Robert Mentzer’s certified finest books and music and television of 2016
Important to say first that I don’t know anything. There were a lot of things I did not read or watch or listen to that I might have liked if I had. Maybe I still will, and then I will like them then. I am no expert; I am just a flaneur.
Still. I like reading year-end lists and I have in the past enjoyed writing a little journal entry about the culture of the year that has been useful to me. So I will try it again.
The best television program of the year was Atlanta. I believe this is obvious and well understood. I guess it is a sad-com, but it is funnier than most of those and also sharper — and then, sometimes, sadder. The best.
The other good television shows I watched were Lady Dynamite, Better Call Saul, The Detectorists, Fleabag, Bojack Horseman, Catastrophe. I don’t have a lot to say about these except that The Detectorists is just pleasant af and more shows should be as gentle and humanist as it is.
I only saw one good movie this year but it was a very good one. It was O.J.: Made in America.
I was in high school during the trial. I remember it but I remember it as a TV show; here it is as a story and as history. Incredibly interesting and deftly conducted new interviews, a mountain of archival footage, unseen moments, unheard audio. An all-time great documentary.
The world unanimously agrees that “Formation” was the best song of 2016; the world is quite correct. Come on. It’s the best for sure. And for me Lemonade was certainly the most compelling album-listening experience I had this year.
The other best song of the year — my actual favorite song, the song that I love and am excited for every time — is “Good as Hell” by Lizzo, which is the alternate-universe song of the summer in a world where 2016 was good.
Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book is terrific. I liked the artist’s-sketchbook quality of Kendrick Lamar’s untitled unmastered a lot, like really really a lot. I have love for Frank Ocean but I never really took to Blonde for whatever reason, probably my own failing. Oh and hey did you know A Tribe Called Quest had a new album?
Some good songs of 2016:
- “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)” by K’Naan, Snow tha Product, Riz MC and Residente from the Hamilton Mixtape
- “Really Doe” by Danny Brown feat. Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul and Earl Sweatshirt. (Danny Brown’s Atrocity Exhibition is a bit hard to get through as a full album but man it has some deeply weird, very cool sounds.)
- Pharrell liked “Alaska” by Maggie Rogers and so do I.
- “Daddy Lessons” by Beyoncé.
- “Better Man” by Little Big Town. (Country music can be so great. Also, Taylor Swift wrote this.)
- “33 God” by Bon Iver
- “Cranes in the Sky” by Solange
A bad album
The Life of Pablo. Come on, you guys. I think Kanye is great, but we all know this record is not good. I don’t know why you guys are pretending to like it.
Dodgers. Loved this novel of a young street-gang kid on a cross-country trip to kill a judge.
Underground Airlines. Total thriller of a what-if alternate history novel that has very much thought through its premise, which cares about its characters and which executes its plot flawlessly.
The Girls. Sharp, brutal novel about being a girl at adolescence. Also about the Manson Family.
The Nix. I haven’t finished it yet, no spoilers please.
The Queen of the Night. Opera!
The Underground Railroad. The other, more renowned book about underground railroads. I also haven’t finished this one yet but I know that it is good.
Darth Vader, Saga, Paper Girls, Black Panther.
A bad book
The North Water is one of those anti-empathetic novels that takes as its goal showing the reader just how horrible the world is. I already know the world is horrible.
Comedy things I watched on Netflix
Ali Wong: Baby Cobra was the funniest. I laughed a lot at a Hannibal Buress joke about a pelican eating a pigeon. I enjoyed the weirdness of Reggie Watts’ Spatial.
My kid’s favorite new culture
Forrest likes “We Know the Way” from the Moana soundtrack and he is right, it is great.
On the other hand his favorite movie of the year was The Angry Birds Movie, which was trash, though I will admit that watching it with him — his first movie in a theater — was a lot of fun.