Best of 2016

2017 Reading List #1: Swing Time, by Zadie Smith

Happy New Year! Though we’re already 2 days into 2017, I’m still enjoying my free time of winter break and using it to soak up as much reading/viewing as possible (while balancing my time productively in preparation for a new semester, of course).

My first completed reading project is one I’d been itching to start since receiving it for my birthday—Zadie Smith’s latest novel, Swing Time. I quickly fell in love with Smith’s writing when I read White Teeth in 2015 and have been slowly accumulating her other works. Swing Time, though, is the only other novel I’ve read by her, having also read The Book of Other People, a short story collection she edited in 2016.

Though Swing Time is a hefty novel that rounds out at 453 pages, it’s quick-moving and easy to read. The story follows an unnamed narrator through her youth, growing up biracial in North London, to her young adulthood as an assistant to an international pop star. Because the story is written by Smith, it’s riddled with complex issues like friendship, identity, feminism, family, and cultural appropriation. Smith’s characteristic ability to address these topics in a true-to-life way is what makes her writing so compelling.

Though I wasn’t quite as charmed by Swing Time as I was by White Teeth—though in fairness the scope of White Teeth is much broader and more complicated—Smith undeniably deserved her place on so many of the “best of” fiction lists at the end of 2016.

Since one of my reading goals in 2017 is to read two novels by Smith, I’ll definitely read On Beauty before the year ends, and I having a feeling The Autograph Man might find its way onto my reading list too.

2016 Movie List

 

Below is my complete movie viewing list for 2016. Titles listed in bold are those I particularly enjoyed.

  1. 01/01: Sherlock: The Abominable Bride (2016): A
  2. 01/01: Testament of Youth (2014): B-
  3. 01/02: Joy (2015): B
  4. 01/04: Black Mirror: White Christmas (2014): B
  5. 01/05: The Age of Adaline (2015): B
  6. 01/07: Nasty Baby (2015): C+
  7. 01/08: The Big Short (2015): A
  8. 01/08: Sicario (2015): B
  9. 01/17: Jurassic World (2015): C
  10. 01/20: Sundance Shorts Program 1
    1. So Good to See You: C+
    2. Killer: A
    3. Mobilize: B
    4. It’s Not You: B
    5. Speaking is Difficult: B+
    6. Maman(s): A
    7. The Shining Star of Losers Everywhere: A
    8. Catching Up: B+
  11. 01/20: Spotlight (2015): A-
  12. 01/20: Room (2015): A
  13. 01/22: Goat (2016): B
  14. 01/23: Wiener-Dog (2016): C-
  15. 01/24: Manchester by the Sea (2016): A
  16. 01/24: Yoga Hosers (2016): B
  17. 01/25: Lovesong (2016): B+
  18. 01/25: Complete Unknown (2016): C+
  19. 01/26: First Girl I Loved (2016): A
  20. 01/26: The Lobster (2015): A
  21. 01/29: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015): C
  22. 01/29: The Gift (2015): B-
  23. 02/04: Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List (2015): C+
  24. 02/04: The Last Five Years (2015): B-
  25. 02/05: The Revenant (2015): B
