Josie's Best of 2016

What does this picture mean?
If you’re anything like me, you’re obsessed with cats. But that’s not all! You’re not just a walking embodiment of felinophilia. You are also a bundle of desire, especially when you’ve just finished watching or reading something wonderful. Not content with the happiness you’ve just experienced, you become overwhelmed with what comes next: “I want more! Where is my more?”

In the spirit of more, here’s my list of what I enjoyed in 2016 and what I’m looking forward to in 2017.

Television

I watched a lot of TV in 2016, but very little of it qualifies as Best. Most of it qualified as darn good, like Humans, Game of Thrones and Luke Cage. But Westworld is the stand-out for me. Although it took me a while to realize the complexity of the show’s plotting, I am most impressed by the beautiful intensity of the performances—especially Evan Rachel Wood and Thandie Newton—and the show’s willingness to challenge our traditional definitions not only of characters, but even of human nature.

Plus, it’s a fun high-concept genre show chock-filled with suspense. In 2017, I’m looking for the same thing in 3%, the Brazilian teen dystopia that Lamounier is covering, and Travellers Travelers, the Canadian time-travel series that just premiered on Netflix.

Reboots

Peak TV is nothing; we’re in the era of Peak Reboot. 2016 brought us revivals and redoes of dozens of shows. Westworld counts, I suppose, and I’ll talk about Gilmore Girls below, but the highlight of Rebootmania was, for me, The X-Files. Not all six episodes, of course. Three were bad, two were mediocre. But one of them was perfect in every way: “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” which marked the return of writer Darin Morgan, the on-screen debut of a little dog named Dagoo, and this absolutely perfect conversation:

Mulder: "I'm just looking for some kind of internal logic."
Guy Mann: "Why? There isn't an external logic to any of it."

A lack of logic—internal, external, Tibetan—is exactly what I hope to find in the 2017 Twin Peaks reboot. That, and a damn fine cup of coffee.


Film

Coherence, which was new to me, not new in 2016, is impossible to describe without spoilers, as my clunky kitten-infested review indicates. But imagine if, as I say in that review, suddenly your neighborhood was not your neighborhood, the individual self was no longer a discreet entity, and you found yourself trapped in a logic puzzle with serious ontological—and even physical—stakes, with no hope for escape, especially once you realized the depth of your own predicament. Add Nicholas Brendon and a hefty helping of shaky-cam, and you’ve begun to develop a sense of this claustrophobic, tense film.

With mind-benders like Coherence, my goal is to find something that is both thought-provoking and all-immersive. My foray into other low-budget time-travel and alternate-dimension films was fairly extensive (About Time, ARQ, I’ll Follow You Down, Time Lapse) but not as rewarding as I’d hoped. I am cautiously optimistic about the next two on my list: Synchronicity and TimeCrimes. James Gleick’s new book Time Travel: A History is sitting under my Christmas tree, too. (Don’t ask me how I know.)

People

The Gilmore Girls revival was, I thought, quite charming. Rewatching all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls in preparation was equally charming: not a designer gown or ten-course gourmet meal, but ice cream and a comfy pair of flannel PJs.

Since I love ice cream and flannel PJs almost as much as I love cats, I started to poke around to see what could scratch that Gilmore Girls itch, and I landed on Parenthood. I’d tried out the pilot of this show—by creator Jason Katims of Friday Night Lights—when it premiered, and didn’t like it. Shows about happy, complicated families living regular lives don’t tend to appeal to me. (I prefer solitary despair and/or superheroes.) But now, for reasons I cannot explain, I do like it. Lots.

It may be that Lauren Graham is incredible. Looking back (especially at the reboot, which showed Graham’s acting chops better than anything I’d seen her in), I wonder if more than half of the appeal of Gilmore Girls was the intelligent energy Graham brought to the character. She tweaks that a bit in Parenthood, and carries less of the burden since it’s an ensemble show, but if you’re wondering which dramedy is right for you, streaming all six seasons of Parenthood might be the right choice.

