Best of the Year: movies, songs and more

Duke picks favorite pieces of 2015 entertainment

Movies

Courtesy of North Light Films While initially premiering at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, “It Follows” did not see wide release until March 2015. The film is a delightful return to form for horror.

Courtesy of North Light Films
While initially premiering at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, “It Follows” did not see wide release until March 2015. The film is a delightful return to form for horror.

“It Follows”- Sean Ray

In a genre currently rife with knock-offs of “Paranormal Activity” and “The Conjuring,” “It Follows” dared to be different. Taking its inspiration more from the slasher movies of the ’70s and ’80s like “Halloween” and “Nightmare on Elm Street,” the film does not frighten with the use of jump scares or loud noises, but with an eerie sense of dread and paranoia. Often times what is scariest is not what is on the camera, but what isn’t. The inevitable feeling of doom one gets from knowing that out there, somewhere, something is ceaselessly following them and absolutely will not stop.

This striking return to form is combined with a wholly original monster, fantastic cinematography, very realistic characters and one of the best horror soundtracks in years. Not since “Scream” has a horror film been this good. And in a year that had many movies that were incredibly disappointing, it was quite pleasant to see a movie live up to its own hype. “It Follows” is the must see movie of the year for both horror fans and those who can appreciate good suspense.

“Peanuts”- Zachary Landau

As a “Peanuts” fan, I owed it to myself to go see the movie as soon as it came out, and I am glad that I did. While I was a bit nervous that 20th Century Fox would do the normal thing when rebooting a franchise for a new generation (i.e. ruin it with dated jokes, hip language and a corny, family-friendly, pop-rock song that adds nothing except pain and anguish), I was pleasantly surprised at the restraint that they exhibited.

It probably has to do with Schulz’s estate being a part of the development process, so I feel it is necessary to say, “thank you, Schulz’s estate, for not taking yet another thing from my childhood and exploiting it for profit.” Because of you, “The Peanuts Movie” isn’t a festering pile of trash quickly forgotten to the never-ending march of time towards oblivion, but a loveable, genuinely funny movie that I look forward to watching again and again.

The animation is beautiful, the jokes hit more often than not, and it serves as a wonderful reminder as to why we fell in love with the gang in the first place.

“Inside Out” – Joseph Guzy

Pixar first entertained audiences in 1995 by asking, “What if toys had feelings?” After 20 years of getting in the heads of bugs, monsters, fish and even cars, Pixar finally asked, “What if feelings had feelings?”

For a studio that has pushed animation into the realm of Best Picture nominations, perhaps there is no better film deserving than “Inside Out.” The incredibly complex concept of emotion is broken down over 102 minutes in a manner that is easy to digest for all ages, but still intelligent enough for mature interpretation.

The voice cast of Amy Poehler (Joy), Phyllis Smith (Sadness), Lewis Black (Anger), Bill Hader (Fear) and Mindy Kaling (Disgust) are perfectly matched with their respective emotions. Poehler borrows the always positive attitude of her Leslie Knope character in “Parks and Recreation,” while Smith mirrors her melancholy roll of Phyllis Vance in “The Office.”
Just when you thought Pixar had done it all, they deliver an incredible movie that will, as always, have you reaching for a tissue.

“Spotlight”- Julian Routh

A frontrunner for the Oscar as it stands now, “Spotlight” is a masterful procedural about The Boston Globe’s groundbreaking investigation into the Catholic Church’s child sex abuse scandal in 2002.

It pulls no cheap punches; instead, it gives an honest, educated account of the Globe’s fight for information against one of the world’s most powerful and secretive entities. The film has few startling reveals, relying heavily on simple detail and the art of conversation. It is most impressive in its modesty.

“Spotlight” features performances from the upper echelon of movie stardom (Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams), but doesn’t give any of them the camera for too long. That’s because it’s all about the story, which is startling enough to keep the audience hooked, and great enough to end 2015 on top.

Music and Albums

Courtesy of Columbia Possibly their last album for a while, One Direction went out with a bang with “Made in The A.M.”

Courtesy of Columbia
Possibly their last album for a while, One Direction went out with a bang with “Made in The A.M.”

