Monday, 14 December 2015

That was the year that was: 2015

2015 is...outatimeIt's mid-December and so, with the weary inevitably of a crass Trumpism or an X-Factor Christmas single, it must be time for a recap of what's been good this year. NAOTY 2015, or Just Another Subjective Award 2015, if you prefer. This is the fifth time I've recapped a year like this (for completists, here's 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011) and, taken together, all these reviews really do is demonstrate just how parochial my tastes are (Michelle, in the unlikely event that you're reading this, you get more right about that every year). Let's press on.

Best album

"A Comfortable Man" by Cathal Smyth - a quiet album of bittersweet melancholia from the Nutty Boy formerly known as Chas Smash. Truly exceptional, and an album that would currently sit in my "top ten releases of the 21st Century" should I ever compile such a list. You can read my full review here.

Honourable mentions: "Magic Whip" by Blur, which is far, far better than anyone had any right to expect; "My Love Is Cool" by Wolf Alice; "Chasing Yesterday" by Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds.

Best song

"I Broadcast" by Blur - however much I love having new Blur material, the songs I like best are those that sound most like Modern Life Blur, so this and "Lonesome Street" were vying for the nod here.

Honourable mentions: "Are The Children Happy?" by Cathal Smyth, the most gut-wrenching song about divorce you will hear; the audacious "I Can Change" by Brandon Flowers.

Best gig

The Who at Hyde Park, with a cracking Coombes/Marr/Weller undercard. I mentioned it in passing at the time.

Honourable mentions: It's been another quiet year, gig-wise, but Madness was special, and felt like a homecoming, musically and literally, as were From The Jam, touring the 35th anniversary of "Sound Affects"; Belle and Sebastian were also very good, upbeat and interactive.

Best book

Sorry to be so predictable but it's "The Bazaar Of Bad Dreams", the latest collection of short fiction from Stephen King. For someone who's known for writing such long novels (too long, some would say), I love that some of King's very darkest thoughts emerge in short form. Very hard to put down, this kept me up way past my bed time...

Honourable mentions: a bit of a cheat here because I haven't read it all yet but "Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink" by Elvis Costello looks to be remarkable; having been very impressed with Paula Hawkins at the Write On Kew literary festival, I was also very impressed with her novel, "The Girl On The Train"; "Elizabeth Is Missing" by Emma Healey is also excellent.

Best film

A difficult category, because nothing has really blown me away this year, but the nod goes to "Wild", for Reece Witherspoon's portrayal of Cheryl Strayed's extreme rehab (and because Witherspoon is so undervalued).

Honourable mentions: at the start of the year, I espoused the various virtues of "Birdman", "The Theory Of Everything" and "Paddington", all of which are good in different ways; "It Follows" delivered real chills; there will moments of surreal beauty in "The Falling"; talking surreal, I loved the invention of "The Lobster" (which also scored points for Rachel Weisz-ness); and "Cobain: Montage Of Heck" was a decent, if ultimately flawed, documentary.

Best television

As last year, the most fiercely contended category. The award goes to "Humans", Channel 4's re-imagining of the Swedish near-future "what if?" William Hurt and Katherine Parkinson were both exceptional, and I got a bit enamoured of Gemma Chan too.

Honourable mentions: yet another good year for TV (it's the new film, don't you know?), so there are lots. The BBC's "River" deserves a nod for blending conventional crime drama with a Scandi twist (the lead man) and Sixth Sense-style seeing of a dead person; series two of "Fargo" is sublime, with nothing else like it on right now; talking of second series, there was a welcome return for, er, "The Returned"; the Beeb's adaptation of Sadie Jones's "Outcast" was worth a look; series two of "Inside Number 9" slipped under a lot of people's radar, but was brilliant; and although Danny Baker can be a bit of a Marmite figure, "Cradle To Grave" was, for my money, enjoyable viewing, TV as comfort food.

Best comedy

Last year's runner-up, "Modern Life Is Goodish", in which Dave Gorman continues to show his working as he goes along, scoops this year's entirely subjective award. Modern life is, actually, pretty ridiculous in many ways... but there's much fun to be had in exploring that ridiculousness.

Honourable mentions: Nina Conti and Pippa Evans, both of whom I saw in a not-ideal festival setting, but both of whom were engaging and properly funny.

Best theatre

"Elvis Costello in conversation with Nick Hornby" might not count as proper theatre, but it took place in one, so... Declan P. MacManus was everything you'd hope, ran his own slideshow from a tablet and concluded the Q&A with a three-song unaccompanied acoustic set of Beyond Belief, Indoor Fireworks and Share Your Love With Me. And I met him at the after-show book signing too. What a night.

Honourable mentions: I'm struggling a bit here, because once again I haven't seen as much on stage this year as I would have liked, but poet Eddie Argos was very good at Latitude, doing his "how to make it in a band" schtick in the Poetry Tent.

Best blogger

Retaining his title for the third consecutive year is Andrew Collins, whose "Telly Addict" video blog for The Guardian is twelve minutes a week of essential viewing. On top of this, Andrew also writes, albeit sporadically, the music blog "Circles Of Life", in which he seeks to catalogue his favourite 143 songs of all time. Oh, and the excellent "other" blog, "Never Knowingly Underwhelmed". Andrew is, once more, my blogger of the year.

Honourable mentions: blogging seems to be a dying art, sadly, but there's still some good stuff out there, not least "Crying All The Way To The Chip Shop" from Lee; "The (New) Vinyl Villain" from JC; "My Top Ten" from Rol; and "Cultural Snow" from Tim.

Man of the year

Jon Snow - no, not that one. The mainstay of Channel 4 news for more than a quarter of a century continues to conduct incisive, ego-puncturing interviews (IDS, Gove and Osborne have all been subject to Jon's scrutiny), and there can't be many other broadcasters in their late sixties prepared to get stoned on camera for research and journalistic purposes. We'll miss him when he retires, and British news reporting will be a far, far poorer place.

Honourable mentions: whether you agree with him or not (and for the record, I don't think I do), it was hard not to be impressed with Hilary Benn's oratory in the debate on whether to bomb Syria.

Woman of the year

Jessica Ennis-Hill, for proving that you can come back in sport, returning to competition after a long postpartum lay-off and not only being competitive but actually landing another world title. So often the SPOTY bridesmaid, I hope she scoops the Beeb's big prize this year.

Honourable mentions: if Jess is my woman of the year, then I must give fellow heptathlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson a nod too, as she looked like she might upside the Ennis roadshow until her World championship crumbled in the sand of the long jump pit. Oh, and she set national records for the indoor high jump and long jump (no mean feat for a multi-eventer!), and broke Jess's national indoor pentathlon record too. Rio next year looks good for KJT, fingers crossed.

Tool of the year

An easy win for Donald Trump, given what goes on between his ears and what comes out of his mouth. A fool, yes, but a dangerous one. Imagine a contemporary Cuban missile crisis, with Trump and Putin in a stand-off. Ye gods...

Honourable mentions: Tyson Fury - fair play, he ended Klitschko's long reign as heavyweight champion, against the odds, and that's some achievement (even if Wladimir looked to be in decline)... so what a shame, then, that the current holder of one of the biggest titles in world sport can't be a good role-model.

And that's it. If you've read this far, what do you reckon: agree/disagree? What have you loved and loathed this year?


  1. Always nice to be mentioned, especially in such illustrious company.

    Couldn't get into the Blur album: in fact, it started to actively annoy me the more I tried. I feel my time with Damon may be at an end.

    Must check out that Cathal Smyth album though...

    1. I recommend it, obviously, but be warned, it is bleak in places, raw even.