Wednesday, December 30, 2015
THE YEAR IN MOVIES - 2015
- It's been quite a year at the movies. But let's face it, this will forever go down as the year of Star Wars. All year, the anticipation built for The Force Awakens. And since December 18th, it feels like all anyone who's a movie fan can talk or write or think about is The Force Awakens. So what does it all mean for movies? First of all, let's take a step back and acknowledge that Star Wars is much more than just a movie - it's a giant multimedia franchise with decades of cultural history and baggage. When we see a new Star Wars movie, we're not *just* watching a movie - we're practically watching the next chapter in our collective pop-mythology. From a critical standpoint, it's hard to talk about The Force Awakens and not get caught up in all the other *stuff* that is tangential to the movie itself. Hence, endless think-pieces that, while interesting food for thought, are often merely projecting the writer's predisposed feelings about Star Wars (and George Lucas, JJ Abrams, Disney, the prequels, the merchandising, and blockbuster movies in general). The fact is though - The Force Awakens was a pretty amazing piece of pop entertainment. It may have had some issues with its storytelling (too much contrived mystery, too much choppy plotting), but let's also admit that the film's story has been analyzed far beyond that of most big blockbuster films. If we'd put the original trilogy and/or any number of other big blockbusters through a similar microscope, we'd find as many (and likely many more) holes. The Force Awakens works so well though because it has the kind of character, heart, visual artistry, and old-fashioned "movie magic" that so many big films today lack. It's a movie that begs for a second or third viewing. It's a movie that will inspire people. That to me is the ultimate takeaway from the movie's success - the epic sci-fi stories, superhero sagas, and fantasy worlds that were once for a select few are now, officially, for everyone. Ultimately, I think that's a big net positive.
And yet ... there is another. The best big blockbuster of 2015 was, no question, the superlative Mad Max: Fury Road. It's hard to describe to skeptics just why the movie works so well - you just have to see it to understand. But no other movie this year so completely floored me. The combination of incredible characters, amazing world-design, propulsive action, and thematic depth made this one of the best action/adventure movies of all time. Prior to Fury Road, the Mad Max franchise was iconic. Now, it's a whole new level of legendary.
Indeed, 2015 was a landmark year for genre film. It Follows was one of the best horror movies of the last several years - a low-budget indie that was so creative and fun that it made you want to go make your own horror movie immediately (seriously: the movie inspired me to take a stab at my first-ever horror screenplay). Ex Machina was exactly the kind of high-minded sci-fi film I love - dark, boundary-pushing, and thought-provoking. Same goes for the future cult-classic Predestination. The Martian mixed real science with a near-future sci-fi premise to achieve greatness - and it marked a welcome return to space for the great Ridley Scott. We got a new Western from the king of genre mash-ups, Quentin Tarantino - and man, The Hateful Eight was a rip-roaring exercise in awesomeness, with an all-star cast of badass actors. And it wasn't even the only badass Western this year starring Kurt Russell! As if his role in The Hateful Eight wasn't enough, Russell also starred in the certifiably kick-ass Western/horror mash-up Bone Tomahawk, and appeared in Furious 7. 2015 was a full-on Kurt Russell Renaissance. For someone like me who grew up on movies like Escape From NY, this was cinematic bliss. Speaking of Furious 7, it was one of a couple of great action movies this year. Another standout was Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation - it was a franchise-best installment, full of some of the coolest set-piece action scenes I've seen in this or any year.
If 2015 had a failing, it's that the big, prestige, Oscar bait-ish movies in many cases fell flat, at least for me. Only a handful - Spotlight, Room, Brooklyn - really lived up to their full potential. Interestingly, one of the year's best high-minded dramas came from Netflix. I was late to watch Beasts of No Nation - I mean, how good could a movie created by Netflix really be? Turns out, it could be amazing. Beasts was a true cinematic tour de force and one of the year's best.
Another underdog that proved to have championship potential was Creed. I wasn't among the doubters - I love the Rocky series, and knew it was in good hands with director Ryan Coogler and star Michael B. Jordan. And Creed did not disappoint - it was not just a great Rocky movie, but a great film, period. Pixar too proved itself again to be the reigning champ of animation. Inside Out was one of their best-ever films - a shockingly sophisticated, amazingly-crafted look at human emotion that was a great film for both kids and adults.
As always, I didn't see everything. But I did see a lot - and overall, I felt really good about the films of 2015. Here are my favorites.
DANNY'S BEST MOVIES OF 2015:
1.) Mad Max: Fury Road
- With Mad Max: Fury Road, director George Miller delivered a master class in how to do sci-fi/action filmmaking right. The action is non-stop and unrelenting, but never boring. It escalates in the same manner as a great song - slowing down, picking up again, and then bringing it all home like some sort of cinematic power ballad. I could talk for paragraphs just about the world of this movie. The characters, the vehicles, the mythology, the look and feel of the movie's post-apocalyptic wasteland. But I could talk just as much about how powerful the movie is thematically: it's one of the best-ever movies about breaking free from oppression and fighting for the right to free will. The battle of wills between Imperator Furiosa and Immortan Joe is one for the ages - an epic chase through the wasteland with life itself at stake.
- There was no moment more tense for me in a movie theater in 2015 than the "escape" scene in Room. It was one of the most edge-of-your-seat moments I've ever experienced while watching a movie. Room completely and utterly makes you root for its characters to get away from the hellish place they're trapped in. And then, it makes you root almost as hard for them to conquer the emotional trauma that they're left with in the aftermath. Room is amazing. Brie Larson's acting here is next-level - even better than her turn in Short Term 12. Kid actor Jacob Tremblay is phenomenal - a truly affecting performance. This is brave, bold storytelling that counterbalances its darkness with life-affirming hope and joy. Go watch Room if you haven't yet seen it.
- Spotlight works on two levels. One, it's an old-school paranoid thriller, a crackling investigative procedural that is a tribute to the power of real, nose-to-the-grindstone journalism. In a world where real journalism is increasingly rare, it's a potent reminder of what we've lost. Second, it's a jaw-dropping reminder of the evils of institutionalized abuse. It shows you the full extent of the Catholic priest abuse scandal with mind-numbing reminders about just how far-reaching the problem was and just how much effort was put into keeping it out of the public eye. The movie has a true ensemble cast. It's not a showy movie, but it has a building intensity that, by the film's end, has built to a fever pitch. Extremely powerful filmmaking.
4.) Inside Out
- Inside Out is an amazing achievement from Pixar. Somehow, it distills complex emotional truths into easy-to-understand concepts and characters. It captures the way we think and feel with startling accuracy. But it doesn't stop there - the film's representation of our thoughts and feelings shows us how alike we all are on the inside. To that end, the film is a remarkable meditation on the power of empathy. Plus, it's also a lot of fun - with a fantastic voice cast and lots of humor. Not to mention, it's got incredible visuals that fully immerse you inside the movie's literal mind-trip. To me, this stands among the finest films Pixar has ever produced - and that says a lot.
5.) The Hateful Eight
- It's a violent, brutal, mean movie, but man, The Hateful Eight is a rollicking good time. With Tarantino, you know you're in the hands of a great storyteller, and this is a story that's got a lot to say. About justice, about race, about revenge, about war, about America. But it says its piece via dynamite dialogue, via larger-than-life characters, with a style and flair and sense of showmanship that are the trademarks of a great Tarantino film. The cast here is populated by all-time badasses doing career-best work. Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins, Kurt Russell, and Jennifer Jason Leigh are all fantastic. This is a movie I won't soon forget, and it's a more-than-worthy entry in the Tarantino cannon.
6.) Ex Machina
- I was an early supporter of Ex Machina, and I'm glad to see that its fanbase has only grown in the months since its release. If nothing else, Ex Machina was further proof that writer/director Alex Garland is one of the best and most interesting filmmakers working today. The guy earned geek-cred for writing movies like 28 Days Later, Sunshine, and Dredd. But man, what a directorial debut with Ex Machina. In a world where sci-fi is too often equated with overblown blockbusters in which lots of stuff blows up, here was a smaller-scale, more intimate movie that really got into the science fiction of it all: here is this new technology - what does it say about us as humans, and how can it be used for good or ill? The movie's got three fantastic leads - Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Issac, and, in a breakthrough performance, Alicia Vikander as an instantly-iconic android with an agenda. One of the best modern science fiction films, no question.
- My hope for Creed is that this is the new template for how to continue a franchise. Enough with soulless reboots that lack respect for the source material. If you're going to revive a franchise, do it the right way, and do it in a way where the torch is properly passed. Creed is the ultimate passing-of-the-torch movie. It introduces a new franchise with a new star (a great Michael B. Jordan) and a new director (Ryan Coogler) that could theoretically be the driving forces behind many more movies in the series, for years to come. But it also never forgets its Rocky legacy, and in fact, it gives the Rocky character a great role to play and Sylvester Stallone the opportunity to turn in one of his best-ever performances. Creed feels right. It's a new generation of Rocky movie that's new and fresh and different, and yet it encapsulates all that makes Rocky great. The champ is here, and his name is Creed.
8.) Beasts of No Nation
- A lot of the big, sprawling dramas of 2015 left me feeling a bit empty. But Beasts of No Nation shook me to my core. A moving, powerful, unforgettable story - it's the fictional tale of a young boy in a war-torn African country, who is recruited by an unhinged general to be a soldier in his child army. The details are fictional, but the core truths at the movie's center are all too real - an affecting, eye-opening look at the world we live in today. Idris Elba is in acting beast-mode here, turning in the performance of a lifetime as the fearsome Commandant. And child actor Abraham Attah is phenomenal - showing us how a wide-eyed, innocent kid is turned into a soulless killer. Director Cary Fukunaga shows us the unrelenting chaos of war in absorbing, can't-look-away detail. The movie is a gut-puncher, but it's one of the year's best.
9.) It Follows
- Over the last couple of years, I've been really digging the indie-horror movement that's been completely subverting expectations about what the genre can be. Now, in the wake of films like House of the Devil, You're Next, and The Babadook comes It Follows - one of the freshest, coolest, most creative horror movies I've seen in years. The movie's premise is killer - a spectral force that can look like anyone stalks its victims anywhere and everywhere, and the only way to get rid of it is to pass it on through sex. It's the ultimate STD. But aside from that hook, what makes It Follows work so well is the atmosphere director David Robert Mitchell creates - a creepy homage to the works of John Carpenter, and other 80's horror movie icons that emphasized mood and tone over cheap jump-scares. To cap it all off, the movie features a great lead performance from Maika Monroe, who is quickly becoming an iconic Scream Queen of modern cinema.
