Thursday, January 10, 2019

2018 Favorites

My Three Favorite Books I Read in 2018

Favorite "new to me" books I read this year.

3. Triple Threat, Gwenda Bond
A book series that imagines Lois Lane as a high school student and junior investigative reporter chasing down mysterious leads and instant messaging someone known only as "SmallvilleGuy" on the side? This one was a no-brainer for me! The third and final book in the series, I loved reading the fast-paced story of a strong, fearless female lead investigating the fantastic and experiencing a sweet, budding romance along the way. Gwenda Bond's Lois is smart, sassy, and brave, and does a solid job filling that Veronica Mars-sized hole in my heart. If you enjoy inventive young adult mysteries, this whole series will be right up your alley!

"I didn't mind walking into danger on my own. Not the concept of it, anyway."


2. How To Find Love Love in a Bookshop, Veronica Henry
How To Find Love in a Bookshop was the first book I read in 2018—and what a way to kick off my year of reading! I loved it, rated it five stars, and immediately started recommended it to everyone I could think of. (I even gave it to my sister for Christmas!) It's sweet and lovely (two of my favorite adjectives when it comes to books), interweaving stories from various townspeople in the small village of Peasbrooke, England into one delightful novel. I've not yet met anyone who didn't enjoy this book, so pick it up if you're craving sweet and lovely.

“The whole point of life was you couldn't ever be sure what would happen next. Sometimes what happened was good, sometimes not, but there were always surprises.”

1. To All The Boys I've Loved Before trilogy, Jenny Han
When Lara Jean Song-Covey finds out that her private letters to every boy she's ever had a crush on have actually been mailed out, she's ready for the earth to swallow her whole. Awkwardness, hilarity, and melt-in-a-puddle sweetness ensue. I love so much about this book series, but here are a few of my favorites. One, Peter Kavinsky. Two, everything. The story did not go at all in the direction I expected it to, and every unanticipated turn was a delightful surprise. Jenny Han is a gifted writer, and her ability to get into the mind of a high school "good girl" character is remarkable. I could not put any of these books down; they were all completely mesmerizing to me. Always and Forever, Valerie Mae.

"My heartbeat is going quick-quick-quick. I’m giddy. Is this a dream? If so, let me never wake up."


Honorable Mention

Nate Expectations by Tim Federle
The City Baker's Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller
One, Two Buckle My Shoe by Agatha Christie
I'll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
Something Wonderful: Rodgers and Hammerstein's Broadway Revolution by Todd S. Purdum
This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Philipps
The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built by Jack Viertel
The Hate U Give
by Angie Thomas

My goal for 2018 was to read 40 books. Miracle of miracles, I was able to finish 44! If you're looking to set a reading goal for the year, I can't recommend Goodreads enough. It's a great way to track what you're reading, what you'd like to read next, and what your friends are reading! Plus, once you set your goal it tells you where you are in the journey to completion. Check it out, and then find me here!


My Three Favorite Movies of 2018

Runner-Up: Mary Poppins Returns
What a joy. What a soundtrack. I'm so, so glad this film lived up to my expectations! I laughed and cried and haven't stopped listening to the soundtrack since. It's pure sunshine.

3. (tie) Searching
Everything is fine. Then one day, a single dad's only daughter doesn't come home, and he partners with the police to try to piece together what happened. He goes on a journey to learn more about his daughter's life, and in the process, finds out exactly how much he DOESN'T know. As the mystery deepens, the story takes more than a few left turns, and just when you think the twists are over THERE'S STILL MORE TWISTS. (And if you know me, you know I love a good twist.) All of this would be enough on its own, but here's one more reason you might want to check it out: the entire movie takes place on a computer screen. And I know that sounds like a gimmick, but it all works. It really does! It serves the story, and adds a layer of relate-ability because everything Jon Cho's David does (search Facebook, look up Google Maps, etc.) is something I would do if I were trying to solve a real-life mystery. Don't miss this one!


3. (tie) Bad Times at the El Royale
Spin me a solid, creative tale with plenty of twists and turns and my heart is yours forever.  I fell in love with the Bad Times trailer, but didn't fully know what I was getting into. I'm so glad I didn't, because not knowing who the main characters were or exactly what the movie was about made everything all the more deliciously enjoyable. I am obsessed with mysteries (see my love of Agatha Christie, Veronica Mars, etc.) and have a healthy appreciation for movies set in a single night. Add in a stellar cast, a slowly unfolding story, gorgeous, haunting music, and I'm hooked. It all culminates in bloody mayhem, but the reveals and surprises that come along the way make it all completely worth it.

2. Game Night
The moment Kyle Chandler's character gave the "Poor man's Johnny Depp" clue* in a game of "Celebrity," I knew this movie was for me. Starring some of my favorite performers (Rachel McAdams, Jesse Plemmons, Jason Bateman, the aforementioned Coach Taylor), Game Night is a nonstop thrill ride of laughs, clues, reveals, and money being slid across a table reeeeeeally slowly. It's so funny, it's such a blast, and I can't wait for you to see it, if you haven't already. 
*Skeet Ulrich


1. To All The Boys I've Loved Before
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Did you really think I'd pick something else? I watched this movie for the first time with a big group of girls, and it was the ideal movie-watching environment. We all instantly turned 15 years old (it was crazy, I know!) and spent the movie laughing, blushing, swooning, and hiding behind blankets because OH THE EMBARRASSMENT. When it was over we restarted the movie from the beginning and watched all the highlights again. And I've watched it many, many (many) times since. It's turquoise and pink and perfect. I could write a book about how much I love this movie. I could write a whole musical (and I actually did—well, kinda) about how much I love this movie. It's such a beautiful adaptation of the book, with a delightful cast and a whole collection of tiny moments that are like little snow globes for me—pick each of them up and swirl the magic around and relive the perfection. The handshake under the cherry blossom tree. Moving the popcorn. The splash. Everybody wants to rule the world. The milkshake. "Progress." And of course (OF COURSE), the pocket twirl. I love this movie to death, and if you'll excuse me, I think it's time for me to go watch it again.


