Yeah, it was a shitty year. We all know it. All of that entitled fan bullshit on the internet. The Election That Killed the Holidays. No third Book of Forgotten Stars this year. All of that goddamn death of people we admired and/or whose work we admired, and then all the Armchair Rationalists telling us we were stupid for caring about it. And that's not even the personal stuff, those are just bummers (or, in the case of the Rise of Trumpism, the possible end of civilization).
So here are some of the bright spots, frivolous and otherwise, in a year of darkness.
I recognize that this one is pretty self-serving, since Godzilla Haiku is my own Tumblr, but it's one of the few things I've ever done that was popular and wide-reaching, and it felt good to bring it back. I haven't done much--I tend to let it lie for a year or two at a time--but to express myself creatively, even with something this silly, and to actually feel good about doing so, which is hard for me, it pretty nice. Besides, Janis Ian loves it, and she told me so herself, so there.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has settled a little now that the whole Shredder storyline has been resolved, but I had to include that TMNT #56 saw the introduction of Leatherhead. After a couple of years of saying on this very list that I was desperate to see them bring in Leatherhead, it seemed wrong not to give the guy a shout-out.
Via RuPaul's Drag Race, season 8. It just makes me giggle every time I see it.
47. "7 Years" by Lukas Graham
It's kinda cheesy, but I liked it when I heard it this year, and it sure was on the radio a lot.
45. "Ride 'Em on Down"
The new Rolling Stones video, directed by François Rousselet, on this list for what I assume are obvious reasons. I mean, y'all know how much I love Kristen Stewart. I dig this one.
I will never care about the Olympics, but this photo of Usain Bolt is one for the ages. Time has the story behind this photo and its photographer, Cameron Spencer, here.
I like this more than the frankly-just-okay trailer from the upcoming Wonder Woman movie. I'm a big fan of her art, and this is the thing she drew this year that I loved the most.
Darwyn Cooke is one of the great luminaries we lost this year (and far too young). One of his last works was this lovely miniseries for Vertigo (in collaboration with writer Gilbert Hernandez), which mixed magic realism and science fiction in a beautiful story about love, chance, and the supernatural. One of my favorite comic book stories of the year.
Oh, Marvel; despite the things you do that I love, there is still so much nonsense going on that is damn hard to deal with. Constantly derailing almost every series for a summer event (which always has deadline problems--seriously, this year's event, Civil War II, just ended yesterday) is the perfect way to run a comic book universe into the ground. This year saw so many series grind to a halt just to be part of the event, and because of deadline problems, the actual fallout began months before the event was finished. Ugh. At least the comics I was most enjoying--Silver Surfer, The Mighty Thor, The Unbelievable Gwenpool, and Howard the Duck--were relatively unaffected. Even though Howard did come to its end... but with a great meta-story and an appearance by Lea Thompson. One comic I was loving the hell out of, the new iteration of Weirdworld, was sadly dropped and doesn't appear to be coming back.
But one of the things the fallout of Civil War II has done--and something I'm really, really enjoying--is that it's paved the way for a lot of young heroes to come up to the fore. The Champions is about a group of teenage heroes--including Ms. Marvel, the Miles Morales Spider-Man, and the Amadeus Cho Hulk, three of my favorite people in the Marvel Universe over the last two years--who want to help people without getting entangled in the bureaucracy and hypocritical in-fighting in a world where everyone's either an Avenger or somehow involved in SHIELD. Combine these heroes with the new Iron Man (a teenage genius named Riri Williams) and what's going on with Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, and it's very, very exciting to see a newer, younger, fresher, more diverse, less baggage-y Marvel Universe emerging... and it makes it easier to ignore the damn events. For now...
Who knows, maybe we'll see all of these children develop rifts and kill each other next year. It's not like Marvel cares about stories anymore.
