Top 10 Films and TV Shows of 2016

For 2016, superheroes continue to reign in film and TV, while other genres like sci-fi, fantasy, horror and related combos offered refreshing alternatives. Many of the best films and TV shows on this list were very profound and pushed the envelope, while others were just plain fun to watch.

Films

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10. 10 Cloverfield Lane: The spiritual sequel to Cloverfield was a tense and suspenseful thriller with a great performance by John Goodman as a doomsday prepper.

xsuicideTIE: 9. Suicide Squad/X-Men: Apocalypse: Despite their flaws both superhero (and supervillain) films were enjoyable romps with unforgettable characters (Harley Quinn, the Joker, Deadshot, Magneto, Quicksilver, and more) and eye popping action-packed moments.

8. Doctor Strange: With the big-screen debut of Marvel Comics’ Sorcerer Supreme the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to remind us why their superhero films are currently the best of the crop compared to Fox’s X-Men Universe films (Deadpool aside, of course) and the DC Extended Universe movies.

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7. Zootopia: The best animated film of the year dazzled us with eye raising animation and a clever script that highlighted important social messages about tolerance and prejudice.

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6. Star Trek: Beyond: The film’s back-to-basics approach with Star Trek’s iconic characters paid proper homage to the TV show while having a genuine adventurous tone.

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5. The Jungle Book: Even though the CG-created animals and environment were flawless and stunning, the film to its merit emphasized story and characters, which left a bigger impression.

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4. Deadpool: As a faithful adaptation of the irrelevant and violent comic book, Deadpool proves that it’s possible to be true to comic book source material and still be an entertaining film.

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3. Arrival: A provocative, well-acted and beautifully shot film about first contact with aliens smartly emphasized the communications hurdles humanity would face. The film’s ending was a true surprise and was just one of Arrival’s highlights.

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2. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: The first Star Wars spinoff not only neatly ties in with Episode IV but is a great and exciting film in its own right with more nuanced characters and situations than seen in a typical Star Wars film.

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1. Captain America: Civil War: The Avengers are torn apart from within as Captain America and Iron Man philosophically, then violently disagreed over allowing the government to supervise their team. Featuring strong performances and the best superhero fight scenes ever filmed, the film was an emotional ride for viewers.

TV Shows

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10. Ash Vs Evil Dead: Grossly fun and action-packed as everyone’s favorite deadite fighter Ash Williams and his gang continue delighting horror fans.

redhats invade9. Colony: Unexpectedly well done look at life under alien domination and that “big, beautiful wall” separating American cities is a chilling portent of what lies ahead.12 Monkeys Cole time travels8. 12 Monkeys: Of the many time travel themed TV shows out there, this is the best of them as many episodes explored the convoluted nature of time travel.

dareflashTIE: 7. The Flash/Daredevil: The two best superhero TV shows were on the opposite ends of the tonal spectrum. The Flash is pure Silver Age awesomeness, while Daredevil reflects a more gritty and grounded mood, especially with the introduction of the brutal vigilante, the Punisher. Both shows  featured intense and enjoyable comic book adventures thanks to well written scripts and engaging lead actors, plus supporting characters/actors.

6. The Walking Dead: The megahit series about brutal life after the undead destroy civilization has  hit a creative wall and is past its peak according to many fans. Yet, for the most part The Walking Dead is still delivering more than adequate thrills, gross out moments and entertainment, even if the show went to far in Negan’s introduction and certain character deaths.

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5. Black Mirror: A dark anthology series about the downside of technology offered many disquieting episodes about technology’s impact in our lives today and tomorrow.

El confronts monster Stranger Things4. Stranger Things: A wonderful ode to ’80s sci-fi movies featured terrific child performances, geeky Easter eggs and an intriguing mystery revolving around a missing child and an interdimensional monster.

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3. The Expanse: This well-crafted series about a brewing war among human colonies in our solar system during the next century could wind up being the next great TV space opera.

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2. Westworld: HBO’s potential successor to Game of Thrones went way beyond the original Michael Crichton movie about theme park robots running amok by presenting a thought-provoking series about existentialism and ethics.

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1. Game of Thrones: Even though the fantasy series is drawing to a close, the sprawling epic continues to captivate viewers with its visceral tale of power struggles among kingdoms. One of the highlights was the epic episode  “Battle of the Bastards” that put rival films to shame with its gut wrenching fight scenes.