  26. 02/06: Bridge of Spies (2015): B
  27. 02/11: The Overnight (2015): B+
  28. 02/13: Mistress America (2015): F
  29. 02/18: The First Time (2012): B
  30. 02/19: Ricki and the Flash (2015): C
  31. 02/19: The Wolfpack (2015): B
  32. 02/21: The Witch (2015): A
  33. 02/24: LOL (2006): C
  34. 02/27: The Maltese Falcon (1941): C
  35. 03/04: Unfriended (2014): B
  36. 03/04: The Gallows (2015): C
  37. 03/04: Magic Mike XXL (2015): C
  38. 03/12: Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill (2016): B
  39. 03/16: Zipper (2015): C+
  40. 03/17: Ouija (2014): C-
  41. 04/09: The Danish Girl (2015): B
  42. 04/18: The Longest Ride (2015): C+
  43. 04/29: The Jungle Book (2016): B+
  44. 05/23: Everything is Copy (2016): B
  45. 06/04: Me Before You (2016): B+
  46. 06/16: Real Women Have Curves (2002): B
  47. 06/18: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958): B-
  48. 06/23: Rain Man (1988): A
  49. 06/25: Baby Boom (1987): B
  50. 06/28: The Scorch Trials (2015): C-
  51. 06/29: The Fundamentals of Caring (2016): B
  52. 06/29: Elizabeth (1998): C
  53. 07/01: Swiss Army Man (2016): A-
  54. 07/01: Big Night (1996): B
  55. 07/04: 1776 (1972): B-
  56. 07/04: The Hunting Ground (2015): A
  57. 07/04: The Imposter (2012): B
  58. 07/05: Tabloid (2010): B
  59. 07/05: Welcome to Leith (2012): B
  60. 07/06: She Loves Me (2016): B+
  61. 07/13: Miss Representation (2011): B
  62. 07/14: Horns (2013): F
  63. 07/14: Girl Rising (2013): B
  64. 07/25: Hollywoodland (2006): B-
  65. 08/13: The Lady in the Van (2015): B+
  66. 08/27: Florence Foster Jenkins (2016): B
  67. 09/02: The Light Between Oceans (2016): B+
  68. 09/03: Fruitvale Station (2013): A
  69. 09/18: Straight Outta Compton (2015): B
  70. 10/01: XOXO (2016): C
  71. 10/01: Beyond the Lights (2014): B+
  72. 10/01: A Royal Night Out (2015): C
  73. 10/07: The Girl on the Train (2016): B-
  74. 10/07: 13th (2016): A
  75. 10/08: Amanda Knox (2016): B
  76. 10/09: Audrie & Daisy (2016): B
  77. 10/14: Tangerine (2015): B+
  78. 10/14: Love & Friendship (2016): B+
  79. 10/14: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013): B+
  80. 10/15: Holy Hell (2016): B
  81. 10/20: Green Room (2016): A-
  82. 10/20: Midnight Special (2016): B
  83. 10/21: Hamilton’s America (2016): A
  84. 11/06: The Neon Demon (2016): C
  85. 11/12: Moonlight (2016): B+
  86. 11/17: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016): B
  87. 11/19: The Edge of Seventeen (2016): A
  88. 11/19: Morris from America (2016): C+
  89. 12/09: Hell or High Water (2016): C
  90. 12/09: Other People (2016): A
  91. 12/10: Rocky Balboa (2007): C-
  92. 12/11: Sense and Sensibility (1995): B+
  93. 12/12: Taxi Driver (1976): A-
  94. 12/13: The Station Agent (2003): A
  95. 12/14: Moana (2016): B+
  96. 12/15: The Sting (1973): B
  97. 12/16: Captain Fantastic (2016): B
  98. 12/17: Turner & Hooch (1989): B
  99. 12/25: La La Land (2016): A
  100. 12/26: Fences (2016): A
  101. 12/27: Deadpool (2016): A-
  102. 12/27: Hail, Caesar! (2016): B
  103. 12/29: The Fear of 13 (2015): C+

