My Ranking of the 2017 Oscar Best Picture Nominees

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source: olivierassayas.tumblr.com

Moonlight is extraordinary. At the heart of this story is the simple desire for human connection, told through the emotional experience of the character of Chiron in three stages of his life: as a child, a teenager, and as an adult (played by Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes, respectively). Barry Jenkins’ stunningly sensitive coming-of-age story, all at once suffocating and liberating, connected with me in such profound ways. A brief phone call took my breath away; that need for empathy and forgiveness was so deeply felt.

Through a strikingly immersive personal journey of acceptance of a queer, black man, Barry Jenkins’ and original playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney’s screenplay tackles the universality of the human experience and gracefully dismantles the performativity of masculinity. James Laxton’s cinematography channels Chiron’s inner life beautifully, from stark moments of sensual intimacy, to swirling shots of claustrophobia. So much is said in each look not met and each word not spoken. The quietness dances on these characters’ faces and through each ellipses. Moonlight‘s silences speak volumes that will stay with me for a long time.

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source: dailyaffleck.tumblr.com

I came into Manchester By the Sea expecting a bleak meditation on depression, but I was instead met with a finely balanced story between the embodiment of grief and the humor observed in the details of daily life. I was particularly impressed by the narrative structure of Kenneth Lonergan’s screenplay; the masterful way character motivations are exposed, the revelations of how a tragic past informs a guarded present. Casey Affleck delivers a magnificent performance in restraint, capturing the complexities of his emotionally unavailable character behind pained eyes, furrowed brows, and clenched fists. Manchester By the Sea delivers especially devastating wordless, emotional scenes, but it’s not a film without hope.

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source: olivierassayas.tumblr.com

Arrival took me by complete surprise, both as an emotional personal story and as an intelligent and thoughtful work of science fiction. Amy Adams’ nuanced work as a linguist who attempts to speak with newly arrived aliens, is worthy of an Oscar nomination. There is such a captivating patience with her process that reveals a deep belief that communication is key to our species. Arrival believes in the optimism of humanity; that only through understanding and cooperation, can we advance together as a species. It’s a poignant message that rings especially true in today’s political climate.

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source: olivierassayas.tumblr.com

In the hands of Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, we are front row center to an acting masterclass. I respect Fences confidence in showcasing playwright August Wilson’s masterpiece of American theatre. The film embraces both Wilson’s dense, gorgeous dialogue and its stage roots. By keeping the Maxon family fenced-in in their backyard, director Denzel Washington allows the stifling pressure to build ever so slowly, until tensions to boil over and explode.

source: maemedia.tumblr.com

source: maemedia.tumblr.com

I can understand why some people have fallen head over heels for La La Land. The film provides a sweeping Technicolor escape of romantic reverie. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have dynamite chemistry together, particularly in Emma Stone’s fantastic expressiveness. Sun-kissed colors leap off the screen, thanks to a radiant costume and production design.

Ultimately, La La Land disappoints; it’s more a movie with musical numbers than a full-fledged musical. It’s a fine movie for movie lovers, but less so a successful movie for musical lovers. And for a movie that celebrates movie musicals, I wanted more musicality.

La La Land starts out with so much potential and promise with the inventive choreography of “Another Day of Sun” (but poor sound mixing, coupled with weak vocals from those soloists, makes the opening number surprisingly difficult to listen to). Sadly, that vibrant musical energy all but evaporates from the rest of the film, only to return in its wonderful final sequence.

It’s telling that my favorite musical moment, Ryan Gosling’s 80s cover band’s take on “I Ran,” is the one the film takes the least seriously. Emma Stone lights up the screen with her sharp comedic timing, which nicely contrasts his bright red jacketed self-loathing. No other moment lived up to this all-too-brief moment of delight.

Emma Stone’s struggling actress storyline is so painfully familiar (and really, what else do we know about her?), that nothing new comes out of it at all. I had an immediate, visceral reaction to Damian Chazelle’s Whiplash, but came away from La La Land with a “well, that was nice.”

Hidden Figures, the true life story of black female mathematicians working for NASA, was every bit as inspiring as I had wanted it to be. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and particularly, Janelle Monáe’s, performances are luminous and magnetic. There’s an undeniable sense of joy that radiates from every pore, delivered at just the right, crowd-pleasing levels. To be fair, you know exactly where the story is headed, but it’s a journey that needs to be told and CELEBRATED.

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Hell or High Water is a film for our times, a character-driven modern-day Western that captures the unease and unrest of our economic climate. Chris Pine and Ben Foster play brothers who rob banks together as a last-ditch effort to save their family land from foreclosure. There’s a warm affection for its complex and morally ambiguous characters and the movie delivers a potent mix of emotionally rich human moments and bleak, non-romanticized action sequences.

source: rxbytuesday.tumblr.com

source: rxbytuesday.tumblr.com

I cried no less than five times during Lion. I can’t help it; I’m a crier! This tear-jerker of a movie belongs to Sunny Pawar, who plays Saroo, a young Indian boy who becomes separated from his family. He radiates such magnetic charm that it becomes all the more devastating once the tragedy takes hold. While Saroo’s journey as an adult (played by an excellent Dev Patel), and his isolating struggle to reunite with his family, is less engaging, Lion still delivers some truly emotionally potent fireworks.

source: letdiegolunatouchjabbathehutt.tumblr.com

source: letdiegolunatouchjabbathehutt.tumblr.com

The utterly charming Andrew Garfield aside, Hacksaw Ridge, about real-life WWII conscientious objector, Desmond Doss, is not for me. Altogether, the film is overly sentimental in depicting one man’s devout convictions and overly brutal in portraying the atrocities of human warfare. And boy, those war scenes are overflowing with torturous and unrelenting violence. Unfortunately, Hacksaw Ridge’s simple focus on an uncomplicated morality doesn’t reveal much of anything under a bloody surface. Inspiring? Sure. Interesting? Not so much.

