2015 proved to be a pretty spectacular year in everything pop culture. Whether you dub yourself a television junkie, comic book fan, cinephile, music lover–or maybe all of the above–the year in entertainment had something for you. Thanks to Serial, the word ‘podcast’ was officially entered into the cultural lexicon, while video games like Fallout 4 continued to push the boundaries of what’s possible in the medium. Between the wealth of amazing television shows, the unexpected brilliance of blockbusters like Mad Max, groundbreaking games, jaw-dropping musical performances and the cherry on top of the year known as The Force Awakens, 2015 was one for the ages.
That’s why this year, we’re listing our favorite things in movies, music, television, books, games, podcasts and more. Plus, find out what made our Overall Favorite Thing of 2015!
THE TRACKING BOARD’S BEST OF EVERYTHING 2015
BEST FILM OF 2015
An incredible story, beautiful cinematography, flawless performances and steady direction made Carol great. With Haynes at the helm, this period piece rises well above the level of stuffy Oscar-bait, into the territory of truly phenomenal filmmaking.
RUNNER UP: SPOTLIGHT
Todd McCarthy managed to make a movie about journalism exciting, while the overarching story of a child sex abuse scandal somehow avoided being completely draining. He had help from a fantastic cast and a stellar screenplay.
BEST FILM EXPERIENCE
WINNER: MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
The greatest car chase ever put on screen. Strong female characters and Tom Hardy being a badass. Oh yeah, did we mention there is a really great story too?
RUNNER UP: EX MACHINA
Ex Machina was beautiful, haunting, and poignant. Plus, we were formally introduced to Alicia Vikander’s talent and Oscar Isaac’s dance moves.
WINNER: KURT COBAIN – MONTAGE OF HECK
Brett Morgan’s retrospective into the life, and indeed psyche, of one of the most influential people of the twentieth century is deeply intimate and, ultimately, heartbreaking. Featuring never-before-seen home movie footage of Cobain and his wife Courtney Love, the film offers some insight into what it was like to be Cobain at the peak of Nirvana’s fame: a man at the center of a cultural shift for which, whether he likes it or not, he’s responsible.
RUNNER UP: AMY
Another beautiful but heartbreaking documentary centered around a young talent who succumbed to the disease of addiction and pressures of fame. Amy honors the late singer Amy Winehouse while providing an intimate look at her incredible, if often troubled, life and career.
BIGGEST SURPRISE AT THE MOVIES
WINNER: THE GIFT
Great things sometimes come in small packages, as Joel Edgerton’s indie thriller proved. This small, $5 million film showed up in the middle of the summer, seemingly out of nowhere, to deliver neck hair-raising chills with great acting and sharp storytelling.
RUNNER UP: IT FOLLOWS
Though the buzz for this micro-budget horror preceded it, thus somewhat eliminating the element of ‘surprise’, hearing someone else describe the plot second-hand doesn’t do this film’s strangely brilliant conceit justice.
BEST TELEVISION SHOW OF 2015
WINNER: FARGO (S2)
With the second season of the Coen brothers-inspired FX anthology Fargo, creator Noah Hawley reset the action in the 1970s and told a story that was dark, weird, stylish, hilarious and emotionally satisfying–all while amping up the series’ themes of regular people trying to adjust to changing times.
RUNNER UP: JESSICA JONES (S1)
Netflix had a banner year, but it was Jessica Jones that introduced a new female superhero with style, grace, ferocity and occasional strokes of genius.
BEST TV EXPERIENCE
This year, Netflix gave us Bloodline, Orange is the New Black, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Master of None, Sense8, Chef’s Table, Wet Hot American Summer... we can keep going, and we couldn’t pick just one.
RUNNER UP: THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (S2)
What began as a character study of Phil “Tandy” Miller has become one of the strongest comedic ensembles on television. In a network landscape that is desperately in need of some subversive, outside-of-the-box comedy, Will Forte and his post-virus survivors deliver week after week.
BEST REALITY SHOW
If you’re involved in the entertainment industry in any capacity, you’ll want to hate-watch the latest season of Project Greenlight, produced by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. This year, the show chose as its director the persnickety Jason Mann and paired him with veteran producer Effie Brown. That proved to be a brilliant pairing–in that it created dramatic tension that rivals the wildest moments of any Real Housewives episode. Ultimately, though, the show successfully raised awareness of the issues of diversity in film–and if the results of the project are any indication, perhaps next time they’ll choose a director who has something more to say than an ungrateful sigh.
RUNNER UP: I’LL HAVE WHAT PHIL’S HAVING (PBS)
This delightful series takes the exotic globe-trotting, food-porn elements of Anthony Bourdain and removes the glib, jaded cynicism, replacing it instead with the bountiful enthusiasm of Everybody Loves Raymond’s Phil Rosenthal.
