Free Minds & Free Markets

The Best Books, Films, Music, and Television of 2016

Lionel Shriver's The Mandibles, HBO's Westworld, Brian Fallon's Painkillers, and more. What's on your list?

As the year drew to a close, we asked Reason's staff to select some of the best books, movies, and other media released in 2016. Our picks range from a novel about economic apocalypse to a sitcom about aliens, from a book about cocktails to a film about Hannah Arendt. Dig in. —Jesse Walker

Eric Boehm, reporter

IslandIslandWith Painkillers, former Gaslight Anthem singer Brian Fallon leaves his Springsteen-meets-the-Replacements roots for a folksy-rock exploration of failed relationships, nostalgic romances, and the freedom that comes from letting go of the past, even if you'll never be rid of it. "You can't make me whole, I have to do that on my own," Fallon sings on the album's introspective closing number, a reference in equal parts to his recent divorce and to the breakup of his band.

The simple Americana arrangements here put Fallon's skills as a songwriter—and he's one of the best out there right now—in the spotlight, particularly on "Rosemary," "Among Other Foolish Things," and "Smoke." He may be going in a new direction, but Fallon spends most of Painkillers looking back, examining hazy memories or half-remembered dreams of what might have been. There's borrowed cars, girls who love whiskey, and Rites of Spring. The good times, Fallon sings, are "lost in the songs they don't write anymore."

Shikha Dalmia, senior analyst

Zeitgeist FilmsZeitgeist FilmsVita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt, a documentary by the Israeli director Ada Ushpiz, may not be the best offering of 2016, but it is arguably the most relevant. The West is experiencing a rise of demagogues, fuelled partly by right-wing populist movements. It is possible that in resisting them, Western liberalism will strengthen itself. It could also collapse into something horrible, as Weimar Germany did. The film, which hit select American theaters this year, offers a glimpse into the mass psychology that would allow that to happen.

Arendt, a Jewish philosopher, fled to America from Nazi Germany. The documentary delves into her thought to understand how the land that produced the greatest minds in philosophy, literature, and music collapsed into the barbarism of Auschwitz. It excavates rare footage of Germany during Hitler's rule to show the campaign to dehumanize Jews that preceded the Holocaust. But the more crucial step, per Arendt, was the triumph of what Frankfurt School philosophers call instrumental or technocratic rationality over critical rationality.

The film depicts Arendt's 1961 journey to Israel for The New Yorker to cover the famous trial of Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi accused of war crimes. After observing months of testimony, Arendt coined her phrase "banality of evil" to convey that Eichmann, a diminutive and soft-spoken man, wasn't motivated so much by hatred of Jews. Rather, he believed that his job was to find the most efficient way to execute his assigned tasks, not raise big questions.

Arendt was condemned for soft-peddling the Satanic nature of the Nazi regime. But the documentary shows that she was laying bare something still more horrible: how ordinary people can stumble into unspeakable evil when they let their civilizational guard down.

Anthony Fisher, associate editor

Louis C.K.Louis C.K.Louis CK blew up the concept of the 30-minute sitcom with his FX show Louie, where the main character's backstory would change without explanation and where excruciatingly painful situations could be both hilarious and cathartic. Now he may have blown up the episodic television show itself with the eight-part miniseries Horace and Pete, originally released on his own website but now available on Hulu. Though occasionally funny, this is no comedy—in fact, it's as much of a horror show as a drama.

Set in the hellscape of a 100-year-old Irish bar in Brooklyn, the show's depiction of boredom, dumb arguments, sexism, familial abuse, mental illness, and pathological self-destruction make for perhaps the most honest depiction of barfly culture ever presented on "television." One particularly notable episode begins with a character the audience has not previously encountered, in close-up, telling a detailed story for over nine minutes before the shot is interrupted. Amazingly, it works. You're not sure what you're watching, but you can't take your eyes off it.

Nick Gillespie, editor in chief, Reason TV and

W.W. NortonW.W. NortonIf you're worried about how odd assortments of special interests can radically reshape the size, scope, and spending of government in a relatively short period of time, you need to read Lisa McGirr's The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State. With painstaking detail and a fluid writing style, the Harvard historian documents how Prohibition became a means to impose social controls on "undesirable" populations (Catholic immigrants in the North, blacks and poor whites in the South) while inventing the first truly national law-enforcement agencies. Leading politicians of the day, such as Al Smith, rub shoulders with anonymous victims of police abuse, making the text a triumph of "thick history," combining views from all levels of society.

McGirr, who I interviewed for ReasonTV earlier this year, underscores that many of the same characters involved in anti-booze crusades then switched over the next big domestic "war," this time on drugs. The War on Alcohol explains better than any book I've read how the United States became the world's greatest jailer.

Ed Krayewski, associate editor

TBSTBSThe best new cable comedy of 2016 is People of Earth, a TBS show about an alien abduction support group. The series introduces viewers to the familiar mythos of greys, Nordic aliens, and reptilians, who can appear as humans. (Some famous figures are outed.) By the end of the first episode, all three extratrerrestrial species are happily confirmed to be real.

The ensemble show centers around the nine members of Star Crossed, the support group. Luka Jones plays a committed alien researcher who hasn't been abducted but desperately wants to be. Wyatt Cenac plays Ozzie Graham, a reporter sent to cover the group who ends up having a close encounter of his own. The show doesn't just play on the support group's dynamic, but also shows us three aliens, one of each kind, on a ship orbiting overhead. They deliver some of the best lines.

Photo Credit: HBO

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  • SIV||

    The Best Books, Films, Music, and Television of 2016

    Tallest midget

  • Citizen X||

    Yet another year without ANY novels about the forbidden love between man and rooster.

  • ||

    Get writing

  • Citizen X||

    SIV's already written like 14,000 pages, and several major publishing houses have restraining orders against him.