My Favorite TV Shows & Films of 2016

Here are my top 10 favorite TV shows and films of 2016. Let’s get this year over with, shall we?!

TV SHOWS

CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND (CW)

There is no better gift to a theatre kid like me than Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna’s brilliant and subversive tribute to romantic comedies and musical theatre. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is fabulously self-aware, hilariously screwball, unapologetically feminist, and chock-full of must-see musical gems like the brilliant “JAP Battle,” Fifth Harmony parody “Put Yourself First” (that sax tho!), and Singing in the Rain send-up “We Tapped That Ass.”

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend knows exactly the show it wants to be and is refreshingly honest about its characters’ flaws, in particular, Rebecca Bunch’s (Rachel Bloom) anti-heroic delusions. If that weren’t enough, the show features a Filipino-American male romantic lead. Representation matters, y’all.

Season one is streaming on Netflix. I can’t recommend this show enough.

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SURVIVOR (CBS)

Even in its 32nd and 33rd seasons, Survivor still delivers surprises and shockers each episode. This fall’s season, Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X, delivered a deliciously entertaining combination of shocking blindsides, next-level strategy, and compelling (and most importantly, likable) characters. #wow

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PLEASE LIKE ME (HULU)

This Australian import is my favorite television discovery of the year. Josh Thomas’ coming-of-age comedy, centered around a young, gay twenty-something, has stolen my heart with its upbeat charm and quirky characters. I love this show to pieces.

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source: dailypleaselikeme.tumblr.com

THE AMERICANS (FX)

Each year, the best drama on television increases its heartbreaking stakes, while digging deeper into the emotional struggles of its characters. The Americans‘ unexpected dramatic instability kept viewers on edge all season long, as the stress of the Jennings’ real/fake marriage and their relationship with their teenage daughter were pushed to a near-breaking point.

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ATLANTA (FX)

Donald Glover’s brand new series swiftly and languidly navigates down the paths of the surreal and real, taking us to places TV hasn’t gone before. It’s a truly breathtaking endeavor.

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THE PEOPLE V. O.J. SIMPSON: AMERICAN CRIME STORY (FX)

By all accounts, Ryan Murphy’s adaptation of the O.J. Simpson trial should have been a hot mess, but instead the limited-run series was an engrossing triumph that drew thought-provoking comparisons to today’s society, bolstered by a dynamite trio of performances from Sarah Paulson, Sterling K. Brown, and Courtney B. Vance.

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BOJACK HORSEMAN (NETFLIX)

Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s profound and profane animated series mixes pathos with animal puns, and existential crises with Hollywood satire. The tremendous third season delivered one of the best episodes of TV this year: the dialogue-free, underwater-set “Fish Out of Water.”

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source: jellymonstergirl.tumblr.com

JANE THE VIRGIN (CW)

Jane the Virgin is consistently the most intelligent, emotional, and character-rich storytelling on television. It’s a confident warm blanket of a telenovela that delights in its open-hearted interpersonal relationships.

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source: b99.tumblr.com

AMERICAN CRIME (ABC)

The second season of this anthology drama, focused on an alleged rape of a male high school student by a fellow student on the school’s basketball team, features superb acting (Regina King! Felicity Huffman! Lili Taylor!) with powerful and provocative discussions about race, class, and sexuality.

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source: laquing.tumblr.com

BILLY ON THE STREET (truTV)

For a dollar, name another show on television that makes me laugh out loud more than Billy on the Street. Spoiler Alert: You’ll never get that dollar. Billy Eichner’s pop culture explosions are an incredible comedic tour de force.

One of my absolute favorite things of the year: Billy Eichner tells unsuspecting people on the street that Seth Rogen has suddenly died, while Rogen stands just feet away behind a camera.


FILMS

MOONLIGHT

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source: lgbtcinema.tumblr.com

ZOOTOPIA

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THE LOBSTER

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source: alsk00.tumblr.com

SING STREET

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source: sokillintime.tumblr.com

THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN

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source: emliy-junks.tumblr.com

DON’T THINK TWICE

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source: keegansjordan.tumblr.com

OTHER PEOPLE

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LA LA LAND

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source: chazelle.tumblr.com

HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE

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source: henricavyll.tumblr.com

LEMONADE

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source: causeislay.tumblr.com

My Ranking of the 2016 Oscars Best Picture Nominees

Thanks to the AMC Best Picture Showcase, I was able to watch all the Best Picture nominees before Oscar night! As a whole, my favorite movies make me feel something and take me on an emotional journey. I want to feel invested in its world and in its characters. That being said, here is my ranking of all the nominees, from my most to least favorite.

Room

My favorite film of this year’s Oscars crop is Room. I read Emma Donoghue’s Room for a book club in 2011. For the first time in my life, a book had made me cry. The tears flowed during this film adaptation as well (I lost count at six times). Like the novel, Room is an emotionally captivating character study of a kidnapped woman held prisoner with her young son that she was forced to bear. Brie Larson perfectly embodies both a fierce maternal instinct and the vulnerability and exhaustion of a woman who was taken captive at only 17. Jacob Tremblay is stunning as the 5-year-old Jack and leads us through the world of Room with curiosity, horror, and wonder. It’s a shame his exceptional work wasn’t acknowledged with an Oscar nomination. Ultimately, the catharsis I experienced filled me with an inspired and life-affirming empathy. Room is going to stay with me for a long time.

Brooklyn

Brooklyn is a deceptively simple and utterly charming tale about a young Irish woman emigrating by herself to America in the 1950s. This extraordinarily lovely coming of age film presents adulthood as a series of choices, and reminds us that smaller stakes stories can resonate even deeper into our hearts than life or death superheroics. Saoirse Ronan is absolutely magnificent as the film’s center and breathes life into Eilis Lacey’s emotional inner world. The humanity of her heartache, longing, tenderness, and bliss, is all deeply personal and deeply felt. Plus, Brooklyn has LEO FROM SMASH.