Nonfiction

I’ve never been a fan of memoirs, but something about turning 29 for the five billionth time pushed me in the direction of Cheryl Strayed’s beautiful, Oprah-endorsed Wild. After reading it, I became like one of those people whose answer to every health problem involves the words “gluten” and “coconut oil”: Wild is the emotional duct-tape of memoirs. Wild is a passionate story of deep grace, a must-read for women of all ages, especially those who find themselves in a tough place. Wild is as entrancing and addictive as the Gilmore Girls reboot made it out to be. To paraphrase Rilke, you must read Wild.

But Wild is not easily imitable. In my quest for the Eternal More, I read Eat, Pray, Love (don’t tell anyone; I’m still ashamed), but it took wealth for granted in a way that just made me sad. Mary Karr’s Lit was funny and honest, but felt too much like someone in an AA meeting showing off how lithic their “rock-bottom” really was. And Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air raises the question of why on earth people want to climb Everest when they could sit and home and read Wild instead. For 2017, I’m pinning all my hopes on Rebecca Solnit’s book A Field Guide to Getting Lost and Wanderlust: A History of Walking.

Or maybe I’ll just read Wild again.

Fiction

“Not one sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it,” says one character in Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow. “But the sparrow still falls,” responds another. As I described in my mini-review, The Sparrow is about the build-up and aftermath of a Jesuit mission to a distant planet: how the characters decide to go, and how what happens there affects them. It's a fascinating, dense book that takes its time to build complex characters who are inclined to have philosophical conversations about everything from linguistics to theodicy.

This might be an example of when less—or at least, enough—is more: I read Russell’s book over the summer and have not yet worked up the psychic energy to read the sequel, Children of God. But I will soon, I think (perhaps if The Sparrow TV show ever gets off the ground), and I look forward to indulging in some metaphysical misery on screen, too, with Martin Scorsese’s new film Silence, which seems to deal with many of the same themes, just in time for the holidays.

Josie Kafka reviews The Vampire Diaries, Game of Thrones, and various other things that take her fancy. She is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

7 comments:

Lamounier said...

Loved the theme of "more" on your list, Josie.

Coherence is terrific. I don't think there is a problem adding it to a 2016 list because that movie is timeless. Or it should be. It should be more known. I know it's an indie movie and all, but I wish more people had at least heard of it. I'm always talking to my friends about it. A friend of mine told me he rewatched it taking notes to try to keep track of the, uh, exchanges. He failed. I might have to rewatch it myself before the year is over.

topher darling said...

Thanks for all your reviews and recommendations this year! Speaking of Coherence, I'd recommend the book Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. While it doesn't feature the delightful Nicholas Brendon, it does have a very similar feel to it.

Heather said...

Josie:
Your list is very creative and extremely fun to read. Five Dagoos out of Four.

Lisianpeia said...

Josie, for your nonfiction list, have you ever thought about reading Tracks: A Woman's Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback (Robyn Davidson)? I really liked the movie, althought it felt like it could benefit from better directing, but I'm not sure. But maybe it is in thel ines of what you are looking for.

Billie Doux said...

Honestly, the parody of it on Gilmore Girls didn't make me want to read it, but I guess it's time I tried Wild.

Travelers just arrived on Netflix this morning. I'm looking at the title screen, and it seems to be spelled with one L. Is it spelled with two L's in Canada and the UK?

Josie Kafka said...

Lisianpedia, thank you for the recommendation!

Billie, I have no idea what's going on. When I wrote this, it hadn't aired yet, and everything I read used the two LLs. But now I've seen a couple of episodes and the title card has just one L.

Perhaps we've slipped into an alternate dimension in which the traditional US, UK, and Canadian spelling differences have been resolved.

Mallena said...

Wild was a very good book, I loved the way she had to survive from package to package. It almost made the book like a thriller. I was always so worried that she would run out of money and not be able to get her Snapple when she needed it. I really did not like the movie, the thrill just wasn't there on the screen for me.