It’s 2017 now, a fact to which we all must deal. But the new year offers us a chance to reflect on the year that was, and specifically (for us) on the films and books we most enjoyed this year.
However, because the time commitment required to watch a film and read a book are not quite the same, Will and I have structured our lists accordingly. We’ve limited ourselves to the best 2016 films we saw, but otherwise extended ourselves to the best books we read in 2016. Don’t get mad at us. We’re busy sometimes.
Will and Erik’s Favorite Films and Books from 2016
5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
I should have read this story when it first came out, but I was not much of a reader back then. Even so, this story thrust me back to that time and reintroduced me to the whimsical and magical world of Harry Potter, captured so well in the film version. A great story all book lovers should read (if they haven’t already), and I will continue reading the series into 2017. Check out our Sorcerer’s Stone podcast here.
4. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Another book that took me back to when I was younger, The Perks of Being a Wallflower actually has some real depth and emotional punch that cannot be said with most young adult fiction. Throughout the entire novel I was trying to figure out what the hell was wrong with Charlie, and the reveal at the end made me rethink everything I had just read. Great story-telling, and I will be sure to revisit this story sometime in my near future. Check out our Perks podcast here.
3. The Bone Clocks
A tough read being very slow at times, but so rewarding. I don’t know what it is exactly, but author David Mitchell has a keen way of developing such unique and yet relatable characters that I just could not get enough of. The fact that the story is set in a world where beings are fighting over the morality of immortality that spans centuries and deals with ideas of reincarnation and souls living longer than the bodies their inhabiting played right into my wheelhouse. Loved it.
The novel that inspired the award-winning film (catch our podcast episode on it here), floored me emotionally just as much as the film. That’s saying a lot for me, as I am much more of a cinephile than a bookworm. A uniquely great story, with more detail and characterization in the novel although the film stays very true to the original story. This is a book that will move you, maybe even to tears, and for that reason it is highly recommended. Why else do we read stories if not to feel something?
1. Slade House
I have to be honest here, I actually read this David Mitchell novel before reading The Bone Clocks. I know, I’m ashamed of myself. Slade House is not technically a sequel, but is is most certainly an extension of The Bone Clocks. Set in the same world, but with different characters. This time, the soul-sucking Anchorites are living in a time bubble house (so that they can remain immortal) that needs refueling every nine years, and the inhabitants lure regular, everyday humans to the house for refueling purposes. Very, very fun read and a great extension of The Bone Clocks, that isn’t as difficult of a read because it remains fast-paced throughout without sacrificing on unique and interesting characters.
5. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
The last book I finished in 2016, this Hunter S. Thompson work is a crazed journey into a depraved man’s soul. It was an appropriate way to end this year. Check out my review here.
4. Silver Screen Fiend
In Silver Screen Fiend we get a sense of comedian Patton Oswalt’s struggle. He weaves stories from his days playing at clubs like the Largo with a listing of every movie he watched over a four year period when he was “training” to be a film director. In a way, it’s a peek behind the glass at what influences one of his generation’s greatest comics. Check out my review here.
A collection of 15 short stories from the great Irishman James Joyce, Dubliners depicts turn of the century Irish life, between the pints and the parties. The collection is structured chronologically – from youth to death – and offers a well lived in view of Irish life. It’s the first thing Joyce published, and it’ll make you excited to see where he goes from there. Check out my review here.
2. Interpreter of Maladies
Another collection of short stories – nine this time – Interpreter of Maladies principally dramatizes cultural assimilation by Indian characters or those of Indian descent. Many of them are in new, foreign places – often Boston or its immediate suburbs – and trying to adjust to an unfamiliar life while simultaneously balancing familial, cultural, or religious traditions. It’s like watching a fish readjust to life underwater. Check out my review here.
1. Tender is the Night
As has been obvious from my reading choices, Hemingway and Fitzgerald rank high on my list of favorite authors. Until this year, however, my relationship to both consisted mainly of their short stories (another theme for me). Tender is the Night was my second Fitzgerald novel, and while I wouldn’t go as far as to call it better than The Great Gatsby, it’s certainly of that quality and emotional hit. Check out my review here.
*Editor’s note: Will has not seen La La Land (because he has better things to do, obviously. Jerk).
