Most Overrated Movie: Spotlight
The kind of movie that always gets overpraised. Chronicling the exposure of the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church in the early 2000s, Spotlight is a ‘talky’ without particularly good dialogue, which is a bit of an issue. It also feels dated (imagine if ‘Margin Call’ or ‘The Social Network’ came out 14 years after the housing crash or Facebook’s founding, respectively) and lacks quality character work and dramatic tension. Every character exists as a functional Plot Point and not a bit more, and the conflict is flimsy. We keep hearing that the church won’t approve of this investigation, but they don’t really do anything to stop them. Witnesses—and even priests!—talk freely and openly, and the biggest ‘obstacle’ is overcome when Mark Ruffalo realizes the key documents they need are, in fact, already part of the public record. Amidst a sea of glowing reviews, the Hollywood Reporter correctly found Spotlight to be “populated with one-dimensional characters enacting a connect-the-dots screenplay quite devoid of life’s, or melodrama’s, juices.”
Best Pixar Film (And Thus, Animated Film) of 2015: The Good Dinosar
While Inside Out is a story driven by creative energy and likable characters, we haven’t had a film like The Good Dinosaur in a really long time. And although The Good Dinosaur risks boring younger audiences, it is sure to delight animation fans and adults who enjoyed the better works of Walt Disney. For its artistic merit and its uniqueness, I firmly believe The Good Dinosaur is the best Pixar film of 2015, even as it plays the role of underdog, and deserves to win the Oscar award for Best Animated Feature.
Worst Grammy Winner: Sam Smith
In a quick comparison of 2015’s Grammy winners with my personal preferences, disappointment jumps off the page. Smith walked out with three of the big four General category awards. I felt he deserved none. Song of the Year in particular felt like a stretch, I can say without bias, as nominating a particular remix in a songwriting category doesn’t make a lick of sense.
Most Suspect Grammy Nominee: “Really Love” by D’Angelo and the Vanguard
Somebody needs to help me out with this one, because maybe I’m just too young. The press assures me that D’Angelo was a big deal around the turn of the century, which his promotion and chart success at that time seem to bear out. But I didn’t see this song, or the album Black Messiah, make a splash with real humans this year. Tastemakers paid lip service to the singer’s new release following a 15-year hiatus, yet the lead single didn’t really chart at all.
So you can see how, for me, this looks like the Academy trying to seem cool and in tune with great music wherever it comes from, regardless of sales figures. This Record of the Year nomination is having the opposite effect on me, however, making me wonder if it’s part of a backstage deal to get some major publicity for a track, album, and artist that underperformed relative to the label’s hopes. Or maybe it really is just an extension of the same strategy that led them to give Arcade Fire a perplexing Album of the Year win back in 2011.
Best Internet-Brings-People-Together Moment: The Bloggess’s Awkward Twitter Explosion
It started with a tweet from comedian/writer The Bloggess, aka Jenny Lawson:
Airport cashier: “Have a safe flight.” Me: “You too!” I CAN NEVER COME HERE AGAIN. — TheBloggess (@TheBloggess) November 1, 2015
Then, her followers started responding with their own cringey moments. And it kind of snowballed into one big happy “we’re all awkward and we screw up and life is beautiful” cringefest. I’m not lying when I say I laughed so hard I cried.
Here’s part 1 (click only if you have at least half an hour to spare): And then that one time on twitter we all just became human and I laughed until I gave myself a headache.
Strangest TV Episode: “Body Swap” – Red Oaks
Amazon’s original comedy Red Oaks is one of the most delightful things from 2015. For most of its ten episodes, it’s a warm, throwback teen comedy filled with fantastic character details and hilarious performances. Craig Roberts stars as a tennis coach at a country club, and the show follows him and his family and members of the club during the summer of 1985. It makes some plotting choices I’d quibble with, but I’m not sure I enjoyed anything more in 2015.
But… the show’s seventh episode demands to be mentioned. The show has such a precise, genial tone otherwise that “Body Swap” stands out like a sore thumb. In the only flash of fantasy in the entire show, the episode is devoted to a Freaky Friday-style body switch between Roberts’ character, David, and his father, Sam, played by Richard Kind.
Though it’s utterly bizarre, the show miraculously makes it sorta work. Roberts and Kind are so uncanny at imitating each other’s characters that you almost forget that the actors are only pretending to have their bodies swapped. And the resulting character work – especially as David gets to witness his father’s life – is so good that the episode is nearly as moving as it is fucking wack.
