With 2016 finally winding down, here’s a look back at some of our favorite and least favorite moments to grace our screens, both big and small. Here you’ll find the moments that made us cheer, the moments that wowed us, and a few of the moments that made us groan the loudest.
Most Foot-Dragging Plotline: Jon Snow’s Resurrection, Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones stumbled constantly throughout the show’s fifth season last year, ultimately ending on a note of utterly hopelessness when Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) is murdered by a group of The Night’s Watch for letting Wildlings south of The Wall. It was a hopeless, mean-spirited ending that was expected to be resolved at the beginning of season six. And it was… eventually.
After dragging their feet throughout the first episode, which consisted mostly of drawn-out conversations around Jon’s corpse, they thought a reveal about Melisandre would be an adequate ending for the show’s sixth season premiere. It wasn’t — although they did eventually get around to his inevitable resurrection by the end of the second episode, taking a moment that was already anti-climactic and managing to water it down even more.
Best Reveal We All Saw Coming: The Man In Black, Westworld
HBO had a lot riding on the first season of Westworld, an ambitious, heady sci-fi yarn that riffs off Michael Crichton’s 1974 movie, and goes into deep meditations on themes such as free will, sin, and humanity. Fan theories ran rampant, and every single detail of the show was mulled over, prompting some of the most immersive online discussion in recent memory.
With no shortage of topics to speculate on showrunners Johnathan Nolan and Lisa Joy even managed to work in three distinct timelines, and waited until the season finale before revealing that well-meaning William (Jimmi Simpson) would, eventually, become the steel-eyed Man in Black (Ed Harris), hell-bent on finding a game within the Westworld theme park. This idea had been speculated upon since William’s introduction, and while it was made increasingly clear that this wasn’t simply a theory, it’s revelation didn’t lack any sense of payoff whatsoever.
Honorable Mention: When Bernard asks “what door” when he and Theresa sneak into Robert Ford’s secret cabin in the outskirts of the theme park. It not only answered long-standing questions about Bernard, not to mention who Arnold was, but it made a specific moment from the week prior make perfect sense in retrospect.
Most Hollow Resolution: Who Negan Killed, The Walking Dead
Speaking of hopeless, mean-spirited endings, The Walking Dead finally introduced Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) this spring during the show’s sixth season finale, and ended on a POV shot of the person he killed, leaving their identity a mystery. Months of endless speculation and limitless fan outrage passed until this October when the premiere showed us who met their fate that night… eventually.
But while we all sat around waiting to learn that it was Abraham (Michael Cudlitz), then Glenn (Stephen Yeun), the collective sentiment of fans reflected the shows persistently grim portrayals of humanity, and knowing who Negan killed wasn’t the kind of revelation that would ever resolve itself in a satisfactory way. In the end, even the show’s harshest critics seem to emulate a ‘what were we expecting’ perspective, and the show’s ratings have been steadily on the decline since then. (To be fair, they’re still very high as far as cable shows go.)
Most Creative Punchline: The Invisible Car, Atlanta
Donald Glover’s serio-comic series Atlanta made almost every critic’s top 10 list for 2016, and for good reason. Aside from casting light on a largely ignored part of American culture, with Glover at the helm, it managed to be both unflinching and surreal — often at the same time. One of the best examples of this was the invisible car, which went an entire episode as subtle commentary/running gag, but proved to be the kind of hypnagogic subversion this show became known for.
Most Unnecessary TV Adaptation: Preacher
What started as an overstuffed, overly long, but vaguely interesting adaptation of the Garth Ennis/Steve Dillon graphic novel, it didn’t take long before Preacher revealed what it really was: incoherent, mean-spirited, uninspired fan fiction. Worse yet, the first season turned out to be a prequel. No greater sin.
Best Character (TV): Lyanna Mormont, Game of Thrones
She might have only had a handful of scenes, but actress Belle Ramsey stole every single one of them as Lyanna Mormont, the Lord of House Mormont who reluctantly joins forces with Jon Snow in his attempt to take back Winterfell (and, by extension, the North). With her no-nonsense attitude and take-no-shit leadership, her charisma was so off the chart that all she had to do was sit on a horse and scowl to make it the best moment of the show’s much-improved sixth season.
Most Tearjerking Moment: Abbott and the Death Process, Arrival
Coming out on the heels of an incredibly contentious election season, Arrival starts out with a dozen alien spacecrafts positioning themselves across the globe, so the government recruits expert linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) to try and communicate with them to understand why they’re here. As Louise immerses herself in their written language, she pushes back against government bureaucracy and the banging of international war drums while she makes a genuine, empathetic connection with the two aliens (later referred to as Septapods) manning the ship hovering over Montana.
