Best Films of 2015


I still have a lot left to watch this year, like every year the prestige films get flooded upon us throughout December and mid-January leaving the unprofessional cinephile without extra cash or Friday evenings. There was a lot of stuff that was highly acclaimed that I was pretty meh on (It FollowsThe Duke of BurgundyLove & MercySpotlightTangerine) and quite a few movies that I recognize as flawed but excited me enough to ignore those flaws (DopeSicarioSlow WestStraight Outta Compton). I think I’ve become less willing to accept the merits of the “average” film, meaning that a movie better do something to excite me or I’m not having it. This probably happens after so many years and is probably why I haven’t made time to watch Oscar bait like The Danish Girl or Steve Jobs or super hero movies like Ant Man; they just don’t cut it for me anymore.

Another trend you may notice is that in nine out of the top ten, a woman is the most important character in the film. This wasn’t intentional by any means, but shows what could be an exciting new trend in cinema.

This is a list of films that did excite me this year, one that I will continue to update as I see more and more (so check back!).

Before we start, a list of things I haven’t seen (embarrassing, I know): Son of SaulThe TribeBridge of SpiesThe Big ShortThe MartianChi-Raq99 Homes45 YearsThe AssassinMustangHeaven Knows What

20. The Stanford Prison Experiment


A thrilling movie that captures the debated prison guard/prisoner experiment that took place in the 70s on Stanford’s campus. There is a lot out there about the validity of the experiment and its results, but I think that’s inessential when talking about the quality of this film. Sure it get’s a lot out of its wow, this actually happened premise, but it’s a compelling piece of movie making, with great performances from its young cast, and reflects on the nature of power and violence really well.

19. Star Wars: The Force Awakens


This might be a low placement for some, a high placement for others, but I think it perfectly encapsulates Star Wars in 2016. It deserves credit for being as good as it is, but its flaws should also be recognized. Daisy Ridley deserves 95% of the credit here, even if the rest of the film was awfully cast and there were terrible plot choices throughout, but Ridley was still the film’s star, I would have enjoyed it. Plus I’m really into what they did with Kylo Ren, where even if every moment didn’t work, they’ve created something more unique than anyone’s talking about: a villains whose conscience is haunted by the good in him.

18. Creed


Like Star WarsCreed shows just how important casting is to a reboot. Sure Stallone is pretty good in what will likely be an Oscar winning performance, but this film goes nowhere without Michael B. Jordan. Jordan’s charm drives this film, whether it be his desire to follow in the footsteps of his father, his interactions with Rocky, or (especially) his blooming love story with Tessa Thompson’s Bianca. Add to this Ryan Coogler’s great direction (that first fight scene!) and you’ve got something great. I can only see this growing in my estimation for years to come.

17. Timbuktu


Timbuktu tells the tale of a fictionalized terrorist group has taking over a small town in West Africa. It’s timely in portraying how an all-encompassing and corrupt religion can destroy a culture. There are moments of deep distress at the injustice that occurs when certain powers take over. Perhaps more importantly there are scenes of heartbreaking beauty showing slight rebellion in the form of playing music or pretending to play soccer. No other film shows just how essential mercy is to the systems we create.

16. Sicario


Sicario features the most thrilling experiences I had in a theater this year. Emily Blunt takes the lead and is our entry into the dark and politically muddled world of the drug war where she quickly learns the rules don’t matter. I actually don’t think the film really has any interesting insight on the drug war, but those big action scenes left me white-knuckled.

15. Dope


The last third or so of this film completely undermines the tone by throwing in a strange plot twist, but for most of it Dope feels so fresh. It’s about a group of kids out of place in Inglewood, not only trying to tackle poverty’s obstacles, but also what it means to be an outsider in that situation. It’s got a great aesthetic, a great soundtrack, and tackles identity.

14. Room


No other movie left me as wrecked as this one did and while usually this is a good sign, the happenings of Room were mostly presented in a way that I wouldn’t want to really watch them again. It’s a movie that brutally captures your imagination as it tells the tale of a mom (played by Brie Larson) and her young son being held captive in a room together. Luckily the movie isn’t all explicit heartbreak, the boy’s angelic voiceovers about  all he knows of the world offer a poetic beauty. I’m just not sure I’d want to experience it all again.

13. Slow West


A movie I was mixed on while watching it that has grown on me ever since. It stars Kodi Smit-McPhee as a Scottish immigrant who is trying to find his love who has recently fled to the Wild West. He’s in way over his head and is soon joined by a bounty hunter (played by Michael Fassbender) who begins to guide him with mixed motives. It’s a Western that allows itself to be weird, showcasing little quirks and a dry sense of humor. McPhee’s naivety drives the film, especially when placed in the midst of the self-serving evil the chaos of the West inspired. It’s a gorgeously shot film and features one of the best endings of the year.

12. The Hateful Eight


I think this is Tarantino’s most nihilistic film, each of its characters don’t really seem to have any bit of good within them as they express their violent, misogynist, and racist tendencies. But throw eight of these people in a room together with Tarantino at the helm and you’re bound to get something worthwhile. Unlike most, and perhaps in spite of what I just wrote, I do think Tarantino has a conscience of justice that he expresses throughout (there are literally speeches about justice in this movie!). I do think it’s a little long and not quite as fun as his last couple of films were (as strange as that is to say about movies about slavery and the Holocaust).

