Widescreen's top pop-culture moments of 2015

  • Sean Stangland's pick for top movie of 2015: "Sicario," the drug cartel thriller starring Emily Blunt.

    Sean Stangland's pick for top movie of 2015: "Sicario," the drug cartel thriller starring Emily Blunt. Associated Press

  • Comedian Doug Benson, host of "Doug Loves Movies," spun stories from the set of "Captain EO" on a great episode of Matt Gourley's podcast, "I Was There Too."

    Comedian Doug Benson, host of "Doug Loves Movies," spun stories from the set of "Captain EO" on a great episode of Matt Gourley's podcast, "I Was There Too." COURTESY OF FRANK MICELOTTA/GETTY IMAGES

  • "Game of Thrones" hero Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and the wildlings retreat from an undead army in "Hardhome," 2015's most memorable TV episode.

    "Game of Thrones" hero Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and the wildlings retreat from an undead army in "Hardhome," 2015's most memorable TV episode. Associated Press

  • Jimmy McGill, aka Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk), and brother Chuck (Michael McKean) form the backbone of AMC's surprisingly great spinoff series, "Better Call Saul."

    Jimmy McGill, aka Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk), and brother Chuck (Michael McKean) form the backbone of AMC's surprisingly great spinoff series, "Better Call Saul." Courtesy of AMC

  • Margot Robbie and Will Smith make for an impossibly sexy duo in "Focus."

    Margot Robbie and Will Smith make for an impossibly sexy duo in "Focus."

 
 
Updated 12/24/2015 5:12 PM

That Forceful movie sure lived up to the hype, didn't it?

"Star Wars" turned out to be the funny, emotional icing on 2015's pop-culture cake, a delicious concoction that brought us tasty offerings from every corner of the media universe.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

These were my highlights, presented in random order:

Tennis, anyone?

The HBO Sports mockumentary "7 Days in Hell," starring Andy Samberg and Kit Harington as rivals engaged in the longest tennis match ever, packed more laughs into its 43 minutes than any feature-length comedy I saw all year. It's not for the squeamish or the prudish, but if a foul-mouthed June Squibb ("Nebraska") playing Queen Elizabeth sounds like your cup of tea, then cheerio!

Podcasts of the year

• Matt Gourley's "I Was There Too" features actors who had small roles in iconic productions, and January gave us a doozy: comedian Doug Benson recounting tales from the set of the Michael Jackson 3-D music video "Captain EO." No holds are barred.

• "Star Trek" superfans Ken Ray and John Champion discuss, in exacting detail, a different episode every week on "Mission Log," but their June "supplemental" episode featuring "Next Generation" star Marina Sirtis (Counselor Troi) is a breezy delight; you'll want to meet her at the next convention after listening.

'Saul' stands tall

AMC's "Breaking Bad" spinoff "Better Call Saul" seemed like a bad idea: an hourlong drama about the peripheral comic relief from a show about a meth empire? But it soars, thanks to former Naperville resident Bob Odenkirk in the title role, fellow "Bad" co-star Jonathan Banks as the brooding, dangerous Mike Ehrmantraut and a cast of surprising new characters.

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It's true. All of it.

Filmmakers shunned CGI for practical effects, real stunts and grand sets in many of 2015's biggest films, whether it was BB-8 rolling across the Jakku desert in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," director George Miller crashing big rigs in the wastelands of "Mad Max: Fury Road," the resplendent ballroom and colorful costumes of Disney's live-action "Cinderella" or Tom Cruise earning his enormous "Mission: Impossible -- Rogue Nation" paycheck by hanging off a plane and holding his breath underwater for more than six minutes. (Allegedly.)

'Come at me, Crow'

I swear, this is the last time I'll mention the "Hardhome" episode of HBO's "Game of Thrones," which culminates in the iconic, arms-raised pose of a zombie king whose undead army hands Jon Snow (Harington, again!) and his allies a horrific defeat.

45 great minutes

Will Smith and Margot Robbie are implausibly charming and sexy in "Focus," a con-man rom-com written and directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. The first half is as entertaining as anything you've seen all year as Smith tutors Robbie in criminal schemes on Super Bowl weekend before encountering a risky gambler (B.D. Wong) who won't take no for an answer. The second half feels like an entirely different movie -- one that's not nearly as fun.

2015's 10 best movies ...

... were arguably the 10 episodes of FX's "Fargo." The second season is as good as you've heard, you betcha.

But at the movie theater ...

... the best thing I saw all year was Denis Villeneuve's "Sicario," a harrowing look at the drug war along the Mexico border that constantly reminds its altruistic heroine (Emily Blunt) that corrupt men such as her CIA boss (Josh Brolin) and his lethal ally (Benicio Del Toro) are still very much in charge of our modern world. "Sicario" (which means "hitman") will frighten you, and haunt you for days.

• Sean Stangland is a Daily Herald multiplatform editor. You can follow him on Twitter at @SeanStanglandDH.

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