Here’s a list of some of my favorite movies, shows and games of 2016. Obviously I didn’t get to see or play everything that came out last year and I’m still trying to catch up on things that I’ve missed, so this list won’t be as inclusive as I’d like it to be. This won’t include most of the year’s critically acclaimed movies, shows or games; this is purely my own list of biased favorites. I’ve narrowed each category down to the top five listed in no particular order:
Arrival is the most interesting sci-fi movie that I’ve seen in a long time, plus one of the most surprisingly plausible. Instead of an action movie, this is a language movie. If aliens landed on Earth, how would we communicate with them? Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner play a linguist and theoretical physicist that expertly decipher the language without holding the audience’s hands. This leads to some meaningful twists at the end once viewers put everything together on their own.
Captain America: Civil War
Sorry, Deadpool, Dr. Strange, Suicide Squad, X-Men and Batman v Superman, but Civil War was the best superhero movie of the year. Coming off Avengers: Age of Ultron, all the Marvel heroes have aligned with Iron Man or Captain America on the issue of superhero registration. As friends are pitted against each other, some of the hands-down best superhero fight scenes ever break out between the two teams. Sure, the final villain was a letdown, but the movie also introduced Black Panther and got the rights to bring Spider-Man to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is a dream come true.
Speaking of dreams come true, I still can’t believe we get new annual Star Wars films, and this year’s didn’t disappoint. Rogue One takes place between Episodes III and IV and shows how the rebels originally stole the Death Star’s plans before A New Hope begins. The most astounding part of this movie is how it’s based on just the opening crawl of Episode IV, but it still tells a fantastic story that builds into the official Star Wars universe. Rogue One feels different from the other Star Wars movies by feeling like a gritty war movie, and also has instantly classic characters, like the sarcastic droid K-2SO.
La La Land
Probably the biggest contender for awards this year, La La Land feels like a timeless musical inspired by the classics, but unlike any other. Led by outstanding performances from Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, the story follows aspiring actress Mia (Stone) and jazz pianist Sebastian (Gosling) as they chase their dreams of fame and success. The musical numbers and jazz pieces are catchy, and the movie presents a nice love story between the main characters and their artistic passions. La La Land stands out for being an original musical, but hidden inside is a much more thought-provoking and inspirational story.
No other movie last year had me on the edge of my seat like Don’t Breathe did. Three teenagers rob a blind man’s house but quickly realize they’re the real ones in trouble. You don’t know which side to root for: main character Rocky (Jane Levy) is robbing houses to eventually build a better life for herself and her sister and the seemingly innocent blind man (Stephen Lang) has some dark secrets of his own. It’s a perfectly executed thriller that slowly builds with tension and has truly gut-wrenching moments.
Netflix’s biggest hit of the year, Stranger Things became the must-see show of the summer. The series pays homage to ’80s pop culture and classic horror movies; it feels like a mashup of E.T., The Goonies and Alien. Three boys take it upon themselves to look for their missing friend after he mysteriously disappears, and along the way they discover Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), a strange girl with telekinetic powers who may have some answers. All the characters are wonderfully portrayed and become much more than just the clichés they originally seem to be.
Moving on to HBO’s best new series and the biggest show of the fall, there’s Westworld, the show about a Western theme that lets guests roam free and do whatever they want to the park’s indistinguishable robot inhabitants. The show explores complex themes of humanity, morality and artificial intelligence as the park’s robot “hosts” somehow defy their programming and start acting on their own. There are some crazy twists that definitely require going back and watching previous episodes to catch all the foreshadowing.
Building off the incredible first season’s twists and cliffhangers, the sophomore season of Mr. Robot continued to impress. The season begins with Fsociety’s hackivists in over their heads as their master plan worked in the previous finale, and now they’re being hunted by the FBI and the dangerous Dark Army hackers. As always, Rami Malek shines as socially awkward and mentally unstable Elliot Alderson, and his relationship with Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) is explored and strained even more. Other standouts from this season include Darlene (Carly Chaikin) and Angela (Portia Doubleday), and who would’ve thought we’d see Craig Robinson from The Office and Joey Bada$$ have such great roles, too?
