The year 2015 brought as many highs as it did lows in the world of pop culture. For every Mad Max: Fury Road, there was a Fantastic Four. Thankfully, the highs were most often higher than how low the lows were. Best of all, there were just as many amazing pieces of original entertainment as there were revivals of well-known properties. No matter what your tastes are, 2015 had something special for you.
This year brought pieces of entertainment that both appealed to my long-standing loves of various franchises and genres, as well as those that expanded my taste into new and exciting areas. The following are my personal favorites from the world of film, television, comic books and more! Have your own top choices? Let me know in the comments section below!
Mad Max: Fury Road – The rebirth of the Mad Max franchise in Fury Road wasn’t only a powerful return to the post-apocalyptic world of creator George Miller, but a revolutionary action film that provided unparalleled visceral thrills and surprisingly deep storytelling. Using precision directing, imagination run rampant, brilliant characters, and moving acting, Miller’s Fury Road is simultaneously the film equivalent of a metal guitar solo that melts your brain and an ancient parable that reflects today’s societal issues. This is the type of film that can only come from an entire team working at the top of their game and the result is a redefining action film that transcends the confines of the genre to become something even more. Read my review here and read my analysis of thefilm’s use of the heroic cycle here.
Paddington – Taking a decades-old children’s book series and updating it for the modern era could be a recipe for disaster along the similar lines of the modern Smurphs and Alvin and the Chipmunk movies. Instead, writer/director Paul King’s Paddington is one of the most heart-warming and charming films in ages. With a story that uses both the lovely humor of author Michael Bond’s stories and a modern parable about immigration, the story of a young bear from Darkest Peru who has travelled to London in the wake of a tragedy is pure movie magic. This is a film for everyone that charms, deeply moves, and tells a surprisingly important story for today, all with a character who you’ll love to pieces from the very beginning. Read my in-depth piece on the Paddington’s immigration message here.
What We Do In The Shadows – A vampire mockumentary from director/writer Taika Waititi and co-writer/actor Jemaine Clement, What We Do In The Shadowsis the funniest film of the year by far. Taking two genres that have been given more than enough screentime in the last few years – vampires and found footage – and elevating them both to a whole new level, this comedy film focusing on a group of vampire roommates living in New Zealand is a brilliant piece of character-focused comedy that lovingly deconstructs the vampire mythos while never once feeling like it’s treading old ground. From virgin sandwiches to swearwolves, this is a new comedy classic. Read my review here.
Creed – The Rocky franchise has been through many ups and downs over the years, but writer/director Ryan Coogler has breathed new life and a new direction into it with Creed. Not only does the Michael B. Jordan-led franchise take the best of the series and give it a fresh and modern interpretation, it stands on its own as a powerful and emotionally-charged tale that stands toe-to-toe with the original. Led by powerhouse performances by both Jordan and the returning Sylvester Stallone, Creed is something truly special in an age of reboots and cash-grab remakes – it’s actual, meaningful art. Read my review here.
Ex Machina – Easily the smartest sci-fi film of the year, writer/director Alex Garland’s Ex Machina is a perfect example of everything the genre can do when it has an intelligent point to make. Centering around a Turing test of an artificial intelligence, Garland’s film revolves around fascinating ideas that are explored in ways that slowly unravel like a mystery. Anchored by three stellar performances by Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander, and Domhnall Gleeson, Ex Machinais a truly intelligent thriller that appeals to everything I love about science fiction. Plus, that dance sequence is something amazing.
Favorite TV Show – The Flash
The second year in a row sees The Flash as my favorite television show thanks to an incredibly strong second half of the series’ first season and its fantastic opening to the second season. With the show’s potent blend of emotional storylines, powerful characters, and action sequences that make comic book fans nerd out, there’s nothing that quite matches up for me on the small screen. The Flash is the type of show that isn’t afraid to take chances by fully embracing the comic book nature of its premise, but is still completely accessible to anyone who has no prior experience with the character. There is no live action comic book property being made today that is as gutsy or satisfying as The Flash and it does my heart good. Even if it’s most emotional moments leave me consistently overwhelmed.
Runner-Up: Daredevil – A tough contender for The Flash, Daredevil is easily one of the best things that Marvel Studios has made yet. A focus on dark and gritty storytelling and a heavy focus on character drama help to separate Daredevilfrom the rest of the typical Marvel faire. Charlie Cox as hero Matt Murdock and Vincent D’Onofrio as villain Wilson Fisk are the biggest standouts here, with their portrayals elevating the series and leading to some of the best hero/villain dynamics in recent years. This is bold and thrilling superhero storytelling for the modern era. Read Part 1 and Part 2 of my season 1 review.
