The 25 Most Delightful Pop-Culture Moments of 2015
Decades from now, historians will look back at 2015—a period rife with global, financial, and ecological headaches—and think, Welp, at least they had Bing Bong. Throughout the year, we needed pop-culture pick-me-ups like never before, and thankfully, there were plenty of movies, TV shows, and ADD-amplifying memes available to comfort, distract, and occasionally confound us when we needed ’em. Here are 25 screen-savior moments—some of them Mad Max-imal, others smaller than a memory orb—that helped make 2015 bearable.
25. The Knick Bleeds Out Beautifully
If you haven’t seen Season 2 of The Knick … well, stop reading, and go watch Season 2 of The Knick (for real; spoilers ahoy!). But if you are up-to-speed on Steven Soderbergh’s turn-of-the-century set medical drama—in which Clive Owen plays a brilliant but drug-addled surgeon—you know that this year’s episodes were a narcotizing cocktail of pulp melodrama, searing sociological history, and watch-through-your-fingers intrigue. And it all culminated in the season’s dizzying final moments, in which Owen’s Dr. John Thackery, once again zonked to the gills, operates on himself, going literally gut-deep, and finally finding peace (maybe for good—it’s still unclear whether Owen, or the show, will return for a third season). One of the best season (and maybe series?) finales of all time.
24. The Ladies of Magic Mike XL Steal the Spotlight
The first Magic Mike was one of the weirder blockbusters in recent history: A fizzy, flesh-peddling tale of male-stripper American-dreaming that also happened to be an empathetic examination of modern-day capitalism. Still, it was surprising just how quickly this summer’s follow-up pivoted from its pecs-and-sex premise and instead focused on the behind-the-scenes (and in-the-seats) women who really run the show. That includes Jada Pinkett Smith as a high-end, high-minded strip-club owner; Andie MacDowell as a wizened, wine-sipping divorcée; and Amber Heard as an aspiring photographer who doesn’t need a dude, but could use a little encouragement. They’re the kind of tough, self-assured female characters that tend to disappear from screens in the summer, and by the movie’s strip-contest finale—emceed by Smith, who gives the smoothest, most engaging performance of her career—it’s clear that the filmmakers missed out on a more fitting title: Magic Mike XX.
23. The Rock Hulks Out in Furious 7
The latest installment in the hard-driving action franchise will likely be remembered for the way it skillfully (and tastefully) said farewell to the late Paul Walker (and for the way it dropped a bunch of cars out of the sky). But few moments elicited as many whoops and hollers as the moment when Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s badly bruised federal agent—who’s spent much of the movie in a hospital bed, watching The Hulk—finally heals, and cracks open his arm cast using nothing but muscle, grunts, and 6.1 million grams of pure suspended disbelief.
22. John Travolta Gets Confused
Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight may not have been a laugh riot, but the writer-director was inadvertently responsible for one of this year’s most hilarious memes, which found John Travolta’s dumbstruck Pulp Fiction character Vincent Vega stumbling around within various pop-culture landscapes: There he was looking out of place on Endor; or lost amid an M.C. Escher illo (above); or appearing just as confused as the rest of us during Interstellar. If you haven’t seen ‘em, now’s the perfect time to ketchup.
21. Bone Tomahawk Cannibalizes Our Nightmares
The Hateful Eight wasn’t the only dark-hearted Kurt Russell Western this year: In writer-director S. Craig Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk, the 64-year-old actor plays a noble sheriff whose sleepy backwater town is descended upon by a group of native cannibals. He and his makeshift crew—including Lost’s Matthew Fox and Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins—quickly set out to find the flesh-feeders, and while the film’s perceptive dialogue and tension-teasing pace are enough to make Tomahawk a standout, its most memorable moment is a third-act offing so unexpected and inventively horrific, it will haunt your nights (and days) to come. That might not sound too “delightful” to everyone, but if you’re the kind of horror fan who grew up with Stephen King novels on the shelf and John Carpenter movies on repeat, Bone will devour you.
20. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Frees the TV Theme Song
Even the most skeletal description of Unbreakable was enough to pique our interest. Tina Fey and Robert Carlock (who had worked with Fey on 30 Rock) had created a show together starring Ellie Kemper as a cult survivor? Sold. As promising as the pedigree was, though, it didn’t even hold a candle to the way the show opened: a neighbor (Mike Britt) recounting to a news crew the story of how the cult was found and freed—in full Auto-Tune the News style. It was the perfect way to bring viewers in on the show’s premise, and even establish that Kimmy’s story would spread like wildfire, but even better, it gave us a hummable theme song the likes of which we haven’t had since The Wayans Bros. —Peter Rubin
19. Melissa McCarthy and Rose Byrne Have a Put-Down Showdown in Spy
McCarthy starts off in Spy as a milquetoast CIA worker-bee who goes undercover to help take down a snippy, nuke-wielding international villain (played by Rose Byrne, who, after nimble supporting turns in Bridesmaids and Neighbors, has become a not-so-secret weapon in her own right). But after enduring an array of zingers, McCarthy transforms herself into a giddily vulgar insult-incubator, as she and Byrne exchange cruel, pointed, and increasingly hilarious one-liners (ex: “You look like a slutty dolphin trainer”). McCarthy’s characters have always had a daffy, deep-rooted niceness to them, which makes her uncorked mean-streak here all the more satisfying.
18. Erykah Badu Gets Drake’s Number
Every so often, Facebook proves its worth—like in October, when Erykah Badu announced a new mixtape, But You Cain’t Use My Phone, by dropping a cover of Drake’s summertime lost-love jam “Hotline Bling.” Rather than simply sing over Noah “40” Shebib’s original production (and honestly, why does no one just refer to dude as 40?), Erykah worked with a trio of musicians to re-create the track, which is just about as fire as you’d expect. We haven’t yet confirmed how many incense sticks went into the making of this gem, but we’re guessing it’s at least three dollars and six dimes’ worth. —Peter Rubin
17. Nathan for You Starts a “Movement”
This season of Nathan Fielder’s business-concept comedy may have had more ambitious episodes—there was the time he turned a dive-bar into a living piece of performance art, and the elaborate finale involved both helicopters and high-wire acts—but one of the year’s more enjoyably ridiculous installments was also its simplest: In order to help a struggling moving company, Fielder tries to recruit people to help lug furniture for free, selling it to them as a form of exercise. To promote his efforts, he recruits a local bodybuilder, Jack Garbarino, to spread the word by going on a number of local TV talk shows and lying—not only about the workout routine’s effectiveness, but also about his childhood friendship with Steve Jobs, and his volunteer efforts with “jungle children” (this is all documented in Garbarino’s fake, ghost-written memoir, The Movement, which surged on Amazon after the episode aired). Watching the ease with which Garbarino spins his clearly fabricated tales—and the eagerness with which the news anchors lap it up—will likely make you wince. But as far as critiques of modern-day media go, “The Movement” goes down far easier than, say, Shattered Glass.
16. Julianne Moore Takes Over Times Square on Billy on the Street
All together now: “Fuck Spider-Man!”
15. Everyone Finally Grows Up on Girls
Lena Dunham’s dram-com inspires so many churlish Twitter spiels and overheated dink-pieces that it can be easy to forget that it can still be the funniest, most unnervingly perceptive chronicling of twentysomething life on TV (or anywhere, really). Season 4 not only featured some hilariously perceptive left-field one-liners, it also found its cast making the transition from frazzled post-college wanderers to increasingly confident adults-to-be: Hannah (Dunham) became a semi-selfless teacher. Marnie (Allison Williams) found her voice with her (admittedly kinda annoying) soft-rock outfit. And Ray (Alex Karpovsky) decided to go into local politics, a field where his perpetual stubbornness and hilariously overwrought opining can only thrive. Girls has never exactly been cozy, but at times this season is felt like a great, big, welcoming hug—one that enveloped both its characters and its viewers.