Honorable Mention: Avengers: Infinity War, Set It Up, Crazy Rich Asians, Mission Impossible: Fallout, The Hate U Give, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, A Star is Born

My Three Favorite TV Shows of 2018

Favorite shows I started watching this year:

3. Veep
Everything you've heard about "Veep" is true: it's that funny. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is that genius. (It's also that crass, unfortunately, so fair warning!) This show is just truly a joke machine, using one-liners, crazy situations, and every other available element in its comedy arsenal. It's a dream of a cast, led by the incomparable JLD, and I can't wait for Hulu to release more seasons so I can fully catch up!
Stream it on Hulu and HBO

2. Queer Eye
Show me a more encouraging and uplifting show that came out this year. Because I can't think of one! "Queer Eye" matches compassion with entertainment and joy, and it makes for a truly winning combination. A lesson in empathy and kindness, QE utilizes its platform to demonstrate a healthy dose of generosity—and more than a few laughs along the way. It was a joy to watch, and I am more than ready for season 3!
Stream it on Netflix

1. Cobra Kai
No, I'm not kidding. My favorite show of the year is the YouTube Premium series "Cobra Kai." Despite not being super familiar with The Karate Kid, I fully embraced the continuing story of "good guy" Daniel and "bully" Johnny. But when lines blur, motivations change, and empathy grows, an incredible opportunity for unexpected storytelling presents itself. Shockingly hilarious and extremely bingeable, "Cobra Kai" surprised me with its twists and turns, its phenomenal cast, and its "world turned upside down" sensibility. Forget that it's a YouTube show. Forget that it's based on a 30-year-old property. I encourage you to jump full into this incredibly well-made series and enjoy its unexpected storytelling, its deeply felt character moments, and its out-and-out hilarity.
Stream it on YouTube Premium

Honorable Mention: Busy Tonight, Homecoming, Evil Genius, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

My Three Favorite Other Things That Don't Fall Into Another Category of 2018

3. The Hamildrops

Lin-Manuel Miranda has released a lot of amazing new music based on or inspired by Hamilton. Two of my favorites were released this year: The Hamilton Polka and Found/Tonight. Weird Al's cover of a majority of the songs in Hamilton—in five minutes, no lessis a feat in itself. The fact that it's also a blast (not to mention hilarious) just pushes it over the top! Then with Found/Tonight, Lin found a way to marry one of the undersung Hamilton songs with the beautiful anthem You Will Be Found from last year's top event Dear Evan Hansen. Press play on that song and tell me you don't get chills from second one.



2. Bandstand
filmed live
During the summer of 2017, I saw an incredible Broadway show starring two megawatt stars (Corey Cott and Laura Osnes). It was called Bandstand. It was outstanding, and once it was over I was so sad thinking I'd never get to see it again. Fast-forward to this spring when my heart swelled with JOY finding out this Tony-winner for best choreography had been filmed during its all-too-short run, and would be coming to big screens across America! My friends and I loaded up the car on a Tuesday night in June and drove one city over (eye roll that it did not play here) to relive this exhilarating, beautiful, heart-stopping show one more time. It was extraordinary, and I am forever grateful that I had that opportunity.



1. Tesssa Virtue & Scott Moir
I know the Winter Olympics seem like FOREVER ago, but it really was this year! And the highlight of the Olympics, for me, was Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue's Moulin Rouge-inspired program. It's just so, so beautiful. I love it so much. And I absolutely cried watching it again just now. If you haven't seen it in a while, then it's time to treat. your. self.



Honorable Mention: John Mulaney's "Kid Gorgeous" (honestly would have made the list but I've already waxed poetic about my love for Mulaney), these Muppet outtakes, this video, this video, and this video

My Three Favorite Events of 2018

3. Broadway 2018
For the fifth summer in a row, my roommate Emily and I took on the Big Apple, cramming in tons of sightseeing, walking (literally FIFTY BLOCKS FROM THE MUSEUM OF NEW YORK TO BLACK TAP), and of course, Broadway shows! The Band's Visit (2018's Tony winner for Best  Musical) was breathtaking and original and Anastasia was beautiful and classic. Carousel was everything I hoped it would be, from the mind-blowing choreography ("Blow High, Blow Low" was a high point of MY LIFE) to that hall of fame-worthy score (tell me the overture doesn't make you cry!). But when Joshua Henry started singing the Act 1 closer, "Soliloquy," man. I have no words. Actually, yes I do: it was incredible. It was like witnessing something that only happens once in the history of the world. His voice filled the entire theatre and blew us back in our seats. I cried, I got chills, and I'll never, ever forget it.

The fourth show I saw was Mean Girls, and it has instantly vaulted itself into the list of my top favorite stage musicals of all time. The songs are phenomenal, the cast astonishing, and the entire thing is hilarious and heartfelt. It has so many of the things I love: quick changes, exceptional choreography, whip-smart dialogue (thanks, Tina Fey!), empathetic characters, and on and on. The cast recording was the album I listened to most this year (and "Stupid With Love" was my top song), I've been having a blast following the cast on social media, and I am so, so, so, so, so glad I got to see it.

2. Nashville Friend-cation
We drank tea and talked. We went out to eat delicious food (including the best burger OF MY LIFE) and talked. We shopped and talked. Walked and talked. And at the end of the day? We'd sit down and TALK. And it was the most life-giving, soul-soothing weekend I can recall. Together for the first time since 2009, my reunion with Annie, Julie, and Dani came at the perfect time for all of us to get a break from normal life and spend time breathing and talking deeply. We piled into boutique dressing rooms, trying on clothes and encouraging each other to treat ourselves to new coats or high-waisted pants. We sat on the floor of a brand-new art gallery, listening to music by artists like Moda Spira. We went to brunch to have a "blind date with a book," and each came home with a new read. The entire time was a breath of fresh air, a sigh of relief, and I'm so, so thankful we had this time together.

1. Family Vacations
     a. Galveston
It was all sand and sunglasses, wind and laughter. Chalk on the breezeway, bubbles on the stairs, and a shuffleboard tournament with a side of guacamole. Sunset boat rides, giant sea creatures molded from sand, angry live crabs in buckets, and endless fishing on the bulkhead. We ate good food, strolled the Strand, and visited our favorite ice cream shop. Family time is always the best, and my nieces were a dream. If I could rewind my life and press play again at the start of this trip, I would. Plus, I caught a STING RAY. IN THE CANAL. TWICE. (They're boneless!)

     b. Christmas
The whole family together in Houston. Be still my Christmas-loving heart!


Honorable Mention: My new office building, and my cousin Shannon's son Justin in the Little League World Series!

What a year. Thank you, Lord!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Digital Faux Pas

The Lutheran school I attended from preschool through eighth grade felt huge. In reality, the entire school probably had no more than 300 students during any given year. Like most schools, it was its own ecosystem, with popular kids, school lore, and notorious teachers who you'd somehow get for third grade, and then later for 7th grade science, followed by 8th grade art.

Ginger and I have frequently documented some of the stranger quirks of our school, including the traffic light mounted on the wall of our cafeteria to indicate our allowable conversation volume (green for talking, yellow for whispering, and red for silence).

The light must have been green the day Linda and a few friends and I were talking and laughing at lunchtime. Linda was tall with a razor sharp ear-length bob. She had a reputation for being a fast runner, and from what I recall, everyone liked her. In fact, one year while on the way to Linda's birthday party, the entire car full of school girls erupted into repeated cheers of "L-I-N-D-A!" over and over on our way to Penny Whistle Park.

That day the girls and I were eating our sack lunches, miniature cartons of milk beside each of us. Linda extracted a single Cheeto from a clear plastic baggie, but instead of eating it, she proceeded to place it in an upright position between her middle and ring fingers.

"Look!" she said with mischievous excitement in her eyes.

I stared at her hand, and at the Cheeto standing in for a middle finger.

"Well, that's not hard," I said, thinking she was unable to lift her middle finger in such a way. Maybe holding up that finger was something akin to being able to roll your tongue, or make one eye move independently from the other (a skill my sister had mastered which I, sadly, had not).

I quickly held up my own hand, middle finger standing at attention. I was eager to impress the girls at my table with my apparently unique ability to single out this particular appendage.

"Valerie!" Linda exclaimed, looking gleeful at my digital faux pas. "You can't do that!"

"Why not?"

"Because! It means I hate God!"

I don't know the circumstances in which this was explained to her, but I like to imagine a pint-sized Linda spotting "the bird" out in the wild and questioning her parents as to what that meant. Her mother and father probably shared a look, telepathically agreed on their story, and gave Linda an elementary-appropriate explanation for what such an act meant: I hate God.

(The parents of most of the children at my school undoubtedly fed their children similar stories about the worst the world has to offer. They also must have told them religious reasons for why we do certain things. Why else would a boy in my class have told me that spelling the name of our Heavenly Father with a lowercase g is a sin—"god" instead of "God?")

I don't know how long I believed holding up your middle finger meant "I hate God," but the message that it was inappropriate certainly embedded itself in my brain.

We never discussed middle fingers again. I don't recall that explanation being repeated, so it must have left with Linda when her family moved away the following year.

For the record, though, just in case it was true: I do not hate God.

Friday, March 2, 2018

11th Annual Oscar Picks

It's a crazy world, where up is down, boy bands play instruments, and "Boss Baby" is an Academy Award-nominated movie. Fortunately, it stops there, and won't also become an Academy Award-winning movie. And I can guarantee that, because I know exactly who is going to win. And I've never, ever been wrong.*

(Previously: 2017, 2016, 201520142013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008.)


Best Picture: I used to always get this category right. Now I always get it wrong. But this is the year I turn it around! I know it's down to "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" and "The Shape of Water." (Some are predicting an upset by "Get Out" or "Lady Bird," but I just don't see it). If I wasn't sure before, their big win at the BAFTA's convinced me: this year's top prize is going to "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri."

Best Director: This one, however, WILL go to "The Shape of Water," as the Academy has recently moved to awarding the director of the most technically advanced film of the year. Guillermo del Toro will win this one.

Best Actor: There's no doubt in my mind that Gary Oldman is taking home the gold in this category. His turn as Winston Churchill in "Darkest Hour" is absolutely breathtaking, and he's finally bringing home a long-deserved award. And while young Timothée Chalamet may not be winning this time, we'll always have this video, where his high school self raps about statistics.

Best Actress: There's an outside chance that Saoirse Ronan could sneak in a win here, but I really can't picture anyone winning over Frances McDormand and her riveting turn in "Three Billboards." She's such a pro, and watching her act is truly watching a master at work.

Best Supporting Actor: I really, really, really love Sam Rockwell (particularly for his hilarious and heartfelt turn in "The Way, Way Back.") He's such an incredible actor, and so much fun to watch. (Plus, have you seen him dance?) All that to say, it's going to be really fun to see him walk away with the gold come Sunday.

Best Supporting Actress: It's another two-woman race, this time between Allison Janney and Laurie Metcalf. And here's the thing: while I absolutely adore Allison Janney (I own six of her movies!), I think Laurie Metcalf's heartbreaking and nuanced performance in "Lady Bird" is miles ahead of Janney's portrayal of LaVona Harding in "I, Tonya." However, Allison Janney has been unstoppable this awards season, and I think she'll come out on top once again.

Animated Feature: Sorry, "Boss Baby!" The award for Best Animated Feature will be the sweet, beautiful, musically rich "Coco!" Pixar gets to add another golden statue to their pile when they take home the win for this wonderful trip through the Land of the Dead.

Production Design: Let's be honest: "Blade Runner 2049" really SHOULD win this. It really, really should. But the scales seem to be tipping in "The Shape of Water's" direction, so I think they'll end up swimming away with the big award in the end.

Cinematography: BUT. THIS is where "Blade Runner 2049" is almost a shoe-in to win. Roger Deakins, legendary cinematographer, will finally, FINALLY win an Academy Award this year, after 14 (FOURTEEN) nominations!

Costume Design: I can hardly imagine a movie about gorgeous clothes not winning the Oscar for Best Costume Design. It'll be "Phantom Thread."

Film Editing: "Dunkirk" and "Baby Driver," two of my favorite films of the year, are in a dead heat for this category. And as much as I would love (LOVE) to predict this one for "Baby," I think the Academy is more likely to award the time-jumping narrative of "Dunkirk."

Makeup and Hairstyling: Awww, yes. Hair, done by one team of people, and makeup, done by another team. So sure, let's make them share a category! That is definitely a thing that makes sense. Anyway! While watching "Darkest Hour," I kept looking at Winston Churchill and thinking, "I am looking at a person that does not exist. Gary Oldman looks nothing like this guy on the screen, and there's simply not an actor that actually looks like that. For this astounding feat, "Darkest Hour" is the clear winner.

Original Score: I really loved the music in "Dunkirk," and I think they have a small chance of winning, as does "Phantom Thread." However, all of the momentum in this category seems to be for Alexandre Desplat's score for "The Shape of Water."

Original Song: Look out, 'cause here comes... a really tough category! Again, it comes down to two: "Remember Me" (the heartbreakingly beautiful earworm from "Coco," which appears in a remarkable three different forms in the film), and the power ballad "This is Me" from "The Greatest Showman." In the end though, the exceedingly talented Benj Pasek and Justin Paul will win their second Oscar in a row in this category, this time for "The Greatest Showman."

Original Screenplay: Talk about a STACKED category! The question of who will win comes down, though, to just two nominees: "Get Out" and "Three Billboards." Do you go with the really creative, original idea for a movie ("Get Out")? Or do you pick the one with the twisting story and razor sharp dialogue ("Three Billlboards")? I have a feeling most of the voters loved "Get Out" and will want to find a way to honor Jordan Peele, so he's got a shot here. However, I don't see it happening. I'm going with "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri."

Adapted Screenplay: Three things lead me to believe this award is going to James Ivory. 1) He's kind of old (89, actually) and that makes for a great Hollywood narrative. 2) He's been nominated three previous times and never won. 3) The voters seem to love "Call Me By Your Name," which likely won't pick up any other awards on Sunday. So there you have it: "Call Me By Your Name" will win Best Adapted Screenplay.

Sound Mixing: It's once again between "Dunkirk" and "Baby Driver." If it was a true RACE race, I would bet everything on "Baby Driver." But alas, Baby can't drive his Subaru through this one. The Academy historically loves war movies in this category, so I'm going "Dunkirk."

Sound Editing: I would love to be wrong in one of these sound categories, if only it meant that "Baby Driver" could pick up at least one Oscar. I don't think it's going to happen though; I think "Dunkirk" will win this one as well.

Visual Effects: I keep avoiding this category because I just! Don't! Want! To make! A decision! The effects in "Blade Runner 2049" were stunning. S T U N N I N G. They shouldn't be counted out in this category. On the other hand, though... you have those apes. This is the third in a trilogy of films that hasn't won yet in this category. I think it's very possible that the Academy will want to award the whole series by finally giving them a visual effects Oscar for "War for the Planet of the Apes."

Documentary Feature: Man, this one could go to any of these movies. I don't envy the voters on categories like this. In the end, I'll go with "Faces Places."

Documentary Short: The opioid crisis is about as topical as it gets, so I'm going to guess "Heroin(e)" will grab this award.

Foreign Language Film: The only movie I've heard of in this category is "A Fantastic Woman." (Something tells me that might be the case for a large percentage of the Academy voters as well.) Look for "A Fantastic Woman" to win here.

Animated Short: Guys, if "Dear Basketball" wins? Kobe Bryant will be an ACADEMY AWARD-WINNER. And I think that actually might happen on Sunday night! Pixar is usually not one to be bet against, and they still might pull out a win with "Lou." However, once I was reminded that Hollywood is a Laker town, I became convinced that this category is indeed going to "Dear Basketball."

Live Action Short: In this current climate, it's kind of hard to imagine that a short about a school shooting won't score a ton of votes. That's why I think the winner will be "DeKalb Elementary."


  Just kidding. I'm wrong about this... (sigh)... a lot. An awful lot. *stares out into the distance*

Sunday, January 14, 2018

2017 Favorites

My Three Favorite Books I Read in 2017

3. Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer
At the beginning of the book, I was on team "this guy was an idiot." By the end I just felt so sad that Christopher McCandless was gone (spoiler alert?)—even if he was a bit of a punk. The author did a great job weaving an empathetic and tragic story that was truly gripping, although perhaps I shouldn't be surprised, as I'm a huge fan of Into Thin Air. The level of detail was fascinating rather than tedious, and the picture Krakauer painted of McCandless's life and tragic death was thoroughly engrossing. It's a great read, and one that moves briskly through the story (save one inexplicable extended foray into the author's own  climbing background). In the end, I was left both cursing McCandless for his hubris and mourning the way his story turned out.

"The trip was to be an odyssey in the fullest sense of the word, an epic journey that would change everything."

2. Cocaine Blues, Kerry Greenwood
One of my favorite TV shows from last year was Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries. (I was correct in my prediction that I would only come to love it more—it's now one of my all-time favorite shows, and my roommate and I are constantly re-watching episodes.) All this love led me to seek out the books the television series was based on, and I'm SO glad I did! Book 1 in the series, Cocaine Blues, introduces our beautiful and independent heroine Phrynne Fisher, who is just as highly intelligent and capable in the books as she is on the show. This brilliant mix of 1920's Australian culture, a fascinating and brisk mystery, and, best of all, our terribly clever protagonist. I love a mystery that doesn't just reveal itself in the end, and sure enough, once again Phyrne can only save the day by using her smarts and lots of really hard work. This was a joy to read, and I can't recommend it enough.

“You broke the window, Bobby, and you pinched the necklace. Do you want to confess or shall I tell you how you did it?”

1. Wild, Cheryl Strayed
I don't like hiking. I don't identify with Cheryl Strayed, her story, or her need to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. But I figuratively walked every step of the way right along with her, shaking my head at her foolish unpreparedness, waiting with bated breath to learn if she made it through her most recent setback, and cheering at every minor victory along the way. I wouldn't have thought this was my kind of book, but I found it to be completely un-put-down-able for the entire duration. Her stories about her journey and the unforgettable people she met along the way are seamlessly interwoven with her backstory: the heartbreak of losing her mother (she said she wasn't afraid to be alone on the trail because THE WORST THING HAD ALREADY HAPPENED TO HER) and every other event that led to her embarking on her journey on an otherwise unremarkable summer day in 1995. The theatrical adaptation starring Reese Witherspoon was perfectly fine, but if you haven't read the full story of Cheryl's time on the PCT, you haven't experienced Wild.

"I walked and I walked, my mind shifting into a primal gear that was void of anything but forward motion, and I walked until walking became unbearable, until I believed I couldn't walk even one more step.
And then I ran.”


Honorable Mention
Born a Crime, Trevor Noah 
Death in the Clouds
, Agatha Christie
Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Amy Krouse Rosenthal
You Couldn't Ignore Me If You Tried, Susannah Gora
Slave Day, Rob Thomas 
Fallout and Double Down, Gwenda Bond
Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan
I Love You, Ronnie, Nancy Reagan
The Boys in the Boat, Daniel James Brown 

My goal for this year was to read 30 books. For once I actually blew past my goal: this year I read 38 books! That may not seem like a huge deal, but I'm pretty proud of myself for constantly searching for new books to read, making several trips to the library, and suffering through Audible narrators doing things like pronouncing the word 'capsule' as 'cap-sue-al'—yes, really. (And he wasn't even British or anything! Looking at you, Wil Wheaton!)

My Three Favorite Movies of 2017

3. (tie) Thor: Ragnarok
Without a doubt, Thor: Ragnarok was the FUNNIEST movie I saw this year. Taika Waititi is an absolute genius, and I'm eternally grateful that he was given the reins to a Marvel movie. He crafted a irreverent, fun, hilarious film and still managed to imbue it with weight and lasting meaning. I love quoting this movie, I love laughing about this movie, and I can't wait to see it again.


3. (tie) Coco I didn't think Coco was ultimately going to make my list this year. I really didn't. But every time I think about leaving it off of my list, my heart clenches, and I just can't bear the thought. This movie is so sweet and charming, and its themes on family and memory are deeply affecting. I can't stop listening to the music, most of all the tear-inducing "Remember Me (Lullaby)" and "Remember Me (Reunion)." Also "Proud Corazón" and "The World Es Mi Familia." (Okay THE WHOLE SOUNDTRACK! Go check it out if you haven't yet!)

2. Home Again
You're questioning my taste in movies, I know it. But just hear me out: this simple, sweet, and very pretty movie just makes me SO happy. When I was re-watching movie trailers trying to decide what order to put my favorites in, this is the one that made me smile and feel all warm and sparkly inside. It's such a fluffy, inconsequential little film, and yet it just fills my heart with joy. Everyone's just so beautiful (including the male lead, as explained in this essay in which the author calls him "an extremely attractive 20-something who looks like a Hillsong youth pastor" and questions, "Was his face created by a Pinterest algorithm? Or in the same CW lab that created Nate Archibald?"), their problems are so simple, and they do things like watch old movies outside on artfully arranged designer blankets under the stars. This movie is all about low stakes and high comfort, and sometimes that's exactly what you need from your movies.

1. Baby Driver
I don't think I can adequately express to you how much I loved Baby Driver. As a huge fan of Hot Fuzz (Edgar Wright directed them both), I went in with pretty high expectations. Baby Driver surpassed them all. Everything worked for me: the stunts, the music, the acting, the romance, the dancing, the classic Edgar Wright cuts—everything. When I left the movie theater, I felt breathless and excited and full of adrenaline, almost as if I'd just gone on an exhilarating 100-mile-an-hour car ride with Baby himself. I just had a BLAST. And then I went and saw it again and had another blast. Then I went back AGAIN because I just couldn't get enough, and guess what? IT WAS STILL A BLAST. Baby Driver was my favorite movie of the year by SEVERAL HUNDRED MILES. I saw 33 of the movies that came out in 2017 and 32 of them pale in comparison to Baby Driver. I hope you got a chance to see it on the big screen, because there's just nothing like it. If you didn't, you should still check it out as soon as you can. It'll blow your hair back and make your heart race and by the end you'll feel like you can go kick a hole in the sun.

Honorable Mention: The Post, Wonder Woman, The Big Sick, Everything Everything, Dunkirk, The Greatest Showman, Murder on the Orient Express

My Three Favorite TV Shows of 2017

Favorite shows I started watching this year:

3. American Vandal
Here's the thing about American Vandal: it's incredibly crass. There's no getting around that. The central mystery of this eight-episode mockumentary is: "Who spray painted a bunch of obscene images on 27 cars in the faculty parking lot?" The Netflix original is a comedic send-up of true crime shows like Making a Murderer and Serial. It takes this seemingly silly "whodunit" concept deadly seriously, which naturally just makes it funnier. You can't believe that this was one of my favorite shows of the year, and that's fine. I kind of can't believe it either. But as I continued to watch, I was surprised to find the mystery intensify, the characters become deeper and more layered, and the documentary (fake or not) itself lend meaning and weightiness to such an (apparently) dimwitted story. It's a difficult show to describe, so let me just end with this: the scene where high school documentarian Peter storms up to Dylan's house in a downpour to pummel on the back door and demand to know why he's been lied to and betrayed was as riveting as any I saw this year.
Stream it on Netflix

2. Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television
Not every show is for everybody. I'm a firm believer in that. Frankly, I don't know who Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television is for, exactly—other than me. A show that stars a Veronica Mars alum, guest starring everyone from Joel McHale to Kristen Bell herself, and makes constant reference to television, acting, and the entertainment industry as a whole? They might has well have called it, Ryan Solves Crimes on Television Just For You, Valerie! A delightfully bonkers comedic mystery series that takes meta to the extreme, RHSCOT is one of the most creatively risky shows I've ever experienced. It's a true delight from top to bottom that probably wouldn't work with any other lead—Ryan Hansen plays the perfect combination of guileless, optimistic, and delusional—and I'm not just saying that because we're total Twitter BFFs.
Watch it on YouTube Red

1. The Good Place 
I TECHNICALLY started watching The Good Place last year, but only a few episodes had aired by the time I wrote last year's blog. When the show came back in January of 2017, it had gathered some serious steam, and each episode just got better and better. The season 1 finale BLEW MY FORKING MIND and ever since then I have been obsessed. Kristen Bell is her usual luminous and effortless self, and the writing (especially the restaurant puns) is on POINT, brilliantly marrying comedy and an intriguing world-spinning narrative. I can't oversell this show to you: it's that genius, that creative, and that hilarious. Do yourself a favor and catch up on the best network comedy since Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
Watch season one on Netflix and season two on NBC

Honorable Mention: Bletchley Circle, Great News, Manhunt: Unabomber, The Keepers

Special Mention #1: Riverdale is overly dramatic and a LOT of the time I just find myself rolling my eyes at the TV. But here's the thing: I cannot stop watching it. This moody, beautifully shot, dumb show knows exactly how to keep me coming back for more. Step 1: Base it on my favorite (read: only) comic book series I read as a kid. Step 2: Cast a combination of super fun, super pretty stars, and throwback actors like Luke Perry and Skeet Ulrich. Step 3: Throw in a ton of hilarious one-liners and zingers delivered by the saltiest teenagers since a certain blonde detective went to high school. Step 4: Keep me guessing about any number of fascinating mysteries: Who killed Jason Blossom? Who's the Black Hood? What temperature is it supposed to be??? It's a winning combination, and one that always leaves me coming back for more.
Stream it on Netflix or The CW App

Special Mention #2: This year I finally finished watching ALL six seasons of Dawson's Creek. I had a blast, and it made me so nostalgic—not necessarily for the show itself, since I wasn't watching it live when it first aired, but for the time period of the late '90's and early '00's, the exact time I was in high school. From the costumes and hairstyles to the music and lack of cell phones, it brought back a ton of memories for me, and I'm so glad I finally got to experience the fun (and ridiculousness) of Capeside for myself.
Watch it on DVD like a peasant because they took it off Netflix before you could finish it. But apparently it's on Hulu now.


My Three Favorite Other Things That Don't Fall Into Another Category of 2017

3. Holiday Inn filmed live
I wasn't able to make it to New York to see Holiday Inn during its limited run last year. That's why I am SO grateful that they filmed this beautiful, funny, and sweet show and aired it on PBS so that I could record it, bless it, and keep it safe on my DVR forever. If you missed it, come over to my house and we'll watch Corbin Bleu dance through fire crackers, rows of gifted performers tap dance while jump roping, and my close, personal friend Bryce Pinkham serenade us through the screen.


2. My Favorite Murder podcast
I have a confession to make: I am what they call a murderino. (Chances are, you're one too, because who doesn't have at least a minor fascination with true crime?) I was hooked on the first episode I listened to, and I've thoroughly enjoyed every episode since. Treading the line between reverent fear and out-and-out hilarity ("Unless you're a ghost baseball player, you don't need to be in that field."), My Favorite Murder never fails to keep the laughs (or the chills) coming. Just remember: stay sexy and DON'T get murdered!

1. Disney's Newsies: The Broadway Musical filmed live
You've heard me talk endlessly about Newsies, so I won't go back over well-trod territory. Suffice it to say, knowing that they filmed my all-time favorite Broadway show with the original Broadway leads and a hybrid super-cast made up of both touring and original Broadway dancers thrills me to no end. I went and saw it three times at the movie theater, and now it's on Netflix for us all to enjoy again and again and again. (And again, probably.)

Honorable Mention: Psych: The Movie, The Meet Cute Cafe Podcast, Tiffany Haddish on Jimmy Kimmel and SNL, the Potato Salad Guy, Busy Philipps' Instagram Stories

My Three Favorite Events of 2017

3. Working Girl
This was a difficult year at work, but in the end one good thing happened: I got a title change, added responsibility, and more time to spend on my passion: social media. It's hard to be excited amidst the challenge and change that have come to define the past six months at work, but in the end I have this wonderful shining bright spot that I can return to and take pride in.

2. Morby Family Christmas
Family time is always the best time. Our Christmas this year was packed with laughter, Christmas lights, fun, cookie-making, games, presents, hide-n-seek, movies, playgrounds and more. I could keep talking about it, or you could just click play and see for yourself!


1. Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway
I was fortunate enough to go to New York again this past summer, and we saw a lot of amazing Broadway shows, including Bandstand, Groundhog Day, and Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812. But the very best show I saw last year, and the best show I've seen in a long time, was Dear Evan Hansen. It's so good, it's so good, and I feel like I could just keep typing "IT'S SO GOOD" for the rest of this paragraph and it still wouldn't be enough. If Hamilton is the bomb that blew up Broadway and lit the pop culture world on fire, then Dear Evan Hansen is the sparkling star that fell from above for you to cradle in your hands and protect at all costs. And to be more precise: if I had to pinpoint the happiest, most fulfilled few moments of my year, it happened during Ben Platt, Will Roland, and Mike Faist's performance of the song Sincerely, Me, three minutes and 40 seconds of pure, concentrated joy. I've loved that song since the first time I heard it, and I can remember the feeling of finally experiencing it in real life so clearly: leaning forward, grinning from ear to ear, and feeling like sunshine was pouring out of my own face.
What a year!

Sincerely,
Me

Saturday, February 25, 2017

10th Annual Oscar Picks

You know the best part of making these predictions year after year? The fact that I have never been wrong, ever. It's a great feeling.*

And happy 10th Oscar Picks to me!

(Previously: 2016, 201520142013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008.)


Best Picture: Sometimes people like to predict an upset just because they're bored with a certain movie winning a majority of the awards leading up to the Oscars. Well, guess what? Sometimes that movie wins a lot because it's wonderful, and people just really, really love it. And this year, that special, spectacular film winning hearts in movie houses everywhere is the dazzling "La La Land." And for those asking if anything can "stop 'La La Land'" – why would you want to?

Best Director: The word "visionary" is probably bandied about a little too much in the film world. However, it absolutely applies to this year's Best Director winner Damien Chazelle.

Best Actor: I'm having déjà vu to two years ago when I couldn't decide between Eddie Redmayne and Michael Keaton for this category. (Which is ironic, because Denzel Washington was in a movie called "Deja Vu." Could it be A SIGN?) (Probably not.) Anyway, I ended up being wrong in 2015 when Eddie walked away with the gold, and I'm afraid the same thing will happen this year. I just can't decide between Denzel Washington and Casey Affleck. I didn't get to see "Fences," but Casey absolutely blew me away in "Manchester by the Sea." He was just so, so excellent. I think he deserves to win, but I know there's a chance that he won't due to his reputation. However, while I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Denzel win this category, in the end I'm going with Casey Affleck.

Best Actress: Thankfully, this is an easier category to call. I've heard a few other names thrown out, but I just can't fathom Emma Stone not winning this one.

Best Supporting Actor: The most difficult part of picking this category is spelling Mahershala Ali's name.

Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis nabs the acting Triple Crown (Oscar, Tony, Emmy) – and moves one step closer to an EGOT) with her win for "Fences."

Animated Feature: I honestly wasn't as taken with "Zootopia" as I think many Academy voters probably were. And as much as I want "Moana" to steal the win, I think the film with the best shot at an upset is actually "Kubo and the Two Strings," which won the BAFTA earlier this month. In the end, though, "Zootopia" will "hop" (smirk emoji) away with the Oscar.

Production Design: I was a little lost here, thinking about the eye-popping visuals of "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" and the gorgeous look of "Arrival." However, when I was reminded of the stunning opening and closing numbers of "La La Land," I went, 'Oh, duh.' So yeah. "La La Land" will win this one as well!

Cinematography: As much as I love "La La Land," it would be awesome to see "Arrival" win this category. But they call it a sweep for a reason! I think "La La Land" is poised to dance off with the cinematography gold.

Costume Design: I promise that I really do not plan to call ALL of the technical categories for "La La Land." It just so happens that I also think that "La La Land" will win in THIS technical category.

Film Editing: And also this one. It's "La La Land."

Makeup and Hairstyling: In 1997 I predicted that "Men in Black" would win this award, and actually turned out to be right. I was only 12 years old at the time, and I remember being so proud of myself for calling an upset. (Wait, was it an upset? I guess it is in my mind!) Anyway, all that to say: this story has nothing to do with my prediction. It's just something I was remembering. This year I'm going with "Star Trek Beyond."

Original Score: If you're tired of me saying "La La Land," you might want to skip this paragraph. And if you don't think "La La Land" deserves to win Best Original Score, go revisit the soaring music of Epilogue. It's breathtaking.

Lin, Justin, and Ben, astounded to be with JT and Quincy Jones.
Original Song: Obviously I wish my close, personal friend Lin-Manuel Miranda would win this award, and become the youngest and fastest person ever to EGOT. Because to reiterate: I loved "Moana," and all of the songs in it. However, there's no beating "City of Stars" from "La La Land." But that's okay, because its lyrics were written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, two astounding Broadway writers/composers (you MUST check out "Dear Evan Hansen") who just happen to also be friends with Lin.

Original Screenplay: This is actually shaping up to be a pretty tight race between "Manchester By the Sea" and, you guessed it, "La La Land." But if there's any category that another movie seems poised to steal from "La La Land," I think it's this one. I'm going with "Manchester By the Sea."

Adapted Screenplay: Here we go, "Moonlight" fans! HERE WE GO! You got this. High five, "Moonlight."

Sound Mixing: Obviously I am an expert on this category. OBVIOUSLY. That's why you can trust me when I say with 100% that this award will go to... um... "La La Land." (Nervous laughter.)

Sound Editing: I keep these categories semi-straight by remembering that Sound Editing is the "noisy" one. So with that infallible logic, I think it's going to be "Hacksaw Ridge."

Visual Effects: I didn't care for "The Jungle Book," but that doesn't mean I wasn't impressed by the creation of all of these talking animals out of thin air. ALL the hats off to the team behind the visual effects in "The Jungle Book!"

Documentary Feature: For the first year that I can recall, I've actually heard incredible things about three different documentaries in this category. And while I wouldn't be surprised if "13TH" eked out a win here, I think it's all about "O.J.: Made in America" this time.

Documentary Short: And I've heard of ALL of these documentaries! (Full-disclosure: I am a liar.) That being said, this category offers a trio of films about Syrian refugees, one about an Oakland ICU, and an uplifting film called "Joe's Violin." And while voters might be more inclined to pick the more hopeful option, I think in this politically fraught climate, they'll be going with one of the Syrian shorts. In that case, I think the winner will be "The White Helmets."

Also, that's the most I've EVER had to say about the Documentary Short category!

