best of 2015

Favorite Movies of 2015

And for my final “best of” list this year, here are my favorite films that I saw in 2015. While 6 of these are films that were released in the last year, some of the others are much older, but also things I’d never seen before.

And, because I watched 130 new (to me) films in 2015, I’ve also included several films as honorable mentions at the bottom. So here are my recent favorites. What are yours?

Brooklyn (2015)

BrooklynThere were three films I’d been itching to see since reading lots of good things after the 2015 Sundance Film Festival: Brooklyn, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, and Me and Earl and the Dying GirlBrooklyn is the one I saw most recently, but it’s quickly become one of my very favorite of the year, probably even close to first place. I’m a sucker for a British period piece in the winter, so the beautiful 1950s of Ireland and New York present in this film were a lovely little gift. Saoirse Ronan is a perfect leading lady trying to adjust to an entirely new life in a different country and finds herself in a perfectly complicated love triangle. This is a movie I can’t wait to own so I can watch it again and again.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015)

Diary of a Teenage GirlThe Diary of a Teenage Girl is an interesting case because it ended up on my “best of 2015” lists for both the book and the film adaptation. The film is what brought me to the book, largely because Bel Powley is such a compelling leading lady. She perfectly captures Minnie’s 15-year-old voice and her self-obsessed tendencies. Kristen Wiig, Alexander Skarsgard, and Christopher Meloni round out the cast with great (and troubling) performances. This is an honest and endearing representation of teenage girlhood.

Ex Machina (2015)

Ex MachinaIt seems funny that my relationship with Ex Machina only began in May of this year because I feel like it’s become a part of me. Ex Machina plays a big role in my master’s thesis project, so I’ve done lots of research and writing about it in recent months. To me, this movie is the most compelling of the year–a sci-fi thriller with a twisty plot and some of the most complex gender roles I’ve seen recently. Alicia Vikander gives a breakout performance as Ava, a robot created by Nathan (Oscar Isaac), who may or may not have human feelings. This is one that will leave you thinking long after the movie ends.

Far From the Madding Crowd (2015)

Far From the Madding CrowdLike I said about Brooklyn, a good period piece in December is like candy for me, so Far From the Madding Crowd was an especially sweet treat. Carey Mulligan is perfect in the leading role and she’s got a line of suitors that make you hope she’ll find love eventually (until she picks the wrong person first and it’s annoying). Though the story takes place in the 1870s, the gender roles are surprisingly progressive, asking audiences to consider why a woman needs a husband to be happy (answer: she doesn’t, unless she finds the right man). This is another I could watch again and again.

Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

Kramer vs. KramerKramer vs. Kramer was a film my mom and I watched during our unofficial summer film series to clean out our VHS collection. This is a truly devastating film about the fallout of divorce. And with lead actors like Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep, you can’t really go wrong. Kramer vs. Kramer is the oldest film on my “best of” list this year (excluding the honorable mentions), but it’s message and characters are still poignant more than thirty years after it’s release.

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Pulp FictionPulp Fiction was one of the movies I was always embarrassed to say I hadn’t seen, but my roommate was in the same situation until we decided to go for it this past spring. It certainly isn’t a short movie (but when Quentin Tarantino directs, you can expect that), but the narrative is split into several smaller sections and follows a large ensemble of characters that keep things moving. We were both pleased with how much fun watching Pulp Fiction was. I’ve been in so many film classes with guys who worship Tarantino that I’ve become a bit jaded toward his work, but this is one that lives up to the reputation.