Most Underrated Writer: Nick Hornby
Hornby is so damn good. Just as he did in the novel High Fidelity, and as he did in the 2009 movie An Education, Hornby makes 2015 sleeper film Brooklyn piercing and poignant—and you don’t know how he does it. Nothing about the subject matter of Brooklyn interested me going into it, but there’s not a single false moment in its two hours. It might be the best movie of the year, and Hornby deserves more credit for that.
Weirdest Earn This Article: Ranking the Numbers 1-10
I just… I don’t even… why did we do this? (And yet… why didn’t we do this sooner?)
Best New DC-Area Cidery and Meadery: ANXO Cidery & Pintxos Bar, and Möbius Meadery
It might be more in line with my skill set to pick out the best new brewery in northern Virginia, and I’m familiar with several good candidates. But I haven’t had sufficient chance to sample their offerings and don’t want to pick a winner without some real justification. Instead, I’m going for some low-hanging fruit.
As far as I can tell, ANXO will be DC’s first cidery and Möbius will be its first meadery. That means they each win their categories by default! Now, there is the problem that neither one will actually be open by the end of 2015, but I’m willing to declare them eligible based on the various pop-ups and tasting events they’ve been hosting around town in recent months. I’m excited to see what they have to offer next year, pretentious though they may be.
Best Brewery to Close in 2015: Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project
Since the craft beer tidal wave has yet to crest, it’s always sad and a little odd to see a quality brewer shut up their doors. Such was the fate of at least a couple of nano operations I’d come to love in 2015. Pretty Things, a tiny operation in eastern Massachusetts, never had a tap room with visiting hours, but they managed to distribute all over the city of Boston while I was living up there.
Their labels were artsy and whimsical and their beer names matched that spirit. From the flagship, Jack D’Or (a flagship saison!), to the brown ale Saint Botolph’s Town, I never tasted a Pretty Things beer that I didn’t like. My favorite was Baby Tree—a quadrupel, to the surprise of nobody who has listened to an Earn This Beercast. Now I’ll never taste that sweet Baby Tree again…
Most Overhyped TV Show: Master of None
Netflix’s Aziz Ansari-run comedy, Master of None, is the most praised TV show of 2015, which is a bit baffling to me. I only watched a tiny sliver of 2015’s enormous output of scripted TV, and Master of None still failed to leave a strong impression on me.
Don’t get me wrong, Master of None is perfectly decent, occasionally borderline great. The “Old People” episode gave me a strong sense of melancholy, the “Parents” episode is sweet, and the time-hopping vignette of “Mornings” would be tough to pull off on conventional TV. The show’s most interesting outing, “Indians on TV,” excels because it’s the show’s most specific story. But, overall, the show’s acting is mediocre, its writing is unextraordinary, and its comic timing is wonky. Watch if you’re bored, but don’t buy the hype unless you’re an Aziz nut.
Best Comeuppance: Serena Williams
Have I mentioned that I love tennis? The men’s game often makes for better headlines and more exciting matches, but I’ve been a diehard Maria Sharapova fan since her Wimbledon title. Circumstantially, loving Sharapova has led me to detest Serena Williams more with each passing year, largely because the American has dominated their head-to-head. At this point, everything about Williams sickens me, from her almost unfair serving ability to her post-game press conferences.
So my cheers could be heard ’round the world when career doubles player Roberta Vinci ended Williams’s historic run at a calendar-year Grand Slam in the semifinals of this year’s US Open. Those cheers turned to riotous laughter the next day as Vinci ceded the championship match to fellow Italian and fellow doubles specialist Flavia Pennetta, who then immediately announced her retirement from professional tennis on the podium.
Best Ham-Related Humor: Yes! Ham Goes Up an Escalator!
Alternately titled, Best Internet Video. But I like ham.
Clickhole’s humor can be pretty hit-or-miss, but this video is definitely a hit. Perhaps even a masterpiece of 2015. The combination of the ridiculous premise, the simplicity of the visuals, and the epic, emotionally manipulative score make this a 100% joyful, triumphant, wtf-worthy video:
Runner Up: Tweet by Chuck Wendig on the Failure of Amazon Prime Day
amazon prime day deals: – 33% off watch batteries – BOGO bag of 7 mismatched LEGO bricks – free ham log – sock full of teeth – 67% off ants — Chuck Wendig (@ChuckWendig) July 16, 2015
Makes me laugh every time I see it. Includes phrase, “ham log.”
