As 2015 concludes, we also farewell our fabulous 2015 Killings columnists. They’ve entertained and delighted us all year with fortnightly columns on culture, politics and society, and now they offer us a wrap up of their highlights for 2015 across their respective fields.
Best Film and TV – Anwen Crawford
The year was bookended by two films about the struggle for voting rights: Ava DuVernay’s Selma, which dramatised the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965, and Sarah Gavron’s Suffragette, which looked at women’s suffrage in early twentieth-century London. Selma is the stronger, braver film, but the history that Suffragette portrays is just as vital.
Jocelyn Moorhouse made a welcome and overdue return to Australian cinema with The Dressmaker, a film that mixed genres (Western, gothic, comedy, melodrama) with aplomb, while Gillian Armstrong’s Women He’s Undressed, a hybrid documentary-drama, also explored the liberating potential of couture.
Carol Morley’s The Falling and Debbie Tucker Green’s Second Coming plotted mysterious, provocative happenings that lay somewhere between realism and fable, while Ana Lily Amipour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (pictured) was a delirious and cheeky twist on the vampire archetype.
Desiree Akhavan’s Appropriate Behaviour was a hilarious tale of sexual misadventure and manners in modern New York; Marielle Heller’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl allowed its fifteen-year-old protagonist to say “I like sex” and not be punished for it – a rare thing in cinema.
On television, Viola Davis made history by becoming the first African-American woman to win an Emmy award for a lead dramatic role, in the thriller How To Get Away With Murder. The show is ridiculous, but Davis is brilliant, a Stradivarius among the school violins. 8MMM Aboriginal Radio, written by and starring Trisha Morton-Thomas, was a terrific comedy about community broadcasting and Australian race relations, while UnREAL cleverly dramatised the off-camera manipulations of an American dating show. I was moved by the third and final season of My Mad Fat Diary, starring Sharon Rooney, while a second season of Transparent has arrived just in time for the holidays. Happy viewing, everyone!
Read more from Anwen here.
Best Books – James Tierney
Writing an end of year round-up is difficult and partial at the leanest of times and we happily are not in the leanest of times. Australian fiction has been especially impressive this year as many mid-career authors delivered their most impressive books to date. Stephanie Bishop’s The Other Side of the World and Lisa Gorton’s The Life of Houses shared a quiet skilfulness, an undemonstrative élan, that only deepened on subsequent reading.
James Bradley’s Clade succeeded at keeping enormous and disastrous ecological change at a scale both astounding and graspable, demonstrating what an author of high literary skill can communicate about the matters of the greatest urgency – be they civilisation-flattening floods or the death of a child. A handy non-fictional companion to Clade is Jane Rawson and James Whitmore’s The Handbook: Surviving and Living with Climate Change, which takes a clear-eyed and precisely written look at the building catastrophe, offering firm advice without a hint of false comfort.
Mireille Juchau’s The World Without Us is a novel with a weather all of its own – funny, lissom and deeply humane. Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things can be read as a counterpoint to Juchau but its achievement is not a jot less prodigious. An electric pulse of justified anger runs through Wood’s novel, aimed squarely at the mean prosecutorial nature of this country’s easy self-congratulation.
From beyond these borders, volumes of retranslated poetry and non-fiction of the best bedevilment will long stay with me.
Patty Crane’s translation of the selected poems of Swedish Nobel Prize winner Tomas Tranströmer in Bright Scythe is subtle and in significant examples – such as the long poem Baltics – are now the best extant versions in English. Pierre Joris’ Breathturn Into Timestead: The Collected Later Poetry of Paul Celan is an immense achievement, maintaining as perhaps no other translation quite has Celan’s elegant and hesitating cynicism.
I end the year haunted by two books. Fractured and elegiac, Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts shone with a sharp, luminous intelligence. Rita Felski’s The Limits of Critique is a persuasive attack on criticism’s constant mode of suspicion and suggests that a more fulsome scale of emotions, starting with a basic admittance of affect, could reinvigorate our ways of reading.
Read more from James here.
Best Literary Lenses – Angela Meyer
This year I’ve finished fewer books than in previous years, which I would blame partly on working in publishing (reading more manuscripts) and partly on the fact I’ve been working steadily on my own manuscript. But there have still been literary experiences that have influenced the way I’ve seen the world for a while, or for good. I think that’s partly what my column has been about – this literary life, the incorporation of texts into my worldview, seeing (and remembering) through a lit-influenced lens. So my ‘best of’ is of lenses – of clarity, colour, murk. You can read about 1984, Hamlet, and others in my column. Here are a few others.