Near the end, after a series of tragic misunderstandings nearly costs her everything she’s worked for, Louise is brought on board the ship one last time and has for a final conversation with one of the Septapods. While neither one is quite fluent in the language of the other, they still manage a gauche, but tender, exchange, and Louise not only unlocks the secret to why they’ve arrived, but learns the tragic fate the other Septapod. While their words may have been inelegant, the emotional impact of this moment was anything but.
Best Defiance Of Typecasting: Jim O’Heir, Middle Man
Throughout the seven season run of Parks and Recreation, Jim O’Heir played the pitiable government cog Jerry Gergich, and has managed to carry over that charm to shows like Brooklyn Nine-Nine as a guest star. In writer/director Ned Crowley’s Middle Man, O’Heir plays Lenny, a downtrodden everyman who, after the loss of his mother, hits the road to become a standup comic. After murdering a heckler manages to improve his material, Lenny takes the audience into the depths of his incredibly bleak psyche, and O’Heir got to show off his chops as a multi-dimensional actor.
I was also fortunate enough to speak with both O’Heir and Crowley about their work this past October, which you can check out here.
Most Subverted Expectations: Raw
All anyone knew going into this movie was that it was about a vegetarian-gone-cannibal and two people passed out at the Toronto International Film Festival during a screening. It was enough to generate a significant amount of hype, and was the number one thing on the audience’s mind when it played at Fantastic Fest back in late September.
Sure, there were definitely some less-than-comfortable moments, but at its core, it was an absolutely stirring portrayal of the tenacity of family bonds, as well as a profound coming-of-age story. Not to mention an ending that managed to be both chilling and heartwarming all at the same time.
Best Aesthetic: The Handmaiden
Park Chan-wook has made a career out of defying expectations, and his epic period piece The Handmaiden was no exception. Set in the 1930s and following an elaborate scheme to rob and delegitimize a wealthy heiress, the movie is told from multiple perspectives and a semi-circular narrative, Chan-wook’s visual style is perfectly complimented by the film’s sets, costumes, lighting and sound. Not to mention some of the most sensual love scenes of this year (or any year, for that matter).
Most Human Moment: Miss Stevens
Following up her brilliant Civil War-era apocalyptic drama The Keeping Room, screenwriter Julia Hart went autobiographical with Miss Stevens, the story of a high school teacher who accompanies three of her students on a field trip out of town. Throughout the film Lily Rabe portrayed the title character with such endearing, clumsy humanity you couldn’t help but fall in love with her character, which made her emotional tipping point in the film’s third act that much more heartbreaking.
Best Nostalgia Factor: Rogue One
I brought up last year how The Force Awakens (particularly the first and third acts) heavily repeated beats laid out back in 1977’s A New Hope, which was met with a fair amount of criticism over being labeled as a warmed-over remake. Rogue One, the first Star Wars standalone film (soon to be an annual occurrence) was essentially a critical footnote in the saga’s timeline. With a tone that intentionally called back to iconic war films, thanks to some unused footage from the mid-70s, it still managed to retrofit itself seamlessly, especially when compared to those last 25 minutes of A New Hope, in all its mustachioed glory.
Most Life-Affirming Heartbreak: Being Stuck In Your Well, Don’t Think Twice
A meditation on the surprise consequences of newfound fame, filtered through the lens of a New York improv comedy group, Don’t Think Twice’s writer/director/star Mike Birbiglia managed to craft one of the most charming and unapologetically authentic films of the year. A stellar ensemble cast play The Commune, a successful improv group based in New York, when one of them is hired as a cast member on Weekend Live (the in-movie equivalent to SNL), forcing everyone else to take a long, hard look at their future.
When Samantha (Gillian Jacobs) turns out to be the only member of The Commune to show up for their last performance before their theater is bulldozed, she has her revelation on stage in front of her audience, and makes her choice about the future with all eyes fixated on her. A note-perfect ode to why we make the choices that we do, in spite of circumstance.
Best Character (Film): Spider-Man, Captain America: Civil War
It’s been a long, hard road as a fan of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. After a promising first couple films in the early aughts starring Toby Maguire, Sam Raimi’s third installment in 2007 never really came together, despite a couple of great scenes (no, not the one with the emo dancing). Then came Andrew Garfield’s two turns under the mask, which started out feeling as an unnecessary re-tread of the original films, then quickly became just outright unnecessary.
Then, after years of negotiations, Marvel got to incorporate its flagship character back into their cinematic universe, while Sony still got to make money from them doing so. The specifics of the deal aside, when Tony Stark calls on “Underoos” to make his first appearance (in costume) at the pivotal scene outside the airport hangar in Civil War, actor Tom Holland seemed to perfectly embody everything that’s charming about the character. Now, with his upcoming debut in Spider-Man: Homecoming set to hit the ground running 2017, we can go into the new year fairly confident that we won’t have to sit through Uncle Ben’s murder for a third fucking time.