Has it really been a year already?! As we approach the end of 2016, it’s time to look back on the last 366 days. I feel like I say this every December, but it’s hardly been the most vintage of years – in more ways than one this time, considering the amount of controversy and tragedy that’s happened over the last 12 months. Nevertheless, through all the darkness and fear, the world of entertainment has kept on spinning, churning out the odd gem to keep us smiling onward towards (hopefully) better things in 2017.
So, please join me on a trip down memory lane as I pick out my favourite media releases from the year gone by. It’s not all been bad, after all…!
Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them
Honourable Mentions: Deadpool, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Captain America: Civil War
Now this is one I never saw coming. I like Harry Potter, I really do, but I’ve never found myself quite as invested in it as some people are. I’ve read all the books, I’ve seen all the films, I’ve been to the studio tour… but something about the wizarding world just doesn’t grab me in the same way as a universe like Doctor Who or Star Wars. Which begs the question then, why is Rogue One not my number one film? I thought it was a solid entry in the franchise, peppered with memorable moments – but as a cohesive package, it just didn’t wow me like The Force Awakens did (rather controversially perhaps, on my Star Wars rankings list I’d probably put Rogue One in between Return of the Jedi and Revenge of the Sith). Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, meanwhile, left me with rather the opposite reaction.
I went into this with no expectations other than “this is going to be a shameless cash grab”. Hearing that JK Rowling plans to do five of the damn films didn’t help matters either. But you know what? As an extension of the Harry Potter story, it’s pretty bloomin’ marvellous. All of the main cast are instantly likeable, whether it’s (totally not Eleventh Doctor rip-off) Newt Scamander or the bumbling “nomaj” Jacob. It’s a fun and perfectly standalone story (despite the grand plans for four sequels) which revels in JK Rowling’s creations, the focus squarely on the Fantastic Beasts themselves. Sure, there’s a dark tale ticking along in the background that eventually culminates in a grand finale, but the highlight is seeing the magical creatures out in the wild. The Niffler in particular is, quite literally, a scene stealer.
Maybe it was because of my low expectations, but I came out of the cinema with a big stupid grin on my face. I’d even go as far as to say this is better than any of the individual Harry Potter movies, because this was specifically written for the screen rather than being adapted from a novel – and it shows. In fact, it’s made me want to go out and pick up the script, as well as the inevitable DVD. I’m still not convinced that we need an entire Fantastic Beasts franchise, but on this one occasion alone, it’s made me a very happy bunny.
BEST TELEVISION PROGRAMME
Honourable Mentions: Stranger Things, Class, Sherlock: The Abominable Bride, Doctor Who: The Return of Doctor Mysterio
Speaking of unexpected surprises… I was always intrigued how Jenna Coleman’s first major role after Doctor Who would turn out. I’ve always thought she was a brilliant actress, and the Victorian era is one of my favourite time periods – surely this was a match made in heaven? Thankfully, I’m pleased to say it turned out wonderfully. More than wonderfully, in fact. Victoria is not only of the best things I’ve seen on ITV in a long time, it’s a period drama that swept the nation along with its superb quality.
I don’t really know what I can say about Victoria that I haven’t already said in my reviews for each episode. The acting is stellar, the writing is pitch perfect, the sets and costumes are suitably lavish… the only real complaint I have is that there’s only 8 episodes! However, that’s soon to be rectified when the justly-deserved Series 2 arrives ext year. Apparently ITV turned down having a 2016 Christmas special until they’d realised just how big a hit the show would be – oh, how they must be kicking themselves now!
In fairness though, Victoria didn’t have an awful lot of competition for the top spot on my television list. Sure, Sherlock: The Abominable Bride got the year off to a good start, and later on Stranger Things would set the Netflix world ablaze, but I feel that’s going to be getting enough critical attention already. Meanwhile, Doctor Who was on a year-long hiatus (aside from the positively excellent Christmas special), and its spin-off Class was a decent if hit-and-miss affair.
Pokémon Sun & Moon
Honourable Mentions: Paper Mario: Color Splash, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens
I won’t even beat around the bush here. 2016 has been a bad, bad year for Nintendo. The death knell for the Wii U has officially sounded, and it’s been all but left to fade out into obscurity. The only truly “major” release this year was Star Fox Zero, and that was… disappointing, to say the least. In fact, I’d argue that the only genuinely good Wii U game from 2016 is Paper Mario: Color Splash (and surprisingly so!), but even that had its faults. The 3DS, meanwhile, is 5 years old now and beginning to show it age. Luckily then, it was also the 20th anniversary of Pokémon, and Game Freak delivered one of the best generations yet to celebrate.
Pokémon X & Y, in hindsight, weren’t that great. They introduced the mainline series to three dimensions, but it was still the same old formula that had began to grow stale after such a long time. Pokémon Sun & Moon, while far from perfect, give the franchise a much needed shake up and they’re all the better for it. There’s no more gyms, no more HMs… there’s quite a lot really that defies expectations. The new Alola region is brimming with life, and the Trial Challenge adventure gives you ample opportunity to explore the fascinating islands as well as meet the plethora of new pocket monsters. Speaking of which, there’s some really cool additions – Rowlet is one of my favourite starters ever, and the Alolan forms of old Kanto Pokémon revitalises them with a new sense of usefulness – but inevitably there’s also a few duds. It’s a shame that the games are also slightly hampered by technical issues like slowdown, but that’s the price you pay for pushing ageing hardware to its limits. You certainly can’t say that a lot of effort hasn’t gone into making Sun & Moon as good as they can possibly be.
2017 promises to be a far better year for Nintendo thanks to the launch of the Switch, but it’s good to see them ending the year on a high with one of their finest handheld adventures to date.
Lazarus (David Bowie)
Honourable Mentions: Thundering Herd (Kyle Gass Band), Angels on My Side (Rick Astley)
There have been so many terribly unfortunate celebrity deaths in 2016, especially in the music industry, that it feels unjust to only honour one artist for their contribution this year. But choose I must, and so I’ve decided to choose a song right back from early January, from one of the very first names that sadly left us. It’s a haunting beautiful piece of lyrical artistry – and, in a weird sort of way that only David Bowie could pull off, his death manages to make the whole thing even more powerful.
The song is hardly subtle in its subject matter. “Look up here, I’m in heaven,” Bowie sings to us, beyond the grave. It’s as if he somehow knew that Blackstar would be his final album, even down to the fact that it would release just after he had died, and that this would be his goodbye message to the world. Lazarus takes a bit of time to grow on you, but it’s so intriguing and captivating that it’s difficult not to be drawn in by its message. The music video, too, only helps to cement its artistic status. The image of Bowie, eyes covered with that bandage blindfold, is instantly iconic and fits the damaged, melancholy music so well.
There have been many other great songs since – the return of the Kyle Gass Band, and Rick Astley’s chart-topping comeback, to name a couple – but when I think back to 2016, Lazarus is the track that sums it up for me. To David Bowie, and to all those we have lost this year, we salute you – and please, rest assured, your music shall never be forgotten.