Most Avoidable Pop Culture Disappointment: The Closure of Grantland
2015 saw the end of one of the most fun and enlightening pop culture websites with the termination of Grantland. Because heaven forbid ESPN be associated with anything other than Skip Bayless and debates about the eliteness of forgettable quarterbacks. Grantland was getting so much better with time, as Bill Simmons and his cadre of talented writers found their niche. I still wish I could go there and read Wesley Morris’s take on a movie, catch up with TV episode recaps, or settle in with a longform on a cultural icon from years past. It’s a shame that a site like this can’t sustain itself.
Most Significant Musician to Pass Away: B.B. King
Truth be told, classic blues music of the 60’s is well outside my wheelhouse. I won’t try to eulogize B.B. King because I’d do a terrible job of it. I’ll just say that his status as a household name and a legend of the blues makes him the clear winner here, and I’d feel stupid picking anyone else. That said, here are three other names that I briefly considered because their work is much more familiar to me: Scott Weiland, Chris Squire, and Lemmy.
Best YouTube Cover: “My Heart Will Go On” by Postmodern Jukebox (ft. Mykal Kilgore)
I’m a freakazoid obsessive of YouTube covers, and my big discovery of the year was Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox, which recruits former members of shows like American Idol and America’s Got Talent to perform covers of modern pop songs in vintage styles with high production values. Not every swing is a home run, but it’s always fascinating and worth a listen. (For a sampling, here’s a classic soul take on Radiohead’s “Creep” and 1920’s speakeasy take on “Bad Romance”.)
My favorite video of theirs – and probably my favorite song from 2015 if I’m being completely honest – is Bradlee’s reinvention of the Titanic song, “My Heart Will Go On,” as an upbeat Four Seasons/Jackie Wilson-style jukebox jam. Stripped of its schmaltz and buoyed with a phenomenal performance by Kilgore, the tune is a catchy revelation. Colton and I acknowledged the original as an icon of the ‘90s, but, as far as I’m concerned, this is the definitive version.
Most Unexpected Emotional Response: Furious 7
Let’s just say it was a good thing the theater was dark at the end of Furious 7. The film, which had moments of greatness but also kind of wasted Jason Statham and kept The Rock trapped in a hospital for far too long—although him bursting out of his cast might be the greatest single moment in the franchise—gave Paul Walker a moving and pitch-perfect sendoff. The series will never be the same without him.
Best Novelty Twitter Account: Nihilist Arby’s
From cultural commentary to rhymes to plain absurdity, Nihilist Arby’s is humor at some of its darkest. But don’t worry, at tweet-length, it’ll make you laugh before you get too depressed (maybe don’t read the feed all at once, though).
A few choice tweets:
If you can’t handle Arbys at our “fuck this completely” then you don’t deserve us at our “sentient happiness is an illusion.” Enjoy Arbys. — Nihilist Arby’s (@nihilist_arbys) November 21, 2015
Your parents don’t love you your children will die Come eat Arbys It’s best if yer high Drink the poison Gargle the flesh Arbys: then death — Nihilist Arby’s (@nihilist_arbys) May 15, 2015
Most Iconic Pop Song: “Hello” by Adele
After my take on the decade so far in iconic pop before 2015, I owe it to my readers to give you an update.
This category becomes much less competitive if you ignore my previous directive that music should be categorized by its year of peak relevance, not the year that the single was technically released, as this excludes the biggest song of 2015, “Uptown Funk,” since it dropped on November 10, 2014. No other sites and analyses have included “Uptown Funk” as a piece of 2015 despite the fact that it didn’t ascend to #1 until mid-January, so I will contradict myself and exclude it. (The fantastic “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift had a reign at #1 that extended from 2014 into 2015, but I’d call its year of peak relevance 2014.)
What you’re left with, then, is a weak year for iconic pop singles. The so-called Songs of the Summer, “See You Again” by Wiz Khalifa ft. Charlie Puth and “Cheerleader” by Omi, are utterly forgettable (minus the Furious 7 connection of the former). I salute The Weeknd (or rather Max Martin) for a couple of nice hooks, but nah. My runner up pick is “What Do You Mean?” by the resurgent Justin Bieber, who earned critics’ praise and chart success with his crossover house/pop hit.
But Adele takes the crown with “Hello,” which has the most massive, soaring chorus of any song in years. There isn’t much to the verses (which is why I think we’ll all grow tired of it before “Someone Like You”), but it still was 2015’s only interesting radio blip. Plus, you know your song has made it if you get to do a classroom instruments version with The Roots.
Best Planet: Earth
As old as it is, I felt a reference to the best “best list” of all time was obligatory.