11. Straight Outta Compton


While not the most cinematic film of the year, Straight Outta Compton was both a banging music biopic and a treatise on the racial tensions present all throughout 2015. To see the events that inspired “F*ck Tha Police” presented in dramatic fashion at the same time as those sentiments were being expressed in various forms throughout the country due to violent interactions with the police was disheartening, but thrilling. In the midst of capturing this tension, and the effect of the group on culture, is a really fun movie that hits every note you’d want from a biopic.

10. Carol


Todd Haynes’ latest is a gorgeously shot drama set in the 1960’s about two women’s love affair. While most of the dramatic tension lies in the forbidden romance, I think the film’s true thematic tone has to do with those who push against the traditional power structures. Carol’s husband (played by Kyle Chandler) is wrecked by his wife’s true sexual orientation, but he seems more distraught that he cannot control her. Therese is meek and mild-mannered and is inspired by Carol’s dominance as she wrestles with her relationships and career path. It is the system that holds them back more than any explicitly presented social mores. It’s a love story about a girl coming into her own and the love that inspired her to do it.

9. The Diary of a Teenage Girl


This is a difficult film to recommend or praise because it is about an illicit affair between Minnie, a 15 year old girl played by Bel Powley, and her mother’s boyfriend, played by Alexander Skarsgard, an affair that is never presented as an immoral act. However, I would probably credit the film for this, because instead of moralizing, it shows the whole thing from Minnie’s perspective. She’s mostly thrilled about her newfound relationship and we hear her innermost thoughts through a voice recorded diary and her comics which often come to life throughout. It’s obviously not all daisies and writer/director Marielle Heller portrays her growth in flashes of excitement, confusion, and regret. It’s really well done.

8. Brooklyn


The best pure romance film I’ve seen in a long while, I can only hope this takes the place of The Notebook as a go-to for romantic dramas. Brooklyn follows Ellis, a discontent Irish girl who seizes on the opportunity to come to America. While in America she struggles with the immigration experience which leaves her timid and uninspired. At an Irish dance she runs into Tony, a plumber from an Italian family who quickly expresses interest in her. The chemistry explodes even with her timidity and the two become a couple. Brooklyn is amazing at how well it pulls off the sincerity of each moment. It could have devolved into dramatic tropes, but instead lets its characters bask in joy; it gives them drama but grounds it in reality. Ellis is forced into a series of decisions that throw everything into question (and bring 2015 all star Domhnall Gleason into the mix) and the film pulls it off, giving us a fitfully beautiful ending.

7. About Elly


Technically released internationally in 2009, Asghar Farhadi’s drama didn’t get an American release until this year. Like A Separation and The PastAbout Elly centers around a mystery and the gray areas that encapsulate the decisions of each of its characters. A group of friends go away for a vacation, bringing along Elly–a quiet girl with some sort of mysterious past. A serious events occurs that leaves the group traumatized and the leaves the viewer in a clouded knot. Farhadi is the master at showing how each of our decisions is based in a slew of cultural and religious biases that are so complex is becomes near impossible to declare rights and wrongs.

6. Tu Dors Nicole


Tu Dors Nicole follows Nicole as she navigates her unsatisfying life during the summer in a small Canadian town. It’s about the restlessness of being post-high school, the overwhelming purposelessness that occurs, and the disillusionment that comes as a result. Director Stephane Lafleur guides us by giving the film an airy feel, lead by its black and white cinematography and the dreamlike quirks presented throughout whether overtly or slyly. Ultimately though, the film gets by on the charm of its characters who make every moment engaging.

5. Anamolisa 


Charlie Kaufman’s latest film presents itself as being fairly straightforward at first, but throughout the opening, which features Michael Stone riding on an airplane, landing, and taking a cab to the airport, everything feels a little bit off. As we learn more about Michael, his experience of the world soon becomes clear, and Kaufman’s latest vision about a man in a midlife crisis all fits together beautifully. Life can be difficult to navigate, especially when it becomes mundane and all the joy gets sucked out of it–Kaufman illustrates this like Kaufman would. He also represents what it’s like to find joy in the midst of this and beautifully brings it to life in shocking and unexpected ways. Ultimately though, Michael is not allowed to be entirely cynical, he’s not allowed to seek joy however he pleases to, because neither of these are fulfilling life choices; Kaufman doesn’t tell us what will satisfy the man lost in his own life, but he does paint a great portrait of what will not.

4. Mistress America


Noah Bambauch’s latest collaboration with Greta Gerwig is the funniest film of the year. It’s a His Girl Friday style screwball comedy where its throwaway lines are up there with the best written comedy of the year. It’s quick witted and manically paced, following its two female protagonists, Tracy (Lola Kirke) and Brooke (Greta Gerwig), through their lives in New York City. They are very different people and in different places in their lives–Tracy is a timid college freshman trying to figure it all out, while Brooke is a New York socialite with a new plan every minute–they hit it off and their relationship is a catalyst for the film which explores loneliness and personal growth.

3. Mad Max: Fury Road


This was everyone’s surprise film of the year and I must note it lives up to every bit of hype placed upon it. It’s a progressive post-apocolypitc car chase that nails every action sequence, storytelling device, and emotional beat it throws into the ether. I held my breath for large sections of the movie without noticing that I was doing it. I teared up as Max and Furiosa, two people unable to be vulnerable because of their experiences, slowly open up to one another. I laughed and cringed at the comic and ugly weirdness director George Miller places in the movie, showing at once how disturbing and lived in this world was. It hits on every level.