2016 Reading List

 

Below is my complete reading list for 2016. Titles in bold are those I particularly enjoyed.

  1. 01/03: Brooklyn, Colm Toíbín
  2. 01/05: The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare
  3. 01/06: Attachments, Rainbow Rowell
  4. 01/10: Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare
  5. 01/11: The Man Who Had All the Luck, Arthur Miller
  6. 01/12: All My Sons, Arthur Miller
  7. 01/13: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling
  8. 01/13: Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller
  9. 01/17: The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
  10. 01/31: The Castle of Otranto, Horace Walpole
  11. 02/09: Career of Evil, Robert Galbraith
  12. 02/16: After You, Jojo Moyes
  13. 02/17: The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde
  14. 02/18: Collected Sonnets of Edna St. Vincent Millay
  15. 02/20: Much Ado About Nothing, William Shakespeare
  16. 02/24: The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams
  17. 02/27: A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far, Adrienne Rich
  18. 03/02: Biloxi Blues, Neil Simon
  19. 03/08: ‘Night, Mother, Marsha Norman
  20. 03/09: The Lonesome West, Martin McDonagh
  21. 03/11: Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
  22. 04/10: Cannery Row, John Steinbeck
  23. 05/01: Hamilton: The Revolution, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
  24. 05/22: Voyager, Diana Gabaldon
  25. 05/24: Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
  26. 05/27: Finding Fraser, KC Dyer
  27. 06/01: The Cherry Orchard, Anton Chekhov
  28. 06/07: The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
  29. 06/13: Definitely Dead, Charlaine Harris
  30. 06/15: An Enemy of the People, Arthur Miller
  31. 06/17: The Crucible, Arthur Miller
  32. 06/18: A View From the Bridge, Arthur Miller
  33. 06/24: Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death, James Runcie
  34. 06/26: Luckiest Girl Alive, Jessica Knoll
  35. 07/03: Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
  36. 07/03: In the Heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda
  37. 07/04: The Seagull, Anton Chekhov
  38. 07/06: Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed
  39. 07/12: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, Ayana Mathis
  40. 07/12: The Elephant Man, Bernard Pomerance
  41. 07/24: Light in August, William Faulkner
  42. 07/28: After the Fall, Arthur Miller
  43. 07/30: Incident at Vichy, Arthur Miller
  44. 07/31: The Price, Arthur Miller
  45. 08/01: The Creation of the World and Other Business, Arthur Miller
  46. 08/01: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne
  47. 08/04: Green Hills of Africa, Ernest Hemingway
  48. 08/07: At Fault, Kate Chopin
  49. 08/22: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, Amy Schumer
  50. 08/23: Sidney Chambers and the Perils of Night, James Runcie
  51. 08/28: Bayou Folk, Kate Chopin
  52. 08/31: Collected Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay
  53. 09/03: You’ll Grow Out of It, Jessi Klein
  54. 09/04: The Archbishop’s Ceiling, Arthur Miller
  55. 09/06: The American Clock, Arthur Miller
  56. 09/14: Bel Canto, Ann Patchett
  57. 10/03: Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen
  58. 10/03: Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide, J.K. Rowling
  59. 10/05: Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship, and Dangerous Hobbies, J.K. Rowling
  60. 10/06: Short Stories from Hogwarts of Power, Politics, and Pesky Poltergeists, J.K. Rowling
  61. 10/21: The Girls, Emma Cline
  62. 10/22: The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros
  63. 10/22: The Book of Other People, edited by Zadie Smith
  64. 10/25: The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, Issa Rae
  65. 10/27: A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness
  66. 10/30: The Widow, Fiona Barton
  67. 10/31: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson
  68. 11/05: Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarty
  69. 11/06: Playing for Time, Arthur Miller
  70. 11/09: The World’s Wife, Carol Ann Duffy
  71. 11/19: Dark Sparkler, Amber Tamblyn
  72. 11/23: State of Wonder, Ann Patchett
  73. 11/25: The Ride Down Mt. Morgan, Arthur Miller
  74. 11/26: A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
  75. 11/26: The Last Yankee, Arthur Miller
  76. 11/27: Broken Glass, Arthur Miller
  77. 11/28: Carry This Book, Abbi Jacobson
  78. 11/29: Mr Peters’ Connections, Arthur Miller
  79. 11/30: Resurrection Blues, Arthur Miller
  80. 12/03: Sweetbitter, Stephanie Danler
  81. 12/06: Paris for One and Other Stories, Jojo Moyes
  82. 12/09: Why Not Me?, Mindy Kaling
  83. 12/12: The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro
  84. 12/14: Three Tall Women, Edward Albee
  85. 12/15: Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, August Wilson
  86. 12/18: Hedda Gabler, Henrik Ibsen
  87. 12/21: Camino Real, Tennessee Williams
  88. 12/26: The Autumn Garden, Lillian Hellman
  89. 12/27: Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson
  90. 12/27: A Hatful of Rain, Michael Gazzo
  91. 12/28: Talking as Fast as I Can, Lauren Graham
  92. 12/29: Cravings, Chrissy Teigen

2016 TV List

Here’s the full list of all the shows I completed in 2016.