“Made in The A.M.” – Rebekah Devorak

In what is most likely One Direction’s last album for the foreseeable future, “Made in The A.M.” did not disappoint fans anticipating their first major release after member Zayn Malik left the band in March. This is the band’s most mature-sounding record, venturing away from days of upbeat Brit pop and simple lyrics in favor of a relaxed, almost vintage vibe. Songs like “I Want to Write You a Song” and “Walking in the Wind” appear inspired by folk bands like The Lumineers, while the words of “Wolves” and “A.M.” show that the group put dedicated thought and time into songwriting.

For fans that want to reminisce about the early style of One Direction’s music, “Temporary Fix” and “Drag Me Down” are fast-paced and fun without being bubblegum. The rest of the 17-song album – including “What a Feeling,” “Never Enough” and “Olivia” – sound like they’ve been plucked from the 1960s and 1970s. For fans of the band – and those otherwise willing to give it a listen – One Direction’s “Made in The A.M.” is an embarkation into a new era of mature music that is sure to please the ear.

“Back to Back” – Julian Routh

There’s only one thing to remember about music in 2015, and it’s that Meek Mill started a beef that got Drake a Grammy nomination. Drake released “Back to Back” in July after Meek accused him of having ghostwriters pen his tracks, and boy, was it electrifying.

“Is that a world tour or your girl’s tour?” asks Drake of Meek, who opened for his girlfriend, Nicki Minaj, on tour this summer. “This ain’t what she meant when she told you to open up more,” Drake says next.

The diss track – which immediately climbed to the top of the charts – energized the hip-hop community in a way it hasn’t been since 50 Cent sparred with Ja Rule in the early 2000s. In the age of social media, rap beefs just aren’t as common anymore, and certainly not as polarizing.

But “Back to Back” sent shockwaves through the rap community, and now, it is nominated for the Best Rap Performance Grammy. RIP, Meek.

“Mural” – Joseph Guzy

The first track off of Lupe Fiasco’s fifth studio album, “Tetsuo & Youth,” may have flown under the radar of most. “Mural” is in no way radio friendly. No catchy chorus to entertain a club crowd. No viral dance moves to post to YouTube. Rather, it is nine minutes of pure lyrical genius. Not one of Lupe’s 1,377 words are wasted, forming a lyrical quilt with every sentence carefully woven to form some of the most unbelievable wordplay in hip-hop.

A quick glance at the song’s page on RapGenius.com shows over 250 fan attempts at annotating the song. Contributors analyze anything from a few words to five or six lines and provide an explanation of what the artist is trying to say. The top comment on the page for “Mural” says, “Lupe making annotating a full-time job.”

Even though Kendrick Lamar is running wild with the success of “To Pimp a Butterfly” and Drake stole the headlines with diss tracks about Meek Mill, the raw talent of Lupe Fiasco does not deserve to remain under the radar.

“Hello” – Zachary Landau

This is the song I’m looking forward the most to drunk people trying to sing at karaoke night.

Video Games

“Undertale” – Zachary Landau

It’s hard to describe what makes a videogame great, as sometimes the language needed eludes simple description. With that said, I mean no hyperbole when I say that “Undertale” is one of the best games ever made. Not since the original “Portal” has a game so effectively combined story, gameplay and style in such an intricate and expertly polished fashion.

To describe the game at any length would be a disservice to the wonderful twists and turns the game goes through over the course of its six-hour runtime. The only real problem that I can find with it is that it is so esoteric that it’s sometimes difficult to tell when the game is actually presenting actual, practical information or if it’s just pulling your leg. But that’s a mild complaint that I quickly got over by the time I went on a date with the skeleton that captured me. “Undertale” is a strange, but undeniably amazing, game that is worth its $10 price for admission.

“Bloodborne” – Sean Ray

Combining the works of H.P. Lovecraft with a gothic aesthetic of “Dracula,” “Bloodborne” not only lives up to the precedent established by its predecessor, “Dark Souls,” but surpasses it.

