Top 20 of 2016, Part Four

First I have to pour one out for the world’s best space mom Carrie Fisher, who died today drowned in moonlight and strangled by her own bra. Truly, she was a peerless stone-cold badass who showed multiple generations of women that we could be both princesses and war heroes.

Second, let’s get into it: my Top Five Things I was all about in 2016. Read Part One here, Part Two here, Part Three here.

5. The many comic stylings of Yuko Ota and Ananth Hirsh
They have brought us the delightful auto-bio comic Johnny Wander since 2008, during which they also introduced us to Cecilia (with her skeleton hand), the whimsical Death, Delilah and her friendly basilisk, and their wonderful cast of real-life friends. This year, not only did they publish their first (pretty sure this is true?) Kickstarted comic Lucky Penny, about a woman super into romance novels who makes her own luck, but also started two more projects that I can’t wait to invest in: Barbarous, starring a tiny angry girl and a large shy monster boy, and Is This What You Wanted?, a richly colored story about the dangers of summoning demons. If you know me, you know that I just gave you a checklist of things I am super all about.

4. Subversive social commentary in Zootopia
Let’s all agree that Zootopia has a bad name, and that the first trailers for it were dumb. Anthropomorphized animals do not usually scream “incredibly relevant social commentary” to me, so honestly, I’d written this movie off well before it hit theaters. Until the reviews started rolling in, and Twitter kicked up a storm about it, and I decided what the hey, I like going to movies! Let’s go check it out.

Zootopia was a game changer.

Not only was it breathtakingly beautiful in a way I had not expected, and not only were all the details utterly delightful (I deeply loved the fact that all the animals kept their own scale), but it was a commentary on internalized bias in society and the workplace that I don’t know has been braved in an animated movie directly marketed to children before. There is no way you can claim that Zootopia is an animated film geared to adults; and yet, Judy, Nick and the rest of the cast deal with “speciesism” in incredibly deft and sophisticated ways. What a wonderful message to leave children with.

3. “We Know the Way” from Moana
I truly did not know that Lin-Manual Miranda would be on the soundtrack for Moana – I knew he had helped score it, but when I heard his voice during the sweeping, uplifting voyager’s anthem I almost cried. I DID cry when I watched these sequences in the film (that I loved dearly and would have made a Top Ten Movies of 2016 list with no effort at all, had I deigned to make one). The music is expansive and joyful, and Miranda’s voice has a slightly scratchy quality that makes it feel a little rough-and-tumble; totally appropriate for travelers guiding by starlight. I have listened to this song about 187 times and have no intention of stopping any time soon.

2. Pokemon forging a new identity for itself
Not only is 2016 the 20th anniversary of Pokemon, but it was the year that Nintendo decided to completely redesign everything about the franchise – and made it into its greatest incarnation ever. Pokemon Go got gamers up and out of the house, and provided us the closest to a Pokemon MMO I think we’re ever likely to see. Not only that, but every update it goes through makes the game better, more immersive, and more fun.

And then, as if that wasn’t enough, we got Pokemon Sun & Moon, where Nintendo threw the book out on what we’d all come to expect from our Pokemon games. No more gyms full of trainers to grind through; a more dynamic and easier to navigate world map; and no more juggling of HM workhorses with the monsters you actually wanted to be fielding, to name the most obvious changes. Other streamlined features have cropped up the longer I play, and the more I play the more I realize that we have something now that is truly unlike anything else Pokemon has ever offered us: a truly new game experience. The story mode has been the same for so long (a mode that has always been fun, I have played every one, don’t get me wrong), that getting something this new and this successful feels like the very first Red and Blue generation: utterly groundbreaking.

1. Women making horror comics (and women making comics in general)
In lieu of any coherent analysis, I’m going to assign you all reading homework.

Animosity by Marguerite Bennett and Rafael de Latorre
Clean Room by Gail Simone, John Davis-Hunt and Quinton Winter
Constantine: The Hellblazer by Ming Doyle and James Tynion IV
Harrow County by Cullen Bunn, Carla Speed McNeil, and Tyler Crook
InSEXts by Marguerite Bennett and Ariela Kristantina
Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

It was a great year for comics. Particularly horror comics. Particularly horror comics by women. Check them out.

Honorable Mention: Tracer is a lesbian 
This snuck in under the wire as I was working on these entries, and I was too lazy to try and rework the whole list, but it’s 100% worth mentioning that Blizzard, a gigantic video game company, made the character who is the face of one of their largest console game and straight up said “Yup, she’s gay.” Not only did they publish a comic that shows the delightful, elfin Tracer macking on her super cute girlfriend, but they issued official statements confirming that yes, she is gay, no, that’s not just a very close friend, and guess what? Other members of the Overwatch cast are ALSO gay, so BUCKLE UP, NERDS.