  1. And Then There Were None (miniseries, 2 episodes)
  2. Call the Midwife (4 seasons, 35 episodes)
  3. Casual (2 seasons, 23 episodes)
  4. Catastrophe, season 2 (1 season, 6 episodes)
  5. The Crown (1 season, 10 episodes)
  6. Difficult People (2 seasons, 18 episodes)
  7. Doctor Thorne (1 season, 4 episodes)
  8. Easy (1 season, 8 episodes)
  9. The Fall, season 3 (1 season, 6 episodes)
  10. Felicity (4 seasons, 84 episodes)
  11. Fleabag (1 season, 6 episodes)
  12. Flesh and Bone (miniseries, 8 episodes)
  13. Game of Thrones (6 seasons, 60 episodes) 
  14. The Get Down (1 season, 6 episodes)
  15. Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life (miniseries, 4 episodes)
  16. The Girlfriend Experience (1 season, 13 episodes)
  17. Grantchester (2 seasons, 12 episodes)
  18. Inside Amy Schumer, season 3 (1 season, 10 episodes)
  19. Making a Murderer (1 season, 10 episodes)
  20. The Mindy Project (5 seasons, 100 episodes)
  21. Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (3 seasons, 34 episodes)
  22. My Mad Fat Diary (3 seasons, 16 episodes)
  23. The Night Manager (miniseries, 6 episodes)
  24. The O.C. (season 3, episode 15-season 4, 27 episodes)
  25. One Mississippi (1 season, 6 episodes)
  26. O.J.: Made in America (miniseries, 5 episodes)
  27. The Office (U.K.) (2 seasons, 14 episodes)
  28. Party Down (2 seasons, 20 episodes)
  29. Pushing Daisies (2 seasons, 22 episodes)
  30. Rick and Morty (2 seasons, 21 episodes)
  31. Sex and the City (6 seasons, 94 episodes)
  32. Stranger Things (1 season, 8 episodes)
  33. Transparent, season 2 (1 season, 10 episodes)
  34. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, season 2 (1 season, 13 episodes)
  35. War and Peace (miniseries, 4 episodes)
  36. The White Queen (miniseries, 10 episodes)

Favorite Books of 2016

I know there are many people in the world who rarely read, which is probably one of the most depressing things to know about our society. I feel no shame in the time I spend daily reading or thinking about reading or discussing reading with my roommate.

In 2016, I read 92 books and plays, which is a personal record (I was determined to out-do my 2014 total of 91, so congratulations from me to myself). Unlike past years, I set a few goals at the beginning of the year other than reading a total of 52 books, which included reading works by specific people. By Thanksgiving, I’d accomplished all of those goals, so I’m upping the ante for 2017 (see my new reading list in a day or two if you’re curious about how nerdy/obsessive I can be).

Below, in the order I read them, is a list of my favorite books I read in 2016, followed by some honorable mentions. This list contains books both new and old, some of which have even achieved favorite status. You can consult my full 2016 reading list here.

What books did you love in 2016? Maybe I’ll add them to my shelf.


Brooklyn, Colm Toíbín

Both as a book and a film, Brooklyn has taken deep root in my soul. I adore this coming-of-age story (they tend to be my favorites anyway, but this one is especially great). The novel, which tells the story of a young Irish immigrant Eilis who moves to New York City to start a new life in the 1950s, is just as profound and beautiful as its Oscar-nominated film adaptation. This is a perfect book to enjoy on a cozy winter afternoon.

Collected Sonnets of Edna St. Vincent Millay

I grabbed this book at a used bookstore to help fill out my reading list for my master’s comprehensive exams in the spring and was fortunate enough to love it as a piece of literature. I quickly became obsessed with Edna St. Vincent Millay herself (this girl was crazy progressive and hip in the 1920s) and her poetry doesn’t make me feel like an idiot as most poetry does. She’s witty, hilarious, and heartbreaking in equal parts.

‘Night, Mother, Marsha Norman

It’s strange that I only read ‘Night, Mother earlier this year because the story feels deeply engrained in me already. My mom has loved this play for a long time, and I finally understood why when I read it myself this spring. Norman’s play is sparse and simple but still incredibly profound. It’s impossible as a reader not to share the characters’ anxiety as the story progresses in real time toward a potential suicide. I can’t wait to share this play with my students this spring.

Hamilton: The Revolution, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

This may come as a surprise to you, but I’m a fan of Hamilton (okay just kidding I haven’t listened to any other music in a year). Since annotating is one of my favorite pastimes, reading the annotated edition of the complete musical, accompanied by beautiful photographs and behind-the-scenes information, was a dream. Hamilton: The Revolution is a must-have for fans of the musical. Though it’s a little pricier than the Chernow biography upon which the show is based, it’s far less likely to sit untouched on your bookshelf.

Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed

My only prior encounters with Cheryl Strayed came from seeing the film adaptation of Wild  and reading a few nonfiction essays in a writing workshop, but after my roommate loved this one and gave it to me as a graduation gift, I too fell in love. I intended to bring this as my reading material on a long drive to Nebraska over the summer, but I got so into it I breezed through the entire book before our departure. Tiny Beautiful Things is a collection of Strayed’s Dear Sugar letters, a column she wrote for The Rumpus. Strayed clearly answers each person with deep thought and tenderness, but she isn’t afraid to answer with honesty. Each entry makes you feel understood and valued. I have a feeling this book will be one I continue to share with friends and family.