There'll be more to mention, but I'm still having a really good time watching a lot of series. Turns out Outlander is a show that really, truly delivers. Westworld was really something to get caught up in. As much as I know it annoys some people when I say this, The Librarians is my American replacement for Doctor Who, because Doctor Who stopped being fun five or so years ago. The Americans, Penny Dreadful, People of Earth, Better Call Saul, Masters of Sex, Vice Principals, The Last Man on Earth... there's been a lot of TV to enjoy this year.
It seems inappropriate to mention it with other shows, since it's much more serious, but again: if you get a chance to see the Roots remake, take it. (I think it's on Hulu right now.) It'll make you sad as hell, but it's important and powerful.
I mention it every year, but we live in an amazing age of space photography. This photo above, of an enormous bubble being blown out by a super-hot and massive star, was my favorite in 2016 (and there's a fuller explanation here at the NASA site), Wired also has a slideshow of 50 stunning space photos from this year.
I didn't know I needed a noir sitcom that served as a satire of Millennial self-absorption and the search for meaning, but it turns out I did. It's only 10 half-hour episodes, but it's so worth the binge.
Well, as I predicted in advance, The Muppets got canceled, but the second half of the series was even better than the first, and now we're getting new episodes of Pigs in Space directed by the great Kirk Thatcher. Besides that, the Muppets had some great TV appearances (including all over this year's Macy's Thanksgiving Parade), a show and a restaurant at Walt Disney World, and Cookie Monster had that fantastic iPhone commercial. The Muppets' light may have diminished a little this year, but hopefully they're rallying and working on something big and new as we speak.
This show, now in its second season, has quietly managed to become one of my favorite cartoons on television. Each 15-or-so-minute cartoon has a deft sense of satire on our modern obsessions, but there are also episodes of quiet, lyrical beauty about the connections we make and how they enrich us. And all while being utterly hilarious.
35. "Cake by the Ocean" by DNCE
I dig this song because it sounds like the 80s to me. (I seriously did not like modern music very much in the 90s.) But I also dig it because my wife loves it so much. I know the song is technically from last year, but it got played so much on the radio in 2016, and we heard it a lot in the car while on our way to Becca's late mother's farm. It took us months to clean that place up, essentially having to go through not only her mother's things, but her stepfather's (he died in 2008), and her grandparents' (who passed in 2014 and in 1995). That was a long, sometimes demoralizing, always emotional experience, and this silly, fun song always made Becca feel great for a few minutes. We sold the farm back in September, but the song lives on as her ringtone.
This was one of the movie events of the summer for me, and I had one hell of a good time with it. It was also, sadly, a referendum on the worst aspects of internet culture. I have to say, I admire Leslie Jones for coming out through all of the racist and misogynist targeting. In effect, it felt like a dry run for more of the aggrieved white man bullshit we can expect to truly bloom during the Trump presidency. And all because Hollywood dared to put four women in a remake of a movie these bros loved when they were kids. And, added to that, I can't take anyone else's opinion of the movie seriously, because even if you just didn't like it because you didn't think it was good, I've seen too many people use that as a smokescreen for their racism and misogyny to trust their opinion. The internet really ruins being able to talk about movies. Or, really, anything.
But I thought it was funny and I went to see it on my birthday and had fun.
Also, HI-C brought back Ecto Cooler, and it was glorious. I still have several packs of it that I hope last me for a bit.
I did a Pee-wee's Playhouse rewatch this year, and turns out I still love it as much as I did when I was 11. So this was the perfect time for this flick to hit Netflix. Nothing profound to say about it, just truly glad I got to take that trip back and it was worth it. "You guys time traveling?" That movie cracked me up.
32. The Eric Andre Show
Turns out that after a long day of psychological testing, or being in a near-panic state because of some other complication, ten minutes of genius absurdism is exactly what you need to get all of that damn tension out.
Jeff Smith's Bone is one of my favorite comic book stories ever. The epic was completed years ago, but this year, we got a delightful little coda that featured a new adventure of Fone Bone, Phony Bone and Smiley Bone (and Bartleby!) as they make their way back to Boneville. It sure was nice to see these characters again and to get another taste of some of the best cartoon storytelling in modern history.
