2019 will go down in history as the year that the Oscars producers set out to create a show that wouldn’t appeal to anyone who actually enjoys the Oscars. In an effort to presumably boost ratings, the Academy seemingly announced, then took back, every possible wrong decision. From Best Popular Film, to Kevin Hart, to not airing all categories live, it’s been a mess of an Oscar season and it’s finally almost over.
Before we get to my ranking of the Best Picture nominees, I want to acknowledge some overlooked achievements: The luminous and lush IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK deserved a Best Picture nomination, as did Marielle Heller’s world-weary character study CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? And while Bo Burnham’s EIGHTH GRADE may not have been in the running for Best Picture, he took home the Writers Guild Award and should have earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Oh, and justice for WIDOWS.
ROMA (directed by Alfonso Cuarón)
Through indelible black and white imagery, Alfonso Cuarón crafted a visually magnificent and intensely personal tribute to his 1970s Mexico City memories and the beautiful chaos of life. ROMA is a flat-out masterpiece.
A STAR IS BORN (directed by Bradley Cooper)
This fourth incarnation of A STAR IS BORN had no right to be as goddamned entertaining as it is. Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s effortless electricity and searing chemistry are such a thrilling treat. Cooper’s lived-in, booze-soaked performance has my vote for Best Actor.
BLACK PANTHER (directed by Ryan Coogler)
BLACK PANTHER is a superhero film with style and substance to spare. A true game-changer of black excellence. Not only is there a villain with a clear and engaging motivation, but there are several women with distinct points of view. #RepresentationMatters #WakandaForever
THE FAVOURITE (directed by Yorgos Lanthimos)
THE FAVOURITE’s deadpan aesthetic is an absolute delight. The go-for-broke performances by Olivia Coleman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone pair perfectly with its wickedly funny script. Yorgos Lanthinmos’ weird and unabashedly queer period piece is a breath of fresh air.
BLACKKKLANSMAN (directed by Spike Lee)
A deeply affecting and highly explosive film, BLACKKKLANSMAN is both timeless and of the moment, tying its themes to our current political climate. Spike Lee may lay his message on thick at times, but it’s no less effective or audacious.
VICE (directed by Adam McKay)
I did not like Adam McKay’s THE BIG SHORT. I liked VICE much better than THE BIG SHORT. I still did not like VICE. The condescending self-satisfaction of it all is not for me.
GREEN BOOK (directed by Peter Farrelly)
We just have to talk to each other! That’ll solve racism! GREEN BOOK is a trite, feel-good (for white audiences) comedy that borrows its title from the heritage of a racist America. It’s lazy, insulting, and problematic that its story centers on a straight white man’s transformation.
BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY (directed by Brian Singer)
BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY is a hot pinkwashed mess with bad wigs and even worse CGI. Rami Malek is magnetic, but this biopic-by-the-numbers is way too much and not enough, all at once. The Academy withdrew so many of its awful decisions; could it rescind this Best Picture nom too?
2018 was the year I increased my pop culture diet.
This year saw the meteoric rise and fall of MoviePass and I was along for the ride. With my annual MoviePass, I saw 40+ movies in theaters this year. My subscription ended this past week, and sorry MoviePass, I won’t be renewing. AMC’s tempting A-List program lured me in, and I’ve been a satisfied member for 2 months now. I also finally signed up for my own Netflix account over the summer. I guess I’m an adult now?
Onto my favorites of the year!
JOE PERA TALKS WITH YOU (Adult Swim)
Amidst the swirling chaos of 2018, the Adult Swim comedy Joe Pera Talks With You emerged as an endearing and absurd comfort, quickly becoming my favorite television show of the year.
In each episode, comedian Joe Pera, playing a mild-mannered character of the same name, invites you to explore a different aspect of his simple, everyday Michiganian life: “Joe Pera Takes You To Breakfast,” “Joe Pera Show You How To Dance,” “Joe Pera Reads You the Church Announcements.” And that’s it. That’s the show. And so much more. All at once, Joe Pera Talks With You is gently heartwarming and absolutely funny, cleverly creating a world that builds upon itself in surprising ways; a world I love spending time in. It’s sweet. It’s peculiar. It’s sincere. It’s just eight eleven-minute episodes (plus a double-length finale).
