TuffGnarl.com staff picks: The Best of 2016
We here at TuffGnarl.com are just as exhausted with 2016 as you are. A cavalcade of celebrity deaths, a historically ugly and divisive presidential election, daily terrorist attacks and shootings… The list goes on. Suffice it to say, this year was rough.
But in entertainment, 2016 was one of the finest years in recent memory in terms of quality, selection, accessibility and the ease with which we were able to share our tastes and experiences with one another.
To kick off 2017, we look back on the previous 365 days to highlight the best the year had to offer in music, film, TV, books and podcasting.
Happy New Year!
Jesse Scheckner – A Tribe Called Quest: We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service: When Tribe co-founder Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor passed away in March from complications due to diabetes, the music community—not just the hip-hop community—collectively mourned. But to our surprise eight months later, Tribe dropped We got it from Here…, an instant classic that, after the group’s more than 25 years making music, had NO business being as good and relevant as it is. With guest appearances by Tribe friends and collaborators Busta Rhymes, Andre 3000, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Talib Kweli and more bolstering recordings Phife, Tip and DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad laid down before Phife’s untimely death, the group bestowed upon the world—and especially their fans—a parting gift that gets better with each repeat listen.
Chuck Livid – Astronautilis: Cut the Body Loose: There were tons of great records in 2016, from Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker to A Tribe Called Quest’s We Got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service, and I’m sure those albums will get the honor of “Album of the Year” elsewhere, but for me the record that stuck was Astronautalis’ Cut The Body Loose. A solidly produced soundscape that rivals Beck’s 1996 album Odelay in the sense of musical risk, it’s also one of Astronautalis’ deepest, sincerest records of his career. From reminiscing about his days in Jacksonville to questioning God himself, I firmly believe this record was the most overlooked release of this year and will be considered a hip-hop classic.
Manny Gomez – A Tribe Called Quest: We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service: This album features some of the most relevant and political songs of the group’s career. It reminds you why hip-hop is still a vital music genre, how rapping still has power and can convey message and emotion. It also has amazing beats and rhythm. This is an album that can make you think, bop your head and even dance. Founding member Phife Dawg also passed away, making it the last album that will ever feature Tribe together.
Ashley Goldstein – Childish Gambino: Awaken, My Love: The afrofuturistic, electronic and funky jazz beats of Childish Gambino’s new album, Awaken, My Love, are a different take for Gambino, but there is no denying that the challenge he took upon himself was nothing but successful. Each song brings the listener to an overwhelming urge to bop their head, rock their shoulders, and sway their hips. It is truly a treat for the soul.
Mark Dubin – Against Me!: Shape Shift With Me: This may not be my favorite band or favorite album (if I were selfish, the Descendents’ Hypercaffium Spazzenate would be my choice), but I just can’t deny that 2016 was a way better year because of this album and because of Laura Jane Grace.
Jesse Scheckner – Weiner: While 2016 had its fair share of worthwhile fictional fare, documentaries on the silver and small screen like O.J.: Made in America, Amanda Knox, Zero Days and Into the Inferno consistently provided moviegoers with reprieve from the seemingly nonstop barrage of comic book movies, unnecessary sequels and reboots, and more comic book movies. With Weiner, cinematic newcomers Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg caught lightning in a bottle, capturing on film the attempted resurrection and ultimate implosion of former congressman Anthony Weiner, a tragically flawed politician whose self-sabotage solicits equal amounts of cringes, laughs and unabashed schadenfreude. At one point in the film, Kriegman asks Weiner, who on camera has had his career and family going up in flames, “Why are you still letting us film this?” Weiner’s defeated answer: “I don’t know.”
Chuck Livid – Swamp Ape: Ft. Lauderdale actor/director Geoff Ward has released a pristine outing of a film that proudly displays its ‘80s low-budget horror camp love on its sleeve. Better yet, the film was produced and edited with nothing more than consumer cameras, basic editing software and the blood, sweat and tears of friends and family. It’s an honorable ode to South Florida and to the myth of the Swamp Ape. I truly loved everything about this movie. If you’ve got Amazon Prime, it’s on there for free and I suggest you make it a movie night.
