Critics' Picks for the Best Movies and Shows of 2016


t’s nice to win an Oscar, sure. But Laura Poitras – a contributor to this newspaper’s Pulitzer-winning investigation of the NSA, and director of the groundbreaking surveillance documentary Citizenfour – gets her real coming-out party this February, when the Berlin-based artist and film-maker will fill New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art with immersive cinematic installations that interrogate the contours of the American security state and its Kafkaesque disciplinary tactics.

Poitras has faced continual harassment since the release of My Country, My Country and The Oath, her unsparing interrogations of post-invasion Iraq, and the Whitney deserves serious praise for inviting her to roost in its first year in a new riverside home. The show is called Astro Noise – a rather dramatic title, if you ask me, though take it up with the man who coined it: a certain Edward J Snowden of Moscow. 

Jason Farago

Now the rest of the world – or at least that portion of it that has seen Bridge of Spies – recognises what theater fans have long known: the staggering brilliance of the actor Mark Rylance. New Yorkers will have another taste of it in February when Rylance appears in Nice Fish, a subzero two-hander which he co-wrote with the poet Louis Jenkins. (If that name sounds familiar, Rylance has a habit of quoting Jenkins’s verse in lieu of acceptance speeches.) Rylance and Jim Lichtscheidl, under Claire van Kempen’s direction, play men shivering on a frozen lake, contemplating ice fishing and mortality.

Alexis Soloski

Next year sees two TV series created by heavyweight directors about the seismic upheavals in pop music in 70s New York. The first comes on Valentine’s Day on HBO. Martin Scorsese’s Vinyl stars Bobby Cannavale as a failing, coke-addled record company boss trying to reinvigorate his label as punk, disco and hip-hop hit the city. Based on an idea by executive producers Scorsese and Mick Jagger, and written by Wolf of Wall Street scriptwriter Terence Winter and Breaking Bad’sGeorge Mastras, the trailer promises sex, sideburns, smashed guitars, guns and glamour – and we wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Some months after that comes The Get Down on Netflix, Baz Luhrmann’s TV show set in the Bronx in the late 70s. This focuses on a group of kids exploring the pop culture of the time, including four brothers – one played by Jaden Smith – forming an early rap group and a clutch of girls experiencing disco and its aftermath. There’s some punk in the mix, too. Expect lavish set pieces, Luhrman’s signature mix of old and new music, and a handful of grit mixed in with the glitter. 

Alex Needham

Sequels and remakes of comedy films get a bad rap, but 2016 could turn that around. In February, Ben Stiller returns to his glassy-eyed, dim-witted best as the dopey model Derek Zoolander in Zoolander 2, where he’ll team up with his frenemy Hansel (Owen Wilson) to fight another improbably model-based evil plot. The original was stocked full of quotable lines and memorable cameos (David Duchovny’s mysterious hand model, for one), and with the addition of a crop of current favorites (Fred Armisen, Olivia Munn), there’s a real chance for this long-awaited film to live up to the hype.

And speaking of hype, July brings us the for-some-reason-controversial reboot of Ghostbusters. This time, it’s Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones and Kristen Wiig who will be battling supernatural forces around New York. For all the hubbub about an “all-female” version, this is really a case of four of the hottest comedic talents being cast in a big-budget summer blockbuster. It’s a no-brainer.

Elise Czajkowski

I have a surprisingly long list of comics I’m excited about in 2016, first and foremost among them Patience by Daniel Clowes. Clowes’s Ice Haven is excellent literature, never mind the comics classification, and his output has been reliably brilliant for several years. And I’m hesitant to admit this but I’m anxious to see how Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’s almost intolerably disturbing horror comic Providence ends; some of the incidents in it are so ugly I’m leery of recommending it but it’s put together with such a serious sense of craft and purpose that I can’t stop reading it. 

On a lighter note, Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette’s long-delayed Wonder Woman graphic novel is due out early in the year, and according to Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Joe Quesada, finally, finally, after 20 years of wondering how it ends, I will get to read Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham’s last few issues of Miracleman. The unpublished (and later, newly written) material starts coming out in April.

Sam Thielman

I’m eager for two long in-development films from reliable American auteurs, Martin Scorsese’s Jesuits-in-Japan period piece Silence, and the Coen Brothers’ completion of their George Clooney-led “Numbskull Trilogy”, Hail, Caesar!

Blockbuster-wise, my inner nerd (which frequently doubles as my outer nerd) can’t believe we’re getting a Star WarsStar Trek and Doctor Strange movie all in the same year. And though I’m sure she’ll just get a few minutes of screentime, Gal Gadot’s turn as Wonder Woman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is the fanboy moment I’m most anticipating.

There is also great hope 2016 will see the release of The Insects, an adaptation of a Karel ÄŒapek play by the legendary 81-year-old Czech animator Jan Å vankmajer. But considering the great surrealist basically invented his own genre of film-making, it’s best not to rush him.

