In which Thea reveals her list of the best TV, movies, podcasts of 2015.
Clearly, both Ana and Thea are bananas, and in addition to reading and reviewing obscene amounts of books, we also obsess over multiple television shows, movies, video games, and all other manner of geekery. With that in mind, we needed to create ANOTHER list (we are list makers, yes we are) for our end of the year celebration. We give you our very own BEST OF THE REST (everything that isn’t a book).
Best Movies of 2015
Over the course of the last year, I actually haven’t seen as many new films as I usually do. (At least, not so many as I usually do in the theater.) I’m not sure if this is because of the quality of films out in the past year, or just a lack of time (suspicion: the latter). But of the new 2015-released films that I DID watch, here are my favorites:
5. What We Do In The Shadows
What We Do In The Shadows has a classic sitcom premise: an oddball mockumentary-style film about a group of perpetual bachelor roommates sharing a house together in New Zealand. Except those “perpetual bachelors” are actually vampires who have lived for centuries (some longer than others) and face trouble adjusting to the modern world. Especially when someone makes the decision to turn a much younger man into a vampire to join their ranks. This film is hilarious, and features some of the same actors and creative minds from Flight of the Concords, and I loved it very, very much.
4. Mad Max: Fury Road
So, my dad had a thing for Mad Max. As a kid, I remember watching the first three films many times (Beyond Thunderdome is the one that for some reason my family fixated on–Master Blaster! Two Men Enter, One Man Leave! BUST A DEAL, SPIN THE WHEEL! TIIIIIINA!), and so I was actually really excited when news of Fury Road came out. Although… I was confused. Mad Max–as hyperviolent, sexually violent, and messed up as it was–was a part of my formative years but hadn’t really seen any love since the ’80s. So what was the big deal? The big deal is that this Mad Max film is less about Max and more about the lives–especially the female lives–shaped by this post-post-apocalyptic world. It’s the story of a rider and road warrior named Furiosa, who defies those in power to save the lives of brutalized women in a desperate gamble to find her old home. It’s an action movie that doesn’t stop, that glorifies in its over-the-topness (THAT GUITAR PLAYER), and doesn’t apologize for being absolutely ridiculous and in your face.
It is, in other words, fucking BRILLIANT.
3. Jurassic World
I know. There are things that people liked and didn’t like about this movie (I count myself as part of that group of people with mixed opinions, too). There are issues, particularly with Jurassic World‘s bizarrely skewed, dated, and frankly sexist attitude towards traditional gender roles and relationships. However, the park itself is freaking AMAZING. The dinosaurs are bigger, they are jaw-dropping in their awesomeness, and the visual spectacle of the film is unparalleled.
Most of all, the movie has Claire as its heroine and despite all of the noise to the contrary and Chris Pratt-centric chatter, it is Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire that actually does everything to save the day. She, along with Blue and that serial killer Indominus Rex, makes Jurassic World one of my favorite–if deeply, deeply flawed–films of the year.
2. The Martian
I actually had a huge amount of trepidation, heading into The Martian. I read and reviewed the book almost two years ago and loved it–in fact, it was my second favorite book of 2014. So I was worried, when I saw that Matt Damon would be playing Mark Watney (especially after his stint playing what appeared to be the same morose, predictable character from Interstellar). Watney is like MacGuyver on Mars. With a botany degree. And a killer sense of humor and running internal monologue. From the previews, I didn’t think that the film adaptation would capture that same… joie de vivre in the face of insurmountable odds, just as I was nervous that the film would focus on depressing policy on Earth instead of focusing on some of the high points of the book–the uplifting faith in humanity and how we can cooperate when we choose to.
I was so, so relieved when The Martian turned out to be a mostly faithful adaptation, and a hell of a movie. The book and film are different, but in ways that make sense and enhance both respective experiences–the film embellishes with the drama and cuts down on the hilarious inner narrative. At the same time, the film manages to capture a real sense of danger and insurmountable odds, but pairs that with compelling human storylines and some damn fine acting. In short, The Martian did exactly what it needed to do as a film, and I loved it very much. (If you haven’t read the book yet, I implore you to do that NOW!)
1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Could there be any different film atop my list of favorite movies of 2015? The Force Awakens had everything going against it: enormous hype basically everywhere one turns from Target shopping campaigns, to mega-presence online via advertising, product placement, merchandising, licensing deals out the wazoo. It faces a poor Star Wars feature film track record, when it comes to the prequels. (For the record, I fully recognize all of the issues with the prequel films but I still look back on that era with nostalgia and fondness–because nothing beats being a teenager and getting to see a NEW CHAPTER of a universe you love so, so much unfold on the big screen. Plus, my feelings towards the prequel era are so favorable now because of The Clone Wars, but I digress…)
The Force Awakens was everything that I dared to hope and dream for in a new Star Wars film, opening a new trilogy in the series. Featuring a diverse cast blended in with the old cast, a beautiful sense of vision and setting and scope–from the vestiges of technology and politics, the crumbling relics of a fallen Republic and destroyed Empire–and a storyline that is slightly ridiculous but in the best possible Star Wars-ian way, The Force Awakens is, in this fan’s mind, perfection.
I love Finn and Poe, just as much as I love Leia and Han and Chewie. I loved the tortured, tragic figure of Kylo Ren, and feared the fanaticism and totalitarianism of the First Order.
Most of all: BB-8 and Rey.
Rey is the heroine I so desperately wanted Padme Amidala to become in the films. She is like the big-screen realization of my beloved, ferocious Ahsoka Tano. (By that I mean: obviously they are different people, but seeing Ahsoka’s arc for the first time in Clone Wars was like seeing Rey’s arc in Episode VII.)
This is the only film I watched twice in theaters in 2015, and the one I most want to watch again, and again, and again. The Force Awakens is the real deal.
Best TV Shows & Podcasts of 2015
In contrast to my film watching, 2015 was a year that I tackled a LOT of TV–both in terms of ongoing shows, fresh-to-2015 shows, and marathoning shows that I hadn’t seen before. 2015 also was the year that I started listening to podcasts–thanks to Ana, and a habit of needing something other than music to run to while working out–so there are a couple of those in the mix below, too.
In no particular order:
10. Ash vs the Evil Dead
This show was super hyped at Comic Con and looked almost too good to be true–I was doubtful that Raimi and company could recapture the madcap hilarious gorefest of the original Evil Dead and Army of Darkness films. But… they did. THEY SO DID. Bruce Campbell as an older, out-of-shape, sad has-been Ash is even more compelling than young Ash of the original trilogy. The surprisingly diverse ensemble cast? Even better. The deadites? Yeaaaaah, baby. They’re back in head-spinning, white-demon-eyed, monster-voice glory. I look forward to every Sunday episode of Ash Versus The Evil Dead, probably moreso than I do The Walking Dead at this point.
9. Agent Carter
I didn’t think Peggy Carter would get her own television show, nor did I think it would be renewed–but she did, and it was, and I could not be happier. Agent Carter is not only a great period piece and compliment to the Captain America/Agents of Shield storylines we see already in the larger Marvelverse–it’s a damn good show about a female agent putting up with a lot of prejudice and misogyny in the workplace, and doing the right thing. Peggy rocks.
8. Master of None
Netflix kind of killed it this year, and I have 2 shows from that service/network on my list this year–starting with Aziz’s surprisingly deep and insightful situational comedy, Master of None. Maybe I feel close to this as a (now former) Brooklynite, and as a kid of an immigrant Asian mother, and being surrounded by a lot of people who are settling/settled down with kids, and all of that. I think that plays a role, sure–but more importantly, Master of None is a comedy about real diverse people struggling to find connection and meaning in one of the biggest, awesomest, most unforgiving cities in the world. It’s funny, smart, and soulful.
On a whole different level of funny, and surprisingly existential, but in a totally CW kind of way, there’s iZombie–the story of a driven young woman who is, inadvertently, turned into a zombie and has not only a craving but an actual need to consume human brains (or else she goes all… rage zombie). She solves crimes because the brains she eats allow her insight into the victim’s last moments, and that is all kinds of awesome. I cannot wait for more of this funny, smart, emotional series.
6. Halt and Catch Fire
Speaking of emotions, this is a show that completely eluded my knowledge in 2014–but one that I voraciously consumed in 2015 (thanks to my amazing boyfriend’s suggestion). Halt and Catch Fire is a period drama set in the early 1980s, following a group of individuals as they try to create a better, smaller, portable computer to rival the hegemony of Big Blue (IBM). Season 1 is an introduction to these very flawed individuals; season 2 is even better because it focuses on the two female characters who are very different from each other in personality/strengths/technical expertise (one is software, one is hardware) and who are the real driving heart of this show (at least in this viewer’s opinion). DAMN this show is good. And I’m really glad that AMC is dedicated to continuing to produce episodes despite low ratings–because it’s so worth it. (If The Walking Dead money can keep shows like this going, I AM ALL FOR IT.)
