This is my favorite time of year: List Season! In addition to my passion for the written word, I am a huge film and TV nerd (or, as a coworker once stated, he and I are both ‘voracious consumers of media,’) and mid- to late-December is when ‘top-everything’ notices start to appear, and movie awards start being announced. (I’ve been told that my love of the Oscars et. al., and gaming out odds on nominations and winners is weird, but it’s no weirder than fantasy sports if you think about it. I’ve been able to argue this point with sports-obsessed friends and…they seem to get it!).
I realize such things are wildly subjective (and rarely reward who or what they should, but they do form a historical record so they are important, for better or worse. I speak from experience, as a kid whose family was not engaged by art and discovered these spheres through a grocery store-bought encyclopedia set.) but I don’t care, nor do I dwell on what the unabashed joy I feel in ranking things indicates about my personal psychology. I’m passionate about things I love and decided long ago to decline enthusiasm-related shame.
It was, as most would agree, a pretty rotten year, but there was some great stuff to set our eyeballs on: This is the stuff I loved the most of the things I’ve seen or read. Unlike the lists I make for work, I’m not concerned with balance or signal-boosting (except for TV stuff), or the admittedly problematic nature of some of these choices. Really, this is a personal record, since as I (…ahem…) age I find myself needing touchstones to keep track of all this voracity. Anyway:
- Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt and Allison McGhee – Still weeping over this sensitive and gorgeous novel about love, loss and the magic of nature.
- Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine – I need part three of this adventure series right NOW! I’ve called it librarian catnip, but it is pure pleasure for any reader.
- Terrible Typhoid Mary by Susan Bartoletti Campbell – Thoughtful and mysterious NF about justice for those who are defiant – or perhaps dangerous – outsiders.
- Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand – Captures the moment when you realize your family has a secret history you might never fully know or understand.
- The Emotionary by Eden Sher and Julia Wertz – Me, in a book.
- Kill the Boy Band by Goldie Moldavsky – A twisted, hilarious, and candid look at the dark side of fandom enthusiasm. I’d read unreliable narrators all day, every day.
- The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan – Tan+the Grimms= My dark soul.
- Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick – Not perfect, but the 2016 book I’d most like to shove into the hands of the striving, ‘on-track’ teens I work with.
- The Rose and the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh – Breathtaking conclusion to a reworking of the Scheherazade story. Steamy, magical, and completely satisfying.
- Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephardt – A powerful book that sneaks up on you, as two kids forge a friendship in the balmy Florida sun that will melt your heart.
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates – Cheat, but the first thing I read this year. It shredded me, then haunted me, and I knew nothing would surpass it…
- The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – …Although this came close.
- Ashes of Fiery Weather by Kathleen Donohoe – A gorgeous family saga about the women who bind generations of NYC firefighters together. A debut masterpiece.
- Becoming Unbecoming by Una – Essential reading for every woman. I wish this existed when I was young and struggling with the contradictions of femininity.
- Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell – Slamming this into the hands of all my Hamilfanatics. My favorite adult NF author to booktalk.
- Books for Living by Will Schwalbe – A love-letter to the reading life that is deeply personal and universally revelatory at the same time, like all the best NF.
- Havana by Mark Kurlansky – Cheat, as it comes out in 2017, but I’m going to Cuba this summer and found this history of the city unputdownable.
- The Trial of Roger Casement by Fionnula Doran – Casement is an complex and controversial figure in Irish history. I wrote my bachelor’s thesis on him, so…
- Love that Boy by Ron Fournier – A heartfelt, earnest book about learning to wildly celebrate kids who are not like the ones who you dreamed of having.
- The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McElvie – Set the silly concept of ‘guilty pleasure’ aside and indulge in this comics series and all its subversive glory.
- Moonlight – It’s perfect. I felt it in my bones. Essential viewing.
- Midnight Special & Loving – Cheat, but Jeff Nichols had a YEAR, with two films about strength and solace derived from the unbreakable bonds of love.
- Arrival – An intellectual sci-fi thrill ride about the power of language to shape our perception of the world. Librarian catnip.
- Manchester by the Sea – Guilt and grief and return. I know this story. This version is almost unbearably true. Lonergan is a master. Lucas Hedges is startlingly good.
- The Nice Guys – My eternal love of Russell Crowe: He’s perfectly paired with Ryan Gosling in a rare comedic role. The most fun I had in a theatre this year.
- 13th – If you can watch this and not shake with rage I question your humanity. Ava DuVernay is an unfathomable talent.
- Sing Street – A sweet and sour story about growing up through music, with what should be a star-making turn by Jack Reynor: He is a jet engine.
- Hail, Caesar – My eternal love of Ralph Fiennes. Anyone nervous about the upcoming Han Solo movie: watch Alden Ehrenreich in this and be relieved of doubt.
- The Lobster – Best audience moment of the year: A seemingly-sweet senior lady yells over the pre-closing credits darkness ‘What the ever-loving f*ck was that?!’
- Deadpool – Maybe I’m God’s perfect idiot, but this brought me so much joy.
- TBD: There is still more to see…High hopes for La La Land, Elle, Jackie and Fences.
One of my resolutions this year was to continue my film education. I’ve managed to connect with a group of film-loving teens at the library and they’ve been gloriously, enthusiastically instructive. (Also: Are you on Letterboxd? I am! It’s a fantastic app/site and you should check it out!)
- Andrei Rublev – A stark look at the struggle to make art in the brutal world of early czarist Russia, with an explosively gorgeous coda that shook me to the core.
- Tokyo Story – They all said start with Ozu and they were right.
- M – Expressionism is my favorite artistic ‘-ism.’ Knowing the story ahead of time didn’t diminish my astonishment.
- Paths of Glory & Barry Lyndon – Cheat, but I Kubrick-ed hard this spring. Two stories set in Europes of wildly different circumstance, about falsehood, fate and futility.
- Broadcast News – “I can sing while I read, I am singing and reading both.” That should be carved into my theoretical tombstone.
- Make Way for Tomorrow – BRB, I need to cry my eyes out just thinking of this
- Brief Encounter – Why did they even bother with contemporary star-crossed love stories after this one?
- Burden of Dreams – I can only imagine what a Jason Robards/Mick Jagger-led version of Fitzcarraldo would have been. Young Herzog was foxy? I feel weird.
- Marat/Sade – My college staged this play and I avoided the film for a long time because the experience warped me. I remembered every word. Deliriously terrifying.
- The China Syndrome – My eternal love of Jack Lemmon. The Apartment is one of my all-time favorites but this might be the best of his legendary performances.
(I watch a lot of television. It’s my favorite thing and I’m not shy about it. I can’t order this list: I could probably list 50 shows I adore. Here are the ones I wish more people would watch, and/or I most consistently talk up to friends and library users:)
- Rectify – A slow-burn gothic true crime novel brought to life. Languid, character-driven and unforgettable. I’ll miss these characters when it ends this season.
- The Americans – It had me at ‘Soviet spies living and working in the American 1980s.’ It has never let me go. All together now: Poor *insert character name here.*
- Atlanta – Surreal, heartfelt, uncompromising and as funny as anything you’ll see on screen.
- Crazy Ex-Girlfriend – Feminist musical perfection. My Fandoms group has adopted as it as a new and surprising obsession, leading to countless great conversations.
- You’re the Worst – Delightfully demented. My most frequent recommendation for the little characterization callbacks alone. *sings* ‘New phone, who dis?‘
- RuPaul’s Drag Race – I like reality shows that show craftspeople at work, and this is the best. Mama Ru’s Emmy win this year gave me life. Always: Purse first.
- High Maintenance – Don’t be turned off by the ostensible premise: This is a tone poem about individuals connecting (or not) in the not-so-anonymous big city.
- Halt and Catch Fire – Five actors at the top of their game in a sublime piece of computer-age historical fiction. Catch up before its final season airs next summer.
- Transparent – What it all comes down to, is that everything’s gonna be fine fine fine.
- The Path – Cult stuff, so of course I love it. I’d watch Aaron Paul, Michelle Monaghan and Hugh Dancy (Will Graham, always in my heart) in anything.
- Fleabag – Breaking the fourth wall is annoying, except for when it’s perfect. Bonus points for outstanding deployment of Olivia Colman.
- Game of Thrones – I’ve been reading the books longer than I’ve known some people in my life. This season deep speculation became (show, at least) canon.
- Black Mirror – Still morbid, still twisted and still scarily on-point. I like having an idea of where we might be headed, as I am a well-known catastrophist.
- Full Frontal with Samantha Bee – Righteous rage might be the defining emotion of 2016 and Sam Bee wields it like a razor.
Movie Scenes & TV Episodes
- You’re The Worst: Twenty-Two – Desmin Borges is perfect. Mandatory viewing for all, and vital for anyone serious about supporting veterans.
- Hail, Caesar: Would that it were so simple – I used to direct theatre in college. I still have to give direction at large library events. This is my new manta.
- Moonlight: Learning to swim – My heart…
- The Nice Guys: The bathroom stall – Gosling and Crowe are comedy gold.
- Black Mirror: San Junipero – The queer tech romance I never knew I needed. Beautiful, emotional, with just a hint of the usual creepery.
- A Bigger Splash: Emotional Rescue – Ralph Fiennes doesn’t have an Oscar. He should get one for this role and he should have to dance in everything from now on.
- Manchester by the Sea: All the scenes in the car – Supposedly, men communicate most authentically sitting side by side. Maybe that’s not true, but in this movie it is.
- SNL: Diego Calls His Mom – A transcendent, deceptively subversive moment that stole my breath. Real and true. Thanks again, Lin-Manuel Miranda…for everything.
- Rectify: Therapy – In a show that is uplifting and traumatizing in equal measure, this scene from the penultimate episode encapsulates the series’ tone perfectly.
- Jane the Virgin: Doing It – After an animated sequence that felt like a rare misstep, the second-time around was pure magic and had me howling with joy. Go Jane!