Jordan Hoffman

I’d be a terrible Canadian if I pretended I’m not totally counting down the days until Drake’s new album (Views From the 6) comes out. If the rumours are true and we see a January release, that means we get a whole winter to listen and re-listen to Aubrey waxing poetic about his emotion-fuelled trials and tribulations – as we all sit bundled up in our seasonal turtlenecks, obviously. After all, 2015 was an especially big year for Drake (see: his mixtape, his collaboration with Future,his Meek Mill diss and the majesty of Hotline Bling), so anything he puts out next should top all of the aforementioned. 

But also, no pressure, Drake. If you’re reading this now, it’s not too late – just do your best and we’ll all love you anyway. (At least those of us who consider you our co-prime minister.)

Anne T Donohue

We still don’t know for sure if Kanye’s new album will drop in 2016, but we just got word that PJ Harvey’s latest, her first since 2011, will be coming out in the new year. It was recorded during a public month-long residency/art project called Recording in Progress and the tidbit that has been released shows Harvey in fine form.

Blake Nelson’s YA novel Recovery Road is getting turned into a series for ABC Freeform. It follows a teenager in recovery and if it’s anything like ABC’s other challenging teen dramas (The Fosters, Switched At Birth) it should present a very different take on the teenage experience. The show comes on in January and will help fill the DVR until Game of Thrones returns in April.

Melissa Locker

A one-two punch of festivals greets New York in the new year: the slate of new operas in 2016’s Prototype Festival will include the local premiere of David T Little’s highly praised life-in-wartime music drama Dog Days, as well as new work from Donnacha Dennehy. Up next is the latest New York City Winter Jazz Festival, which spreads across multiple downtown venues over several nights. (This year, they’ll have an entire evening devoted to the ECM label’s current, sterling roster of artists.)

Later in the spring, Knoxville will play host to what is surely America’s (the world’s?) most thrillingly diverse festival lineup. The forthcoming Big Ears Festival will include Shabazz Palaces, Laurie Anderson playing with Philip Glass, Tony Conrad and Faust, the orchestral music of Pulitzer Prize-winner John Luther Adams – as well as sets by Kamasi Washington, the Necks, and multiple groups led by experimental magus Anthony Braxton. There are lots of one-off dates to look forward to as well, but I’m planning on going festival-mad in 2016.

Seth Colter Walls

This year, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele disappointed many viewers, including myself, by calling time on their Comedy Central sketch show Key & Peele. The pair built their comedic reputation on material that swung effortlessly between supreme silliness and sharp, often brutal social commentary – see their stunning musical parody Negrotown for the firmest evidence of their brilliance. 

Over the show’s five seasons, Peele always displayed the greater aptitude for plumbing darker depths. So it’s with great relish that I anticipate his solo directorial debut Get Out, a horror-thriller about a young African-American man (the expressive, charismatic British actor Daniel Kaluuya) who visits his white girlfriend’s family estate, with no doubt hilarious and shocking consequences. News of any fresh voice prepared to tackle the eternal absurdity of American race relations on a grand cinematic scale is promising; that it’s Peele is positively tantalizing. 

Ashley Clark

After a rollicking red-band trailer dropped in early December, it’s hard not to be excited by Shane Black’s upcoming pseudo-noir The Nice Guys. Starring Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe as the kind of comedically frayed problem-solvers found at the scummiest pulp’s logical conclusion, the film looks to reclaim the magic of Black’s comedy/mystery hybrid Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Nobody does smarmy, mostly heroic confidence – confidence that made private dicks worthy of stereotype – like Black and, now that he’s proven his Marvel-taming mettle (Iron Man 3), he has the clout, skills and experience to make The Nice Guys exactly how he wants.

Jacob Oller

This spring on Bloodshot records is the release of a new album by Robbie Fulks, a songwriter-singer-guitarist revered for recasting traditional honky-tonk and bluegrass with modern wit while remaining to their darker, weirder sides. Fulks pioneered the alt-country movement years ago and is now a genre all to himself. The star players on this record include Brooklyn fiddle player Jenny Scheinman, Chicago guitarist Robbie Gjersoe and multi-instrumentalist Fats Kaplin, a frequent Jack White sideman, who are collectively known for their artful approach to traditional sounds. The yet-untitled album was produced once again with art-punk engineer Steve Albini, a long-time collaborator, and is promised to upend expectations for country music traditionalism.

Mark Guarino

The San Francisco Bay Area visual art scene has been arid with two major museums for major architectural projects. Their 2016 reopenings mark a major cultural reboot, and a citywide infusion of art. In January, the Berkeley Art Museum unveils its new building adapted by Diller Scofidio + Renfro. In May, after being closed for three years for a major addition designed by Scandinavian architects Snøhetta, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art unveils its supersized new institutional identity. It may be a satisfying end to an art drought, or play like El Niño, as an unmanageable deluge. Exciting regardless.

Glen Helfand

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