Rush Oh! By Shirley Barrett, a transporting yarn set in Eden, NSW, where the killer whales helped the whalers, was a day at Sea World in Florida when I was 10 and crying because I couldn’t set free Shamu, it was my orca bedspread and glow-in-the-dark picture and one of the first short stories I wrote where a young girl fell in the water and was saved by those stunning black and white creatures. It is this moment of writing, from Eden, where I will finally visit Old Tom’s skeleton.
John Cheever’s Journals are what I’m in now, reading them concurrent to his stories. They are about writing, and anxiety about desire. And he’s made me look differently at light.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanigahara made me think of a Jude I know and another kinda Jude and the relentlessness of their diseases and the one who barely clings to life and won’t let anyone past the hard shell he’s created. The relentlessness is what the novel captured.
Read more from Angela here.
Best Theatre and Performing Arts – Jane Howard
At the end of the year, as I again write from a city I don’t call home, wrapping up 2015 seems an impossibility. The more I travel it feels the more I miss, aware of the shows that will be on in cities when I leave them. And yet, there is comfort in knowing what was missed is missed. For the literature critic, the books will still be there waiting. Performance just leaves us in its dust.
But then what of the year-end lists? What could I begin to describe of theatre in 2015 when I at once saw so much and so little, and didn’t hold any city truly in my grasp? So, looking back at 2015, I can only say: here’s to the year that was as much to the year that wasn’t.
Here’s to describing the bonkers brilliance of Encounter Productions’ I Heart Catherine Pistachio as ‘Sister’s Grimm does dance theatre’ while missing the genius of Sister’s Grimm doing opera. Here’s to Adena Jacobs’ refusal to be easy or kind in making her controversial and wonderful Wizard of Oz, without seeing her controversial Antigone or Bacchae . Here’s to being overjoyed at discovering the feminism of Sh!t Theatre’s Women’s Hour, and to being content the feminism of Hissy Fit’s I Might Blow Up Someday had to happen without me. Here’s to wracking my body with sobs and covering my face in glitter in Brigitte Aphrodite’s My Beautiful Black Dog, and to every show everywhere that exposed as big a heart.
Here’s to discovering brilliant new and exciting performance makers in Adelaide and Edinburgh’s fringe festivals, while missing their counterparts in Melbourne’s. (Here’s to considering why the economics of being a freelance Australian theatre critic makes working in Edinburgh easier than working in Melbourne.)
Here’s to a year of theatre that was so big and grand and wonderful the only way I can capture it is to capture what it wasn’t. Here’s to more shows missed in 2016.
Read more from Jane here.
Best LGBTQI and Feminism – Rebecca Shaw
When thinking about this past year and the moments in feminism and LGBTQI issues I loved, I realised pretty quickly that my favourite moments in both categories occurred around women. As it has been this year and as it probably will be ever year, the existence of smart, powerful, fearless, talented women and all that they do will always be a highlight.
Viola Davis Wins Everything
A the Emmy Awards this year Viola Davis became the first African-American woman to win the Emmy for best actress in a drama series for her role on How to Get Away with Murder. She capped off the win with a stirring speech about diversity in Hollywood, including an homage to actresses of colour who have come before.
Soccer and Smooches
If a moment combines feminism and queerness, you know it has to appear on my list. In July, the final of the women’s World Cup became the most watched soccer game in U.S history (for men or women) when the U.S national team defeated Japan. After the final whistle, Abby Wambach, who has scored more international goals than any man or woman in history, ran over to the stands and planted a smooch on her wife Sarah Huffman. A victory for us all.
Laverne Cox and Another Flawless Year
Laverne Cox is a fantastic actress, a patient and intelligent speaker, and an impassioned advocate for transgender people. She is also gorgeous, and this year posed nude for Allure, saying:
“But I’m a black transgender woman. I felt this could be really powerful for the communities that I represent. Trans women certainly are not told we’re beautiful. Seeing a black transgender woman embracing and loving everything about herself might be inspiring to some other folks. There’s beauty in the things we think are imperfect.”
Holland Taylor (72) is dating Sarah Paulson (40), and they are adorable. Get it.
Read more from Rebecca here.