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, Amy Schumer

After solidifying my love for Amy Schumer in 2015, I of course had to read her memoir when it was released this summer. Schumer doesn’t disappoint in this book that is equally laugh-out-loud funny and sweetly sad. Though I read this book months ago, there are still stories here that I think of and laugh about often.

The Book of Other People, edited by Zadie Smith

The Book of Other People is a collection of short stories written by several famous authors whose sole prompt was to create a character and write a story about them. As with many short story collections, the end result is a bit of a mixed bag, but the general feeling I had was a very pleasant one. When my roommate and I read this aloud together (now one of our favorite and cutest habits), we sometimes had difficulty stopping ourselves from reading indefinitely. Though many of the stories are great, see if you can get your hands on “Magda Mandela” by Hari Kunzru. It’s a quick read and you will not be disappointed.

A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness

I haven’t even seen A Monster Calls yet but I’m already guessing this will be the #1 tearjerker of 2017. The book tells the story of a young English boy named Conor whose mother’s cancer is continually worsening. Conor is visited nightly by a tree monster, a clear manifestation of his frustration and grief as he watches his mother fade. This is a beautiful story about love and loss. Just maybe skip the eye makeup before reading.

Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarty

I’m very rarely a reader of mysteries, especially contemporary ones. However, once I saw the trailer for the upcoming HBO miniseries adaptation of this novel, I was too intrigued not to read it before the February air date. Who knew I’d be such a fan? The book rounds out at over 500 pages, but I couldn’t put it down in the 2 days I spent reading it. I think Moriarty does a great job of telling a dramatic story in a way that still feels authentic (something I’m a little worried about based on the footage from the miniseries). It was refreshing to see a story about women who come from various backgrounds, aren’t all about competition, and keep cattiness to a minimum. Though this was my first encounter with Moriarty, I’ve already purchased her latest book, Truly Madly Guilty, and look forward to enjoying it early next year.

State of Wonder, Ann Patchett

2016 was a year of Ann Patchett for me. I’d never read her previously, but my roommate and I read Bel Canto together in the fall and I became a fan. Though I generally try not to be too easily distracted by my book purchases, when I bought State of Wonder in October, I couldn’t resist starting it almost immediately. The story is clearly inspired by Joseph Conrad’s classic Heart of Darkness, but differs in that it follows a woman sent to retrieve her female boss from the depths of the Amazon where she’s developing a fertility drug. Though I was—and still am—frustrated by the book’s conclusion, it features beautiful writing and some great twists that make for a worthwhile read.

The Penguin Arthur Miller

In my 92 books read this year, this one feels like the biggest accomplishment. In fact, it’s one book that contains 18—this is the complete canon of Arthur Miller’s dramatic works. Miller and I go way back at this point, but before 2016, I’d only read 3 of his plays. This edition isn’t exactly an easy one to travel with—note its comparative size to my cat in the featured photo—but now it has a stately position on my bookshelf made all the more grand by the fact that I’ve read all the words in it. Miller is an undeniable master of American drama, and I loved spending so much time with him this year. If you remember, think of him on February 10—the date not only of his death, but also the anniversary of the Broadway premiere of Death of a Salesman.

Why Not Me?, Mindy Kaling

My general relationship with Mindy Kaling over the past month has gone from casual fan to actively seeking friendship (so, Mindy, if you’re reading, let’s hang out!). When I bought this book in the airport a few weeks ago, I was just looking to be mildly entertained on my journey home, but many times I was made to laugh aloud. Then I watched the entirety of The Mindy Project in just a few days, and I became even more enamored. Though it would be wrong to call Why Not Me? a page-turner, it’s still the kind of book you have a hard time putting down.


Honorable Mentions: The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, Voyager by Diana Gabaldon, At Fault by Kate Chopin, Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy

Favorite Movies of 2016

The year is wrapping up, which means the inevitable is happening—I’m spending my days reflecting on the best entertainment of the year. My “best of” compilation below is not a list of my favorite 2016 films, but of my favorite films I watched in 2016, meaning some have earlier release dates. Check my list (in order of when I saw them) and descriptions of each movie below. For reference, you can enjoy my full 2016 viewing list here.