Foreign Language Film: Another case of the most political film winning the gold. "The Salesman" should have this one in the bag.

Animated Short: When I saw "Piper" on the ballot, I went, "Aw!" Assuming Academy voters have a similar positive reaction, "Piper" will be the winner here.

Live Action Short: This is likely to be another politicized category, so yea! I can't wait. Out of the most political shorts, I'll go with... eeny, meeny, miny... "Ennemis Interieurs."


*Minus the fact that I'm actually wrong so, so often.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

2016 Favorites

My Three Favorite Books I Read In 2016

3. Graduates in Wonderland, Jessica Pan and Rachel Kapelke-Dale
I won this book in a giveaway, and it languished on my shelf for a few years before I finally threw it in my bag to read on the plane. A few pages in and I couldn't put it down. The book is comprised of the real-life emails between two friends and recent college graduates, and it was so reminiscent of the missives sent between me and my own friends. Granted, I never moved to China or New York, but the universal feeling of loneliness and attempting to scratch out a brand-new life applies as much to moving across the state and away from your friends as moving across the world.

"Sometimes I think I really don't know what's best for me. Getting what you want can be the worst sometimes."

2. The Anne of Green Gables Series, L.M. Montgomery
(Books 1-5, except #4, because Audible didn't have it.)
Before this year, I'd never actually read Anne of Green Gables. So when I saw that there was a new version of the book narrated by Rachel McAdams, I jumped at the chance to finally get on board. After that, I just had to read the next book and the next, falling in love not only with charming characters like Anne, Marilla, Gilbert, et al, but also with Montgomery's brilliant writing. Her descriptions of beautiful flowers and foliage, hilarious town happenings, and new characters around every corner were completely captivating. I think my favorite of the four I read is Anne of the Island because her college years were so lovely and nostalgic, but I do love the story of sweet Miss Lavender in Anne of Avonlea, and I also have a soft spot for Captain Jim of Anne's House of Dreams. If you've put off dipping a toe into these sweet stories, let me encourage you to go ahead and jump headfirst into these idyllic Avonlea waters.

“In imagination she sailed over storied seas that wash the distant shining shores of 'faëry lands forlorn,' where lost Atlantis and Elysium lie, with the evening star for pilot, to the land of Heart's Desire. And she was richer in those dreams than in realities; for things seen pass away, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”


1. The Martian, Andy Weir
Engrossing. Funny. Smart. Thrilling. Suspenseful. Funny. (Not a mistake. It's actually that funny.) I don't think I've been this absorbed in a science fiction novel since... ever. Granted, I don't normally delve into the genre, but reading one so based in reality (What would it actually look like for someone to be stranded on Mars?) and based on a movie I thoroughly enjoyed was the perfect entrance into the sci-fi world. By the end of The Martian I was so riveted to the story I was practically having to blink and shake my head like a cartoon character to break the spell. Every heartbreaking misstep, every complication on Mark Watney's long journey home was keenly felt, and when I think back on reading this book I mostly remember the feeling of holding my breath. But it wasn't all strife and setbacks! I want to emphasize the fact that Mark Watney is a truly hilarious narrator, and this book will make you smile, and maybe even laugh out loud. Read, read, read this book.

“He’s stuck out there. He thinks he’s totally alone and that we all gave up on him. What kind of effect does that have on a man’s psychology?” He turned back to Venkat. “I wonder what he’s thinking right now.”
LOG ENTRY: SOL 61 How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals! Makes no sense.” 


Honorable Mention

Death on the Nile, Agatha Christie
Stories I Only Tell My Friends, Rob Lowe
Scrappy Little Nobody, Anna Kendrick
The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion, Fannie Flagg 
Devil in the White City, Erik Larson
Talking As Fast As I Can, Lauren Graham

Overhyped: Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins (A better book: anything by Agatha Christie)

I set a goal to read 30 books in 2016. I fell short and only read 25. But in the wise words of Aaliyah, "If at first you don't succeed, Dust yourself off and try again, You can dust it off and try again."

I'm coming for you in 2017, 30 books!

My Three Favorite Movies of 2016

3. Moana
Make way, make way! Readers, it's time you knew: Moana lives up to the hype. Wait, has there been hype? I don't even know. I saw it four times, so clearly I was picking up exactly what Disney was putting down. What's not to like about this movie? The Rock was hilarious. The animation was stunning. The music was incredibly catchy and I can't stop listening to it. The script was smart and original. And... I don't know, did I mention I saw it four times?

2. Undrafted
There's a line in a musical called "Title of Show" where a character writing a musical sings, "I'd rather be nine people's favorite thing, than a hundred people's ninth favorite thing." That's how I feel about Undrafted. This is a film that was released with very little fanfare and didn't receive great reviews. It's not for everybody. And yet, sometimes you find something that is just your exact sense of humor, that packs unexpected emotion that hits you in just the right spot, and that you find inexplicably endearing. It's a simple story: Aaron Tveit plays a character who despite being an exceptional baseball player, has just been passed up for the draft. He and his summer league teammates work through this disappointment over the course of a single baseball game, and... that's the movie! Simple, yet character-driven and heartwarming — not to mention based on a true story. It's also incredibly funny, and features an argument over who's the best Backstreet Boy, pre-game ice cream cones, and a particularly hilarious rendition of the Full House theme song. What more could you want?


1. La La Land
How could it be anything else? A movie musical starring two of my favorite actors? YES PLEASE. Is it an oxymoron to say there should be more unique movies like this? When you can create a film and make anything happen... why wouldn't you? Why not have your leads dance while floating through the air? Why not involve an 80's cover band? Why not break out into song every now and then? Why not completely enchant your audience with music and dance, bright colors and glitter, classic jazz and classic silver screens? This movie put a spell on me, and it's one that I'm not eager to have lifted.


Honorable Mention: Arrival, Captain America: Civil War, Ghostbusters

(Note: Last year I made my list of 2015 favorites before I'd seen "Spotlight," one of the best, most moving, brilliant films I've ever experienced. If I'd seen it before creating my list last year, it definitely would have warranted a spot.)

My Three Favorite TV Shows of 2016

Favorite shows I started watching this year:

3. Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries
I like to say that Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries is a lot like Veronica Mars, if Veronica was less angry and lived in 1920's Australia. So, basically the same, right? Phryne (with the Australian accents I initially thought her name was Franny, but it is indeed Phryne, pronounced Fry-nee) Fisher is a smart, fearless, headstrong detective in post-World War I Melbourne. Each 60-minute episode follows Miss Fisher and the local police, with whom she has an amiable and banter-filled friendship slash rivalry, working to solve a case. Accompanied by her sweetly naive maid Dot and numerous other employees and friends (I'm partial to taxi driver Bert), every case is brilliantly solved with plenty of fun along the way. Full disclosure: I only just started watching this show last month, so I'm only a handful of episodes in. I suspect I'll only come to love it more. 
Stream it on Netflix

2. Stranger Things
If all you know about Stranger Things is that it's set in the 80's and it has something to do with Christmas lights, I can't encourage you enough to go ahead and press play and see what all the fuss is truly about. During the course of marathoning this show over the course of a weekend, I screamed and covered my face with a blanket, laughed out loud numerous times, and put forth MANY theories and guesses attempting to untangle the mysteries held in this magnificent, funny, suspenseful, layered show.
Stream it on Netflix


1. Agent Carter
I love the character of Peggy Carter. I adore Edwin Jarvis. I have such a soft spot for Daniel Sousa. And that's exactly what draws me to all of my most favorite TV shows: a deep affection for the characters. Add in espionage, romance, real stakes, brilliant dialogue, jaw-dropping story twists and turns (not to mention a setting in the late 1940s—my favorite!) and it's not hard to see why this show is so dear to me. Please find a way to check it out. There may only be two seasons, but if you're looking for a fantastic show with a fierce, capable, smart, dynamic, driven female lead, Agent Carter is for you. (And don't say anything to me about how you don't want to watch a show named after a female character. I will be forced to handle you as Peggy would.) 
Stream it on Amazon


Honorable Mention: Agents of Shield (I loved the first few seasons of this show, and am heartbroken at how different it is now. But I'll love you forever, Agent Coulson!)

My Three Favorite Variety Specials of 2016
These are things I LOVED this year that didn't make it into any other category, but need to be mentioned.

3. Songs from The Lion, Ben Scheuer
You've no doubt deduced that I listen to a lot of show tunes. The reality is that I listen almost exclusively to show tunes. (As I write this, the title song from "Merrily We Roll Along" is playing. So.) That being said, in my list of most listened to tracks on Spotify this year, only two songs are not from a musical, and both from from Ben Scheuer's album. The songs are beautiful, complicated, and, at times, gut-wrenching. Check out my favorite song, accompanied by delightful, "Up"-ish animation.
Watch the entire album here.


2. The Comeback Kid, John Mulaney
John Mulaney is my favorite comedian, and his latest stand-up special is absolutely hilarious. Released only a year ago, I have watched this special no less than four times. And looking up clips to find a good one to embed had me giggling and wanting to watch it all over again. He's much cleaner than other comedians (although there is a small amount of cursing, full disclosure), and his talents as a storyteller are extraordinary. I can't recommend this enough.
Stream it on Netflix


1. Grease Live
I didn't particularly care for The Sound of Music Live or Peter Pan Live. I wanted to like The Wiz, but it wasn't for me. Grease Live, though? I LOVED Grease Live. From the smart production choices by director Tommy Kail ("Hamilton") to perform before a live audience and stage numbers outside, to the near-perfect casting, to the fun/genius costumes, to the extraordinary re-imagining of several numbers, this performance was just non-stop. And when Hairspray Live came along and took a page from Grease with the live audience and outdoor sets, I thought they'd cracked the code and I'd find another live musical to love. Alas, the magic wasn't there. But we'll always have "Those Magic Changes."
Stream it on Netflix


My Three Favorite Events of 2016

3. Flagstaff
In October, my parents took my siblings, my nieces, and me on a wonderful, fun, relaxing, unique vacation to Flagstaff, Arizona. I got to see the Grand Canyon for the first time, actually enjoy hiking in the mountains (no really) (like, for real), play so many games and have so much fun with family, and so much more. It was luxurious to go on such a well-planned vacation with every detail taken care of. Thanks, Mom and Dad.
Bonus: Morbyland Campout (check out the video!) and Christmas break (check out the video!)
 
2. Broadway Serendipity
Every year for the past several years has seenits share of Broadway shows, touring productions, and theater fun. This year, however, had an extra spark of serendipity.

This summer when we went to New York, Emily and I were blessed to see and love "Waitress," "An American in Paris," "Shuffle Along," and "Fiddler on the Roof." And as amazing as all of those shows were, there was a small pang of regret that we were in New York several months too early to see one of our favorite Broadway performers, Bryce Pinkham, star in "Holiday Inn." During the trip we caught a glimpse of the show's bright and colorful marquee, and joked that we should go hang out under it and hope to just run into Bryce. We didn't do that, because we are not insane. Fast forward to Saturday night, when we walked up to the Music Box Theatre to see "Shuffle Along." And who was standing outside the theatre also about to see "Shuffle Along"? Bryce. Pinkham. (I know, I still can't believe it either.) After Emily and I conversed and decided that approaching him would not make us crazy fans, we walked up and actually ended up talking with him for a few minutes. He was so incredibly kind, charming, and continues to be a favorite of ours. Thank you so much, Bryce.

Serendipity 2: Guess who was performing a show at BB King's while we were in NYC? Our old friend Ramin Karimloo! As I'm sure you remember, Ramin is the Tony-nominated Broadway star who surprised Emily at her school in 2013, and we've been lucky enough to see perform a few times since. He appeared on Broadway as Jean Val Jean in "Les Miserables," and will soon be back on the Great White Way in the brand-new stage musical, "Anastasia." This concert was extraordinary, as his talent is just through the roof, and he sang so many beautiful, meaningful songs. Plus, thanks to Emily's friend Debbie being friends with Ramin, we were even able to go backstage and visit with him for a few minutes afterwards. And we got hugs and free t-shirts and now I am just a skeleton typing this out because my soul hath since gone straight up to Jesus.
Video I took at the concert. WATCH IT!

Serendipity 3: My all-time favorite Broadway show, Newsies, unfortunately ended their two-year tour in October. And of all the numerous locations they've been to (65 total cities!), and out of everywhere in the world they could have ended their tour, where did they close it out? Austin, Texas. Seeing the show one more time before it closed was absolutely unexpected, and I'm so incredibly grateful that it happened.

1. Lucia Jeanne 
The world is a brighter, lovelier, more sunshiney and snuggly place, and that's all thanks to the grand entrance of one precious, pink, and full-cheeked girl. Welcome to the world, my gorgeous and cheerful Baby Niece, Lucia Jeanne! Only seven months old and the Lord is already blessing our socks off through you. (But if you could go ahead and start blessing us by sleeping through the night to save your parents' sanity, that would be GOLDEN.)


And Because I'm a Fool for Twitter
Super excited for...
Retweets: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., and Sean Lowe.
Quote tweet calling my comment hilarious: Newsie Chaz Wolcott
Likes: Aladdin's James Monroe Iglehart, Iain Loves Theater, Hamilton's Renee Elise Goldsberry, Newsies Ben Cook and Joshua Burrage, Undrafted director (and Jurassic Park child star!) Joe Mazzello, Matilda's Lesli Margherita, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Gentleman's Guide's Bryce Pinkham, Gilmore Guy Kevin Porter, The Tony Awards, Annoying Actor Friend, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, Aladdin, Fiddler on the Roof, and School of Rock.