2. Ex Machina


Alex Garland deserves so much credit for how he was able to set the mood of this film. It’s  set in a futuristic house where most of what’s happening is happening in conversation between it’s three central characters, but the tension is unbelievably high–evoking dread of whatever the outcome is to be. Domnhall Gleason plays Caleb, a young programmer, who gets sent to his CEO’s house (Nathan played by Oscar Isaac) for a mystery test. He soon learns he will be performing a Turing test on Nathan’s recently created robot Ava (Alicia Vikander). Even as the tension builds, Garland allows for his characters to be themselves, undermining the typical portraits of a mad scientist for one much more bro-ish and allows spontaneous dance scenes. It’s tense, surprising, well-written, and the kind of movie that actively engaged my mind more than anything else this year.

1. Inside Out


I am an unabashed Pixar fanboy, it’s become my tradition to see each new film the studio makes on its opening day and update my rankings soon after. When I heard about the idea and casting of Inside Out, I could not have been more excited, this was a film that was made purely for me and let me tell you, it did not disappoint. I think this is a masterpiece for the way it portrays our mind so cleverly. I think it’s a masterpiece for being able to capture the complex emotions behind moving to a new place and growing up. I think it’s a masterpiece visually (the abstract thought bit nails it). I think it’s a masterpiece in how it created new classic characters and that all of our children will grow up playing with a toy called Sadness. I think it’s a masterpiece comedically, creating great bits about annoying tunes that come in our head and how we dream. And finally, I think it’s a masterpiece because of the way it embraces sadness, advocating for an emotional complexity, and being able to portray this all on screen.

Honorable mentions: Shaun the SheepWild TalesPhoenixPitch Perfect 2Spy


Top 10 Albums of 2015

Penultimate list of the year! Movies will be coming soon…


10. Carly Rae Jepsen Emotion

A lot of people were really surprised by this record, but I never really was. I championed (and still do) “Call Me Maybe” as a perfect pop song and placed it as my number one song of 2012. Emotion is a strong pop album that never made much leeway on the radio despite its catchy 80s influenced style. Jepsen is our best pop star, you all just don’t know it.


9. Titus Andronicus The Most Lamentable Tragedy

A 90-minute plus punk rock opera that filters the band’s punk influences through Bruce Springsteen’s everyman representation with an added experimental edge. It certainly doesn’t have the highs of The Monitor, but it is pretty consistent from beginning to end. Patrick Stickles brain will always come up with raging rock songs, intricate and complex enough to inspire a plethora of think pieces and this is everything I love rolled into one giant album.

julien baker

8. Julien Baker Sprained Ankle

Quite the opposite of The Most Lamentable Tragedy, Baker’s debut album is quiet and sparse. There are only nine songs here, most of which only feature Baker singing and playing guitar , but boy are these tracks affecting. She has claimed these songs represent her coming out of a place of depression and abuse and one can certainly see the inner-monologue taking place. It’s an internal struggle, with Baker battling over her own soul and just when you think the darkness will overcome, grace shines through.


7. Future Beast Mode

A lot has been written about Future being the saddest rapper to brag about drugs, partying, and sexual affairs and this has certainly been the case across his two mixtapes (Beast Mode, 56 Nights), his full length (DS2), and collaboration with Drake (What a Time to Be Alive). There’s a weariness to the way he raps, an autotuned slur, that makes you wonder if he’s really enjoying any of it. DS2 was the most critically acclaimed of the bunch, What a Time had the most hype surrounding it, but my favorite was Beast Mode which I think shows Future at his most sincere.


6. Grimes Art Angels

On Art Angels, Grimes takes pop music and puts it through the most eccentric filter it could probably go through while continuing to be pop. It’s pure bubblegum pop, but is also very weird. Grimes takes a page out of K-Pop–electronic pop songs that are given the spirit and enthusiasm of a high school cheer team. It works surprisingly wonderful and is so much fun to listen to.

summertime 06

5. Vince Staples Summertime ’06

Staples’ studio full length debut is a biographical double album about one of the most important summers he ever had. It tells the tale of Staples growing up, learning who he was, and the outside factors imposing in on his life. There are stories of adolescent love, of depression, and of extreme violence. It’s one of the most complex coming-of-age stories I’ve ever experienced. Staples is one of the best young voices making music out there and he may have just come up with a masterpiece here.

courtney barnett

4. Courtney Barnett Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit

It’s hard to say what the best thing is that Barnett does, is it her ability to come up with rollicking rock songs? Her clever wordplay? The fact that she came up with the introvert anthem (sorry Alessia Cara)? All of these things point to why Sometimes I Sit is an amazing album. It’s funny, it’s thoughtful, it can be blasted on any road trip. Women are crushing it in indie rock and Barnett is there at the top.


3. Tame Impala Currents

Currents shows Tame Impala at their most accessible, like Grimes their sound perfectly mixes their more experimental tendencies with mainstream pop’s aesthetic. Currents is a blend of EDM with a singer-songwriter’s vision. Kevin Parker has created dance music for indie rock kids, blending in disco and R&B influences to make an album that grew with every listen.


2. Kendrick Lamar To Pimp a Butterfly

This was probably the album of the year, with Kendrick building on all the goodwill of good kid, mad city to make one of the most ambitious, sprawling, and important albums maybe ever? It’s funky, jazzy, and altogether not what you’d expect from the most hyped person in rap music. But that makes it even better, showing Kendrick as a true artist, one that pushes the genre forward. To Pimp a Butterfly was a necessary album in a year filled with racial strife and police brutality at the forefront of our national conversations. It’s celebratory of black culture, comforts all the pain, and is also deeply critical of inner-city violence. Kendrick is never what anybody wants him to be and I think that’s what makes him all the more important.


