2016 stand outs: first quarter

The first quarter of 2016 had a lot of standout moments in pop culture. Here are a few of the shows, books, films, music, and moment

Here are the standouts of pop culture from January 1 through March 31, 2016.

10 Cloverfield Lane

The film is good. But that’s not why it’s important. It’s important because it allows artists a new way to explore themes in connected worlds. This wasn’t originally a Cloverfield film – it was just a story about a woman trapped in a bunker. They decided to tag it into the world of the original film, but only thematically. I just find it interesting that people don’t have to follow a certain structure anymore.

American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson – Pictured: Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark. CR: FX, Fox 21 TVS, FXP Premieres on FX, early 2016

American Crime Story: People v. OJ Simpson

The show is obviously about a media-crazed murder trial, but the themes are so much deeper. The guy who created Glee has created a show that explores race better than any show out there right now. It’s also opening the door for a whole new breed of anthology shows.

The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan

Mahajan’s ability to tell a sensitive but illuminating story is apparent from the beginning. The story follows three narratives in the aftermath of a bombing over the course of several years. His structure allows the reader to learn inmate details of these rich characters’ lives as well the horrific reality they live in. It’s a book that anyone interested in modern global relations should read. (My interview with the author can be read here.)

Better Call Saul

A lot of people loved Breaking Bad for how ballsy it was. I loved it for the subtle nuances of everyday life. That’s what Saul does so well. It’s a low-key series that moves incredibly slow, which gives time for important character development that most shows aren’t able to cover in an entire run.

Horace and Pete

Louis CK took time off from his critically acclaimed series Louie and we thought we wouldn’t see him for a few years. Then he surprised everyone with a downloadable series that adds structure to everything we loved about his other show.

Leo Oscar
Leo finally wins, but it wasn’t even close to his best role

If you know me, you know that I love DiCaprio. He’s my heart and soul. I even wrote a list for Paste about his best roles back in 2011. He made me cry in The Quick and the Dead, I fell in love with him during Leomania. I grew to respect him as he matured with Scorsese. I was on a high with him in Revolutionary Road, but looking back. His best role of all time was in The Departed, which he was mysteriously snubbed for and got nominated for Blood Diamond’s awful accent.

A Man Alive by Thao & the Get Down Stay Down

This pop-folk album is the complete package. The only album of 2016 (so far) that I’ve been excited about. Its lyrics are beautifully honest. There’s a lot of dark, revealing stuff hidden in the middle of catchy tunes. The first best indie record of 2016 for sure.

The Ringer Simmons

The Ringer and the Bill Simmons clique

Bill Simmons and ESPN’s divorce euthanized Grantland. It’s been some dark months, but now The Bill Simmons Podcast is in full swing. It’s terrific. Bill is so insightful and biased that it feels like listening to a friend instead of a commentator. Channel 33, which hosts a wide range of podcasts from Simmons’ clique. Andy Greenwall and  Chris Ryan give us media and pop culture, there’s a brand new political podcast from two former Obama employees, and then there’s a new golf podcast that they’ve been hyping, which makes me excited for golf somehow.

Unconventional rap releases

Kendrick Lamar’s untitled, unmastered b-side compilation came almost out of nowhere. It was subtle and gave fans of his stellar To Pimp a Butterfly and extension of that (almost the best) album of 2015. Kanye West’s long, drawn out project changed titles a million times and premiered with an art-walk/fashion show in Madison Square Garden. Love them or hate them, it’s a time to be alive.

What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell

The story is about an unnamed gay American teacher meets a male prostitute in a bathroom while living and teaching abroad in Bulgaria. Even if that description doesn’t entice you, please read this novel. It’s so beautifully written. Greenwell’s prose is so lyrical that it swells perfectly like a crescendo. There is a sweetness that comes from the writer’s obvious passion for exploring LGBT issues. (My interview with the author can be read here.)

Why We Came to the City by Kristopher Jansma

It’s a visceral look into the type of friendship that many books attempt, but fail. Set up against one of the friend’s battle with cancer, it’s reminiscent of A Little Life, but more concise in many ways. Jansma’s words show that he cares a lot about what he is writing about. I really appreciated how it wasn’t a typically structured novel. It uses larger “chapters” to reveal large chunks of time, but at the same time focuses on such small details. (My interview with the author can be read here.)

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