Mad Max

Mad Max: Fury Road is kinetic, frenetic, and is meant to be seen in movie theaters. George Miller’s images leap off of the screen (Cirque du Soleil-esque pole attackers!) and are littered with a manical style (flamethrowing guitars!). This is a wild action movie that has something to say and gives meaningful voices to the women who (pardon the pun) drive the plot. Charlize Theron’s performance as Furiosa is legit badass. You experience Mad Max: Fury Road, in all its full throttle, eye-popping glory. It’s what movie theaters were made for. I would love to see Mad Max: Fury Road take home the big prize.

Spotlight

Spotlight is a subtle and sharp film. Thanks to the its confident screenplay, Spotlight tells a seemingly straightforward story, the investigative reporting of the cover-up of the Catholic Church’s priest’s child abuses, and infuses it with vitality and deftness. It’s an ensemble showcase of its talented actors, including Oscar nominees Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams, who do fine work, creating three-dimensional characters in the midst of this season’s flashier films. It’s certainly cliché to speak of a place as a character, but Boston lives and breathes in this film, especially in the exterior shots (all those churches!). Not to mention, the film’s unflinching portrayal of the scandal still manages to pierce our hearts without a trace of righteousness, culminating in the powerful epilogue screens of all of the Church’s sexual abuses over America and the world.

The Martian

Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman can barely contain his excitement when he yells out, “Yeah, science!” in a memorable Breaking Bad scene and “Yeah, bitch! MAGNETS!” in another. These enthusiastic exclamations about the joys of science is basically The Martian in a nutshell. In fact, Matt Damon’s Mark Watney proclaims that he will “science the shit out of this” in order to survive being stranded on Mars. Damon has charisma to spare and his journey as a sexy space botanist is simply a delight to watch. The Martian is an absolute crowd pleaser, but the action on Earth fares less well than the space adventures.

The Revenant

I came into The Revenant expecting to dislike it, but I came away impressed. This frontier revenge drama was as gorgeous as it was punishing. And boy, is it incredibly punishing. The movie is stunning to look at, but the story and thematic elements are lacking (as is a Best Screenplay nomination). Leonardo DiCaprio does admirable work in his mostly wordless performance, but Tom Hardy’s irked me to no end with his portrayal. I honestly couldn’t understand what he was mumbling half the time.

Bridge of Spies

Bridge of Spies is a respectable (if not old-fashioned) film made by the respectable Steven Spielberg. In the casting of respectable Tom Hanks, you know exactly what you’re in for: a gentle, broad swath of optimistic patriotism. Mark Rylance’s performance as a captured Russian spy is easily the best part of the film. Rylance is refreshingly droll and remarkably measured. Bridge of Spies is beautifully crafted, but if I wanted to watch Russian espionage, I would gladly take the outstanding The Americans. Season 4 starts March 16 on FX!

The Big Short

When it comes down for it, The Big Short is simply not for me. That doesn’t mean that this well-constructed and often hilarious film about the 2008 housing crisis isn’t good, though. I can still appreciate the cheeky breaking-the-fourth-wall asides that simplify dense economic lingo, but Margot Robbie drinking champagne in a bathtub was not meant for me. I just wasn’t invested (again, pardon the pun) in this world of morally corrupt men in a morally corrupt business. It just so happens that another film about the 2008 housing bubble was released this year. I wholeheartedly loved 99 Homes’ personal, more emotional approach to the housing crisis by painting the story of one struggling man in a corrupt system way more than what The Big Short did. Go watch 99 Homes.

[all gifs courtesy of moviegifsthatrock.tumblr.com]

Oscars 2015: Was Everything Awesome?

48 minutes into the 218-minute-long 2015 Oscars telecast, indie pop darlings Tegan and Sara took over the stage along with The Lonely Island, Devo’s Mark Motherbaugh, Will Arnett in a Batman costume, Questlove in a Robin costume, an Awesome Possum, and a whole slew of break-dancing construction workers. And Oprah finally felt what it was like to be, well, Oprah’d (YOU get a LEGO® Oscar statue! And YOU get a LEGO® Oscar statue!). The frenzied Dolby Theatre was a dayglo explosion to behold. Did the rest of the evening share the same jubilant energy? Were the 87th Academy Awards, in the words of The Lego Movie (that snub still stings, by the way), indeed, awesome?!

Source: mattsgifs.com

Source: mattsgifs.com

Yes and no.

Was the Lady Gaga tribute to The Sound of Music awesome? For the most part, surprisingly yes. Was it necessary, especially at 3 hours and 45 minutes in, with only 15 minutes scheduled left? HELL NO.

Was Neil Patrick Harris a decent host? Yes. Did all of NPH’s bits [Insert tighty-whities Birdman joke here] land? Sadly, no.

While NPH’s self-satisfaction maybe not have worked for everyone, I was more entertained by him than by other dull hosts of the past. This mixed bag of quality was par for the course for the evening: a typically bloated Oscars telecast with an atypically uneven NPH.

When Neil Patrick Harris was first announced as host, he seemed like the perfect fit, with two Emmy Award and four Tony Award hosting gigs under his belt. Unfortunately, Harris succumbed to the pressures of hosting the Oscars; the need perform for both the stiff and stodgy audience in the Dolby Theatre and the audience at home looking for a bit of bite. Why else would we see the usually endearing showman come across as alternately smirky and uncomfortable, with intentional groaners galore (“This next presenter is so lovely you could eat her up with a spoon: Reese Witherspoon.”)?

