The 2015 Review: A Totally Critical Look Back


Updated 12/18/15

It's hard to resist turning this into a rant about some stuff that went down this past year. But if you ask me, 2015 was like any other year in recent memory. It was also over before you could scream "Kim Davis, give me my marriage license!"

There was some bad, there was some good, and there was plenty of same-shit-different-day business that went on. So I'm doing my best to avoid sounding like one of those basics who either declare "I'm so over you, 2015!" or "2015, thanks for the great times!" The year was many different things for many different people, and if I were to distinguish 2015 from other years, I'd say it was the year my tolerance for hypocrisy and bullshit hit an all-time low, both in my personal life and in the world around me. (Ahem, certain presidential candidates and other public figures who don't deserve the attention -- or legislation control -- they've been granted.) Wow, what's next? Me yelling at the neighborhood kids to get off my lawn?

The year started with a death (Rest in peace, Grandma) and ended with a birth (Welcome to the world, Brooks Morrison Borkovitz! Love, Your Unofficial Uncle.) With that, I say to the Universe, "I get it. You're all about balance and symmetry. Well done."

If I sound like one of those end-of-the-year letters you get from friends and relatives you haven't seen in years, then please allow me these opening paragraphs.

True, every year comes with its bad, but instead of focusing on what you think made it so bad, how about focusing on all the good that happened in these past 50 or so weeks? I could be a Debbie Downer and make my complaints, but honestly, in the grand scheme of things, I had it good. From the Outer Banks of North Carolina and pools of Palm Springs to the beaches of Singapore and neon-lit streets of Tokyo, I have the pictures to prove just how good it was. And let's not forget the time I made a fool of myself on national television. Therefore I have to remind myself to make a conscious effort to be grateful for all of that goodness.

And speaking of good things, once again, I present to you what impressed the crap out of me in 2015.


MOVIE PICKS OF THE YEAR

By the time this gets posted, I will have watched 68 films at the theater this year  -- believe it or not, a record low for me -- and I will have yet to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens or Joy. So please refrain from comments scolding me for being too impatient with publishing this list.


1. Tangerine - Also known as "the movie that was entirely shot on an iPhone," director Sean Baker's electrifying and unintentional love letter to Los Angeles is more than just a filmmaking gimmick, shattering conventional casting while chronicling the Christmas Eve of a pair of transgender working girls (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor) on a near-real-time mission that culminates at a Hollywood donut shop where unexpected paths cross. It's funny, heartbreaking, unapologetic, and unlike anything I've seen in recent memory.

2. Inside Out - Quite possibly the best Disney-Pixar collaboration in the past decade, this immensely appealing tale about a girl and her conflicting emotions -- personified by the likes of Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, and the incomparable Phyllis Smith -- shall be studied in future child psychology classes around the world.

3. Room - Brie Larson earns some well-deserved Oscar attention as a young woman who endures the unthinkable and goes above and beyond what it takes to protect the child (wunderkind Jacob Tremblay) to whom she's bonded for life. It's one of those rare survival stories that feels painfully raw, honest, and ultimately life-affirming.


4. Carol - The definition of exquisite filmmaking, Todd Haynes's gorgeous, mesmerizing, and devastating romance brings out the absolute best in stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Read my full review for ScreenPicks HERE.


5. Spotlight - The true story about a team of Boston Globe journalists blowing the lid off a decades-spanning Catholic Church cover-up in 2002 gets retold in Tom McCarthy's gripping drama that pulsates with every scene without ever coming off as one long, soapboxy diatribe (Take note, Aaron Sorkin.) It's been a while since investigative journalism felt this suspenseful.


6. Sicario - A white-knuckle, unflinching and timely morality tale in which Emily Blunt gets down and dirty with a Mexican drug cartel...and a stellar Benicio Del Toro (his best role in years). Director Denis Villenueve continues to prove himself as a master at crafting tension, the kind that makes a movie truly unpredictable. I, for one, had no idea how it was going to end.

