Dec 17, 2015

Posted by in Featured, Ramblings

Stuff I Liked in 2015

Stuff I Liked in 2015

I’ve done something like this the last few years.  Not really a Top 10 list of just films or albums or TV shows or anything like that, just a list of stuff that came out in the last year from the world’s of entertainment.  So, yes, films and music and TV, but also sport and theatre and books and all that jazz.  Anyway, here’s some stuff I liked in 2015.  You might like some of it as well.  I dunno, give it a go.  Also this is just rambling discussion of stuff I liked so I assume, nay guarantee, typos.

FILMS

I did not see nearly as many films this year as I normally would on account of being stupidly busy.  A lot of the new releases I saw weren’t great to be honest.  But then a lot were.  And as for all the big ‘must see’ blockbusters, I didn’t really see any of them since they’re all basically the same movie with slightly different actors in them.  Which is why I’m comfortable posting this before Star Wars has come out because I’m not going to see it anyway.

mad-maxOne film that came out this year that you might consider a blockbuster, despite it having nowhere near an Avengers style budget that I did like was Mad Max: Fury Road.  I would go so far as to say it is my film of the year.  I was slightly concerned going into the theatre as I am such a fan of the first two Mad Max films but there had been positive review after positive review so I went off to see it, on the biggest screen I could find, and in 3D.  Full of hope and fear.  But then there is a moment, not far into the film, where the camera rises up on a crane to reveal Max, with a battered Interceptor, on a cliff top, and I knew everything was going to be ok.

It is an action film, make no mistake about it, but it is also a deeply political one.  It’s as smart as it is out and out bonkers.  It takes every single aspect of filmmaking and turns it up to eleven and somehow never falls in on itself.  On paper, it shouldn’t work.  But it does.  Thunderingly well.  It’s as five stars as five stars gets for me.  And I’m no action movie fan.

There were two other films that stood out for me in the last year.  Pixar’s Inside Out which pretty much is somewhere in the Top 10 of every critic’s list for 2015 and then another that will be in very few.  Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland.  It tanked at the maxresdefaultbox office and divided critics.  Some loved it, some hated it, some didn’t know what to make of it.  I adored it.  Like Fury Road, it could’ve been a disaster.  Another Disney movie based on a ride?  Instead it was that classic sort of adventure Hollywood used to make before it got all cynical and more interested in shifting action figures.  The politics is powerful, but not oversold.  It’s very well acted with George Clooney and Hugh Laurie having a blast while Britt Robertson is a revelation.  It’s damn funny and also just great fun.  And it is a visual delight.  Seriously, I think the reason it tanked was because in this age of franchises and big set pieces, marketers just had no idea how to sell it.  And more the pity.  Hopefully it finds an audience on VOD like that other Brad Bird masterpiece, The Iron Giant did.

digging-for-fireSome other stuff I caught that was great was Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck and Hackney’s own Asif Kapadia’s documentary Amy.  On the indie front I enjoyed (perhaps that’s the wrong word because it’s an often depressing watch) Digging For Fire and Queen of Earth is all the right kinds of creepy. Ex Machina was fantastic and so too was Going Clear and Bridge of Spies.  Oh, and was Birdman this year or last?  I think I saw it last year.  If not, that was incredible.

And there’s lots of films out this year I’m yet to see that I’m looking forward to like CarolA Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on ExistenceTrumboRoom, JoyBrooklyn and so very many more.  I did not see a lot this year that I wanted to.

MUSIC

I never know what’s new music and what’s stuff I just haven’t heard before so some of this may not technically be 2015 but you know, this stuff can happen.

imgresMy album of the year was definitely one from this calendar year.  Public Service Broadcasting’s The Race For Space is one hell of a thing.  If it were the old days I would’ve bought two copies just in case I damaged one record, I’d have an instant backup.

Some of my favourite artists released new albums this year so I was always going to like them even if they were career lowlights.  Thankfully they weren’t and David Gilmour’s Rattle That Lock is superb, as was his gig at the Royal Albert Hall, and Cold Chisel’s The Perfect Crime is another fine entry into their catalogue.  Nick Cave released two live solo albums this year that were a good listen and the gig we went to that was recorded for one of the albums an absolute belter evening.

I go very hot and cold on most of Florence + The Machine’s work but though their album this year, How Big How Blue How Beautiful a very fine thing indeed.  Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly made a hell of a lot of Top 10 lists and for good reason.

glen-hansard-2015-picSleater-Kinney’s No Cities to Love got played a hell of a lot in this household as well.  And Glen Hansard’s Didn’t He Ramble which is without doubt one brilliant album also contained what I’d have to say is my favourite song of the year.  There’s something about Lowly Deserter that just does it for me on every level.  Not just the music or the lyrics but the spirit of it and the absolute joy that Hansard has in pretty much everything he does.  The performance of this song on Colbert was one of my overall favourite things of 2015 actually.

Also there’s usually something at Robin and Brian’s Christmas Compendium of Reason shows that blows one’s mind and this year proved no exception.  And whilst performing on stage with the likes of Alison Moyet, Charlotte Church and Grace Petrie doing a cover of ‘God Only Knows’ was certainly a highlight, Jack Leibeck’s string quartet playing two beautiful pieces written many moons ago by an organic chemist was quite honestly breathtaking.

THEATRE

99295Like film, I didn’t see as much theatre this year as I would’ve liked.  Obviously (for those who know me IRL) I saw a lot at The Old Vic and luckily some of the year’s best theatre happened there.  Daniel Kitson and Tim Key’s Tree was probably the funniest thing I saw on a stage this year, closely followed by Martin McDonagh’s first new script in 10 years, Hangmen.  I caught that at the Royal Court but it’s since transferred so unlike Tree,  you can still catch that.

Science came to the London stage in a pretty big way this year too and two of the headliners in the ‘science done as drama’ category, which isn’t officially listed at the Olivers just yet, also turned out to be damn good.  The RSC’s Oppenheimer was relentless in both it’s drama and it’s quality.  A tight script that really could’ve got flabby in other hands, great performances and some of the most inventive direction I’ve seen in a straight play in a while made it’s 3 hour runtime race by.  And then there was Photograph 51which could’ve sold out on the fact Nicole Kidman was playing Rosalind Franklin alone.  Instead it delivered a top notch play, an unexpectedly funny one, and a hell of a performance from Kidman.

lorax1But the best show I saw this year was almost certainly the production currently running at The Old Vic.  In a word, The Lorax is magical.  It is nothing but sheer joy from beginning to end.  The music is perfect, the performances even more so.  More than perfect is a thing apparently.  And while the message of the story, the well known one of conversation, could be clunky and heavy handed especially in a children’s show, it never is.  It balances the silly and inventiveness so well you never feel like you’re being lectured.  And The Lorax himself is probably going to be the best thing you see on a stage for some time.  And if this sounds like an ad now, I promise you it’s not.  Go to The Lorax and go now for it’s only on another 6 weeks.

TELEVISION

Here’s where it gets tricky.  To my mind television, or what we now call television including as it does Netflix, VOD and such, has never been as good as it is now.  There is more quality being produced on the small screen than the big.  Although my screen is quite big.  I mean, where to even begin?

Some truly brilliant shows had their finales this year.  The Parks and Recreation finale was satisfying if not groundbreaking.  The Mad Men finale was perfect in almost every way which is fitting since Mad Men itself, to my mind, is one of the finest TV shows ever made.  It’s final season was so fitting, so good, I mean, just so good, Mad Men was, in its final year, the best show of 2015 for me.  And then the finale of Community might just have been the best episode of all of Community which is no mean feat.

New seasons of old shows maintained incredible levels of quality, like Key and Peele, Inside Amy SchumerThe Last Man on Earth, Brooklyn Nine Nine, Review and Utopia.  Other shows, already great in their first seasons, somehow made epic leaps in season 2.  Ricky and Morty, BoJack Horseman and Fargo being the prime examples. And then Please Like Me did the same thing, albeit in season 3.

071615-fargo-season-2-kirsten-dunst-jesse-plemonsWith the end of Mad Men, and based on the strength of season 2, I think it’s fair to say that Fargo is the best drama (although in many ways it’s actually a very dark comedy) on TV right now.  Every facet clicks perfectly.  The direction in particular is, without question in my mind, so far above anything else on TV at the moment it’s just silly.  And while it’s fair to say that Kirsten Dunst already has a pretty enviable CV with a pile of great performances on it, to say Peggy Blomquist is her career best work would be some understatement.  Quite simply put, it’s one of the best acting performances of the year, in anything.

And I don’t know if it counts as a new show or a sequel or a prequel or what but I known that Hot Wet American Summer: First Day of Camp was entirely brilliant.

maxresdefaultAnd then there were new shows too.  David Simon continued to prove that he is one of the most masterful makers of television in history with Show Me A Hero.  Tina Fey and Robert Carlock proved 30 Rock was in no way a fluke with the brilliant Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt which, by the way, beats out I Dream of Jeanie for having the most catchy theme song ever.  Then there was You’re The Worst and The Ex PM and With Bob and David Oh, and Documentary Now! and The Jinx and Another Period and while it certainly struggled to start, The Muppets is starting to find its feet.

And chat shows, or late night shows, or whatever they’re called now, morphed into something else this year.  They became hitmakers for YouTube.  Corbert, Corden, Kimmel, Conan, Meyers and Fallon all doing something different to each other and bringing the joy back to that staple of television, American late nights.  And then there was Trevor Noah who stepped into TV’s biggest shoes and found they fitted just fine thank you very much.

Oh, and then there’s that other guy that deserves a paragraph all to himself.  You might well argue that right now it’s John Oliver’s world and we’re just living in it.

p037445vThe BBC continued to trot out the best science programming in the world.  Apart from further brilliance from staples like Horizon and The Sky at Night, David Attenborough’s latest, The Huntupped the ante yet again.  And Helen Czerski’s new series Colour, was a breath of fresh air and fantastic to boot, as was Jim Al-Khalili’s special on Sellafield.  And the coverage of Tim Peake’s launch whilst excellent overall was kind of cheating in the end because you could just stick in a camera pointing at Chris Hadfield and walk away and it’d be five star TV.

And I didn’t even mention The Secret River or Veep or House of Lies or Louie or Inside No. 9 or Togetherness or…

And I still have to watch Bloodline and Mr Robot and Hannibal and about a million other things.  It’s actually intimidating how much good TV there is right now.

VIDEO GAMES

After what I would loosely call a shithouse year for games in 2014, 2015 delivered in spades.  There were so many great games released this year I haven’t had time to play most of them.  But from what I did, here’s what I liked.

maxresdefault-1The re-issue of Journey was again a delightful experience I’d recommend you checked out. Life is Strange didn’t always work, but when it did, it was terrific and most importantly in games these days, refreshingly different.  The same could be said for Her Storya great idea let down by some clumsy mechanics on the iPad.  Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture could never have been accused of not trying something different as well, and it was a game I was greatly looking forward to, and it did have moments, but in the end just found it incredibly tedious.

I normally find time in these year round ups to praise the latest issue of the NBA 2K franchise as well, saying that, yes, there’s still problems and it’s still a bit buggy but it’s still a great game.  This year’s edition however, for me, is a bit of a trainwreck.  The much hyped Spike Lee section is bad beyond words.  But this is meant to be about things I liked this year so let’s move on quickly.

482105-fallout-4-live-actionAssassin’s Creed:Syndicate is a somewhat return to form for the franchise.  Yes, it’s still an AC game and it gets tired pretty quickly but Victorian London is just so damn pretty it’s hard to not want to spend time there.  The Commonwealth wasteland of Fallout 4 is pretty in an entirely different post apocalyptic way.  And while Fallout 4 does bring a lot of new stuff to the table, at its heart, it is really just another Fallout game however it’s hard to be critical of that when it’s been 7 years since the last one unlike the yearly churn out of AC. Also, it’s just a better game in my opinion.  The characters more developed, the world more alive, the whole thing just a more enjoyable gaming experience and I’m enjoying it immensely.  And whilst it contains a plethora of side quests and little tidbits to do away from the main story it never feels as pointless or disconnected as the same things do in AC.  One of my main criticisms of Ubisoft games in general has been the way every little thing is marked out on the map.  Fallout 4 doesn’t do that.  It maintains it’s sense of exploration and surprises as you stumble across new things, just wandering the wasteland.