 

The Mind-Bending World Of Doctor Strange

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Marvel Studios’ latest foray into the mega-successful Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is Doctor Strange. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the title character, a former brilliant neurosurgeon who becomes a sorcerer after a reluctant personal journey.

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Basically, Doctor Strange is an origin story that introduces audiences to the sorcerer and his world. After a car accident shatters the nerves in his hands, Dr. Stephen Strange is desperate to repair the nerve damage so he can resume his shallow, entitled lifestyle. Think of a less charming version of Tony Stark before he became the heroic Iron Man. His desperation takes him to Nepal where he comes across a secret sect of sorcerers led by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and her lieutenants Mordo (Chiwetol Ejiofor) and Wong (Benedict Wong). The sorcerers introduce Strange to the mind-bending reality of the multiverse with its indescribable dimensions and its evils. Their mission is one of seeking enlightenment and of guarding the Earth and our dimension from evil. In this case, the extradimensional being Dormammu and its disciple, Kaecillus (Mads Mikkelson) a former student of the Ancient One who embraced the dark side of sorcery and wants to learn the secret of immortality.

Doctor Strange would have been a standard coming-of-age origin story if not for the wildly trippy visuals and the performance by Cumberbatch. Once again Marvel Studios strikes gold with its casting in the pivotal role of the sorcerer, and remarkably enough with Swinton. With the latter, the casting choice is controversial because of the racial and gender-swapping nature being that the Ancient One in the Marvel Comics is an elderly Asian male. But Swinton does nicely in her critical role.

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The drawbacks to Doctor Strange have to do with a common complaint about most MCU films, namely the villains. There isn’t any depth to Kaecillus, he’s very one-dimensional and is upstaged late in the film by the gigantic visage of Dormammu, who should’ve had more screen time. Even there, the supposedly powerful foe was handled fairly easily by Strange. Other characters were hit or miss. Mordo had an interesting arc where his fundamental belief system is shaken to the core, while Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) was forgettable and didn’t have any screen presence or chemistry with her former lover Strange.

The story itself was serviceable but on the whole comes off as formulaic for an MCU film. It goes like this; unlikeable or self-centered main character gains super powers and undergoes an emotional journey as a reluctant hero before fully embracing his destiny as a full-fledged hero.

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Still, Doctor Strange is an entertaining MCU film that should be placed in the upper mid tier of the other MCU films thanks to director Scott Derrickson’s vibrant eye for colorful optics. There are many imaginative visuals and effects shots that have never been seen on the large screen. Stephen Strange’s forays into the multidimensional void are alone worth the price of admission, especially in 3D. Many shots perfectly mirror Dr. Strange co-creator Steve Ditko’s unique look, which is astonishing to behold in live action, while unnerving at the same time.

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With this film, Marvel Studios has successfully introduced another novel and spectacular corner of the expanding MCU. Even though the script could have used some more work to match its eye-popping scenery, Doctor Strange is a welcome addition to the MCU and hopefully the good doctor/sorcerer will take an even greater role in it.

José Soto

 

The Strain Finishes Its Third Season With A Literal Bang

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Forget about The Walking Dead, the horror TV show that is on my must-watch list is on FX. No, not American Horror Story, though that show is great. I’m talking about The Strain. Based on Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s novels, The Strain is about a vampire virus that devastates the world today, specifically New York City. Its third season just finished and wow it ended with a literal bang!

One thing I like about the show is that it takes a pseudo-scientific approach to vampires or strigoi as they are called in the show. One of the heroes, Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll) is a former CDC scientist desperately trying to find a cure or a way to stop the vampire plague while battling the bottle. At the same time, the show dwells a lot into the history of the vampires and that is best shown with the other hero, the elderly vampire hunter but total badass Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley) and the main villain, former Nazi and current vampire Thomas Eichorst (Richard Sammel). The two are great foils for each other and the actors greatly convey their mutual hatred. That’s just a mere sampling of the show’s many interesting and unconventional characters.

