Insomnia agrees to an arranged marriage between his young prince and an Oracle from the other country. The King sends his son to meet with the Oracle in prestigious Altissia for the marriage, but before the prince can get there his father is assassinated. From there a sprawling royal road trip across a large map with a motley gang of thrill seekers hell bent on helping Prince Noctis reclaim the throne takes place. I won’t go any further on plot details, but I will recommend that you watch the movie Kingsglaive and the animated series Brotherhood for a deeper understanding of the characters and the world of Final Fantasy XV. This is a departure from previous Final Fantasies in a sense, as it is more of an open world action RPG (instead of turn based), but the essence of Final Fantasy, from the epic summons to the twisted story telling style from previous FF games are still intact. This is a Final Fantasy that brings back the old magic in all new ways. Check it out!
Most Pleasant Surprises of 2016:
The Rifftrax MST3K Reunion Show: This was big delightful surprise for me. Not only did the Rifftrax crew (former MST3K cast Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy) manage to get the majority of the old MST3K gang back together and allow them to shine in paired off short films, but at the end of the show they all got onstage together for a massive riffapalooza that was genuinely side splitting comedy. This is some damn fine comedy, and an excellent way to spend 2 hours. I highly recommend going to rifftrax.com and purchasing the reunion immediately… if not sooner. Don’t shake hands with danger, just buy it now!
Archie Comics: Talk about a legacy that keeps getting better and better. Archie Comics may be 75 years old, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that they are past their prime. Right now, Archie Comics is pumping out some of the best comics they ever have. Starting with their Archie Horror line of Afterlife with Archie and the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, the home of the all American red head teenager displayed a macabre and twisted side that instantly sold out comics. These are smartly written tales of despair and desperately horrifying times with Archie and the gang handled in a more mature manner. Following that success, Archie Comics launched the New Riverdale which modernized the storytelling, art, and overall feel of the Archie universe of comics, and they are amazing as well. Don’t worry, if you still love the goofy old style Archie Comics they still publish those as well, along with a smattering of licensed books and superhero titles as well. All in all, Archie Comics is better than ever and you should check them out. For more info on the current state of Archie Comics, read my blog post about them here.
Geeky Glasses TV: I have not ever been a major follower of YouTube personalities, which is kinda funny, considering how I would like to become one this year. That being said, as research I have been dedicating more time to finding out unique YouTube channels and watching content to get an idea of what works and how I might want to structure my own effort. Most of what I watched was shit. Just poorly filmed, poorly edited, and just generally bad shit. Like, seriously bad. Like, Batman V Superman levels of bad, and we know how I feel about that turd blossom based on my review, which you can read here (shameless plug number 973 of the day). I did, however find a couple of gems, diamonds in the rough as it were, that you should check out. First, Geeky Glasses TV is a channel run by a nerdy ginger that loves to review movies (amongst other things). He is fresh, funny, and turns a wonderfully wickedly worded (and often expletive laden) review. This is not to say that he tears all of the movies that he sees to shreds, it’s just to say that even when he likes a film he keeps the conversation interesting. More than that, he breaks movies down to the essential parts and picks at them for their substance, originality, social impact, cinematography, and more. Bottom line: he may be a jokester, but he’s actually all about substance and I get that as I am the same way. You can check his Batman V Superman review below:
Other YouTubers to check out include:Jonathan Pie, who is a fictitious news reporter that spouts off satirical diatribes about current events. Jim Sterling, notable for his humorous op-ed Jimquisition show, as well as playing crappy games and having a laugh about it whilst doing so. Also, a personal friend of mine runs a fun YouTube channel, Jojopetv and he does a variety of tutorial, play through, and live streams of video games. He also says skizzle, a lot. SKIZZLE! All 3 of these are quality YouTube channels to check out.
That about wraps it for 2016. A rubbish year on a personal and worldwide level for a lot of reasons, but a pretty good year for entertainment. It all worked out pretty much like Ron Weasley predicted it would…