Dec 17, 2016

Posted by in Featured, Ramblings

Stuff I Liked In 2016

Stuff I Liked In 2016

Look, 2016 has more or less been a festering pus riddled sore on human existence.

We lost too many brilliant humans to count, from David Bowie to Prince to Muhammed Ali to Victoria Wood.  Not to mention Terry Wogan, Sharon Jones, Alan Rickman, Gene Wilder, Leonard Cohen, Gary Shandling or too many fucking other deaths.  Like the UK Labour Party…

Then of course there’s fucking Brexit, fucking Pauline Fucking Hanson, fucking Donald Cunting Trump and fucking Nigel Fucking Cunting Farage.  And the National Front in France, and the Alt-Right (read Nazis) and UKIP and One Nation and ISIS and just fucking everything.

And the bombings in Brussels and Nice, and then there’s Syria and the refugee crisis, and all the police shootings, and earthquakes and plane crashes, and climate change, and Zika, and the Great Barrier Reef is fucked and well so is everything.  I’ve left so much out, not because I think these are the most important things, but because 2016 as been so unrelenting in its awfulness.

And that, because it’s 2016, someone will read this and say because I left out their particular favourite disaster I’m the worst person who ever lived and I’m ignorant and offensive and deliberating prioritising something over something else because I have a secret agenda and that’s triggering them because they once saw a film about a conspiracy and they got a tummy ache after so this blog is no longer a safe space.

Also they keep making Marvel movies.  And Apple keep getting fucking worse.

2016 is so malicious it’s even caused multiple typos, grammar issues and general air of confusion in this article caused by the nastiness of the year and not at all the haste in which I typed it.  Also, articles like this should have lots of hyperlinks.  But they don’t.  So just Google it.

So yes, lots about 2016 has been dire to say the least.  I mean, really fucking dire.  So bleak you might pop on a Ken Loach film to cheer yourself up.  Which is a nice segway into some of the things, that have made 2016 bearable as far as Im concerned.

Films

I mean, I haven’t seen I, Daniel Blake yet but it’s supposedly excellent.

You see, I’ve probably been busier in 2016 than I’ve ever been and so trips to the cinema have been few and far between and, I have to say, largely disappointing.  We walked out of The Jungle Book reboot.  But thanks to the marvels of iTunes (iTunes is really not a marvel, it’s the worst piece of software in history, but you know what I mean), Netflix and the like, I’ve managed to still see a bunch of new releases that I liked.  There was a lot more I didn’t though, let’s make that clear.

10 Cloverfield Lane was a pleasant surprise.  A good film let down by a kinda shitty ending but John Goodman is brilliant.  In the same vein, Midnight Special is really excellent as well.

mckinnon-lab-hero

Ghostbusters

Setting aside all the sexist morons online, the new Ghostbusters was a whole lot of fun and I enjoyed it a great deal.  And it reaffirms that Kate McKinnon is about to take over the world. Zootopia likewise was a very enjoyable way to spend 90 minutes.  Don’t Think Twice is a great relatively undiscovered indie that deserves your time and also and reaffirms that Gillian Jacobs should be in everything.

On the documentary front, The Last Man on the Moon and Tickled are both fantastic, the latter the sort of film that really needs to be seen to be believed.  One More Time With Feeling defies description in it’s pain, beauty and brilliance.

While I’m yet to see the Amanda Knox documentary on Netflix, my wife assures me it was very good.  She also raved about  The Little Prince.

One recent film I did catch in the cinema was Arrival.  It is a film that is 118 minutes long and about 112 minutes in, I was ready to call it the film of the year.  It is a proper science fiction film.  It has a properly intelligent script that lets the audience work out what’s happening as it unfolds without obvious signposting.  The performances are great, the direction superb and the cinematography and lighting a technical marvel.  But then, well, fuck.  The last couple of minutes before the screen time made me so fucking angry.  There wasn’t a stupid twist or anything but rather the stench of some Hollywood exec standing round going, ‘But what if people don’t get it?’  So instead we get a couple of entirely unrequired minutes of voiceover and flat out explanation of what has just happened.  I mean, come on, does Hollywood really have that little respect for audiences?  Or do they assume that the mere thought of ambiguity or the neccesity of an audience to think is repellent.  Or did they just assume lots of people would turn up because it was an alien movie with the guy from The Avengers in it so since there weren’t 75 minutes of explosions, they’d better explain it to the morons.  This probably makes me sound like a snob and I don’t care.  Have some goddamn faith in an audience.  Jesus it made me mad.