1.Sufjan Stevens Carrie  & Lowell

While Kendrick spent time analyzing the affairs of a nation, Sufjan spends his time processing his inner-self, responding to the loss of his mother. It’s painstakingly personal, littered with references to the loss and the deep depression he went through as a result. Most of Sufjan’s work features beautiful, stripped down folk songs but these are usually places between quirky chamber pop tracks. Here we essentially get sad, contemplative Sufjan for 43 straight minutes, and as much as I love the baroque Sufjan, slowed down it is so beautiful.

Honorable mentions: Young Fathers White Men Are Black Men Too; Hop Along Painted Shut; Sports All of Something; Panda Bear Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper; Drake & Future What a Time to Be Alive

Top 10 TV Shows of 2015

My favorite television shows of this year, of which I watched more than any other year. Shout outs to The Genius (a Korean reality show that is brilliant, but I didn’t have time to catch up with completely) and to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (a musical comedy that showed half of its first season in 2015,  but will continue into 2016, thus disqualifying it.)


10. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Season 1)

I have many well documented opinions about this show, which I found fairly uneven, but also so enjoyable. I can’t help but think the show will only grow, making use of its Netflix freedom and the wonderful cast of characters it’s created. Titus’ “Pinot Noir” and rendition of “I’ll Make Love to You” at a funeral might be the two funniest moments of television all year.


9. Fresh off the Boat (Season 1)

Another show that is fairly uneven, but is elevated by how likable every character is, plus Constance Wu’s Jessica Huang is probably the best new character on television. It’s a show with a unique perspective (literally only the second show to star an Asian-American as a lead ever) and it’s definitely worth the watch.


8. Nathan for You (Season 3)

I’ve went through all three seasons of Nathan for You in the last month, so forgive me if I’m incapable of differentiating the three, but Nathan Fielder’s comedy spoof on business reality shows is both a brilliant sort of cringe comedy and a commentary on capitalism. Season 3 showed Nathan continuing brilliant ideas (Best Buy return policy, being a hero, weight loss through a moving company) and continued to mock viral media.


7. Master of None (Season 1)

Aziz Ansari turned into an auteur this year with a show about all of the ideas that interest him. It’s definitely a product of the 21st century and could almost be given as a primer to adults who don’t understand those in their 20s. Ultimately though, Master of None, succeeds because of Ansari’s charm and the amount of heart he puts into each character’s story arc.


6. Review (Season 2)

Review is premised off of a man reviewing everyday life via audience suggestions for a tv show. In actuality it’s an absolute farce, with Forrest MacNeil ruining his life episode by episode because of his commitment to following through with each review (the episode where he reviews giving something 6 stars is particularly hilarious). For being such a ridiculous show it actually is quite dark, like watching Job inflict himself with the punishments of God.


5. Survivor: Cambodia – Second Chances

The season was really great, my favorite all-stars season ever (I’m also not the hugest Heroes vs. Villains fan), but what really made it was all the hype leading into it. For the first time ever Survivor allowed fans to vote in returning players–this lead to a barrage of campaigning and pre-gaming like has never taken place before. When the cast was announced at the Worlds Apart finale, it was torture knowing that each and every day the players you voted for were out playing Survivor. When we finally saw the product it was worth it, with some of the most fluid and impassioned gameplay in the show’s 31 seasons.


4. The Americans (Season 3)

One of these days The Americans will be my number one show (it’s finished 2nd twice and now 4th), but it’s a consistent show for its intense spy games and the layers of relationships it creates whether they be familial, friend, or work. This season saw Clark and Martha more strained than ever, Paige going to a whole new character level, and all sorts of new vulnerability across all the leads.


3. Fargo (Season 2)

Some people have hailed this as better than season 1, I’m not sure I agree (it was my favorite last year), but boy is this the most inventive show out there. It’s an anthology series so there were little ties to the first season (the connections that were there, played out brilliantly), but thematically all of the same ties are there–the fight for good in an evil world and the corruptibility of humanity when given the chance.


2. Show Me a Hero

David Simon (creator of The Wire) brought a new mini-series to HBO about low-income houses getting brought into the suburbs of New York and the resulting political ramifications. Like Simon’s past work the show is complex, following a multitude of characters and how the placement of low-income housing affects each of their lives. If you know The Wire, you’ll know exactly how this turns out and Simon is a master of creating stories out of deep political and socioeconomic divides.


1. Parks and Recreation (Season 7)

I mentioned that this was my favorite tv show of all time on the best episodes list and this year they put out one of their best seasons. It’s an encore that highlights each of its characters best qualities, making every episode feel like an event. It’s an emotional roller coaster that ends a great series just about better than any other show.

Honorable Mentions: Veep (Season 4), Community (Season 6), Bloodline

Top 10 Podcasts of 2015

I realize I’m a little behind schedule, but the holidays were a busy time. My lists will continue with best albums, tv shows, and movies, but first the best podcasts of 2015, featuring five shows that have never graced my top 10 before!

10. Whistlestop

Panoply’s new podcast is a one-man show hosted by Face the Nation host John Dickerson. It’s completely scripted, telling fascinating tales of election campaigns past which ultimately prove the world of politics was never so pure.


9. Planet Money

Small bites of economic theory done by some of radio’s best storytellers. Planet Money’s episodes are always a lot of fun, while also providing insight into the world’s most complex ideas.


8. Hot Takedown

Fivethirtyeight launched their first podcast this year and it’s everything I could have hoped for: a deeply insightful, statsy, and anti-hot take (as the title implies) sports podcast. Lest you get the impression that it’s a complete nerd-fest, at its core it’s a really solid sports talk show.


