20 Things we loved (so far) in film and TV for 2016

Well, it's been an interesting year for both film and TV so far. The box office has been rather abysmal, while TV continues its stranglehold on unique content. However, that's not to say 2016 hasn't offered up some unique or even outstanding offerings in the film department; it just hasn't been as consistent and the numbers reflect that. But, regardless of dollars and cents, we found at least 20 things to love from film and TV so far this year, so here they are, presented in no particular order whatsoever (as if any ranking would satisfy anyone anyway); Just what we watched and enjoyed the most for the first half of 2016. As we make our way into the cold and frosty Oscar-bait season, these are the things that will stick with us from Spring and Summer. Enjoy the list and let us know what you enjoyed the first half of 2016 as well!

Stranger Things

One of the most surprising hits so far this year, Netflix's original series Stranger Things has swept up the nostalgia and excitement of both those who grew up in the '80's and those that didn't. Created by the Duffer Brothers (Matt & Ross), the series recreates a bygone era of cinema that recalls the work of Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, and Stephen King all at once (right down to the synth score by Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein). The story is filled with a collection of common themes (geeky kids, alternate dimensions, grizzled good-guy cop, young love, telekinetic powers, and, of course, a monster) that coalesce into what amounts to an eight-hour trip down memory lane that still brings new and refreshing ideas, delivered to us by a stellar cast, including a great return to form for Winona Ryder, a leading-man turn for David Harbour, and makes a breakout star out of Millie Bobby Brown, who plays the mysterious girl with powers, Jane "Eleven" (or "Elle") Ives. Stranger Things is further proof that much of the best things being produced today aren't hitting theaters, but are being streamed directly to you. - Paul Shirey

Captain America: Civil War

Arguably the comic book movie to beat this year (we still have DOCTOR STRANGE to contend with), CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR hit all the right notes in a superhero mash-up film, effectively delivering a taut, exciting event film, while masterfully nailing the tone and characters that inhabit their well-oiled universe. The Russo Bros. again demonstrate that they have the skills-to-pay-the-bills when it comes to the comic book genre and gave us the film we'd hoped for with AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON. With the introduction of both Chadwick Boseman's Black Panther and Tom Holland's SPIDER-MAN, CIVIL WAR stacked the deck in its favor and did so without spilling the cards. That's a rare accomplishment, to be sure. It wasn't without its flaws, though, as the mastermind villain Baron Zemo ended up being a bit of a boring dud and the endstate of the film felt more status quo than "broken". Those are pretty minor complaints, though, as CIVIL WAR represents the best "team" film of the genre so far, building on the bricks laid by the previous films and standing tall as that model to follow. Let's hope The Russo Bros. can do a hat trick with AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. - Paul Shirey

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

I’m sure loads of you are thoroughly put-off by the fact that we’re including Zack Snyder’s much maligned BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE in the list, but hear me out. While it’s a profoundly flawed film, it’s nonetheless a strongly cinematic take on a genre (the superhero film) which is in danger of getting ordinary. Snyder, and all involved, took a big swing here and while the movie isn’t altogether successful, at times it’s pretty amazing, especially when it focuses on Ben Affleck’s terrific take on Batman. Its worth noting people seem to be more open to the film since Snyder’s 3-hour R-rated cut hit Blu-Ray/digital. - Chris Bumbray

Daredevil: Season Two

Here's the thing: I didn't like Daredevil Season Two as much as the first season. Didn't think the storylines were as compelling, nor were the villains as imposing as the initial batch. (And let's be honest, Electra was a let down.) But Daredevil still deserves a spot on this list because when it is good, it's so good. The action sequences are great, the cast is top-notch, and it's simply one of the best looking shows anywhere right now. But let's face it, what really made this season was the addition of Jon Bernthal's Frank Castle. Hands down the best Punisher on any screen, Bernthal's growling, steely-eyed portrayal of the hardened vigilante electrified and elevated the season as a whole. The eventual return of Vincent D'Onofrio's Wilson Fisk - maybe the best villain Marvel has right now - certainly helped kick things up a notch. - Eric Walkuski

