Restricting the content of best-of lists to things produced or released during a single year is, in many ways, fairly arbitrary. Books, movies, or TV shows don't cease to be relevant as soon as the calendar changes. Museums and cocktails are almost entirely timeless. With that in mind, we got together to come up with a list of the stuff we enjoyed the most in 2016, in the hopes that some of it might make your 2017 a bit brighter.
Christian Marclay's The Clock
An installation at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts comprised of thousands of film clips synchronized to a 24-hour clock. (When Miss Jean Brodie walks into an appointment at 4:27 p.m., it’s actually 4:27 p.m. in the theater.) A magical, hypnotic journey into the nature of temporal narrative.
A stunning depiction of Elizabeth II’s ascension to the throne. Stellar production values, writing, direction – and oh, those phenomenally nuanced British actors, who can communicate a multitude of emotions with an exquisitely turned gesture or comment. As Winston Churchill, John Lithgow (the token Yank in the featured cast) does an Emmy-worthy turn.
Yes, folks: it really, truly exceeds the hype. Lin-Manuel’s masterpiece recounts the early years of our experiment in democracy through a production that showcases his brilliant score to monumental, unforgettable effect. Combining vivid characters who leap from the pages of history, an eclectic use of American musical idioms, and a dazzling cast as diverse as America, Hamilton delivers a once-in-a-lifetime theatrical wallop.
Lighthouse, by David Crosby
In 2016, we lost a lot of great musicians: Prince, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Sharon Jones, Leon Russell, Keith Emerson and Greg Lake, Mose Allison… the list, sadly, goes on and on. But there are many rock elders who are still active, including Brian Wilson, who has been touring the world the past two years; the Rolling Stones, who just released a full blues album; and David Crosby, whose new album is a stark reminder that all an old hippie needs to survive is a song and a voice to sing it with.
At first, I was just being a good father. My 10-year-old stays with me Monday nights and she wanted to watch Supergirl on CBS at 8pm. I was a comics guy (mostly Marvel) as an early teen but I wasn’t expecting much from this show. However, Melissa Benoist is very easy on the eyes, it has a great ensemble cast, and the stories are quite riveting. For its second season in 2016, the showed moved to the CW and is better than ever, with the local alien gay bar being a frequent hangout.
American Visionary Art Museum
Sometimes you find yourself in Baltimore. My older daughter goes to college there so we try to make the most of our visits. The American Visionary Art Museum is not out of the way, but it’s a very way-out place. Picture folk art on LSD and turned up to 11. Last time there we came upon an interactive fart exhibit. It’s like nothing you’ve seen before but once you go you’ll want to see it again.
The West Wing Weekly Podcast
When the entire series landed on Netflix a couple of years ago, I no longer had to dig old DVDs out of my blanket chest whenever I wanted to ride a wave of nostalgia back to the Bartlet administration. Thanks to this new podcast hosted by latter-day cast member Josh Malina and uber-fan Hrishikesh Hirway, I can now revisit each episode from the comfort of my commute – and escape temporarily to a presidential administration that offers more hope and certainly more wit. Malina’s and Hirway’s discussions of each episode’s plot are moderately interesting and periodically enlightening, but truly illuminating are the interviews with associated artists. Steadycam operator Dave Chaemides describes the mechanics of the show’s trademark walk-and-talk, and Richard Schiff becomes emotional as he recounts the experience of filming “In Excelsis Deo” in two podcast episodes not to be missed.
Math Curse, by John Scieszka + Lane Smith
“On Monday in math class, Mrs. Fibonacci says, ‘You know, you can think of almost everything as a math problem.’ On Tuesday I start having problems.” So begins this utterly delightful, new-to-me book that was gifted to my first-grader who says he wants to be a mathematician when he grows up. As the day unfolds, the book’s narrator can’t escape math problems at every turn. From calculating whether the she will make her bus on time, to estimating how many M&Ms it would take to measure the length of the Mississippi River, to considering how 24 cupcakes can be shared among 24 students and one teacher (an allergy to cupcakes means no one has to figure out fractions), the book is filled with scenarios both solvable and humorous.
Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi
Part historical epic, part intimate portrait of a series of interrelated lives, this dazzling, wrenching novel explores the legacy of enslavement over eight generations of one family. The engrossing, intertwined stories will keep you up at night – long after you've finished reading.
I spent the last few weeks of 2016 in a binge-watching haze with the Pfefferman family of Amazon's Transparent. (I'm only through Season 2 – binge watching is not what it was pre-kids.) My verdict? There is no (fictional) family I'd rather spend the holidays with. Go watch this show.
Roller Girl, by Victoria Jamieson
I bought this graphic novel for my 6-year old, but ended up continuing to read long after he'd fallen asleep at night. A coming of age story on roller skates – complete with mean girls, blue hair, blockers, and jammers – Roller Girl is witty, wise, and hilarious. Trying to make her way through middle school, Astrid discovers Roller Derby, and finds that the bumps and bruises of the sport ease the bumps and bruises of growing up. Our heroine learns to make her own way in the world, gets in touch with her inner badass, and discovers that she can be appreciated for being herself. Fun for the whole family!
I know what you’re thinking: “Not another superhero movie.” First of all, fair enough. But if you can stomach some more ladies and gents in tights with silly nicknames, Deadpool is a fantastically entertaining ride. The titular character’s shtick is that he’s fully aware he’s a comic book superhero, and the film’s writers make the absolute most of his ability to break the fourth wall: addressing the audience directly, calling out annoying tropes from the genre, and otherwise undermining expectations at every turn. As a result, Deadpool is my pick for the best comedy of the year. But just as important, the acting and emotional undercurrent of the plot hold their own, and the romance that drives the story feels authentic – and surprisingly resonant. Come for the laughs, stay for the catharsis. But leave the kids at home for this one – its R rating is certainly deserved.
Judge John Hodgman
This podcast features the aforementioned Mr. Hodgman, whom you may know from The Daily Show and other bit TV parts (but you’re most likely to recognize him as playing the role of the PC in those brilliant Mac vs. PC ads). Each week he invites onto the show a pair of litigants – generally siblings, spouses, longtime friends, etc. – to settle their heated and longstanding debates about all varieties of mundane things. Can you furnish a porch with “indoor” furniture? Should couples sit next to or across from one another when they are dining alone in a restaurant booth? How much heckling is too much heckling at a baseball game? The Judge handles these disputes with an unvarying quick wit, sarcastic style, and incredible dedication to reasoning through even the most trivial conflicts. Along the way, he even sprinkles in some moments of actual wisdom and insight. If you’ve ever been in a “stupid” argument (who hasn’t?), you just might learn something about building a case or respecting your opponents’ feelings. In any event, it’s funny as hell.
Eileen, by Ottessa Moshfegh
Moshfegh is probably as close as we’re going to get to a true spiritual successor to Shirley Jackson. She conjures a brilliant sense of melancholic foreboding in this crisp, unsettling novel about a teenage girl who works in a prison in a snowbound New England town.
This is undoubtedly the Negroni of 2016: easy to make, beloved by those in the know, full of strong flavors, and suddenly everywhere. If you happen to enjoy the unique herbal textures of green chartreuse (a high-proof, high-price liqueur made exclusively by monks near Chartres), you’ll love this cocktail that’s equal parts gin, maraschino liqueur, lime juice, and green chartreuse.
Remember her? This Netflix documentary is one of the most engaging stories I’ve ever seen, told exclusively via interviews with the major players (including Knox herself). While the filmmakers certainly have a point of view, the film invites you to draw your own conclusions, to think critically, and to see the trial as intrinsically connected with issues ranging from media coverage, anti-Americanism, and the rural-urban divide, to misogyny, slut shaming, and the nature of recall and memory.