Last year’s everything-gets-a-summary model took too long to produce (and half the summaries therein were crap anyway) so this year I’m taking a different tack. Only the best and the worst entries will be summarized, and a complete list, without comment, will follow. Someday I’ll figure out the ideal format!
Best Fiction of 2015
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. I try to avoid giving the “best” title to acknowledged classics, but I didn’t read a whole lot of good fiction this year, so it was no contest. Nabokov’s narrative of an unhappy pedophile remains as disturbing and engaging as ever. Also well worth a look is his afterword, which was included in the edition I read.
- Rabbit, Run. by John Updike. Similar to Lolita in status as a classic and its dislikable protagonist, Rabbit, Run is likewise a very interesting piece of fiction.
- Honorable Mentions: We Were the Mulvaneys, Joyce Carol Oates. Mannequin Girl, Ellen Litman.
And the Worst Fiction of 2015…
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Despite the degree of hype that’s accumulated around this book, I found little merit in it. The characters are shallow, the plot revolves around extremely implausible coincidences, and it lacks any memorable qualities. It might seem good if you’ve never read anything better, but there are a thousand books I’d recommend instead.
- We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler. Despite the accolades he receives, Handler’s prose tends to leave me clammy and his plot in this book seems to be conflicted about whether it’s absurd or realistic.
- From a Buick 8 by Stephen King. I wanted to try a King novel and this one sounded interesting. Here’s the entire book: There’s a creepy Buick. Sometimes it eats people. Sometimes aliens come out of it and then die. Repeat scenario for 400 pages.
- Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. (Spoilers) It’s engaging and even memorable, but its subject of an evil, conniving woman who frames her husband for murder plays too much into the misogynist’s playbook for me.
Best Non-Fiction of 2015
Among the Creationists by Jason Rosenhouse. Rosenhouse’s account of creationism, seen from the perspective of an outsider at close quarters, is a detailed and important piece of work. Rosenthal avoids judgment, but analyzes the Creationist mindset in depth, creating an objective and insightful documentation of the phenomenon.
- The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero. Sestero co-starred in The Room, often called the worst movie ever made. His account of the doomed project, spearheaded by the bizarre Tommy Wiseau, is both fascinating and funny. Outside the main story, there are also a lot of interesting details about the life of a small-time film actor, which is interesting to us outsiders.
- In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. The book that launched the true-crime genre is still probably the best of its breed. Capote spins a novel from facts with surprising effectiveness, and his ability to maintain tension in the face of a known conclusion is impressive.
- Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design by Chip Kidd. Rockstar graphic designer Chip Kidd has produced a book on design meant for kids. I would have loved this when I was growing up, but no such book existed, so I had to content myself with a scrapbook full of logos. Kids these days have all the luck!
And the Worst Non-Fiction of 2015…
Night of the Gun by David Carr. The premise is interesting: a reporter investigates the half-remembered story of his own drug abuse. In practice, however, I’ve never seen a work of such monumental navel-gazing. Past a certain point I just couldn’t take any more of Carr going around to talk to past acquaintances about himself. I made it about halfway through and quit.
- 100 Bigfoot Nights by Christine D. Parker. My library for some reason purchased a copy of this self-published memoir of bigfoot encounters. It isn’t bad per se, in some sense it’s even kind of entertaining…but in all seriousness, this woman needs mental help, help that she is clearly not getting.
- God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens. Seriously, Hitch, get over yourself. This is the textbook example of “overstating your case.” I enjoyed the chapter about pigs though.
Best Comics of 2015
Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann and Krascoet. I meant to write a proper review of this book and never got around to it. Beautiful Darkness is a dark fairy tale about a group of tiny people attempting to survive in the unforgiving wilderness. It plays whimsy against shocking violence, cutesiness against the darkest impulses of human nature. Also, the art is all in watercolor, and is fantastic. Highly recommended.
- This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki. A gentle but complex coming-of-age story with beautiful artwork. This is the kind of thing I hope to see a lot more of as graphic novels continue to spread across the genres.
- Honorable mentions: Punk Rock and Trailer Parks by Derf Backderf. Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks.
No comics stood out as particularly bad this year, so I have decided not to award the trophy of badness. We’ll move on.
Best Movie of 2015
Fight Club. As I said earlier, White God was a strong contender for my favorite movie of the year, but Fight Club wins out by a narrow margin. It takes a book which I would have considered unfilmable and turns it into an incredibly tight and effective film, all while staying remarkably close to its source material. Despite knowing everything that was going to happen, the film had an incredibly powerful impact on me. Fantastic work.
- White God. See review.
- Volver. An excellent outing from Spanish director Pedro Almodovar. On top of his usual traffic in overwrought relationship drama, he adds a new twist: a ghost! I won’t give away any further surprises; this is one you really ought to discover for yourself.
- The Babadook. This independent Australian horror film manages to flirt with some very conventional “creepy” tropes without becoming silly. All its scares are deeply enmeshed with the personalities of its characters, not just cheap “boo!” tactics. Minus a few points for wobbly camera.
- Song of the Sea. If you’re ever in the mood for some animation, watch this. The story, based on Irish folklore, is filled with both whimsy and menace. The animation is fluid and the art style colorful and unique. It’s Miyazaki meets Picasso meets Disney. What’s not to like, other than a really whiny main character?
- Honorable Mentions: Sicario, Snowpiercer, Going Clear (a documentary about Scientology).