7. About Race

From Panoply, About Race is all about the ways in which race gets talked about in the media. It’s often a lively and challenging conversation with different and conflicting opinions showing their face throughout. It’s not something that someone who doesn’t agree with the panel’s opinions would easily be able to get into, but it’s nonetheless full of important and necessary perspectives.


6. Slate’s Hang Up and Listen

Hang Up and Listen has made the list every year since I started ranking podcasts and still it remains. It’s intelligent sports talk, and, like Hot Takedown above is so refreshing amidst the voices of yelling morons in sports radio. I must admit there is a certain level of highbrow required to listening to it, not everyone will be into the hosts going off on poetic tangents as happened at one point this year in response to Kobe’s retirement poem–but for me, I would ask for nothing less.


5. Rob Has a Podcast

Another show who has made it every year since my podcast list inception, Rob Has a Podcast covers Survivor and other reality television, using the podcast format to its fullest with multiple episodes per week. Rob Cesternino’s use of live shows is great for the instant reactions we crave when watching reality tv, but he always adds intelligent follow up shows throughout the week for those who desire a deep dive. He’s created a whole nation of devoted fans, and I am placed firmly within that group.


4. Doughboys

Podcasts have to have a good premise, mixed with good chemistry, and continuing creativity in order to hold my interest. There are many podcasts that, despite an interesting premise I have not continued to listen to. Doughboys captured all three of these requirements, Nick “Burger Boy” Wiger and Mike Mitchell of “Spoon Nation” have an instant chemistry, a legitimate sincerity about chain restaurants, and a hilarious sense of humor that transcends all of it. It captures everything that the more pointed comedy chat podcasts should be striving to be.


3. Comedy Bang Bang

Comedy Bang Bang is the king of comedy podcasts for me with each episode be a must-listen in an often crowded market. Scott Aukerman keeps every episode lively, while old guests and a deep canon mix with new improvisers creating instant classics. Each additional episode pays off listening to the last, but even without all the context it is hilarious.


2. This American Life

If Comedy Bang Bang is the king of comedy podcasts, then This American Life reigns atop all storytelling shows. Each week a new episode is released I never really believe that it will pique my interest as the last one did, but almost every week I am surprised at just how good it is. There are a lot of storytelling shows that have come out in its wake, but I still think that Ira Glass and company are the best at what they do.


1.The Gist

The Gist is a daily news show covering hot topics, interesting facts, or whatever else crosses host Mike Pesca’s mind. Pesca is a veteran of public radio and always brings a nuanced, intelligent opinion to all of his view points. Add to this his great sense of humor and segments like: ‘Is that bullshit?’ and the year in pop, and you have the year’s most consistently great podcast on your hands. With the amount of podcasts I subscribe to (around 50 that I listen to at least every once in a while) I shouldn’t have time to listen to a show that comes out every day, but still I try to make time to catch up with every episode that comes out.

Honorable mentions: Channel 33/Hollywood Prospectus, The Cracked Podcast, Radiolab, Spontaneanation, Filmspotting, Doug Loves Movies, NY Times’ Music Popcast, The Allusionist , The Liturgists, 99% Invisible

If there were more eps: Surprisingly Awesome, Next Picture Show, Getting Curious

2015 Pop Culture Goals in Review


2015 was a good year, there’s no need to really reflect on it, because that’s what end of the year lists are really all about. However, the last couple of years, I’ve been setting pop culture goals for myself. As the new year approaches, it is time to look back on how I did with completing those goals (HINT: Not so well!).

Here were my goals for 2015:

Watch 6 films directed by African, South American, or non-Korean/Japanese/Chinese Asian directors

Well I said that these did not go as well as they could have and here we have our first proof, I believe I watched one African film (Timbuktu, Mauritania), two South American film (The Colors of the Mountain, Colombia & The Headless Woman, Argentina), and zero Asian films (my plan was to watch the Apu trilogy, but it never happened). Broadening the landscape of what cinema you take in, broadens your mindset, and that was my goal here. The cinematic state of the US is deeply American and it’s a hard thing to break.

Watch a film each from these 6 directors: Robert Bresson, Yasujiro Ozu, Jean-Luc Godard, Andrei Tarkovsky, John Cassavetes, and Howard Hawks.

I watched a Bresson (Au Hasard Balthazar), an Ozu (Tokyo Story), a Tarkovsky (Andrei Rubilev), a Cassavetes (The Killing of a Chinese Bookie), and a Hawks (His Girl Friday). If you did the math that means I missed out on Godard; for no reason at all I’ve checked out Breathless from the library like 5 times, but have never watched it. I guess 5/6 isn’t terrible. Or maybe it is.

Learn something about how cars work

I did this! I mean it was all during a one-week period where I read through a bunch of How Stuff Works articles. I think I have a grip on how cars generally work (please don’t test me); my manliness has never been elevated higher, give me that blue collar already!

Tomorrow, I will release my pop culture goals for 2016!

Top 10 TV Episodes of 2015


10. Fargo – “Did You do This? No You Did it”

All of the Fargo episodes are fantastically edited and feature unique sequences that are quite memorable, but each episode’s main content is fairly similar, meaning any episode could be in this spot. This one makes the top 10 because the end of it truly shocked me like very little does in television.

9. The Last Man on Earth – “Alive in Tucson”

A unique sitcom that eventually grew tiresome, The Last Man on Earth‘s pilot featured a solo Will Forte making his way around the earth like Will Smith in I Am Legend if Will Smith’s character had been a Judd Apatow-esque slacker. It left the audience wondering just how long its creators would try to pull this off (answer: not long enough).