Neil Patrick Harris seemed off his game and you could see his flop sweat throughout the evening. Taking a cue from Ellen Degeneres’ in-the-audience bits from last year (remember the pizza delivery and the selfie seen ’round the world?), Harris failed to recreate any of that spark. The seat filler bit was awkward, getting David Oyelowo to read a punchline about the Annie remake was forced, and don’t even get me started on wrangling Octavia Spencer to keep her eyes on that damn lockbox. Look, I get that Harris is a die-hard magic lover, but his Oscar “predictions” had too much wasted buildup and way too little payoff. Poor Octavia Spencer. Poor David Oyelowo. It was commendable trying to rope in as many actors and actresses of color into the proceedings, but these attempts fell flat.

That being said, NPH still had some charms and I would much rather watch a bloated Oscars peppered with moments of joy (more LEGO® Oscar statues, please!) than a boring one. The underwear Birdman homage was unexpected and many of his jokes worked, for instance, opening the ceremony by stating, “Tonight we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest—sorry, brightest.” The opening number, written by the Frozen songwriting team of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, was delightful, especially the Into the Woods-inspired Jack Black rap, though the song wasn’t as strong as his other award show numbers. And I’m afraid we’re fast approaching our limit for song-and-dance showmen (Seth MacFarlane, Hugh Jackman, etc.). It’s too bad that Lin-Manuel Miranda is tied up with Hamilton, his hip-hop musical about the life and times of Alexander Hamilton, and couldn’t lend his superb lyrical skills as he did for the epic closing numbers of the 2011 and 2013 Tony Awards.

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Source: vulture.com

The most memorable moments of the evening stemmed from the sincerity of the Oscar winners themselves, which balanced out Neil Patrick Harris’ snark. From Common and John Legend’s soul-stirring performance of Selma‘s “Glory” and the inspiring Oscar acceptance speech that followed:

Recently John and I got to go to Selma and perform “Glory” on the same bridge that Dr. King and the people of the Civil Rights Movement marched on 50 years ago. This bridge was once a landmark of a divided nation but now it’s a symbol for change. The spirit of this bridge transcends race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and social status. The spirit of this bridge connects the kid from the South Side of Chicago, dreaming of a better life, to those in France standing up for their freedom of expression, to those in Hong Kong, protesting for democracy. This bridge was built on hope, welded with compassion and elevated with love for all human beings.

to the win of Best (very liberally) Adapted Screenplay by The Imitation Game‘s Graham Moore who spoke directly to vulnerable youth:

I tried to commit suicide at 16 and now I’m standing here. I would like for this moment to be for that out there who feels like she doesn’t fit in anywhere. You do. Stay weird. Stay different, and then when it’s your turn and you are standing on this stage, please pass the same message along.

to Boyhood‘s Patricia Arquette championing equal pay for women:

To every woman who gave birth to every citizen and taxpayer of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.

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Source: mtv.tumblr.com

to Whiplash‘s J.K. Simmons simply urging people to reach out and call up a parent, the evening brought to light a span of important issues facing today’s world. The night was a triumph in moving and effective acceptance speeches.

As for the awards themselves, each of the Best Picture nominees took home at least one trophy, the first time this has happened since the field was expanded from five nominees in 2009. I had seen all eight Best Picture nominees this year, and although Whiplash was my favorite film of the bunch by a slim margin, I was hoping that Boyhood could pull out the win over the self-aggrandizing Birdman.* Alas, as of late, the Academy loves movies about movies (see The Artist, Argo).

This was the Academy’s chance to recognize a revolutionary work, not only for its narrative ambition, but as an exercise in patience. Boyhood makes a profound statement that life’s character-building is a series of minute layers, not solely the sum of cathartic spectacles. Ultimately, Richard Linklater’s masterpiece reminds us that in life, not all triumphs can be, or even need to be, recognized with an award.

Oscars2015_Boyhood

Source: jenxlawrence.tumblr.com

* Perhaps I’m the Oscars curse? The last time I watched all Best Picture nominees was the 2011 Oscars, when The Kingzzz Speech robbed The Social Network of its rightful win. Whoops.

The Veronica Mars Movie: The Ultimate Fan Service

Without the fans, there would be no Veronica Mars movie. In an act that will go down in history books, the film came into existence through the sheer enthusiasm and financial fortitude of the fans. The 2012 Kickstarter campaign raised $5.7 million dollars, whose backers ranged from the mildly curious wanting to participate in the site’s highest-profile campaign, to the most rabid die-hard fans shelling out thousands to appear as a background extra. I didn’t contribute to the campaign myself, as I hadn’t yet fallen prey to the show’s charms. I only arrived at the series a little over a month ago, binge-watching seasons one, two, and three in preparation for the film’s release, the climax to my full-throttle Veronica Mars experience. While I enjoyed the film immensely, at times I felt like the straight-up “fan service” diluted the film’s potential.

Veronica_Mars_Movie

As an extremely recent binge-watcher of Veronica Mars, I was a bit torn in my appreciation of the film. On one hand, the movie was tailor-made for me. With the series fresh in my head, I got every winking reference and was in on every joke. Do casual fans remember that the murdered girlfriend was originally played by Leighton Meester? On the other hand, I had only watched season three’s untidy, yet wholly necessary, ending mere days before. If I had some emotional distance from the series, would I have geeked-out more seeing the characters all grown up? Do these questions even matter?

As the old adage goes, it serves an artist better to give an audience what it needs, rather than what it wants. And boy, did the Veronica Mars movie cater to the fans. It was “fan service” to the nth degree. Series creator and film director Rob Thomas had stated, “partly because [the film] is crowd-sourced, I’m going with the ‘give the people what they want’ version… ‘Let’s not piss people off who all donated. Let’s give them the stuff that I think that they want in the movie.”

As a result of this approach, the movie bent over backwards to make sure every beloved character got their due (next time, Duncan), instead of giving us a truly meaty mystery. The Carrie Bishop murder, while a smart device to bring the action back to Neptune, never quite took off, thanks to all the detours down memory lane. It was standard Veronica Mars mystery fare and the climax between Veronica and Martin Starr (he’s the guest star, so of course he did it) was stale and uninspired (really, a basement showdown?!).