And the Worst Movie of 2015…
Left Behind. I thought Nicholas Cage starring in a movie of the notorious end-times scare novel couldn’t fail to be an uproariously funny B-movie experience. Sadly, this is not the case. While it has its moments of unintentional comedy, it is for the most part completely lifeless. It’s not even good as a bad movie. It’s just boring.
- Ida. Possibly the most tedious historical film ever made. Weak characterization, minimal plot. Nice photography, though.
- Jumanji. Not without its charms, but pretty dull for the most part. Better for kids probably.
- American Psycho. Just didn’t make much of an impression on me.
Best “Show” of 2015
Psycho-Pass. Don’t get this anime mixed up with the existing body of “crime forecasting” science fiction. The police force of Psycho-Pass uses a technology that’s somewhat different, seeking out not specific crimes but people who are potential criminals. The system is deeply flawed, as the show demonstrates aptly, but the narrative does not pass judgment on it. The struggle of the characters to reconcile the evils of the system with the good that it does plays a significant role in the storyline, and kept me thinking about the series even when I wasn’t watching it. Supposedly a continuation is in the works; I look forward to it.
- Wild Palms. A deeply weird but engaging mini-series from the early 1990s about a sinister virtual-reality device and the weird conspiracy surrounding it. I look forward to watching it again soon. Also, it has Brad Dourif in it!
- Game of Thrones, season 5. Better than its disappointing predecessor in most ways. I was ready to give up on the show, but after this season I’m ready for number six. Now, please.
- Orange is the New Black. As the show goes on it tends to reach a sort of dull predictability after a while, but it’s still a well-written and largely engaging story that passes the Bechdel test more or less constantly.
My opinion of Game of Thrones season four has already been discussed here, but I am not going to do it the disservice of bestowing upon it the trophy of badness. It didn’t live up to my expectations, but it wasn’t entirely without merit. The trophy of badness will thus be withheld.
Hey, what about Video Games?
I didn’t play a lot of video games this year. Still, I played a few, enough to earn a couple trophies.
The best was:
Dishonored. This is a clever first-person stealth game in which you play as an assassin with supernatural powers. The story is pretty superficial (and the reasoning behind the assassinations is vague at best), but doesn’t really hinder the game’s ability to deliver a solid experience of sneaking through some mighty pretty environments by way of some really unique gameplay mechanics. I would criticize the game on one point, though: it puts a lot of emphasis on avoiding killing, but many of the powers the player can obtain are only useful for killing. More stealth-related powers would be a big improvement.
And the worst was:
Alan Wake. I was intrigued by the obvious homages to Twin Peaks, but Alan Wake is far, far from a Twin Peaks video game. Its environments are lovely, and it has some excellent atmospheric touches, but the gameplay is tedious. Basically it consists of running around in the dark and shooting at weird zombie-type things that don’t like light for some reason. Also, sometimes inanimate objects get possessed by evil forces and try to attack you. It’s all very silly but the game plays it straightfaced, making the whole affair downright absurdist at times. Also, why the cutscenes are made up of atrocious dialogue spoken by deeply uncanny CGI mannequins. It’s worth a look, maybe, but I couldn’t get all the way through it and I doubt you can either.
Murakami, Haruki. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.
Flynn, Gillian. Gone Girl
Pullman, Philip. The Golden Compass
Hawkins, Paula. The Girl on the Train
Litman, Ellen. Mannequin Girl
Oates, Joyce Carol. We Were the Mulvaneys.
Handler, Daniel. We Are Pirates.
Palahniuk, Chuck. Choke.
Updike, John. Rabbit, Run.
Banks, Russel. Rule of the Bone.
Nabokov, Vladimir. Lolita.
King, Stephen. From a Buick 8.
Atwood, Margaret. The Heart Goes Last.
Brunton, Finn. Spam
Wicklund, Susan. This Common Secret.
Sestero, Greg. The Disaster Artist.
Parker, Christine D. 100 Bigfoot Nights.
Doctorow, Cory. Information Doesn’t Want to be Free.
Rosenhouse, Jason. Among the Creationists.
Vincent, Norah. Self-Made Man.
Capote, Truman. In Cold Blood.
Kidd, Chip. Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design.
Hitchens, Christopher. God is Not Great.
Carr, David. Night of the Gun.
Moore, Alan and Dave Gibbons. Watchmen.
Johnston, Antony and Justin Greenwood. The Fuse v. 1
Fraction, Matt and Chip Zdarsky. Sex Criminals v. 1
Tamaki, Jillian and Mariko. This One Summer.
Backderf, Derf. Punk Rock and Trailer Parks.
McCloud, Scott. The Sculptor.
Moore, Alan and Brian Bolland. Batman: The Killing Joke.
Chast, Roz. Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?
McCloud, Scott, ed. Best American Comics 2014.
Vehlmmann, Fabien, and Krascoet. Beautiful Darkness.
Hicks, Faith Erin. Friends With Boys.
Kirkman, Robert, et al. The Walking Dead: Compendium One.
The Black Dahlia
The American Friend
The Big Lebowski
The Nightmare Before Christmas
The One I Love
Song of the Sea
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood
Serial season 1 (podcast)
Game of Thrones season 4
Game of Thrones season 5
Orange is the New Black season 1
Orange is the New Black season 2
Orange is the New Black season 3
Shadow of the Colossus
Mind: Path to Thalamus