I’m a little late with my pop culture awards—computer problems over Christmas. But at last, at last, (I know you’ve all been anxiously waiting!) here they are!
As always, these are about my personal preferences and just for fun.
1. The Television Episode that Kicked the Ass of Anything in Movies Award:
Hardhome – Game of Thrones
Actually, this was a pretty kick-ass year at the movies, but television is still impressing with how cinematic it can be without big movie budgets.
BOY, was this TOUGH. There were SO many kick-ass episodes this year on several shows. I was very tempted to award Black Sails again, after last year’s win, because their Season 2 finale was even MORE amazing than the Season 1 finale.
But as problematic and uneven as Season 5 was for Game of Thrones, there’s no doubt that Hardhome was the high point of the season, and one of the high points of the series overall so far. We’ve been waiting for several seasons for an all-out battle between the White Walkers and the Night Watch/Wildings, and we got it in spades.
It was terrifying, it was exciting, it was suspenseful, it was tightly and masterfully directed by Miguel Sapochnik. The show corrected the mistake they made the previous season by only handing over about half the episode’s running time to the battle, avoiding “battle-weariness.” By putting most of the battle in Jon Snow’s point of view, as well as a minor Wilding character, it made the terror even more personal.
It was exactly what the audience had been waiting for over 5 seasons, and they delivered.
2. The Old Guy Shows the Youngsters He’s Still Got It Award:
George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road.
How cool is it that a 70-year-old director revisits his decades-old franchise and not only pleases audiences, but blows the critics away, too?
He achieved something that seemed impossible: rebooted the Mad Max franchise, kept what people loved about it in the first place (including its rather unique zany quality) yet brought it firmly into the 21st Century.
Bravo, Mr. Miller.
3. The Dumbest Attempt to Keep Audiences Unspoiled Award:
The showrunners of Game of Thrones insisting Jon Snow is dead.
Maybe twenty years ago, they could have gotten away with continually doubling-down on the “Jon Snow is dead-dead” talking point. But this is the era of social media. OF COURSE, people posted pictures all over social media of actor Kit Harrington on the Season 6 set.
Not only that, but just from a storyline perspective, IT MADE NO SENSE THAT JON SNOW WAS DEAD. (At least, all dead. He could still be “mostly” dead.) After tantalizing readers for twenty years with the mystery of his parentage, it would have been the biggest literary blunder of all time if George R. R. Martin had really meant to kill him off (completely).
4. The Best Attempt to Keep Audiences Unspoiled Award:
J.J. Abrams/Disney: Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
While Abrams did a Game of Thrones-style dopey attempt to keep the identity of Khan a secret for Star Trek: Into Darkness, he and Disney did a MASTERFUL job of keeping most of the important plot twists for The Force Awakens under wraps.
While the effect of spoilers is very controversial, I think going into the film knowing very little of the plot had a lot to do with why so many loved the film. (Including me.)
5. The Best Series Finale That Made Everyone Go “Huh?” For About 30 Seconds Award:
Honestly, the final few moments of Mad Men almost went over my head, and I sat there thinking to myself that they had pulled another Sopranos-style ending on us.
Then I got it.
Don Draper invented the “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” ad!
Of course he did!
It was a perfect way to show the endless (mostly tragic) cycle of this character. Alone, estranged from his children, possibly on the point of crashing his career, he pulls out a flash of brilliance by tapping into the cultural zeitgeist of that exact moment.
It’s perfectly plausible to think of Don starting over again—and again, and again—while never settling down to a life that gives him true happiness and satisfaction. Yet still selling us things he convinces us we need to give US happiness and satisfaction.
6. The Maybe the Wachowskis Should Stick to TV Award:
I adored the movie Cloud Atlas, directed by the Wachowskis, but was very, very lonely in that opinion, and I can see why not everyone loved it. I haven’t seen Jupiter Ascending yet, but it was raked over the coals by critics and viewers.
So it was with a bit of trepidation that I tried the Wachowskis’ TV series Sense8.
I won’t lie. The first episode is a whole big plate of crazy, and I almost bailed. But I stuck with it for a couple of more episodes.
By Episode 3, I was hooked.
By Episode 5, I was entranced.
By Episode 8, I knew this was going to be one of my favorite TV series of all time.
By the end of the season’s final episode, I was on the floor in a puddle of tears.
Perhaps the Wachowskis need the time a TV series gives them to imbue their sensibilities with the emotion and character development they can’t attain with their movies. Or maybe it was the addition to their creative team of long-time television sci-fi series writer, J. Michael Straczynski, that made the difference.
At any rate, REALLY looking forward to Season 2.
7. The Most Annoying Pop Culture Trend Award:
Pitting female fictional heroes against each other.
If I see ONE more think piece that tries to pit Supergirl against Jessica Jones, or Rey against Katniss, or argues that the latest popular heroine renders every other one before her irrelevant, I’m going to scream!
The idea that female heroines are involved in some sort of Hunger Games competition where There Can Be Only One is absurd.
We need ALL kinds of heroines, and not just the kick-ass kind. It’s insulting to women to propose the notion that only one can represent all.
8. The Most Annoying Pop Culture Trend Award, Part Deux:
Toy manufacturers erasing female characters from movie merchandising.
It’s bad enough when a female character, i.e. Black Widow of the Avengers or Gamora of Guardians of the Galaxy, is left out of action figure sets or not depicted on T-shirts.
But Rey is the MAIN CHARACTER of The Force Awakens. Yet she has been deleted from action figure sets and even the Star Wars: The Force Awakens edition of Monopoly! She does have some individual action figures, but try to find one.
COME. ON. Get it together, toy manufacturers.
9: The Star Wars Book Even Non-Fans Will Love Award:
Lost Stars by Claudia Gray.
I have never read any of the original Star Wars EU novels, but since I had read books by Claudia Gray and Chuck Wendig (who wrote the somewhat controversial Aftermath), I decided to give their Star Wars books a try.
I really enjoyed Aftermath, but Lost Stars spun me into space in a way few books ever do.
The novel follows a boy and a girl living on an outlier planet when the Empire is formed at the end of Revenge of the Sith. As they grow up, they aspire to become Imperial pilots. Just as they finish their academy education, the story syncs up with the action of A New Hope, and the rest of the novel hits all the major events of the original Star Wars trilogy.
Showing the events through the lens of young people loyal to the Empire is a stroke of brilliance in itself, but Gray doesn’t stop there. Her two main characters are wonderfully complex. Her heroine, Ciena, is a worthy addition to the (still a bit short) list of Star Wars heroines. Even though she is loyal to the Empire, she is also very conflicted by their actions. The love story is killer and never, ever devolves into sap.
I hope Gray gets the opportunity to return to these characters in another novel. I didn’t want to let them go after the book ended.
10. The It Will Probably be 2020 Before I See It, But I Love That It’s Making the American Revolution Period Cool Award:
When I heard that there was a hip-hop musical about Alexander Hamilton, I thought it was an absolutely brilliant idea.
Turns out, lots and lots of people agree.
I’ve always been very interested in the American Revolutionary period, but at the same time bummed that most of the very few movies and TV shows devoted to it are dry and unmemorable. Sure, there are exceptions, but unlike, say, The Civil War or World War II, there have been almost none that can be called true cultural touchstones.
That’s all changed now. I can’t believe how many people on my Twitter TL are currently reading Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton (as am I), the basis for the show. Suddenly, Hamilton, Burr, Jefferson, and Washington are subjects of intense discussion usually reserved for modern-day celebrities.
Anyone care to gift me with tickets, I’ll be here waiting.