When future history books are written, we know that 2016’s entry will be limited to 140 characters, will be 90% emoji, and will be the perfect reflection of the post-books, post-news, post-facts, post-information, post-intelligence world our children will inhabit in 2096. But in the meantime, we here at Co.Create are going to do our best to celebrate the few creative bright lights that made it at least somewhat worthwhile to wake up every morning and get out of bed.
As we celebrate the end of 2016 and the maybe-not-apocalyptic 2017 (hey, we can hope, right?), here are the things we at Co.Create enjoyed from January through December.
Most Criminally Overlooked Movie: Shane Black’s The Nice Guys. It shouldn’t be a shock that the “spiritual sequel” to the most criminally overlooked movie of 2005 (Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) would end up here. Look, I get it—it was a noisy year. You had women finally doing it for themselves (“it” being “hunt ghosts”), you had the DC universe crashing and burning, and you had the seminal moment where a comic book antihero forced people to explain what “pegging” is—it was a lot to handle. But please revisit Black’s 70s-set crime romp that was hands down the funniest movie of the year, featuring the surprise revelation that Ryan Gosling is a supremely gifted verbal and physical comedian (did anyone else guess that the La La Land dreamboat could bring back Bud Abbott’s “stuttering and wheezing upon finding a dead body” schtick?)
Best New Release That Sounds Like The Perfect End Credit Song For A Lost ’80s Movie That Probably Would Have Starred Diane Franklin And William Ragsdale: “Faint of Heart,” by Tegan and Sara. The nostalgia for all things ’80s is a peak (take a bow, Stranger Things), so it’s not unusual for musicians to wear their influences on their sleeves. But the Canadian duo produced one of the rare ones that feels almost authentically from the era, rather than reverently looking back on it. Listen, and tell yourself you can’t see this playing over the credits of a “Savage” Steve Holland rom-com.
The Greatest Things To Happen To My Commute: My Dad Wrote a Porno/My Favorite Murder. Okay, so neither of these podcasts are new to 2016, but they were both new to my ears in 2016, so I’m going to count them. “Porno” is about an Englishman named Jamie Morton who discovered that his 60-year-old father had written and self-published a series of erotic novels. Alongside friends James Cooper and Alice Levine, the trio read the entire book out loud (with many, many pauses for comment and criticism) and it’s the reason why I am often fighting back tears of laughter while trying not to look like a lunatic on the train home. They even have fawning celebrity fans/guests (like The Force Awakens’ Daisy Ridley and Shire resident Elijah Wood)! “Murder” is a bit more niche, but if you’re a true crime fanatic with a penchant for the morbid, you need to listen to Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark dive into famous murders, unsolved crimes, and serial killer sprees. As they freely admit, they are not experts. They are just two hilarious women with the same fascination with the awful, and they try to freak each other out every episode. It’s dark and twisted and hilarious.
Proof We Need a The Wicked + The Divine animated series: “Bury It” By CHVRCHES. The music video is dead, long live the music video. This animated short designed by comic artist Jamie McKelvie is proof positive that an adaptation of his and Kieron Gillen’s The Wicked + The Divine (an amazing comic about rock stars and literal gods) needs to happen now.
Funniest Ad I Had To Travel All the Way To Amsterdam To See: While participating in the Epica Awards, I was introduced to a lot of European campaigns that didn’t always filter over to the U.S. One of the best was a series of Swedish ads for Postnord, about two long-distance lovers exchanging letters and gifts via mail. You should really watch each installment, as the insanity builds and there is an actual payoff. Hilarious stuff.
Best Tourism Marketing That Brought A Human Touch To Our Increasingly Techno-Isolated Modern Existence: The Swedish Number. They say the only way to really get to know a place is through the locals. For the Swedish Tourist Association this year, that meant inviting anyone, anywhere in the world, to dial a number to chat with a random Swede about . . . Sweden. Swedes signed up to participate, and when you called the number any time of day, you were connected to one of those people–not employees, real people. Even the Prime Minister took calls. There were more than 128,000 calls from 178 countries in 250 days. President Obama even mentioned it in a press conference, and overall the campaign attracted more than 9.1 billion media impressions. Trevlig!
Best Reason To Start Reading Comics Again: The Vision, by Tom King, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Jordie Bellaire, and Clayton Cowles…with Black Panther by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze, coming a close second. OK, so technically The Vision started late 2015, but let’s not allow a smattering of weeks spoil the fun. As the series unfolded over the course of 2016, we’ve been treated to a tale more existential, tragedy-tinged suburban thriller than superhero action adventure. Fun times! If Marvel Studios execs keep to their policy of finding director styles that fit the story, consider this a plea for the tense brooding of Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario, Arrival).
