• Remembering Selena

    Today marks twenty years since singer Selena passed away. Though I was only four years old at the time, I remember it vividly. I had been a fan of Selena since my father first played her cassettes for me on the way to preschool. I loved the sound of her music, but even more I loved the natural music of the Spanish language. In an effort to learn what Selena was singing, I began to eavesdrop on conversations between my teacher’s aid and Miguel, a boy in my class who only spoke Spanish. I remember gleefully relaying to my father the translation of the phrase, “siéntate aquí.” This meant “sit here” and was the first Spanish phrase I learned. Because Miquel was a rambunctious boy, many of the phrases I picked up were disciplinary in nature—“that’s enough,” “stand still,” “be good.” Still, I was content just to learn.

    When I heard on the news that Selena had been shot, I couldn’t process what had happened. It was my first experience with death, let alone murder. Being a sensitive child, it affected me deeply. My brother and sister didn’t fully understand why. I kept going over it again and again in my head. How could someone just take another person’s life? I kept telling myself that it had to be a mistake. The news had to be wrong. I ran into the bathroom to cry but instead became overwhelmed with anger at her murderer. I remember looking at my reflection in the mirror and feeling that something inside me had changed. But at that age, I couldn't place the emotion.

    Eventually I came to terms with her passing and continued to listen to her music. My dad even bought me a Selena T-shirt, which I wore with pride. Years later when my father’s car was stolen and abandoned in a field, the first thing I worried about were the Selena cassettes. Had they been stolen too? Thankfully they were not, and I still have them to this day. Selena ignited in me a love for languages, something that has stayed with me all these years. To some she was just a singer, but to me she was an inspiration.

  • My 2015 Oscar Picks

    Each year I try to see as many of the nominated movies as I can before Oscar night. I typically start with all the movies in my three favorite categories—Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Adapted Screenplay. This year I was able to see all but one (Inherent Vice). Since I haven’t seen that, I did not include it in my rankings.

    Best Picture: 
    1st Boyhood
    1st Grand Budapest Hotel
    1st Selma
    2nd Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
    2nd Whiplash
    3rd The Imitation Game
    4th American Sniper
    4th The Theory of Everything

    I had a difficult time ranking this year’s nominees. The three movies I liked the best are, in my mind, equally good but for very different reasons. Boyhood blew me away. When I first heard about the project, I was intrigued but a little wary. Though I’m a fan of Linklater, I worried what direction the film would take. I was pleasantly surprised by the results, particularly the writing and Patricia Arquette’s performance. I also appreciated that the message of the film wasn’t heavy-handed, which was one of the problems I had with some of the other nominees. Despite the twelve year scope of the movie, it still manages to feel intimate and real.

    Grand Budapest Hotel was an absolute joy. This movie was practically made for me. Quaint European setting? Check. Story framed by an author’s narration? Check. Impossibly gorgeous pastries? Check. As with all Wes Anderson movies, Grand Budapest Hotel is a feast for the eyes. However, it’s also a thoughtful, well-crafted story that’s a fun, creative ride from beginning to end.

    I’m not a big fan of historical movies or biopics, and typically there is no shortage of these during award season. However, Selma was engaging and moving without feeling like a history lesson. It’s gripping and moving without being melodramatic. David Oyelowo’s performance is wonderful, and I, like many others, am shocked that he wasn’t nominated in the Best Actor category. Director Ava DuVernay also deserved a nomination. I don’t know what the Academy was thinking. However, despite its lack of recognition, Selma remains an important movie. It highlights the ideals that Martin Luther King, Jr. held and shows us how much farther we can go in seeing those through. Everyone should see this movie.

    Birdman was good, but not quite as good as I thought it’d be. I think I built it up in my mind because of all the buzz. After my boyfriend and I watched this movie together, we spent a good hour discussing it—which is always a good sign. We discussed the elements we liked and the elements we didn’t like. We discussed what we thought the writers’ intentions were and whether or not we were interpreting them correctly. We even discussed what the writing process might have been like. After trying to decipher this movie, we couldn’t decide whether we liked it or not. Ryan concluded that it was a little to “artsy fartsy” for his taste. I determined that I did like it, with the proviso that I’ll need to watch it at least one more time. While I enjoyed the movie’s self-referential humor and its uniqueness, I couldn’t help but feel like the writers tried to do too much with it. I appreciate what they were trying to accomplish, but I’m not so sure they completely succeeded.