7. The End of the Tour - For those who love nothing but intellectually stimulating conversation between two characters, this tribute to late novelist David Foster Wallace (played here by Jason Segel in a revelatory role), who was documented by Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg), is hypnotically staged and directed by James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now).

8. Mad Max: Fury Road - Talk about cinematic spectacle. Sure, George Miller's grand desert opus is one glorified, 2-hour car chase, but it's that rare action film that genuinely leaves you in awe and "rattles and roars with fierce beauty" (according to my friend Adrienne). The movie may be named after the hero of the rebooted franchise, but it's Charlize Theron's fiery Furiosa who's really at the wheel, driving this large and gorgeous epic into the cinematic sunset.


9. Grandma - Lily Tomlin may have gotten attention for her turn in Netflix's Grace and Frankie this year, but the real praise belongs to her role as a veteran feminist in Paul Weitz's progressive meditation on the aging Baby Boomer generation. Where else are you going to find a film about a 70-year-old woman taking her teenaged granddaughter on a journey to find money to fund her abortion? 

10. Kingsman: The Secret Service - Matthew Vaughn's full adrenaline rush of an action film kicked off what will hopefully be a kickass franchise about a bunch of sharply-dressed Brits protecting the world from baddies. Perfectly over-the-top, always surprising, and featuring the most jawdropping fight ever staged inside a church, this spy flick accomplished its mission and then some.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: It Follows, The Gift, The Last Five Years, and Goodnight Mommy.


TV PICKS OF THE YEAR

This was a tough one as 2015 marked the year I found myself frustrated by HOW MUCH good TV there was to enjoy in just 365 days. With over 400 scripted shows available at my fingertips in today's on-demand-streaming world, there were some I simply couldn't get to...and some I had no interest in sampling (and for good reason -- for they're now cancelled). Here's what I couldn't get enough of. (And for the 744th time: I don't watch Game of Thrones.)


1. Master of None (Netflix) - According to E. Alex Jung over at Vulture.com, Aziz Ansari's truly groundbreaking show "has deftly tackled the issues of race: Its easy, conversational tone belies how cleverly it dismantles racial tropes. Moreover, it manages to acknowledge systemic racism toward people of color while refusing to be defined by it." And not only has this 10-episode first season so brilliantly tackled other issues like gender discrimination, rape culture, parenting, and online dating, it has finally given Ansari a well-deserved spotlight to shine. While some moments aren't perfect, there is no other show that feels so necessary for today's American culture. And chances are, if you're a first-generation American, no other TV show resonated as hard as Master of None.


2. Togetherness (HBO) - This observational slice of L.A. life from the Duplass brothers is full of charm, wit, and authentic moments of perfect imperfections, thanks to its highly charismatic cast (Mark Duplass, Amanda Peet, Melanie Lynskey, and Steve Zissis).


3. Mr. Robot (USA) - Star Rami Malek is a true breakout in this paranoia-driven thriller that hums with an unsettling energy you can't quite get out of your system after watching its brilliant first season. Each episode is like a Fincherian short film, cinematic and sinister with every carefully staged shot and subtle development. Binge with caution.

4. Inside Amy Schumer (Comedy Central) - The third season of this sketch series cemented its status as a legit force of serious funny business. And it picked up an Emmy in September, mostly in part for its standout episode, a biting spin on Twelve Angry Men.

5. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW) - Not since the first season of Glee has a show demonstrated pure unadulterated joy. Star and co-creator Rachel Bloom is destined for breakout status, bringing depth and likability to the often debated title role.


6. The Jinx (HBO) - Call it the Serial Effect. True crime junkies got their fix with this highly addicting docuseries that studied the bizarre and mysterious case of millionaire Robert Durst.

7. Broad City (Comedy Central) - It's what HBO's Girls wished it could be, a hilarious, near-satirical take on the Millennial Experience in a New York City we rarely see portrayed on television.

8. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) - Leave it to a British nerd to break down how truly screwed up things are in the world, particularly here at home in the States. In this second season, the Daily Show alum found his groove and delivered viral-worthy segments filled with deliciously worded rants.