What were the best films you watched in 2016?


Room (2015)

Though my initial impression of Room was not totally stellar (though I still really liked it), the more distance I had from the film, the more impressed with it I became. Brie Larson’s Oscar-winning performance as a young captive trying to raise a son and escape her confines is a must-see. The tension built in the climactic scenes is just as captivating as you find in the best thriller films. Despite having seen Room in early January, it’s a film I continue to think of regularly.

Manchester by the Sea (2016)

If you’ve had any kind of significant conversation with me in 2016, I probably mentioned this film (and now apologize for being annoying). I’m proud to say I attended the second screening of this film in the world at the Sundance Film Festival and have loved it since then. Manchester by the Sea features beautiful performances from Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, and Michelle Williams dealing with grief and forgiveness. It’s a cathartic, tragic, and funny film that is sure to continue winning awards into the new year.

The Lobster (2015)

The Lobster was the last screening I attended at Sundance this year, and it’s another film that has stuck with me through 2016. Word on the Sundance rumor mill was that The Lobster is a movie you know you’ll either love or hate within the first 10 minutes, and I think that’s pretty true. This darkly comic, dystopian little weirdo of a film features Colin Farrell in the lead role in a society where single people are sent to a hotel for 45 days in which to find a soulmate. If your allotted days expire, you’re turned into the animal of your choosing and released into the wild. I find The Lobster to be equal parts hilarious and disturbing, but maybe that’s not your thing.

The Witch (2015)

The Witch is another love-it-or-hate-it type that I also happened to love in 2016. When my roommate and I saw the film with a crowd of about 20 on a Sunday afternoon, it was clear that most other audience members hated what we saw as a creepy/cool film. Who knew a blank-faced goat would be one of the best movie villains of 2016?

Swiss Army Man (2016)

After hearing the resounding WTFs about this film at Sundance, I really had no idea what to expect from Swiss Army Man. When the most common plot description is that Daniel Radcliffe plays a farting corpse, it’s hard to know if you’ll like a film. Turns out, I loved it! Minus the final 10-15 minutes, but those are thoughts for a longer discussion. Swiss Army Man is visually stunning and weird as hell, but also a movie you aren’t likely to forget.

Green Room (2016)

I didn’t know about Green Room upon watching it except that there were neo-Nazis involved and most reviews were pretty stellar. Anyhoo, I was so very pleased to see this little weirdo that adds to the growing list of great indie horror/thriller films in recent years. Watching one of Anton Yelchin’s final performances is bittersweet, but it’s great to see a group of very unlikeable characters become the people you root hardest for. Also, Patrick Stewart’s “I’m a gross American” accent is not to be missed.

Moonlight (2016)

Like Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight is a film we’ll all continue to hear more about as awards season rounds out in early 2017, and deservedly so. While some say Moonlight is the absolute best film of the year, my preferences lie elsewhere, but I still see it as a profoundly moving and beautiful film. The section (since the story is told in three parts) I visit most often in my mind is the first in the film, when we see Chiron as a young boy with a mom who is just beginning to dig herself into the drugged darkness that later consumes her life. I think the main reason this sections stands out most to me is the presence of Blue, played brilliantly by Mahershala Ali. That the most stable person in young Chiron’s life is a drug dealer is heartbreaking, but I found myself wishing again and again that Blue was still there to help Chiron later on. I left the theatre feeling a bit muddled after this one, but it’s a film I’ve mentally returned to often.

The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

There are few things I love more than a good coming-of-age story, and The Edge of Seventeen is an instant-classic in this genre. Hailee Steinfeld shines as Nadine, a girl who (like many teenagers) feels everything vividly. Nadine is smart and kind, but also kind of dumb and ridiculous and dramatic, but all in a way that makes you feel for her because we’ve all been there. Oddly enough, this is the film on this list that probably made me most consistently emotional, likely because it tells the story that sometimes feels truest to life.

Other People (2016)

Due to an unfortunate coincidence, I missed out on attending the world premiere of Other People at Sundance in January and wasn’t able to fit it into my other viewing times during the festival. But after hearing many people say it was their favorite film during our time in Utah, I made sure to watch it as soon as I could. Other People is the rare movie that can make you laugh and cry with equal intensity, and neither emotion feels out of place in this film about a gay comedian who moves home to be with his mother in her final year of life. Jesse Plemons and Molly Shannon give outstanding performances in the lead roles (seriously, Golden Globes, where are their nominations?). Though the basic plot of the film might seem cliche or expected, this is one of the most honest and realistic films I’ve seen in a long time. It allows you to both laugh hard and cry hard without either emotion feeling cheap or incorrect.