5. Silicon Valley
Also on the technology television front, there’s this little show from HBO. IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT YET, PLEASE RUN OUT IMMEDIATELY AND DO SO. It is hilarious. Following a group of very awkward software engineers, who live in a single house/incubator in Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley tells the story of a group that forms a company (Pied Piper) based on the game-changing compression algorithm that they discover and try to bring to market. But when you’re a bunch of non-business-minded engineers, dealing with a ton of venture capital being thrown your way (and mega-tech-conglomerates like Hooli, attempting to beat you to market and steal your product)… it’s not easy. Hilarity ensues.
Seriously. Watch this show.
4. Star Wars Rebels
As a fan of The Clone Wars animated series, it’s probably no surprise that I was all over Star Wars: Rebels this year. An animated series that takes place after the fall of the Republic, Rebels follows a band of rebel fighters as they amass strength and take a stand against the Empire. This show is so great because it shows the collapse of the Jedi Order and how the remaining surviving Jedi (Kanaan, Ezra) have lost the knowledge and training that had been honed over generations. It also shows the return of favorite characters (AHSOKA LIVES!!! DARTH VADER!), and the full terror of the Empire and their Inquisitors. It most importantly shows the seeds of rebellion, sown since the fall of the Republic.
3. Better Call Saul
I loved Breaking Bad very much–in fact, it is one of my favorite shows of all time because it is that truly impressive in terms of writing, acting, and development from black comedy beginning, to its epically tragic ending.
Better Call Saul seemed like a gimmick spinoff to me, honestly. I expected the show to be funny, to give me a little more of the characters I loved in Breaking Bad… boy, was I surprised. I didn’t realize that Better Call Saul would be not only funny but powerful, dramatic, and full of pathos. It’s the story of a scrappy young lawyer–a younger brother to an over-acheiving (jerk) of an older brother, who falls from grace despite trying so hard to serve the justice system.
I’m so glad the show will be back soon, and urge everyone to watch it (even if you haven’t seen Breaking Bad).
On the podcast front, this was the year of Serial. I got into the podcast about 8 episodes in, and binged on them all. Unlike Ana, I don’t have the same types of conflicted feelings about sensationalism or exploitation–but I do have plenty of feelings and questions about due process and the justice system in the United States. One thing I both liked and didn’t like about Serial was the narrative point-of-view–listening to Sarah’s thoughts as she pieced together the case was fascinating, however it colored my own thoughts and interpretations of the facts. Regardless, Serial is an important cultural and social movement and a defining story of 2015–in a system that values third party testimony, that depends on those in power using that power fairly and within the spirit of justice, what happens when the system breaks down?
Serial asks these questions, and more.
1. Making a Murderer
Finally, related to both Better Call Saul and to Serial, there’s this 10-part documentary that was released on Netflix at the end of December.
Making A Murder tells the story of Steve Avery–a man who was wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for a rape that he did not commit. After 18 years in prison, Avery was released based on DNA evidence (that could finally be tested accurately due to advances in technology). After just 2 years of freedom, however, Avery was arrested once again–this time, for murder.
Making A Murderer, unlike Serial, has no editorial narrative or voice-overs. It is 10 hours of harrowing primary documents, condensed from over 700 hours of footage, court documents, and other materials. It shows the questionable actions of those in power, and had me yelling at my television screen in rage, agony, and abject horror.
Form your own opinions about the criminal justice system, about corruption, about abuse and misuse of power, about rural poverty and prejudice.
Watch this show, and then come and talk to me about it. Please.
Finally, what would this list be without some shout-out to Ongoing TV Shows? Parks and Recreation completed this past year, and it wasn’t the best final season–but it did send Leslie Knope out in style. I’ll miss her. I also continued to be amused/entertained/pissed off with Homeland in its first post-Brody season, The Walking Dead and its infuriating blend of 3 crap episodes for every one mindblowing one, the entirety of Game of Thrones in all its horrible sexual violence and bleakness (but punctuated with moments of amazing storytelling). And on the comedy side, there’s the ongoing New Girl (which I still love very much) and the surprising redemption of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which got a little muddled in season 2 but came to season 3 with ensemble comedy on the highest, best notes.
Also, on the podcast side, 2015 was the year that I discovered the Freakonomics podcast and it’s one that I listen to religiously. I’m a big, big fan. (And I highly recommend it if you’re interested in behavioral economics at all.)
SO that’s it! My favorite Movies and TV shows of 2015. Here’s to an equally exciting 2016!