10.) Star Wars: The Force Awakens
- What other movie generated as much pure excitement in 2015 - or ever? - as The Force Awakens? As I said up top, this is a hard one to talk about purely as a film, because there's so much baggage and weight of expectation that comes with this being the continuation of a saga that fans have waited decades for. But I will say this: the enthusiasm that people have for this movie is no accident. The secret of the film's success is taking the sort of classic, mythic storytelling of the original Star Wars and combining it with new, modern, diverse characters that feel vital and relevant for the times we live in. Star Wars has always had space-opera on a grand scale. But now it's also got a beating heart that, at times, eluded even the original films. Yes, JJ Abrams and team are building on the universe and themes that George Lucas created. But they've also launched a new era for Star Wars in epic fashion. That is no small feat. The movie is imperfect, yes. But at the end of the day, The Force is undeniably strong in this one.
JUST MISSED THE CUT:
11.) The Martian
- A riveting journey into space and a harrowing survival story, this movie mixes humor, high-adventure, and a real respect for the science of it all, The Martian is a reminder of why Ridley Scott is one of the greatest of all time when it comes to epic, immersive sci-fi. It's got incredible visuals, a smart and witty script courtesy of Drew Goddard, a great leading-man turn from Matt Damon, and a stacked supporting cast.
12.) Wild Tales
- An anthology film about extremes of human behavior, this Argentinian movie is so good that it was nominated for an Oscar last year. It wasn't watchable in America until 2015, but man, I'm glad it was finally made available. It's a funny, shocking, highly-entertaining set of stories in the tradition of things like Black Mirror and The Twilight Zone - twisty morality plays that have to be seen to be believed.
- Even if you don't like romance, this movie is such a well done one that I guarantee it will win you over. Why? Because this absolutely charming period-piece is a winner - featuring a star-making turn from Saoirse Ronan, as an Irish immigrant in Brooklyn looking to start a new life, but still drawn back to the comfort and familiarity of her home country. The movie's got a smart, funny script from Nick Hornby - and really surprised me with just how much it drew me in and made me cross my fingers for a happy ending for its characters.
14.) Bone Tomahawk
- What's so cool about Bone Tomahawk is that it would still be pretty badass even if it was just a straight-up Western. The movie's first half is just that - and even then, it kicks ass thanks to a fantastic cast (Kurt Russell in top form as the gruff sheriff, Richard Jenkins ruling it as the bumbling deputy) and old-school solid filmmaking chops. But then, the movie kicks into overdrive when it's revealed that the guys Russell and co. are chasing are actually ... wait for it ... deadly mutant cannibals! Hells yeah. If you like badass movies, then this one is essential viewing.
- A grim n' gritty descent into hell-on-earth, Sicario is a harrowing look at the violence and chaos that can erupt in Mexican border towns like Juarez as part of the covert but deadly drug-wars being raged. With her intense turn here as an FBI agent recruited for a secret mission over the border, Emily Blunt solidifies herself as cinema's reigning most-badass-female. Meanwhile, Benicio Del Toro turns in a searing performance as an operative whose emotional scars have turned him into a stone-cold killer.
THE NEXT BEST:
- Predestination launched unceremoniously on VOD and digital-download services in January, but being a sucker for anything time-travel related, I gave it a look. As it turns out, this Ethan Hawke-starring adaptation of a Robert Heinlein story is actually really great - a well-acted film (in addition to Hawke, there's an incredible central performance from Sarah Snook that deserves to be talked about) with an absolutely killer twist ending. For me, this is a new sci-fi favorite.
17.) Crimson Peak
- Guillermo Del Toro's latest is an atmospheric gothic romance that also happens to be a ghost story. But this movie is pure Del Toro - which means its visuals are jaw-dropping, with unmatched attention to detail and an eye-popping artfulness. If you ever dreamed of a Del Toro-directed haunted mansion movie, well, here it is. And as an added bonus, Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, and Jessica Chastain are all amazing here, gothing it up like nobody's business. This movie deserved to do better at the box office, but like other Del Toro films it will live on as an all-time cult classic.
- Dope is the sort of under-the-radar breakthrough that you love to see as a film fan. It's a Lebowski-esque crime caper, in which a geeky inner-city teen accidentally gets stuck with a bag full of drugs that makes him a target for criminals and cops alike. Shameik Moore breaks out big-time here as nerdy Malcom, and director Rick Famuyiwa shows that he is one to watch.
19.) Kingsman: The Secret Service
- "Manners maketh man." So goes the super-spy credo of Kingsmea's dapper agent played by Colin Firth. Firth kills it in this one - an insanely fun, wonderfully vulgar, over-the-top, action-packed spy movie satire that is one of 2015's best blockbusters. Matthew Vaughn's adaptation of the Mark Millar comic book actually improves on the source material, delivering an applause-worthy deconstruction of the Bond archetype that deserves sequels of its own. Vaughn again proves that he's one of the best, most interesting action directors working today.
20.) Cop Car
- A down n' dirty grindhouse flick featuring a killer turn from Kevin Bacon, this movie casts Bacon as a psycho cop on a rage-filled quest to find his stolen vehicle. As it turns out, his police cruiser's been taken by two runaway kids, who have no clue to what extent they've messed with the wrong guy's car. I really dug this movie - it's a total showcase for director Jon Watts. It's no wonder he's been tapped to direct the next Spider-Man movie, because Cop Car shows that he's the real deal.
21.) Steve Jobs
- I had mixed feelings about this one upon exiting the theater, but over time, I really began to warm up to it. I think the key to appreciating this effort from director Danny Boyle and writer Aaron Sorkin is to realize that it's by no means a literal biography of Jobs, but a theatrical, representational microcosm of his life's defining work. It's a smart, thought-provoking look at the cost that great success and insatiable drive can take on one's soul. Michael Fassbender is electric in the leading role, and the supporting cast is also amazing - Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels, and Seth Rogen each more than hold their own delivering Sorkin's hard-charging, hellfire-and-brimstone dialogue.
22.) Furious 7
- If I'm being honest, I've got to say this: Furious 7 is one of the most viscerally awesome and kick-ass action movies I've ever seen. Sure, it's all big, dumb fun - but what fun it is. Director Justin Lin cranks things up to eleven with this one, delivering some all-time great action set pieces that left me with my jaw squarely on the floor. The movie's just got a great sense of propulsive fun, with a lovable cast of action titans, including Vin Diesel, Jason Statham, Kurt Russell, Michelle Rodriguez, Ronda Rousey, and The Rock. Plus, it has an unexpected element of heart as well. The death of Paul Walker while the movie was still filming was an unbearably sad tragedy, but the movie pays tribute to Paul in a way that is honestly and sincerely moving. I'm sure few ever expected to shed a tear at a Fast & Furious movie, but this one both kicks ass and tugs at the ol' heartstrings.
23.) Mr. Holmes
- In this tale of an aged Sherlock Holmes' final case, Sir Ian McKellan delivers an acting master class. Playing both a younger, spry-er Holmes as well as an older, more brittle version, McKellan is absolutely phenomenal. An interesting, emotionally-involving twist on the Sherlock Holmes legend, this one is a must-watch for fans of the character and/or of McKellan.
24.) Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
- Another great action movie that surpassed expectations, this one excels thanks to the back-to-basics direction of Christopher McQuarrie. McQuarrie understands the fundamentals of constructing a great action scene, always clearly establishing the stakes and creating a palpable sense of danger for the characters. Tom Cruise brings his usual high-intensity to the movie as Ethan Hunt, but this one finally makes us care about his supporting cast as well. Plus, Rebecca Ferguson is superb as the movie's deadly femme fatale. I guarantee we'll be seeing a lot more from her in the years to come.
25.) Mistress America
- Another home run for the creative combo of Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig. The two created a great film with Frances Ha, and they craft another winner here with Mistress America. They really seem to be making a play to be the modern-day Woody Allen - telling witty, funny, keenly-observed stories about young people in the big city. Gerwig also continues to shine as an actress - here, she is a barely-held-together ball of manic energy that isn't quite the queen of New York she thinks herself to be. I can't wait to see more movies from this team.
MORE GREAT FILMS OF 2015:
26.) Bridge of Spies
- Steven Spielberg tackles the Cold War in this poignant tale of a decent man doing his best to uphold the best of America's values, during a time when those values seem all but lost. The movie gets off to a slow start, but builds towards a whopper of a finale that has a lot to say not just about the Cold War, but about where we are today as a country. Tom Hanks is reliably excellent, but it's Mark Rylance who is the show-stealer - delivering a quietly amazing performance as a Soviet Spy who wants simply to be treated with dignity.
- Director Todd Haynes makes Carol a powerful story about forbidden romance - less so with words and more so with subtle gestures, glances, and subtext. The always-great Cate Blanchett is a force of nature here, but the real star is Rooney Mara - in a nuanced, understated, memorable performance that boils over with bubbling-beneath-the-surface emotion. An effective look at how beneath the surface of idyllic 1950's America lay harsh realities of social oppression and emotional repression.
28.) Straight Outta Compton
- At times, Straight Outta Compton feels a little too much like a standard-issue biopic. But when it really pops - showing us the big moments in the career of NWA that changed music and pop-culture forever - it's chill-inducingly good. The cast here is universally excellent, and the movie effectively shows how the NWA were at the forefront of a culture war that still rages today. But when the focus is on the music, the movie really shines - capturing the sonic alchemy and lyrical power that made the NWA hip-hop revolutionaries.
- Spy is Melissa McCarthy's best-ever movie, and the one that most takes advantage of her considerable comedic skill-set. Paul Feig's witty, playfully subversive send-up of the spy genre was one of 2015's biggest surprises - a film that was really funny, had shockingly great action scenes, and had a lot to say on a meta level about how a great female comic like McCarthy can be used and abused by a Hollywood system that tends to typecast her in unflattering roles. Spy gave me great hope for Feig's upcoming Ghostbusters relaunch. This guy gets it.
30.) The Big Short
- Adam McKay's foray into more serious-business filmmaking - a look at the mid-00's housing market crash that led to financial crisis - is both commendably educational and satisfyingly pissed-off. The film features excellent performances from Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, and more - each playing guys who saw the crash coming, but were faced with a system that couldn't see or didn't want to admit that it was on the way. The movie goes a bit off the rails at times, with random cutaways and ADD-pacing. But it also felt like the chip-on-its-shoulder movie we needed going into the 2016 election season.
HONORABLE MENTIONS - OTHER HIGHLY RECOMMENDED MOVIES FROM THIS YEAR:
The Night Before
While We're Young
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
What We Do In the Shadows
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Sleeping With Other People
INDIVIDUAL 2015 AWARDS:
BEST LEAD ACTOR:
1.) Ian McKellan - Mr. Holmes
2.) Michael Fassbender - Steve Jobs
3.) Abraham Attah - Beasts of No Nation
4.) Matt Damon - The Martian
5.) Michael B. Jordan - Creed
BEST LEADING ACTRESS:
1.) Brie Larson - Room
2.) Saoirse Ronan - Brooklyn
3.) Charlize Theron - Mad Max: Fury Road
4.) Rooney Mara - Carol
5.) Emily Blunt - Sicario
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
1.) Idris Elba - Beasts of No Nation
2.) TIE: Mark Rylance - Bridge of Spies, Mark Ruffalo - Spotlight
3.) Sylvester Stallone - Creed
4.) TIE: Samuel L. Jackson and Walton Goggins - The Hateful Eight
5.) Jacob Tremblay - Room
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
1.) Jennifer Jason Leigh - The Hateful Eight
2.) Sarah Snook - Predestination
3.) Alicia Vikander - Ex Machina
4.) Kate Winslet - Steve Jobs
5.) Jessica Chastain - Crimson Peak
1.) George Miller - Mad Max: Fury Road
2.) Lenny Abrahamson - Room
3.) Quentin Tarantino - The Hateful Eight
4.) TIE: Cary Fukunaga - Beasts of No Nation, Ridley Scott - The Martian
5.) David Robert Mitchell - It Follows
2.) The Hateful Eight
4.) Ex Machina
5.) Steve Jobs
6.) Inside Out
9.) Bone Tomahawk
And that's it for 2015 - here's to an amazing year ahead, and to a year full of great movies.
THE BEST GAMES OF 2015:
- If there's any quick-and-easy way to categorize gaming in 2015, it's that this was the year that the big guns came to play. For the last couple of years, it still felt like we were in that awkward adolescent phase of the latest consoles' lifespan. There were a handful of interesting Triple-A games, a lot of very interesting indie games, but few huge, era-defining blockbusters. It was starting to feel like the way forward for gaming was via the indie game revolution. Maybe we didn't need the big blockbusters anymore. Maybe, even as console hardware grew more powerful, the influence of mobile gaming and digital distribution was taking gaming back to basics.
Well, in 2015 big blockbuster gaming roared back to life, as several megaton releases showcased the power of the PS4 and XBOX One, and made the argument that there is still an immersive experience and a wow-factor that you just can't get elsewhere. Games like Fallout 4, The Witcher 3, Batman: Arkham Knight, and more reigned supreme in 2015. And yet, they co-existed with another wave of amazing and innovative indie games - of which I've only played a fraction. But having the ability to switch between the big AAA games and smaller art-games and retro-throwbacks made gaming great this year. After a period of uncertainty - was console gaming on its last legs? - things finally seemed to fall into place. The games industry seems to be in a relatively good place.
The industry also seemed to finally move past the ugliness of last year's GamerGate fiasco. Sure, there were still remnants of it here and there. But mostly, gaming culture seemed to step up to the challenge of more diverse games and less exclusionary practices both in the games themselves and in the communities that surround them.
There are still some troubling things that cause concern about the industry's future though. The continued struggles of Japanese developers, for one thing. The seeming implosion of Konami seems like a bad portent. If Konami is really getting away from major mainstream game development, that's a sad moment for the industry. There's also a lot of question about Nintendo's future. The Wii U's prospects seem to have lifted a bit this year, with some well-received games (Super Mario Maker, Splatoon, etc.). But where do they go from here? It will be interesting to see whether there's a new Nintendo console announced this year, and it will be interesting to see if the Big N finally tries to be a real competitor to Sony and XBOX - with a new console that can play home to multiplatform games, which for two generations now their consoles have sorely lacked.
And here's hoping that first-party game output ramps up a bit in 2016. I'm excited, for example, that Sony finally seems to have a stacked first-party lineup for the coming year, with much-anticipated games like Uncharted 4, Horizon Zero Dawn, and The Last Guardian on the horizon. This year, I was lucky enough to attend E3 once again. As amazing of an experience as it was, it did feel like the presentations of both Sony and Microsoft felt lackluster. Let's hope that this year's show brings with it some huge new game announcements and surprises. I know that there is sometimes negativity about E3, with people wondering whether the games industry relies too heavily on this once-a-year event to get fans excited about its upcoming product and games launches. I see the point, but I also think E3 is one of the unique things about the gaming industry that makes it so special - a week of pure excitement and anticipation that is like a week of Christmas for video game fans.
On a personal level, this was one of my busiest years ever. Long work days and a re-focus on things like writing kept me from playing anywhere near as many games as I would have liked. And the ones I did play ... well, let's just say that I've only barely scratched the surface of many of my favorites from this year. But I remain incredibly excited about gaming and where it's going. Even with all of the sequels and re-makes out there, I still feel like this is a medium where originality, weirdness, artistry, and innovation still shines and is celebrated. It's a medium with so much cool stuff going on that there's endless room for discovery and discussion. Games were great in 2015, no question.
DANNY'S BEST GAMES OF THE YEAR:
1.) The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
- I finally got to really dive into this one over the holidays, and was sort of blown away. I mean, I loved Skyrim, but I also ultimately prefer games with great stories and characters. And The Witcher 3 felt like the perfect melding of Skyrim's vast open-world high adventure and fantasy with the sort of detailed story/character work we've seen in series like Mass Effect. I also found the combat in the game to be relatively intuitive and a lot of fun - something that can't be said for most of its competition. And finally, the graphics in this one are just unbelievable - with a beautifully-rendered world to explore and discover.
2.) Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
- Metal Gear Solid is maybe my favorite game series ever. I love the mix of badassery and quirkiness. The fifth entry in Hideo Kojima's groundbreaking franchise does not disappoint - a sprawling open-world twist on classic MGS gameplay that also serves as a satisfying swan song to the series. There's been a lot of talk about Kojima's departure from Konami and what it means not just for the company he helped build, but for games in general. I will say this: the fact that a series like Metal Gear - with all its weirdness and idiosyncrasies - can be one of gaming's most revered - well, that's part of why I love the world of gaming. This is a huge blockbuster, sure - but it's also the intensely personal vision of one guy. How many more games like that will we ever see? The end of Kojima's Metal Gear may very well be the end of an era - and for that it should be celebrated.
3.) Tie: Fallout 4 / Batman: Arkham Knight
- Fallout 4 was my first journey into the wasteland, and I was immediately won over by the scope and scale of the world and its endless possibility. The epic opening - in which you see your character's idyllic suburban life shattered by the threat of nuclear war - immediately hooked me in. And I'm now definitely on the bandwagon of loving the series' 1950's-meets-post-apocalypse aesthetic. Plus, this one lets you explore an irradiated version of Boston - how cool is that? Seeing familiar Beantown locations that have been irrevocably-altered post-bomb drop never gets old.
As for Batman: Arkham Knight, well, I love the Arkham series. The latest iteration was, overall, excellent. The graphics were mind-blowingly good, the story was suitably epic, and Gotham has never been more immersive or amazingly-rendered. My only issue was - no big surprise - the Batmobile. As others have talked about at length, the mechanics around the Batmobile just felt clunky - especially as compared to the ultra smooth swinging and combat that have made the series so slick in the past. Batmobile aside though, Arkham Knight is a fitting end to the trilogy, which when all is said and done is one of the coolest Bat-things ever in the history of Batman.
4.) Axiom Verge
- I love the whole "Metroidvania" genre of 2D action-adventure. So Axiom Verge, a lovingly made tribute to games like Metroid was right up my alley. The game looks, sounds, and feels awesome - with just-right throwback graphics and a badass 80's-synth score that evokes the old NES classics. And it's got the classic blast-and-discover gameplay that made games like Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night such all-time greats. What's more, the game knowingly plays with the conventions of the genre, turning certain expectations upside down and introducing intentional glitches in the system that are actually part of the gameplay. If you love old-school games, Axiom Verge is a must-play.
5.) Until Dawn
- A meta horror-adventure game that's like Cabin in the Woods in game form? I'm down. Until Dawn is an interesting game - it's relatively light on gameplay, but it sucks you in with its winning writing, atmosphere, and horror-movie bonafides. It reminded me of Telltale's games in terms of how involving it was - simply by creating the feeling that your every decision is driving the story forward. Plus, give Until Dawn points for originality. An interactive cabin-in-the-woods horror game is such a no-brainer, it's amazing it hasn't been done until now. But Until Dawn pulls off this amazing yet simple concept with style and endless entertainment value.
Other 2015 Recommendations:
- Rocket League
- Game of Thrones (Telltale series)
- Shovel Knight (new to PS4)
- Grim Fandango: Remastered
- NBA 2K16
THE BEST COMICS OF 2015:
- 2015 felt like the year that Image Comics and other like-minded publishers began to seriously dominate the comics industry. This was a year in which Marvel and DC had a lot to live up to. Not only were they competing with each other, but they were competing with the more-popular-than-ever movie and TV versions of their characters and stories. In years' past, the comics always had the better stories. But this year, The Flash TV series seemed to better capture the essence of what DC Comics is all about than maybe any comic that DC themselves put out. On the Marvel side, there were some huge comic book bright spots (Ms. Marvel continues to be something special), but little in the comics seemed to match the fever-pitch excitement that the Marvel movies have been able to generate. I'm not sure what's going on with the Big Two, or why their books have felt so relatively lackluster of late. But what I do know is that Image happily stepped up to fill the void. The publisher has been on a roll for a while now, but in 2015 the amount of great books they were putting out seemed to reach critical mass.
The Image revolution has led to more great comics than I can keep track of. Seemingly every other week, a new #1 comes out that comes highly recommended. New books from old favorites, and new books from fresh new voices. In 2015, we got not one, not two, but three ongoing comics from one of comics' premiere writers, Brian K. Vaughan. Given that he had completely disappeared from the industry for an extended period, following the conclusion of Y: The Last Man, this felt like a minor miracle. And his latest series, Paper Girls, is on its way to becoming a new classic. Other favorite writers - from Greg Rucka to Jeff Lemire - came out with great new comics. Rucka's Black Magick was an out-of-the-gate dose of awesomeness. Lemire's latest, Descender, is one of the coolest sci-fi comics in years. If there was one newer writer who seemed to own 2015 though, it was Jason Aaron. Aaron has been around for a little while, but in 2015 he kind of became "the man." He wrote maybe the best ongoing comic out there, Southern Bastards. He launched a new, edgy book that is shaping up to be something great in The Goddamned. He wrote a few superhero books, including the newly-launched Dr. Strange. And as if that wasn't enough, he anchored the launch of Marvel's new Star Wars line of comics, writing the flagship Star Wars book and making it way better than it had any right to be.
Speaking of Star Wars ... there were a metric ton of Star Wars comics this year (big surprise, right?) now that Marvel gained publishing rights by way of the almighty Disney empire. What was actually a surprise though was how good the books all were. It helped that Marvel got top-notch writers - like Aaron, Rucka, Kieron Gillen, Mark Waid, and more to pen the books, and amazing artists to seal the deal. I am sort of shocked at how much Star Wars stuff I read in 2015. I didn't intend to, but every time a new book launched, I saw one of my favorite writer's names on the cover.
