23 Movies, Albums, Performances and More That Mattered in 2015

23 Movies, Albums, Performances and More That Mattered in 2015

With all the best-of lists for movies, TV and music out this year, there's no shortage of opinions about what was great in pop culture in 2015. Yes, Spotlight is incredible. Yes, Carly Rae Jepsen's Emotion is an underrated gem. These consensus opinions are consensus largely because, on the whole, most would agree they're correct on some base level.

What about the personal passions, however? What tiny movie or underwatched TV show made us smile this year? What viral video or celebrity tweet kept us laughing long after we favorited (er, liked) them on Twitter? Which performances and farewell seasons of series made us cry?

This list is a compilation of what mattered to Mic staffers this year. They're not necessarily what we think was best, or even our favorites of the year. They're merely what we want to remember from 2015 — and hopefully will inspire readers to share in the enjoyment.

NOTE: Spoilers will follow for the works and performances discussed.

America's Next Top Model's final shot

After 22 glorious cycles, America's Next Top Model called it quits in October — and my heart sunk faster than model Leila on Cycle 19's final catwalk. You could argue that ANTM has never produced an actual top model. Some of its biggest stars even rep moderate to severe plaque psoriasis medication now. But that shouldn't matter compared to the show's other glorious gifts: bizarre photoshoots involving tarantulas, decrepit motels and human-sized bowls of Greek salad; the delicate arts of smizing and tooching one's booty; this "Stop, Drop n' Tooch" music video that's both catchy and terrifying.

Nothing will ever fill the Tyra Banks-shaped hole in my heart — nothing, that is, except a constant loop of ANTM's history-making explosion. You know the one.

— Jordyn Taylor, staff writer

Amy, the Amy Winehouse documentary

Amy is the simply named documentary that tells the far more complex and tragic story of Amy Winehouse. Director Asif Kapadia used archival footage to string together the once-in-a-generation jazz singer's story through her 2011 death at age 27.

Winehouse's lyrics described the bottoms of self-loathing and destruction, and her voice — alternatingly velvety, coarse, warbly — attracted millions to her message. The vicious paparazzi machine that attended Winehouse's fame stoked the drug addiction that ultimately killed her. But Amy also forces consumers of media (that is, everyone) to think about our role as instigators of the flash-bulb mobs and smirking late night hosts who hastened Winehouse's demise. None of us felt to blame when news came of Winehouse's death; Amy suggests we all were.

— Marcus Moretti, product associate

Bojack Horseman season two

On the subreddit r/twoxchromosomes, I recently came across a thread by a woman who said she'd just finished the second season of Bojack Horseman. She identified with Diane Nguyen (voiced by Alison Brie), the liberal feminist at the center of the love triangle between main characters Bojack (Will Arnett), the booze-guzzling, middle-aged, malaise-stricken half-horse, and his rival Mr. Peanut Butter (Paul F. Tompkins). When I watched the show last summer, however, I didn't identify with Diane. I identified with Bojack.

Bojack Horseman is a half-hour Netflix original series that, in many ways, is indistinguishable from the raunchy, flashback-heavy humor in shows like American Dad and Family Guy. Yet the eponymous main character sets it apart. As Grantland's Eric Thurm wrote, he's "one of the most unflinching, brutal, and empathetic looks at serious depression on television." 

In the second season, Bojack gets a girlfriend (an owl voiced by Lisa Kudrow), lands his dream job (the lead role in a Secretariat biopic) and reconnects with a cherished old friend (a deer voiced by Olivia Wilde). He loses all three by the end of the season. Bojack isn't a victim of circumstance; he's a victim of his own lack of ambition and toxic self-loathing. One of the markers of depression is making the same mistake over and over again, as he does, but being too exhausted by the rigors of human existence to particularly care. No other TV show renders that experience so sadly and elegantly as Bojack Horseman does.

— EJ Dickson, Connections editor

"California," Grimes

There's been some speculation about this loopy, looping contribution to Grimes' latest album: Is that the "Pon de Replay" beat in the background? Is it about Pitchfork? The music industry?

When listening for the first time, I decided to go literal and take the song at face value — and it's absolutely perfect. I wasn't the only one who thought of Joni Mitchell immediately upon first listen, which might seem strange until you hear this surprisingly badass fan-made acoustic version. As someone who has spent no small amount of time enduring young people whose parents did very well for themselves in California, I feel a diss track backed by handclaps is precisely what I deserve.

— Kengo Tsutsumi, deputy programming editor

Christine Baranski on a New York subway

We will never look as good on a subway as Christine Baranski. That's what I learned in 2015 — an excellent exercise in humility, to be sure.