Still loving the Archie reboot (which this year includes a new Josie and the Pussycats comic), but as always, the best thing going is Jughead. He just has the wisdom.
The 50th anniversary of Star Trek was really under-served by Paramount, but I really enjoyed the new movie. I've been a fan of this reboot series from the beginning (even despite some dopey flaws), but I thought this one was the best of them so far.
The first literary use of emojis.
After falling for Supergirl last year, this was the year I really threw myself into the entirety of The CW's DC Comics series. And it gives me the exact dorky thrill that I completely miss in their shitty movies. (Seriously, Batman v. Superman is the worst movie I've ever seen.) The Flash is easily my favorite, giving me the same feeling I had when I used to read the comic--handily my favorite comic book for the entire time Mark Waid was writing it. I love the heck out of Legends of Tomorrow, too, and I still dig Supegirl and Arrow... Arrow's okay. It's nice to have something from DC that I like.
26. Judge Morty
We may still be waiting for the second season of Rick and Morty, but this short and very NSFW video made me laugh hysterically.
There was actually more stuff I wanted to include on this list this year than I thought there would be, so I'm offering four of my favorite albums this year as a package: Solange's masterful A Seat at the Table, Rihanna's powerful ANTI, the beautiful Starboy by The Weeknd, and Alicia Keys' exquisite Here. All four albums are powerful documents of black life in America. And they're all very, very, very good albums.
This was released at the perfect time: my birthday weekend. There have been a lot of movies and TV shows in the past few years that have tried to hit me in the 80s nostalgia, but this one was stylistically right on. Like a lost collaboration between John Carpenter and Stephen King, but with enough of a vibe that just reminded me of me and my friends when we were kids.
23. The Twin Peaks teaser
I love that this is it. This is all I needed the teaser to be. I'm very, very excited about this show coming back.
The best single episode of a television series this year aired back in February, as Black-ish addressed the issue of police brutality and its disproportionate effect on the black population in a way no other sitcom does or could today. There's an important social dialogue going on in this episode, and an intense reminder--in just under 2 minutes--that yes, racism is still something that impacts us. This was a powerful sitcom episode that reminded me of an earlier time when a sitcom could have something important to say.
The OJ Simpson trial happened at what was the beginning of my adult life, and boy, was it a quick preparation for how terribly the media can impact life. What seemed so frivolous and annoying at the time seems like a real turning point two decades later, and this series did an excellent job of portraying how the trial came to represent so many different aspects of American life to so many different people. The best TV performance this year, in my opinion, was Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran, portrayed here as a man willing to let a man of questionable innocence go free in order to put systemic, institutional racism itself on trial. A compelling and surprisingly powerful series about something that, back in the mid-nineties, just seemed like pointless, irritating spectacle. But given everything that's happened since, it puts the last 20 years in perspective.
Two geniuses whose music meant a lot to me passed away this year, and both of them left behind albums that felt like their goodbyes to the world. David Bowie's Blackstar was emotive and cryptic, fascinatingly experimental and arty, impenetrable like some of the man's best work. Leonard Cohen's You Want It Darker was, in a way, like attending his funeral. Both albums wore shrouds and felt like mourning, but they were both beautiful and grand. Thanks for saying farewell.
It continues to be my favorite thing in the Marvel Universe, and one of the few titles blessedly untouched by the endless annual events. It seems like Dan Slott and Michael Allred are really using Doctor Who as a model, which I think perfectly suits Norrin Radd and his quest to find a place where he belongs. It's such a great book.
18. "The Greatest"
This year, the beautiful collaboration between Sia and magical Maddie Ziegler continued, and it produced this powerful video, itself inspired by the tragic Pulse nightclub shooting. It's stunning and emotional.
