I no longer review stuff on this blog, but I don’t mind taking a day to look back on the best media I experienced in 2015. I didn’t spend as much time reading, watching movies and television, or playing video games as I would have liked, but I did enjoy some notable works, and here are the best of the best. (For clarification, this list includes only media I experienced for the first time in 2015. I’m featuring neither old favorites I revisited nor new episodes of shows I’ve seen.)
After I’ve shared my favorites, feel free to share yours in the comments! What great films, books, television shows, or video games did you enjoy in 2015?
Here are mine.
Best Live Action Film: Mad Max: Fury Road
This film is a work of art, and also an action movie with spiky cars and fire-spewing electric guitars. Mad Max: Fury Road is an action film in the purest sense, with sparse dialogue and explosive momentum. The movie is basically a two-hour car chase through a dystopian wasteland, yet manages to convey (amid explosions) meaningful themes such as guilt, redemption, the empowerment of women, and the worth of human life. The film also gets bonus points for its oversaturated, brightly-colored scenery: a welcome change from the bleached, washed-out look of most dystopian movies. Fury Road is stupid, campy action elevated to an art form: a film with all the ferocious beauty and power of an erupting volcano.
Best Animated Film: Inside Out
Pixar films nearly always leave an emotional impression, so it’s only to be expected that a Pixar film about emotions makes a terrific impact. Inside Out nearly made me cry in the movie theater, and I’m not a person who cries. Pixar’s best movies have a simple premise, and this one is no exception: What if your emotions were tiny people inside your head? Inside Out tells two intertwining stories: the fantastical journey of a little girl’s emotions inside her mind, and the consequent struggles of that little girl to accept the changes in her life. This film warms the viewer’s heart, but only after it has finishing breaking it. Inside Out is a sad, joyful movie… which seems appropriate, as Sadness and Joy are two of its most important characters.
Best Fiction Book: The Once and Future King
The Once and Future King is a retelling of King Arthur’s life. Like Inside Out, this story is both happy and sad; unlike that film, this novel leans much more heavily toward sadness than happiness. The epic backdrop of the Arthurian legends is used here as a stage for the intimate stories of Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere. Fragments of the old legends—the Round Table, the Grail Quest, Mordred’s betrayal—are woven neatly into two stories: the king who spends his life trying to do the right thing, and the knight whose loyalties are forever divided. Both men are great heroes, and both are doomed from the start. As it reinvents old stories for our cynical age, The Once and Future King is funny, sad, and well worth reading.
Best Nonfiction Book: All Groan Up
Its title is a really bad pun, but this is not a bad book. (Seriously, though, that title causes me physical pain.) This memoir of a young man’s post-college panic, crises of faith, search for employment, and painful transition to adulthood is eerily similar to my own experiences. Paul Angone tells his story with openness, honesty, Jon Acuff-like humor, and way too many silly metaphors. In the end, despite its stylistic quirks, his story is well worth reading for all those college-age adults who feel lost, alone, ashamed, and hopeless. I wish I had read this book five years ago.
Best Console Video Game: Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
This is probably the most beautiful game I have ever played. With visuals inspired (and some contributed) by the legendary Studio Ghibli, and music by noted composer Joe Hisaishi, this game looks and sounds amazing—and it plays beautifully. The game’s story of a little boy searching for his mother is touching and bittersweet… except for when it’s cute and hilarious, which it frequently is. The Final Fantasy-meets-Pokémon gameplay may be a bit deep for casual players, and the ending is unsatisfying, but these are nitpicks. Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is magical. And it’s getting a sequel!
Best Handheld Video Game: Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask
“A true gentleman leaves no puzzle unsolved,” and Professor Hershel Layton is the truest of gentlemen. Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is a delightful collection of puzzles, strung together by the most intriguing Professor Layton story I’ve seen yet. The good Professor’s search for the diabolical relic known as the Miracle Mask is packed with interesting characters, charming visuals, good voice acting, and (of course) scores upon scores of puzzles to solve. This is a game for everyone, casual players and veteran gamers alike. In fact, the only people for whom I can’t recommend this game are those with no feeling, soul, or sense of humor.
Best Live Action Television Series: Marvel’s Daredevil
I’ve already written two entire blog posts about the excellence of Marvel’s Daredevil, so I won’t add much here. I’ll just point out one more fun detail: a scene set in a Hispanic lady’s home contains a two-liter bottle of Inca Kola. (I grew up drinking Inca Kola in Ecuador.) That is serious attention to detail.
Marvel’s Daredevil has a breakable hero, a fascinating villain, great writing, brilliant action scenes, a gripping (and grounded) story, and an artistically comic-booky visual style. This show is superb.
Best Animated Television Series: Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun
This anime isn’t a masterpiece by any means, but there’s something compelling about its unromantic romance writer and his quirky entourage of artists. Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun is neither a romantic comedy nor a satire, but something in between. It never feels cynical or mean-spirited as it deconstructs rom-com clichés; the show’s self-aware humor is balanced by a heartwarming charm and innocence. As an added bonus, the show offers fascinating glimpses into the process of making manga (i.e. Japanese comics). It’s fairly short and available only in Japanese with English subtitles, but Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun is delightful.
What are some of the best media you experienced in 2015? Let us know in the comments!