Hell or High Water

Taylor Sheridan is no fluke, is he? A former actor on ‘Sons of Anarchy’ (he played Deputy Hale), HELL OF HIGH WATER is only his second film as a screenwriter, following SICARIO, and the result is another thriller that proves once again that brawn should never take precedence over brain, and if you make a quality, adult thriller – people will show-up. Jeff Bridges stars as a retiring Texas Ranger chasing after two bank-robbing brothers (Chris Pine & Ben Foster) who have their own unique rationale behind their crimes. Like SICARIO, characters aren’t black and white, and by the conclusion you’ll know all three leads and understand what makes them tic. The acting is among the best I’ve seen this year, with Foster giving the performance of his life as the more unhinged brother, while Chris Pine shows how charismatic he can be given the right material and director (STARRED-UP’s David Mackenzie). - Chris Bumbray

Game of Thrones: Season Six

Ah, what a season! After leaving everyone with a lengthy amount of time to speculate over Jon Snow's "death" the sixth season of Game of Thrones kicked into high gear with some resurrections and a cavalcade of (expected) deaths. Closing out storylines from all over Westeros, including Daenerys time in Mereen, Jon's journey on The Wall, the reign of the High Sparrow crumbling down ,the end of Arya's training, the return of The Hound, and the retaking of Winterfell in what is one of the best episodes of the entire series, managing to bring something new and intense to the age-old "castle siege" scene. In many ways, this season felt like things worked out in a more fan-service kind of way, rather than the bittersweet and shocking methods typically applied in adapting George R.R. Martin's novels. However, since he's yet to turn in a copy of The Winds of Winter, the showrunners had to do a CliffsNotes version for this season and, well, I can't find a reason to complain. Even if there are some small and large deviations from the forthcoming (?) book (I'll read it no matter what, anyway), the events unfolded perfectly in line with the groundwork of the previous seasons and with just two more (much shorter) seasons to go, I'll be savoring every last bloodthirsty drop of this brilliantly made fantasy soap opera. - Paul Shirey

The Witch

When you manage to make a goat one of the scarier horror villains in recent years, you know you've done something right. THE WITCH is a thoroughly scary and fascinating period horror movie, one that resonates for a very long time after you've winced your way through it. Made with intricate care by writer-director Robert Eggers, the film never once hits a false note; from the haunting production and costume design to the bewitching dialogue, THE WITCH succeeds not only in being a frightening horror movie but an exceptional peek into a bygone era that never feels less than authentic. And, of course, a new horror icon was born in the unlikely form of Black Philip. - Eric Walkuski

Kubo and the Two Strings

Laika Studios has done it again. After making consistently great stop-motion animated feature films, KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS arrives and it is simply magical. This beautiful story of a young storyteller who is pursued by the evil Moon King is a breath of fresh air in a summer with mostly mediocre blockbusters. Filled with action, suspense, humor, and a great cast including Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey, it’s easily one of the best films of the year. If you haven’t seen KUBO, do yourself a favor and check out this incredible work of art. This is a wonderful film that is perfect for all audiences, young and old. - JimmyO

The Night Of

Nobody expected all that much from ‘The Night Of’. HBO has been in semi-decline recently, with the much-hyped ‘Vinyl’ losing its audience in its own excess, although the potential for the service to bloom once again is always there. Sure enough, ‘The Night Of’ is exactly the kind of thing they should be doing, in that it’s thought-provoking, edgy and most importantly of all, entertaining. Stars John Turturro and Riz Ahmed deliver the same kind of heavy-weight performances Oscar Isaac did in last summer’s HBO mini, ‘Show Me a Hero’ and if this were a feature, people would be calling them Oscar-worthy. A terrifying look at the justice system in America, this comes from Richard Price (SEA OF LOVE, MAD DOG & GLORY) who adapts the BBC drama, ‘Criminal Justice.’ This is perfect binge material if you’ve yet to dig into it. - Chris Bumbray