First snapped by Twitter user @lazar_art (and tweeted by @macartney), the shot of the Good Wife actress riding a train in sunglasses, coat and fabulous style became a momentary sensation online this January.

Honestly, it's art. There's no other word for it. It's an iPhone photo of one of the great dames of film and theater on a filthy subway car, and it is flawless. It is the definition of #goals. It's the kind of moment that could only happen with the technology and celebrity fascination we have in 2015. Thank God and the Good Wife for that.

— Kevin O'Keeffe, staff editor/writer

Cynthia Nixon, James White

There has been no better film performance this year than Cynthia Nixon in James White. To say Nixon simply brings a lack of vanity to the role is selling her work short. Gail White is a woman dying of cancer. Vanity is out of the question. Survival is key, so she can impart some goodness onto her son James (Christopher Abbott) before her end. Together, they power through the most harrowing days of the disease.

The Whites' bond is powerful in life and devastating in death. Mother and son fight for each other up until the bitter end. It's both affirming and heart-wrenching. James White asks the question: What if he had to face it? Cynthia Nixon answers the question: His mother would help him carry on for as long as she can. Hers is a tour-de-force that takes the film from solid to spectacular.

— Kevin O'Keeffe, staff editor/writer

The "Diamonds" scene is Girlhood

2015's single most beautiful scene features 16-year-old girls dancing to a three-year old song: Rihanna's "Diamonds." The quiet drama, Girlhood, tells the story of Marieme, a girl growing up poor and black in the banlieues outside Paris. When her and her four friends play hooky, steal dresses and squat in a hotel room, they begin to lip-sync to the anthemic Rihanna song before finally bursting out into the song themselves.

As young teens wrestling with rough home lives filled with violence and neglect, the scene shows the girls appreciating each other — they are embracing and celebrating blackness in a world that won't. The beautiful blue-saturated cinematography allows them to indeed shine like diamonds.

— Mathew Rodriguez, staff writer

Drake's "Hotline Bling" video

As a longtime believer in the idea of Drake as a cultural meme, the Canadian performer's video for "Hotline Bling" felt like sweet validation. Here was Drake — mascot for virality, master of his own dorkiness — putting it all on display for the world to see. The video was his way of winking at us, as if to say, "I know you're going to turn me into a punchline and use my sweet moves to make some GIFs, so I'll make it easy for you."

It was brilliant, and even Donald Trump couldn't resist poking fun at it. I've always felt that Drake knowingly markets his meme-ability. This video was just the cherry on top. The subsequent Hotline Bling sweater boom didn't hurt, either.

— Sophie Kleeman, staff writer

It Follows

Much like the nameless, faceless (or rather, full-of-faces) villain at the center of the film, It Follows will stay with you for a long time. You'll even want to share it with a friend.

It Follows is a psychosexual creepfest that asks its audience to wrestle with questions pertinent to our generation of Tinder and Grindr users: "Can you ever really trust another person?" "What does it mean to be vulnerable in the face of fear?" The film uses every element of horror to do its work: a pulsing score, an almost-unsolvable mystery and an almost-unkillable killer. By the movie's end you may, like its main villain, just end up wetting your pants.

— Mathew Rodriguez, staff writer

Jagged Little Pill's 20th anniversary

About once a year, I go through a phase where I listen to nothing but Alanis Morissette's seminal album Jagged Little Pill for two weeks straight. This year, the informal tradition was extra special thanks to the album's 20th birthday, which led to a November re-release with ten unreleased bonus tracks, acoustic versions and a recording of one of her 1995 concerts.

From the uncensored rage of "You Oughta Know" to the catchy chorus of "Ironic" to the real AF lyrics of "All I Really Want," this collection of angsty gems truly deserves its status as a critical masterpiece and the 20th-best-selling album of all time in the United States.

— Nic DiDomizio, staff writer

Jazz made a dramatic comeback

Few genres suffer such an unfair characterization in popular conversations as much as jazz. When discovering Miles Davis in high school, most everyone I tried to talk to about it with wrote jazz off as elevator music. In college, listening to John Coltrane was more pretentious than herbal tea. Jazz never died, but as vital, expressive art form, it's basically been holed up in a geriatric ward.

This year though, against all odds, jazz showed its fangs again in a way it hasn't in years. Starting with Kendrick Lamar, onto BadBadNotGood's collaboration with Wu-Tang vet Ghostface Killah, Kamasi Washington's The Epic and Thundercat's surprise EP — each release has been more vivifying than the last. New listeners have masters to learn from again. More important than resurrecting the sounds though, these artists resurrected the feeling; the wild, Dionysian dance that jazz inspires better than any other genre.