film-brooklyn

Brooklyn

Anyway, some of the earlier in the year films, that might’ve even been late 2015, I’m not sure and I’m too lazy to check, that were in this year’s Oscars batch were great as well.  Spotlight deserves all the acclaim it got.  And Brooklyn is the sort of classic Hollywood type of film they just don’t make anymore.  And Saoirse Ronan is out of this world brilliant in that film.  Also, I am unashamed fan of the romantic-comedy genre when it’s done well, or at least done a bit differently to the paint by numbers shite you’d expect to find Kate Hudson in.  And in Sleeping With Other People, Leslye Headland manages to do that.  It was a film that was marketed terribly and the promos bore almost no resemblence to the film itself.  Well worth checking out.

hunt-for-the-wilderpeople-sam-neill-julian-dennison-03

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

But, for me, the film of the year might seem an obvious choice as I’m pretty sure it’s going to top a lot of people’s lists.  Poignant, beautifully shot, superbly acted, powerful and very, very, very funny.  Hunt For the Wilderpeople is one hell of a film.  If you haven;t seen it, bookmark this article and come back to it later.  Because you need to go watch that movie right now.  It’s been a long time since I’ve had to pause a movie because I was laughing so hard.  Hunt for the Wilderpeople had me doing it multiple times.

There’s plenty of things I missed through lack of time, or will miss before the year end that have been released this year that are probably great.  Nocturnal Animals looks interesting, and The Little Hours too.  Passengers has potential to be either brilliant or awful and I’ve heard nothing but glowing reports on The Salesman. Silence and Miss Sloane too.

Oh, and I haven’t seen the new Star Wars but that was on purpose.

Music

packshot1-768x768Let’s get this out of the way first. Skeleton Tree from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds is not just the best album of the year, it might be one of the best albums of all time.  I truly believe, in a hundred years or so, if Trump hasn’t got us all killed, people will talk of Nick Cave in the way we currently talk about Edgar Allan Poe, Beethoven, Shakespeare and the like.  He quite simply is that good.  The word genius is chucked around too much for my liking, but Nick Cave, particualry in the company of Warren Ellis, is the pure definition of the word.

It was a pretty good year all round for Australian music actually. A.B. Original’s Reclaim Australia is a breath of fresh air and well worth sticking in your ears.  Paul Kelly put out two great albums this year on two different themes.  His workings of Shakespeare’s sonnets on Seven Sonnets and a Song was quite beautiful as was his album of funeral songs with Charlie Owen, Death’s Dateless Night.   Archie Roach’s first album in yonks, Let Love Rule I’ve also returned to a fair few times.  And, dare I say it, Delta Goodrem’s Wings of the Wild is one hell of a catchy pop record.

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Blackstar

I welcomed the return of A Tribe Called Quest too.  We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service is a timely, and great album.  And it’d be wrong not mention Beyonce’s Lemonade.  It wasn’t really my cup of tea but it was difficult not to appreciate the artistry involved.

I really do like PJ Harvey but I struggled to like her new album this year.  You Want it Darker, on the other hand, I think is Leonard Cohen’s best album in years and obviously it’s incredibly sad that it will be his final one.

david-bowie-blackstar-2-large_transq1dnh8fc6llximcp2qjj32k2jqmkuhbiu4vjd7i58d4“Awaken, My Love!”, from Childish Gambino, was fantastic and I’ve liked new gear from Hollie Smith, Elton John, Alicia Keys, The Rolling Stone and Frank Ocean.

And then there’s Blackstar.  I can’t say anymore on it or I’ll start feeling all 2016 again.  But my word, that man.  That.  Man.

Television

TV continues to be really good and better than film at the moment in my view.  Maybe just because I’ve seen more of it because it’s easier for me to watch bits and pieces of it.  That doesn’t take away from the masses of goodness out there at the moment.

unbreakable-kimmy-schmidt-season-2-02

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Here’s some stuff I’ve watched this year, and really liked.  The new seasons of Veep and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt were both very, very funny.  Last Week Tonight With John Oliver kept the bar high and I really liked what Colbert did with The Late Show and Trevor Noah with The Daily Show too.

Crazy-Ex Girlfriend

Upper Middle Bogan, Bob’s Burgers, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Angie Tribeca and The Last Man on Earth continue to be consitently good. And season 3 of Bojack Horseman somehow managed to be even better than the utterly sublime season 2.  It, along with Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which itself just gets better and better now in its second season, remain the best shows, maybe ever, about mental illness whilst somehow remaining hilarious.  For my money, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is the single best show on TV right now.  

It’s very much like Community in some respects.  It’s far and away the best thing on telly, but somehow, not enough people are watching it for it to be guaranteed automatic reknewal.  Go watch it on Netflix.  Now.  In fact, season 1 concluded earlier this year which means I can declare episode 11 of that season the best hour of telly this year.  If you’re struggling with season 1, unable to work out what this show is, just wait till episode 11.  Good lordy lord.  Oh, also, Documentary Now!  That’s the other best show on TV you’re not watching.

Some once great shows also really went off the boil this year too proving that 2016 really is a bitch.  Orange is the New Black went downhill during season 3 and was just downright rubbish this year if you ask me.  Another Period seemed to just resort to dick jokes instead of character.  Inside Amy Schumer had moments but was a pretty week season.  And The Night Of achieved that rare feat of starting out a great show and then, in the space of one episode, jump the shark, ram in five hundred cliches and fall off a cliff.  In fact, episode 5 of that miniseries was so awful I didn’t even bother finishing it.

We also bid farewell to some great shows that put in solid final seasons.  Comedy Bang! Bang! had a good final year and, despite a pretty weak final episode, the final season of House of Lies ticked most of the right boxes.  Togetherness provided a conclusive enough ending even though it had to do so unsure of whether it’d be back for season 3 or not.  Also, in the latest season of that show, Amanda Peet turns in one of the best performances of the year.

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The Good Place

And then there’s been a glut of really, really good new shows too.  Michael Schur’s latest sitcom, The Good Place is refreshing in a lot of ways.  It’s a network sitcom with a genuine story arc.  One where you can’t just jump in and pick up like a Seinfeld.  Nothing wrong with those sorts of shows, it’s just nice to see a story being told.  And it’s damn funny.  And the cast is excellent.  Kristen Bell and Ted Danson anchor but the relative newcomers in the support cast are top notch.  Meanwhile, the reboot of Roots was better than expected, and beuatifuly shot, and staying on the same them, Underground was also, well, enjoyable’s the wrong word, but you know what I mean.  I’m yet to see the drama version of the whole OJ affair, but the doc series OJ: Made In America is one of the finest TV documentaries I’ve ever seen.

On the science front, Planet Earth 2 was spectacular, if a little lean.  Helen Czerski’s Dangerous Earth was a gem on BBC4 and Dallas Campbell recreating the first night of TV was a good watch as well.  And whilst technically a web series, wasn’t The Quest For Wonder brilliant…

Actually, speaking of web series, Horace and Pete was a Louis CK experiment that worked on pretty much every level.  Go check it out. It’s bloody great.

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Atlanta

But it was US TV channel FX, who gave life to shows like Louie, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Fargo, The League and countless others that really hit it out of the park this year with three new shows, all so bloody good it’s almost impossible to split them.  They’re all doing something different.  They are all properly, truly unique comedy showcasing unique voices (even if two of them are exec produced by Louis CK).  Baskets is a riot, and Louie Anderson is utterly superb in it.  Better Things will go down as one of the best female led, and female focused, shows ever produced and by fuck it’s high time the world woke up to just how talented Pamela Adlon is.  And then there’s Donald Glover’s Atlanta.  A show that throws everything at wall and somehow, it all sticks.  Those worried that since Glover left Community to focus on his Childish Gambino exploits, he had gone all serious and emo, don’t stress.  Atlanta is powerful, poignant, ridiculous and hilarious.  There are elements of Gambino and Community in what is definitely the best new show of 2016.  It’s rare, very rare, for a show to be able to position proper real world drama with absolute absurdity in its comedy, but Atlanta does it with ease.  Well, not ease.  With A grade writing, directing and acting actually.

And before someone says ‘WHAT ABOUT GAME OF THRONES!?  WHAT ABOUT THE WALKING DEAD?!  WHAT ABOUT ALL THE MARVEL THINGS LIKE JESSICA JONES?!’  Not seen any of them.  Sorry.  Not my cup of tea at all.  I’ve tried to watch all of them and then quickly realised they were not for me.  For oh so many reasons.

Theatre

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The Crucible

As above, it’s been busy this year.  Obviously, I’ve seen a lot of stuff at The Old Vic as usual, but tried to catch some stuff that I could around the place.  When I was in NYC for a shoot earlier this year, I managed to catch Ivo Van Hove’s restaging of The Crucible on Broadway which was five stars of excellence.  Saoirse Ronan was an intense Abigail and Ben Whishaw as good a John Procter as I’ve ever seen.  And the opening of Act 2 was one of the most immense things I’ve seen in a theatre in some time, complete with actual real life wolf.

No Man’s Land is one of my favourite ever plays and Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellan did as good a version of it as is possible on the West End this year.  I wasn’t as familiar with The Dresser, but we went along to check out Book Shambles regular Reece Shearsmith with Ken Stott and were not disappointed.  Two great performances in a greata play, even if elements of the script are showing its age.  I dare say neither Ken Stott or Reece have ever been better.  And when my parents were in town we went to The Play That Went Wrong which does everything you want a farce to despite me having some real reservations about that show’s, well, that’s for another blog…

At The Old Vic, Ralph Fiennes and Sarah Snook were great in The Master Builder.  It’s not one of Ibsen’s best works to be honest, but that said, this particular production of it was about as good as you can do The Master Builder which is about as high praise as you can get.  Lisa Dwan was as spellbinding and intense as you’d expect her to be in the brilliant world premiere of No’s Knife and there was also another little show that had a world premiere at The Old Vic this year…

Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day was an utter delight.  I ended up seeing three times, once in previews, once in the run, and then on the final night, and each time was a different joy.  It’s an easy win to say it’s the sort of show that bears repeat viewings, but it really does.  The Matilda dream team have done one hell of a job with this show and Danny Rubin’s script, based more on the darker original than the Bill Murray film, works perfectly on stage.  It’s more of a ‘Tim Minchin musical’ than Matilda was, in my opinion, and it shows and benefits from it.  The songs are wonderful, funny and catchy despite some claims to the contrary.  The closing number is a beauty.  And as for Andy Karl, as Phil Connors?  Just give that man the Oliver and the Tony now.  And Minchin, Warchus and co as well.

Still yet to see Lazarus, Art and Dead Funny although they are on the bill before year’s end.

Books

6077In a recurring theme, I’ve not had as much time to read this year as I’d like to have.  A lot of the stuff I’ve read this year has either been old books I’m catching up with, or books by many of our fabulous guests of Book Shambles.  I’ve enjoyed War from Janne Teller (although perhaps enjoyed is not the right word for that particular title).  Helen Czerski’s Storm in a Teacup is a topr ate popular science book.  What I have read of Jersusalem I have loved but obviously I’ve not finished it yet because Alan Moore has written a book about 3,444,212,122 pages long.  The Wicked and the Divine series continues to impress me and Patience by Daniel Clowse likewise though I’m yet to finish it also.  In the autobiography world, Joel McHale’s Thanks for the Money was a refreshing shake up to the genre, and very, very funny and Anna Kendrick’s Scrappy Little Nobody an equally pleasant read.  And Universal from Jeff Forshaw and Brian Cox was probably the most ‘accessible’ of their three works together.

But for me, my hands down book of the year, goes to someone who was a Book Shambles guest, but I’m pretty sure it would’ve been my favourite book of the year regardless.  Sara Pascoe’s Animals is truly excellent.  The combo of life story, science, politics, feminist history and comedy is done, I think, better than I’ve ever seen it done before in a book.  It really is one of those ‘Everyone should be made to read this book’ books.