Forgoing the slow and defensive combat styles of “Dark Souls” for fast-paced and frenetic sword play, “Bloodborne” is an incredibly fun experience. While it is not as large as From Software’s other games, it makes up for this with a greater amount of polish on each of its features. The weapons all feel unique and varied in their move sets, areas are a lot more memorable and the boss fights are better designed and more involving. The game also makes up for the lone weak point of “Dark Souls” by having a more present plot full of mystery and intrigue, as well as a colorful cast of characters.

Finally, something needs to be said of this game’s sense of style. Every level looks absolutely gorgeous with its complex architecture, looming dark forests and later on, impossible scenery that looks like something out of a dream. And with the recently released DLC “The Old Hunters,” now is a perfect time to pick up this masterful video gaming experience.

Courtesy of Rocksteady Studios “Batman: Arkham Knight” wraps up the “Arkham” trilogy that began with 2009’s “Arkham Asylum.” The game features many favorite Batman villains such as Penguin and Poison Ivy, as well as a mysterious new one known only as the Arkham Knight.

Courtesy of Rocksteady Studios
“Batman: Arkham Knight” wraps up the “Arkham” trilogy that began with 2009’s “Arkham Asylum.” The game features many favorite Batman villains such as Penguin and Poison Ivy, as well as a mysterious new one known only as the Arkham Knight.

“Batman: Arkham Knight” – Grant Stoner

Halloween is the one holiday where it is acceptable to unleash your inner ghoul. For Batman, Halloween is just another day in Gotham City. Developed by Rocksteady Studios, “Batman: Arkham Knight” is the climactic finale, following the events of both “Arkham Asylum” and “Arkham City.” With the entirety of Gotham at your disposal, as well as an assortment of gadgets including the “Batmobile,” players set out to uncover the identity of the Arkham Night, a mysterious new villain who knows all of Batman’s tactics. The events push Batman to his limits, leaving gamers wondering if he can save his city, let alone himself.

“Batman: Arkham Knight” delivers one of the best free-roaming video gaming experiences of 2015. Fans of both the comics and games will instantly recognize Gotham City, bathed in a cloak of

shadowy darkness, along with a colorful cast of both allies and villains. This game will make a welcome addition to any library over the holiday season and a top Christmas list choice.

TV Shows

“The Flash” Season 2 -Grant Stoner

His name is Barry Allen, and he is the fastest man alive. “The Flash,” DC Comics’ iconic super speedster races onto The CW for a second season. After successfully defeating the Reverse Flash in last season’s finale, Barry comes face-to-face with new threats from other worlds. When 52 Multiverse portals begin appearing in Central City, Barry, along with his friends at S.T.A.R. Labs, realize that the Reverse Flash was the least of their worries. Meta-humans sent by Zoom to Central City are on a mission to kill Barry. This new speedster’s goal is simple: to become the only speed force user in the Multiverse.

Season two of “The Flash” still remains true to the pages of the comic books. Grant Gustin’s performance continues to perfectly capture the attitude of the Scarlet Speedster. With the mid-season finale airing this week, “The Flash” will leave fans wanting more until it returns in the spring.

Courtesy of Marvel TelevisionThe first in a series of shows leading up to a cross over called “Defenders,” “Daredevil” received much praise from critics for its darker tone and more serious subject matter than other superhero shows.

Courtesy of Marvel TelevisionThe first in a series of shows leading up to a cross over called “Defenders,” “Daredevil” received much praise from critics for its darker tone and more serious subject matter than other superhero shows.

“Daredevil” –Sean Ray

Superheroes may be all the rage these days, but it can be hard not to feel like they’re all the same sometimes. The characters are bright, colorful and fight overly evil villains with zero redeeming qualities.

That is why the release of “Daredevil” took me and many super hero fans by complete surprise. The show effectively tells a comic book tale while being dark, mature and focused on a grown up audience. The villains are complex characters who see themselves as the true heroes, while Daredevil himself struggles with the morality of what he is doing and what he might have to do.

Special props have to go to the writing and acting in this show. There is not a single character that is not enjoyable and deep on some level. But the true center piece on display in this show is the fight scenes. Many big-budget action movies do not have combat as well choreographed as “Daredevil.”

