• 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.
  • Six Lessons Women My Age Can Learn From Frozen

    We celebrated my grandmother’s birthday last night, and in addition to enjoying a Mounds-inspired cake (which I’ll share the recipe for later this week), we all sat down to watch Frozen with her. While this was her first time seeing the movie, this was my third time. In my third viewing, I realized how many of the lessons of Frozen can be applied to life in your twenties. So, I wrote them all out, and even arranged them into a handy acrostic. So, for your reading pleasure, here are six lessons women my age can learn from Frozen.

    Fear will keep you from realizing the beauty of your gifts
    This is probably the biggest theme of Frozen. One of the reasons this movie has been so popular is because this is a message to which everyone can relate. When we’re young, we rarely let fear hinder us. But somewhere along the way, that changes, and we worry about what others will think of us. We stop letting others see our true selves because we’re afraid of being vulnerable.

    This is a message that I find especially useful at this stage in my life. I’m at an age where fear is at every corner. I’ve graduated, and it’s now my responsibility to find a job that will allow me to support myself. As a professional writing major, this is especially difficult. But I have to trust in my talents and not let the fear of failure keep me from achieving my goals. With the job market being what it is, I know that many women my age are in similar situations. As disheartening as it may be, you’ve got to press on and believe in your gifts. 

    Rushing into marriage is not a good idea
    When I was a child, the heroine of Disney princess movies often got married at the ripe age of sixteen and often to someone she barely knew. This stuck in my head as a child, so I thought, “I’ll find true love and be married when I’m sixteen.” But as I got older, I realized just how laughable that idea really was. In Frozen, Anna meets Hans and is engaged to him later that day. When Elsa later points out the obvious, “You can’t marry a man you just met,” she says what’s been on everyone’s minds for years when it comes to Disney princesses.

    After the death of her parents and her isolation from Elsa, Anna is desperate for love. The duet she sings with Hans (“Love Is an Open Door”) really illustrates the way she thinks of love—as an escape. She wants a way out of her current situation, and she knows that marrying a prince would be just the way to do that. Love and marriage really is an open door, but it shouldn’t be a fire escape. Anna sings, “Say goodbye to the pain of the past. We don’t have to feel it anymore,” which really shows her naive view of love. You can’t (and shouldn’t) try to pin all your future happiness on one person. First of all, it’s unfair to expect your significant other to always make you happy. We’re human. We’re not perfect. You’re going to make mistakes, and so are they, but that’s how you grow as a couple. Secondly, you need to have your own life before you decide to share it with another person. Anna, having barely been outside the castle walls, doesn’t know what she wants out of life yet. So many women my age are in a rush to get married because they have this expectation that that’s what they’re “supposed” to do. The Supremes say it best: you can’t hurry love. 

    Other people are affected by your actions
    When Elsa runs away to the mountains, she lets her icy powers loose and inadvertently causes an eternal winter in Arendelle. It’s not until Anna tells her this later that she realizes that her letting go has consequences. By the end of the movie, she’s unashamedly using her powers, yet she’s doing so in a controlled, beneficial way.

    Being in your twenties is very freeing. You’re an adult. You’re free to make your own decisions. But with this freedom comes responsibility, specifically responsibility for your actions. Now, more than ever, you have to realize that the decisions you make affect others. As an adult, you carry more clout than you did when you were young. So while there may be a range of actions to choose from, it’s important to consider which one will help rather than hurt those around you. 

    Zeal is great, but don’t let it blind you
    It’s great to be passionate about something, but you can’t let it get in the way of your better judgment. This is evident in the characters of Hans and the Duke of Weselton, and even, to a certain extent, in Anna. Whatever your future goals may be, at a certain point you have to ask yourself how far you would go to achieve that. If you’re willing to cast aside your morals, friends, or family just to achieve a certain goal, you may want to reevaluate why you’re pursuing that goal in the first place.

    Everyone takes a different path on their life’s journey
    It’s important to remember that not one person’s journey in life is the same as another’s. So while it may be easy to insult a person’s life choices or offer what you think is a better option, know that you can never fully understand what it’s like to be in their situation, no matter what you do. Some glide through life untouched while others grapple with countless problems daily. As Anna learned, you can’t talk your way past a problem. Sometimes people need to learn things for themselves and pull themselves out of the muck. The best thing you can do is offer a helping hand and stand by in case they need it.

    Never forget to show kindness
    There’s a line in the song “Fixer Upper,” that says, “People make bad choices if they’re mad, or scared, or stressed, but throw a little love their way, and you’ll bring out their best.” It’s easy to respond in anger or indignation when someone’s wronged you, but in the long run it’s better for you to respond positively. This is one thing I learned to be true while working at Dunkin Donuts. When a customer was rude, I could have easily returned their rudeness, but that’s just sending more negativity out into the world. Showing kindness isn’t hard, but getting past your own feelings to do so is. It’s an important lesson to nail down in your twenties, because there will be plenty of opportunities to apply this later in life.

  • My 2014 Oscar Picks (So Far)

    Every year I try to see as many of the nominated movies as I can before Oscar night. I especially try to see all the the Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Adapted Screenplay nominees, as those are my three favorite categories. This year I managed to see all but two of the nominees—Her and Philomena. For obvious reasons, I haven’t ranked those two yet.

    Best Picture:

    1st 12 Years A Slave

    1st American Hustle

    1st The Wolf of Wall Street

    2nd Dallas Buyers Club

    2nd Nebraska

    3rd Gravity

    4th Captain Phillips

    Her (didn’t see; can’t rank)

    Philomena (didn’t see; can’t rank)

    It’s so hard to rank all these Best Picture movies not just because they vary so much in tone and subject matter, but also because there are so many great choices this year. I know a three-way tie for first and a two-way tie for second looks like a cop-out, but I just can’t decide which is better. To me they really are equally good.

    Original Screenplay:

    1st American Hustle

    1st Nebraska

    2nd Dallas Buyers Club

    3rd Blue Jasmine

    Her (didn’t see; can’t rank)

    American Hustle and Nebraska blew me away. I loved the writing in these movies, so those two were the easiest to rank. Dallas Buyers Club was also great. I didn’t care for Blue Jasmine. I don’t know if it’s because I had such high expectations because of all the buzz I was hearing, but for me it fell a little flat.

    Adapted Screenplay:

    1st 12 Years A Slave

    1st The Wolf of Wall Street

    2nd Before Midnight

    3rd Captain Phillips

    Philomena (didn’t see; can’t rank)

    Whenever I consider this category, I think not just of the writing itself, but also of the difficulty in adapting the source material. It’s so much harder than most people think. Adapting 12 Years A Slave is quite the feat, so on that alone it’s earned its spot. The Wolf of Wall Street was also a pretty daunting story to adapt. I enjoyed Before Midnight and its writing, but just a smidge less than the first two. I felt that the Captain Phillips screenplay was decent, but tried a little too hard. At times if felt like they were submitting him to the Pope for canonization.

    Those are my picks for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Adapted Screenplay. I can’t wait to see the awards tonight, and I can’t wait to see Her and Philomena so I can rank those as well. And who am I kidding? I can’t wait to see the dresses!