BEST & WORST 2016

ST Life's 2016 list of the best and worst

The Sunday Times celebrates the best and worst in entertainment, the arts, lifestyle, food and fashion

It is that time of the year when Auld Lang Syne fills the airwaves and the question, "Where did the year go?", makes its rounds in conversations.

While it is not possible to turn back the clock, one can still savour the year that has passed.

And what a year it has been, in a world rocked by popular discontent and citizens increasingly feeling let down and left behind by the political systems and establishments in place.

This was the year people in Britain voted to exit the European Union and the electorate in countries such as the United States and the Philippines voted for political outsiders and populist leaders.

Singapore found itself, in the wake of its Golden Jubilee celebrations, at the threshold of a new phase of nation-building, bracing for disruptions to businesses and life caused by technology and globalisation.

Yet, amid the global political turmoil and economic volatility, the dignity of everyday labour and creation continued to hum.

Musicians practise assiduously, film-makers persist in the grind of making movies and hawkers stubbornly stick to treasured recipes.

Along the way, Singapore conductor Wong Kah Chun became the first Asian to win the top prize at a prestigious global competition that picks the best young conductor.

Apprentice, a film about the death penalty by Singapore auteur Boo Junfeng, premiered at the Cannes International Film Festival.

And two hawker stalls, Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle in Crawford Lane and Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle in Chinatown Complex, became the first of their kind to be awarded the coveted Michelin star.

Indeed, the year has given Singaporeans many reasons for cheer and this round-up - of the best as well as the worst - of the year in music, food, entertainment, fashion, travel and the arts offers a jaunt down memory lane.


1. Movies

BEST

• CAPTAIN FANTASTIC (M18)


Viggo Mortensen in Captain Fantastic. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

This movie is almost too slick for its own good. It feels as if it was made in a laboratory to fit all the Sundance Festival feel-good drama-comedy requirements, from its family on a quest to eccentricity of the sweetest kind.

This story of back-to-nature idealist Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen, pictured) and his brood might be polished to perfection, but its allure is powerful. Writer-director Matt Ross makes the audience fall in love with his family, then confounds expectations by showing that the attraction might be undeserved.

WORST

• SUICIDE SQUAD (PG13)

Everyone was hoping that, finally, the DC comics world would produce a movie with humour and charm, qualities left behind in the chase for ever grimmer movies in the mould of Christopher Nolan's Batman franchise. This pile of chaos was the result: an ensemble piece that could not work out what it is that makes the group tick.

READ MORE HERE

2. Television

BEST

• SIGNAL


Lee Je Hoon. PHOTO: VIU

Viu

The narrative tour de force of the year is this South Korean thriller, which fuses electrifying, time- looping detective drama, fantasy and moving bromance. The puzzle pieces fit together cleverly in the show, where a magical walkie-talkie connects two policemen separated by decades: a present-day criminal profiler (Lee Je Hoon, pictured), who is looking into cold cases such as serial killings; and a police officer (Cho Jin Woong), who was chasing the same killers in the 1980s and 1990s, when the crimes were fresh.

WORST

• CHEESE IN THE TRAP

VV Drama

This K-drama starts with a bang, as a nervy, sexy story about a girl (Kim Go Eun) falling for Mr Wrong (Park Hae Jin), a fellow student with a dark side. Then, inexplicably, it drops his story halfway through. When it remembers him near the end, it crams an explanation of his issues into a busy episode that explodes into cliche. The finaleis an anti-climax, a scrap heap of wasted potential.

READ MORE HERE

3. Arts: Theatre

BEST

• EDITH PODESTA'S B***H: THE ORIGIN OF THE FEMALE SPECIES


Helmut Bakaitis, (left), and playwright and director, Edith Podesta (right). PHOTO: CRISPIAN CHAN

M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, Esplanade Recital Studio, Jan 21 to 23

This tight, epic play wrung tears - sometimes of laughter - from the audience. The script showed how language and the ability to use it shapes mythology as well as the relationships between a stroke sufferer (Helmut Bakaitis), his wife and his dog (both played by playwright and director Edith Podesta).

WORST

• THE THEATRE PRACTICE'S DESCENDANTS 600 AND DESCENDANTS 400/1 TABLE 2 CHAIRS EXPERIMENTAL SERIES

M1 Chinese Theatre Festival, Black Box, Centre 42, Aug 4 to 7

Director Liu Xiaoyi's sketches inspired by Kuo Pao Kun's Descendants Of The Eunuch Admiral were interesting as visual art, boring as theatre.