9. Please Like Me (Pivot) - Creator and star Josh Thomas continues to paint a poignant and so-real-it's-funny portrait of a twentysomething coming to terms with his challenging family, his eclectic friends, his new love, and most importantly, himself. The most charming show on TV you're probably not watching (because you can't be bothered to find Pivot).

10. Empire (Fox) - Not since Melrose Place has Fox delivered a crazy-sexy-ridiculous sudser like this. Toss in a hot soundtrack of original tunes and Taraji P. Henson giving us 2015's best new character, and it's a no-brainer why this dishy drama is giving EVERYONE life. That said, I give it a few more episodes before it loses its fire.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Younger (TV Land), Difficult People (Hulu), Catastrophe (Amazon) and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix).

A MYSTERY WORTH OBSESSING OVER: How To Get Away With Murder's edge-of-your-seat Who Shot Annalise?

A MYSTERY WORTH DELETING FROM YOUR DVR: Scream Queens's cartoonish Who Is The Red Devil?


MUSIC PICKS OF THE YEAR


1. I Cry When I Laugh by Jess Glynne - Between her summer collaboration with Tinie Tempah (the retro jam "Not Letting Go") and previous appearances with Clean Bandit, the British songstress promised -- and completely delivered -- something to call her own. From the 90s-throwback grooves of "Hold My Hand" and "Don't Be So Hard On Yourself" to the 80s-tinged R&B tracks like "You Can Find Me," Glynne blew me away with her soulful, stirring debut from start to finish.

2. "Feeling Electric" by Parade of Lights - Electro pop was never more anthemic and epic in 2015 when it came to this L.A.-based group's collection of tunes from their debut LP, particularly this feel-good track that soars every time you play it:


3. "Body Talk" by Foxes - The singer-songwriter delivered this breezy, mid-tempo number that's irresistible from start to finish, the kind you wish would never end:


4. "King" by Years & Years - Smooth synth-pop with an emotional core realized by frontman Olly Alexander's lithe vocal delivery. Another must-listen: the Gryffn Remix of "Desire."


5.  "Water Under The Bridge" by Adele - Both Entertainment Weekly and I agree that this is the best track on the superstar's blockbuster 25. See for yourself HERE.

6. "Postcard" by Jukebox The Ghost - These piano rockers are America's answer to the now dormant Keane. And this made-for-a-rom-com love song is the musical equivalent of a joyride in a convertible at Martha's Vineyard on a sunny day.

7. "I Can't Feel My Face" by The Weeknd - Those Michael Jackson comparisons exist for a reason, and the proof is in this definitive summer jam...along with the equally fun "In The Night."

8. Caracal by Disclosure - From the epic opening of "Nocturnal," featuring The Weeknd, to the hauntingly seductive, Lorde-supported "Magnets," Disclosure's sophomore effort provided a luscious soundscape designed for any occasion.

9. "Over" by GOLDHOUSE - This Chicago-based DJ-vocalist, who needs to gain more traction in 2016, gave us the most energetic breakup song of the year. Never did a kiss-off sound so...danceable. Listen HERE.

10. "Back Together" by Robin Thicke feat. Nicki Minaj - This highly repeatable jam is the best Rick Astley throwback Rick Astley never released. Plus, bonus points for the best Nicki lyric ever: "Used to call me Hillary, cuz I Rodham."

HONORABLE MENTIONS: 

Blue Neighbourhood by Troye Sivan - This just-released album is a smooth electro-R&B collection of mesmerizing tunes that needs to dominate 2016.

Badlands by Halsey - A welcome new member to the Alt Pop Girls Club. Think: Lorde and Tove Lo's long-lost sister. She's already made an impression with the Gen Z anthem "New Americana."

And if you'd like to hear the rest of my favorite tunes from 2015 there's this (in chronological order of discovery):


Happy holidays y'all. Here's to a fantastic 2016.

@TheFirstEcho

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