“Daredevil” may be the best comic book adaptation to date, finally bringing to light the much more mature and gritty story telling that street level heroes are known for.

“Steven Universe, Season 2” – Zachary Landau

“Steven Universe” is part of the growing number of cartoons aimed at children yet loved by adults, but I would rank it above its fellow cute-but-sadistically-dark brethren. The show touches on genuinely serious subjects (like consent and relationship abuse), but handles them in a way that is simultaneously tasteful and aggressive. One of the highlights of this season, for example, is a five-episode long arch dealing with trying to reform the trust broken between two of the leads. That type of dedication to exploring a topic uncomfortable to many children (and, let’s face it, adults) is refreshing to see.

The show is also a love letter to many cartoons past, with obvious nods to “Dragon Ball Z” and “Sailor Moon,” but also to more contemporary shows like the original “Avatar.” While technically still ongoing, Season 2 is where “Steven Universe” really starts to find its niche as a rather funny, often depressing, cartoon. There is a bit of a curve to loving the series, but once you’re a few episodes in, you won’t regret watching this show. Just avoid the fandom.

“iZombie” — Kaye Burnet

To continue the comic book theme, I enjoyed the fresh, bloody, witty first season of CW’s “iZombie.” You think the zombie motif has been over-played, and can’t bring anything new to the table? Think again. This show follows the post-mortem adventures of doctor-turned-zombie Olivia “Liv” Moore, who uses her new zombie powers to solve crimes and combat the less-friendly zombies roaming Seattle. The show blends gory zombie attacks with charming romance and hilariously underwhelming humor. Great potential for a Christmas-break binge watch, since there is only one season on Netlfix so far.

“Mad Men” — Rebekah Devorak

Something happened this final season of “Mad Men” that left viewers feeling perhaps a little confused: every character got exactly what they wanted. For a show so focused on intense character development that tends to lean toward the dark and stormy, it was the perfect unexpected ending. Creator Matthew Weiner did a fantastic job in wrapping up the plotlines for the beloved ad workers, including John Hamm’s performance of Donald Draper, which finally won him an Emmy. For fans, the final season lived up to all expectations.

Books

“Go Set a Watchman” –Zachary Landau

Let’s avoid talking about the controversy surrounding this book and just get to the cold-hard facts: “Go Set a Watchman” is just “To Kill a Mockingbird” Partie Deux, but in some ways is better than its predecessor. The major developments in “Watchman’s” plot are, thematically, not all that different from those in “Mockingbird;” however they are given a little bit more weight because of Jean Louise’s (Scout in “Mockingbird”) emotional maturity.

If there was any problem with the original book, it was that the reader has to suspend some disbelief that a little girl could be so observant to the politics that surrounded her. “Watchman” fixes this by aging the characters and giving them actual and firm beliefs, allowing the readers to get truly emotionally invested into their lives. While the editing job is sloppy at best (there are numerous continuity errors and the occasional run-on sentence), “Go Set a Watchman” is still worth a look. It’s basically more of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and I can’t think of a higher recommendation than that.

“Finding Fraser” –Bridget Seelinger

“Finding Fraser,” a self-published novel by K.C. Dyer, is an outlandishly endearing novel about self-discovery and love. Fresh out of a terrible breakup, the newly single Emma travels to Scotland to find the man of her dreams, a man named Jamie Fraser and a character in Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series. As she follows the path that the “Outlander” characters trod, back in fictional 1740s Scotland, she discovers more about herself and the people in her life as she composes an online diary during her journey. In the end, she ends up making the biggest discovery of all: that she never needed Jamie in the first place. Although it is fan-fiction “Finding Fraser” is both empowering and delightful to read, for fans familiar with “Outlander” and those who are not, which is why the author of “Outlander” has praised this novel on many occasions. It is the perfect solution to the romance saturated literature that young women, especially young single women, are overwhelmed with today. I truly love “Finding Fraser” and I firmly believe that it deserves to be this year’s Best Book.

“Welcome to Nightvale: A Novel” -Sean Ray

I already reviewed this book in a previous article, so get my full thoughts here. Needless to say though, it remains the right balance of hilarious and heartwarming

What do you think? Leave us a comment!