National Theatre Live’s Hamlet (2015)

HamletOkay, so this one’s a bit of a stretch as far as films are concerned, but I couldn’t leave it off the list. I LOVE that the National Theatre makes some of its productions available to audiences worldwide, especially with a production like this one, which was apparently the fastest-selling event in London theater history (I still can’t wrap my mind around how crazy that is). Benedict Cumberbatch and Ciaran Hinds give (obviously) stellar performances as the biggest names in the production, but the entire ensemble is equally wonderful. This incarnation of Shakespeare’s play doesn’t really fit into any specific time period as all the characters are costumed very differently, but it’s all believable and interesting to take in. What I would’ve given to have been a live member of that audience…

Schindler’s List (1993)

Schindler's ListLike Pulp Fiction, it was a bit embarrassing to be a pop culture-loving person who’d never seen Schindler’s List, but I finally remedied that problem last week. The film lives up to its praise–it’s crushing, tragic, beautiful, and horrible all at once. Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes give stellar performances (though it does make me wonder a bit more what it might be like to see Ralph Fiennes play a good guy. Just once!). There are lots of important Holocaust narratives in the world of pop culture, but it’s undeniable that Schindler’s List belongs in the canon of essential viewing to understand the terror of this period in history.

The Theory of Everything (2014)

The Theory of EverythingThe Theory of Everything was the kind of movie that I bawled my way through, nearly from start to finish. Eddie Redmayne completely deserved his Oscar for his performance as Stephen Hawking. This is yet another British period piece that’s made it onto my list, but this one packs an emotional punch the others don’t really have (though I also, inexplicably, cried an inordinate amount during Brooklyn). The relationship between Stephen and his first wife, Jane, in this film is tender, compelling, and ultimately bittersweet, but it’s fascinating to see how two people could persevere through such difficult circumstances and still remain close.

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

We Need to Talk About KevinAnd now, a very different kind of movie. We Need to Talk About Kevin is a horror story that begs the question, “why the hell would you want to have kids?” This is pretty much a worst case scenario, but it’s still really freaking scary to think about. I’d long-been interested in watching this movie, but was a little concerned by the first 20 or so minutes of it; there’s very little dialogue and what feels like unnecessarily long takes of grating sounds and imagery, but this all works to set the film’s uncomfortable mood. We Need to Talk About Kevin makes clear allusions to Rosemary’s Baby–it’s like an modernized story of how that baby would grow up to be a terrible human being. Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller both give great performances is this deliciously unsettling film that will leave you feeling all kinds of disturbed.

And, as promised, here are my honorable mentions:

Cinderella, Election, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, In Bruges, The Imitation Game, It’s a Wonderful Life, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Monkey Kingdom, Mud, Nightcrawler, No Good Deed, Selma, The Shawshank Redemption, Trainwreck, Wetlands

What were your favorite movies you saw this year? Feel free to comment below!

 

 

Favorite Books of 2015

2015 has been an especially successful reading year for me. I didn’t really read anything I didn’t like, and, as I’m always on the quest to read more, I’m happy with the fact that I finished 66 books this year (though I may have one or two more done before the year ends).

To commemorate this year of reading, here are my favorite reading endeavors of 2015, arranged in alphabetical order by title. I’ve also listed a few Honorable Mentions at the bottom because I just like books a lot.

What were your favorite books you read this year?

The Complete Stories, Flannery O’Connor

The Complete Stories of Flannery O'ConnorI first encountered Flannery O’Connor in high school and fell in love with her stories “A Good Man in Hard to Find” and “Good Country People,” both of which I’ve revisited again and again. So when I had to read seven of O’Connor’s stories for a Southern Literature class last spring, I decided, having bought her entire collection of short stories, to continue working through the book throughout the year. O’Connor is famous for her grotesque and darkly comic stories, a theme that is seen again and again in her works. For more on my favorite stories from the collection, check out my review of the book I wrote upon finishing it in June.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Phoebe Gloeckner

IMG_1804My interest in The Diary of a Teenage Girl was sparked by the rave reviews for the film adaptation that premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, largely because it fits well with the research I’m doing for my master’s thesis project. After seeing the film in August and loving its sincere and honest tone, I bought myself the semi-autobiographical, semi-graphic novel that inspired the movie. Phoebe Gloeckner does a wonderful job of capturing the voice of Minnie in her work (a voice that she took from her own teenage diary entries). I found the book charming, troubling, and fascinating–a work that clearly aligns with Judy Blume’s famously honest portrayals of young women. The Diary of a Teenage Girl is a true treat (you can read my full review here).

