They made us laugh, they made us cry, and they made a name for themselves in 2015, according to Jaime Weinman.
You can sometimes win by losing. DuVernay’s Martin Luther King movie Selma was nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award, but she was passed over for Best Director, and instantly became famous as a symbol of how Hollywood marginalizes female and non-white directors. Her newfound fame may have helped get her the chance to direct Marvel’s first non-white superhero movie, Black Panther—and she proved her integrity by turning it down.
This prime-time soap opera about a family in the hip-hop music business (a loose updating of the movie The Lion In Winter, with Henry II becoming a record company CEO) became that rarity in television today: a genuine mass-appeal hit whose first season actually grew its audience with every episode. After years when networks were reluctant to do shows with African-American leads, creators Lee Daniels and Danny Strong proved how silly that was.
The self-declared “sports guy” is the most in-demand journalist in the world. When he left ESPN and signed a lucrative contract with HBO, it was huge news. ESPN had been so desperate to keep him that it funded an entire online magazine, Grantland, to keep him happy, and shut it down soon after he left. In today’s media economy, sports—and star sportswriters like Simmons—dominate.
No one could escape from this self-deprecating feminist comedian. She wrote and starred in the Judd Apatow hit, Trainwreck. Her show Inside Amy Schumer became the favourite of thinkpiece writers, thanks to such politically charged sketches as a parody of 12 Angry Men where jurors argue if Amy is hot or not. And some of her jokes were called out as racist—these days, that’s when you know you’ve arrived.
Remember superheroes? They’re so last year. Dinosaurs are in. Avengers: Age of Ultron was supposed to be the big hit of the summer, but it under-performed and was beaten out by Jurassic World, the latest revival of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park concept. It turns out people are tired of seeing powerful creatures who save the world. We want to see powerful creatures crushing things instead.
Did you know Larry David can act now? The Seinfeld co-creator starred on Broadway in his play Fish in the Dark, which became one of the biggest non-musical hits in years. Then he put his newfound theatre experience to good use on Saturday Night Live, stealing the show as presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. He used to only play himself; now he can play other people who happen to be a lot like him.
From humans to horses, Jonathon Gatehouse highlights some athletes who rose to spectacular heights in 2015
He’s the world’s most successful three-year-old. The bay thoroughbred became the first horse to win the fabled Triple Crown—the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and the Belmont Stakes—in 33 years. Then came a Breeder’s Cup win, for a “Grand Slam.” After earning purses worth more than US$8 million, he’s headed for life as a stud—with one more honour: a place on the Jewish Daily Forward’s annual list of notable Jews. (Owner Ahmed Zayat is Orthodox.)
The 28-year-old Montreal Canadiens star may well be the best goalie on the planet. Last season he led the league in wins, save percentage and goals against, and swept the NHL’s individual awards, taking home the Hart (most valuable player), Jennings (fewest goals allowed), Vézina (top goalie) and Ted Lindsay (most valuable as voted by his peers) trophies. He’s got gold medals—from 2007’s World Junior Championship, and the Olympic crown (2014). Will this be the year he earns a Stanley Cup ring?
A year ago, the 22-year-old from Dallas was just breaking out in the world of golf. Then he won the Masters, the U.S. Open, and six other tournaments, shot up the world ranking to No. 1, and captured the overall FedEx Cup and its $10-million payday. His winnings for the year—US$23 million—set a new record for golf. There are now endorsement deals with Under Armour, AT&T, Titleist, Rolex and more, which will push his take-home for 2015 well above $50 million. Tiger who?
The 20-year-old Halifax gymnast entered five events at the Toronto Pan Am Games, and took five medals. She was Canada’s most-decorated athlete, with golds in the all-around competition, floor and balance beam, a team silver and a bronze in the vault. But we should have seen it coming. She helped Canada to a best-ever fifth in the team event at the London Olympics, and won a gold, silver and bronze at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. The next challenge? Securing Canada’s second-ever artistic gymnastics medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
U.S. women’s soccer team
Canada might as well forget it hosted the Women’s World Cup in 2015. (Our team exited in the quarters.) But it ended up as a momentous victory for the U.S. squad, and a bigger win for the sport. The final—a 5-2 romp over Japan, who’d advanced from the semis in stoppage time on an England own goal—drew almost 27 million viewers in the U.S., making it their most-watched soccer game ever, better ratings than deciding games for the World Series and NHL finals. Goooooal!!!
Chris Sorensen examines the fascinating figures in a world dominated by bottom-lines figures.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has been so busy promoting women in the workplace—writing in the New York Times, founding the Lean In organization—it’s easy to forget how good she is at her day job. Ten-year-old Facebook, far from becoming another social media has-been, continues to build a booming ad business on the backs of its immense 1.5 billion user base. Equally impressive, Sandberg accomplished all this in the midst of personal tragedy following her husband’s death in May, later writing a moving Facebook post about life and loss that resonated with millions.
Shares of Fitbit, which makes wearable activity trackers, surged in the wake of the firm’s June IPO. Thanks to CEO James Park’s decision to share his biometric readings with U.S. financial magazine Fortune, it’s possible to see exactly how the founder’s heart rate reacted (or didn’t) to the big day. A summary: ringing the NYSE’s opening bell and doing a battery of TV and print interviews did little to elevate Park’s heart rate. The exception? When he ran outside to find a hotdog cart at lunch.