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I have to admit, The Strain is unabashedly grade B fare, but it’s rarely dull, and moves along at a fast pace. By the time the third season ended, humanity is on the verge of becoming cattle for the spreading vampires. Goodweather’s idiotic son Zack (Max Charles) nuked the Statue of Liberty in retaliation for Goodweather killing his vampire mom (Natalie Brown). Never mind that a few minutes earlier the mom was eyeing the kid for her next snack. That kid is so annoying, I can’t wait until he gets his, not for being a moron but for killing thousands of New Yorkers. What he did was carry out the vampires’ master plan of detonating a nuke to create a nuclear winter and plunge the city into eternal darkness. Of course, this means the vampires can now roam all over the place without fearing the sun and that is where the show ended.

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Loosely following the storyline in the novels, The Strain will come to an end next year. Unlike some shows, it knew not to overstay its welcome and have a beginning, middle and end. Unlike the meandering zombie show that basically repeats itself, The Strain is often always fun to watch and sometimes creepy and gross. Looking forward to seeing the slurping vampires one more time next year.

T. Rod Jones

The Walking Dead Goes Too Far In Its Season 7 Premiere

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The following will contain spoilers from the season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead...

The question that we all wanted to know and not know has been answered this past Sunday with the season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead. That question being who Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) killed among Rick Grimes’ (Andrew Lincoln) group. It turned out that the madman didn’t just kill one, but two beloved characters; Abraham Ford (Michael Cudlitz) and Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun). Let’s be clear, this episode was brutal, raw and frankly, it went overboard in its portrayal of violence and depravity.

That isn’t to say that the episode “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” isn’t without its merits. abe-ford-killedTechnically it was well done, well acted, well shot; it emoted tension like you wouldn’t believe. But the  bottom line is while it was too gruesome, it had the air of a bad car wreck. You want to look away but can’t help but look. However, you often wind up regretting watching what was on the screen because it was so gratuitous to the point that it bordered on torture porn. Did we really have to see Negan repeatedly bash in Abraham and Glenn’s skull until mush was left? Sure, creator Robert Kirkman and the showrunners probably wanted to convey some message about helplessness and the ugliness of violence. The problem isn’t just the violent display of Negan’s sadistic violence, but what went on before and the presentation.

For months, we had to wait to find out who was Negan’s victim. The season 6 finale was overhyped (as was the season 7 premiere with all the images of Negan and his barb-wired bat Lucille) and we were all expecting to see Negan kill someone. But we didn’t. Instead we had to wait for months to find out that the reveal  largely followed what happened in the comic books. In The Walking Dead #100, Negan bashed in Glenn’s skull, but Abraham had been killed beforehand issues past. So “the Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” threw off viewers with Abraham’s death.

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The only problem with that death was that it was very telegraphed in season 6 of The Walking Dead. Abraham has had a death wish for much of the season. He seemed aimless with little to live for. In the season finale though, he began to muse about a life where he can settle down…a dead (forgive the pun) giveaway in The Walking Dead that he is doomed. This happens to all characters who find a measure of peace (look out Morgan, you’re next), except Rick. Another clue was when he told his friend Eugene Porter (Josh McDirmett) that he’s come a long way and  become capable of taking care of himself. It was a way for the two men to say goodbye to each other and it was obvious by that small scene that Abraham wasn’t long for the world.

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Supernatural Begins A Record 12th Season

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This past week the 12th season of Supernatural premiered on The CW. That’s right, 12th season. It is incredible to believe that this show has been on for over a decade without a break, which makes it the longest-running American genre show of all time. Supernatural still has some ways and seasons to go before it can match Doctor Who’s record run, but 12 seasons is a rarity these days in TV, especially when you consider that Supernatural airs more than 20 episodes per season.

So why has it been so successful? An easy answer is that it airs on The CW, a network that is way more lenient with its TV shows in terms of ratings. Supernatural’s seasonal ratings averages about a one point one share. In normal networks that would put the show in danger, but these days, the ratings are respectable and in The CW Supernatural is one of its highest rated shows. Even though it isn’t a ratings bonanza or the number one topic at water coolers and forum boards, Supernatural has built up a solid core of support from its fans.

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Early Haunts and Scares

When Supernatural first premiered back in September 13, 2005 on The WB network, George W. Bush was the president and the country was still reeling from the impact of Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq War. Not much note was given to the show when it came out, but word quickly spread over how surprisingly creepy and scary it was. Focusing on two twentysomething brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles), Supernatural followed their adventures as they traveled flyover country in the U.S. and fought monsters, demons, ghosts and other supernatural entities. The representations of these creatures were often low-tech, but effective. More importantly, the episodes took time to develop the brothers and their relationship with each other. We witnessed the pain and loneliness they experienced in their missions as Hunters as they were forced to live on the outskirts of society. At the same time, we couldn’t help but chuckle at the ease of how they impersonated government agents with pseudonyms that gave nods to genre actors and rock artists.

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The arc in the early seasons dealt with them finding the demon that killed their mother during their childhood. That later led to an epic storyline where Lucifer (Mark Pelligrino) was unleashed on Earth and the Winchesters had to prevent the Apocalypse. Along the way, they picked up some memorable allies who became beloved supporting characters. The best of these was Castiel (Mischa Collins), a stoic angel in a rumpled trench coat who, when not being an episode’s deus ex machine, kept us amused with his reactions to modern day civilization. Another noteworthy character was Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver), a middle-aged mentor/father figure to the Winchesters whose working-class demeanor often disguised his enormous heart and fortitude.

Post Apocalypse

After the epic Apocalypse storyline ended when the fifth season concluded, the series’ creator Eric Kripke departed the show and the fifth season ended in a way that provided a sense of closure for the Winchesters. However, the show by now had developed a strong following and good ratings and The CW (formerly The WB) continued the saga of the Winchesters. Regrettably, the quality of the show suffered in some of the following seasons as storylines became repetitious and lackluster villains showed up (the less said about Rowena the witch the better). Drinking games could be made based on how many times Sam and Dean Winchester quarreled with each other because one of them made some sacrifice without telling the other.

But the mythos of Supernatural expanded castiel-crowley-and-dean-winchesterand some stories still delivered even if the scariness and darkness of the early seasons wasn’t as present. Part of that mythos included the demon Crowley (Mark Sheppard), who became a series regular and a foil for the Winchesters and Castiel. Conniving, sardonic and quick with comical putdowns, Crowley became a sort of anti-hero, if not a particularly threatening villain. Often, he provided a humorous presence during scenes where he interacted with the Winchesters or as he calls them “Moose” (referring to Sam’s height) and “Not-Moose” (the smaller, but scrappier Dean).

In recent seasons, we and the Winchesters learned they are descended from a secret society called the Men of Letters. After finding the vanquished society’s hidden bunker with its vast library about supernatural beings, the brothers used the place as their base of operations. These newer episodes led to some interesting stories that functioned as backdoor pilots for new characters, but to date, none of them went further.

amara-vs-chuckRecent Resurgence

Supernatural had a very strong eleventh season which was about an ancient entity called Amara (Emily Swallow) or the Darkness. She turned out to be God’s sister and wanted to destroy his creations. This in turn led to the introduction of God Himself in the guise of Chuck Shurley (Rob Benedict), who was MIA for years but decided to come to Earth to confront Amara. Many episodes were decidedly unique, take the episode “Baby”, which was told from the POV of Dean Winchester’s beloved Impala. Another one was “All in the Family” where the Winchesters finally meet God/Chuck and Dean has a poignant conversation with Him and asks why is so much misery allowed on Earth. The answer was simple and thought provoking. The episodes and characters in the eleventh season proved that Supernatural still had  life and while the Amara storyline may have ended anti-climatically, it was a good change of pace.

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Now, the 12th season has begun without any indication, so far, that the show will conclude. Unlike past season openers there wasn’t a clear super baddie to give the Winchesters and their circle headaches. Instead, Lucifer, who returned to Earth last season, is on the loose and Crowley is hunting him. Meanwhile, the Winchesters are dealing with more personal threats. The British chapter of the Men of Letters showed up and kidnapped Sam because they are not happy with the American branch of the society. Now Dean and Castiel have to find Sam. Joining them is Mary Winchester (Samantha Smith), the brothers’ long-dead mother, who was resurrected as a thank you to Dean by Amara. This opens up a new dynamic for Sam and Dean Winchester being that she will be around for this season and it’s already paying off. Mary has shown that she still has the tough chops of having being a Hunter, but is finding out that adapting to the modern world to be perplexing.

Hopefully this 12th season of Supernatural will continue to delight and thrill viewers as we follow the never-ending saga of Sam and Dean Winchester.

Lewis T. Grove and José Soto