Best Way To Jump From 1998 to 2016 To Timeless: We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service by A Tribe Called Quest. Eighteen years. Eighteen years. The last time Tribe had a new album, Lil Yachty was in diapers. And yet, the legendary rap troupe returns with an album that is at the same time familiar and new. Not sound dated or throwback, more like timeless with an added sense of urgency. A perfect record at the perfect time for Q-Tip to say, “The world is crazy and I cannot sleep.”
Best Reason To Smell Like Awesome: Kenzo World by Spike Jonze. Holy sh#t. That’s what was going through everyone’s mind the moment they saw this music video masterpiece–that just happened to be an ad for fashion brand Kenzo’s new perfume. The sheer zero f#@ks given, all out swing for the creative fences–and subsequent media coverage–surely had every marketer wishing this was the brand their brand could smell like.
Best Explanation Of How Our Brains Were Rewired For Modern Marketing: The Attention Merchants by Tim Wu. We are all drowning in marketing messages. So engulfed, many of us don’t even notice anymore. Advertising has become so deeply entrenched in our culture, our landscape, and our very brains that it’s hard to imagine a time when it wasn’t. Consider this book the explanation, and the warning–a turn of the century snake oil salesman and the latest Snapchat ad aren’t as different as you might think.
Best Remix of a Genre: American Horror Story: Roanoke. This season of AHS shifted the franchise in an entirely new direction by leaning more on the method of storytelling than the story itself. This “turducken of terror” expertly threaded a multitude of styles (docu-series, first-person, found footage, etc.) with two sets of characters (the “real” victims and ghosts and the actors who portrayed them) without the plot ever feeling bloated of convoluted—two things, under less intricate circumstances, show creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have fallen victim to in previous seasons.
Best Woke Album: A Seat At The Table by Solange. People have slept on Solange’s music career for years, but she’s been slowly cultivating her unique sonic style and creative authenticity that you don’t quite get from her more famous sister. A Seat At The Table is Solange’s most fully realized work to date, a stunning achievement in both its production and its message for the black community, more specifically for black women.
The Scene Most Likely To Make You Want To Quit Netflix And Life Altogether: Poussey Washington’s death, Orange Is The New Black . If this is a spoiler for you, then, oh well—your whole existence was bound to be spoiled when you hit season 4, episode 12 of Orange Is The New Black. The morally ambiguous circumstances surrounding Poussey’s death at the hands of an ill-trained cop leaves you with so much misguided heartache but more importantly is one of the most nuanced approaches to touching on police brutality in television.
Best Fight Scene (Animal Kingdom Or Otherwise): “Slappy” Feet, National Geographic. Nature can be one of the most majestic and awe-inspiring forces known to man—but sometimes it’s just a ratchet mess. National Geographic’s footage of a husband penguin coming home to find his wife with another penguin and the grisly brawl that ensues will have you swiftly in your feelings. #LoveIsDead
The Most Lit Hashtag: #TrapCovers. Black Twitter, the sanctuary for all things magical on social media, outdid itself this year with #TrapCovers, remixes of just about any song that would be considered the farthest thing from trap imaginable.
Best Moment of Silence: Any random episode of BoJack Horseman is closer to fine art than any animated show about a faded horse actor might appear to the uninitiated. One particular episode in the third season, however, elevated the show to incredibly high artistic heights–and ironically, it’s set at the very bottom of the Pacific Ocean. “Fish Out of Water” is an almost completely silent episode of the series, which manages both to tell a complete story and move the arc of the season forward. The languid, lush score highlights lead character BoJack’s profound submarinal disorientation, while the seascape is constantly filled with even more clever visual jokes than usual. It’s like Lost in Translation under the sea, but sadder and funnier than that sounds. It is high art, and should be appreciated as such.
Best Use of Music in a Single Episode of Television: A lot has already been written about the “San Junipero” episode of Black Mirror, considered by many to be the series pinnacle. If you haven’t watched the episode yet, consider getting on that, pronto, but also skipping the rest of this paragraph. For everyone else, hi! It’s just us now in the kingdom of spoilers. Anyway, there are many reasons why this episode bears repeated viewings but one major reason is because once you know the twist, much of the music that plays throughout the episode leading up to it is perfectly on-theme. Think about it. “Heaven is a Place on Earth”? “Girlfriend in a Coma”? “Fake”? “Living in a Box”? “Can’t Get You Out of My Head?” Not only are these wall-to-wall jams, they are so subtly connected that viewers are unlikely to pick them up on one viewing–making it all that more rewarding when diving back in, BoJack-style.