8. Nathan For You – “Smokers Allowed”

Nathan For You episodes either rely on people’s reactions to his awkward questions and suggestions or the strange experimentations he comes up with. This one starts with the former (getting a bar owner to change her bar into a theater so they can exploit the theater loophole that allows smoking), but changes to the latter (hiring actors to reenact the “performance” that took place word for word and action for action and getting people to pay to watch it).

7. Show Me a Hero – “Part One”

David Simon’s mini-series is the most David Simon series possible, a political drama taking on the addition of low-income housing into the city of Yonkers and all of its consequent repercussions. Episode one sets us right into the action, portraying all of the sides, investing us into the lives of the characters, and scanning through the important events of the story.

6. Togetherness – “Family Day”

“Family Day” begins with a family of four planning a day to the beach and ends with two of those four plus a best friend and sister sitting in a van drinking cheap wine. It’s the best of Togetherness, setting the tone of a show that views marriage, family, and life through a lens of joyful melancholy.

5. The Americans – “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?”

I almost picked “Walter Taffet” here for its brilliant use of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”, but I was forced to pick “Electric Sheep” due to how uncanny an episode this was for The Americans. The episode takes place with Phillip and Elizabeth on a mission, but instead of hurrying it along, it spends the episode’s length there, allowing us to experience it moment by moment. When someone unexpected shows up, we are forced to truly confront how we feel about these characters and just how much their allegiance to what they do motivates their every action.

4. Review – “Cult; Perfect Body”

Note by note a perfect picture of what Review is all about. “Cult; Perfect Body” has Forrest review both those things, building one on top of the other as he builds a very successful cult, then loses it only to show back up with his “perfect body” culminating in an all out war, the loss of another girlfriend, and forcing his dad to once again change living facilities.

3. Parks and Recreation – “One Last Ride”

The finale to Parks and Rec may have forecast utopian bliss for each of its characters, but it really was the ending we all deserved. This show is probably my favorite comedy of all time and here it reminds you that its heart was always as big as the laughs it gave.

2 . Master of None – “Mornings”

Master of None’s weakest moments were scenes of characters walking or talking at a bar, seemingly reading straight from the script rather than acting out those scenes. “Mornings” is the antithesis of that, a montage of  mornings between the recently cohabitated Dev and Rachel. It showcases the joys and struggles of living alongside someone you love in a way that touches the cinematic.

1. Parks and Recreation – “Ron and Leslie”

Earlier this year I named this my favorite Parks episode of all time and considering I consider it one of the best shows, it’s only fitting it ends up here. “Ron and Leslie” takes what is perhaps the show’s most important relationship, estranges it, and then literally forces them in a room together to work out their differences. Ron and Leslie were always in opposition and it only makes sense that this would one day lead to some sort of falling out, considering just how stubborn each was. The way it has them come to resolution will have you believing in the power of friendship like no other piece of culture could. Grab your tissues.

Honorable mentions: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – “Kimmy Goes on a Date”; The Americans – “Walter Taffet”; Fresh Off the Boat – “So Chineez”

Top 12 Podcast Episodes of 2015


I had originally planned to do a top ten, but could not weed out any two, thus a top 12 for your reading pleasure. Picking the best podcast episodes tend to reward those who created something special in the one hit wonder sense, while the true strength of podcasts often comes in consistency, setting a tone and bringing the listener along into the setting the hosts have created. That is why the more storytelling/public radio types get onto this list over shows that I enjoyed more consistently throughout the year. Nonetheless, these were my favorite podcast episodes of the year.

12. U Talkin’ U2 to Me? – U2 Talk 2 U

Scott Aukerman and Adam Scott’s show mostly centered around the band U2 (which placed number 2 on my best podcasts list last year) culminated in the duo actually being able to interview U2. The interview mostly reflects the show’s tangent driven personality and gets the band involved in the show’s mini-shows (like I Love Films). Scott and Scott also provide commentary throughout the show about their interview, giving context to things, and making fun of how bad Adam Scott is at interviewing. It’s definitely not the episode to get started with, but it’s the perfect sort of finale.

11. The Cracked Podcast – The Gun Show

In the wake of another mass shooting (which unfortunately I can’t even remember due to the amount of them that occurred) the guys from Cracked decide to talk over the issue of gun control from all sides. Jason Pargin tells his own history of guns (which includes owning several) but still maintains that an ideology of stricter gun laws is necessary. Beyond any sort of political action however, the crew gets at an underlying narrative that is perhaps more important than any law: heroism and redemptive violence.

10. Planet Money – A Rose on Any Other Day

Planet Money always provides an interesting narrative to economic issues, here they bring the listener into the world of Valentine’s Day roses an illustrious, but often risk-heavy world where one’s entire yearly income can be made or broken due to a slew of uncontrollable factors.

9. About Race – The “A Word” Episode

The About Race group always get at controversial topics while trying to discuss the way the media talks about race. ‘The “A Word” Episode’ is an interesting and often argumentative episode about assimilation. What role does assimilation play in the US and what role should it play? It’s a mind spinning episode about something where there will never really be an easy answer.

8. improv4Humans – A i4h Christmas Carol/Whiplash

Two episodes listed here where improv comedy legend Matt Besser takes his improv podcast on a different track by placing it in a firm narrative. “A i4h Christmas Carol” finds Besser as Ebenezer Scrooge–a fitting choice for Besser’s curmudgeonly reputation–he is then joined by Armen Weitzman in an improvised and insider-y version of A Christmas Carol. “Whiplash” finds Besser again joined by Weitzman, this time as his Whiplash-style protogee.