— Tom Barnes, staff editor/writer

JoJo returned with "III"

2015 finally saw the major label return of flawlessly voiced pop-R&B songstress JoJo, who had spent the previous eight (!) years wallowing in record label drama that basically cock-blocked her from coming out with anything new. While she still catered to fans during the hiatus with a few stellar mixtapes, the formal release of her 'tringle' (three-song single, natch) in August felt like a triumphant moment for the criminally underrated vocalist.

I once listened to JoJo's cover of Paula Cole's "I Don't Want to Wait" on repeat for five hours straight and have no regrets. Now that she's free from her previous label's grasp, I can't (and don't want to) wait for her next full-length album to drop.

— Nic DiDomizio, staff writer

The Leftovers season two

With critics arguing that TV drama has jumped the shark and both The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family ruling the ratings, it seems like an odd time for a show to present itself as utterly devoid of hope, laughter, or anything even resembling joy. Yet that's just what The Leftovers is, and that's probably why nobody's watching.

When 2% of the world's population disappears without explanation, it's tough to get over it, even after four years and a big change of scenery. So much fun, right? But what keeps me coming back is the raw honesty and emotional impact that the show presents through its characters. Neither we nor the denizens of Jarden, Texas, ever learn why the Sudden Departure happened, and we probably never will; what's important is how those affected deal with their situation.

Though borderline-supernatural things happen with every new episode, The Leftovers never comes down on either side of the science vs. religion debate. That's what makes this show so special: The characters will never find closure or absolute truth, and we get to watch them try to navigate their grief without it.

— Ryan Campbell, junior UX/UI engineer

Lorentz helped me overcome my anxiety

It's the last day of the Way out West festival, and I'm waiting in a packed tent for a Lorentz concert to start. I'm excited, but also anxious. I've never liked big groups of people and it's only gotten worse in recent years.

I start the concert where I feel most safe — standing in the back. Lorentz takes the stage and begins rapping over a flurry of uplifting, hymn-like trap beats. "Dom sa en dag ska vi alla dö/ Jag sa alla andra dar ska vi inte det" he raps, which roughly translates to: "They said one day we all will die/ I said, all other days we will not." It's hard not to dance. Almost without noticing, I find myself moving closer and closer to the stage, waiting for the anxiety to come and force me back.

But it doesn't come. I dance. I sing. I'm happy. I'm free.

— David Björklund, lead engineer

Mad Max: Fury Road

With Mad Max: Fury Road, director George Miller pulled off cinematic necromancy. He resurrected a long-dead franchise, avoiding the tired and derivative nature of other reboots like RoboCop, to make a seamless creature that feels representative of 2015.

When the film opens, we see Max dwelling in his past, moldering on battles lost and allies failed. Soon, he's wrenched back into the present by the servants of terrifying dictator Immortan Joe, whose empire of blood, oil and fast cars is no '80s throwback. It preys on today's fears of extremism, climate change and technological collapse.

In another parallel to today's world, Fury Road's setting is both complex and intersectional, examining themes of feminism and redemption, featuring some of the baddest ladies to ever star in an action movie in the form of Charlize Theron's Imperator Furiosa and the Many Mothers.

Max is back. But he's not the Max you knew, as he shouldn't be. Sometimes, an old horse can surprise you.

— Tom McKay, staff writer

Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift's Twitter beef

How do you properly begin to discuss the Nicki Minaj vs. Taylor Swift Twitter controversy that engulfed timelines this year? Do you start by looking at how vital beef was to music as a whole this year? Do you assess the full roster of featured artists, who artfully snuck their names into the headlines (Perry and Cyrus)?

With each article I wrote about the social media war — which ultimately turned into the 2015 MTV Video Music Award's highlight of the decade — I felt like I knew these two women as friends, not artists. When the two paired up for their explosive VMAs opening set, the world learned a valuable lesson: keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.

2016, what's good?

— Chris Riotta, staff writer

"Please Welcome to the Stage"

The moment we hit peak Taylor Swift was when she dragged Julia Roberts and Joan Baez out onto the stage of her 1989 World Tour. The absurdity of two women many of the young girls in the audience would have trouble naming, much less mustering passion for, lit a match that set the entire #squadgoals bonfire aflame. Yet it was comedian Lara Marie Schoenhals' "Please Welcome to the Stage," inspired by Roberts and Baez's appearance, that finally lit the flame.