La La Land (2016)

As soon as teaser trailers were released for this film, I was dying to see it. The combined force of Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, and Damian Chazelle was enough to get me excited about it, so the fact that it’s topped so many “best of the year” lists only made me more anxious to get myself to this film as soon as I could. Thankfully, I spent a joyous Christmas afternoon in the theatre for this one, and I wasn’t remotely disappointed. The film is beautiful visually and thematically, and Stone and Gosling give outstanding performances and performers trying to make it in Hollywood. If you aren’t charmed by this movie, you might not even be human.

Fences (2016)

When you combine August Wilson’s best work with performances by Denzel Washington (who also directed) and Viola Davis, there isn’t much to do but start handing over awards. Of course these two give stellar performances—they did win Tonys for it, after all—and, even though I’ve read Fences twice before and plan to teach it this semester, I’m still astounded by the emotional force of Wilson’s writing. Washington maintains the simplicity of a stage production in the film, which I appreciated, and the combined effect of the ensemble is what makes the film a real knockout. I would be shocked if Davis doesn’t win every award she’s eligible for this season.


Honorable Mentions: Goat (2016), Rain Man (1988), The Light Between Oceans (2016), Fruitvale Station (2013), 13th (2016), Hamilton’s America (2016), Moana (2016), Deadpool (2016)

Favorite TV Shows of 2016

Writing about my TV-viewing habits as the year winds down brings about mixed feelings for me—I love TV and I love watching it, but I do get just slightly horrified upon realizing how much of it I’ve consumed.

In 2016, I have watched/caught up on 35 TV series/miniseries (you can see my complete list here). This does not include shows I watched multiple times during the year or anything I watched during its regular airing (and honestly, this number could grow in the final days of December). This adds up to something like 735 episodes of television, which is a lot. Basically, I like TV.

Bearing that in mind, the following is a list, in alphabetical order, of my favorite shows of the year. This includes shows that I both streamed and watched in real time. You’ll also find a list of honorable mentions at the bottom.

What TV shows did you love in 2016?


Call the Midwife

I’m a sucker for a good British period piece (as you may deduce from other listings to come), and Call the Midwife is the perfect balance of wholesome, kindhearted English entertainment that feels like ideal viewing on a cold winter night. I watched the first four seasons of the show in early January and quickly came to love the women of Nonnatus House, where a group of nuns and midwives works to serve underprivileged women of 1950s London. While Call the Midwife is undeniably charming, I think the thing I love most about it is its refreshing take on a diverse group of women without the cattiness that is so often represented in working women on the screen. Also, there are cute babies, so how could you not enjoy it?

Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones is essentially what my entertainment life is built around (if you exclude Hamilton, of course). I watched the entirety of Game of Thrones at least twice over the past year, not to mention that I watched each episode of season 7 twice during its normal airing. It might be obsessive, but come on—Jon Snow is alive and the Battle of the Bastards was the most stressed I’ve ever been. Also, please don’t speak to me about Margaery. I’m still not ready.

Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life

As a fan of Gilmore Girls for more than a decade, I’m a bit jaded about the immense surge in popularity it’s had in the past year or two. I love that people love the show, but I was here for a long time and I like to keep some things to myself. Because of my long love for this show, the thought of a reunion was both thrilling and terrifying, but I’m so very pleased with the result. Lauren Graham and Kelly Bishop especially gave such beautiful performances in this miniseries, and I certainly hope they’re recognized after being overlooked by major awards when the show originally aired. While I’d love to see more of this revival, those last four words left me more satisfied than the entirety of season 7, and that’s more than I could ask for.

Insecure

It’s probably a little inaccurate to say that Issa Rae is basically my best friend, but that’s the kind of positive thinking I’m looking to implement in 2017. Insecure was one of the funniest shows on TV this year that also knows how to pack an emotional wallop when needed. I love a show that confidently hits its stride from the get-go, which is exactly what this show does in depicting twenty-something black women looking for love and success. Set yourself an afternoon to catch up on season 1 if you didn’t enjoy it this fall.