The audience was meant to discern the inner thoughts of Admiral Zheng He from an actor staring at a table for 20 minutes. Halfway through, a viewer covered his eyes with his jacket, echoing my sentiments.

Arts: Dance

BEST

• LA LOBA (M1 SINGAPORE FRINGE FESTIVAL), LENKA VAGNEROVA & COMPANY


La Loba (M1 Singapore Fringe Festival). PHOTO: DAVID MUSIL AND VIKTOR KRONBAUER

Esplanade Theatre Studio, Jan 22

Visceral and vivid, this work by a Czech dance company unfolded like a gothic horror film.

Its central character is an old wolf-woman who collects and assembles animal bones to bring these dead creatures back to life. In her world, innocent folk songs end in guttural snarls and movement is predatory and vulnerable. Everything is animated by the potently entwined performances of dancer Andrea Opavska and singer Jana Vebrova.

WORST

• IN THE MOOD FOR FRANKIE (SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF ARTS)

Trajal Harrell, 72-13, Sept 2

There is no doubt about American choreographer Trajal Harrell's wide-ranging inspiration and ambition.

In the Mood For Frankie aimed to re-imagine the relationship between butoh, the Japanese dance of darkness, and the flamboyant Harlem voguing, while tipping its hat to giants in film and fashion.

Arts: Visual Arts

BEST

• SEA STATE


Sea State. PHOTO: THE BUSINESS TIMES FILE

NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, April 30 to July 10

This show, of an ongoing, long-term project by the critically acclaimed Singapore artist Charles Lim, was a much anticipated and jubilant homecoming. He represented Singapore at the prestigious Venice Biennale exhibition last year with this body of work, but it was the project's most extensive iteration to date.

WORST

• CLOSURE OF SINGAPORE PINACOTHEQUE DE PARIS

The Singapore offshoot of the Paris private museum, Pinacotheque de Paris, had been expected to add pizzazz to the arts scene when it opened last year at the Fort Canning Arts Centre. The Paris museum, which opened in 2007, held exhibitions featuring famed artists such as Edvard Munch, and it was reported to attract more than one million visitors annually.

READ MORE HERE

4. Books

BEST

• HOMEGOING BY YAA GYASI


Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. PHOTO: ALFRED A. KNOPF

This young Ghanaian-American writer's harrowing debut (pictured) is an epic yet intimate family saga that begins in 18th-century Ghana, where the paths of two half-sisters diverge. One marries into a life of luxury as the wife of a British governor, while the other is sold as a slave to America.

WORST

• IN CONGO'S SHADOW: ONE GIRL'S PERILOUS JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF AFRICA BY LOUISE LINTON

The Scottish actress' memoir of her gap year as a student volunteer in Zambia proved to be a cringeworthy, textbook example of the white saviour complex.

Zambians were quick to point out the geographical and historical inaccuracies it was riddled with. Even without these, Linton showed an astounding lack of taste in co-opting the socio-economical strife of a continent as the backdrop for her own personal journey.

READ MORE HERE

5. Travel

BEST

• CHEAPER CURRENCIES


The British pound. PHOTO: AFP

Both the British pound and the Malaysian ringgit took a beating this year - good news for Singaporeans hoping to get more bang for their buck in these destinations.

After the British electorate voted to leave the European Union in June, the pound fell to its lowest level against the US dollar in more than 30 years and has fallen against the Singapore dollar too. The exchange rate now hovers around $1.80 to the pound, compared with $2.15 last year.

WORST

• TERRORISM

Terrorist attacks took their toll around the world again this year, causing tourism to suffer in affected areas. Bombs and shootings killed and wounded hundreds from France to Yemen, Nigeria to Germany.

Increased violence in Turkey has caused the country to suffer its worst tourism year on record.

READ MORE HERE

6. Design

BEST

• STUNNING HOTEL INTERIORS AND ARCHITECTURE

Architects and interior designers pulled out all the stops to get noticed in the crowded hospitality scene this year. Instead of cookie-cutter interiors, hotels have designed niche features to cater to their clientele. At least seven hotels made their debut or were refurbished this year.

Standouts include the new Oasia Hotel Downtown. Covered in greenery, it is an eye-catching building amid the grey-looking Central Business District. It comes with sky gardens, a wooden-decked infinity pool and sophisticated interiors by Spanish architect and designer Patricia Urquiola.

