I don’t really have a lot to say about today’s Oscar nominations, because aside from a few small quibbles — no Amy Adams for Best Actress, no score nominations for Michael Giacchino, none of the big three animated films (Zootopia, Kubo and the Two Strings and Moana) landing a Best Picture nod — and one major one — come on, no Best Song nomination for Sing Street??? — I’m not moved to any particular feeling by them. It’s a list of nominees, many of which I haven’t seen yet. But since the Oscars are basically our last real look back at the year that just passed, I figured I’d throw out some of my pop cultural superlatives for 2016. And only a mere three weeks into 2017. How’s that for timely?
And yes, there will be spoilers. You’re in a different year now; you had your chance.
Theme of the Year: Understanding
In Kubo and the Two Strings, Kubo has the chance to completely destroy the Moon King who has turned his life upside down throughout the course of the film — and instead chooses to forgive him, giving him a chance at a life he was only moments before decrying as a silly mortal concept.
In Doctor Strange, the evil Dormammu is defeated not by throwing successively bigger and harder punches at him, but by figuring out what he’s afraid of and making him confront it.
In Moana, the mighty hero fails when confronting the terrifying lava god with his strength, but Moana succeeds by realizing its true nature, and basically telling it everything is going to be okay.
In Arrival, the entire point of the film is that the struggle to understand the unfamiliar is worth it.
Time and again we saw stories where it wasn’t overwhelming strength that won the day, but simple understanding. Taking the time to learn about someone or something else. The power of intellect and compassion. It was almost like the movies were trying to tell us something.
Decade of the Year: The Eighties
Two of the best pieces of entertainment from last year leaned on my nostalgia buttons hard. Stranger Things was every Steven Spielberg and Stephen King opus never made, while being a lot more than just an evocation of ’80s tropes. And Sing Street was a love letter to every video I watched on MTV in high school, that perfectly captured what it was like hearing and absorbing those songs. Turning 48 this year, it was nice to have a couple of reminders of my glorious misspent youth.
Provider of the Year: Netflix
Name me a broadcast or cable network that wouldn’t have killed to have had Stranger Things, Daredevil, House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Luke Cage, Travelers and The Crown in its lineup. I’m not about to bury traditional television (a superlative season of Game of Thrones, Westworld, The Good Place and the CW’s DC lineup were all worthy watches last year), but none of them were able to generate the kind of buzz Netflix could by walking in, dropping ten episodes in your lap on a Friday, and saying, “See you Sunday.” Or early Saturday morning, as was often the case.
Farewell of the Year: Carrie Fisher
Nobody knew when we first saw Princess Leia at the end of Rogue One that it would end up being her requiem. And no one knew how powerful her single line — “Hope.” — would become in the weeks that followed. Just look at the number of Princess Leia posters and signs at the Womens’ March last weekend. Fisher may have left this earth, but she didn’t leave our minds or our hearts.
TV Moment of the Year: Barry Allen gets everyone ice cream on Supergirl
This. Always this.
Movie Moment of the Year: Ant-Man Creates a Diversion in Captain America: Civil War
The moment the Marvel Cinematic Universe decided, “Screw it, we can do anything.”
Sheer Unadulterated Happy of the Year: “Drive It Like You Stole It” from Sing Street
REALLY? NO BEST SONG NOMINATION?
Pop Culture Moment of the Year: David S. Pumpkins
On its face, it was a pretty stupid sketch. But oh good lord did we need to laugh by the time Halloween rolled around last year. And our genial goofy uncle Tom Hanks had just what we needed. We laughed because of how hard everyone sold the sketch. We laughed because we were on pins and needles over the coming election. And maybe we laughed a little prematurely thinking the only possible outcome of that election could be a good one. Whatever the case, for a blissful week in late October, we didn’t care. Because David S. Pumpkins was all.