Sunday, 1 January 2017

The Best and Worst of 2016

Well, it's that time of the year when everyone is doing their 'best and worst of' lists, so here is mine. I'm going to list the books and movies I read/watched in 2016 and then pick my favourites. This isn't restricted to what was new in 2016, but what I actually watched and read - some of these items might be very old indeed.


I read the following in 2016:

Paul Auster – Mr Vertigo
Ira Levin – Sliver
Matthew De Abaitua – The Destructives
Italo Calvino – Mr Palomar
Christopher Priest – The Extremes
Georges Simenon – The Mahe Circle
Joel Lane – Where Furnaces Burn
Skein and Bone – V H Leslie
Joel Lane – Trouble In The Heartland
Conrad Williams – Use Once, Then Destroy
Yoko Ogawa – Hotel Iris
Salvador Dali - Oui
Liv Spencer – Taylor Swift: The Platinum Edition
E.M. Forster – Where Angels Fear To Tread
Yoshihiro Tatsumi – A Drifting Life
Michael Chabon – The Yiddish Policeman’s Union
Jaime Hernandez – The Love Bunglers
Phillippe Soupault – Last Nights of Paris
Chester Himes – If He Hollers Let Him Go
Nathanael West – The Day of the Locust
Nicolas Dickner – Nikolski
Chris Beckett – The Peacock Cloak
Alan Stillitoe – The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner
Christopher Priest – The Space Machine
Vladimir Nabokov – The Real Life Of Sebastian Knight
Sarah Pinborough – The Death House
Shirley Jackson – The Haunting of Hill House
Peter Coleburn and Pauline E Dungate (editors) – Something Remains
Cate Gardner – The Bureau of Them
Ray Cluley – Within The Wind Beneath The Snow
Gary Fry – Scourge
Mark Morris – Albion Fay
Richard Brautigan – A Confederate General From Big Sur
Conrad A Williams – Decay Inevitable
Brett Savory – A Perfect Machine
Paul M Feeney – The Last Bus
Andrew Hook – Human Maps
Richard Brautigan – Dreaming of Babylon
Richard Brautigan – The Hawkline Monster
Jeff Noon – A Man Of Shadows
Doug Jones – London and Norfolk Poems
Nick Jackson – The Secret Life Of The Panda
Anna Kavan – Sleep Has His House

That's worked out at 43 books this year, a few more than last year but average overall (although I'm still reading the Doug Jones, which is poetry that I'm dipping in and out of). Definitely amongst the worst of the bunch were Paul Auster's "Mr Vertigo" (and I love Auster, but this was a meandering mess), Ira Levin's "Sliver" which was just ridiculous, and Christopher Priest's "The Space Machine" which just didn't work for me (interestingly, both Auster and Priest made my top three last year). The absolute worst book I read this year, however, was the carnage which was Michael Chabon's "The Yiddish Policeman's Union": a total dirge and dreadfully written. Thankfully these books were eclipsed by some great reads. Special mentions to "The Death House" by Sarah Pinborough (a simple tale which - goddammit - made me cry), "The Secret Life Of The Panda" by Nick Jackson (a great collection of short stories), "The Haunting Of Hill House" by Shirley Jackson, and "Nikolski" by Nikolas Dickner. If I were to choose a best anthology it would be "Something Remains", stories inspired by the notes of Joel Lane, which was uniformly brilliant. And special mention to Richard Brautigan, whose writings I discovered this year via Rhys Hughes, and whose "The Hawkline Monster" almost made my top three.

Before the final reveal I also want to mention three books I proofread this year for Angry Robot. I usually don't include 'work' books in my listing (in some instances it would be unprofessional to do so), but "The Destructives" by Matthew de Abaitua was a great SF book, and being published next year are the inventive "A Perfect Machine" by Brett Savory and the brilliant "A Man Of Shadows" by Jeff Noon (a book I wish I'd written). All well-worth seeking out.

As usual, I'm going to base my top three from my Goodreads review. This is very straightforward for 2016 as only three books received 5/5 and putting them in order feels quite natural. So, without further ado, here they are:

In reverse order:

"Sleep Has His House" by Anna Kavan

Kavan must be one of my favourite female writers and her work is always challenging and often difficult with flashes of brilliance. She nearly made my top three last year with "A Scarcity Of Love", but has cracked it with this book which tells a tale of a woman withdrawing from daylight existence and living only at night. These states are metaphorical, however, and semi-autobiographical chapter introductions are then fully-fleshed as surrealist counterparts within each chapter as a whole. It's an inventive, intriguing, and engaging synthesis of memoir and experimentation.

"Where Furnaces Burn" by Joel Lane

I love Joel's writing and this (World Fantasy Award winning) collection of supernatural police stories is simply superb. Incisive dialogue, intelligent phrasing, weirdly believable scenarios, these all make for a dark, troublesome, realistic read and because the same protagonist features throughout the cumulative continuity of his journey really adds to the overall experience.

And the winner is:

"The Mahé Circle" by Georges Simenon

I really love Simenon's pared down style and am generally finding his non-Maigret novels even more exciting. This short novel is a brilliantly told tale of obsession leading to destruction, and easily makes for my best read of 2016.