WORST

• MAISON&OBJET ASIA PULLS OUT OF SINGAPORE

The French organisers of the interior design trade fair pulled the plug on its Asian offshoot last month - just four months before the event was to take place. They cited a lack of interest from European brands to take up booth space in the current gloomy economic outlook.

This means brands and designers, who had planned to use the event to launch products, now have to find other avenues to showcase the pieces.

READ MORE HERE

7. Gigs: Western

BEST

• QUEEN+ADAM LAMBERT


American singer Adam Lambert. PHOTO: ST FILE

Padang Stage, Formula 1 Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix, Sept 17

How do you follow Freddie Mercury, one of the most dynamic frontmen in rock history?

By putting your own flamboyant and highly entertaining spin on British rock icons Queen's most beloved tunes, as American singer Adam Lambert showed the audience at this year's Formula One Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix.

WORST

• MADONNA REBEL HEART TOUR 2016

National Stadium, Feb 28

The three-decade wait for a Madonna show in Singapore turned out to be a bit of a letdown for fans of the Material Girl.

Many vented their anger online after the show ended, complaining of sub-par sound and the lack of big-enough screens for fans seated far away from the stage in the National Stadium.

Gigs: Classical

BEST

• WAGNER'S THE FLYING DUTCHMAN BY RICHARD WAGNER SOCIETY/OPERAVIVA/ THE FINGER PLAYERS


Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman by Richard Wagner Society. PHOTO: TAN NGIAP HENG

Victoria Theatre, Oct 23 to 30

By no stretch of the imagination has Singapore become Bayreuth (the German town which hosts the annual festival where performances of operas by the German composer Richard Wagner are presented), but the first local production of a Wagner opera was a success on many counts.

WORST

• AMATEUR PIANISTS WITH PROFESSIONAL ENSEMBLES

School of the Arts Concert Hall, Jan 31 and April 10

Amateur music-making is to be encouraged, but parading non-professional piano players in public performances of concertos by Chopin and Rachmaninov alongside professional musicians is the height of hubris and folly. Two such performances at the School of the Arts Concert Hall came to grief, with calamitous memory lapses necessitating an emergency page-turner coming to the rescue on both occasions.

Gigs: Asian

BEST

• STELLA ZHANG QING FANG LIVE IN SINGAPORE 2016


Stella Chang Qing Fang Live In Singapore 2016. PHOTO: HYPE RECORDS

Singapore Indoor Stadium, Jan 30

It has been 20 years since Taiwan's Stella Chang performed here and time has not dimmed her crystalline-clear vocals. Remarkably, her voice grew in strength and vibrance over the course of the show.

It also helps that she was never a cutesy teen idol and her love ballads have weathered the years well. The staging was elegant and classy and it all came together with a flourish for the finale.

WORST

• "THE INVINCIBLE" JAY CHOU CONCERT TOUR 2016

National Stadium, Sept 3

As expected, the production was top-notch for Mandopop king Jay Chou's gig. But vocally, the singer was not at his best. He was too ready to point his microphone towards the audience members for them to sing along and he seemed to be relying heavily on his back-up singers.

The sound quality was contentious as well, with some fans demanding a refund after the show due to the poor acoustics.

READ MORE HERE

8. Albums: Western

BEST

• A MOON SHAPED POOL


A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead, Blonde by Frank Ocean, The Classical Elements, Albert Tiu, Piano and Talk About Eve by Eve AiPHOTOS: BOYS DON’T CRY/DEF JAM, CENTAUR 3503, HYPE RECORDS, SONY MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT, ST FILE, TAN NGIAP HENG, XL RECORDINGS

By Radiohead

British band Radiohead's ninth album is their most poignant to date, with songs that are all too human and relatable.

Lush and moody pieces sit next to electronic glitches and krautrock-inspired rhythms as singer Thom Yorke sings about loss, longing and anxiety in songs that are as darkly tuneful as they are layered.

WORST

• FITZ AND THE TANTRUMS

By Fitz And The Tantrums

The third album by Californian band Fitz And The Tantrums is the sound of a band in artistic decline. The exhilarating neo-soul sounds of their early records have given way to radio-friendly pop mush lacking in depth and intricacy.

It is bad enough that the songs sound over-produced, the basic, lowest common denominator hooks and pop tropes also get annoying really fast.