Game of Thrones
There’s no way to talk about this season without major spoilers, so be warned of what follows. Kicking off with the least surprising resurrection of everyone’s favorite bastard, Jon Snow, the most surprising part of this season was Bran’s ability to alter the past. This was showcased with the mind-blowing Hodor reveal in “The Door” and the long-awaited confirmation of Jon’s parents. There was also the return of the Hound, a Jon and Sansa reunion, Arya returning to Westeros and the intense Battle of the Bastards. The explosive season finale killed off a lot of fan-favorite characters, but everyone will be tuned in next season as Daenerys finally sails to take back the Iron Throne with an army of the best of the best from the show.
Created by and starring rapper, actor, young Lando Calrissian and comedian Donald Glover, Atlanta is the fresh, weird show that caught many people’s eyes. The first season follows Earn (Glover), a down-on-his-luck college dropout who becomes the manager for his cousin and rising rapper Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry). The show is absurdly funny, usually thanks to Paper Boi’s right-hand man Darius (Keith Stanfield), and has great music. It stands out for exploring the hip hop community, in addition to serious themes, like racism, police brutality and poverty.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
This is the game that made me buy a PS4, which ended up being the Uncharted 4-themed PS4, in fact. The Uncharted series is unquestionably the best video game series I’ve ever played, and this is the perfect conclusion to it all. You have to play the previous trilogy to fully appreciate the callbacks and payoffs of this game, but anyone can be blown away by the high-octane action and lovable characters. Developer Naughty Dog outdone themselves yet again with this story, in part by introducing Nathan Drake’s older brother Sam. There are tons of touching moments for longtime fans, and this is a must-play for PS4 owners.
When Blizzard’s Overwatch first came out, I didn’t think it would be the game for me, but a few months, 100 levels and dozens of hours of playtime later, I realize I was mistaken. I’m not good at most competitive first-person shooters, like Call of Duty, but the fun characters and diverse abilities of Overwatch click with me. Every match is different and requires quick thinking and teamwork to eliminate the opposing team. It’s by far the game I played most last year and will no doubt continue playing throughout 2017.
Pokémon Sun and Moon
Pokémon has finally gotten over its “if it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it” attitude and brought the biggest changes of the series to Sun and Moon. Moving to the Alola region, the Generation VII games forget the traditional eight gym system and introduce the Island Challenge. Trainers battle kahunas and Totem Pokémon on the region’s four islands while taking on the satirical Team Skull and uncovering the mysterious Ultra Beasts. Big changes also include cool Alolan forms of classic Pokémon, no more HMs and a streamlined battle interface. A surprisingly interesting story and memorable characters also help Sun and Moon become one of the best generations in the series.
Batman: The Telltale Series
I’m a huge fan of Telltale’s episodic story-based games, and I had high hopes for their Batman game after the disappointing Game of Thrones and Minecraft ones. I loved seeing Telltale’s unique take on classic Batman elements, like the villains, supporting characters and the Wayne family history. There’s never been an interpretation of the Batman universe like this before. Playing as Bruce Wayne and Batman feels like playing as two separate characters, and you have to make tough choices in the game that impact both sides. Hopefully a second season comes out with another engaging story and even more fun action sequences.
Bethesda’s Dishonored series is the leader in action/stealth games. In this sequel, you’re given tons of supernatural powers, weapons and paths to complete every assassination in a variety of ways. You can summon a swarm of rats to devour enemies or eviscerate them as a shadow creature to fight your way through an area. Or you can sneak around undetected by teleporting across the rooftops or possessing a rat and scampering through secret tunnels. You can even beat the game without killing a single person! The game’s two playable characters have their own sets of powers, so there’s a huge incentive to go back to try each out, replay levels and find all of the hidden collectibles.