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The Best Movies, Television, Music, Books, GIFs and Tweets From the First Half of 2015

By Brian Byrd | Lists | July 2, 2015 |

By Brian Byrd | Lists | July 2, 2015 |

All five cat calendars on my desk say July, which by conventional math means we’re now more than halfway through 2015. This is incomprehensible. Wasn’t it June, like, only a few days ago? Something fishy is happening.

Because we live in a country full of people who believe quitting marathons 13.1 miles from the finish line is a tremendous accomplishment — a country once led by a man who declared a war won eight years before it actually ended — I thought it would be fun to take a look in the rearview at all the great pop culture moments from the last six months. Obviously, I couldn’t fit every deserving moment on the list. And I tried to stay away from politics/divisive social issues, which is why moments such as the Pope’s jaw-dropping encyclical on climate change, the Supreme Court’s landmark gay marriage ruling, and America’s pleasantly surprising acceptance of Caitlyn Jenner didn’t make the cut. Feel free to yell at me in the comments.

All words are mine unless otherwise noted. Unless a sentence offends you. In that case, Emily wrote it.

SNL 40
My lone fear — due in no small part to a string of recent SNL-related disappointments — was that Lorne Michaels and his Colin Jost-led writer’s room would fail to properly honor what I consider to be the most important comedy series in history. Turns out my concerns were completely unfounded. The special contained just the right mix of humor, reverence and nostalgia. With very few exceptions — “The Californians” should take the 105, to the 110, to the Rocket Road, where SpaceX can put it in a capsule headed directly for the sun — SNL nailed its ruby anniversary. It met and at times even exceeded its massive expectations. -- Brian Byrd

Ben Mendelsohn in Bloodline
Kyle Chandler may be the draw for Bloodline, and he’s as solid as ever (imagine Coach Taylor as a detective with the profanity filter turned off), but it’s Mendelsohn who will draw you in. He and Jonathan Banks (Better Call Saul) have basically already stamped their cards for next year’s Emmys. Television has never seen anything quite like Danny Rayburn, either: He’s oily and conniving, equal parts charming and terrifying. He’s like the dark half of Aden Young’s character in Rectify, the kind of character that disturbs your energy. There’s far more to him than what’s immediately apparent, and most of the fun of Bloodline is getting inside of his mind and figuring out what makes the guy tick. Spoiler alert: It’s pure spite and malevolence. — Dustin Rowles

Peggy Motherf**king Olson
The end of Mad Men was phenomenal and stirred many emotions in fans. Think what you want about Don Draper writing that Coke ad; we’re at least all on the same page when it comes to Peggy. She probably had the happiest ending of the bunch, from getting together with Stan to walking into her new job at McCann like she owned the place. No surprise Elisabeth Moss listened to “Stayin’ Alive” filming this scene. YAS QUEEN. — Sarah Carlson

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This was it. This was the Game of Thrones we’ve always wanted and felt coming, pulling together its separate pieces into a near-perfect whole. Without hesitation or a wasted moment, “Hardhome” grabbed hold from Dany’s opening command to Jorah; it held fast until those devastating final seconds that left us breathless, as Jon watched those he fought beside and saw die, rising up to fight again as enemy. Whatever wonderful conversations were had between Daenerys and Tyrion, who again worked his magic tongue to save his hide another day; no matter that we witnessed Cersei’s defiance and strength melt into solitary desperation as she realized just how fruitless a queen’s bribes or threats could be; despite watching a girl transform herself into somebody else — on her way to nobody — everything else disappeared when dogs began to bark, an ominous thunder rose, and the most terrifying enemy showed up so much earlier than anyone expected. This was Game of Thrones’ best episode yet. — Cindy Davis

Justified farewell
[The] death of Raylan or Boyd would’ve deprived us of that flawless final scene, of Boyd and Raylan sharing a moment, bound by brotherhood, bound by a shared history of two men who dug coal together but who diverged into two parallel paths on either side of the law. The thin pane of glass separating them in that final scene was the perfect metaphor for the circumstance and luck that bisected their lives. You did right by these characters, Graham Yost, and more importantly, you did right by Elmore Leonard. — DR

Lady Gaga at the Oscars
Totally unnecessary, poorly scheduled, and absolutely fucking spectacular.

The Jinx finale

Daredevil, especially this fight scene

We witnessed Mad Max earlier this week. Won’t repeat its virtues here, except to say that this guy was woefully undermentioned.

I enjoy this poster by Andy Fairhurst (a copy of which hangs on my wall) almost as much as the film itself
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The Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer
You’ve watched it 59 times. Watch it again. You’ll enjoy it just as much as you did on April 16.

