It’s time for our 2015 Favorites!

This isn’t a “best of” list. There are plenty of those. This is the stuff that hit Thunder Alley in 2015 and gave it a jolt. In a good way.

2015 Favorites: Movies

Image provided by imdb/Fox Searchlight

The Oscar winner was an inventive love letter to movies, acting, being weird and having wild dreams. And witnessing the rebirth of Michael Keaton was pretty damn amazing.

Kingsman: The Secret Service
Adapted from Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons’ excellent graphic novel, this was a smart, witty take on the spy genre that out-Bonded this year’s James Bond sequel.

American Sniper
Intense and at times difficult to watch, this depiction of the late Chris Kyle’s memoir was a searing portrait of modern warfare and its impact on the soldiers waging it.

Avengers: Age of Ultron
Yeah, yeah, it made slightly less than the obscene amount of money its predecessor did. Don’t care. It was big, wild and propulsive, while still finding time for some affecting character moments.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
It’s too bad this adaptation of the old TV series got lost in the Summer shuffle, because it was stylish, sleek and loads of retro-cool fun.

Marvel’s smallest hero packed mighty big entertainment, taking the Marvel movie juggernaut in an agreeably gonzo direction.

Image provided by imdb/Warner Bros.

Black Mass
This biopic did an elegant job of distilling the Whitey Bulger saga to some of its most important points and gave Johnny Depp his best role in years. And Joel Edgerton’s performance as a disgraced FBI agent was a masterstroke.

Bridge of Spies
A cold war espionage drama delivered with intelligence, subtlety and realistic tension. The best Tom Hanks has been in years, matched with a great turn from Mark Rylance.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
How often does a highly anticipated sequel not only meet expectations but exceed them? Not often, but this launch to a new Star Wars trilogy nailed it. And it was awesome.

2015 Favorites: Television

Image provided by imdb/Marvel

Daredevil and Jessica Jones
The first two entries in Marvel’s Netflix foray were stunning, featuring strong storytelling, impressive action, real grit and compelling star turns from, respectively, Charlie Cox and Krysten Ritter.

Season 2 of the British import provided no neat and easy answers. Its realistic follow-up to the events of Season 1 could be heartbreaking, but also powerful and ultimately cathartic.

Yeah, it could be uneven at times. But Taraji P. Henson is making history with her brilliant performance. Cookie was instantly iconic for a variety of good reasons, but mostly because of Henson.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter
The broadcast corner of Marvel’s TV and movie universe gets less attention these days, but Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has developed into a compelling, gripping superhero/spy drama. Meanwhile, Agent Carter quietly became Marvel’s first female-led property, delivering a fantastic retro-spy adventure.

Game of Thrones
There is still nothing else like this on television. Even many big screen movies pale in comparison to the brilliant “Hardhome” battle sequence.

Image provided by imdb/Showtime

Penny Dreadful
Somewhere along the way, this Victorian monster mash-up went from “guilty pleasure” to “amazing drama.” Eva Green remained the anchor, but Billie Piper stunned in a scene that saw her character morph from simpering would-be-Bride of Frankenstein to godmother of the apocalypse.

After the detour into the uneven Vice season, the animated spy comedy got back on track with a new season of outrageous, transgressive episodes that also made room for Archer and Lana navigating new parenthood. Hilariously.

How to Get Away With Murder
Even when things got chaotic, Season 2 kept the momentum going strong. Plenty of twists and jolts, but all of it worked. Viola Davis continued to shame just about every other performer on TV with her bold work.

The Flash
It was bright, zippy and lots of fun. A deep dive into comic book lore showed that geeks and non-geeks could enjoy the same compelling adventure. The cast doesn’t get enough credit, but they’re doing some first-rate work.

The Great British Baking Show
It’s insane how addictive this amateur baking contest was. It’s the rare reality show that almost entirely eschews interpersonal drama to focus on the actual tasks and it’s wonderful.

2015 Favorites: Books

Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch
The Peter Grant series took a break from London for a sojourn to a small town near the Welsh border. While the series’ ongoing plots mostly took a breather, fans got a twisty, self-contained mystery that was a great showcase for the lead character.

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman
The fantasy maestro’s latest short fiction collection was compelling, intriguing and thought-provoking, with some interesting experiments in form and a new Shadow Moon novella, too.

Image provided by Amazon/Crown

Dead Wake by Erik Larson
A lot of readers have only a small awareness of the events surrounding the sinking of the Lusitania during World War I. Larson unfolds the tale in compelling, suspenseful fashion.

The Diamond Conspiracy by Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine
The latest entry in the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series detonated many of the plot points the authors had been building up, giving readers all kinds of pay-offs and major plot developments.

A Spy Among Friends by Ben Macintyre
The real story of Kim Philby, the most notorious British spy of the Cold War era, is so wild that you’d think it was fiction if you didn’t know it was all true.

2015 Favorites: Graphic Novels

Image provided by Amazon/Image

Jupiter’s Legacy
Mark Millar and Frank Quitely’s deconstruction of classic superhero archetypes, splashed across modern notions of celebrity and legacy, was one of the best things either creator has produced in a long time.

Rocket Raccoon: A Chasing Tale
The breakout character from Guardians of the Galaxy anchored his own series quite effectively, with humorous, action-packed stories from the inimitable Skottie Young.

Ms. Marvel: Generation Why
The second volume of the beloved series kept up the momentum of the first arc quite effectively.

Miracleman: Olympus
Marvel wrapped up the reprinting of this landmark series that was too long out of print with the audacious, ahead-of-its-time Olympus. It’s mandatory reading for anyone who cares about comics.

Lady Killer
Writer/artist Joëlle Jones spearheaded this brilliant series that took a fascinating cracked mirror view of a JFK-era housewife who was a lot more than she seemed.

Image provided by Amazon/Image

Bitch Planet
Kellie Sue DeConnick and Valentine DeLandro’s note-perfect provocation tackled a lot of big themes, using a classic “women in prison” set-up as a launch pad for a fascinating psychological dissection of a misogynist dystopia.

Avengers: Time Runs Out
Jonathan Hickman did some really interesting things during his tenure shepherding the Avengers franchise. His run often required a lot of heavy lifting on the reader’s part, but it all came together in this saga, paving the way for the new Secret Wars.

2015 Favorites: Music: Albums

Better Than Home by Beth Hart
Hart melded her pop and jazz influences into a distinctive, compelling collection that was among her best.

The Firewatcher’s Daughter by Brandi Carlile
Carlile stunned with this mesmerizing, diverse collection that saw her decamp from the major label for a bold new lease on her career.

Image provided by Allmusic/Columbia

Venus by Joy Williams
Clues to the implosion of The Civil Wars were tucked into Williams’ first album since that duo folded. It was strong, personal work that sent the singer in a confident new direction.

Show Me Your Fangs by Matt Nathanson
Nathanson has consistently produced first rate adult rock and alterna-pop. His latest was another winning collection, filled with hooks and strong performances.

25 by Adele
What more can be said? It’s Adele’s world, we just live in it.

Digital Vein by David Cook
The erstwhile American Idol quietly put out his first new album in five years, a winning return to his indie rock roots that was still tuneful, melodic and polished.

First Comes the Night by Chris Isaak
Isaak delivered his first collection of new material in seven years without re-inventing the wheel. This retro-influenced collection worked the singer’s favored terrain of heartache and doomed love with a lot of style.

2015 Favorites: Music: Singles

Things Happen” — Dawes
I Bet My Life” — Imagine Dragons
Shut Up and Dance” — Walk The Moon
Beggin’ for Thread” — Banks
First” — Cold War Kids
Ex’s and Oh’s” — Elle King
Cecilia and the Satellite” — Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness
Tougher Than the Rest” — Shawn Colvin
She Used To Be Mine” — Sara Bareilles

Originally published at on December 22, 2015.

Author (Grievous Angels) and pop culture gadabout #amwriting

Author (Grievous Angels) and pop culture gadabout #amwriting