Manny Gomez – Green Room: Without a doubt the most visceral experience I had at any screening this year was watching Green Room. A stripped down, punk-rock take on the siege genre, Green Room also found moments to be artful and darkly humorous. It was also the most well-paced film I have seen recently, wasting no time and trimming the excess fat found in so many movies these days.
Ashley Goldstein – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Placed 70 years before Harry Potter, Newton Scamander, a zookeeper for magical creatures, travels to 1926 New York City to find several missing creatures that escaped their enclosures. During his travel he finds love, evil dark magic and a muggle best friend. For any fan of the Harry Potter movies, watching Fantastic Beasts was like watching Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for the first time, as we were introduced to new characters, new creatures, new spells and new abilities. J.K. Rowling has also announced that there will be five movies and a book series, so hold on tight all you muggles and mugbloods; us purebloods will be around to entertain your eyes for at least another few years!
Mark Dubin – Sausage Party: If you look beyond the small dick/big buns jokes and maneuver within a perception of a low-hanging-fruit-written script, you’ll find an existential quandary of inanimate objects pining for the meaning of existence, only to discover that the inescapable answer, no matter what type of beautiful lies we tell ourselves, is death. Sex, drugs, comedy, religion, racism, homophobia and anything else we all seem to grasp onto are just harbingers of the ultimate price we pay as organic beings.
BEST TV SHOW
Jesse Scheckner – The Night Of: This HBO adaptation of the BBC miniseries, Criminal Justice, is equal parts murder mystery, courtroom drama, police procedural and prison drama with both humorous and disturbing character studies thrown in for good measure. The performances are strong, the pacing is swift and the story itself, layered and twisted without once veering into the unbelievable, has viewers still discussing the show four months after the eighth and final episode aired. The Night Of is an exceptional and subtle work of art.
Chuck Livid – Ash vs. Evil Dead: BEST SHOW EVER! Bruce Campbell is a fucking national treasure. Nuff Said!
Manny Gomez – The Night Of: It was hard to pick a favorite TV show in a year where the format was certainly my favorite medium. HBO’s The Night Of was by far the best show I saw this year. Not only was it socially relevant, it was a hell of a narrative that demanded to be seen week after a week. It also had amazing performances by its talented cast of veterans and newbies. Throw in some of the most solid writing and assured directing on ANY screen, and you have a winner.
Ashley Goldstein – Stranger Things: Is this even a contest? What other TV show this year got as much publicity, memes, fangirl obsessions and Jimmy Fallon interviews as this show and its cast? Following a group of nerdy (but also super cute) young boys around a small town in the 1980s as they searched desperately for their friend who was stuck in the “Upside Down” with a man-eating creature was nostalgic of our childhoods and a time lost to the internet. Not only that, but the reference to Stephen King’s IT, which is being revamped for 2017, was exciting and thrilling for any horror movie buff life myself.
Mark Dubin – Adam Ruins Everything: “The truth is out there” and it only took a tiny, pompadoured, suit-wearing nerd to tear apart every popular notion of social idealism we’ve come to hold dear to us. Every episode, Adam rips into conventional norms with (at times cheesy) humor and turns everything we’ve ever learned into a primordial soup of alphabets and bitter pills. Along the way, he supports every fact he espouses with a real-time bibliography in the upper right hand corner.
Jesse Scheckner – Champion of the World by Chad Dundas: Chad Dundas’s debut novel, set in prohibition-era 1921, tells the fictional story of disgraced former lightweight professional wrestling champion Pepper Van Dean and his cardsharp wife, Moira, who are lured back to the world that once ruined them with the promise of fortune, revival and possible retribution. We meet Pepper as he is just about to perform his nightly “Hangman’s Drop,” a deadly stunt (that is pretty much what it sounds like) that affords he and Moira passage with the traveling circus that scooped them up when they were down on their luck years earlier. But when a former associate makes them an offer they can’t refuse, Pepper accepts a job as the head trainer for Garfield Taft, a similarly sidelined but gifted African American heavyweight contender with his eyes on fame, wealth and the world championship. Dundas’s assured prose, shaped by years of work as a sportswriter, is economic without sacrificing beauty and forgoes the grossly overused narrative crutch of an unreliable narrator in favor of telling a straightforward, third-person story featuring well-rounded characters dealing with realistic situations in tangible settings. And though the book certainly indulges many masculine interests, it is Dundas’s female characters—Moira Van Dean and Taft’s white wife, Carol Jean—that are the most nuanced and complex.