Just as gonzo and hilarious as the first season, this one actually took us back to the cabin from Evil Dead II (complete with Ted Raimi as Henrietta) and took some twists that just overall fucked with your head. I absolutely loved this season... right up until the shitty ending. After that unsatisfying ending, and reading some stuff about behind the scenes power struggles, I'm thinking a third season is going to lose some of the hilarious trippiness that defines Evil Dead, and that's too bad.
16. RuPaul's Drag Race: All-Stars 2
I don't even know where to begin with all the ways this delighted me. Drag Race quickly became one of my favorite shows years ago, but this second iteration of All-Stars had a lot of my favorite (and some of my least favorite) queens and was a constant source of fun that was over far too quickly. And the best part is that they simulcast almost every episode on VH1, so I could see it in HD for a change.
15. The Venture Bros.
It was a long wait for the sixth season to get here--two and a half years!--but damn, was it worth it.
Disney's The Jungle Book was one of my biggest childhood favorites, and I'm so glad that this movie did right by it without being overly devoted to it or pulling too hard in the direction of gritty realism. If movies are going to go so big on computer-generated environments and characters, I love when they unshackle themselves from a sense of time or place and just create their own world. This was like being inculcated in a fairy tale that didn't feel the need to constantly reassure the audience with contemporary humor. Instead, there was a genuinely alien and ancient quality to it that I fell in love with.
As I've said many times, my favorite superhero is Jay Garrick, the original Flash. That he's now a recurring character on The Flash is amazing enough--seriously, remember when superhero shows and movies were so reluctant to get into the really weird, loopy stuff like multiverses?--but the fact that he's played by John Wesley Shipp is just... it's so damn good. Seriously, when Shipp starred on the 1990 TV series The Flash as Barry Allen, I used to have to go out of my way to find a TV I could watch it on. The show died partially because it was pretty silly, but in even larger part because it was up against The Simpsons on Fox and The Cosby Show on NBC. So seeing Shipp return as the Flash who acts as a mentor to Grant Gustin's Barry Allen is a wonderful, nostalgic triumph for me. When he put on that hat and cocked it to the side, I about burst into nerdly tears.
The truth is, I never partook of Crystal Pepsi back when it was originally available. I didn't really get into the whole clear beverage craze. But when it came back this year, I decided, what the hell, why not give it a shot. And... damn. I don't know why or how or if it was just a visual trick, but this is the best iteration of Pepsi I've ever had. Honestly, it haunts me knowing that I'll probably never have it again. I tried to take it as slow as I could, but I could never find enough to really hoard it long-term. Come back, Crystal Pepsi. You're too good for this world.
Beyonce's bold, raw, unadulterated masterpiece. One of the bravest albums I've ever heard, and made with an artistic command that is undeniable. "Treating her blackness not as an affliction but a celebratory beacon, Lemonade is a long overdue, cathartic retribution." -- Shahzaib Hussain, Clash.
Chance the Rapper's mixtape was one of the best things I heard this year. Substantive and uplifting, an album that weaves gospel into hip hop to create harmony and joy, I keep returning to this masterpiece. I love the jazz horns and gospel choirs put into a hip hop setting.
At first polarizing and then dismissed, I personally thought Nicolas Winding Refn's film was the best movie of 2016. Elle Fanning was excellent in it, so assume this replaces her usual entry on this list. I think a lot of critics were dismissive of what's actually a pretty stunning giallo-style, artistic look at power dynamics, beauty, narcissism, and self-actualization. But too many were dismissive about it because it was about women, let's be honest.
Honestly, at this point I almost feel like I should really do a list of my 10 favorite Star Wars things every year, because I always have a lot of stuff on here from the franchise. I may not want to talk about it online ever, but I still love Star Wars to death and dig so much stuff that I just need to mention a lot of it. Where to begin...
I also want to mention the great story "The Phantom Limb," a Marvel special that answered the most inessential question of The Force Awakens: why did C-3PO have a red arm. The story, by James Robinson & Tony Harris (the same team behind Starman, one of my all time favorite DC comics), is much more than a simple bit of trivial filler, and Threepio's red arm is the least interesting aspect of it. It's actually a great story--one that almost feels like a Heavy Metal story to me--about survival and political ideals.