The film’s emotional life, much to its detriment, was too focused on all things Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) and Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell). Rob Thomas decided that what the fans wanted was more LoVe and was determined to spoon-feed us the image of a rehabilitated Logan, down to the pandering shot of him in his too-large Navy uniform. While the sight certainly took the air out of Veronica, it was a touch too blunt. Watching the film eschew all the other dynamic characters in favor of this now-clichéd LoVe story was disappointing. When the fans are the major stakeholders, the film is expected to deliver what they want. But the fans aren’t the authors of this art. The story needed different stakes. Pleasing the fans simply removes all possible surprises. We need to be surprised. It’s healthy, creative, and necessary.

Veronica_Mars_Movie_LoVe

Granted, there wouldn’t be a Veronica Mars movie if Veronica continued her New York City life with the upstanding Piz (Chris Lowell). Poor, poor Piz. He’ll always have his unbelievably rock star job at This American Life. (Hold on. Am I #TeamPiz because I find everything about him utterly relatable? AM I PIZ? Don’t answer that …this Zimbio quiz already did for me.) Veronica’s emotional decisions, however, seemed more in line with her teenage headspace, than her at 28. Veronica’s father, Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni, the emotional bedrock of Veronica Mars), was sidelined after his shocker of a car crash, making it clear that the film wasn’t interested in his protestations to leave the bad boy be. Still, Veronica’s character arc of abandoning her burgeoning lawyer career in favor of the alluring and inescapable past in Neptune was strong, addiction metaphor be damned (sorry, Veronica’s addict mom). This pointed character examination elevated the scope of the movie and made it more than just a super-sized episode of television.

At times, the Veronica Mars movie positioned itself as a set-up of things to come, focusing on building the world of Neptune, instead of spending time in the now. I was more intrigued by the film’s B-story, which centered around Weevil (Francis Capra) and Neptune’s corrupt police force, led by the new Sheriff Lamb (Jerry O’Connell). This storyline of police misconduct entwined with racial divides and gentrification stayed truer to the show’s core of smart explorations of social inequity. “When the class war comes, Neptune will be ground zero,” Veronica laments at the top of the film. It’s too bad there wasn’t enough time to dive deeper into these vast class issues.

All of this isn’t to say I didn’t like the film; far from it. I loved the entire engaging experience from start to finish. I squealed with giddiness when Veronica verbally cut Dick Casablancas (Ryan Hansen) and queen-bee Madison Sinclair down to size. My heart sang with the joy during Veronica’s reunion with bffs Mac (Tina Marjorino) and Wallace (Percy Daggs III). The acting was as sharp as ever, especially with Kristen Bell, whose maturity in the years following the series has only deepened her emotional well.

While I did feel the claustrophobic budget restraints on occasion, the look of the film really popped on the big screen. The visual language stayed true to its noir roots, with dark alleys starkly contrasting with the warm California sun. Oh, and hey there, product placement! Shout-out to Samsung, Pepsi, and Bud Light! Major props must also be given to the film’s rich soundtrack, a highlight of the original series. Sufjan Stevens’ swelling “Chicago,” which underscored Logan and Veronica’s evening escapade, gliding over a sparkling bridge in a sleek convertible, was a perfect, emotionally resonant moment that sincerely captured their epic relationship.

Coming off binge-watching the entire series, I saw the Veronica Mars movie more as a bonus feature and than a grand event, as it must have been for long-time fans. Suffice it to say, I want more Veronica Mars! Rob Thomas and company successfully delivered on Veronica’s transition into the trenches of adulthood. And now that all of the re-introductions are complete, I would love to see what awesomely gripping mysteries the franchise can take on with a mature Veronica at the helm. I have become profoundly invested in all of Neptune’s characters and I hope to see them onscreen again one day. In the meantime, the first book in Rob Thomas’ Veronica Mars series is already downloaded to my Kindle. The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line, here I come!

Team Logan or Team Piz? My Veronica Mars Season Three Binge-Watch Finale

Ok. Let’s get down to… Pizness. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. I’ve fallen under the spell of Stosh Piznarski (Chris Lowell) and I can’t get up! In anticipation of the Veronica Mars movie in theaters, I have completed all three seasons of Rob Thomas’ series this past month. You can find my season one reactions here and my thoughts on season two here.

Based on what I’d heard on the Veronica Mars grapevine, I was bracing myself for an abysmal train-wreck. Fortunately, despite some tone-deaf missteps in its thematic storytelling (I’m looking at you, serial rapist arc), season three was a solidly entertaining and enthralling affair overall. It’s safe to say, that SPOILERS follow.

Let’s start by addressing the giant Echolls in the room. Because everything pop culture these days is Team This versus Team That (sorry, Team Deputy Leo), Veronica Mars fans pledge allegiance to either Team Logan or Team Piz. And what shirt will I be wearing to the Veronica Mars movie? #TeamPiz. I’ll be honest with you, going into the third season, I was expecting Piz to be a gigantic wet blanket of a character. Why else would the fandom so up in arms about him? But no, I quickly fell prey to Piz’s charms. He’s a good guy for sure, but he’s way more than a puppy-dog crush. He’s witty. He’s genuine. He has ambition. He defends what he believes in. He provides the stability that Logan (Jason Dohring) simply cannot. (Between Veronica Mars and Enlisted, I’ve had a great time watching the über-charming Chris Lowell this year. PLEASE WATCH ENLISTED, DAMMIT!)

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Logan is passionate as all hell, but his quick temper has caused more damage than good. Over the course of the season, LoVe disintegrated, not just once, but twice. His relationship with Veronica (Kristen Bell) was indeed as epic as he proclaimed it might have been the year prior, but it was unsustainable, unhealthy, and downright exhausting. In the third season, Logan lacked personal vendettas and true adversaries to fuel his fire (well, save Piz, Piz’s ribs, and Piz’s face). While in his relationship with Veronica, he only had his own inner demons to wrestle with. As a result, Logan became more reactionary and subdued, and that robbed him of his dynamic spontaneity. The trust issues that caused the schisms between him and Veronica happened off-screen (Logan’s trip to Mexico with Mercer, Logan sleeping with Madison Sinclair). This telling and not showing, a trait that has plagued the series before, lessened their impact. All told, I felt this wasn’t quite the same snappy Logan Echolls from the first two seasons.