The Mindy Project

At the moment, I’m still making my way through The Mindy Project (though this journey has progressed at an alarmingly fast rate). I saw some of the shows first 2 seasons when they aired on Fox and never felt inclined to watch religiously, but after reading Mindy Kaling’s second book, Why Not Me?, a few weeks ago, I jumped in headfirst. Turns out, I love it. Kaling is hilarious and ridiculous as heroine Mindy Lahiri, a woman who’s smart enough to be a gynecologist but otherwise, generally an idiot. The biggest surprise for me has been how much I enjoy the supporting cast (though my crush on Chris Messina has been serious for a few years now, so everyone else should just back off). Though I’m glad this show is still in progress, I’m a little sad that I’ll soon be waiting until February for new episodes, and even then only on a weekly basis. This show has been a perfect excuse to lounge around and “accidentally” watch 7 episodes without moving.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

There are few fictional heroines I want to be more than Miss Phryne Fisher. The girl is rich, has a great wardrobe, a generous spirit, perfect hair, a cool job, and a flirtation with a hot detective—what could be better? Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is the kind of show you hope will magically have 50 more episodes waiting for you when you finish the three seasons currently on Netflix. Phryne is an unofficial detective with a knack for solving crime in 1920s Australia. She’s basically the cool girl you’d really want to be friends with if that cool girl was also nice and smart. 2017, I’m counting on you to get season 4 in the works.

My Mad Fat Diary

One of the saddest moments for a TV lover like me is suddenly realizing you’ve come not just to the finale of a season, but of a series. This is what happened to me last week when I fell in love with the British teen dramedy My Mad Fat Diary. The show follows the life of Rae Earl, a teenager who’s just been released from a psychiatric hospital after being admitted for self-harm. Rae’s life post-hospital features a supportive and sometimes frustrated single mom, a new group of friends and potential love interests, and therapy with a kind-hearted and stern psychiatrist (spoiler: her therapist is Professor Quirrell!). MMFD is an honest and real show that I came to love in an astoundingly quick time, especially considering the entire series only lasts 16 episodes.

Outlander

It would be wrong to say I only watch Outlander for smoldering shots of Sam Heughan, but those certainly don’t hurt the show’s cause. In truth, Outlander is like my little pet show. I’ve read the first three books in Diana Gabaldon’s series (books 4 and 5 are on my shelf and ready to go for 2017) and I rewatched season 1 more often than I care to admit. Thankfully, season 2 did not disappoint. It’s still beautiful, steamy, violent, and surprisingly funny (Ryan, insert your soixante-neuf comment here). Gabaldon’s narrative goes on a surprising journey from book to book, so I’m glad to see the show successfully keeping pace. I can’t wait to follow this journey further in the new year.

Rick and Morty

Okay, Rick and Morty is the undeniable outlier on this list, but that doesn’t mean I love it any less. Who knew a bizarre little animated show about a young boy and his mad scientist/weirdo of a grandfather could be equally hilarious, insane, and heartbreaking? If you’ve never seen Rick and Morty, here are a few things to look out for: a surprising amount of burping and stuttering, lots of aliens and alternate realities, some Tiny Rick songs that you’ll want on a playlist, and a character named Mr. Poopy Butthole. This show is a national treasure.

Sex and the City

I’m pretty sure watching Sex and the City is a rite of passage for millennial women, and since I was seven when the show started on HBO in 1998, this year seemed like the time to get myself initiated. I watched Sex and the City embarrassingly quickly—seriously, I watch a lot of TV, but this was scary fast. Here are some things to know: I hated Miranda for a very long time but also I kind of am her (so I want a Steve, please), I thought Samantha Jones was too much but turns out she’s an icon and I adore her, and Mr. Big is the worst character to ever grace a TV screen and I hate him and do not comprehend why people like him. Though I’ve not yet watched the film sequels, I bought used copies this fall and look forward to a viewing party complete with drinking and lots of discussion with some people I love in the near future.

Stranger Things

I was a month or two late to the Stranger Things party because my roommate and I decided to watch together. We were both skeptical of the hype, but then the hype was correct and we loved it. We virtually adopted Dustin as our son. I generally hate child actors, but I loved this show and pretty much everything about it.


Honorable Mentions: American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson, Catastrophe (season 2), The Crown, Felicity, The Girlfriend Experience, Girls, Grantchester, The Good Place, O.J.: Made in America, Pushing Daisies