I was also enjoying, although getting increasingly frustrated to be honest, with The Phantom Pain.  I’ve never been into the MGS franchise but had been enjoying the fifth installment.  I didn’t find it to be as groundbreaking as many in that while the missions are great, the world itself feels entirely dead.  That said I’ll be getting back into it when I’m down with Fallout 4.

And then, for sim fans, after the crushing shitheap that was the new Sim City, Cities: Skylines arrived and made everything fun again.  It really is the best city builder out there right now and you should definitely check it out.

witcher3But finally there is my game of the year that would easily slot into one of my top games of all time.  The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has pretty much everything you could ever want in a game.  The gameplay is top rate, the graphics beautiful.  There’s an incredible amount to do and almost all of it is fun.  And it’s challenging too.  It tries new things and almost all of them work. And there’s a tonne of new content provided by the publishers for free, not some 99p paid for add on.  And then there’s the kicker for me, the thing that I long for in games now more than ever.  The story.  It is not something just wrapped around an excuse to shoot at shit which is 99% of AAA games these days.  The story is smart, complex, clever, engaging, dramatic and funny.  Seriously, it’s incredibly well written.  And acted.  And the whole word is just alive.  A real, living breathing place.  It is a spectacular achievement almost unlike anything else I’ve ever played.  And in a rarity for pretty much any major game released ever, it’s refreshing unsexist.

Also Gwent.

SPORT

Yes, I continue to be that rare thing, a nerd who works in science who loves sport.  And there’s been some brilliant sport this last year.

The Rugby World Cup was quite possibly the best there’s ever been.  Japan’s win over South Africa.  England’s shock exit. Australia’s defence.  Wales’ victory over England.  New Zealand’s everything.  It was a hell of a tournament and a review film is a must.

danny_kent_austin_race_2015In my beloved MotoGP it was a season to remember for as many good reasons as it was bad.  The most deserving man won the title, Bradley Smith came of age, a Brit won the Moto3 title and Phillip Island produced a race for the ages.  That’s some of the good.  The bad would be Moto2 in general, although Johan Zarco was a worthy winner.  And then the whole Valentino Rossi debacle which I, and many, many others, have wrote about elsewhere in length.  From Malayasia onwards the sport suffered at the hands of a spoiled child.  But it will recover, one hopes, next year.  There is also the tantilising prospect of Casey Stoner, back at Ducati, doing a wildcard. 

stephen-curry-nba-playoffs-golden-state-warriors-cleveland-cavaliers2-850x560In the NBA there was the Golden State Warriors and Stephen Curry.  That’s all that needs to be said. In many years to come he is the sort of player you’ll tell children you saw play.  He is, in a word, unbelievable.  My favourite moment of the year in sport was probably Steve Kerr’s reaction to the play at the end of this clip.  Elsewhere in the NBA the emergence of Jimmy Butler has been a joy to watch, as a Bulls fan, and the continuing amusing antics of Dirk Nowitzki.  If you’ve not seen The Perfect Shot yet, you really should.  

OTHER STUFF

51KWrsAm2QL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_You know, like radio and books and stuff.  I haven’t had a lot of time to just sit and read this year but when I have made the time, it’s been for stuff that’s turned out to be great thankfully.  Bridget Christie’s A Book For Her is superb and genuinely laugh out loud funny.  Greg Fleet’s These Things Happen is eye opening, funny, and, well, complicated… The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua is all sorts of fun and Nick Lane’s The Vital Question might be my favourite science book of the year. 

In the podcast and radio world The Drop continued to be a good way to spend a Friday afternoon and the late year return of Serialwith a story this time that I personally find much more interesting, is bound to be excellent.  The Kickstarter of RHLSTP was a feel good story I must say and the ensuing episodes excellent.  And Harmontown remains an interesting study in what can only be described as the a man going through some sort of mental breakdown via drunken stand up.

And of course it’d be wrong of me not to mention, nay, plug, Book Shambles with Robin and Josie.  Stewart Lee, Sara Pascoe, Laura Dockrill, Salena Godden and Chris Hadfield have been guests already.  What more do you want?

So there you go, 2015 is pretty much done.  Who knows what 2016 will bring that will tickle my fancy.  I’m pretty certain you’ll all love The Quest For Wonder, out in early 2016 though.  That much is guaranteed.

QUEST4KYT2

 

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