Favorite Film Soundtrack – Paddington
Equal parts quietly emotional and bombastically exuberant, composer Nick Urata created a soundtrack for Paddingtonthat elevates the sweet, sentimental, and sad elements that made this film so special. But rather than cheaply drive the emotion home like a jackhammer, Urata’s score plays with a light touch that packs a wallop due to its pitch perfect nature. But it’s not just his instrumental pieces that make the Paddington soundtrack so fantastic. The band D Lime with Tabago Crusoe supply multiple Cuban style songs that inject loads of fun, highlighting Paddington’s foreign status in the film and being just plain fantastic as a quick break from the rest of the score without seeming odd or out of place in the slightest. Toss in a couple classic songs and you’ve got a score that burrows deeply into your heart, just like the film and its star.
Runner-Up: Mad Max: Fury Road – Composer Tom Holkenbrook, aka Junkie XL, had a monumental task with creating a soundtrack that both matched and enhanced the madness on screen. In short, he did it. A driving and wild score that invokes the insanity of the story, Holkenbrook’s score is also packed with emotion, reflecting the dynamic seen in the film’s narrative itself. From the madness of the Doof Warrior to the awe-inspiring action climax, it’s all captured in this thrilling and electric score.
Favorite Comic Book – Daredevil
Daredevil is one of the all-time great superheroes, the subject of some of Marvel Comics’ most influential storylines and amazing runs by writer/artist teams. This year, writer Mark Waid wrapped up his multi-year run on the character with artist Chris Samnee and brought his massive story to a pitch perfect close. While the run was defined by Waid returning the character to a lighter and brighter swashbuckling sense of adventure, it was also balanced and deepened by truly dark themes and the central character’s struggle against the darkness and depression that has followed him for years. By bringing it all to a close with a final confrontation against a man who could ruin everything he has built up and an impending sense of doom overshadowing everything, this was a fantastic way to wrap up what is now one of the greatest runs on a character that has had so many of them.
Runner-Up: Silver Surfer – A psychedelic but human romp through the cosmos, writer Dan Slott’s new Silver Surfer solo series gave new life to an iconic character that has often struggled to find success on his own. Paired with human companion Dawn Greenwood, Surfer is more alive than ever. And just as wonderfully, it’s all brought to life by artist Mike Allred, whose art can elevate even the most pedantic of scripts. Here’s he’s given a big, bold, and beautiful universe and fantastic characters to bring to life. This is a must for any fans of classic cosmic Marvel Comics.
Favorite Podcast – The Canon
Two film critics argue about whether a chosen movie deserves to be considered one of the all-time greats. Yes, it sounds pretentious and potentially annoying, but the magic is that it is not at all. Well, usually. Hosts Devin Faraci and Amy Nicholson do an amazing job at exploring a wide variety of films in depth, bringing their own unique prospectives and frames of reference. Faraci and Nicholson are different enough to consistently bounce off one another without the disagreements becoming annoying. Rather, their debates bring greater understanding of the movies they discuss. Plus, there’s plenty of fascinating insight, lots of laughs, and some great guests. Combined with a few other podcasts this year including Filmspotting, The Canon helped to continue expanding my taste in film and critical analysis capabilities.
Runner-Up: Seincast – Being that Seinfeld is my favorite show of all time, a podcast that analyzes the series one episode at a time is clearly a no-brainer for me. While film and television series analysis podcasts have boomed in 2015, Seincast is thoroughly enjoyable not just for the subject matter, but for the fantastic quality of the podcast series itself. Hosts Matt and Vinny may break down each episode to its minutia, but they enhance the experience and are legitimately funny and enjoyable on their own. Paired with one of the all-time great shows and you’ve got one of the best TV podcasts around.
City and Colour – Blame my own ignorance, but I had not heard anything from City and Colour prior to 2015, or had at least not paid attention. Thanks to my lovely wife’s urging, I started to listen and very quickly became a massive fan. Singer and songwriter Dallas Greene blends his gorgeous voice and his dark lyrics for a result that is just right for me. I was hooked right from the start and I’m still listening constantly, with his latest album from this year only adding more to the playlist.
Mad Max – I had never seen a Mad Max film prior to watching Fury Road, but the power of the latest entry into the series compelled me to check out the original trilogy. Easy to say, it was a great decision. Mad Max, The Road Warrior, and Beyond Thunderdome all offer a stunning vision straight from the mind of creator George Miller, but The Road Warrior quickly became my favorite of the three and is well on its way to being one of my favorite films. I also developed a strange love for Tina Turner’s “We Don’t Need Another Hero” from Beyond Thunderdome.
TMNT – Another year, another time to love Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This year, it’s once again IDW’s comic book series that is the focus of my love for the green scaly ninjas. This is a series that not only appeals to the fan in me that watched the cartoon, played the video games, and bought the toys as a kid, but also to the adult comic book reader that I am now thanks to its compelling characters and complex storyline that takes long-loved characters and takes them to the next level.
Breaking Bad – Yes, I know I’m late to the game. But there’s only so much time to devote to 5 seasons of hour-long shows. However, Breaking Bad was truly worth the time binging. What else can be said about this series that has not already been expounded upon time and time again? The storyline, narrative cohesion, fantastic acting, fascinating characters, thrills twists, and absolute power of the series easily make Breaking Bad one of the greatest television shows I have ever seen.