Also I made a comment on Twitter about how I’ve made a hobby out of bathing in nerdboy tears, and a white knighter rose up from the ether to call me an SJW and make sure I knew that #notallmen where like that. I’d never been #notallmen’d before and I’d never blocked someone on Twitter before, so it truly turned into a wonderful learning experience.


Top 20 of 2016, Part Three

We’ve reached Top Ten territory, y’all. Read Part One here and Part Two here.

10. The depiction of magic in Doctor Strange
I would like to say that I loved Doctor Strange without diminishing all of its issues; the fact that I enjoyed Tilda Swinton in her role does not absolve the movie of its whitewashing, nor her of her behavior in this past week. The fact that this was the first role I sincerely enjoyed Benedict Cumberbatch in does not forgive Marvel the lost opportunity to splash some color into its main lineup. But enjoy it I did, and thoroughly, and most especially the way they bring magic to the screen for the first time in the MCU.

Magic is its own thing, and it is treated as such – I don’t believe you’ll find the particular effect, almost a glowing band of fire drawn in specific shapes in the air, anywhere else onscreen in this world. It is distinctly different from Scarlet Witch’s manipulation, and distinctly different from what Vision and the Infinity stones project; it has a different source, different intentions, and it made me want to learn tai chi immediately. For Doctor Strange to be the foray into Marvel’s magical world, the effect had to make an impact; it succeeded, and then some.

9. The funeral and wedding sequences in Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life
My sister and I grew up on Gilmore Girls, so to say that we were a little bit emotional about the revival is a WEE BIT of an understatement. In regards to the revival of tv shows that have been laid to rest years ago, I feel very torn – on the one hand, it should be nice to get more of something that was enjoyable. On the other hand, I don’t think they ever truly live up to our expectations, and maybe we as a culture need to be able to say “This has reached its ending and it’s over now.”

Gilmore Girls has been tumultuous in this respect, egged on mainly by its creator and original showrunner, Amy Sherman-Palladino. Whatever the actual circumstances of the Palladinos departing the show after the sixth season, and however one feels about the quality of the seventh season (I myself didn’t actually notice a change when I watched it originally, and only as an adult, after being told, even knew the show had changed hands – I don’t feel there was a drastic dip in quality between seasons six and seven, and feel very strongly that the seeds of the things people dislike about seven were sown in six), ASP mythologized her “real ending” by waxing rhapsodic about what she would have done, given her druthers. Which she did for, like, twelve years.

ALL THAT IS TO SAY, could the revival ever have lived up to our myriad expectations? I don’t think so. Particularly the apocryphal “Final Four Words.” Better writers than me have discussed at length the strengths and weaknesses of the revival episodes, so I will leave you with only this: Richard’s funeral was stark, emotional, and raw in a way I had not expected, and Lorelai and Luke’s wedding was a lavish dream sequence that I adored. We can quibble over the stuff in between, but those two sequences were perfection.

8. Will Patton reading Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys books, specifically The Raven King, which is the one that was published this year
I am a new convert to the world of audiobooks. I’ve tried a handful in the past and mostly felt impatient that the narrators read slower than I would have if I’d been reading to myself (which: duh). Once I started commuting 2-2.5 hours every day, however, they became pretty integral to my sanity, and I’ve been devouring them along with a huge number of podcasts. The Raven Boys was one of the first series I sprinted through on audio, and they are everything I want in a YA fantasy series: lovely writing, the right amount of magical realism, characters that are weird and prickly and sassy and funny and emotionally broken. Will Patton’s sleepy, dreamy southern drawl is the perfect narrator for this story, and I cannot recommend these books highly enough.

7. Misty Knight and Claire Temple in Luke Cage
As a whole, I was not as unabashedly devoted to Luke Cage as I was to Daredevil; of the Netflix Marvel shows, I think it is technically the best and also the one I connected to the least. The visuals are wonderful and the music is unreal; the actors are great (Alfre Woodard in particular is a special kind of sublime) and the show does some really interesting things with place and tone. I don’t find Luke that compelling as a main character, even while I enjoyed watching him solve the conflicts of the show. (Slight spoilers, but I was also deeply disappointed that we lost Cottonmouth as the main villain about halfway through, as the revealed big bad was nowhere near as interesting.)