Best Conceptual Gag In a Movie or Film: I like a solidly constructed joke with an unexpected punchline as much as the next person, but sometimes simplicity wins. I laughed at few things harder and with purer delight all year than I did at the slow-moving sloth in Zootopia. He means well. He really does! It’s just that he cannot go any faster. So when it takes a full 30 seconds for his face to catch up to his brain and cohere into a laughing expression, your heart goes out to him forever. Try finding an edgier joke that does that.
The Only Instant Classic Comedy Sketch of 2016: It was a tough year for sketch comedy. Key and Peele is gone. Comedy Bang! Bang! was on its way out the door. Party Over Here never got off the ground. And Saturday Night Live had its own issues. But one SNL sketch immediately went into the comedy pantheon and elevated the season average up a whole letter grade. That sketch is “Haunted Elevator,” but it’s more commonly referred to as “David S. Pumpkins.” The premise gets proportionally less funny the more it is explained, so let’s keep it quiet. But this sketch was truly the most rewatchable, catchphrase-coining, Halloween costume-launching phenomenon of the year. Any questions?
Best Random Netflix Horror Movie To Watch When You’ve Seen All Your Must-Sees: Trick ‘r Treat is a gem of a horror movie that came out about a decade ago, and has a long-delayed sequel in the works. The charm of the movie is it’s a Halloween-based horror anthology in which all the individual stories take place in the same world. A Christmas Horror Story, which recently debuted on Netflix, follows a similar formula for a different holiday. While it is by no means groundbreaking, ACHS has enough genuine scares and interesting reveals in its short runtime to pole vault way over the teeming masses of identically bad straight-to-Netflix horror movies competing for desperate eyeballs. It’s an extra tasty stocking stuffer for the horror fan who’s seen just about everything.
Best Performance By An Actual Teenager: Markees Christmas, Morris From America. Morris From America is a charming, small-scale coming of age story about a fish out of water named Morris who moves to Germany with his dad (Craig Robinson). It would be almost be fair to describe the film as “slight” except for Markees Christmas–who was fifteen when he was cast as Morris–and the subtle, tender performance he gives in carrying the lead. I can’t wait to see what he does next. Can he play Spider-Man?
Best Performance By A 31-Year-Old Playing A Teenager: Hayden Szeto, The Edge of Seventeen. Gracie Films’ return with The Edge of Seventeen was one of the year’s more delightful surprises, and one of the best surprises within that film was newcomer Hayden Szeto, who plays the same sort of awkward teenage nerd that actors like Michael Cera and Jesse Eisenberg launched their careers with a decade ago. Shockingly, though, Szeto could have been right there with them in Superbad or Adventureland, as the 31-year-old actor is actually three years older than Cera.
Best Celebration Of The Ups And Downs Of Life On An Album: Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper. Given how, er, eclectic 2016 was, any album that would hope to summarize the highs and lows we experienced would have to be similarly broad in scope. Coloring Book definitely qualifies, with its immense palette that uses voices as disparate as Kanye West, Justin Bieber, and gospel legend Kirk Franklin to make a record that moves through emotions the way that we do in life–happy, sad, funny, anxious, and more, all in 57 minutes.
Best Curveball From A Superstar: Joanne by Lady Gaga. Lady Gaga built her career around being unpredictable, and that doesn’t just “meat dresses” anymore. Going from The Fame to The Fame Monster to Born This Way was a traditional trajectory, while her 2014 collaboration with Tony Bennett might have just been a lark. But Joanne is something else entirely: It’s a record that finds the pop in stomping rock numbers, acoustic folk, ’80s-style power ballads, and indie rock throwbacks. It’s stylistically diverse while still sounding very much like Lady Gaga, and its biggest swerve is the fact that it all hangs together and feels more relevant than we had any reason to expect she would be at this point in her career.
Hardest Hour Of TV To Breathe Through: The Americans, “Travel Agents.” Oh my god, Martha, just stay put or you will ruin everything.