In this third season, the ensemble really worked well together. The dynamics just clicked and it was an absolute joy to watch the core group gel as friends, while the outside world swirled around them. (Score one more point for Piz: Veronica’s friends actually liked him!) While storylines such as the Valentine’s scavenger hunt or Wallace (Percy Daggs III) and the gang hanging out at the beach to test out his airplane may have come off as slight, I thought they highlighted the fun of this group of characters. I enjoyed spending time with them. I enjoyed getting to know more about Mac’s (Tina Majorino) inner life and watching Dick Casablancas (Ryan Hansen) confront his emotions and show vulnerability in the face of past tragedies. Veronica Mars really knows its history and Cassidy’s death resonated with these two characters well into their freshman year of college. By acknowledging their hang-ups, their respective character arcs for the season felt satisfying.

I liked the structure of the smaller mystery arcs at Hearst College, which allowed for more breathing room towards the end of the season for character development. But as for the mysteries themselves, the results were uneven. The first of the two mini-mysteries, the Hearst College serial rapist, was a less than successful arc. It was an all-too-quick introduction to college life that threw Veronica into the deep end. At Neptune High, she wasn’t at the top of the food chain, but Veronica knew the school’s machinations inside and out. Props to the series for tackling complicated gender issues head-on, but the players involved were painted with such broad strokes that their impact hardly resonated. We were presented with all-too familiar stereotypes of angry, self-righteous feminists and sexist, douchey fraternities, with nothing truly subversive under the surface. Still, the stakes could not become more higher than in “Spit & Eggs,” when Veronica defended herself from the rapist’s attack. The threat of violence never felt more real than it did in that episode.

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The mystery of Dean O’Dell’s death fared much better, particularly with Patrick Fabian’s excellent performance of the slick and calculating Professor Landry. His assistant, Tim, proved to be a great foil for Veronica. His character had more social standing than her, yet he possessed less detective acumen. Veronica’s deduction of Dean O’Dell’s killer was a delightfully delicious scene. No physical attacks or need for rescue in this climax, just plain ‘ol deductive reasoning. Brain trumps brawn. The other “case of the weeks” had a decidedly more mature tone (Ugandan child soldiers, abortions, prostitution), but were no less entertaining.

The series finale, “The Bitch is Back,” brings Veronica Mars unexpectedly full-circle to the Kane residence, with larger-than-life paintings of Lilly and Duncan Kane overlooking Veronica’s break-in. For the first time, we really see Veronica’s relationship with her father (Enrico Colantoni) put to the test. Keith makes an immeasurable sacrifice for his daughter and willingly tampers evidence of her jumping the fence. This act could jeopardize him winning the sheriff election. His demonstrated love for his daughter is so strong, but we aren’t privileged to a cathartic emotional release, as we did when Keith rescued Veronica from Aaron Echolls or when the two were reunited after Veronica believed him to be dead in Woody’s plane crash. We’re just left with a knowing conversation over breakfast.

Frustratingly, so much is left up in the air in these final moments. Does Logan win Veronica back? Does Keith win the election? This unsatisfying resolution was, in fact, intentional. Creator Rob Thomas told The New York Times, that this lack of closure was his way of sticking it to the network: “My view was, ‘No, I don’t want to make it easy for you to cancel us.'” I understand now why fans were clamoring for a Veronica Mars revival. There was so much potential left in these characters’ stories and so much unfinished business.

Thank goodness I didn’t have to wait for almost seven long years to revisit the awesome world of Neptune. I just need to get myself to a movie theater stat, #TeamPiz shirt in tow.

The 2014 Oscars: Big Night for Lupita Nyong’o & Adele Dazim

Let’s face it. We will always complain about the Academy Awards telecast. The awards ceremony will either be too crass (Seth MacFarlane), too toothless (Billy Crystal), too WTF?! (Anne Hathaway and James Franco), and in this year’s case, too boring. Sorry, Ellen DeGeneres, but this year’s Oscars was a flat and endless flop, save for one funny monologue joke aimed at Jennifer Lawrence and her many stumbles: “If you win tonight, I think we should bring you the Oscar.” As a whole, the winners were predictable, but who would have predicted that the reliable DeGeneres would have brought such a muted, disruptive tone.

Five years now, we’ll remember how Oscar night came down to a race between Gravity and 12 Years a Slave for Best Picture, and everything else will become a boring blur. When we look back to this year, we’ll fail to recall Kim Novak’s awkward appearance with Matthew McConaughey. (Jacqueline Bisset, you’re off the hook!). We’ll overlook the umpteenth salute to The Wizard of Oz (seriously, it feels like there’s one every year). We’ll forget, but not forgive, the endless parade of montages: Animated films! Heroes (guys, guys, Jennifer Lawrence, and more guys)! These old movies! Those old movies! On a classy note: Fortunately, the producers muted all applause for the In Memoriam segment and gave all those featured equal screen time. Unfortunately, Bette Midler flapped. her. wings. at the end of “The Wind Beneath My Wings.”

So what will we remember from these ceremonies? What moments will leave a profound mark in our pop culture memory banks? Probably not much.

The morning after, without a doubt, the biggest meme to come out of the night was John Travolta’s hilariously horrible mispronunciation of Idina Menzel’s name as “ADELE DAZIM.” What the actual f*ck, John Travolta?!