However. However. MISTY KNIGHT, Y’ALL. And CLAIRE TEMPLE, the best cross-element to the Netflix Marvel universe. These two women could take down the whole damn world if they wanted to, and I would have a VERY STRONG DESIRE to see a procedural starring Misty where she fights crime and gets stitched up by her smart-ass roommate, Claire. Simone Missick and Rosario Dawson consistently upstage the superheroes they share screen time with, and they do it without superhuman abilities. They’re simply the best.

6. Chadwick Boseman’s portrayal of T’Challa
The Captain America films are consistently the best that Marvel makes and I will hear no disagreements – Winter Soldier continues to be the best and most relevant film of the entire MCU. Civil War was not as strong, perhaps because we’ve seen the fracturing of this team already so that doesn’t punch as hard as it might, but it’s still a feat of storytelling and character development, handling an expansive cast with aplomb while also ensuring that new players get just the right amount of attention and material. I was pleased to see a Peter Parker who, I feel, is bringing something new to the table, and impressed that one did not have to have seen Ant-Man to be instantly smitten by Paul Rudd (I mean, I did see it, but I don’t think you had to).

The brightest star of our expanding cast is without a doubt Chadwick Boseman, whose T’Challa gives you everything you need to know within three seconds of meeting him. The things he does with his face at the summit scene, and when **SPOILER** his father dies, are unreal: you can see him becoming the king of Wakanda in front of your very eyes. His arc in the film is complete, and satisfying. He’s magnetic and I cannot wait for his solo film, I think it will be spectacular.

Top 20 of 2016, Part Two

More of what I was all about in 2016! Read the first part here.

15. The J.A.P. Rap Battle from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Like Lemonade, there are MANY things about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend I wanted to include here – but most of them debuted in 2015, I was just late to the party. The absolutely glorious rap battle between Rebecca and Audra, however, not only screened this year but was also one of the funniest, most intense and telling scenes from that show.

14. Supergirl, queer visibility, and President Lynda Carter
I have been enjoying Supergirl since it debuted, but this season has really outdone itself in terms of charm, storytelling, and character development. Alex’s story in particular has not only incorporated one of my favorite background characters from the DC universe (Maggie Sawyer!), but presented a really lovely coming-out narrative. If you have ever doubted the impact that visibility makes for the queer community, particularly people just figuring themselves out, I urge you to read this twitter thread posted by @sapphicgeek (and I dare you to not cry).

Additionally, Supergirl introduced us to the president of the United States, who in that universe is played by Lynda Carter, and if you don’t think that’s beautiful I’m not sure what to do for you. (She got a truly excellent invisible jet gag in, and please writers, more Wonder Woman jokes all day, every day.)

13.The kids from Stranger Things
I was not as deeply enthralled with Stranger Things as many people – I enjoyed it, and in fact watched it all in one sitting during a sick day, but it didn’t change my life or make me sweat for another season (I actually kind of wish the Duffer brothers were doing it anthology-style). I will admit, however, that the kids, particularly our five main heroes, were THE BEST (I’m including Noah Schnapp as Will Byers because he does just as good of a job with much less material as everyone else). Child actors can make or break a project by virtue of simply not being as experienced or focused as adults, and Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, and Caleb McLaughlin were magnetic to watch.

I’m giving Millie Bobby Brown her own mention because, seriously, for real. This girl is unreal. With barely six words of dialogue per episode, she lets you know exactly what’s going on inside of Eleven’s head – the combination of her facial acting and the way the narrative spins out creates such an elegant bait-and-switch. Eleven is so powerful, and so raw, that she could have been portrayed as a monster; she could have been Carrie White but ends up being Danny Torrance, someone you sympathize with and want to rescue rather than being afraid of.

12. This tweet from @KevinTPorter: “Adulthood is 70% getting yelled at, 25% nostalgia, and the other 5% is you get to rent a car I guess”
Kevin T. Porter is, of course, one of the estimable Gilmore Guys. I can’t find the link to the exact tweet anymore, I think it was from August, but follow him here. He’s pretty great.

11. The women of Ghostbusters
I enjoyed Ghostbusters – it wasn’t jaw-dropping, blow-me-away great like I really wanted it to be, but I found it charming, funny, and legitimately scary in some places (which I had not expected). Some of the jokes were clunkers, and I wish the final confrontation had involved more clever problem solving than brute force, but I found it an overall positive experience.

The one thing that I found unequivocally fantastic, though, was the cast, the chemistry they had with each other, and their portrayals on screen. What we are presented with are four women who are not Hollywood beautiful, who are powerful personalities with absolutely no shits to give about personal appearance or what other people think of them, who get dirty and eat pizza and wear canvas and love and support each other. Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones so clearly respect each other and had fun making this movie together that I cried just watching their friendships on screen grow throughout the movie.