Doctor Sleep, Stephen King

IMG_1836I really didn’t expect to enjoy Doctor Sleep as much as I did, but boy did it surprise me. It can be expected that reading a Stephen King novel will be an entertaining experience, but I didn’t expect to become so invested in these characters. Though Doctor Sleep is the follow up to The Shining, this is a very different story: adult Dan Torrance becomes involved with protecting a young girl who shares his “shining” capabilities. I love when “pop fiction” is more than just a pleasant way to pass the time, and Doctor Sleep certainly delivers in this fun, creepy, and entertaining book (full review here).

Dracula, Bram Stoker

DraculaDracula was one of my longest-lasting reading projects of 2015 because my roommate and I decided to take on the task of reading the book together, an experience we both enjoyed thoroughly. I’d been plenty familiar with the story before (because who isn’t?), but it was a much more rewarding experience to read the source material, especially when it’s made all-the-more enjoyable by reading with your best friend. As it turns out, a shared reading experience full of laughs is the perfect antidote to a stressful semester of grad school, and one we’ll certainly be repeating (full review here).

The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

IMG_1505The Grapes of Wrath has long-been on my reading list, but I finally took the journey this summer, a choice that only made me wonder why I hadn’t done it sooner. The best part of reading John Steinbeck’s classic was that I got to read my grandfather’s 1950s copy of the book full of his annotations–The Grapes of Wrath was the subject of his thesis while in seminary (note the feature picture). Though my grandfather died when I was three-years-old, reading his words alongside Steinbeck’s gave me the bittersweet experience of feeling just a bit closer to him (full review here).

The Grownup, Gillian Flynn

Grownup

Gillian Flynn doesn’t disappoint. The Grownup is a very quick read–it is a short story, after all–but it rings true to Flynn’s other disturbingly entertaining works. If you loved Gone Girl as much as the rest of the world, set  aside an hour to give this a read. Only down side: you’ll finish reading it and feel slightly disappointed that it hasn’t turned into a full length novel.

The Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle

The Hound of the BaskervillesThe Hound of the Baskervilles was a particularly fun read because it kept me entertained during my cozy snow week last spring (oh, the joy of having an entire week just to stay inside and read). I fell in love with BBC’s Sherlock during my 2013-2014 winter break but hadn’t ever read any of Doyle’s stories, so I was very happy to see that his writing is just as fun as the show (full review here).

In the Unlikely Event, Judy Blume

In the Unlikely EventAs you might have guessed from what I wrote about The Diary of a Teenage Girl, I’m a Judy Blume fan, so her release of a new novel this year was a special treat for me. In the Unlikely Event is technically an adult novel, but the majority of the story is about a fifteen-year-old girl, so it often feels like Blume’s classic young adult novels. Set in the 1950s, the book has the same mid-century feel that makes Mad Men so fun to watch, and the characters and so endearing that you’re immediately drawn into the story. If you’re looking for an easy read with a lot of heart, In the Unlikely Event is a great way to spend your time (full review here).

Me Before You, Jojo Moyes

Me Before YouMe Before You was a perfect (if not emotionally draining) way to spend my Thanksgiving break. With the knowledge that a film adaptation of this book arrives in theaters next spring starring the adorable likes of Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin, and Matthew Lewis, I had a feeling this would be the kind of sweet book I’d enjoy. This is definitely true, but don’t expect a very happy ending–but I don’t want to say any more about it. Me Before You is the perfect kind of bittersweet romantic book, and great for a quiet weekend at home where you can ugly-cry when things get sad (full review here).

On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan

On Chesil BeachAnd speaking of bittersweet romance… Ian McEwan is the indisputable king of the genre (if you’re familiar with Atonement, you’ll know what I’m talking about). On Chesil Beach tells the story of an awkward and shy couple on their wedding night. It’s a short novel that, apart from flashbacks, stays entirely in the moment of one evening. It’s the kind of book that will make you want to yell at the characters, but you can’t stop yourself from reading on. This book can be read in an afternoon, but it’s the type of story that will stick with you long after (full review here).

Outlander, Diana Gabaldon

outlanderI first met Outlander through the TV adaptation of the book series, but after deciding I could no longer wait for the show to keep me up-to-date, I embarked on the journey of reading the series. Gabaldon writes hefty books (in the realm of 800+ pages), but the story is fun and thankfully has kept my interest in these characters satisfied. I’ve also read Dragonfly in Amber, the second book in the series, and if I don’t get the third for Christmas, I’ll be buying it for myself soon. While Outlander is a romantic story at heart, history and science are also hugely essential. So thanks, Diana–I feel like your books are slowly making me a bit smarter (full review here).

White Teeth, Zadie Smith

white-teethI just might have saved the best for last. White Teeth was conveniently both on my personal reading list and required reading for a class this fall, so I was happy to read it this summer. I really had no idea how much I’d enjoy it. Zadie Smith is a fabulous Dickensian writer; she writes developed characters that make up an incredibly diverse and vast ensemble, but manages to make you feel as if you know them each individually. Her prose is beautiful slow-building, and I don’t know whether to bow to her or hate her for having written White Teeth at the age of 24 (which just so happens to be my current age). White Teeth is a truly rewarding experience (full review here).

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And, as promised, here are some Honorable Mentions for my other favorites this year (listed alphabetically by title):

  • Angels in America, Tony Kushner
  • The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, John Boyne
  • A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
  • Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee
  • The Divine Comedy Vol. I: Inferno, Dante Alighieri
  • Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh
  • Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
  • In Our Time, Ernest Hemingway
  • Sanctuary, William Faulkner
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

You can find my full list of the books I read in 2015 here and explore the rest of the blog for longer reviews of these works.

 

Favorite TV Shows of 2015

As 2015 comes to a close, it’s time to reflect back on another great year of entertainment, a process I find especially fun and rewarding. As you’re probably aware if you know me via blog or real life, I’m a serious TV-watcher. Like, embarrassingly so. So, in this time of reflection, here are my favorite shows of 2015. My selections include both past and current shows, as well as programs I watched for the first time and those I went back to revisit.

Read on for some recommended viewing for the holiday season!

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW, currently in season 1)

Crazy Ex-GirlfriendI have to say, I was skeptical of this show–I found the title to be a bit of a sexist cliche and the promos made me feel like it was some weird peppy version of Girls, but I’m happy to admit I was totally wrong. First, the show’s title is intentionally sexist (and the theme song makes fun of it). Rachel Bloom is totally deserving of her recent Golden Globe nomination for this smart, sweet, funny show. The fact that it’s also a pseudo-musical also doesn’t hurt. Go watch it!

Fargo (FX)

FargoWithout a doubt, season 2 of Fargo, which wrapped up this past Monday, was one of the best seasons of TV I’ve seen in a long time. The show’s first season which aired in the spring of 2014 was also stellar, but it’s crazy how incredibly perfect season 2 was. With a phenomenal ensemble cast of unexpected actors, Fargo told an interwoven story of some seedy Midwesterners in the late 1970s. Fargo proves it is possible for a show to be both hilarious and tensely dramatic, oftentimes simultaneously (see episode 8, “Loplop,” for several examples of this). I can’t say enough about the show and how sad I am to see it go. Is it possible for season 3 to reach this calibre? After this amazing season, I’d trust Fargo‘s creative team with the unimagineable.

Frasier (11 seasons streaming on Netflix)

FrasierFrasier is undoubtedly my most significant TV accomplishment of 2015; in fact, I watched all 264 episodes in just over 3 months this summer (a fact I choose to be proud of, so deal with it). I grew up with the show and have seen many of the reruns on Lifetime, but the experience of watching it all from start to finish was perfect. It’s hilarious and brilliant. A serious commitment, but absolutely worth the effort.