Johnny Depp’s Black Mass monologue
This is exactly why I instantly lose all respect for anyone who shares a treasured recipe without a second thought. Divulge a secret family recipe today, maybe you’re sharing something about me tomorrow, like the fact that as a child, police escorted from a major zoo for accidentally destroying the gift shop.

Kacey Musgraves, Pageant Material
Authenticity is a rare element in Nashville these days, with mainstream country tracks more likely to include a rap verse than an honest line. Which is why Kacey Musgraves’ Pageant Material, the magnificent follow-up to her remarkably assured 2013 debut, Same Trailer, Different Park, is such a pleasant, potent antidote to the vapid Swiftian pop and clichéd bro-country party anthems that still dominate country radio. Forget moonshine drenched crickside tailgate parties. The East Texas singer-songwriter would rather let listeners experience small-town life (“We got a flashing light, they put it in last year/Everybody got real happy, when the grocery store got here”) or deliver homespun bromides (“We’ll miss a dime to grab a nickel/Overcomplicate the simple”) that would elicit laughs if they weren’t so goddamn accurate. Strangely, Musgraves’ clear-eyed understanding wavers only when it comes to acknowledging her own staggering talent. “I’m just a dime-store cowgirl,” she sings on the album’s second track. “That’s all I’m ever gonna be.” Lady, you couldn’t be more wrong.

Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment — “Sunday Candy

Chance the Rapper has never been shy about expressing love for his family on tracks (the phone call between the Chicago MC and his father on “Everything’s Good” still warms the cockles), but this fun, funky, lyrically stunning ode to his grandmother stands out even in an increasingly reflective hip-hop world. Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly might contain five or six objectively better songs, but “The Blacker The Berry” doesn’t exactly leave you grinning when it’s done; Grumpy Cat bumps “Sunday Candy” on repeat. If you still need a push, Anna Kendrick digs the song, too. YOU DON’T WANT TO BE ON THE OPPOSITE SIDE OF ANNA KENDRICK!

Drake — “6 PM in New York
I’m an unabashed Drizzy supporter, but I’m less enamored with his mixtalbum, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, than most. The scattered, uneven production makes the release feel like a collection of bonus tracks rather than a cohesive work on par with Take Care and Nothing Was The Same. At least, until the closer hits. “6 PM in New York” is vintage Drake — defiant, polished, clever, boastful, effortless, and totally ensconced in hip-hop’s upper echelons. Now if only he could stop frontrunning sports teams.

Lord Huron — “Fool for Love
A poor schlep decides to fight for the woman he thinks he loves in the first single off the LA indie quartet’s underrated sophomore album, Strange Trails. Unfortunately, the lovesick protagonist’s opponent has a size, height, strength and toughness advantage. A funny folk-rock delight.


World Gone By, Dennis Lehane
The final novel in the trilogy than began with The Given Day and continued with Live By Night (Jennifer Garner’s ex is helming the forthcoming film adaptation) doesn’t break any new ground, but Lehane tells the story of a likeable kingpin desperately trying to maintain his criminal empire with grit and grace.

Seveneves, Neil Stephenson
Overlong and wildly ambitious, Stephenson’s newest novel about humanity’s attempts to survive Earth’s sudden destruction contains enough magical moments to make the (extremely long) ride worthwhile. Bonus points for putting our species’ existence in the care of many smart, tough, resourceful, well-written female characters.

The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins
Yes, it’s as captivating as everyone says. My wife, who read the novel on my recommendation, glanced at the laptop as I wrote the blurb, rolled her eyes and said, “Great analysis.”

Ghettoside, Jill Levoy
A cop’s son is randomly shot to death on a Los Angeles street. Few people think the murder has a chance of being solved. Fortunately, the veteran detective assigned to the case isn’t one of them. A brilliant, exhaustively researched account of crime, tragedy, family and the relationship between police and the communities they serve.

Golden Son, Pierce Brown
Pierce Brown didn’t have to put this much effort into Red Rising, or its spectacular sequel, Golden Son. Readers searching for the next Hunger Games or Game of Thrones regularly flock to books half as entertaining. Thankfully, Brown didn’t mail it in. Nor did he pull punches. Golden Son continues the story of Darrow au Andromedus, a former member of the Martian underclass who successfully infiltrates the elite “Gold” society in the hopes of avenging his wife’s murder, while somehow improving the already stellar characterization and injecting even more well-earned twists (the last two pages will wreck your shit). Start reading this now, but brew some coffee first. You’ll thank me later.

Steph Curry did this in an NBA Finals game. You couldn’t pull it off in a video game.
This Pat Connaughton block that saved Notre Dame’s NCAA tournament<
Saddest scene involving a piccolo since Brian’s Song
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“Not a bad throw,” said Geno Smith

This is technically sports, I guess. Long jump?
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These Jurassic World deleted scenes are bizarre as hell