14. Jason Mitchell Gets an A+ as Eazy-E in Straight Outta Compton
There were plenty of breakout performances in this summer’s electric rap-pack biopic, but 28-year-old newcomer Mitchell—who played N.W.A’s troubled, often terrifying head gangsta—turned what could have been a cartoon character into a tragic figure: His Eazy shifts from bubbly bad-boy joy to deep-rooted melancholy by the film’s end, as everything Eazy once loved (his friends, his finances, even his own body) all seem to conspire against him. Mitchell, with his expressive eyes and loopy physicality, anchors Compton so thoroughly that, as the credits roll, you’re left wanting nothing but more Eazy.
13. Blur and Sleater-Kinney Deliver Reunion Tour de Forces
Few modern bands seemed less likely to return to the studio than Blur and Sleater-Kinney: The former hadn’t made a record in more than 12 years, while the latter had seen one of its key members, Portlandia’s Carrie Brownstein, become a sought-after actor and writer. So when Blur’s The Magic Whip and Sleater-Kinney’s No Cities to Love were announced, fans were surprised—and maybe a little alarmed, as the memories of such rickety reunion efforts by groups like Pixies and Smashing Pumpkins came to mind. Thankfully, both the globe-hoppingly experimental Whip and the gut-punching Cities were among the best records of the year—true to the groups’ respective pasts, but also eagerly pushing their sound (and their fans) in new directions.
12. Oscar Isaac Does the Robot in Ex Machina
One of the best surprises of Alex Garland’s sci-fi indie film was Isaac’s performance as Nathan Bateman, a tech billionaire whose alpha-bro schtick was as menacing as it was manipulative. After more than an hour of steadily mounting tension inside Bateman’s isolated compound, though, viewers were in dire need of some release: which Garland provided in a head-scratching dance sequence set to Oliver Cheatham’s 1983 funk-disco jam “Get Down Saturday Night.” The only thing better than Isaac’s Tony Manero impression was his unwavering deadpan: “I’m gonna tear up the fuckin’ dancefloor, dude. Check it out.” —Peter Rubin
11. Khaleesi’s Dragon Comes to Her Rescue on Game of Thrones
The most satisfying big-beast airlift since Falkor picked up Bastian in The NeverEnding Story. Get your Drog-on!
10. Key & Peele Pay a Call to Ray Parker, Jr.
It’s hard to pick just one standout sketch from the final season of Key & Peele, so we’re going to go with its purely catchiest: A fake infomercial in which Ray Parker Jr. (played by Jordan Peele) performs some of his unheard post-Ghostbusters theme-song attempts, including upbeat (and unlikely) numbers for movies like The Passion of the Christ and Pelican Brief (“It’s getting’ legal, y’all!”). And because this is Key & Peele—a series in which even the most ridiculous ideas are executed with precision—the songs are annoyingly catchy; don’t be surprised if find yourself bopping around and singing that 12 Years a Slave theme in public.
9. Empire Whets Our Appetite with “Drip Drop”
At the very beginning of 2015, Fox’s record-company melodrama blew in like a soapy supertornado, marrying the legacy of primetime potboilers like Dynasty and Falcon Crest with the diegetic musicality of Glee and Nashville (with far less corniness). But for all the storm around Timbaland being the show’s musical executive producer, most of the songs sounded exactly like they’d been written for a TV show—until the fifth episode. That’s when Hakeem (Bryshere Gray), the youngest of the Lyon pride, busted out this certified earworm; thanks to a hook that was unforgettable as it was vacuous, “Drip Drop” rained supreme. —Peter Rubin
8. Peggy Walks the Walk on Mad Men
Matthew Weiner surely knew he’d be launching a bajillion GIFs when he sent off beloved character Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) by having her strut down a hallway adorned with a cigarette, sunglasses, and a confident smirk. But even if the moment felt a smidge contrived, watching Mad Men’s smartest, hardest-working, most mansplained employee get some satisfaction was a welcome sight. Fare thee well, Peggy! May you and Stan keep your love (and your weed) in good supply—you’re gonna need both once the ’80s come around.
7. Bing Bong Takes Flight in Inside Out
“Who’s your friend who likes to play?/Bing Bong, Bing Bong!/Whose rocket scene makes you weep all day?/Bing Bong, Bing Bong!” Sob!
6. Mad Max: Fury Road Finds the Next Guitar Hero
There was plenty to ooh and ahh over in George Miller’s definitive post-apocalyptic action flick: Sky-high motorcycles! Mario Kart-like mega-cars! Charlize Theron’s furious, strong-armed performance! But Fury Road’s most audience-adored moment may just be the blazing debut of Coma-Doof Warrior, the axe-wielding metalhead who serenades Immortan Joe’s troops—and blasts giant flames from the head of his double-necked guitar. It’s a perfect mix of future-shock aggro and hard-rock bravado—think Thunderdome meets “Thunderstruck.”
5. Creed Delivers a One-Shot Cinematic K.O.
Of all the go-for-broke brawls in Ryan Coogler’s heartfelt Rocky sequel, none are as invigorating (and ingenious) as the bout that pits our titular hero (played by Michael B. Jordan) against the daunting Leo “The Lion” Sporino (Gabe Rosodo). Captured in a minutes-long single-take, the fight turns moviegoers into ring-roaming eyewitnesses, with the camera ducking, weaving, and spinning around our fighters and into each corner. It’s an immersive, three-dimensional effect—one that requires no special glasses.
4. Jessica Jones and Luke Cage Find Their Super-Strength in Each Other
The Marvel universe has seen its share of onscreen hook-ups over the past few years—witness Black Widow and the Hulk turning green with emo in this summer’s Avengers: Age of Ultron—but it’s hard to think of a crime-fighting couple as grown-up (and pent-up) as Jessica Jones’ Luke (Mike Colter) and Jessica (Krysten Ritter), whose relationship (at least in its semi-happier early stages) is rife with confusion, lust, distrust, deceit, and happily regret-free sex. Take away their super-strengths, and you have one of the most realistically human relationships in years.
3. Kendrick Lamar Brings the Butterfly Effect to The Late Show
After The Colbert Report finally went off the air in December 2014, the following nine months were spent waiting for Stephen Colbert to take the host’s desk on David Letterman’s former show. And after a triumphant premiere episode that eschewed conventional musical guests for an ensemble performance, Colbert made his first real booking with the same artist who had helped him bid adieu to Report: Kendrick Lamar. K. Dot performed a medley of three songs from his phenomenal 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly—”Wesley’s Theory,” “Momma,” and “King Kunta”—that not only re-cemented him as hip-hop’s current heavyweight champ, but served notice that Colbert would continue being as satirical and subversive as ever, even in his new home. —Peter Rubin
2. Amy Schumer Gets Angry
In its second season, Inside Amy Schumer had already made a quantum leap to become the most incendiary sketch show on TV; this spring, though, its third season upped the ante with the literal bang of the opener’s now-famous “Last Fuckable Day.” That was just an appetizer, though, for the season’s tour de force: A three-act parody of 12 Angry Men that took up the entirety of the episode. Schumer and co-director Ryan McFaul shot the episode to look exactly like the original 1957 movie, and the famous jurors’ roles are filled by actorly boldface names from Jeff Goldblum to John Hawkes to Paul Giamatti (along with cult favorites like Kumail Nanjiani and Chris Gethard). The only real difference between the movie and the sketch, in fact, was the case under deliberation: whether Schumer is attractive enough to be on television. There weren’t a better, or more furious, 22 minutes on the boob tube this year. —Peter Rubin
1. Han Solo and Chewbacca Come Home
Where were you on the afternoon of April 16th? No need to check your calendar: Like millions of other Star Wars fans around the world, you were most definitely watching (and then re-watching, and then—during a bathroom break—thinking about re-watching yet again) the eye-dewing kicker scene of that second Force Awakens teaser, in which Han and Chewie—last seen semi-boogieing down on Endor—are finally reunited with their beloved Millennium Falcon. That cocky smile! That hearty, hair-throated growl! From that point, we were totally taken with Awakens.
Continue reading here: