Top 10 lists are all the rage this time of year, and it’s fun to go back and remember what happened over the past 12 months before embarking on a new year. Herewith – and in a particular order for a change of pace – is the last semi-regular list of my top 10 pop culture experiences of the year. They’re not necessarily things that were released in 2015 (as you’ll see in the first entry) but my favorite moments that happened this year. The full countdown list follows this artificial break:
10. Dandelion Wine (book) – Ray Bradbury’s extended love note to the summer of 1928, when he was 8 years old, enchanted me when I first read it as a teenager. I picked it up again last spring and was charmed all over again. Bradbury made music and poetry with his prose, and although he is better known as a master of fantasy and science fiction, Dandelion Wine is his highest achievement in my humble opinion.
9. No Bones About It (live performance) – One of the original musicals staged by Northern Sky Theater this summer at Peninsula State Park in glorious Door County, this adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” to the world of competitive barbecue grilling deserves to be seen far and wide. They’re doing it again this coming summer, and I’d declare it’s worth traveling a far distance to experience.
8. Jessica Jones (TV series) – The first two Netflix-exclusive series based on the darker side of the Marvel Comics universe are among the best television ever made. I was impressed but not blown away by the Daredevil series starring Charlie Cox, but Krysten Ridder as Jessica Jones knocked my socks off – and David Tennant as the manipulative Kilgrave proved once again that he is a world-class actor.
7. Floodplain (album) – Sara Groves fell into a creative funk and had not released a full album of new music in four years, so her friends staged an “intervention” that led to this brilliant collection. It’s a personal, intimate, gentle triumph of words and music as good as anything she’s ever released and my favorite since Add to the Beauty six albums ago.
6. Acorn TV – Addicted to “Murdoch Mysteries” and shocked to learn that the wonderful Toronto-based 1895-onward detective series had advanced five more seasons (so far) than the three that Netflix offered, we found this fabulous streaming service packed with the best of British TV for a scandalously low $4.99 a month. Simply awesome.
5. Postmodern Jukebox – American Idol performer Joey Cook delighted us with her quirky reimaginings of pop songs, and one week she acknowledged the influence of something called Postmodern Jukebox. A little search-engining later, and I was introduced to Scott Bradlee’s incredible compilation of modern tunes reworked in the styles of decades gone by.
An extra treat was discovering that Haley Reinhart, my favorite all-time Idol performer, is a regular contributor.
Best of all: A 1950s doowop version of “My Heart Will Go On,” turning that turgid love ballad into something catchy and listenable after all these years.
4. The Martian (movie) – The odds against making a movie as good as this book were – well, how many really great movies have been made based on really great books? More often it’s either horribly disappointing or really good but still mildly disappointing. But with Ridley Scott directing, Matt Damon in the lead role and an enormously talented supporting cast and crew, this was the best science-fiction movie in 10 years (released exactly 10 years and two days after Serenity, my favorite all-time space movie).
3. The Martian (book) – Andy Weir’s novel is the most engaging and satisfying science-fiction novel in my recent memory. A man wakes up stranded on Mars and starts thinking about what he needs to do to stay alive long enough to be rescued. A triumph of the can-do attitude packed with all of the obstacles a dead planet can throw at a guy. And speaking of can-do attitudes …
2. Tomorrowland (movie) – There are two wolves that are always fighting. One is darkness and despair. The other is light and hope. Which one wins? The one you feed. A great concept to build a story on. Heck, a great concept to build a life on.
And then there’s the scene where three scary-looking teachers drone on about the threat of terrorism, environmental disaster, and how the classic dystopian novels are coming true, while Casey Newton impatiently holds up her hand waiting to be called.
When the English teacher finally calls her name, she says, “Can we fix it?” “Sorry?” the confused teacher asks. “I get that things are bad, but what are we doing to fix it?” says the teenager, and the now-speechless teacher is saved by the bell. My favorite single moment from this year’s TV and movie watching.
I went in expecting to enjoy this film, and it exceeded my expectations. I admit to being glad it didn’t blow up the box office, because the temptation to do sequels would be great, and this is one solid stand-alone story.
1. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (live performance) – Red and I traveled to Nashville in September to attend the band’s 50th (!) anniversary concert at the legendary Ryman Auditorium. It was our first visit to Ryman, and it didn’t disappoint.
And neither did the band and its parade of special guests. We’ve seen them a half-dozen times now, and they never sounded better. They virtually invented the genre of Americana music with their breathtaking Will the Circle Be Unbroken album in 1972, and this night captured the essence of that genre’s spirit in three incredible hours.
The night is being assembled into a PBS special for March. If the TV program captures even half of that night’s magic, it will be a spectacular show.