7. Hidden Brain – Switchtracking

The premier episode of this NPR show is an absolute delight with host Shankar Vedantam seemingly so excited to teach the listener about the “hidden” parts of the brain. The show would end up losing the tone it set with this episode, but “Switchtracking” is pure joy and quite insightful.

6. Radiolab – Nazi Summer Camp

Radiolab’s story of a WWII prisoner camp does what all the great Radiolab episodes do: throw you into an existential crisis about something you had never thought about. I cannot count how many times I went back and forth about what the right approach to treating prisoners in war times should be.

5. Comedy Bang Bang – 2015 Holiday Spectacular / Mailer Daemon

Choosing the special episodes in Comedy Bang Bang is kind of a cheat, because they are essentially all-star episodes (like when SNL brings out all of the alumni + JT), but the “2015 Holiday Spectacular” had me grinning from start to finish. “Mailer Daemon” showcases the brilliance that can come out of the improv character format where Aukerman and Jason Mantzoukas are joined by Nick Kroll who quickly establishes a plethora of characters with complicated backstories all in a matter of moments.

4. Hot Takedown – A Special Stat School Edition

Five Thirty Eight’s sports podcast is all about taking down mainstream media’s “hot takes” and typically revolves around the current week in sports news. In the first of a series of specials, they choose to discuss at length advanced statistical metrics in sports (here it’s hitting in baseball). It’s an absolutely fun and nerdy listen that helps to inform the way the smartest minds are using numbers to determine who the best players are.

3. Surprisingly Awesome – Mold

Gimlet Media’s show about trying to find the fascinating in the mundane opened up with a doozy. Adam Davidson tries to convince Adam McKay that mold is interesting and manages to go above and beyond with some near jaw-dropping moments. The first has to do with almost non-discovery of Penicillin and the second goes back to McKay’s relatives in a revelation that I won’t spoil here.

2. WTF with Marc Maron – President Barack Obama

Maron may seemingly only be doing the biggest of names now, but if that results in him landing the president of the United States I am all for it. Obama is a great interviewee as always and Maron really does offer a unique perspective on the whole thing. It was definitely the podcast event of the year for me.

1.This American Life – The Problem We All Live With Pt. I&II

This two part series from This American Life captured a problem that should probably be dealt with sooner than later–the segregation of our public school system. They look into the studies that say that disintegration drastically improves education results in the lives of minorities and what prevents integration from happening. It’s an often heartbreaking and fascinating look into education and race in America done by what is probably our best public radio shows.

Honorable mention: Black Men Can’t Jump – In the Heat of the Night

Top 100 Songs of 2015 (Part II: 78-51)


Part II of IV. Check out part I here.

78. Natalie Prass “My Baby Don’t Understand Me”

77. Florence + the Machine “What Kind of Man”

I don’t agree that the latest album tops 2011’s Ceremonials (I adore that album maybe more than anyone else), but if you’re into Florence’s dramatically belted approach to pop music you’ll always enjoy what she’s putting out. “What Kind of Man” features that same anguish-filled questioning: “What kind of man loves like this?” she asks–Florence doesn’t just rattle your soul, she tears open your chest and grabs it making sure you know exactly how she feels.

76. Beirut “At Once”

A minor entry in the global spectrum of Beirut’s indie rock stylings, it’s beautifully pleasant.

75. Vic Mensa, Kanye West “U Mad”

74. Titus Andronicus “(S)he Said/(S)he Said”

73. Johanna Warren “Black Moss”

72. Justin Bieber “Sorry”

71. Sports “Reality TV”

Another perfect fit for my women in rock music piece from a couple months ago, Sports perfectly capture why slacker indie/punk/whatever is so fun. It’s minimalist, a quick jolt of energy that is strangely satisfying despite being so easy to digest.

70. FKA Twigs “In Time”

69. Tame Impala “Cause I’m A Man”

68. Jack U, Skrillex, Justin Bieber “Where Are U Now”

67. Omi “Cheerleader”

66. Miguel “FLESH”

65. Julien Baker “Something”

64. BØRNS “Electric Love”

The track’s opening lines: “candy, she’s sweet like candy in my veins” is an apt descriptor of “Electric Love”, an almost sickly-sweet combination of falsetto and highly produced funky guitar riffs.

63. Unknown Mortal Orchestra “Multi-Love”

62. Eskimeaux “The Thunder Answered Back”

It starts off slow and ethereally, before drums start to slowly come in, the beat picking up over Gabrielle Smith’s repeated lyrics. The song crescendos into Smith shouting “you coward, you hummingbird” over and over. It’s reminiscent of the neo-folk trend from a couple years back, which didn’t always work, but I guarantee you that you’ll break into random accusatory “YOU COWARD, YOU HUMMINGBIRD” shouts once this track grabs you.

61. Diet Cig “Harvard”

60. Disclosure w/LIONBABE “Hourglass”

I haven’t read anything to confirm this theory, but I am 99% sure this song is a tribute to “Space Jam” by Quad City DJs, yes, the theme song from Space Jam (minus all rap parts). It starts off with a simple beat which at any moment feels like it could break out into the melody of “Space Jam”. LIONBABE’s vocals are also eerily similar to that of Quad City DJs, I expected an “errrybody get up” to pop in throughout the first minute of the song. All similarities aside, the track works well on its own, offering a smooth dance track that avoids Disclosure’s pitfall of relying too heavily on big name stars to carry their songs.

59. Rihanna, Kanye West, Paul McCartney “FourFiveSeconds”

58. Julia Holter “Everytime Boots”

57. Majical Cloudz “Downtown”

Majical Cloudz feel like spiritual successors to Radiohead and Coldplay (before they went off on strange pop-experimental ventures). Devon Walsh sounds like a more laid back Thom Yorke, singing over Matthew Otto’s subtle electronic music which has the feel of a film score more than anything.

56. Julien Baker “Everybody Does”

Baker’s debut album is a sparse and soul-baring affair. She’s armed with nothing but an acoustic guitar and some painful experiences that need to be let out. Parts of her album show her finding hope in the darkness, but here she lets her deepest fears play out, concluding “you’re gonna run when you find out who I am; you’re gonna run, it’s alright everybody does”.

55. Kelly Clarkson “Invincible”

I accidentally stumbled on this song while surfing through Clarkson’s top tracks on Spotify. It’s a bona fide jam and while not quite up to par with her greatest songs (but let’s face it she has two of the best pop songs of the last 20 years), Clarkson is definitely at her best here.

54. Low “Lies”

53. Panda Bear “Crosswords”

52. Sufjan Stevens “Should Have Known Better”

51. Autre Ne Veut “Age of Transparency”

Autre Ne Veut is branded as PBR&B for playing R&B music through the lens of hipster irony. “Age of Transparency” opens with a quiet build, filled with saxophone and a piano in the background. Arthur Ashin’s falsetto kicks in–his voice can be quite powerful, but is never quite devoid of playfulness. All of this builds into an exploding chorus that absolutely makes those quiet moments of build-up worth the wait.

Top 100 Songs of 2015 (Part I: 100-79)


Part 1 of 4

100. Jill Scott “Closure”

For Jill Scott, closure means one last fling, but don’t let that fool you, she’ll go no further than that. With a humorous outro, Scott lists all the food her ex-lover will no longer be able to consume because she doesn’t care enough about him to give him breakfast.

99. Drake “10 Bands”

98. Pusha T “Untouchable”

Pusha kills it here, rapping  about “Netflix Narcos” over a sick beat and Biggie sample.

97. Major Lazer, MO, DJ Snake “Lean On”

96. Speedy Ortiz “My Dead Girl”

95. Future “No Basic”

94. Lady Lamb “Milk Duds”

93. Beach House “Sparks”

92. Sia “Alive”

In the ranking of wannabe Adele songs, this one places 2nd (ahead of Adele’s “Hello” and behind a song to come). It’s an emotional ballad that was actually written for Adele, but Sia, being the queen of taking songs meant for other folks and making them her own came through with quite the emotionally packed song here.

91. Lady Lamb “Violet Clementine”

I didn’t think Lady Lamb’s (formerly Lady Lamb the Beekeeper)  latest lived up to her debut album, but here we hear everything that makes her great: the passionate vocal delivery, the oddly poetic lyrics, and the long musical interludes.

90. Titus Andronicus “Dimed Out”

This is Titus Andronicus at their most punk, a 3-minute rager that both stands alone and fits into their 90-minute rock opera.

89. Vince Staples “Norf Norf”

88. Julien Baker “Good News”

87. Sufjan Stevens “Fourth of July”

86. Titus Andronicus “No Future Part IV: No Future Triumphant”

85. Kanye West w/Theophilus London “All Day”

84. Miguel “coffee”

Miguel fits perfectly into sensual R&B, which at times can near disgusting in his overtly explicit expressions. However with “coffee”, he becomes almost sweet in his declaration that he will make “coffee in the morning” for his amour. It’s the opposite of the aforementioned “Closure”.

83. Natalie Prass “It is You”

Prass straddles several unique lines with her music: modern folk artist, 50s darling, and Disney princess. It’s a strange combo, but is so unexpected that it totally works. As a fan of all three of those lines, Prass totally works for me. Here she sounds like something out of a musical and boy is it great.

82. Disclosure “Jaded”

81. Drake “Star67”

80. Florence + the Machine “Ship to Wreck”

79. Colleen Green “Deeper Than Love”

Green is interesting because she at times gives out a Best Coast minimalist folk/punk vibe, but then something like “Deeper Than Love” will come out which is a 6-minute lonesome and slightly creepy almost new wave-ish track showing just how talented and unique she can be. It’s a subtly gripping track that will eat at you for days.


Check out the rest of the best of the year stuff here

Best of 2015: A Schedule

My first best of the year piece will be released tomorrow morning, but for now a placeholder for all of the content I hope to deliver over the next month. I usually try to wait until the year is mostly over before declaring the year’s best, but gee is it too much fun. Here’s what I’ve got coming your way this end of the year season*.

*All dates are tentative, dependent on my personal work ethic.

Dec. 1 – Top 10 Pop Hits

Dec. 8 – Top 100 Songs (Part I: 100-76)

Dec. 12 – Top 100 Songs (Part II: 75-51)

Dec. 16 – Top 100 Songs (Part III: 50-26)

Dec. 20 – Top 100 Songs (Part IV: 25-1)

Dec. 21 – Top 10 Podcast Episodes

Dec. 23 – Top 10 TV Episodes

Dec. 29 – Top 10 Essays

Dec. 30 – Top 10 Podcasts

Dec. 31 – 2015 Pop Culture Goal Recap

Jan. 1 – 2016 Pop Culture Goals

Jan. 3 – Top 10 Albums

Jan. 5 – Top 10 TV Shows

Jan. 7 – Top 25 Films