Flavorwire Staffers on Their Best Cultural Experience of 2016

As you may have seen yesterday, Flavorwire staffers have had plenty of time to focus on the worst elements of culture in 2016 (there’ve been so many.) But with that bounty of bad also came a whole lot of beauty and intelligence, at least within the arts. Here are Flavorwire Staffers’ best cultural experiences of 2016.

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Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters at LACMA

The expansive and immersive del Toro exhibit at LACMA paid homage to the filmmaker’s creative process by sharing a diverse collection of artworks, artifacts, and sketchbooks in an untraditional installation that revealed Del Toro’s obsessions and preoccupations with genre films, occult subjects, beauty, death, and the afterlife. At times resembling a carnivalesque nightmare — that could be dismissed as complete kitsch, if you want to be salty about it — At Home with Monsters takes on a different resonance when del Toro’s Mexicanness is considered. An exhibition press release tells us that “del Toro had a number of disturbing confrontations with death, seeing corpses in the street, in a morgue, and in the catacombs beneath the church. His strict Catholic grandmother instilled in him the notion of original sin and even submitted him to exorcisms in a futile attempt to eradicate his love of monsters and fantasy.” Del Toro told press during a tour of the exhibit, “It is very important for me to be here, as a Mexican. The real monsters in our lives are in fancy tailored suits. There’s nothing more scary than people that are profoundly ignorant and profoundly certain. They always go together.” — Alison Nastasi, Weekend Editor


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The Witch 

I saw The Witch twice in theaters, and was amazed by the seamlessness of the world it creates: by collaging together fragments of 17th century American folklore, then applying a restrained directorial approach and enlisting unrecognizable actors, director Robert Eggers created the closest thing you could imagine to a virtual reality portrait of the foundations of American anxiety and myopia, embedding us in the mindset of an oppressive mythos whose connotations — about female sexuality, about the unknown — are still deeply felt in our society that refuses to give up puritanism and that continues to glorify its colonialist past. Because of the simplicity of its narrative and the pregnancy of witch symbolism, the amount of levels on which this movie works without any logical somersaults is pretty astonishing. And this is all without even mentioning the butter-connoisseur-goat-devil or the nipple-terrorizing raven. This year, I mostly enjoyed — and needed — movies that consoled my wariness toward humanity; The Witch was quite a potent exception. — Moze Halperin, Senior Editor


Dolly Parton Live

I wasn’t even all that worked up about seeing Dolly Parton at Forest Hills Stadium last summer – it was an anniversary gift for my wife, a Dolly fan for the better part of a decade, and I was coming along for fun. I’ve always liked Dolly, I just never would’ve classified myself as a fan. I did after that show, which was two hours of pure entertainment, in which our Dolly played seemingly every instrument she could find (I stopped counting, but Brooklyn Vegan clocked her at eight), told jokes, shared stories of her humble beginnings, and connected with pretty much everyone in the room (a lovely cross-section of hipsters, gays, Southern and Midwestern refugees, and miscellaneous). Oh, and she sang all the hits, and sang them all beautifully. What a blast this night was. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor


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Moonlight and La La Land in theaters

My best cultural experience of the year was probably jamming out at two epic Springsteen concerts while seven months pregnant (and then a third show as a new mom — Bruuuuuce!), but I already wrote about that, and also I wish Bruce had campaigned harder for Hillary in the Rust Belt. So instead, I’m going to talk about the simple joy of returning to movie theaters just this month to see two different and gorgeous films that as both Jason Bailey and Moze Halperin have said in different ways, signal a true triumph of “movie magic.” It’s easy these days to find films that are enjoyable and entertaining and well-made, easy to find films that are dazzling, and easy to find films that are provocative or moving but hard to find something that hits all those notes at once. What I loved about these two films, though very different, is the way they were more than the sum of their parts. They made me reflect on my own life and my own story by telling someone else’s very specific, very unique story. Moonlight is obviously a fathoms-deep character study while La La Land is an evocative and surface-level sketch, but the singular visions of their creators made them both worthy of a return trip to the cinema to ponder them again. — Sarah Seltzer, Deputy Editor


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Comedy Cellar

I don’t get sentimental about many things, but put me in front of a beloved, referenced pop culture landmark and my heart will swell. When I first realized the pizza place near the NYU library I used to frequent as a student is the same one glimpsed in the opening credits of Louie, I couldn’t contain my excitement. (Judging from the looks on the faces of the people I’ve since dragged to that spot, not everyone shares this feeling.) Dozens of slices later, I’d still never been to the comedy club just around the corner that appears in most episodes of Louie, but this fall I finally made it out to Comedy Cellar, where you can catch a stellar lineup of comedians any night of the week — and where big-name stars like Louis C.K. and Aziz Ansari are known to pop in unannounced to work out new material. That didn’t happen on the night I went, and I didn’t recognize every name on the lineup, but it didn’t matter — it was still the best live comedy show I’ve seen. The basement room is perfect for standup, small and dark and cramped; the ceiling is low, and there’s barely any space between the stage and the tables, forcing an intimate bond between the comedians and their audience. It was also just really fucking funny. I don’t know what took me so long to go (money, probably), but if you’re in New York, don’t make the same mistake. — Lara Zarum, TV Editor