I watched the following in 2016:

Goodbye To Language
Henry and June
The Holy Mountain
Wake Wood
Ace In The Hole
The Hateful Eight
The American
The Box
Robot and Frank
End Of The Century: The Story Of The Ramones
High Fidelity
Memoirs of a Geisha
Lost Highway
The Misfits
Le Mepris
Bus Stop
Funny Games
Last Year In Marienbad
Bande A Part
The Conformist
Magic In The Moonlight
Anna Karenina
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
Altered States
Wild At Heart
The Lobster
Body Heat
King of the Zombies
Gone Girl
Bad Lieutenant
We Are Still Here
The Book Thief
Fading Gigolo
The Borderlands
The Wind Rises
Catch Me Daddy
The Grand Budapest Hotel
East of Eden
The Collector
Bullet Ballet
The Exterminating Angel
The Exterminating Angel
The Babadook
Blue Ruin
Don’t Come Knocking
In Darkness
Stalag 17
Vanilla Sky
Gone Baby Gone
There Will Be Blood
Three Colours: Blue
Three Colours: White
The Club
White Dog
Three Colours: Red
Betty Blue
The Man Who Knew Too Much
The Wicker Man
The Last Detail
The Battleship Potemkin
The Graduate
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
The Diaboliques
The Talented Mr Ripley
Eastern Promises
The Avengers: Age of Ultron
The Boys From Brazil
Séance On A Wet Afternoon
Grand Piano
A History Of Violence
Cast A Dark Shadow
The Wages Of Fear
Black Narcissus
Pretty Persuasion
These Three
I Know Where I’m Going!
Come And See
The Exterminating Angel
Welcome To New York
Schultze Gets The Blues
Johnny Guitar
The Passionate Friends
The Blue Room
Farewell My Lovely
Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?
The King Of Marvin Gardens
Switchblade Sisters
The Lady Vanishes
Mr and Mrs Smith
Lupe Under The Sun
Samaritan Girl
Where The Sidewalk Ends
Wuthering Heights
Days of Heaven
Little Foxes
Natural Born Killers
All Night Long
Beat Girl
The Nun
Tokyo Fist
Saturday Night Sunday Morning
Build My Gallows High
Turtles Can Fly
48 HRS.
Single White Female
The Station Agent
A Taste Of Honey
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner
Artificial Paradises
JLG/JLG - Self-Portrait In December

That's 144 movies this year, an increase from 116 in 2015 and 47 in 2014 (movie watching increases as child care decreases!) Of course, this makes the list much more difficult to narrow down to my top three, and unlike books I don't have a site equivalent to Goodreads with which to guide my memory.

As usual, however, I'm discounting movies I've previously seen. Luis Bunuel's "The Exterminating Angel" appears three times in my list because I watched it for research for a book I've written about the film which will be published in 2017 by Rooster Republic Press. It also knocks out gems such as "Close Encounters of The Third Kind" (equally as powerful as when I first saw it almost thirty years ago), the "Three Colours" trilogy (the ending of the third movie utterly destroys me cinematically), "The Wicker Man" (just as terrifying), "Come and See" (emotionally devastating), "Videodrome" (perfect Cronenberg), and Godard's "Le Mepris" which we were lucky to see on the big screen this year and is one of my favourite films of all time.

Those movies which were just awful are easy to chronicle, and this unfortunately includes Tarantino's "The Hateful Eight" which was dross from (almost) start to finish, "The Lobster" (which I really wanted to love but just hit all the wrong notes for me), "Grand Piano" (one of the most ridiculous films I've ever seen), and "Natural Born Killers" (tedious, indulgent, unnecessary).

This leaves us with some great movies. I thoroughly enjoyed both "Stalag 17" and "A Taste of Honey", both of which mixed brilliant characterisation with pathos and humour, "Days of Heaven" (a subtle, moving movie), "Blue Ruin" (compelling modern noir), and "A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night" (perfectly pitched Iranian horror). Very special mentions must go to "The American" (very surprised by this George Clooney flick which I thought almost perfectly understated), "Funny Games" (which came so close to my top three - the brief section where the scene plays out in reverse was utterly brilliant), "Triangle" (flawless horror with perfectly sustained logic), "The Holy Mountain" (genius Jodorowsky with some wonderful imagery/ideas, which fails only for being overlong in parts), "Build My Gallows High" (unbeatable noir) and British horror "The Borderlands" (the ending of which continues to unsettle me and play on my mind).

I get the feeling that another day might produce marginally different results, but - today - here are my top three movies I saw for the first time in 2016.
Again, in reverse order:

"Coherence" (2013) - James Ward Byrkit

From a seemingly slow start where all the puzzle pieces are overlaid this SF movie slowly unravels both its own plot and viewer expectations. Essentially, an alternate reality movie where for a brief period all realities are infinitely accessible, it thankfully never becomes too clever for its own good and maintains its inner logic for perfect satisfaction. The ending - perhaps - could be different. But then maybe there were different endings in other realities.

"There Will Be Blood" (2007) - Paul Thomas Anderson 

On the face of it a simple tale about an oil man's quest for wealth over and above all other considerations, this lengthy movie never drags and is gripping throughout right through to the inevitable - almost farcical - conclusion.

And the winner is...

"Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?" (1966) - William Klein

I almost didn't watch this movie when it appeared on Mubi because neither the film's title nor the plot satirizing the fashion world particularly appealed, however I'm glad that I did. Proving the maxim that 'it ain't what you do but the way that you do it' from the very first scene, I was utterly delighted by the sheer inventiveness, charm, French New Wave vibe, and off-kilter sensations that the movie has in spades. It's fair to say I found myself frequently gasping, rolling in ecstasy, and smiling throughout this film. It's a little known gem which deserves a loving audience.
So that's it. Looking forward to reading and watching more in 2017!


  1. Hi Andrew!
    Happy New Year to you and yours!
    I really enjoyed reading your book and movie list. No sign of Game of Thrones?! I got to sit on the iron throne last year at the Reading Comic Con. That was a great laugh.
    Wishing you all the best for 2017!
    Sarah Crabtree
    P.S. Sorry if this comes up as anonymous and I have denied being a robot too, for now :)

  2. Hi Sarah

    Apologies, only just seen this comment today! I'm not a TV series kind of person, so no Game of Thrones. All the best for 2017!