Video Games

I have still played quite a few games this year as I tend to do so in the wee hours, for an hour or two, before attempting some form of sleep.  It would be remiss of me to not mention what an utter disaster No Man’s Sky was and how NBA 2K17 is a perfect example of what can happen to a once great franchise in the absence of competition.

the_witcher_3_wild_hunt_blood_and_wine_anna_henrietta_and_her_entourage_rgb_en_1464106314-0Blood and Wine, though not technically a standalone game, was a brilliant addition and finale to the Witcher franchise.  I enjoyed The Witness but didn’t gel with it as much as others did.  Mafia III was great fun, a great world, and a killer soundtrack if a little repetitive.  I’m yet to finish it for example. Deus Ex:Mankind Divided kind of falls into that same category for me.  Unravel was gorgeous, if a bit broken. Doom wasn’t the masterwork a lot of people made it out to be, in my opinion, but I must admit it was easily the most fun I’ve had with an FPS in years as it’s not a genre I usually like at all.  It was a proper callback to the original really, just with better graphics.  Big, dumb and silly.  And very, very violent.  And I’m really looking forward to diving into The Last Guardian when I have some time over Xmas.  I’ve only played the first hour or so at this point and like what I’ve seen so far.

26111298331_fdab1d50c1_hMy game of the year though, is probably going to be one that tops a whole lot of lists.  Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End was, quite frankly, incredible.  The gameplay satisfying and as challenging as you wanted it to be.  It might be the best looking game I’ve ever played as well.  I’m not a person that usually stands around looking at CGI vistas and so on in a game, I want to dive into the world and the story.  But with this, that all changed.  I’d find myself standing on cliffs, waterfalls, buildings, ball rooms, you name it, and just letting it all sink in.  The animation of every pixel brought a world to life in a way I’m not sure I’ve ever seen in a game.  And nothing else suffered as a result.  How they got this quality out of a PS4 console, I’ve no idea.

And then the storytelling and character work as good as anything Naughty Dog, or anyone really, has ever done, The Last of Us aside.  The Uncharted series has always been a sort of interactive adventure movie in some respects, and Uncharted 4 is as good as they’ve ever done.  If not for one tiny misstep in the final ‘boss battle’, for what it set out to achieve, it’s almost perfect.

And No-Clip launched, and it seems like a very good thing.

Other Stuff

35-cal-crutchlow-englg5_2598_0-bigI liked the 2016 MotoGP season a lot.  It was one of the best of all time, no doubt.  9 different winners in MotoGP.  A masterclass from Brad Binder in M0to3.  Cal Crutchlow proving a lot of people wrong.  I liked the NBA, by which I mean the league.  I liked them moving the All Star Game from North Carolina until they wake the fuck up.  I liked their support of players taking a stand on thing like #BlackLivesMatter.  I liked LeBron James refusing to stay in Trump hotels anymore.  I liked the NBA backing him on it.  I like the way Adam Silver does things.  From the sport side of things, I liked Aaron Gordon vs Zach Levine a whole lot.  I liked D-Wade coming home.  I liked Larry Nance Jr’s dunk.  Through gritted teeth, I liked ‘that’ Lebron block in Game 7.  Maybe not like, maybe respected.  Maybe was in fucking awe.  I liked Steph Curry’s game winner against OKC.  I like basketball quite a lot actually.

I was happy for the Western Bulldogs and I was delighted for the Chicago Cubs.  The Rio Olympics were a bit of a fiasco on so many levels but the sport was great.  Bolt, Mo, McKeon, Trott, Kenny, Storey, Simmonds.  Bolt.  Jesus Christ Almighty Bolt.

And Falcon 9 was impressive.  And Tim Peake coming home.  And, oh, yeah, gravitational waves.  And Rosetta.

And Book Shambles was good, and #Compendium was one of the best ever and Public Service Broadcasting are still brilliant live.

And probably some other stuff I haven’t thought of as I was writing this.

So, this year many, many humans proved themselves to be truly awful creatures.  They voted for hate and fear.  They turned Twitter into a safehouse for bullies and Nazis.  They punched kangaroos.  And they made Chewbaca Mum a fucking thing.  They kept paying money for goddamn Marvel movies.

abe58ed00b61f632387b24f53b1574f2But, hopefully, on the whole, we’re still alright.  We can still discover the secrets of the Universe.  We can still make funny musicals that accurately address issues of mental health.  They can dress up like Gumby and make their dog go nuts with glee.  Jon Stewart can pop up to takeover The Late Show and Kate McKinnon can sing Hallelujah.

Who knows if 2017 will be better or worse. It has to be better doesn’t it?  Well, no, it doesn’t.  And in fact, in all likelihood, it won’t be.  But people will continue to love each other and make art and spread knowledge and dance and tell jokes and fight fascism and bullshit.  I, for one, am going to do all of that.  Join me won’t you?

Cosmic Shambles is coming in 2017.  Check it out here

 

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