Adele Dazim was the name that launched a dozen fake Twitter accounts. Think of the mishap as this year’s Angelina Jolie Leg from the 2012 Oscars. The mispronunciation unfortunately upstaged Menzel’s show-stopping performance of Frozen‘s Oscar-winning song “Let It Go,” written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and EGOT winner Robert Lopez. But what followed wasn’t Menzel’s best showing either. Perhaps it was nerves that got the best of Menzel’s stiff physicality, as she and the orchestra fell out of sync, and ended with strained final notes.

Pharell Williams’ soulful performance of Despicable Me 2‘s “Happy” was also memorable, not only for the return of The Grammy Hat, but for the celeb dance-offs, started spontaneously by 12 Years a Slave‘s Lupita Nyong’o. The song delivered a much-needed jolt of energy to the snoozy proceedings. Who knew that all we ever wanted to see was Pharrell bring Nyong’o and Amy Adams to their feet in joyous dance and get Meryl Streep to shimmy? What an infectious performance that perfectly complimented the cool stylings of the #1 song in America.

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The theme of this year’s Oscars was “Heroes in Hollywood,” but night came across as “Celebrities Are Just Like UsOnly Better!” They eat pizza! They take selfies! They carry cash on them! DeGeneres’s drawn-out self-involved shtick found her strolling down the aisles of the theater time and time again, casually chatting it up to nervous audience members. These bits could have been organic and fun, but they never took off the ground. Typically, award show hosts disappear mid-way through the night, but DeGeneres simply refused to let the night go undisrupted by her antics, which were more entertaining on paper than they were in execution.

Early in the evening, DeGeneres asked the celebrities if they were hungry and wanted pizza, to which the somehow still-pregnant Kerry Washington cutely raised her hand immediately in support. In a surprising bit of continuity, the delivery guy showed up later with three pizzas and we watched semi-amusingly, as the slices distributed to the likes of Harrison Ford, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Julia Roberts. (But how endearing was it that Brad Pitt was distributing napkins?). Uma. Oprah., meet Pizza.

But nothing came close to the Selfie Seen ‘Round the World.

In a bit of shameless plugging of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, DeGeneres enlisted the help of Meryl Streep to break the record of most retweets. They were soon joined by Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and other A-listers. (Don’t wave, Angelina Jolie, this isn’t a Vine!) Again, what could have ended up as cute and spontaneous, ended up feeling forced. At any rate, the selfie beat out President Obama 2012’s victory tweet, with 2 million retweets and counting. So… hooray? Celebrities love themselves and need us to love them back; we get it. Just icky and pandering.

Speaking of celebrity fandom, where was Oscar presenter Andrew Garfield? My favorite celebrity was sadly a no-show. Producer Neil Meron had stated, “Andrew Garfield is going to be part of what we hope is a very moving moment in the show… He is going to induct a new superhero into the fraternity of superheroes.” Instead, we got the “talented Chris Evans.” Yawn. A Garfield appearance wouldn’t have saved the telecast by any means, but it would have been nice to see him.

[UPDATE 3: Phew! So as it turns out, the appearance was confirmed by the Academy to be cut “due to the logistics of production.” In fact, Garfield spent time with Batkid at Disneyland. That’s my Andrew! UPDATE 2: According to Page Six, Garfield “refused to go by the script… He had a tantrum. He stormed off.” Yikes. UPDATE: Andrew Garfield’s appearance was with Batkid! The two even rehearsed together the night before. How could the producers cut out Batkid, of all things?! And there was still time for THREE of Ellen’s pizza bits?! That makes me dislike this year’s Oscars even more.]

To end on a positive note, we will remember the emotional acceptance speeches, from 20 Feet from Stardom‘s Darlene Love basking in her spotlight and singing a line from “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” (Go out and watch 20 Feet, an insightful, stirring look at gender and racial politics in music.), to Dallas Buyers Club‘s Jared Leto sweetly giving tribute to his mother, to Lupita N’yongo’s beautiful and moving words of encouragement:

When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.

The night simply belonged to N’yongo. We were witnessing her Hollywood coming-out party, from her exuberant “Happy” dance, to her and her brother goofily taking part in the selfie and pizza payment. Already a red carpet fashion icon, the 12 Years A Slave star blossomed before our eyes. And what a narrative for Hollywood to latch on to: chase your dreams, kids. Play us off, incongruous Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory music!

2014 Golden Globes starring the ***Flawless Fey & Poehler

Compared to the over-indulgent and overly-long Oscar telecast, the Golden Globes are a silly breeze. The awards mean next to nothing and the alcohol is flowing. This year, the Golden Globes were just as ludicrous as ever, marred with technical difficulties, often baffling winners, and ill-prepared speeches.

Luckily, there was a shining beacon to light the way. Simply put, hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler were ***Flawless. This dynamic duo knew exactly how to work both the celebrities in attendance at The Beverly Hotel and the audience at home. Their comedic bits were hilariously to the point and their quick-witted zingers were biting, without ever being mean. My two favorite lines of the night:

  • Gravity is nominated for Best Film. It’s the story about how George Clooney would rather float away into space and die than spend one more minute with a woman his own age.”
  • “And now, like a supermodel’s vagina, let’s all give a warm welcome to Leonardo DiCaprio.”

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The absolute highlight of the evening for me was Amy Poehler FINALLY being recognized for her dynamite portrayal of Parks and Recreation‘s Leslie Knope. When her name was read, I literally screamed out loud with joy and shock. It’s hard to believe that Poehler has never won a single award for playing Knope. Harder still to believe: Brooklyn Nine-Nine has won more major awards (one) than Parks and Recreation has (ZERO). Simply ridiculous. But these are the Golden Globes after all, and boy, does the Hollywood Foreign Press Association like its shiny, new shows (see past TV winners Girls, Homeland). Still, the Andy Samberg and Brooklyn Nine-Nine wins were head-scratchers.

