Media Review: The Best of 2015
2015 showcased with blockbuster movies, seminal albums and gripping video games to keep fans entertained the whole year round.
Compiling a year-end list of the bests proves difficult with the sheer volume of the media bestowed upon the public, but here are a couple of highlights of some of 2015’s best releases.
“To Pimp a Butterfly” – Kendrick Lamar. Three years after dropping his platinum-selling sophomore effort “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” the Compton rapper came out firing with his newest album.
Critics almost universally loved it, and the record earned enough praise to garner Album of the Year and Best Rap Album nominations for the 2016 Grammy’s. Many other outlets, such as the Genius website, have included the album on year-end “best of” lists.
The ongoing theme throughout is the empowerment of black culture. Mixes of soul, rhythm and blues, jazz and rap molded together as a backdrop for Kendrick’s thought-provoking and well-crafted lyricism.
Indeed, Lamar dropped his best effort to date. In truth, “To Pimp a Butterfly” is the quintessential hip-hop album of 2015 – perhaps even of the first half of the decade, depending on the source. With tracks like the Grammy-nominated “Alright” and the hit “King Kunta,” Kendrick dropped what is arguably the great American hip-hop record.
“E-MO-TION” – Carly Rae Jepsen. What does one do to get out of the shadow of a viral music phenomenon? In the case of Carly Rae Jepsen, follow it up with a mainstream pop success.
While some of the tracks still have the bubblegum pop sound of earlier tracks like the viral hit “Call Me Maybe,” the album as a whole digs deeper, with R&B and synth pop influences throughout. The tracks have a more sophisticated sound; and, while the subject matter is still very much in the pop realm, it has a much cleaner and refined delivery.
It may seem like a stretch, but “E-MO-TION” is arguably the best pop album of 2015 – despite its exclusion from many year-end award nominations. It comes filled with numerous good tracks – particularly opening track “Run Away With Me” – and compiles them all into Jepsen’s springboard away from viral sensation into legitimate pop artist.
“Straight Outta Compton” – The late 1980s and early 1990s featured the rise and fall of gangsta rap and one of its biggest groups, N.W.A. No film has better depicted the story of the controversial group better than this biopic.
The movie takes viewers through the lifespan of N.W.A. from development to dissolution and everywhere in between. Though not completely historically accurate according to first-person accounts, the zeitgeist of the era and the foundations of the events told the gripping story of the hip-hop legends.
Fittingly, the most prominent things in “Straight Outta Compton” are the audio and soundtrack. The sound design shone throughout, whether subtle or more overt. On top of that, the music selections featured classic cuts from the group and associated acts – all of which were seamlessly incorporated into the film.
Overall, “Straight Outta Compton” proved to be one of the landmark movies of the summer and a sure candidate for many award nominations and wins. With a brilliant cast, great direction and fantastic technical work, this movie will please fans of the group and the genre.
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” – After what seems like long, long time ago since the last episodes, the “Star Wars” franchise returned to the big screen at the end of 2015 with “The Force Awakens.”
Needless to say, few could escape the hype and buildup to this newest movie set in a galaxy far away. Under the direction of J.J. Abrams, “The Force Awakens” lived up to the substantial hype. It contains many plot parallels to the first film and makes many allusions to the series as a whole while still establishing its place in the new canon of the universe.
Compelling characters like Rey, Finn, Poe and BB-8 shared the screen with many fan favorites to seamlessly integrate the stories while still leaving fans to theorize backstories and future angles of the series. Most importantly, though, it sets up the rising action for the next two films in the series, coming out in 2017 and 2019.
“The Force Awakens” was fantastic for fans old and new. The score was brilliant and kept viewers glued to the beautiful visuals and story on screen. New stars shined, new plots puzzled fans and a new hope arose for the storied franchise.
“Life Is Strange” – In a year filled with new installments to A-List series, a new title snapped up on the scene, blending sci-fi and supernatural elements with a well-written coming-of-age narrative.
“Life is Strange” is an episodic game, functioning in a similar manner to the episodic decision-based storytelling of Telltale Games’ “The Walking Dead” series. However, Dontnod Entertainment and Square Enix bring a different feel to this game. Players control Max, a photography student who soon realizes she can rewind time. From then, chaos theory ensues.
Holistically, the game is fantastic. It provides some of the best storytelling and some of the most gripping moments in gaming this year. Though the graphics can seem off-putting and the writing can lean heavily on cliché, “Life Is Strange” is a refreshing new angle to the snapshot of gaming today.
“Rise of the Tomb Raider” – Despite releasing this sequel on the same day as two juggernauts in gaming, Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix dropped one of the best – and arguably most underrated – games of the year.
Coming roughly two years after the 2013 reboot to the series, “Rise” brings fans back to the world of Lara Croft, on a mission to redeem her late father’s legacy in search for the lost city of Kitezh. Stunning visuals, fantastic writing and amazing sound design bring the worlds and Lara to life on the screen.
Any other year, this game would be a shoe-in for Game of the Year. However, with other blockbusters released in 2015, especially in November, “Rise” faded into the relative background. Regardless, this game is a must own for any fan of video games.