With 2015 now in the midst of its death throes, we’ve been taking a look back at some of our favorite and least favorite moments to grace our screens, both big and small. Here you’ll find the moments that made us cheer, the moments that wowed us, and a few of the moments that made us groan the loudest. Stay tuned later this week for our favorite single episodes and our best movies of the year.
The Big Screen
Best aesthetic – The Assassin
It’s a rare thing to be able to give a movie smattered with brutally violent scenes credit for being so transcendentally peaceful at the same time. Director Hsiao-Hsien Hou crafted a slow-as-molasses story about family and betrayal set in 7th-century China that manages to challenge any and all expectations about the martial arts genre.
Most crushing disappointment – Legend
Tom Hardy playing real-life British gangster twins Ronald and Reginald Kray should’ve been a modern milestone for the gangster movies. Written and directed by L.A. Confidential scribe Brian Helgeland, the film was somehow able to not only squander not one but two of Hardy’s performances, but instead ended up a spoon-fed narrative guiding a painfully uninteresting gangster film to the Grand Theft Auto generation.
Best subversive character dynamic – Mad Max & Imperator Furiosa, Mad Max: Fury Road
Writer/director George Miller came out of a 30-year action movie hibernation to not only resurrect a long-dead franchise, but delivered one of the year’s best movies at the same time. To the ire of (*holds back laughter while typing*) “men’s rights” activists everywhere, he made Max a supporting character in his own movie, giving the spotlight to Charlize Theron’s defiant War Rig driver Furiosa, whose relationship was masterfully summed up in a shootout with the nefarious Bullet Farmer.
Most shocking moment – Bone Tomahawk
A slow, dialogue driven western that quickly bleeds (pun intended) into the survivalist genre before becoming an outright horror film by the third act. That final transition is unmistakably marked by the villainous, cannibalistic cave dwellers being tracked throughout the movie and their decidedly undiplomatic handling of prisoners. Just the sound of this scene (those who’ve seen it will know exactly what I’m referring to) was enough to drive anyone over the edge.
Best pandering to a jaded fan-base – Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Acts 1 & 3)
Amidst all the endless hype and countless think pieces (including my own) that dominated the cultural landscape of 2015, it turned out that J.J. Abrams managed to make a pretty decent Star Wars movie. While he injected the franchise with a lighthearted sense of fun that had been absent since 1983, while systematically stroking all of Gen X’s pent-up nostalgia with surgical precision.
The small screen
Most irritating fake-out – Glenn’s death, The Walking Dead
Since its premiere on Halloween of 2010, The Walking Dead consistently ranks as the most watched TV series on cable, famous for both its terribly-paced seasons as it is for its penchant for killing off primary characters. That was completely undermined in the third episode of the (up until that point) excellent sixth season. While left on a cliffhanger, the show then decided it was necessary to go back in time to spend 90 unnecessary minutes exploring Morgan’s pacifist motivations, before deliberately fucking around before finally getting around to the big reveal — which boiled down to a cheap camera trick. Ugh.
Most enigmatic screen presence – Mike Milligan, Fargo
A sharp-dressed, gravel-voiced lieutenant representing the Kansas City side of the mob war that dominated Fargo’s sophomore season, Milligan was barely seen in the first episode, only to become the show’s standout performance (and given its cast, that’s considerable praise). He’ll also likely go down as the only character that can, with no context whatsoever, recite the “Jabberwocky” speech from Alice in Wonderland in the middle of an episode and sound cool as shit while doing it.
Best literalization of stand-up material – Aziz Ansari, Master of None
Riding on the success of the brilliant The Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt, Netflix followed up with Master of None, a contemporary serio-comedy co-created by Ansari who stars as Dev, a fictional version of himself. Part 1970s-era Woody Allen, part later-period Curb Your Enthusiasm, the show’s ten-episode season played out like ten meditations on everything from racial stereotyping, relationships, the generation gap, and show business. What set it apart, however, was that it all in a not-at-all alienating way.
Most profound redemption of the television spin-off – Better Call Saul
Two years after the note-perfect finale of Breaking Bad that tied up any and all loose ends in the world of Walter White, Better Call Saul’s opening moments followed the title character to the Cinnabon in Omaha, before slowly piecing together the origin story of the sad-sack sleazy lawyer. What sounded like a desperate ploy by AMC to cash in on anything profitable after losing two cash cows with Mad Men as well as Breaking Bad — and we had Fear the Walking Dead this fall to show just how badly that can work out. Instead, Better Call Saul instead proved to be a smart, inventive exploration of the often derided prequel.
Best give-no-fucks finale – Dan Harmon, Community
A show that devoted fans regarded as a kind of rollercoaster, co-dependent relationship, Community’s sixth season only existed thanks to Yahoo! stepping in and renewing the contracts of the remaining four principle actors (out of the original seven) at the very last second. Contrary to the binge-watching style of a multi-episode dump, the little-known streaming service released episodes once a week, in the middle of the night, and yet somehow failed to catch on with their internet-savvy fanbase. While the episodes hit far more often than they missed, all the earmarks of the conclusion loomed heavier with each new episode, culminating with showrunner Dan Harmon’s most indulgently meta and ultimately defiant series finale.
Most inventive send-off – Parks and Recreation
The last great Thursday night NBC sitcom was purged by the network in early 2015, pummeling through multiple episodes per night (on a Tuesday, no less) out of a seemingly begrudging contractual obligation. In the meantime, the show itself, famous for genuine good-natured humor and warm-hearted characters, jumped forward three years, creating all-new character dynamics and dilemmas for the town of Pawnee.
Your move, 2016.