Game of Thrones (5 seasons streaming on HBOGO and HBONOW)

Game of ThronesIt’s nice to know there are shows you can always count on, like Game of Thrones, to maintain a high standard for TV. Season 5 was no different–fans of the show have come to expect exciting action sequences, thoughtful character development, and surprising twists along the way (as well as an exorbitant amount of nudity and gore, but I digress). Now that the show has officially surpassed the book series in production, I’m quite anxious to see where things go (especially where Jon Snow is concerned).

Jessica Jones (season 1 streaming on Netflix)

After falling in love with Krysten Ritter in 2013 when I watched Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23, I felt it was only fair to give this a go, especially after Jessica JJessica Jonesones was receiving stellar reviews. The show is perfect for people who aren’t totally into superhero stuff–it’s much more a drama than a hero/action show, so the appeal works for a wider audience. David Tennant is a delectably despicable villain as Kilgrave, and, at 13 episodes, Jessica Jones is the perfectly bingeable show for a long weekend at home.

Lost (6 seasons streaming on Netflix)

LostLost carried me though my spring 2015 semester of school, and I really loved every moment of it. I hadn’t revisited the show since the original airing ended in 2010, so it was quite a treat to return. If it wasn’t for Lost, I’m not sure we’d be living in this so-called “golden age of television.” And to top it all off, I wrote one of my final graduate school papers on the show, so it turns out TV-watching can be meaningful after all. You can also read more about my favorite Lost episodes here.

My So-Called Life (full series available on DVD)

My So-Called LifeI first watched My So-Called Life when it was still on Netflix in 2012 and loved it, but haven’t had the chance to revisit it since. After receiving the complete series (which is just a single 19-episode season) for my birthday last month, my roommate and I quickly made our way through what is a truly delightful show (though finishing the show during finals week maybe wasn’t our smartest decision). Claire Danes is perfect as always as is the rest of the show’s ensemble. I was so happy to see that I loved the series just as much a second time around, and, now that I’m home for winter break, my mom and I have already begun our own viewing of the series. My So-Called Life is the perfect answer to a cold, cozy day spent indoors.

Outlander (season 1 available on DVD)

I fell in love with Outlander first through the TV Outlanderseries when it premiered in 2014 and have now read the first two books in the series to combat this loneliness of the show’s hiatus. My roommate and I also made our way through season 1 of the show earlier this fall, an experience that only made me long for season 2. Thankfully, the premiere is drawing ever closer, but for now, I’ll have to satisfy myself with rewatching.

Rectify (Seasons 1 and 2 streaming on Netflix)

RectifyI started Rectify on a bit of a whim late this summer because I’d heard good things about it in the past. I went into the viewing experience a bit ignorant about the story, but was quite pleased with this dark, poignant, and thoughtful show. (Side note: the show has had 3 seasons, so if you’re looking to watch it, consider finding season 3 elsewhere).

UnREAL (season 1 available On Demand)

UnREALOne lazy day this summer, I secluded myself in our basement to watch six episodes of Lifetime’s UnREAL, a show that’s fun and exciting and perfect for mindless viewing. The show follows the production side of a faux Bachelor-style reality dating show and has just as much entertaining drama as you would hope. Shiri Appleby and Constance Zimmer shine in the lead roles, and despite the show’s campy nature, it’s messages about gender are actually quite interesting and progressive. Here’s hoping season 2 is just as fun as season 1 was.

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And, just for fun, here are a few honorable mentions that I’ve also enjoyed this year:

  • The Last Man on Earth (FOX, streaming on Hulu)
  • Veep (HBO, streaming on HBOGO and HBONOW)
  • Jane the Virgin (The CW, season 1 streaming on Netflix)
  • Broadchurch (2 seasons streaming on Netflix)
  • Empire (FOX, streaming on Hulu)
  • The O.C. (complete series streaming for free on the CW Seed)
  • Bob’s Burgers (seasons 1-4 streaming on Netflix)