And hell, there was even that great "Undercover Boss: Starkiller Base" sketch on Saturday Night Live. Just a lot of cool Star Wars stuff this year... although none of it really makes up for losing Carrie Fisher.
You may or may not know that I really love Funko Pop! Vinyls (if you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you've seen that I'm currently engaging in the #FunkoPhotoADay challenge), but my favorite of them all is Godzilla. Becca ran into and purchased Godzilla while attending C2E2 back in March as an artist, and she's been taking him all over the place this year and documenting his adventures. Parks, local statues, comic book conventions... she's been posting pictures of him, and I find them very cute and fun. Hell, he was even our Christmas card this year. I love that she's out there sharing these neato pictures of the little guy.
I had a lot of fun killing days with both of these games, which has really been something I've loved doing with Becca. They both had a number of DLC levels, too, which, it turns out, can be bought with gift cards. Two of my favorite franchises yielded two great games,
5. "Cheap Thrills"
Another Sia video starring Maddie Ziegler, which just sort of captivated me with its sense of movement and performance. And it's just a good song.
I know, you're surprised to see it in the top 5 yet again. But it's just so damn good and fun. Without question, my favorite addition to the MCU this year was Black Panther. Captain America: Civil War was a fantastic movie, just a really well-made flick. I watched it again on Christmas, and was just amazed at how it could juggle so many characters and still make sure that each scene advanced the plot, its themes, and the various emotional arcs of the various Avengers. And that airport fight scene! And Spider-Man fighting Giant-Man! I mean, remember when all of this seemed like an impossible dream for any movie? But on top of all of that, the origin story of the Black Panther was the part I really felt the most. I cannot wait to see him again.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming and even that silly Coke commercial where Ant-Man fights the Hulk, I enjoy the hell out of this thing and I'm just so glad it's good!
Look, I'm a big man. And so I haven't always been able to find shirts in my size. For the longest time, it seemed like tee shirt companies just didn't care that there are a lot of big, fat nerds who'd love to wear nerdy shirts, so I resigned myself to a lifetime of plain tees bought online. But this year I lost over 30 pounds, and one of the ways I rewarded myself was by occasionally taking advantage of tee shirt sales and actually getting myself some nerdy tees. It just makes me feel good that I can wear this kind of stuff now and actually not feel embarrassed about it and just have them in my size. Feels good, man.
This game saved a lot of my year from just being major depression on top of seasonal depression on top of spinning out from my (now-diagnosed) PTSD. I know it became instantly hip to bash it--some people on the internet seem to think that the ability to accurately point out that something is a fad makes them some kind of warrior-poet--but I still enjoy playing this game. It's a big part of how I lost over 30 pounds this year: getting out and walking more so I could play my game! And in the car, it gives me something to do instead of focusing on my anxiety. It gets me out of the house, so sorry if you think it's uncool, but please eat my ass because no matter how much it annoys anyone, and no matter how much Niantic's prick CEO keeps trying to make it less fun to play, I'm enjoying making this a part of my days. If it gets this agoraphobe out of the house, it's good.
1. Moana and "You're Welcome"
Let's end this year on a musical note, as I did on Monday when I went to a matinee of Moana, which is easily my favorite Disney movie in about the last seven years. This movie was everything I wanted it to be--spiritual, adventurous, beautiful, and full of monsters--but hands down my favorite thing in the movie was this song, sung by Dwayne Johnson as the demigod Maui.
So, even in a year as bad as this one, there was a lot to love, even if only for a moment. Hopefully there will be something next year besides frustration and worse. We'll see. I honestly never pictured myself living much longer than this. Good thing global warming isn't real and we don't have an ignorant madman coming into office, or I'd be worried!
No need to pray, it's okay, you're welcome...