It's going to be an interesting 2016 - not just in terms of comics, but in terms of movie and TV show adaptations. Garth Ennis is one of the best-ever comic book writers - up there in stature, in my opinion, with the greats of the medium. And yet, his comics have never really been adapted for any other medium. That's going to change big-time with the launch of the Preacher TV series in 2016. Will the show maintain the comics' extreme nature and no-holds-barred social commentary? And what will happen when Ennis' even more extreme series, The Boys, becomes a TV show? As a big Ennis fan, I'm excited to see his works go mainstream in the coming year. And yeah, there will be a bunch of Marvel and DC movies and TV series, but hey, you don't need *me* to tell you about 'em.
Back to comics though - the best books that are out there at the moment are all great examples of what the medium has to offer. Diverse characters, diverse genres, diverse creators - something for everyone. Sure, comics still have a long way to go in this respect. But the strides made in 2015 are also nothing to sneeze at. In any case, I've talked at length before about the ease with which one can now buy, read, and even binge-read great comics series. So if you've got an iPad or Kindle then hurry up and get to readin'. I mean, you could simply consume the same entertainment as everyone else, and just get the stuff that's been focus-tested, massaged by executives, and primed for four-quadrant success before it ever hits a screen. Or, you could read comics and get the good stuff when it's hot and fresh and unfiltered.
So here are my picks for the best books of the year. All come highly recommended, and all are a few mere clicks away from your reading enjoyment.
DANNY'S BEST COMICS OF 2015:
1.) Southern Bastards
- I jumped on the Southern Bastards bandwagon earlier this year, and never looked back. With this ongoing comic, writer Jason Aaron has created a world that calls to mind the violent, hard-boiled Western-noir of TV series like Justified - albeit with a hyper-pulpy, over-the-top twist. It's Friday Night Lights on acid - a dark tale of Southern justice in a small Texas town where football is life and where the local high school coach is also the de facto crime boss who rules over the citizenry with an iron fist. The first story-arc of the book centered on Earl Tubbs, who returns to town to try to rid it of the man known as Coach Boss. The second arc centered on Boss and his backstory. But in 2015, the series took some surprising left turns - branching out to tell one-off stories about the book's various supporting characters. In doing so, each new issue of Southern Bastards helped to fill in the book's tapestry of colorful characters and dark secrets. In any case, this feels like the new comic to beat. Aaron has raised his game and is crafting what is, to me, *the* must-read book of the moment.
2.) Paper Girls
- It still feels like writer Brian K. Vaughan is just getting ramped up with his epic space adventure Saga. But in the midst of churning out new issues of that book, Vaughan late this year launched Paper Girls - and the first issue was one of the best #1's I've read in years. The story - about a group of teenage newspaper delivery girls in 1980's suburbia, who find themselves caught up in a crazy time-travel adventure - is a rip-roaring nostalgia trip that feels like a lost Spielberg movie from back in the day. Vaughan has perfectly captured the sense of wonder mixed with slice-of-suburbia Americana that those classic Amblin movies embody, but he's also given the book an additional post-modern twist. By giving his papergirls a glimpse of our future, Vaughan puts this more innocent era into new perspective. Really though, Paper Girls is just a fun, smart, incredibly creative sci-fi adventure. It's Vaughan at the top of his game.
- Multiversity kicked off in 2014 and wrapped up this year with its final four issues, plus a sprawling Guide to the Multiverse special. In a year that was, overall, a bit lackluster for DC, Multiversity stands as the publisher's crowning achievement. It's Grant Morrison's love-letter to DC's weird and wild history - a tour through multiple worlds, each with its own unique attributes, each with its own looping commentary on comic book history. Morrison has long been obsessed with metafiction and fourth-wall-breaking experimentation with narrative. And those obsessions are fully realized here, with comics that speak directly to the reader, making the very act of reading the comic integral to the fates of the characters inside. It's a head-trip, but head-trips are what Morrison does best - and Multiversity is among his trippiest - and best - works yet.
4.) The Fade Out
- Ed Brubaker's maxi-series is a moody look at Hollywood's golden age - a film-noir murder mystery that positively immerses the reader in a world of glitz, glamour, lies, and scandal. The story centers around an it-girl starlet whose murder prompts her writer friend to uncover the conspiracy behind her death. And the book is another example of why Brubaker is one of the best writers working in comics today. Following up on his fantastic series Fatale, The Fade Out re-teams the writer with artist Sean Philips. Philips is a master at doing atmospheric noir art, and he's also at his best with this one. If you're a fan of Brubaker and Philips' previous collaborations, then The Fade Out is a no-brainer. If not, it's high time to get onboard with these guys and their comics - they're one of the best teams in the biz.
5.) Ms. Marvel
- In a relatively short time, writer G. Willow Wilson has made Kamala Kahn - aka Ms. Marvel - into one of the best, most endearing, most vital characters in the entire Marvel stable. Ms. Marvel quite simply overflows with humanity and heart. It's funny, witty, action-packed, and relatable. It's classic superheroics in the grand Marvel tradition, but it's also something entirely new and fresh and so very needed. In a world that tells us that we should hate Muslims, Kamala is a Muslim hero and a legit inspiration in the way that the best superheroes always are. She's a hero who shows us that there *is* a better way, that we *can* find common ground, and that we're *all* in this fight together. I'll go so far as to say that Kamala is giving inspiration to girls, to Muslims, and to a generation of superhero fans (me included!) in the same way that Superman and Captain America once did. She's awesome. But I'm not just a fan of what Ms. Marvel represents - all that aside, this is consistently the best superhero book out there.
- Saga has been *the* comic for the last few years, and it's showing no signs of slowing down. This is the comic you give to your non-comic-reading friends to show them what comics can be. This is the comic that gets people talking. This is the real-deal big-deal of the comics world. Part of the secret to its success is that, as he did with Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina, writer Brian K. Vaughan is crafting a sci-fi epic that's *really* about the everyday issues that we here on planet earth are facing right now. The characters in Saga may have wings and/or horns, but they are more real-seeming than just about any other fictional characters I know. The other big reason for the book's success is the consistently stunning art from Fiona Staples. Oh man, is this book amazing to look at. And it's the same thing - a mix of characters that feel real with stuff that's totally unreal - from aliens who have TV's for heads to giant tree-spaceships. Finally, Saga isn't afraid to change things up. Recent issues have seen a multi-year time-jump that poses a lot of questions about what's happened and where this is all going. I can't wait to find out.
7.) Black Magick
- Okay, I'm sort of ranking this one highly based on speculation that it's going to be really good for a long while. But two issues in, and I'm totally sold on the idea that Black Magick could be the next big thing. Writer Greg Rucka is always reliable as a source of great comics (his other book, Lazarus, has been a favorite for the last few years) - and this story, about a police detective who's also a witch, is a great blend of vintage Rucka (gritty police drama!) with new territory for the writer (magic!). Also - holy lord - the artwork! Artist Nicola Scott is *killing* it so far. I've been a fan of hers for a while from her DC work. But with Black Magick, she's taking it to a whole new level, with an eye-popping black and white style that mixes in selective splashes of color. This one is one to watch - but it's already on a course to be something very special.
8.) The Walking Dead
- I've been pretty frustrated with The Walking Dead TV series of late, but man, the comic that started it all is still going strong. In fact, I've been really digging recent plotlines involving a group of zombie-emulating antagonists known as The Whisperers, and a brewing war between them and Rick's crew. Robert Kirkman remains a writer who knows how to craft a story that has you desperately turning pages in order to find out what happens next. I don't know how he does it. I say this often, but it bears repeating - if you are disillusioned with the TV show, you owe it to yourself to check out Kirkman's comics. There's a reason why it's one of the top-selling comics year in and year out - it's quite simply the best book out there at keeping you on the edge of your seat and wondering what the hell is going to happen next.
- There's been a resurgence of real sci-fi in comics of late, and Descender is leading the charge. Writer Jeff Lemire is another perennial favorite, but this is definitely something different from him. In the past, with books like Sweet Tooth and Trillium, the world-building was always secondary to the character stuff. But here, Lemire is really going for broke - crafting a future-verse full of rich mythology. The story centers around a lifelike android who finds himself on the run - chased across the universe by forces who believe he holds the key to explaining a great disaster that befell humanity decades earlier. There's some sprawling, Mass Effect-scale world-building going on here, but Lemire is also layering in great characters and emotional stakes. Plus, the art from Dustin Nguyen is the artist's best-ever - fluid, expressive line-work that really brings Lemire's story to life.
- Invincible has been one of my favorites for years now, but I'm still a constant advocate for it because it still sometimes seems to be a bit under-the-radar. Robert Kirkman's other big epic (begging to be a TV show for whoever is willing to spend the money) is so consistently good because it's a superhero comic with no corporate obligations. Whereas Superman or Spider-Man will always, inevitably, return to the status quo, Invincible is constantly evolving. This year, Kirkman cleverly played with this idea in his "Reboot?" story-arc, in which a back-to-basics continuity-wipe was teased out as a sort of jab at how frequently the reset button is pushed over at Marvel and DC. It's a perfect example of how Invincible can be wonderfully tongue-in-cheek. At the same time, the book can be legitimately dramatic when it wants to be. But month in, month out, it's a great read. I hope that Robert Kirkman keeps telling Invincible stories for a long time to come.
THE NEXT BEST:
11.) Alex + Ada
-My pick for the best book of 2014, Alex+ Ada - the incredible story of a man who falls in love with an illegally-modified android - wrapped up this year with its final chapters. I'll admit, the book lost a little momentum as it came to its conclusion. But it was still, overall, an amazing read. Can't want to see what's next for this creative team.
12.) Sex Criminals
- Sex Criminals would definitely be ranked higher on my list, if only it came out more frequently. But when new issues have graced us with their presence, it's always a reminder that Sex Crims is fantastically good reading. It's funny, it's bold, it's got some of the best writing - courtesy of Matt Fraction - in all of comics (or anywhere, for that matter). If you're not familiar with the book - well, just read it. Don't be intimidated by the title. Just trust in Fraction. Here's hoping for much more of this one in 2016.
- Lazarus is another favorite that still kicked a lot of ass in 2015 - it just seemed to lose some of its narrative momentum by coming out less frequently. But hey, I still love it. It's Game of Thrones meets The Hunger Games - if Katniss was a genetically-altered warrior who wielded a razor-sharp sword. In any case, I'm excited to see where the story goes in 2016 following the war-between-families that raged for much of this past year. And also, Lazarus is going to be a TV show!
14.) Jupiter's Circle
- This is sort of an interesting one. A while back, prolific writer Mark Millar did a comic called Jupiter's Legacy - all about the rebellious sons and daughters of a Justice League-esque group of superhero legends. But Legacy was cut short after only several issues, set to return at some unspecified point in time. But in the meantime, we've gotten a whole series called Jupiter's Circle, which gives us the backstory of those superheroic parents. Really though, this is an excuse for Millar to do a story about supers in 50's America who pretended to be clean-cut role models but were actually involved in all sorts of scandal. It's classic, Watchmen-esque superhero deconstruction, but done really well.
15.) Star Wars
- Marvel's Star Wars comics have been really good. And Jason Aaron's title - simply titled "Star Wars," has been the best of the bunch. Taking place between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, the Star Wars comic, at its best, has felt like a missing movie in the Star Wars saga - a brisk, cinematic adventure involving all the main Star Wars players. It cleverly fills in story gaps from the original movies, and, in 2015, was just what the doctor ordered to get the hype machine rolling prior to The Force Awakens.
16.) Escape From NY
- Here's one that I had zero expectations for, but that became one of my favorite monthly reads. Spinning off from the cult-classic John Carpenter movie, the Escape From NY comic takes place in the aftermath of the original film - detailing the further adventures of the legendary Snake Plissken. The comic is a ton of fun, and totally captures Carpenter's subversive spirit. There's even a story-arc that serves as a direct sequel to the movie - in which Snake returns to the prison-state of New York - that feels every bit like a lost Carpenter movie we never got.
17.) Silver Surfer
- A consistent favorite since the team of Dan Slott and Mike Allred took over, The Silver Surfer continued to delight in 2015. Sure, there was some sort-of forced tie-in to Marvel's overarching Secret Wars event, but Slott used the story as an opportunity to have the Surfer face an end-of-universe cataclysm. Mostly though, the pairing of a humanized Surfer with his human companion Dawn Greenwood gives the book a whimsical, space-adventure feel. Mike Allred's one-of-a-kind art (seriously, the guy is simply the best) only adds to the cosmic grooviness of it all.
- Under the watchful eye of writer Scott Snyder, the monthly Batman book has been DC's most consistent source of quality storytelling for the last five years, since the dawn of the "New 52." This year, Snyder aimed high and took risks. After an apocalyptic final confrontation between Batman and The Joker, both go missing. To fill the vacuum, Commissioner Gordon assumes the roll of Batman - donning a mechanized Bat-Suit to help him fight Gotham's criminal element. The result is a new kind of Batman - part policeman, part hero. And it's been a wild ride so far - following Gordon's struggles as The Bat, following the mystery of what happened to Bruce Wayne, and following Snyder and artist Greg Capullo as they continue to redefine and re-shape Batman.
19.) The X-Files: Season 11
- Yeah, I'm incredibly psyched that The X-Files will be back on TV in January. It's been a long time coming. But luckily, the excellent comics series has done a good job of keeping the fire burning and the quest for the Truth going in the show's absence. In particular, "Season 11" has been a step up from previous X-Files books, delivering sequels to fan-favorite episodes like "Home," as well as a very compelling myth-arc about a returned, grown-up Gibson Praise who's gone over to the dark side even as he's become more powerful than ever. The series does a great job of capturing the voices of the characters, and has set the stage nicely for things to come - both on and off the air.
20.) Bitch Planet
- Kelly Sue DeConnick's grindhouse feminist sci-fi women-in-prison story is, you guessed it, one of a kind. Insane in the best way possible, the series is wildly and blatantly about female empowerment, even as it plays with the cliches and extremes of vintage exploitation flicks and grindhouse tropes. The book is powered by a righteous sense of anger and purpose, even as the storytelling is unabashedly fun and over-the-top. I'm digging it, and it no-doubt affirms DeConnick - who created a legion of fans via her work on Captain Marvel and its Carol Corps - as one of the brashest, brassiest voices in comics.
Howard the Duck
We Stand Our Guard
Planet Hulk: War Zone
East of West
New Comics: THE GODDAMNED and JACKED
- There were some GREAT brand-new comics that launched at the very end of 2015 that I think deserve mention, if only because they got off to such great starts and will very likely be on the 2016 list. One is the latest from Jason Aaron, THE GODDAMNED - a violent, brutal, uncompromising look at life in the ancient biblical world, pre-Flood, when it was kill or be killed. There's never really been a story like this (save maybe for parts of Darren Aronofsky's movie Noah), and it's clear that this is going to be a hell of a ride. Meanwhile, writer Eric Kripke has made JACKED one to watch in 2016. The story of a middle-aged schlub who gets superpowers, this is a great twist on the classic superhero origin story, written with a distinct comedic voice. I can't wait to see where it goes.
Finales: FABLES and HAWKEYE
- Two all-time classics came to an end in 2015 with one-shot final-issue specials. After a long delay, the final issue of Matt Fraction and David Aja's acclaimed run on Marvel's Hawkeye finally came out, and man, it was a bittersweet moment. The team's run on Hawkeye is one of the best runs of a superhero book - hell, of any comic book - I've ever read. Funny, poignant, poetic, visually-incredible - it's an indisputable modern classic. The finale wrapped up Fraction's take on Clint Barton and Kate Bishop with style and pathos - a fitting exclamation point for an amazing run.
Similarly, the long-delayed Fables finale came out in 2015, ultimately released as an entire volume of the series - in the form of a giant-sized final-issue that featured an epic ending to the long-running series. Saying goodbye to Fables was, for me, a big deal. I'd been reading it since the beginning, having picked up the first trade paperback while in college in Boston. I read Fables every month since, enjoying the main series as well as the spin-offs like Jack of Fables and Fairest. The series had its ups and downs over the years, but I will say that it went out on a high note, with a compelling final storyline that pitted sister against sister, culminating in a final showdown between Snow White and Rose Red. At its peak, Fables was truly something special - a subversive take on classic fairy tale characters, now living in secret in New York City after having been exiled from their homeland. Its versions of classic characters became classic in their own right - with Fables' Snow White, Rose Red, Bigby Wolf, Flycatcher, Boy Blue, Cinderella, Jack of Tales, and countless others becoming all-time favorites of mine as the years went on. And man, talk about all-time great comic book runs. Not only did writer Bill Willingham write hundreds of issues and dozens of story-arcs, but artist Mark Buckingham - his work on Fables - penciling nearly every issue of the series - is one of the greatest ever artistic achievements in comics. Buckingham's incredible, evocative art - with its themed page designs and iconic character looks - was perhaps my favorite thing about this series. In any case, the book is now closed on Fables - happily ever after, etc. No question, one of the great comics of all time.
WRITERS OF THE YEAR:
1.) Jason Aaron (Southern Bastards, Star Wars, The Goddamned)
2.) Brian K. Vaughan (Paper Girls, Saga, We Stand Our Guard)
3.) Ed Brubaker (The Fade Out, Velvet)
4.) Greg Rucka (Lazarus, Black Magik)
5.) Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead, Invincible)
6.) G. Willow Wilson (Ms. Marvel)
7.) Jeff Lemire (Descender, Plutona)
8.) Matt Fraction (Sex Criminals, Hawkeye)
9.) Mark Millar (Jupiter's Circle, Chrononauts)
10.) Grant Morrison (Multiversity, The Nameless)
ARTISTS OF THE YEAR:
1.) Nicola Scott (Black Magik)
2.) Fiona Staples (Saga)
3.) Sean Phillips (The Fade Out)
4.) Cliff Chiang (Paper Girls)
5.) Mike Allred (Silver Surfer)
6.) Babs Tarr (Batgirl)
7.) Dustin Nguyen (Descender)
8.) Chip Zdarsky (Sex Criminals)
9.) Ryan Ottley (Invincible)
10.) Charlie Adlard (The Walking Dead)
Tuesday, December 29, 2015
THE BEST OF 2015 - THE YEAR IN ROCK
- In 2015, I saw some of the best and most memorable concerts that I've ever seen. I saw AC/DC play at Dodger Stadium on my birthday, in what may well prove to the final tour for the legendary rock band. It was an incredible show - I'd seen the band play once before, but this one took the prize for sheer enormity and earth-shaking epicness. Angus Young strutted around the stage like a man possessed. Brian Johnson's voice rang out through the stadium leaving fans thunderstruck. For one night only, we were all passengers on the proverbial highway to hell, and lo, it was good. Seeing AC/DC perform to a sold-out stadium filled with people of all ages - young people, old people, parents with kids - it made me realize that rock n' roll was alive and well, even if the radio won't play it, the media largely ignores it, and the awards shows will barely acknowledge it. People love to rock, and they always will.
And yet, so many of the legendary bands are nearing the ends of their runs - and too many have had their reigns prematurely cut short. You have to wonder - who will be left to carry the torch?
I also saw Rush - one of my all-time favorites - perform live this year, as part of their R40 tour. It now looks like that will also have been their final major tour, following iconic drummer Neil Pert announcing his retirement. Rush has been around for forty years, and in all that time they've continued to innovate. Their incredible, career-spanning live set on the R40 tour took audience-members on a journey from the band's classic-rock roots to its high-concept experimental stuff to its synth-filled prog-rock era to its more modern hits. When will we ever see another band like this again?
One of my favorite new rock songs of 2015 came from The Darkness' new album. Its title track, "Last of Our Kind," felt appropriate in terms of how I felt about rock music this year. Bands like The Darkness sometimes felt like the last survivors of some great rockpocalypse, keepers of an ancient but dying tradition. I think people will come around though. These are crazy times we live in, and crazy times call for rage against the machine. And one of the most cathartic ways to do that is via some good, old-fashioned, rock n' roll. It's why The Interruptor's punk-rock protest song "Take Back the Power" felt like the kind of thing we needed a lot more of in 2015 and will need in the years to come. A straight-up fight-the-power fist-pumper. Not something we're going to get from the Coldplays of the world.
In addition to the aforementioned, life-changing, mind-altering AC/DC and Rush live shows, I saw a bunch of other great live music this year from some of my favorite bands. After decades of being a fan, I finally saw The Offspring live this year at the OC Fair in Costa Mesa - an absolutely kick-ass show that also featured a fantastic opening set from The Interruptors. The hometown hero Offspring brought the house down, and it was amazing to see some of the defining rock songs of my pre-teen and teen years performed live. I also saw another live show from The Scorpions, who released a great new album this year celebrating 50 (!!!) years of rock. The Scorpions don't show their age at all when you see them live. This was my third time, and they destroy every time they go on stage. Opener Queensryche was also pretty excellent. And to cap it off, I saw another legend live - the one and only "Weird" Al Yankovic - at the storied Greek Theater. Getting to the Greek to see Al for the third time was yet another reminder that no one, and I mean no one, puts on a show like the Weird One. Dare to be stupid? Yes, please.
