Esther McCarthy's arts highlights of 2016

Our regular arts/ents writers select their personal highlights of the year

Esther McCarthy's arts highlights of 2016


The emergence of the new wave of Irish cinema: Our multiple nominations at the Oscars indicated that Irish cinema was having a moment, but what is really encouraging is how new voices have built on that throughout the year. From Peter Foott’s hilarious and charming Cork-set comedy The Young Offenders to Darren Thornton’s gritty and female character-driven A Date for Mad Mary to the vibrant young cast of Sing Street and many others, it’s exciting to see the sheer variety of breakthrough talent.

Our golden age of animation: The terrific era of world-class animated cinema continues. Zootropolis, The Secret Life of Pets, the wonderful Finding Dory, and the year-end delight that was Moana all indicated that this art form continues to entertain the young and young at heart.

The decline of the sequel: Once guaranteed cash cows, sequels have encouraged lazy, jaded cash-ins from more cynical movie studios. Though they still generated big box-office business, discontent among fans and scathing critical reviews suggest that if a studio is going to make a sequel, they’d better bring their A-game.


Kate Bush - Before the Dawn live album: I’m loving how Kate Bush is spontaneously surprising us these days and the “will she, won’t she” reaction it inspires from fans, including myself. Having missed her gigs in London in 2014, it’s been a joy to hear them in audio form this winter, with all of their delights and eccentricities. She’s said she released the concert as an album only so that the music takes prominence and I’m good with that.


I’m a huge fan of Aardman animation studios and its book The Art of Aardman to celebrate 40 years of creativity is beautiful. Jammed with drawings and illustrations, with detailed insights from artists, animators, and storytellers, it really gets under the bonnet in showing how the studio has achieved its successes.


My TV highlight is a sporting one. The emergence of Andy Murray as the world’s best tennis player did not come without many moments of brilliance. To watch him display it over and over throughout 2016 was fascinating to watch.

Live event

Standing under a tree at the Electric Picnic in the sunshine, drinking a cold beer, and listening to the velvet-voiced Martin Fry nailing all of those wonderful songs from ABC’s The Lexicon of Love.


Tom Dunne’s nighttime show on Newstalk has thrived this year and remains enlightening and entertaining radio. There’s a real intimacy and relaxed vibe to the show that makes it comforting nighttime listening — it’s become my audio nightcap. Musically, it’s a great way to discover emerging bands, while tribute shows to David Bowie and Kate Bush were special.

Tom Dunne
Tom Dunne


There have been a few for me. Blockbuster season now runs from April to September and in a poor year for tentpole movies, it made for a painfully dull cinematic summer. The use of mobile phones in cinemas, once an occasional irritant, has now become an epidemic.

It also saddened me that the wonderful Irish band Fight Like Apes made the choice to break up this year — in part due to the financial constraints of the digital age. We can’t expect artists to continue entertaining us for free or little.

Best celebrity encounter

Richard Gere for Dublin Film Festival (ADIFF) was a highlight. He’d played a homeless man for the indie drama Time Out of Mind and had lots to say about it. He engaged, he was thoughtful and intelligent, and much more low-key than you might expect from a titan of cinema.

Roger Moore had me laughing throughout our interview. He’s vivacious and witty at the age of 89, and told anecdotes like the old pro he is.

Looking forward to

I’m looking forward to the world seeing and falling in love with Damien Chazelle’s sublime La La Land, a wonderful, cynicism-free musical love story starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. If Gosling wasn’t a bona fide A-list Hollywood star before this, he’s about to become one.

READ MORE: Des O’Driscoll’s arts highlights of 2016

READ MORE: Cathy Desmond’s arts highlights of 2016

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