Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015: Winners and Losers

In this post looking back on the biggest winners and biggest losers of the twelve months gone by, I promise not to mention the Kardashians or anyone connected to them, so there'll be no mention of Kanye, Caitlyn, or Scott here.  That extended family simply isn't worth my time.  But I found plenty of other prominent people and institutions who soared to new heights or blew it big time in 2015, and they indeed sum up the best and worst of the year.  So without further ado, here are my lists of 2015's ten shining stars and its ten shooting stars. First, the winners of the year:
Viola Davis.  The star of ABC's "How To Get Away With Murder" is getting away with making history; not only are ratings for her drama series through the roof, she became first black woman to win the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series as a result.  Expect repeat performances of that feat as the plots on her show thicken.
J.J. Abrams.  J.J. Abrams and I both saw the original Star Wars movie when it first came out; we were both eleven years old.  Thirty-eight years later, Abrams has successfully revived the sci-fi saga with the movie no one ever thought would get made - the one picking up where Return of the Jedi left off.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens is such a huge hit, it's made a billion dollars in twelve days, the fastest $1 billion gross in cinematic history.  As a fellow original Star Wars fan,  I can tell you that it takes an original  Star Wars fan to make such a  Star Wars movie.
Bernie Sanders.  When the lone independent U.S. Senator not named Angus King began his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, no one thought a Jewish socialist from Vermont could ever seriously threaten the inevitable Democratic nominee-in-waiting, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Well, the experts were skeptical that the current White House occupant could threaten her in 2008.  Sanders doesn't have the nomination yet, of course, and I'm not counting out Martin O'Malley right now, but Bernie's success so far only goes to show you that nothing is inevitable.
the Chicago Blackhawks.  After winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in nearly half a century in 2010, fans of the hockey team had reason to believe that it was only a fluke.  This year the Blackhawks won their first Cup in half a decade, which is much shorter than half a century.  No Cup drought with this team anymore.
J.K. Simmons.  The ultimate character actor, Jonathan Kimble Simmons used to be one of those faces in the movies or on television that you recognized but couldn't name.  Having received the Academy Award, the Golden Globe Award, and the BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actor as music instructor Terence Fletcher in Whiplash, he's now the star he deserves to be.   Bump-da-dump-bump-bump-dump-dump! 
Donald Trump.  Love him or hate him - and let's face it, you can't be neutral about him - the Trumpster made himself the Republican presidential front-runner with a campaign so unconventional that political experts - some of whom, I assume, are good people - will have to rewrite the rules for how a political campaign is run.
Gay Americans. Gay marriage was never expected to be allowed nationwide in anyone's lifetimes when Massachusetts recognized it in 2004, but a Supreme Court decision this year - spearheaded by Justice Anthony Kennedy - that recalled the one nationally recognizing interracial marriage in 1967 made same-sex unions legally recognized all across the land, now and for all time.  Tom and Helen, meet Mitch and Cam. :-)
Adele.  The British soul-pop-rock singer laid low for so long, many of us thought no one would care when she finally released her third album, but 25 shattered sales records even as its first single ("Hello") and its accompanying promotional video set new records, respectively, for downloads and views.  Add to that an NBC concert television special recalling an earlier special on the same network starring another singer who went by a single name comprised of five letters, and there's no longer any doubt.  We have a new queen of pop, and she's not only back, she's here to stay.
John Kerry.  It turns out that Democrats do get second chances.  Seemingly reduced to political irrelevance after losing the 2004 presidential election narrowly to George Walker Bush, Kerry eventually accepted the job of Secretary of State in the Obama administration and ended up delivering the most masterful achievement of his storied public service career - negotiating a nuclear-arms deal with Iran that got past a hostile Republican Senate majority.  Meanwhile, the guy he lost the Presidency to is painting pictures as badly as he governed the nation.
Rock and roll.  Yes, rock and roll.  The form has taken a beating in this century, but 2015 turned out to be a year of unexpected successes for rock.   Beck won the 2015 Album of the Year Grammy for Morning Phase, Mumford & Sons' Wilder Mind LP hit number one in America and went gold, Tame Impala has generated some excitement and mainstream press attention, Courtney Barnett is up for a 2016 Best New Artist Grammy, and Coldplay were selected to play at the Super Bowl 50 halftime show in February.  (Tellingly, none of the acts I mentioned here, apart from Beck, are Americans.)  And James Taylor, a performer who has been inspired by rock and has inspired rock (though he's not exactly a rocker himself), had his first chart-topping album (Before This World) in his entire career.  It may be only temporary, but at least for now, rock and roll is cool again.
And now, my favorite part, the losers:
New York rock radio.  Don't let rock's recent resurgence fool you; rock radio in the New York area is still in sorry shape.  Not only are the smaller suburban stations cursed with weak signals, and not only is the biggest rock station in the area a "classic" rock station, but the Big Apple has now been without a major commercial new-rock station longer than the time when it last had one.  Don't blame the female pop divas and the rappers; blame the honkies who run Big Radio.
Volkswagen.  German engineering the Volkswagen way turned out to be the dishonest way, and anyone in America who bought a diesel-powered VW learned that the hard way after VW admitted there was software in its TDI diesel engines designed to cheat U.S. emissions tests.  Even worse, up to 430,000 cars with diesel or gasoline engines sold in Europe had favorable carbon-dioxide emissions figures that turned out to have been falsified. Motoremissionenbetrug, not Fahrvergnügen, is apparently what makes a car a Volkswagen.  And this all happened after a major corporate shakeup that brought down Ferdinand Piëch in favor of Martin Winterkorn, who in turn was bought down by the emissions scandal.  (As a VW owner, I'm not happy about all this.) 
Martin Shkreli.  This predatory capitalist tool barely beats out Scott Walker and that sadistic dentist who shot Cecil the Lion as the worst living human being on the planet.  Shkreli bought the rights to a relatively inexpensive AIDS drug and raised the price from $13.50 a pill to $750 a pill, a fifty-five-fold increase.  Then he expressed regret . . . for not raising it higher.  But this story has a somewhat happy ending; the little creep got arrested for securities fraud.
Erika Christensen.  As if the fact that the TV series "Parenthood," in which Christensen starred, ended prematurely in January weren't bad enough, the actress saw her ABC drama series "Wicked City" (in which she played a serial killer) get canceled after three episodes.  At this writing, it's the only new series of the 2015-16 TV season to get dropped.
Cameron Crowe.  Talk about a white guy who doesn't get it!  The movie director had the nerve to film a movie set in Hawaii, Aloha, that featured an all-white cast with no room for someone who looked like a native Hawaiian or President Obama.  Crowe compounded his critical and commercial failure by apologizing for miscasting Emma Stone in the movie as a Eurasian, embarrassing her in the process.  You know, Cameron, "Aloha" doesn't just mean hello . . .
James Gilmore and George Pataki.  The biggest embarrassment of the 2016 Republican presidential nomination contest is not the fact that onetime GOP rising stars Rick Perry, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, and Lindsay Graham dropped out of the race.  The biggest embarrassment is that these guys are still in it!