Albums: Classical

BEST

•THE CLASSICAL ELEMENTS

Albert Tiu, Piano

The 20 piano pieces in this recital are inspired by the ancient concept of earth, air, wind and fire as the four pillars of the natural world. The Philippines- born and Singapore-based Albert Tiu has an exquisite and variegated touch in diverse works by Liszt, Ravel, Rachmaninov, Godowsky, Scriabin, Griffes, Ibert, Mompou and others - all of which are evocatively coloured.

WORST

•TCHAIKOVSKY VIOLIN CONCERTO

Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Violin, MusicAeterna/Teodor Currentzis

Has there been an uglier recording of Tchaikovsky's popular Violin Concerto than this travesty? Russian-Austrian violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja adopts a preening demeanour, deliberate extremes of dynamics, slashing and percussive bowing, and capped by a dry vitriolic tone, that makes for irritating repeated listening.

Albums: Asian

BEST

• TALK ABOUT EVE

By Eve Ai

The Sum Of Us from the album, Talk About Eve, is one of my favourite songs of the year. The ballad penned by Taiwanese singer-songwriter Eve Ai is quietly compelling and the lyrics poignantly sustain a metaphor about love and mathematics. There is a soulfulness to her singing that lifts even more conventional material such as Harmless Loneliness, turning it into another highlight here. This is an album that should get people talking about Ai.

WORST

• JOURNEY

By Nicky Wu

Maybe there is a reason for the 19-year break between this album and his last, 1997's Hero. The Taiwanese might have been the best-looking of the boy band trio, Little Tigers, but he was not their strongest singer. The opening synthesizer strains of Lonely By Nature sound dated and the title track, which harks back to one of his best-known solo hits, Wish You A Smooth Journey, also fails to get things moving.

READ MORE HERE

9. New restaurants

BEST

• VLV


VLV, 01-02 Merchant’s Court, 3A River Valley Road. PHOTO: VLV

01-02 Merchant's Court, 3A River Valley Road, tel: 6661-0197; open: noon to 3pm, 6 to 11pm daily

VLV is not your usual Chinese restaurant. For one thing, its name does not mean anything. For another, the dining room is shrouded in darkness in the evening - except for isolated lights trained on tabletops for Instagram photo- taking. And the music is lounge, not Chinese muzak. The food by chef Martin Foo, however, is authentically Chinese and very good.

WORST

• THE PERANAKAN

Level 2 Claymore Connect, 442 Orchard Road, tel: 6262-4428; open: 11am to 10pm daily

The smell of the stale fish is still fresh in my memory, half a year after I encountered the Assam Pedas Fish at The Peranakan. As expected from the stink, the fish tasted so foul that after my friend and I had a small bite each, the dish was untouched. And the waiter who removed it did not think of asking us why.

READ MORE HERE

10. Dishes

BEST

• ROTI KIRAI BEEF RIBS

The Malayan Council, 22 Dunlop Street, tel: 9002-4414; open: 11.30am to 11pm (weekdays), 11am to 11pm (weekends)

As if turning out good food is not enough, chefs now have to make sure their plates are Instagram- worthy too.

This has been a year of spectacular-looking food, but not all of them have passed the taste test. However, The Malayan Council, a halal restaurant in Dunlop Street, has got everything right with its Roti Kirai Beef Ribs.

WORST

• AMERICAN GINSENG SOUP WITH BLACK CHICKEN

Souper Tang, 02-52 The Centrepoint, 176 Orchard Road, tel: 6737-6772; open: 11.30am to 10pm daily

It says something that I ate at Souper Tang in June and still remember it months later - with a shudder.

The Malaysian chain, which opened its first Singapore restaurant at The Centrepoint, is known for its herbal soups. The photographs on the menu look enticing, but none of the soups I ordered live up to those pictures.

11. Style

BEST

• CATE BLANCHETT


Cate Blanchett. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Not only is the Australian beauty a stunning performer and a brilliant actor, but she can also captivate audiences on the red carpet.

From looking exquisite in a teal embellished Giorgio Armani Prive gown (pictured) at this year's Academy Awards to dressing down in overalls and a red jumper to a screening of her movie Carol in Los Angeles, the actress always keeps things classy and chic.

WORST

• HEIDI KLUM

The German-American model has had more misses than hits on the red carpet this year.

Although the 43-year-old looked svelte and classy in a shimmering strapless dress at this year's Creative Arts Emmy Awards, the elegant look was a rare winner.

READ MORE HERE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 18, 2016, with the headline 'Best and worst 2016'. Print Edition | Subscribe