  • John||

    I think Iowahawk may have given the best tweet of 2016 this morning. In response to the fake news guy posting the video where he claims to have been thrown off a Delta flight for speaking Arabic, Iowahawk tweeted

    I was just kicked out of the coed bathroom at Target for saying 'Merry Christmas" in Arabic. I am available for your cable news show for a fee of $500."

    That is the most 2016est tweet of the year.

  • Rich||

    The man is a National Treasure.

  • ||

    Don't say that - he'll then be surreptitiously sold off and you'll have to use fiat Iowahawks

  • Citizen X||

    Nic Cage will make a movie about searching for him on the back of the Declaration of Independence.

  • RBS||

    "Honey I Shrunk Benjamin Franklin Gates"

  • Rich||

    fiat Iowahawks

    What a concept!

    But I wouldn't put it past Janet Yellen.

  • Crying Zelda Morning Link||

    Based on his Twitter feed, Iowahawk would only buy a Fiat for monster truck cushioning.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    When is Reason going to step out of the 20th Century and start including best podcast episodes in their countdowns?

    And I hate-watch The Americans.

  • ||

    Great call by Jesse Walker. The Americans is superb

  • كبير الهراء, Jr.||

    Suderman, I see what you did there.

  • Citizen X||

    That is hilarious. My hat is off to Suderman for that fine, subtle jab.

  • Citizen X||

    By the end of the first episode, all three extratrerrestrial species are happily confirmed to be real.

    Goddammit, Ed. Spoiler alert!

  • 68W58||

    Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency on BBC America was pretty good.

  • Mongo||

    Solid pick, Suderman.

    I remember during the 80s when cocktails tasted like dishwater.

  • Crying Zelda Morning Link||

    Not much music on the list.

    Parquet Courts - Human Performance

    Ultimate Painting - Dusk

    Warpaint - Heads Up

    It was actually a shitty year for music. Or 2013-2015 we're just that great.

  • Crying Zelda Morning Link||


  • Mongo||

    Had to look up Parquet Courts.

    It was a weak year for music, agreed. I guess Bowie's Blackstar would've made mine.

  • Crying Zelda Morning Link||

    I haven't given that a good listen yet.

    About half the "new" music I listened to this year was from 2014. I wonder if there's a lag effect, especially for people like myself who don't keep up with music news/releases.

    I do know that Spotify's Discover Weekly has been huge for finding "new" music. Its creator, Matt Ogle, has some interesting interviews on how music personalization works (I'd link to them if I was on a PC). I'd love to see Reason talk with him, as he's big on the distributed effects of music creation and consumption.

  • ||

    Every year is a good year for music if you know where to look.

  • Crying Zelda Morning Link||

    Thanks, that's a good list.

    But I wonder how much exposure music media really gives. For example, if you look at the Pitchfork staff lists, there's at least a 50% overlap. Is there really that much agreement, for something so subjective?

  • Social Signaling Hair||

    Seconding Parquet Courts.

  • Mongo||

    I really dig the Reason culture-posts. Libertarian sites are too heavy with bean counters and computards.

  • μ Aggressor||

    oh man people of earth was a such a sleeper hit to me, I had recorded the series but only watched it last week and it is fantastic!

  • Crying Zelda Morning Link||

    The only new show I enjoyed was Joe Swanberg's Easy. I loved Drinking Buddies, and each episode is a mini-MumbleCore delight.

  • Social Signaling Hair||

    As usual, Dalmia is an idiot:

    The West is experiencing a rise of demagogues, fuelled partly by right-wing populist movements.

    Let's just pretend the world isn't already overflowing with left-wing demagogues whose demagoguery is fueling the anti-establishment movements.

  • buybuydandavis||

    Ed wins again!

  • Dan Clore||

    Very sad to see Reason promoting Lionel Shriver and her antics, crying wolf and falsely playing victim of political correctness and censorship, and her antics using these false claims to gain mass media platforms for her authoritarian politics.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Shikha REALLY ought to look at "Homemaking Under Hitler" from the Ladies' Home Journal in 1933. Americans recognized national socialism as another european "left" thing in the economic sense (which it was!). But hateful envy of all things jewish was deeply ingrained in prohibitionist propaganda. Henry Ford and his biographer Samuel Crowther were loved in nationalsocialist Germany. Ford was praised by name in Mein Kampf, and it was generally accepted that a Christian socialist like Adolf was preferable to godless communism or selfish laissez-faire Jews. Orwell pointed out that in "the autumn of 1945, a Gallup poll taken among the American troops in Germany showed that 51 percent 'thought Hitler did much good before 1939'." Herbert Hoover had prepared us well...

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I mean, 122 dollars a day isn't bad, I have certainly lived on less, not sure if it's worth bragging about though.

  • TGoodchild||

    "The West is experiencing a rise of demagogues, fuelled partly by right-wing populist movements."

    I assume you weren't counting the leaders of whom those demagogues disposed as not "populist in the lesser, electorally unsuccessful sense?"

  • Agile Cyborg||

    my fucking thick fuckin surveill blankets

  • Agile Cyborg||

    this page is white because this page is the new whorl
    and if the goddamn ilsamists samdhe brrr

    tje he]fjt svdda

    imder tje steeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

  • Agile Cyborg||

    the roads are eyeball
    heeadce and all mh ffucks cant give a shat abouy killra s[ice
    but whoewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww

    i fuckin smash buttons on rieee


  • Extintor||

    The Expanse?

  • stein99998||

    Bates motel is my favorite series. You can get the best music in the year 2016 by using music downloader apps. All these apps are are available for both Android and iOS devices. You can download best music apps for Android to get all latest music for free on your Android devices for free.

  • stuartsmith||

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  • jamemu||

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