Best Free Therapy Disguised as a Super Entertaining Podcast: Comedian Chris Gethard’s “Beautiful Stories From Anonymous People” is exactly that. As he says on the podcast: One hour, one call, no names, and no holds barred. Invariably the conversations lead to cathartic moments for host and guests alike, and listeners can have breakthroughs, too—a recent one for me came while hearing a single mom and cancer survivor (who lost both her parents to the Big C) sound downright optimistic about the world.
Most Emotionally Intense Comedy From Across The Pond: Phoebe Waller-Bridge very intentionally led with laughs, before stealthily sneaking in the pain when adapting her one-woman show into the BBC series, Fleabag, which Amazon picked up this year. The nuanced weaving together of belly laughs and heartbreak makes this a special series, and a full-body experience for the audience. This is reflected on the promotional posters, which show Waller-Bride, mascara running down her face, post-crying jag, with a look that’s half-determined and half-destroyed.
Best Songs in a Musical Comedy Series on the CW: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Yes, the field here is, by definition, small as a flea’s bag. But even in a more crowded category it would be tough to top Rachel Bloom’s performance as a love-struck, big hearted, but often-clueless California lawyer. While every episode contains at least one keeper of a tune—many of which are co-written by Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger—season one’s “Sexy French Depression” requires repeat viewings and the delivery of the lyric “This grout needs to be redone,” might need its own Nobel Prize category.
Best Way To Discover “New” Music: We’ve covered the dynamic DJ-ing duo known as Chances With Wolves before, but it’s as true this year as it has been many of the last few: their shows are so consistently good and interesting and packed with music I’ve never heard before, it’s impossible not to find new favorite tracks in CWW’s prodigious stacks of wax. How do they do it? By digging through all those crates of vinyl you see at so many thrift and antique shops for forgotten masterpieces across all musical genres. This here is but one of hundreds of songs I’ve discovered through regular listens to their shows—at last count there was 349 of them—on their site or Soundcloud.
The Happiest New Trend in the Movie Business: Doomsayers will tell you that film is dying. And a peek at 2017’s major-movie-studio slate does suggest a sort of apocalyptic all or nothing-ness, where the all is franchises, re-boots, and Marvel-ous messes, and the nothing is new ideas. But the truth is, movies aren’t going anywhere. That’s true, at least, if you consider the 10-mile radius around where I live in Brooklyn, and where multiple new and interesting movie theaters with ambitious programming ideas have sprung up over the last couple of years. The Metrograph in the Lower East Side, and the Alamo Draft House’s expansion into Brooklyn are among the most heartening signs for a die-hard theatergoer. And just up the street from me, a new company is taking over the long-neglected Pavilion theater. So, yeah, movies are dead—and long live movies!
Best Follow up to a Critically-Acclaimed Commercial Flop: Carly Rae Jepsen’s E•MO•TION Side B. Let’s get one thing out of the way: Jepsen’s E•MO•TION is a perfect album. Critics raved about it. Fans loved it so much, they memed it. But the unexpectedly robust and irresistible follow up to “Call Me Maybe” never caught on the way it deserved, and so to the uneducated, Jepsen remained a one-hit wonder. Yet by pulling the bold move of releasing a coda to an album that tanked commercially, she managed to stake her claim as a tenacious pop star—albeit one with a little more provincial and underdog charm than, say, another 80s-inspired songstress. To call the EP a collection of bonus tracks would be disingenuous, if only because any of the eight tracks would work just as well on the original album. From the lush weightlessness of “Cry” to the triumphant build of “Fever,” Side B hits just about every, well, emotion on the spectrum—the perfect soundtrack for your moody commute home.
Best Reason to Care About White Nonsense Again: Girls, Season 5. Until this year, I would have argued that the best season of Girls was its first. That first year blended lines as trollishly self-assured as “I think that I may be the voice of my generation” with too-relatable moments of millennial narcissism, long before it was even a thing. And yet the following seasons never followed through on that promise, instead falling into a pattern of one frustrating mistake into the next, eventually becoming just as tone-deaf and oblivious as its privileged twentysomethings. But in its fifth and penultimate season, Girls did an about-face: the writing was sharper than ever, the acting more nuanced, and—best of all—self-absorption gave way to something resembling grace and maturity. That a bottle episode centered entirely on a character as vile as Marnie became one of the series’ best installments ever is proof positive that Girls is still worth your time.