The Nice Guys

Writer/Director Shane Black returns to his roots after a detour in the big leagues with IRON MAN 3 and gets back to the smart-ass noir detective genre he's comfortable with in THE NICE GUYS, a clever romp that pairs Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling together in a '70's setting, complete with colorful bad guys, quotable quips, and, of course, a cute-but-smart kid sidekick. While the mystery aspect plays more like a Hardy Boys novel (but, y'know, in the porn industry), the characters are what pop here with Crowe and Gosling riffing like they've been working together for years, injecting the humor and attitude that makes Black's scripts come to life. There's so much fun to be had here and while it feels like much of Shane Black's resume is a remake of the previous film with different actors and settings, that strangely works each and every time. From LETHAL WEAPON to THE LAST BOY SCOUT to KISS KISS, BANG BANG, THE NICE GUYS fits right in his repertoire as a another book on the shelf of his long-running buddy detective series of films. Can't wait for the next volume. - Paul Shirey

Green Room

GREEN ROOM works on so many levels. It's an intense siege movie, filled with stirring action and suspense. It's a grisly horror movie, providing a handful of unforgettably nasty images (that hand!) and ominous bad guys. It's a dark comedy, finding weird pockets of humor in an otherwise dire situation. Director Jeremy Saulnier manages to balance all of these tones effortlessly throughout the movie, which impressively sustains an atmosphere of nail-biting tension from the moment its protagonists walk into the wrong room at the wrong time. Patrick Stewart as an intelligent white supremacist is unforgettable, and Anton Yelchin (RIP) and Imogen Poots make for engrossing, if far from perfect, "heroes" who have to dig down deep for resourcefulness in the face of unforgiving violence. - Eric Walkuski

Better Call Saul

Season one of ‘Better Call Saul’ was great, but this is something else entirely. While people may have had some lofty, ‘Breaking Bad’-lite expectations for it initially, in its second season, ‘Better Call Saul’ really became its own thing – with it clear star Bob Odenkirk has got the same kind of career-redefining role as Bryan Cranston did with BB. The storytelling, direction and acting was off-the-charts this season, with supporting player Rhea Seehorn making the biggest impression of them all as Jimmy’s partner/lover Kim, who, like Skyler before her, starts to play in her partner’s murky moral cesspool. - Chris Bumbray

Sausage Party

Sentient, talking food? Since when did Chuck Tingle start writing screenplays? Well maybe not quite on that level (if you’ve google the name Chuck Tingle you’re going down a rabbit hole of insanity), Seth Rogen’s ADULTS ONLY R-rated CG-animated comedy is among the most anarchic things to come out of Hollywood in some time. Who would have thought the adventures of a talking hot dog and his bun girlfriend would be so clever. By the time we get to the (literal) food orgy that takes up part of the last act, you will have seen things that would have made Ralph Bakshi of FRITZ THE CAT cringe. - Chris Bumbray

The Conjuring 2

THE CONJURING 2 does everything a good sequel is supposed to. It ups the intensity, it continues the story of the first film while adding to the mythology, it feels like the original and has new tricks up its sleeve. James Wan is, at this point, a maestro of nightmarish imagery and spooky theatrics; able to play the audience (as Hitchcock once said) like a piano. Thankfully, he doesn't leave character or heart at the door. At the center of both THE CONJURING films is a tender and believable love story, with Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga splendidly portraying paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren as a couple who will battle all manner of hostile entities in order to protect the innocent and each other. They can make ten more of these movies and I'll be there, front and center, each and every time. - Eric Walkuski

