As long as you ignore politics, international terrorism, and world hunger, 2015 was a pretty good year.
Here's what helped get me through 2015:
I saw some good movies in 2015: THE BIG SHORT (clever, entertaining, and instructive)... SPOTLIGHT (a good, old-fashioned good-guys-get-the-bad-guys group drama) ... THE LADY IN THE VAN (Maggie Smith plus) ... INSIDE/OUT (a Pixar winner with an intelligent, thoughtful core) ... WHAT HAPPENED, MISS SIMONE? and AMY (two documentaries about two very talented, very troubled women) ... BRIDGE OF SPIES (solid Spielberg with Mark Rylance) ... and a few others, but no movie entertained me as much as one that was released in 2014: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY.
I was late catching up to this movie, but I've watched it far more than any other movie in 2015. I've watched it on DVD (at home, on planes, and in bed with earphones when I was traveling) and on cable whenever it comes on. In terms of pure enjoyment, it's the closest thing I've seen to RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK since the original RAIDERS came out in 1981. (That is high praise in my house since the TG worked on that movie when she was at Paramount.)
GUARDIANS has that combination of thrills-chills-and-knowing-laughs that the original RAIDERS had. In fact, the director James Gunn has avowed his debt to RAIDERS, even including an obvious "homage" shot at the beginning of the movie, when Peter Quill/Star Lord approaches his quarry, just as Indiana Jones approached the golden idol in the booby-trapped temple at the beginning of RAIDERS. (Of course, all these movies trace their wise-cracking, teasing comradery and action, mixed with a little romance, back to George Stevens' GUNGA DIN, released in 1939.)
One huge advantage that GUARDIANS actually has over RAIDERS is that leading man Chris Pratt has ten times the charm and acting ability of Harrison Ford, famously and correctly labeled by Billy Wilder as "an extra with a hat."
One reason for GUARDIANS' popularity is the brilliant use of music. The hero's only link to his dead mother on Earth is a mixtape of rock classics in a Walkman, which figures into the clever plot. Gunn dishes out the guilty-pleasure oldies like "Come And Get Your Love" by Redbone (his clever invitation into the movie over the main title), "Fooled Around and Fell In Love" by Elvin Bishop, "Hooked On A Feeling" by Blue Swede, and many others.
How can you not love a movie where, right in the middle of a big strategy scene, a character says, "I'm sorry, I wasn't listening. I was thinking of something else"?
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY – the trailer
Peter Quill's climactic Dance-Off – yes, dance-off -- against the villain Ronan the Accuser
It was a tough year for my teams: the Lakers had their worst season in franchise history. They finished in fifth place in the Pacific division, 46 games out of first, with a won-loss record of 21-61. Some of it was difficult to watch, and some I didn't watch at all. And it looks like it could be worse this season. It's going to be a long time before the Lakers are good again. Kobe will be gone.
We watch the Clippers too. At least they are competitive. Blake Griffin continues to improve, and Chris Paul continues to frustrate. Today in the NBA, it's the Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and then everybody else.
The Dodgers played well, finishing at 92-70, but they lost in the division series to the Mets, 3-2. The Dodgers famously have the highest payroll in all of major league sports, so they manage to put good, entertaining players on the field, even if they can't pull it together as a team. (The eventual Series teams – the Kansas City Royals and the New York Mets – showed what team play is really like.) The Dodgers should improve in 2016 with manager Don Mattingly out and Dave Roberts in. We lost super-pitcher Zack Greinke but we have a bunch of really exciting young players like Joc Pederson and Corey Seager. And we still have one more year of the honey-tonsiled Vin Scully to make everything seem better when he says, "It's time for Dodger baseball!"
2015 Dodgers highlights
The highlight of my year of opera going was a visit to the Metropolitan Opera last spring. We go back to New York pretty often but hadn't been to the Met in years. (Usually we go back to see theatre, but this time the TG said that we should go to the Met. She knows how much opera means to me: I make her listen to it all the time.)
The Met is expensive and, while I love the operas we saw – CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA and PAGLIACCI – the productions weren't very good. Nonetheless, being in the building was a real thrill. The international audience, the box seats, the Ezio Pinza water fountain. Maybe next time, we'll go back for something better.
In terms of pure music, this year I was happy to finally see (and hear) Bellini's masterpiece NORMA at the Los Angeles Opera. NORMA has some of the greatest music ever written, but it is hard to cast these days and the drama is fairly static. When it's done properly, it is, as James Conlon, LA Opera's beloved, indefatigable Artistic Director/conductor/pre-show-lecturer/cheerleader said, "the Mona Lisa of opera." It was Maria Callas' most frequent role. She sang it ninety times.
The LA Opera production, directed by Anne Bogart, was very bad, making a boring opera worse. Nonetheless, the singing was quite good by Angela Meade as Norma, Jamie Barton as Adalgisa, and Russell Thomas as Pollione. To finally hear live arias that I've heard a zillion times on my stereo was a genuine, deep pleasure. "Casta diva" ... "Mira, o Norma" ... some of the greatest stuff ever. Listen: --
Maria Callas singing "Casta Diva" – from the famous Paris concert of 1958
Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca singing "Mira, o Norma" – beautiful women singing beautifully
I know that this is a new "Golden Age" of television, but I just can't keep up. There are too many damned shows! The TG stays current with some shows that I Tivo for her: "The Affair" ... "The Good Wife" ... "Scandal" ... "How to Get Away With Murder" ... and anything interesting that comes up on Masterpiece "Classic." But I really don't have any shows that I follow anymore. Mostly, I watch sports on TV and political shows (until the TG makes me turn them off because they enrage and annoy her. And, of course, she's right: that's their goal.)
I usually take my lunch in front of the TV where I catch up on the news or watch either a "Rick Steves' Europe" or a repeat of "The Office."
And I always check out what Turner Classic Movies is showing. It's my default channel.
Rick Steves' Christmas in Europe
I'm embarrassed to say that I bought very little recorded music this year. After decades of spending thousands and thousands of dollars on vinyl, cassettes, and CDs, I have joined the lazy, cheap digital age of music-listening. Every month, I purchase Sirius XM ($13.99), Pandora ($4.99), and Deezer, a French streaming service ($14.99), and that's about it. What is that? The cost of two CDs? As it is, I have thousands and thousands of CDs, some of which I've never listened to and never will. (A few years ago, I won a radio contest and was sent $2,000 worth of CDs: strictly "coals to Newcastle.")
I did buy a few actual CDs this year: the new Mavericks' MONO. And Rhiannon Giddens' TOMMOROW IS MY TURN. And a few Steve Earles that I had missed. But I have more music now than I'll ever need. And I can find new stuff on Deezer and Pandora.
I can actually afford to buy music and don't. The three-quarters of our population that struggles financially can't afford the luxury of buying music when there is so much out there for free. It's a huge problem for working musicians: besides the streaming services that pay pennies, there is so much "free" music out there – on the Net, on YouTube, etc. – that no one ever has to buy music again, ever. (Except for Taylor Swift and Adele.)
Here is one brilliant take on the situation:
Gillian Welch and David Rawlings – EVERYTHING IS FREE
and everything else
Serena Williams, Roger Federer, and Novak Djokovic for lots of thrills on the tennis court ... Diana Vishneva dancing "Sleeping Beauty" with the American Ballet Theatre ... a couple of "close magic" shows at the Magic Castle in LA ... and perhaps the most unforgettable thing of all this year (besides Calder): YOSEMITE.