Best Musical Montage to Project On: The end of La La Land. Few movie moments of 2016 come together quite as effectively as La La Land’s finale, easily the highlight of an already wonderful film. It’s easy to be skeptical in earlier moments—an honest-to-god singing and dancing musical? This year?—but the movie rallies hard in the last ten minutes, offering a dazzling fantasia that both outdoes and threads together everything that came before it. Without spoiling too much, it’s a musical sequence as bittersweet as it is rapturous, one that keeps flights of fancy rooted in hard-won reality. Try not to see yourself and your past relationships in those final moments, and practice your pretty cry now.
Best Gritty High School Drama—But Norwegian: Skam. Look, I love some teen drama, and this web series has it in spades. Three seasons deep, Skam spends each season centered on a different character in a group of posh high school students navigating the tricky waters of sex, depression, booze, and coming out in their cushy Oslo suburb. The series thrives on social media, releasing a handful of scenes each week on its website, at the same time these scenes take place—a clip of a Saturday night party, for instance, will drop unexpectedly on Saturday night in real time—before bundling them into a whole episode each Friday. It’s a unique approach that lends authenticity to its we-were-all-teens-once themes, so much so that there’s already an American remake (called Shame, English for ‘skam’) on the horizon. My advice: watch the original instead. Remember what happened to the US remake of Skins?
Best Autotuned Cooing in a Song: Rihanna’s “Kiss It Better.” Just because the Grammys slept on Rihanna’s opus ANTI doesn’t mean the rest of us have to. Sure, “Work” got some Record of the Year play after its relentless domination of airwaves and spin classes everywhere, but I’d argue Rihanna’s electrifying second single is the true standout. For anyone who really excels at compartmentalizing their feelings, this depressing torch song disguised as an 80s rock ballad is ideal for taking those emotions and burying them deep where you’ll never find them again.
Best Hilarious/Terrible Celebrity Beef That Functioned As The Ultimate Escapism: Kimye vs. Taylor Swift. It’s hard to believe the Great Snapchat Receipts Exposure of 2016 happened just in July—giving us a great quotable phrase from Tay, “I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative.” Regardless of whose side you were on (but c’mon guys, those snaps were pretty damning), bit and its ensuing responses from Kardashian, West, and Swift gave us near endless Twitter fodder as America’s dumpster fire raged on. But though Kimye were among the first fellow celebs to give Swift a PR nightmare, Kanye has more than made up for his temporary righteousness by doing things like meeting with Trump, who is allegedly “a friend.” Good.
Best 2016 Featured Artist On A Weeknd Album : “Stargirl Interlude” by The Weekend featuring Lana Del Rey. A coworker gently mocked me for the number of times he’s seen me play this song on Spotify, but I have no regrets. Lana and The Weeknd are a perfect musical match (and they’ve worked together before). In a relatively Lana-less year, this short song is sultry and has a killer cadence — it’s a more polished version of something you might hear on Born to Die.
Best Thing Lana Del Rey Is Probably Ecstatic About in 2016 : Jackie. It’s been a tough year for the things Lana loves, like David Bowie and Leonard Cohen, RIP. But the end of 2016 probably turned it a round at least a little with Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy in the film that recently hit theaters. In Jackie, Portman has all the elegance and iconicness of the extremely well-put-together Kennedy — it’s a near perfect homage to the former First Lady. We can only hope Lana goes to see the movie and compares Portman’s performance to her own in the video for “National Anthem,” opposite ASAP Rocky as JFK.
Best Use of Kristen Bell As A Believably Bad Person : The Good Place. The Michael Schur-helmed comedy felt completely unlike anything the creator worked on before (Parks and Recreation, The Office). The premise: Kristen Bell is an asshole who gets mistakenly sent to a sort of heaven even though she belongs in the other place. Meanwhile, Ted Danson is loveably inept, never in control of the world he’s been put in charge of. The 30-minute comedy is sharp and funny and borderline absurd–in one scene Danson kicks a puppy into the sky. Bring on season 2.
Best 2015 Video Game I Finally Got Around To In 2016: Life is Strange. As I don’t have a Play Station or xbox, I had to wait for Dontnod Entertainment’s viral story-based video game to make it to Mac, which it finally did this past summer. I binged the game’s five episodes, following shy, hipster high-schooler Max Caulfield as she deals with her new power to rewind time—and discovers a pretty gnarly mystery going on in the small town. The game’s finale is epic and wrenching, forcing you to choose to save Arcadia Bay or Max’s best friend/love interest Chloe. It’s the kind of game people rally around emotionally, the kind that makes for endless Reddit conversations and fanfiction. It’s just a game, but the moral questions it raises are real, and they leave you slightly disconcerted well after you’ve shut your laptop.