In a devastating bit of parody that quickly became my addiction, Schoenhals as Swift proposes increasingly absurd sets of guests to "welcome to the stage," from the victims of Bill Cosby to Gigi Hadid and the Blair Witch. Swift made herself look silly, but it took Schoenhals to deliver the final satirical blow and reveal what the singer's parade of friends truly was: a charade.

— Kevin O'Keeffe, staff editor/writer

"Baby, It's Cold Outside," Scandal

Last year, I had an abortion. And in this season's winter finale of Scandal, so did Olivia Pope. That we got to see the show's protagonist go through with the procedure is groundbreaking on its own: Abortion storylines on TV are rare, though Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes hasn't run from them in the past.

This time was different. Unlike when Grey's Anatomy's Cristina Yang decided to terminate a pregnancy (irreparably harming her marriage as a result), Pope's abortion was, simply, a choice she made and executed. It wasn't an earth-shattering disaster that fucked up her whole life. It was something that happened. And when it was over, other things happened. Pope went on with her day, but she also showed millions of viewers what an estimated one in three women — women like me — already know: Abortion happens. It's not the end of the world.

— Jenny Kutner, senior staff writer

Ratchet, Shamir

In early 2015, armed with a natural falsetto that can be alternately soothing or alarming — and often both simultaneously— Shamir dropped his album Ratchet, an unapologetic ode to a lifestyle others mock. On the anthemic "Hot Mess," Shamir identifies as the term others are quick to deride. On the confessional "Demon," Shamir deals with the challenges in his life who have turned him into what he is. Defiant and proud, Ratchet's songs give flesh and bone to young queer men of color everywhere. In that sense, while deeply personal and, yes, plenty ratchet, Shamir's debut is a political statement. He's here, he's queer and he's ratchet af.

— Mathew Rodriguez, staff writer

Tangerine

Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Taylor) hears loud music in her head. As she stomps down the streets of downtown Los Angeles in this revolutionary trans buddy comedy, her fury is scored by hard rap interlaced with gunshots. She's on a mission to find her cheating man, and she's furious. When she finally tries to calm herself down and have a cigarette by the train station, the rock is replaced by classical music. The peace lasts for a moment — then she says "fuck it" and the hip-hop starts right back up again.

There are so many things about Tangerine that make it a true original, from cast to story to its unconventional filming style. Yet Sin-Dee's mental musical battle was when I fell in love. The rest was just delicious, outrageous, exciting gravy.

— Kevin O'Keeffe, staff editor/writer

Transparent season two's opening scene

Transparent isn't a series just about a woman transitioning. It's about a thoroughly modern family in constant transition. People step into scenes (a long-lost son!), people leave the frame (poor Rob Huebel!). The Pfeffermans, like all families, are just one long Steadicam shot.

Jill Soloway — director, creator, visionary — filmed this dynamic brilliantly in the opening scene of season two, leaving the camera in one place and capturing the comings and goings of the latest version of this unit: the kisses, the gestures, the shade, the talking over one another. One could watch that 10 times and catch something new from each viewing. Jeffrey Tambor advances the show's important themes with only a few sharp lines, and Judith Light cements her place as the most pitch-perfect Jewish mother in television history. Mazel tov.

— Slade Sohmer, editorial director

Young Thug, hip-hop's newest rock star

Earlier this year, one of hip-hop's leaders made somewhat of a groundbreaking admission. "90 percent of my clothes are women's," rapper Young Thug told GQ. "Women's jeans fit how they're supposed to fit. Like a rock star."

One would be hard-pressed to find a more fuck-all, rock star statement than that this year.

For such a cutting edge artistic movement, many of hip-hop's values are surprisingly conservative. Most everything about Young Thug's art works to buck the norms that have long boxed in the genre. He raps over minimal beats, twists his words with effects like Jimi Hendrix did with his guitar and he speaks his mind in a way that would have gotten many mainstream stars ostracized from rap radio in years past. The genre's is getting weird again, the way I like it, and Young Thug is leading that charge.

— Tom Barnes, staff editor/writer

"Very Boston Man Yells at Fish"

With most online video content now being produced by professionals for profit and meme fame, it's now actually kind of rare when an honest to goodness viral video emerges. "Very Boston Man Yells at Fish" is one of those gems.

More than just laughing at a guy's goofy Boston accent, we're (much like we did with "Double Rainbow") delighting with his sheer, unbridled amazement at seeing one of nature's many miracles, in this case a particularly weird fish. Indeed, we are seeing shit we ain't never seen before, Jay.

— Chris Wade, video producer

Read all of Mic's year-in-review coverage here.