Brian Williams.  The NBC newsman told a few false yarns about his time as a war correspondent in the Middle East and deservedly got yanked from anchoring the network's nightly newscast.  He got re-assigned to cover breaking news stories at the network's sister MSNBC cable channel, meaning that he will never be seen again.
Sepp Blatter.  The president of FIFA, the international body governing soccer, allowed a bribery and money-laundering scandal involving media and marketing rights for FIFA games in North and South America to the tune of $150 million, forcing him to resign amid a U.S. Justice Department investigation. Then it turned out he was making some sort of payments to the president of the Union of European Football Association. Finally, the 79-year-old Blatter was banned from soccer for eight years in December.  Red card!    
Debbie Wasserman Schultz.  The ultimate party pooper.  The Democratic National Committee chair, whose maiden surname means "water carrier" in German, proved to be little more than a water carrier for the Democratic establishment - that is, the Clintons - as her manipulative debate schedule for Democratic presidential candidates, meant to favor Hillary Clinton by offering only six debates held mostly on weekend nights in conflict with major events, has led to fewer people watching them, much to the delight of a Republican Party enjoying presidential debate ratings that are through the roof.  Meanwhile, she presided over yet more Democratic election losses (most notably in Kentucky) after the 2014 Republican midterm victory and found herself at the helm of a committee with only $5 million in cash on hand but with $6.5 million in debts.  Debbie Downer may have secured Hillary Clinton's nomination, but she may also have shattered the party.         
the Chicago Cubs.  The Windy City's beleaguered National League baseball team had a chance to win the World Series, as Back To the Future II once jokingly predicted, but they lost the pennant to the Mets, who in turn lost the Series to the Royals.  The Cubs' championship drought has been so long, it's become impossible to find anyone who remembers the last time they won one.   
So there you have it, my winners and losers of 2015.  Quibble with the choices if you will, but I'm sticking with them.  I could have chosen Hillary Clinton as a winner for 2015, as she's the undisputed front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, but she hasn't won the nomination yet, and besides, as I suggested with my choice of Debbie Wasserman Schultz as a loser of the year, winning the Democratic nomination could be like being placed in charge of the Titanic after it hit the iceberg.  Bill Cosby does not appear on the losers' list, despite ongoing humiliations that he brought upon himself this past year, because he is not a big loser of 2015 . . . he's a big loser for all time.
Whew!  That was exhausting.  Time to close the door on 2015 and get some rest, so I can look out for winners and losers in 2016.  Happy new year. 

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