Our Best of 2015

Best Novel

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Noel – The Library at Mount Char, by Scott Hawkins. 

This isn’t just one of my top novels of 2015, but one of the best I’ve ever read. It’s…eclectic, and difficult to put into words. For a novel of this quality to come from a debut author is something very special indeed as well! Part mystery, part fantasy, part action, part horror – Scott Hawkins has definitely created some kind of new genre here, though I’m not sure what it is. One of those novels that certainly warrants a re-read and never lets up, I could not recommend it highly enough.

Best Game

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Noel – The Order:1886

Well this is disappointing. I knew my games had fallen behind but not this much. Not only did I have to google games that were released this year, but I found that this is the only title released in the past 12 months that I’ve played. So, my best game of 2015 was a little easy to choose. Which is disappointing, because I expected great things from it. Monsters, steampunk, werewolves, Tesla as a weapons designer, the knights of the round table – this had the potential to be epic! We got a very bland and unpolished third person shooter, without that much shooting – more dropping the controller and letting them show off the pretty graphics for most of the games staggering four hour run….Let’s move on to better things, shall we?

Cian – Game of Thrones The Card Game

I’m inclined to agree with you Noel: I haven’t played any videogame at all that was released in 2015.

Part of the reason is that even 2 years into their production runs, none of the Playstation 4 or X-box One games have looked very interesting to me. (Shadow of Mordor was the only game from this year that piqued my Tolkien-nerd interest, so I’ll probably end up picking up a PS3 copy of that one once the price goes down.)

Right now console gaming, at least until the release of the next Bioshock game, isn’t a space that’s holding my attention. So I’m gonna go out of the digital space for my pick and talk about my favourite board game/ card game of the year: The Game of Thrones Living Card Game.

must have played at least fifty games of this over the year – it seems like most things with the “Game of Thrones” branding are destined to be compelling and addictive.

The game is at its core a reworking of “Magic the Gathering” with Game of Thrones characters – But where it really distinguishes itself is with its “challenge” system. Basically, instead of each piece just simply being rated on its fighting ability, as you’ll see in most games like this, all the characters can potentially be used to attack, do something sneaky and underhanded, or make a big political propaganda move. It triples the potential options available to you and your opponent each turn, and really captures the feeling of the series – where clever lies and political maneuvering can win you power just as easily as fighting can.

Best TV Show

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Noel – Fargo Season 2

I’m afraid I cheated a little here – I had previously had Daredevil here, but have changed this in the draft stage. The reason being that I actually only watched it this year, though as it came out last year I’m going to like it.

I can’t say enough good things about this show. I loved season 1, and Season 2 was certainly on par with no drop in quality. The cast were stellar, as before, and the storytelling is of the utmost  quality. It is said that good storytelling should do things – make you feel, and make you think. Fargo delivers on both fronts.  The story of a well-meaning butcher and his manipulative wife being roped into the middle of a war between a mob from Kansas and a small time criminal family is marvellously told. Full of symbolism, some of the best cinematography I think I’ve ever seen, and one scene that I’ve rewatched so many times because of how hauntingly beautiful is (Danny Boy). With a new season confirmed, October can’t come quick enough.

Cian – Netflix Originals

Ooh, tough one! There was heaps of good television this year: from the old statesmen like Mad Men and Justified making their swansongs, to fresh and creative arrivals on the scene like poor old under-appreciated Limitless.

In fact there was so much TV of note this year that I’m just going to shamelessly cheat again and say all of the Netflix Originals were my joint pick for best of the year!

As you mentioned Noel, the Marvel “cinematic universe” delivered some strong drama from unexpected source material by zooming in to focus on urban superheroes/ninjas/private-eyes with Daredevil and Jessica Jones. (In the end I found Daredevil more consistent, but god-damn, when Jessica Jones was on fire it was really, really on fire.)

I picked up Bojack Horseman on a whim over the Summer, having previously dismissed it. (Boy was I wrong!) : I came for and was soon endeared by the series’ goofy Family Guy style humour and animal puns. But I stayed for and was hooked by the sad, self-sabotaging but ultimately likeable characters, the strange philosophical tangents and the deep streak of sadness and poignancy that runs through it. (<- Which is a very strange thing to say about a cartoon about a talking horse who’s also a washed up sitcom actor, I know.)

And there was The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which was probably the straight-up funniest series I saw this year…and, of course, last but by no means least: Sense8.

The Matrix’s Wachowskis) very very odd progressive and inclusive superhero series had some definite misteps: : in particular, the African and Indian characters are sketched in with far broader strokes than the rest of the cast, and English speakers and Americans loom large over the supposedly international story.

But all that aside, I had an absolute whale of a time with this series and I can damn sure respect the effort to step beyond America and the mainstream. Any step like this in the right direction is to commended.

Oh yeah, and Lito is strong,strong in the running for my favourite character of the year – especially when he’s drunkenly sobbing for Hernando.

“Heeerrnaaannndoooooo…..!!!!”

(And just in case I haven’t ran long enough: Honourable Mentions to Agent Carter and Survivor: Second Chance.)

Best Movie

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Noel – Inside Out

This was tricky. Which says a lot – 2015 was a great year for cinema. Spectre, Mission Impossible, Mad Max, The Good Dinosaur, Star Wars, and plenty more I’m sure I’m missing. But coming out top for me is Inside Out. Nobody does movies that appeal to both adults and children as well as Pixar, and Inside Out was wonderfully inventive. The overall premise had a lot of potential, and Pixar did not let it go to waste, with annoying jingles that we keep remembering explained, the train of thought, dreams being made in a film studio – it was amazing. Not to mention the awesome cast, including Leslie Knope! I got this one for Christmas, and couldn’t have been happier. Here’s to hoping 2016 is filled with equally marvellous movies!

Cian – Star Wars

Oh, Star Wars. C’mon, did anyone think I wasn’t gonna say Star Wars? My list of reasons why is pretty damn long (look for that list in blog form on this site sometime reasonably soon).

So with that said, lemme throw out Honourable Mentions to Inside Out (for all the reasons you mentioned Noel), and Ex Machina (tip of the hat to Irish actor Domhnall Gleeson – who we also saw this year in The Force Awakens in the role of Surprisingly Youthful Space Hitler).

And then a bit of a surprise hit for me: Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin’s Steve Jobs: I was never much of an Apple fanboy, but I am a massive sucker for Aaron Sorkin and his “intelligent professional people are incredibly charming and eloquent and witty and fast-talking all the time – and if you identify with them surely that must mean you’re smart and witty and preogressive and a really fast talker too” – style of storytelling. I also really enjoyed the structure of the film: broken into three 30-odd minute mini-acts, where we jump around the chronology of Jobs’ life and catch up with him as he freaks out and deals with a litany of problems behind the scenes before the launch of various major Apple products.

Myself and some friends more or less walked into this film on a whim, but it’s really stuck with me in a way I didn’t expect – which I guess is all you can ask for when you take a chance on a random movie, isn’t it?

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About English Den

Experienced, qualified and professional English teacher working in Warsaw, Poland. Interested in pop culture, and using pop culture to teach languages. Available for private or in-business classes. International classes also available on Skype. Contact Cian.shep@gmail.com for further information.
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