In any case, here are my top rock songs of the year. Here's hoping that as torches continue to be passed, there are bands waiting in the wings ready to keep the fire burning.
DANNY'S TOP ROCK SONGS OF 2015:
1.) Dead Sara - "Something Good"
- Dead Sara put out my pick for 2012's song of the year with "Weatherman," In 2015, they came roaring back with an all-new album, the highlight of which was the timeless, sing-along rocker "Something Good." Dead Sara's latest album has a decidedly 90's alt-rock feel, but "Something Good" blends fuzzed-out 90's sound with the kind of classic rock power-ballad feel that evokes the likes of Heart and other such bands. One thing's for certain, vocalist Emily Armstrong has one killer set of pipes, and she can belt 'em out with the best of 'em. Dead Sara is one of the best things to happen to rock in quite some time,
2.) The Interrupters - "Take Back the Power"
- I discovered The Interrupters by accident. They opened for The Offspring when I saw the band live, and I was sort of blown away by what I saw. When I realized that the lead singer was actually Aimee Allen - who had been a favorite of mine since she did the kick-ass theme song to the Birds of Prey TV show - I was sold. Allen brings amazing vocal chops to the group, and a lot of personality to boot. But what's more, the band is exactly what's been missing of late from the mainstream rock scene - a peppy punk-band who can both sing both tongue-in-cheek party songs and fight-the-power ragers. "Take Back the Power" is going to be a personal rock anthem of mine for a long time to come.
3.) Scorpions - "We Built This House"
- I don't know how they do it, but The Scorpions keep coming out with great rock albums that sound like they'd fit in seamlessly with their catalog in their 80's heyday. "We Built This House" is just a classic Scorpions rocker that showcases their trademark melodic guitar-playing and arena-friendly anthems.
4.) The Darkness - "Open Fire" / "Last Of Our Kind"
- After a lengthy hiatus, The Darkness thankfully re-united a few years ago, and have been on a tear ever since. Their latest album - a concept album with a running barbarian-age theme - continues the band's resurgence. "Open Fire" is just a great throwback rock song, with strong shades of The Cult. "Last of Our Kind" is a soaring rock-ballad with a belt-it-out chorus. These two - and the entire Last of Our Kind album - come highly recommended.
5.) Twenty One Pilots - "Stressed Out"
- Last year I hailed Twenty One Pilots as the next big thing in rock - a totally unique fusion of rock, pop, rap, and EDM. Looks like others felt the same way, as the band has blown up and become huge - their hybrid style winning them fans across multiple music genres. I'll be honest though, I thought their new 2015 album, Blurryface, was a bit of a step down from their breakthrough Vessel. Whereas Vessel raged, Blurryface plays it safer - with a much more pop-y feel. Still, "Stressed Out" is a clear standout - a catchy, super-likable song that showcases the band's trademark rapid-fire rap lyrics with a throw-your-hands-up chorus.
6.) Fallout Boy - "Uma Thurman"
- How can you not like this song? It samples the theme song to The Munsters and is all about Uma Thurman's character from Pulp Fiction. Plus, it's just a really fun dance-rock song that puts you in a good mood. Fallout Boy continues their late-period comeback - and I can't complain that they've seemed to embrace the ways of rock n' roll since they jumped back on the scene. If songs like this one help nudge the mainstream music scene a little bit back towards rock, hey, I won't complain.
7.) The Dead Weather - "Cop and Go"
- Jack White's super-group side-project has been a reliable source of solid, Zeppelin-esque rock for a while now. And so their new 2015 album was a welcome package of straight-up rock grooves, with Alison Mosshart's searing vocals ripping through song after song. My favorite of the bunch is "Cop and Go," a heavy, atmospheric rocker filled with sick riffs and satisfyingly snarling delivery from Mosshart.
8.) Hollywood Vampires - "My Dead Drunk Friends"
- A super-group featuring Alice Cooper, Joe Perry, and Johnny Depp?! Okay, I'm interested. The Hollywood Vampires released a one-shot album this year of mostly covers, but the original track "My Dead Drunk Friends" was a nice bonus. It's a whiskey-tinged barroom elegy to friends that have come and gone -a tribute to the guys Cooper used to party with on the Sunset Strip, where he and other legendary rockers were knows as the Hollywood Vampires. I'm always excited for new Cooper material, so this one was an interesting oddity that also happens to be a nice, down n' dirty rock song.
9.) Weezer - "Thank God For Girls"
- Weezer released a couple of late-in-the-year singles that made for a nice end-cap to 2015's year in rock. "Thank God For Girls" is a fun, tongue-in-cheek song about, well, girls - but it's nice to see Weezer having fun and rocking hard following a few rough patches over the previous decade.
10.) The Offspring - "Coming For You"
- No new Offspring album in 2015, but they did release this one-off single that is vintage Offspring - an aggressive punk-rocker that could easily live alongside the band's old-school material. Seeing The Offspring live this summer, it's amazing what a deep catalog of great songs they have - and also amazing that they continue to put out new material that has been largely excellent. Write them off if you will, but The Offspring can still bring it.
Monday, December 28, 2015
THE BEST OF 2015 - The Best TV Shows of The Year
- Others have said it, but it bears repeating: 2015 was the year of Peak TV. Seriously, every network has good shows now. Really good shows. At least it feels that way. Even if you watched nothing but Netflix in 2015, you still had a potentially full plate. I still have to finish Daredevil. I haven't even started Jessica Jones yet. Or Narcos. Or F is For Family. Or W/Bob & David. Or, probably, the other metric ton of quality TV that Netflix seems to be churning out on a bi-weekly basis. I haven't even mentioned Amazon. Man in the High Castle is supposed to be good. Or how about Casual on Hulu? That's supposed to be good too. It's too much. DVR's across the country are near-capacity. Dinner-table conversations are stuck in an endless loop of "have you seen--?" that usually ends with a round of "nope, but hear it's great!" I routinely see my social media feeds filled with tales of weekend binge-watching in which the watcher has plowed through a solid 13 hours of television over the course of two days. Fear of Missing Out is now the Inevitability of Missing Out. I guess the fun of it is that there's always new stuff to discover. The bad of it is that it never ends.
But really, can one complain about too much of a good thing? A glut of bad TV - that you can complain about. But the stuff that's coming out now is often great. In coming up with my Best of the Year list below, I realized that there are shows that I love - say, Brooklyn Nine-Nine - that despite it being a really solid, really funny show that I look forward to each week - it still couldn't quite make my Top 25 because there was just too much stuff this year that was flat-out awesome. It pained me relegate Children's Hospital - one of the funniest shows ever - to mere honorable mention status (the most recent season was really funny, but not quite up to the standards of previous runs).
What's really encouraging though is how diverse all of these shows are. Not just in terms of casting and points of view (though that's also really great!), but in terms of style, narrative, and genre. I mean, I've watched a lot of TV, and I've *never* seen anything quite like Mr. Robot. The Last Man on Earth is a high concept comedy that, upon its debut, felt completely fresh and different. Nathan For You is just mind-blowingly unique - it wows me and shocks me with each new episode. Rick and Morty is like a direct injection of pure imagination and weirdness and hilarity. How the show even exists I don't know, but man am I glad it does. The risks that cable channels and streaming services are now taking is pretty remarkable. And it's great to see a TV landscape where originality is, increasingly, paying off in terms of ratings and viewer engagement. Where once out-of-the-box series like Pushing Daisies or Veronica Mars struggled to stay on the air thanks to low Nielsen ratings, now they seem like ahead-of-their time forebears of the current Peak TV revolution.
In any case, here are my picks for the Best TV of 2015. Clearly, even though I watched a lot, there's also a lot I didn't watch. So feel free to recommend me your favorites. Just be mindful that my DVR is almost full and I've still got, like, all of Jessica Jones to watch.
DANNY'S TOP TV SHOWS OF 2015:
1. PARKS AND RECREATION
- The final season of Parks and Rec was, quite possibly, the best-ever final season for a TV comedy. Every. Single. Episode was a winning mix of hilarity and heart. And what's crazy is that it made Season 7 of the beloved series the best overall season of the show. When does that happen? I am pretty confident that, years from now, we'll look back on Parks and Rec and think, constantly, "wow, all of *them* were on the same show?" I sort of already do that. Amy Poehler, Nick Offerman, Aziz Ansari, Chris Pratt, Rob Lowe, Adam Scott, Aubrey Plaza, and the list goes on. An all-star comedy cast if ever there was one. The final season of Parks was great even if only viewed as an extended farewell. We got amazing send-offs for Ron Swanson (that Leslie/Ron locked-in-an-office-together episode was an all-timer) and Andy (the Johnny Karate episode was another classic) and the rest of the cast. Additionally though, the final season was the smartest and funniest-ever extrapolation of the show's core theme - diverse people with different views and philosophies coming together to do positive things for each other and for their community. It's this simple message - a vital one in 2015 - that made this little-comedy-that-could the absolute greatest TV series of the year.
- Man, am I going to miss Justified. This was another all-time-great series that came to an end in 2015, but it's a show that absolutely went out with a bang. Season 6 of Justified was just plain badass - it featured a fantastically sinister big bad in Sam Elliott's Avery Markham and an equally great turn from Garrett Dillahunt's as Markham's cold-blooded right-hand-man. But more than that, Season 6 was a great distillation of the themes that have permeated the show from its inception. This season finally brought the contentious relationship of Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder to a head, and their final scenes together - with stars Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins in top form - are already the stuff of legend. Boyd's final comment to Raylan, "we dug coal together ...", made for one of the greatest endings to a TV series ever. You might never leave Harlan alive, but hot-damn did we leave it satisfied.
- The second season of Fargo had a lot to live up to. Coming on the heels of one of the greatest TV seasons in recent memory, how could S2 possibly be as good as Season 1? I was skeptical at first, but as Season 2 wore on I began to realize I was witnessing something truly special. No other show this year did serialized drama with the same kind heady mix of style and substance. Once again, Fargo gave us an unforgettable tale about good people trying to cope with a world in which evil seems to be gaining the upper hand. And once again, the show nailed it - giving us multiple memorable villains (Hanzee! The Gerhardts! Mike Milligan!), fantastically-textured heroes (how good were Patrick Wilson, Ted Danson, and Cristin Milioti?), and lovably in-over-their-head newbie criminals (Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons - both amazing) who fail to realize that, in the world of Fargo, fate is cruel to all but a select few. I watch Fargo and am basically in awe of what creator Noah Hawley does with the show. To do a series based on an all-time classic Coen Bros. movie takes some real chutzpah. But to make a Fargo series that is every bit as good as the film on which it is based, and one of the TV's greatest modern dramas? That takes an enviable amount of talent.
4. NATHAN FOR YOU
- Once again, Nathan For You provided some of TV's most "what-the-hell-did-I-just-witness?" moments of the year. There are so many great comedies on TV at the moment, but Nathan Fielder's boundary-breaking series stands out from the pack because it's so different, so strange, and so consistently shocking and hilarious. In the tradition of Da Ali G Show, Nathan interacts with regular people in a way that exposes them - and in turn all of us - in ways that never fail to be utterly cringe-worthy yet utterly unforgettable. Watching Nathan For You is like witnessing the ultimate life hack in action - a guy who takes ideas to their most extreme in the name of one giant and insane social experiment. Witness the time Nathan makes an entire bar full of people into an avant garde theatrical production. Or the time he literally takes over another person's life, with the guarantee that by the time he's done he will have turned a socially-awkward loser into a local hero. There's nothing else like Nathan on TV. And that's probably a good thing, for the sake of all humanity.
5. GAME OF THRONES
- I think Season 5 of Game of Thrones inspired more think-pieces than any season of any show ever. But if you get past all the somewhat-manufactured controversy, what you're left with is one of the most flat-out epic seasons of TV I've ever seen. It's crazy that a fifth season of a show can provide so many iconic moments and surprises, but they came fast and furious here. The dramatic re-appearance of Daenerys' lost dragon in the fighting pit battle. Circe's already-legendary walk of shame through King's Landing. The beyond-huge Battle of Hardhome - aka the most metal thing to ever appear on TV. Some quit the show this year in frustration, but I found myself more enraptured than ever with it, and can't wait to see what happens next. If nothing else, Season 5 made it clear that this is not fairy-tale fantasy. The world of Game of Thrones is dark, getting darker, and even more bad things are likely on their way. But as long as the show keeps delivering such captivating moments, fantastic characters, and high drama on a scale never seen before on television - then hell yeah, I'm in for the long haul.
6. THE AMERICANS
- Season 3 of The Americans was totally and uncompromisingly brutal. As the focus shifted to the Jennings' daughter Paige, and her growing suspicions about her parent's true identities - the show so easily could have gone off the rails. Instead, the evolution of Paige's relationship with her parents made for extremely compelling viewing. Give credit to this show's incredible cast. I don't know how Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell continue to get snubbed in terms of Emmys - but they are so, so good on this show. Rhys in particular tends to wow me with the multiple identities that his Philip Jennings regularly assumes. Rhys-as-Philip-as-Clark is always fascinating to watch (and Clark's strange and potentially-dangerous relationship with Martha is consistently one of the show's best storylines). Season 3 took the show to often-uncomfortable extremes. We saw the Jennings become increasingly violent, assume increasingly disturbing aliases (Philip forming a relationship with a teenage girl being the most disturbing of them all), and in general cross a lot of lines that I wasn't sure they'd ever cross. Through it all, The Americans remained must-watch, can't-take-your-eyes-off-it TV.
7. RICK AND MORTY
- I was a latecomer to Rick and Morty, so this year I binge-watched through all of Season 1, prior to the start of the newly-launched Season 2. Now, I'm a full-fledged member of the Rick and Morty cult. Somehow, this show feels like the heir apparent to both Community and Futurama. Think on that, for a second, and you get a sense of just how funny, creative, and genuinely imaginative the show is. Anything can and does happen on Rick and Morty, and the show tackles its sci-fi plotlines with a mix of insane absurdist humor, self-referential cleverness, and legitimately interesting science-fiction that would probably be great even if just played straight and not for laughs. The show probably shouldn't work, but it's such an explosion of imagination and creativity and anything-goes humor that it sort of blows my mind in terms of how good it really is. It's also one of the most quotable comedies ever, and it's only on Season 2. I seriously can't wait for more.
8. MR. ROBOT
- I had fallen behind on Mr. Robot, and one day, while stuck at home feeling sick, I decided to binge. Maybe my sickly state added to the show's fever-dream effect. Like some hallucinogenic drug that seeped into my brain, Mr. Robot seemed to take over my entire state of being. I found myself completely immersed in its trippy, mind-bending, reality-is-fluid world, and endlessly obsessed with its many mysteries. Creator Sam Esmail has crafted something really special here - a hacker drama that isn't just about hacking, but about the unreal reality of the way we live today, and the way that our lives can be manipulated - just like computer code - by unseen forces lurking both in the shadows and in the recesses of our own minds. Rami Malek was a revelation here, and the rest of the cast was similarly awesome (and hey, bonus, Christian Slater is back, and he's great!). And what's crazy is that this is only the beginning. Where does Mr. Robot go from here? I have no idea - but it's one head-trip that you won't want to miss.
- Review didn't 100% grab me when I first watched the pilot episode last year, but I gave the series another shot ... and holy lord I'm glad I did. The show is pure comedic genius. Andy Daly, it's creator and star, is a genius. This is one of the most gloriously strange, shockingly dark, and laugh-out-loud funny shows I've ever seen. You probably aren't watching Review - but just trust me, you should be. The premise sounds simple: Andy Daly plays an overeager "life reviewer" who hosts a show-within-the-show, where he's tasked with trying out various life experiences as sent in to him by curious viewers. The catch here is that Daly's experiences tend to make *his* life a living hell. So why does he keep reviewing? It's an existential question that the show gamely teases us with. Is Daly *in* hell? Is he trapped in some kind of weird TV show purgatory? Is his character just naive, or is he a complete sociopath and psycho? Review takes you down a rabbit hole, and oh boy does it go deep. Watching Andy Daly completely ruin his life is one of the funniest things I've ever seen. I don't know what that makes me, but I do know that it makes Review one of the greatest TV shows of 2015.
10. PENNY DREADFUL
- Penny Dreadful in Season 1 was one of those shows whose flaws I was sort of willing to forgive because it was so flippin' cool. A go-for-broke Victorian London-set show about all your favorite gothic-horror literary characters co-mingling? Yes please. But Penny Dreadful went from really cool in Season 1 to legitimately awesome in Season 2. The overarching plot - about a vengeful witch, Evelyn Poole (Helen McRory in top form), plotting revenge on Eva Green's Ms. Ives - was better. And the talented supporting cast - including Billie Piper and Josh Hartnett - got a lot more to do and much more compelling storylines to call their own. But it was Green who once again stole the show - as Vanessa Ives, she's pure pulp-fiction perfection. Case in point: the standout episode of S2, a flashback in which we learn of the period where Ives was mentored by an outcast witch (the "Cut-Wife") who makes a mortal enemy in Poole. It was one of the best episodes of a TV drama this year - overflowing with moody gothic atmosphere, filled with wonderfully intense and creepy performances (Green is absolutely killer), and a definitive sign that Penny Dreadful had made it to the big leagues of great TV.
The Next Best:
11. THE LAST MAN ON EARTH
- Season 2 of The Last Man on Earth has lost a bit of luster vs. Season 1. But when the show premiered back in March, it really knocked it out of the park. Episode after episode delivered huge laughs and shocking twists (how many comedies have shocking twists?!), and Will Forte was just on fire - completely hilarious as the last man alive who maybe isn't quite the last. Season 2 became a little too overcrowded and watered down, but I was encouraged by its top-notch finale. When this show is on top of its game, it's one of the best and funniest shows on the air.
12. SILICON VALLEY
- All hail Silicon Valley, which in its second season continued to be both laugh-out-loud hilarious and a scathing satire of the real Silicon Valley. The show is such a spot-on commentary on corporate America and the tech industry that it can be almost painful at times, but just when things get too serious, the show hits you with some incredible line of instantly-quotable dialogue ("this guy - he #%$&'s!") that reminds you how well the show works as pure comedy. My admiration for Mike Judge continues to grow. He just gets it.
13. BETTER CALL SAUL
- Could Better Call Saul be as good as Breaking Bad? The question sort of hurt my head. Breaking Bad was so singularly amazing that I almost didn't want more. Leave it be. At the same time, Bob Odenkirk is so great that I welcomed the idea of him getting the spotlight. As it turns out, Better Call Saul isn't Breaking Bad, but it is damn good TV. And as Season 1 progressed, you could really sense the show's creative team figuring out how to make Saul its own thing. It's still sort of a work in progress, but when the show is firing on all cylinders - as it did in the already-classic, BB-level, Mike-centric episode "Five-O" it is sheer brilliance. Also: Michael McKean got progressively more great as Saul's older brother. What an amazing comedic actor.
14. THE FLASH
- The Flash = the most purely fun action/adventure series on TV. I mean, I'm a longtime DC Comics obsessive and grew up reading Mark Waid's legendary run on the Flash comics. And this show makes me completely geek-out with each new reveal of a character or concept that I *never* thought I'd see on TV. Gorilla Grodd, Earth 2, Jay Garrick - what bit of DC Comics insanity won't this show bring to life? The possibilities are endless on The Flash, and it's that sense of anything-can-happen imagination, and total embrace of the fun and sense of wonder of its comic book roots, that makes The Flash so endlessly endearing. Match that with a great, uber-likable cast, and you've got a recipe for success that makes this one of my must-watch weekly series.
15. MASTER OF NONE
- Aziz Ansari's sharply-written, keenly observational Netflix comedy is the rare show that seems to completely capture experience both specific and universal. All of my late 20's/early 30's friends who have watched the show have had multiple moments of "yes, exactly!" - because Master of None is such a funny and painfully truthful look at what it's like to be a young adult in America in 2015. Master of None is like the TV version of a great conversation with friends - silly, reassuring, eye-opening, and cause for some self-reflection. And that "Parents" episode - one of the best episodes of a comedy this year.
16. WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER: FIRST DAY OF CAMP
- Wet Hot American Summer is one of my favorite comedy movies ever. To me, it's absurdist comedy perfection - the funniest thing that the collective members of The State ever made. So yeah, I was both excited and nervous about the Netflix prequel series. I mean, as awesome as it was that we were getting more Wet Hot - was this a possible legacy-tarnisher? The answer was, thankfully, that while not quite reaching the blissful comedic highs of the film, this series was, to put it simply, funny as hell. There was so much going on here that it was often hard to keep track of it all, but Showalter, Rudd, Banks, Marino, Lo Truglio, Poehler, Meloni, Ian Black, Wain, Cooper, Bell, and the rest of the all-star ensemble delivered a ridiculous number of laughs - so many that this practically demands a re-watch, Many re-watches. Hell, I want to go watch it right now.
- Six seasons! Yes! Dream achieved, achievement unlocked. Community's final season ended up on Yahoo, of all places. Truly a symptom of too many places trying to distribute too much TV. But also, truly, a gift for fans who have stuck with this underdog cult comedy through thick and thin. The show's new home let it be whatever it wanted to be. That meant that creator Dan Harmon could go hog-wild, crafting extra-long episodes with wildly-random tangents and extreme levels of anything-goes absurdity. Sometimes, it came off as a bit indulgent. But most times, Community's sixth season was a very welcome, very awesome return to form - with some great new cast members (Keith David!), many memorable plotlines (Garrett's wedding was a gut-bustingly hilarious classic), and several classically quotable bits that must take their place in the Community cannon ("you bet your ass I've seen The Lawnmower Man!"). If you somehow missed Community's for-real-this-time finale, track it down asap. We'll not see a comedy as good as this one for a long while. Now bring on the movie!
18. MAN SEEKING WOMAN
- Here's one that many people missed out on, but this was one of the best new series of 2015 - a very creative, super spot-on comedy about dating in the digital age. The twist here is that all of the misadventures of nerdy single guy Josh (well-played by Jay Baruchel) manifest as crazy sci-fi and fantasy flights of fancy. So when a party that Josh is forced to attend feels like hell-on-earth, it turns out that he really is in hell. When a group of girls feels like they might as well be alien beings, it turns out they *are* aliens. It could be gimmicky if done poorly, but Man Seeking Woman does an amazing job of bringing the real sorts of awkward moments and social dilemmas we all face to life in crazy and unexpected ways. And by the way - there's a brilliant episode of the show, "Woman Seeking Man," that totally flips around the formula and gives us all of this from a woman's perspective. If you've yet to get onboard, highly recommended to catch up before Season 2 starts in early 2016.
19. THE UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT
- "Unbreakable!" The series' theme song is a joyously pop-y tune that, immediately gets you in the right mindset for this fun and often hilarious comedy from the creators of 30 Rock. But wait, this fun and hilarious comedy is about ... a woman who'd been kidnapped and held in an underground bunker as part of a religious cult - who now, at 29, has finally been freed and released back into the world? Dude. That's dark. And so it is that Kimmy Schmidt balances upbeat comedy with a real streak of darkness and pain that's often there between the lines of the show. But the brilliance of it is that the smart writing (which churns out 30 Rock-levels of quotable dialogue) works in tandem with star Ellie Kemper (and the fantastic supporting cast) to make Kimmy a unique comedy about emerging from darkness and living life to the fullest. Kimmy is indeed unbreakable, and so too, seemingly, is this show.
20. KEY & PEELE
- And another one bites the dust. Key & Peele was the gold-standard for TV sketch comedy for the last couple of years - bringing social relevance, cinematic production value, and an endless stream of memorable comedy bits and recurring characters to the TV comedy landscape. The show ended right as it was at the height of its powers, as its two stars are off to make movies. But Key & Peele ended with a great final season. Not every sketch hit, but every episode had at least one or two instant-classics. MC Mom? the Gremlins 2 pitch? Just two of the many great sketches from this season. So yeah, Key & Peele was my jaaaam ... and I'm sad to see it go.
21. DOCUMENTARY NOW
- In which Bill Hader and Fred Armisen hilariously skew documentaries. Need I say more? This show is so dryly funny that, at first glance, you might think you're watching an actual documentary. But man, some of the episodes of this show were just instant classics. My favorite? "The Eye Doesn't Lie," a drop-dead hilarious true crime parody where Fred Armisen plays a falsely-convicted man who is so irritating that nobody cares to see him exonerated. Oh, and how about the two-part "Blue Jeans Committee" finale - an amazing homage to / parody of various "whatever happened to that band?" docs. Can't wait for more.
- I'm still sort of in catch-up mode on iZombie, but this is one of those shows that I'm glad exists. It's the spiritual successor to the likes of Veronica Mars - a noir mystery series with a strong female protagonist, tons of great hard-boiled dialogue, a meaty ongoing plotline combined with tightly-written cases of the week, great characters, and witty pop-culture references a-plenty. Oh, and zombies. Rob Thomas made Veronica Mars into one of the all-time great cult TV series, and he's making iZombie into a more-than-worthy follow-up. It's a show with bite, badassery, and yes ... brains.
23. BROAD CITY
- You've got to love Broad City, Okay, maybe the show's sophomore season was a bit same-y at times in comparison to the breakthrough Season 1. But still, the comedic chemistry between Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer is unmatched, and I could watch these two get into big-city misadventures all day. Hannibal Buress also continues to be a really funny supporting character on the show as well. I can't wait to see where Season 3 takes us. Broad City has a crazy comic energy to it that makes it one of the most refreshingly funny series out there - with a unique voice that is wholly and completely its own.
24. CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND
- Rachel Bloom became a viral video sensation for combining smart ideas with anything-goes, surprisingly subversive comedy. She brings that same sort of killer comedy combo to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a show that's got a lot more going on than you might think at first glance. The show has an authenticity to it that keeps the comedy real, even as it goes crazy (no pun intended) with elaborate musical numbers that make it stand out from the rest of the comedy competition. The songs aren't just catchy though - they're hilarious, smart, and bitingly-satirical - with Rachel riffing on everything from Christmas in California to unrealistic beauty standards for women. So please don't assume that this show is fluff - it's anything but. In a short time, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has become a truly standout series - and Bloom has become one of the freshest voices in TV comedy.
25. MASTERS OF SEX
- Some derided S3 of Masters of Sex as a step-down in quality. I can see where some of the criticisms have validity - overall, the show lacked the sustained narrative drive of Seasons 1 and 2, and suffered a bit through plotlines that felt meandering or disposable (yes yes, we all know about the gorilla episode and how bad it was). But with that said, I still think this is one of the best overall dramas on TV, and even in a weaker season, it's got moments of true gravitas that are high-water marks of serialized storytelling. I mean, Michael Sheen continues to kill it on this show. He makes Dr. Masters a tragic hero, filled with hubris and epically poor judgement, but always charging forward with a determination to prove the world wrong. That determination and drive is what makes him such a great companion and foil for Lizzy Caplan's Virgina Johnson. The two have a captivating on-screen relationship that, for me, continues to make Masters of Sex a must-watch.
- Children's Hospital
- Inside Amy Schumer
- Brooklyn Nine-Nine
- The Grinder
- The Goldbergs
- American Horror Story: Hotel
- Agent Carter
- Orphan Black
- Scream Queens
a.) INSIDE AMY SCHUMER, "12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer"
- Inside Amy Schumer didn't quite crack my top 25 series list. But this one episode, "12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer," was one of the best episodes of anything in 2015. Instead of the usual format of a few sketches mixed with interview segments, this one gave us one, episode-length short-film about a jury weighing in on Schumer's viability as a Hollywood actress. Absolutely scathing, incredibly funny, and completely on-point, the episode (filled with an all-star cast of comedy-royalty guest stars) is the best thing I've ever seen from Schumer and an all-time great episode of TV.
b.) THE GRINDER
- This one also didn't make my Top 25, but I have a strong feeling it will be there next year. The show is just getting started, but it's already one of the funniest comedies on the air. Rob Lowe continues his post-Parks and Rec momentum here, just spot-on hilarious as a former TV actor who played a lawyer now trying to be an actual lawyer. A great cast, sharp writing, lots of laughs - this is one to watch in 2016 and beyond.
- I wanted to mention Supergirl because it's still finding its legs, but it's got a ton of upside. Melissa Benoist is fantastic in the lead role, and as long as she's anchoring the show it's got all the potential in the world to be great. Recent episodes have begun to really capture the same sort of heart and comic book-inspired fun that makes The Flash work so well, so I think this is another show to really keep an eye on.
d.) BLACK MIRROR - "White Christmas"
- Black Mirror became a viral sensation in the US last year, when the British series was released on Netflix. Finally, just as 2015 is coming to a close, the series' Christmas special was made available in the US, and it's a hell of a holiday treat. A dark and disturbing Twilight Zone journey into a future-gone-wrong, this series of three interlocking holiday stories - featuring Jon Hamm - is another seminal installment of Black Mirror. This show is so good - I can't wait for the new episodes that Netflix is producing.
The Best TV Heroes of 2015:
1.) Raylan Givens - Justified
2.) Vanessa Ives - Penny Dreadful
3.) Lou Solverson and Hank Larrson - Fargo
4.) Liv Moore - iZombie
5.) Barry Allen and Kara Danvers - The Flash / Supergirl
The Best TV Villains of 2015:
1.) Boyd Crowder - Justified
2.) Avery Markham - Justified
3.) Hanzee and Mike Milliagan - Fargo
4.) Olivia Poole - Penny Dreadful
5.) Dr. Harrison Wells - Flash
The Best TV Anti-Heroes of 2015:
1.) Philip and Elizabeth Jennings - The Americans
2.) Saul Goodman and Mike Ehrmantraut - Better Call Saul
3.) The Creature and Lily Frankenstein - Penny Dreadful
4.) The Countess, Liz Taylor, and James Patrick March - American Horror Story: Hotel
5.) Captain Cold - The Flash
Best Actress in a Comedy:
1.) - Amy Poehler - Parks and Recreation
Runners Up: Ellie Kemper - Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Rachel Bloom - Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy:
1.) Noel Wells - Master of None
Runners Up: Aubrey Plaza - Parks and Recreation, Gillian Jacobs - Community, Alison Brie - Community, Kristen Schaal - Last Man on Earth, Elizabeth Banks - Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp
Best Actor in a Comedy:
1.) Andy Daly - Review
Runners Up: Will Forte - The Last Man on Earth, Aziz Ansari - Master of None, Nathan Fielder - Nathan For You, Rob Lowe - The Grinder, Michael Showalter - Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp
Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy:
1.) Nick Offerman - Parks and Recreation
Runners Up: T.J. Miller - Silicon Valley, Chris Pratt - Parks and Recreation, Andre Braugher - Brooklyn Nine Nine, Christopher Maloney - Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp
Best Actress in a Drama:
1.) Eva Green - Penny Dreadful
Runners Up: Keri Russell - The Americans, Lizzy Caplan - Masters of Sex
Best Supporting Actress in a Drama:
1.) Cristin Milioti - Fargo
Runners Up: Emilia Clarke - Game of Thrones, Lena Heady - Game of Thrones, Carly Chaikin - Mr. Robot, Portia Doubleday - Mr. Robot, Kirsten Dunst - Fargo
Best Actor in a Drama:
1.) Matthew Rhys - The Americans
Runners Up: Rami Malek - Mr. Robot, Patrick Wilson - Fargo, Michael Sheen - Masters of Sex, Bob Odenkirk - Better Call Saul, Timothy Olyphant - Justified
Best Supporting Actor in a Drama:
1.) Walton Goggins - Justified
Runners Up: Ted Danson - Fargo, Jesse Plemons - Fargo, Evan Peters - American Horror Story: Hotel, Jonathan Banks - Better Call Saul, Martin Wallström - Mr. Robot
And there you have it, folks - my picks for the best TV of 2015.