Chuck Livid – The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher: Reading Carrie Fisher’s diaries from her days on the original Star Wars set will bring tears to your eyes. The book is brutally honest and funny in its telling of her affair with Harrison Ford, depression and the questioning of celebrity. May the Force be with you, Princess.
Manny Gomez – Patience by Daniel Clowes: Another hard pick, as this was an exceptional year for comics. But Patience takes the top spot. It’s not only a trippy, time bending science fiction story; it’s a powerful mediation on what forms a person and the dangers of obsession. The artwork, some of the most beautiful of Clowes’s career, is Jack-Kirby-infused comic book pop-art that leaps of the gorgeous paper stock.
Mark Dubin – Under the Black Sky by John Doe and Tom DeSavia: I dig Henry Rollins, but he’s everywhere and we know EXACTLY what he thinks about EVERYTHING. In an ’80s sea of younger, angrier and way less talented hardcore punks, John Doe was the coolest cat of them all. Reading his perspective of the L.A. punk scene and what was happening at the very onset of it all is truly a gift.
Jesse Scheckner – In the Dark: On October 22, 1989, 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling, his brother and a friend were riding their bikes back from a gas station near his home in St. Joseph, Minn. when they were stopped by an armed man in a mask who took Jacob and told the other two boys to run into the woods and not look back, or else he would shoot them all. The search for the mystery man, who murdered Jacob soon afterwards, haunted the community for decades and led to the creation of a national sex offender database. American Public Media’s In The Dark, narrated by Madeleine Baran (a Peabody winner), follows the investigation into the Wetterling case, the staggering shortcomings of the local police charged with its investigation and, in a remarkable turn of events, how the culprit, Daniel Heinrich (an early suspect), was finally caught just before the first episode of the nine-part series was set to air. If you are at all a fan of the true crime genre, In the Dark is mandatory listening.
Chuck Livid – WTF with Marc Maron: Comic Marc Maron’s WTF podcast is one of the most listened to in the world. This year the show made amazing strides with guests ranging from Billy Crystal to President Obama. Marc’s ability to have people open up about their trials and tribulations makes you feel more like a fly on the wall listening in while celebrities are chatting with their psychiatrist. That’s Maron’s charm – he strips down celebrity and exposes the human condition.
Manny Gomez – Pod Sequentialism with Matt Kennedy: I listened to hours of podcasts this past year, and none made me more excited, educated or introduced me to things quite the way Pod Sequentialism did. Hosted by Las Luz De Jesus gallery curator Matt Kennedy, Pod Sequentialism is a weekly interview series featuring people heavily involved with pop culture. What makes the podcast stand out is Kennedy’s vast pop culture knowledge and passion. It’s a highly infectious listening experience and a must add to your list.
Ashley Goldstein – My Favorite Murder with Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark: With a long obsession for true crime, finding a podcast that didn’t repeat the most common facts and same story word-for-word of popular murders was quite difficult. That was until two comedians got together and birthed the now #1 comedy podcast on iTunes, My Favorite Murder. These two hilarious women get together once a week to tell each other about a murder they found interesting and informally researched. Their giggly dialogue leads down obscure tangents and they sometimes get the facts wrong but you end up loving them by the end of the episode, especially when Georgia’s cat, Elvis, meows for a cookie. Check these ladies out if you love morbid humor, but most importantly, stay sexy and don’t get murdered!
Mark Dubin – Stuff You Should Know: If you and your friends not only made it through college but also excelled at the whole higher learning gig and still were able to still your 14-year-old love of being smarmy while finding fart jokes funny as hell, this would be the podcast you’d run. Titles like “Whats The Deal With Headstones?” and “Polyamory: When Two Just Wont Do” are just a small glimpse of the downloadable free episodes. They debunk, they fact check, they share anecdotes and, most of all, they make driving in rush hour tolerable.
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