My only real gripe about the ceremony was that there wasn’t enough Fey and Poehler to go around. Two-thirds of the way through the evening, it seems as though the two were missing in action. What could we blame for this mismanaged screen time? Look no further than American Horror Story: Path to the Golden Globes Stage. (Spoiler alert: Jessica Lange doesn’t make it out alive. Wah wah. You’ll get ’em next year, J.Lange!)

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Seemingly every winner was seated miles from the stage, so we spent more precious moments watching celebrities awkwardly navigate a labyrinth of tables than we actually did on their speeches. While the censor bleeping out curse words was asleep at the wheel (we most definitely heard Jacqueline Bisset say “shit”), the orchestra was on the ready to cut off any and all nervous and rambly winners (but not U2, frustratingly).

But what was most peculiar, was that while some speeches feel rushed (Amy Adams will not let you play off her talking about her daughter, dammit!), others were excruciatingly long and endless. So thanks for making the entire evening behind schedule, Jacqueline Bisset. There’s fun celeb loopy, and then there’s “oh God… This is really happening” loopy. Her incoherent acceptance speech was not the former.

On the TV side, kudos to Behind the Candelabra, an opulent and bitter kaleidoscope of a film, anchored by a mesmerizing performance from Michael Douglas as Liberace. A huge WTF goes to Jon Voigt for Best Supporting Actor over the heartbreaking Aaron Paul for Breaking Bad and the transformative Rob Lowe for Behind the Candelabra. The HFPA loves its movie stars… ugh. I was also rooting for Tatiana Maslany as Best Actress in a Drama, even though I don’t watch Orphan Black. And real talk, Hayden Panettiere deserved the award for Best Supporting Actress for her stunningly multi-faceted work on Nashville. She’s the heart of that show. It’s not easy to play someone who fails so spectacularly, while shrouding a lonely soul with catty glitz and glamour.

As for the film awards, I was most thrilled about Spike Jonze for Best Screenplay for Her, who crafted a magnificent film that made my whole body feel. His dizzying musings on the nature of love threw me for a loop in the best ways possible. And I’m bracing myself for the eventual Jennifer Lawrence backlash. Fingers crossed that we as a nation will never reach that point. Just keep on charmin’ your way through the hearts of everyone, J.Lawr!

As Tina Fey joked in the opening monologue: “This is Hollywood, and if something kinda works, they’ll just keep doing it until everybody hates it!” Luckily, we still have the 2015 Golden Globes to look forward to, and with Fey and Poehler at the helm, it’s a guarantee that no one will hate it.

Finally, a special shout-out goes to my favorite pop culture maven, Billy Eichner (@billyeichner), who had my favorite live-tweets from the evening. Here are just two of his winners:

Oscarzzz 2012: Where were the surprises?!

"Dean your heart out, Angie!"

The Oscars, as with any other self-congratulating awards ceremony, will always be a tedious affair, no matter the host and no matter the nominated films. Then why do millions tune in? For the thrill and excitement that stem from spontaneity and surprise. Unfortunately, the 84th Annual Academy Awards were a boring, lifeless mess that lacked that crucial element of surprise and failed to conjure many memorable moments.

What will we remember most from this year’s Oscars? Sadly and hilariously, it will most likely be Angelina Jolie’s Right Leg, as mimicked by Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Descendants, Jim Rash (aka Dean Pelton, my favorite character on Community).

Much of the night’s suspense was already voided before the nominees entered the Chapter 11 Theater, thanks to The Artist’s inevitable and pre-determined march to Best Picture victory. Without a tangible narrative in the Best Picture category, or any of the other categories for that matter, spontaneity was especially needed on Oscar night. There was no David (The Hurt Locker) vs. Goliath (Avatar) story to root for; No ambitious, daring, zeitgeist of a film (The Social Network) vs. a safe and emotionally manipulative period piece (The King’s Speech). [Oops! Still bitter about that one…]

With Billy Crystal returning to host for his ninth time, the Academy chose tried and true (read: boring) over risk-taking. The ceremonies yawned its way out of the gates with a been there, done that host-in-various-films montage and never recovered. “Really, Billy Crystal!?! Blackface for a Sammy Davis Jr. impression from the 1980s AND a Men’s Warehouse joke!?! REALLY!?!” harped my inner Seth Meyers. As awful as the man is as a person, one can’t help but imagine what Brett Ratner (and host Eddie Murphy) might have brought to the proceedings.

The one real surprise of the night came from Meryl Streep taking home the Best Actress Oscar over Viola Davis. To be sure, Meryl Streep brought a refreshing and much-needed buoyancy to the proceedings, but let’s just read that sentence one more time: The one surprise of the evening was that the supremely talented Meryl Streep won an award. For acting. SURPRISE!

The theme of Oscar night, “Aren’t movies magical!?!” or whatever, was a misguided and surprise-less effort. We were hit over the head again and again with sweeping notions of nostalgia: “Weren’t movies just the bees knees when you were growing up!?! Let’s all remember movies from years past, when movies resonated with both the Academy and the American public at large!” These heavy-handed reaches for past glory read more as a desperate plea to help sagging box office revenues, urging viewers to watch movies in theaters, than anything else. Montage after tedious montage of past films and actors waxing nostalgic about past films were simply either nonsensical or unnecessary. They took away from the films of the present (isn’t that what they’re supposed to celebrate?), and robbed precious screen time from true memorable moments like Octavia Spencer’s emotional and heartfelt acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress.

The real winners of this year’s Oscars were James Franco and Anne Hathaway. At least Franco and Hathaway gave us oddly fascinating and colorful train wrecks last year, and not inoffensively bland ones from Billy Crystal and Academy Award producer Brian Grazer.

On the bright side, the 2012 ceremonies were the shortest in over 30 years. But of course, the dull night suffered from uneven pacing and could be summed up by the Oscar-winning film editors, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo‘s Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall: the two speechless winners petered out at the end of their acceptance speech, mumbling, “let’s get out of here…” We’re right there with you guys.

Here’s to the cinematic surprises of 2012!