5. Hell or High Water
A very clever storyline backed against the financial struggles of Smalltown, USA. Chris Pine proves himself worthy of being a leading man in Hollywood, while director David Mackenzie (Starred Up) hands up a great film with layers to peel off as we go along this bank-robbing joy ride. I didn’t have high hopes for this one going in, but I was pleasantly surprised about how much I enjoyed watching it.
4. Midnight Special
A film I saw much earlier this year, but has nonetheless stayed with me throughout. A classic science fiction story of a boy with exceptional abilities and his father doing everything in his power to protect him from the powers that want to understand and contain him. As the film progresses, I began to understand through the eyes of the father that his boy is not meant to live in our world and needs to find where he’s meant to be, and that sometimes the only option is to just let go. Something I believe all fathers (and mothers) must deal with when their children come of age.
Finally, a science fiction film that is actually rooted in scientific theory. A film that encourages multiple viewings – and is actually worthy of it – is a rarity. Arrival proves to be great science fiction: alien invasion, mystery, thought-provoking, confusing, revelation, and unanswered questions. What’s not to love? Denis Villeneuve can do no wrong at the moment, and with another hit I’m only getting more excited to see what he does next with Blade Runner 2049.
The film I was most eagerly anticipating coming into 2016, Moonlight was everything I thought it would be and more. The most beautiful thing to me about this film is that it is so present and relevant for our time. Masculinity is a social construct that all boys deal with as they grow up, some more than others, and shown in a unique and fascinating way. Great acting all around, especially the scene where Little asks Juan, “What’s a faggot?” and finds out he sells drugs for a living. Looking forward to watching this one again and will most certainly be rooting for it come Oscar night. “Who is you, Chiron?”
1. Manchester by the Sea
To me the most surprising film this year was Manchester by the Sea because it was such an emotional powerhouse. Coming into it I didn’t know what to expect, but I was not expecting to be floored as emotionally as I felt. The last time I felt my emotions stirring this much after leaving a cinema was when I saw Room last year. The reveal during the middle third of the film is an absolute killer, and if you cry easily you better bring some tissues with you, but it sets up for such a great story about a broken family trying to piece it all together. What did it for me were the awkward interactions between Lee and Patrick and the lack of melodrama between these characters that made the story feel so real, and left me with no other choice but to put this movie atop my list. As I left the theater feeling all types of ways, I thought about how the characters’ situation wasn’t totally resolved at the end of the film, and yet I still had the feeling that everything was going to be alright.
5. Hail, Caesar!
Coen Bros. films match my comedic sensibilities pretty well, and Hail, Caesar! – despite it’s “Dumpuary” release date – made me laugh harder than any other film in 2016. The story of ‘50’s Hollywood fixer Eddie Mannix and a disappeared movie star, Caesar, like most Coen films, works on the ridiculousness of its characters. Oscar-winner Jonah Hill steals his one scene on the strength of hole punching, Channing Tatum defects to the Soviet Union, and Alden Ehrenreich would that it were so simple.
4. Manchester by the Sea
A gut-punch of a film that remained a joy to watch, Manchester tells the story of Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) and his efforts to look after his nephew after the untimely death of his brother. And that’s not even the emotional part. It’s a powerful and emotional story featuring knockout performances from Affleck, Michelle Williams (in her limited screentime), and Lucas Hedges (a young Matt Damon-look alike). I loved it.
3. Hell or High Water
A neo-Western starring Chris Pine, Ben Foster, and Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water does not spin a complex tale. It’s cops and robbers, though the real enemy is the community bank that forecloses on hardworking Americans. A spiritual sibling to other post-Recession films (99 Homes, Too Big To Fail, The Big Short), High Water, rather than focusing on the bankers or realtors complicit in the downfall of the American economy, tells the story of those forced to make hard (and illegal decisions) just to live. It asks the tough question: who’s really in the wrong here?
2. La La Land
A love letter to the city of Los Angeles, La La Land is a throwback to everything that made Hollywood the place to be once-upon-a-time. But the film, written and directed by Damien Chazelle, is also aware that this is 2016 – not 1956 – and to make it ain’t the same process. Stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling play an aspiring actress and jazz musician, respectively, and their chemistry adds emotionality to this love story. You’ll read that the ending is a downer, but don’t believe it. Everyone comes out a winner, just like they draw it up in Hollywood.