Eddie The Eagle

Taron Egerton was terrific in KINGSMAN, but who knew he could pull this off? EDDIE THE EAGLE presents the story of an unusual athlete by the name of Eddie Edwards. With glasses and his awkward demeanor, Taron is perfect as a young man with seemingly impossible Olympic dreams. And you can always count on Hugh Jackman to create a gruff yet sympathetic character. This is genius pairing, and director Dexter Fletcher manages to make one of the most charming sports movies I’ve seen in quite sometime. Think COOL RUNNINGS for ski jumpers and you’ll have an idea. If you missed this one, I highly recommend getting away from all the negativity in the world today, and watching something that will put a huge smile on your face. - JimmyO


The long-gestating adaptation of Marvel's own Merc-with-a-Mouth, DEADPOOL, paid off in spades earlier this year when it broke through the 4th wall of moviegoers everywhere, overperforming at the box office and becoming the most successful of any of the previous films in Fox's X-franchise. That ain't hay. Ryan Reynolds and director Tim Miller worked tirelessly to bring Rob Liefeld's creation to life, taking a decade to get the ball rolling (with some thanks due to that "leaked" test footage) and the gamble paid off. The film imbued the very essence of Wade Wilson/Deadpool and paid proper homage to all the characteristics, violence, and general insanity that is Deadpool. Major kudos go to the studio for not only allowing the film to hit theaters as it did (with an R-rating to boot), but also for marketing exactly what they had on their hands and truly embracing it, making for one of the best-sold superhero films ever. While some didn't get the juvenile humor or over-the-top violence, most of us found it to be a damn fine example of what happens when a passion project ekes its way to fruition and is able to capture a level of success that no one ever counted on. - Paul Shirey

Midnight Special

It is rare that movies like this have as much of an emotional impact as Jeff Nichols’ MIDNIGHT SPECIAL did on me personally. This father and son story is a shockingly good science fiction tale. The performances from Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirstin Dunst, Adam Driver and Sam Shepard are all fantastic. Yet it is young Jaeden Lieberher and his touching relationship with his on-screen father - played by Shannon - that really deliver. With shades of Spielberg and Carpenter, Nichols has made one of this years most heartfelt and powerful films. The writer and director continues to impress and I can’t wait to see the very different LOVING from the filmmaker later this year - a drama also starring Edgerton as well as Ruth Negga. - JimmyO

O.J. - Made in America

In a year that also saw the release of Ryan Murphy’s ‘The People Vs OJ’, did we really need an epic, eight-hour documentary on Simpson? Well, yeah, it turned out that we kinda did, with Ezra Edelman’s towering mini-series standing as one of the best examples of long-form TV I’ve ever seen, and a documentary that’s a must for anyone, even those who think they know everything about O.J or are just sick to death of him. It’s not only that the crime is fascinating, but it’s that O.J himself is only one part of a doc that says more about race in America and our culture of hero worship than anything else. Highly recommended. - Chris Bumbray

The Lobster

It has been said often, this year may not have been terribly strong when it comes to major releases, but thankfully we have a ton of amazing stories without a huge budget. THE LOBSTER is yet another fascinating choice for Colin Farrell. In the film he portrays David, a man who is about to turn forty-five. The only problem with that is, in this world, if you are still single at that age you will literally be turned into an animal. This bonkers concept is exceptionally well done in the hands of writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos. This dark yet incredibly funny film is a rarity, it is a completely original and fanciful story that will inspire conversation and possibly a whole new outlook on the world we live in. And once again, Farrell is exceptional in the leading role. - JimmyO

Don't Breathe

2016 may not be a great year for big budget action movies, but it sure is one hell of a great year for horror. Who knew that one of this year’s best would be the August release of Fede Alvarez follow up to EVIL DEAD? DON’T BREATHE is a thrillingly intense tale featuring the great Stephen Lang as The Blind Man, a role that is sure to make him a horror icon. With a sharp cast and a great story with a few twists and turns, this is the kind of movie that is a must see with an audience. With all the impressive genre movies this year, DON’T BREATHE manages to create a very frightening ride that is sure to please horror fans and perhaps even those who aren’t. This is simply great filmmaking. - JimmyO

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