2016 has largely been seen as a bad year, with one of the prominent reasons being the passing of so many artists and celebrities. While it certainly was painful to lose talents like Prince, David Bowie, Carrie Fisher, and dozens of others, those ends didn’t take away from the huge gains entertainment made this year. It was a spectacular year in those regards, and I can’t think of a better legacy for those that have left us than the tremendous work the following artists churned out the last 365 days.
10. “24K Magic,” Bruno Mars
The pop superstar’s singles have made my lists before, with “Locked out of Heaven” taking the top spot on my 2012 countdown. “24K Magic” has just as much shine and polish as his past releases, but this one in particular sees Mars getting a tad more cocky and fun than in the past. “Fix ya face,” indeed.
9. “Nocturnal Animals”
Leave it up to legendary fashion designer Tom Ford to create one of the year’s most compelling dramas. Headed by Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal, this dramatic Texas-based tale, fueled by aspects of desire and revenge, is just as fascinating as any new line of products the label-owner could create. Watch for the terrific cinematography and screenplay to get plenty of well-deserved attention this awards season.
8. “Blackstar,” David Bowie
God bless this pop icon and rebel. As the curtain closed on Bowie’s life, he gave us one of his best releases, a genre-bending release that pushes the topics of morality and civility in the same gripping way his prior masterpieces have. As far as final acts are concerned, this one was outstanding.
7. “Hell or High Water”
The Jeff Bridges-led Western was the best film of the summer and one of the hidden cinematic gems of the year. The biggest surprise here? All of the subtle – yet gut-busting – humor. The Western was in desperate need of reinvention; this film does it, and does it very, very well.
6. “Blonde,” Frank Ocean
Those of us who endured the four-year wait for Frank Ocean’s latest album were rewarded with this treat. “Blonde” is every bit as engaging and soul-filling as “Channel Orange.” Come for “Nikes,” but make sure you get a pair in “Pink + White.”
5. “La La Land”
If Damien Chazelle’s latest musical smells of old Hollywood, that’s because it’s supposed to – and the scent it gives off is divine. This whimsical look at the relationships between artists and their art –and each other – works on multiple levels. Old Hollywood has never been reinvented so well.
Donald Glover’s new FX show is a true joy to take in, both in its authenticity and its thought-provoking commentary. Few shows today are able to navigate through the rough waters of pop culture and social discussion at the same time. This show succeeds in doing such.
I first saw Barry Jenkins’ critically acclaimed film at an intimate showing in L.A. in October. Simply put, I was blown away. Jenkins not only gives a brutal frankness to black life in America – as well as LGBT relations within that community – but also turns the whole experience of being a black man in today’s America into a cinematic epic. That was something desperately needed, and to see it done this perfectly is a real delight.
2. “O. J.: Made in America”
It was a documentary series so good I came out of a writing slumber to author a mini-novel about my viewing experience. In a year that saw “Black Lives Matter” dominate the headlines, ESPN’s “O.J.: Made in America” did a better job of explaining the tensions between Black America and the police in our major cities than any news report could. The twenty-year journey from the legendary “Not Guilty” verdict to now is covered with such precision and depth and helps many of us understand for the first time why the jury made the controversial decision they did.
1. “Lemonade,” Beyonce
From her guest appearance in this year’s Super Bowl halftime show at the beginning of the year, the reigning Queen of Pop made on thing clear: she came to slay 2016 – and she would. “Lemonade” is nothing short of an artistic masterpiece, both lyrically and visually. The release hits on many aspects, from her experience as a black woman in the modern world to her ups-and-downs with husband Jay-Z, but what it ultimately serves as is a musical collage of the extraordinary life of an individual who has become one of the most well-known and respected artists in the world. “The Formation Tour,” an incredible live concert series to promote the album, was every bit as stunning, as I learned on her Nashville stop. It’s an honor to watch a pop star at the peak of their talents, but then again, with Beyoncé, “peak” continues to get redefined.
And let’s see…what were the worst bits? “Suicide Squad” may have brought in the money, but it was a real bore for an action movie with such lofty ambitions based on its early trailers. Ditto to Sony’s relaunch of “Ghostbusters,” a soul-less, shockingly unfunning piece of work. Justin Bieber’s 2015 album “Purpose” was terrific, but the tour he did to support it was mostly a lip-syncing snooze. And what was wrong with Lady Gaga’s latest “Joanne”? I could give you a million reasons, but I’ll just say it was uninspiring. Let’s hope both she – and my puns – bounce back in the new year.