2016 was a tumultuous year which saw the election of Donald Trump in America, while in the UK a slight majority voted to leave the European Union. It was also a bad time to be famous as David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Carrie Fisher, Kenny Baker, Gene Wilder, Andrew Sachs, Richard Adams, Harper Lee and John Glenn all passed away.
Blackstar (*****), a cryptic, jazz-tinged opus which sits among his best work. Norwegian experimental band Ulver's latest album ATGCLVLSSCAP (*****) was a dense and largely instrumental release which fuses many different elements of their 23-year career. John Cale's harrowing 1982 album Music for a New Society (*****) was given a long overdue re-release, accompanied by M:FANS (***), an unnecessary but occasionally interesting set of contemporary reinterpretations of the original songs. Japanese band Mono pushed their instrumental rock to new extremes with Requiem for Hell (****), while Radiohead delivered their strongest set in quite some time with A Moon Shaped Pool (****). Further impressive instrumental albums came from Dextro in the shape of In the Crossing (****) and Russian Circles in Guidance (****).
Some interesting soundtrack work came from Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein with their two-part synth score for Netflix's Stranger Things (****), and Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, Mogwai and Gustavo Santaolalla teamed up to score Leonardo DiCaprio's documentary Before the Flood (****). Leonard Cohen exited the stage with a short, stark set of songs on You Want it Darker (****), and Nine Inch Nails brought the year to an agreeably noisy end with new E.P. Not the Actual Events (****).
I didn't manage to make it to many concerts this year, but ambient Texans Stars of the Lid (****) put on an effective show at the Sage in Gateshead, while the Northern Electric Festival (***) at the Ouseburn showed some promise, with sets by Nathalie Stern and Ochre.
The Witch (****) was a thought-provoking and haunting tale set in superstitious 17th Century New England. Tom McCarthy's Spotlight (****) chronicled The Boston Globe's shocking exposé of systematic child abuse by Roman Catholic priests, while László Nemes' debut Son of Saul (****) artfully used cinematic techniques to portray the horrors of life and death in an Auschwitz Sonderkommando.
The gloriously escapist Star Wars series gained its first anthology film, Rogue One (****), which deserves as much praise for its storytelling and characters as it does for its technical wizardry. In a year of powerful cinematic debuts, Brady Corbet's The Childhood of a Leader (****) was another strong contender, with a suitably aggressive orchestral score from Scott Walker. Quentin Tarantino returned to form with the slow-building western The Hateful Eight (****), and Jeremy Saulnier portrayed contemporary American neo-Nazism in Green Room (****), which features an alarming performance from Patrick Stewart.
Ciro Guerra's Heart of Darkness-esque Embrace of the Serpent (***) explored man's relationship with nature, which was also a large element of Alejandro G. Iñárritu's revenge epic The Revenant (***). Meanwhile, Louis Theroux drew attention to some of the more ludicrous aspects of Scientology in My Scientology Movie (***).
Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen joined forces once again to perform in Harold Pinter's No Man's Land (****) at the Theatre Royal. The Cluny 2 hosted a night of short plays by new writers, Playing Up 3 (***), which featured the excellent 'Smile!' and 'No Response Required'.
Stranger Things (*****), which borrows from Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, David Lynch and many others, combining the elements in a compelling manner. The Night Of (****) was an effective exploration of the legal system in contemporary America, featuring strong performances from Riz Ahmed and John Turturro, while the BBC succeeded with its big-budget production of War and Peace (****).
Season 6 of Game of Thrones (****) was a return to form, the multiple storylines developing with a refreshingly fast pace, and plotlines old and new collided dramatically in the third series of Line of Duty (****). Tension was equally high in John le Carré adaptation The Night Manager (****), while the very real dangers of climate change were explored in National Geographic's Before the Flood (****).
Further documentary work came from Louis Theroux in the form of 'Drinking to Oblivion', 'A Different Brain' and 'Savile' (****), while ITV chose to explore the dark side of celebrity in new drama National Treasure (***) starring Robbie Coltrane.
Dune (*****), a monumental achievement in the science fiction/fantasy genre. Truman Capote's challenging 'non-fiction novel' In Cold Blood (*****) was a fascinating read, perhaps as much for its questionable veracity as for the author's painstaking research. Gitta Sereny's Into that Darkness (****) provided a unique glimpse into the motivations of Treblinka commandant Franz Stangl, despite its occasional journeys off-topic.
I re-read Albert Camus' unfinished final novel The First Man (****), which offers a fascinating glimpse into the creative process of one of my favourite 20th Century novelists. The short stories in Daphne du Maurier's The Birds (****) are of a consistently high quality, as are the interconnected webs of the Tales from the Thousand and One Nights (****).
Tom McCarthy's novel Remainder (****), which was adapted into a film this year, offered insights into the nature of memory. Haruki Murakami's The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (****) conjured up an impressive host of narrators, while his novel Wild Sheep Chase (****) explored allegorical themes via a slightly more conventional narrative structure. Meanwhile, Tom Wolfe mercilessly satirised the 1980s in The Bonfire of the Vanities (****), and the inspirations behind Christopher Isherwood's Berlin stories were documented in the revealing Christopher and His Kind (****).
I am currently reading the new 2016 edition of The Complete David Bowie by Nicholas Pegg: an up-to-date copy of the most thorough guide to a musician's (and actor)'s work I have ever read. Finally, in a year blighted by fake news reports, 'Political Correctness: How the Right Invented a Phantom Enemy' by Moira Weigel from The Guardian was an impressive piece of research.