BEST VIDEO GAME
WINNER: FALLOUT 4
Set in a post-apocalyptic Boston wasteland, the latest Fallout installment from Bethesda offered unparalleled customized gameplay options in a vastly open world.
RUNNER UP: WITCHER 3
Not that we expected anything less, but Wild Hunt proved to be a haunting, beautiful, and seriously fun gameplay experience.
WINNER: BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Between the World and Me is a continuation-elaboration-encapsulation of Coates’ groundbreaking essay work for The Atlantic. TNC was already one of our generation’s most formidable writers on issues of race, economics, inequality and democracy, and his book collected these thoughts into a coherent, compelling, and completely fascinating glimpse into what it means to be an American.
RUNNER UP: THE LIBRARY AT MOUNT CHAR by Scott Hawkins
This debut novel from Scott Hawkins is both amazing and bizarre, conjuring up comparisons with Neil Gaiman’s fantasy stories as it delves into huge ideas about contemporary culture and the end of the world.
WINNER: TO PIMP A BUTTERFLY, Kendrick Lamar
At first, the latest album from Kendrick Lamar was a challenging listen–and was therefore derided as a subpar followup to Good Kid M.A.D.D. City and overhyped into nothingness. But the album doesn’t just hold up on subsequent listens; rather it grows, expands, and melds into your mind with its razor-sharp lyrics and timely political consciousness.
RUNNER UP: 25, Adele
Hello. We’re feeling all the things. Goodbye.
BEST LIVE MUSICAL PERFORMANCE
WINNER: CHANCE THE RAPPER, SNL
Chance the Rapper’s performance of Paradise was compellingly raw, curiously emotional, visually stunning, deceptively simple and undoubtedly inspiring. Complete was a brass band and a choir, Chance’s performance on the iconic stage was a beautiful note on which to end the year.
RUNNER UP: DAVE GROHL, FOO FIGHTERS TOUR
With a broken leg, Dave Grohl refused to cancel shows in the Foo Fighters 2015 tour, playing from a massive, tongue-in-cheek throne center stage. Maybe it was the pain killers, but somehow Grohl seemed to rock even harder.
WINNER: WTF w/ MARC MARON – Lorne Michaels (EP. 653)
Yes, we know he interviewed President Obama. And it was pretty amazing. But longtime listeners of WTF with Marc Maron will know that legendary SNL producer Lorne Michaels has been Maron’s white whale for years. Some might say he’s a big part of the reason Maron started the podcast in the first place. A missed opportunity to land the Weekend Update gig has haunted Maron for decades, and Michaels finally offers him some closure. But beyond that, Michaels provides a detailed backstory of his journey to becoming the king of NBC, and by the time they get to part 2 of their conversation, the two have clearly developed a chemistry that sheds a human light on the man who holds such a mythical status in our collective history of popular culture.
RUNNER UP: THE NERDIST PODCAST – Kathleen Kennedy (EP. 772)
Leading up to the release of The Force Awakens, Chris Hardwick sat down with former right-hand woman to Steven Spielberg and current head of Lucas Film Kathleen Kennedy. It’s a revealing look at a remarkable person who not enough people know about, a woman who has been involved in a stunning number of films–many of which have in one way or another contributed to our very sense of what a great movie is supposed to be.
MOST ANTICIPATED FILM OF 2016
Zack Snyder’s latest contribution to the DC universe might be the most controversial movie of the year. And there’s a movie about Benghazi directed by Michael Bay happening. But whether it’s genuine excitement or morbid curiosity–or something in between–there’s no denying that seeing Ben Affleck as Batman square off against Henry Cavill’s Superman possesses a strange, mystical allure.
RUNNER UP: DEADPOOL
The potential for something like Deadpool, based on Rob Liefeld’s famous anti-hero, to totally surprise has us looking forward to this R-rated, fourth wall-breaking, balls-to-the-wall “superhero“ hitting the screens. Hard.
OVERALL FAVORITE THING OF 2015
WINNER: STAR WARS – THE FORCE AWAKENS
What else could it be? A brilliant marketing campaign tapped into the deepest-seeded nostalgia of even the most moderate Star Wars fan, creating a whirlwind of excitement that grew exponentially throughout the year. Tracking the mania that was the build-up to the movie’s release was almost as much fun as the movie itself. Almost. Because as it turns out, the hype was real. J.J. Abram’s Star Wars – The Force Awakens is everything we’d hoped it would be. Plus, we were blessed with the arrival of the BB8.
It’s been a great year, and we can’t wait to bring you more news, analysis, thoughts and things we love in 2016. And in case you missed any of our 2015 recaps: