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.