The Year in Review(s) 2015
Once a year the reviewers and critics of the world gather around the camp fire just before we go into hibernation. In a rumbling voice from beneath the ground we hear the call,
“What was the best thing of all of the things this year?”
How could I possibly resist giving my answer?
Disclaimer: I am sure that there are many wonderful books that I somehow missed, many movies I have never seen and so on. I can't judge the things that I haven't seen so alas they will likewise miss this list.
Best Book of 2015: Uprooted by Naomi Novik
I enjoyed Novik's earlier books, the Temeraire series of Napoleonic war dragon novels, but they never felt like a complete world to me, they were always just on the periphery of history and while she did some impressive world-building regarding dragons and their roles in society it was a drop in the pond of the setting which was otherwise our history, unchanged. Uprooted is like a fresh start for Novik and it reads most like a first novel from some talented new author. In all honesty, this book had the cheat codes for my brain. I was destined to like it. The story has all of the elements of Eastern European fairy tales blended with dark fantasy sensibilities so vicious that the book drifts into horror in places. Most importantly, the book does not give in to violence and hatred. Love and forgiveness are at the heart of the story from the very first word. The intense friendships that Agnieszka forms through her life are the core of the story and Uprooted shows a real understanding of how folklore and magic interact with reality. It is the best fantasy book that I have read in many years.
Best Film of 2015: Mad Max: Fury Road
This film took me somewhat by surprise, I have never had any particular attachment to the Post-Apocalyptic setting and I carry no nostalgia for the old Mel Gibson films. I was essentially coming into this film blind and it blew me away. You cannot talk about this film without describing it as beautiful, the saturated colours of the world and the carefully constructed aesthetics of the different factions merge to create a complete world. The storytelling is where this film truly shines. This film is a high intensity action film and it can be viewed as just that, paying no attention to the character's growth, the complex relationships between them or the rich background story that filters through in tiny details and offhand comments. It is also notable for the way that it constantly inverts the usual narrative flow to show that it is a post-apocalyptic survival film, not just a brainless explosion-fest. Characters that would normally be guaranteed survival die, those that fall behind are left behind and the titular character, while vital to the story, was not necessarily its main character.
Disclaimer 2: In this list as in all media I cannot review Star Wars. My enjoyment of that film is too tied to nostalgia, I can recognise that I am too compromised in that area to give an accurate review so I am pretending that it doesn't exist.
Best Television of 2015: Jessica Jones
Like the earlier Marvel/Netflix collaboration Daredevil we all went into Jessica Jones knowing that it was going to be dark and that it wasn't going to be purely a superhero story. While Daredevil gave us a gritty crime drama blended with the men in tights Jessica Jones gave us a terrifying psychodrama as a woman who abandoned the pursuit of her dreams following a terrible trauma is forced to deal with her abuser. Jessica Jones pulls no punches, from the contemptuously easy way that the villain exerts his power over her to the sickening reality of what superhuman powers would actually do in the real world. It is filled with film noir tropes that it dissects as the story progresses, showing the core of weakness at the heart of all of these hyper-macho stories. It is most powerful in the interactions between the characters, the mourning widower, the childhood friend and even the minor characters whose lives are destroyed or completely diverted without a second thought.
In conclusion 2015 has been a pretty good year as far as entertainment goes, pretty terrible in the real world, but fantastic in the world of imagination.