General Motors CEO Mary Barra closed a difficult chapter in the carmaker’s history when, in September, GM inked a US$900-million settlement with prosecutors over its massive ignition-switch recall. But more important than the fact GM appears to have avoided criminal charges—more than hundred people died in accidents traced to the faulty part—is how Barra, who inherited the crisis when she took over in 2014, managed to inject a measure of openness and honesty into a company previously known for bureaucracy and foot-dragging.
He’s not a household name, but Canadians no doubt know Kalanick’s work. The pugnacious CEO of Uber has gone to war with North America’s taxicab industry and the municipalities who license it. Uber’s business is as simple as it is disruptive: use a smartphone app to summon a private driver and have the fare—generally cheaper than a taxi—automatically charged to your credit card. No wonder cabbies are livid.
Through its successful May public offering, Ottawa-based Shopify and its CEO proved Canada’s Internet start-ups can make it big, too. The company, which grew out of Lutke’s efforts to sell snowboards online, provides software to other companies that are looking to sell their goods and services over the Web. Shopify now boasts some 200,000 customers in 150 countries—all while retaining a distinctly Canadian flavour, as evidenced by the cheeky “aboot” section on its website.
Kate Lunau puts a microscope on the good-news stories that defined the year in the fascinating field of science
Under the Harper government, scientists long complained of being “muzzled,” prevented from discussing their work with journalists. Shortly after the October election, the mother of a B.C. fisheries biologist shared her son’s Facebook post on her own page. “We were told that it’s okay to talk to the media about what we do, without permission,” it read, calling the change “surreal.” Paterson, a former journalist, saw her post go viral: It was shared thousands of times. In a letter to Justin Trudeau, she said thanks.
The Nova Scotia scientist who won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics demonstrated that neutrinos can switch “flavour” or identity, and have mass. But what’s a neutrino? He explained that to his granddaughter’s school after his win, with Timbits.
It was a “love note” a long time coming. After a nine-year journey covering nearly five billion kilometres, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft reached distant Pluto and its moons in July, beaming back images in gorgeous, glowing detail—and showing a large heart on the dwarf planet’s face. Pictures of Pluto provoked many “oohs” and “ahs” back home, further proving we’re in a golden age of astronomy: We’ve now visited every major planet in our solar system. New Horizons is still going, headed beyond Pluto, out into the Kuiper belt, a faraway region of space swarming with comets and
icy dwarf planets.
Life on the International Space Station isn’t all work. In September, astronaut Scott Kelly and the crew watched the movie The Martian, starring Matt Damon. If we ever hope to go to Mars for real, we’ll have to learn how to live in space. So, in March, Kelly blasted off on NASA’s first one-year mission.
A look at the positive forces and powerful politicians that mattered this year, from Michael Petrou.
Positive change requires moral leadership, and Francis delivered in 2015. First, he issued an encyclical confirming the reality of man-made climate change, urging Catholics to take action for the sake of the world’s poor, who are disproportionately harmed by global warming. He then called on Catholics to assist refugees from war-torn Syria and Iraq, adding pressure to indifferent world leaders. His critics say he’s all talk and no action. But on these two vital issues, his voice was welcome and discernibly influential.
Like a load-bearing wall, Germany somehow continues to prop up the house of Europe, extending credit to failing economies and taking refugees whom neighbouring countries rebuff. But who’s holding Germany together? Answer: a tough cookie in the chancellor’s office who blends rigidity with reason. Merkel learned pragmatism growing up behind the Berlin Wall, but she’s evolved into a stateswoman, proving you don’t need Thatcher-esque bluster to show you’re made of iron.
Though the honeymoon following his landmark victory in India is over, hope is still strong that the country will take its place as a global power, thanks to the charismatic new PM. Modi has built international trade ties, while devolving power to regions and cutting red tape in a notoriously bureaucratic country. He also defied caricatures of himself as an anti-Muslim hardliner by speaking out for minority rights (though peace overtures to Pakistan ultimately fizzled).
Once criticized as a soft-touch socialist, the French president transformed into a battle king following the November attacks on Paris, declaring his country at war against ISIS and forging an international coalition to join in. It won’t be conventional war—Hollande must know that. But the scourge of ISIS calls for multilateral action, and for that he has made a convincing case.
Adrian Lee showcases some musicians who sang from the same songbook of success this year
Despite a rather prolific year, Minaj’s greatest contribution this year may have been at the MTV Video Music Awards’ evening of candy-coloured noise. Shuffle past the Technicolor rapper’s righteous chirp at host Miley Cyrus; instead, look at a pre-show conflict with Taylor Swift, who felt slighted when Minaj tweeted that her video for Anaconda wasn’t nominated because she wasn’t a slim woman. What came of that bruit was a fertile conversation about race and feminism—intersectionality, if you will. It was a reminder that pop culture can still spark important discussions.
Buffy Sainte-Marie is 74, with a five-decade-long career marked by many accolades and stirring social messages. But 2015 was her moment. She released the vital Power in the Blood and won the Polaris Music Prize for it. As she has for her whole career, Sainte-Marie has proven to be a clarion call for Indigenous voices. “Progress is too slow,” she told Maclean’s. “But any day I look backwards I realize we’ve come so far.”
Eagles of Death Metal
The California rock cabal had been seen for some time as merely the side project of Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme. That all changed on Nov. 13, when terrorists stormed their show at Paris’s Bataclan concert hall, killing 89 attendees and, according to a laid-bare interview with VICE, the band barely escaping with their lives. Since that attack on music, they’ve become crusaders for the urgent joy that undergird Parisian life—and have committed to their role with earnest, heartfelt aplomb. They’ve promised to be the first to play at the Bataclan when it reopens.