    Whiplash was an intense but fascinating story. It follows a young drummer’s quest for success. Where most movies set in a prestigious conservatory would then bring in the inspiring, idealistic teacher, Whiplash brings a terrifying J.K. Simmons. At first, I took this movie as a sort of cautionary tale about the pursuit of perfection. But this story goes beyond that, especially in the dynamics between the characters.

    The Imitation Game was a very interesting movie. Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Alan Turing was great, and I enjoyed the way they tied the story of Turing’s mission to crack the Enigma code with flashbacks to his youth. The story itself is rather incredible, and it still boggles my mind when I think about it. American Sniper and The Theory of Everything were just okay for me. I thought Bradley Cooper and Eddie Redmayne’s performances were commendable, but the movies themselves fell a little flat.

    Best Adapted Screenplay:
    1st Whiplash
    2nd The Imitation Game
    3rd American Sniper
    3rd The Theory of Everything
    N/A Inherent Vice 

    Because I was underwhelmed by American Sniper and The Theory of Everything, this category was much easier to rank. Whiplash was easily the winner for its intriguing narrative. The Imitation Game earned second place for the way its script connected the story of Turing's achievements with his past.

    Best Original Screenplay:
    1st Grand Budapest Hotel
    2nd Birdman
    2nd Boyhood
    2nd Nightcrawler
    3rd Foxcatcher

    Grand Budapest Hotel easily earned the top spot for its unique, hilarious script. Birdman, Boyhood, and Nightcrawler were all equally good—Birdman for its humor and sharpness, Boyhood for its well-crafted narrative and intimate feel, and Nightcrawler for its chilling take on the journalism motto “If it bleeds, it leads.” I found Foxcatcher a little uneven, so that bumped it to the bottom of my list.

    Other Notes:

    • I wish Jake Gyllenhaal received a nomination for his work in Nightcrawler. I was surprised by his unexpectedly fantastic portrayal of sociopathic entrepreneur Louis Bloom. 
    • I absolutely love Amy Poehler’s Ask Her More campaign, which asks the red carpet interviewers to ask women more creative questions than “Who are you wearing?” I think it’s important to show young girls that these talented actresses are more than walking mannequins for designer dresses.
  • Valentine's Day Dos and Don'ts

    Don’t let being single get you down.
    Do treat yourself to something special or get together with friends or family.
    Valentine’s Day is about celebrating love, not about having a date.

    Don’t be too festive.
    Do keep it simple.
    Not everything needs to be heart-shaped or red. I once worked with a girl who thought it’d be a good idea to make her boyfriend homemade mac and cheese for Valentine’s Day dinner. Feeling it wasn’t festive enough, she added red dye to the cheese sauce. The resulting color was reminiscent of vomit. Her boyfriend was so repulsed, he refused to eat it.  

    Don’t break up with your significant other.
    Do remain friendly and wait a day or two out of courtesy.
    While honesty is the best policy, breaking up with someone on Valentine’s Day is kind of a heartless move. Unless you’re dealing with extenuating circumstances, you can realistically endure at least one more day together, right?

    Don’t attempt to prepare an elaborate meal.
    Do make something you’re familiar with or perform a dry run first.
    I learned this the hard way during my first Valentine’s day with my boyfriend. I attempted to make steak au poivre for the first time in an unfamiliar kitchen with faulty ventilation. The whole thing resulted in a smoke-filled house, tears, and oil burns on my wrist. By some miraculous twist of fate, the steak came out perfectly. Still, don’t risk it!

    Don’t get overwhelmed with material things.
    Do give gifts from the heart.
    Whether giving or receiving gifts, think outside the heart-shaped box. Gifts that have thought behind them always mean more.