In its 37th season, Survivor produced a top 5 installment in David vs. Goliath, thanks to its incredible casting of memorable characters who played the game to win. Dynamic storytellers abound, from my messy queen Angelina, who attempted the absolute most at every second, to the endearing robotics professor Christian. There was so much casting gold on Fiji, I wouldn’t be surprised to see many of these players return. Thankfully, the twists and advantages did not overpower the gameplay, allowing some jaw-dropping Tribal Councils. Plus, the editing on David vs. Goliath was some of the show’s best, bringing a fresh perspective and sly sense of humor. Here’s hoping the show took away the right lessons from the overwhelmingly positive response to this season.
THE AMERICANS (FX)
After six brilliant seasons of weaving complex characters through increasingly compromised circumstances, The Americans stuck the landing with a stunning, emotional payoff. Years of meticulous character building culminated in devastating consequences of Philip and Elizabeth Jennings’ spycraft and domestic drama. The Americans is a masterful work of art and I will miss it terribly. The show and its two leads, Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell, deserved more awards recognition, dammit!
JANE THE VIRGIN (The CW)
Jane the Virgin delivered one of the most shocking season finale cliffhangers in years. Full stop. Staying true to its telenovela roots, it was an astounding finish to an incredible season of television. Jane the Virgin continues to be a consistently satisfying series.
BOJACK HORSEMAN (Netflix)
No other show serves such a potent mix of absurdity and tragedy. BoJack Horseman’s fifth season tackled toxic masculinity, the #MeToo movement, opioid abuse, bereavement, and a sex robot named Henry Fondle. The “Free Churro” episode-length monologue was certainly a series highlight, but my favorite episode was “Mr. Peanutbutter’s Boos,” which playfully wove multiple years of Halloween parties into a revealing exploration of Mr. Peanutbutter’s relationship patterns.
KILLING EVE (BBC America)
A TV show created by a kickass woman starring and about two kickass women?! I was sold from the very start. From the mind of Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge, this cat-and-mouse spy drama starring Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh was a sexy, funny, and thrilling pleasure.
Category Is: Queer Excellence and Queer Joy. Ryan Murphy’s plunge into the ball culture of 1980s New York City was a glittering achievement. Queer and trans writers and actors were able to tell stories about queer and trans people. Pose’s revelatory and revolutionary cast included the largest number of transgender actors in series regular roles for a scripted series, led by MJ Rodriguez and Indya Moore. While the show sometimes steered into the sentimental, its beating heart proved a fierce asset. Billy Porter’s Pray Tell was one of my favorite performances of the year.
CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND (The CW)
While the first half of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s final season took some time to find its footing, the show’s commitment to telling the story of Rebecca Bunch’s mental health recovery has been fascinating and entertaining to watch. After hitting rock bottom, Rebecca is slowly, but surely, putting herself first (in a sexy and healthier way).
While the Earth-bound adventures of the Soul Squad lacked the soaring infinite potential of the afterlife, the mid-season finale “Janet(s)” was a tour de force of the show’s extraordinary creativity and D’Arcy Carden’s incomparable comedic talent, who played her own character (Janet) and the show’s four leads (all as Janet).
The most audacious and mesmerizing episode of television this year belonged to Atlanta’s “Teddy Perkins.” This unsettling examination of the price of fame was a showcase for Lakeith Stanfield, Donald Glover, and Donald Glover’s team of makeup artists.
HERE ARE 8 MORE (because it’s 2018):
QUEER EYE (Netflix) THE END OF THE FUCKING WORLD (Netflix) THE ASSASSINATION OF GIANNI VERSACE: AMERICAN CRIME STORY (FX) SALT FAT ACID HEAT (Netflix) AMERICAN VANDAL (Netflix) GLOW (Netflix) GREAT BRITISH BAKING SHOW (PBS, Netflix) CELEBRITY BIG BROTHER (CBS)
HERE ARE 2 SHOWS I BINGED ALL SEASONS OF IN 2018 AND LOOOVED:
SCHITT’S CREEK (Pop)
ONE DAY AT A TIME (Netflix)
EIGHTH GRADE (directed by Bo Burnham)
There are moments in Eighth Grade that are so real, it hurts. Call me a masochist for watching this film three times in theaters. Eighth Grade imbues the minutiae of the life of a quiet eighth grader with remarkable empathy. In his writing and screenplay debut, Bo Burnham has created a film so achingly honest, so painfully hilarious, so undeniably relatable, and so heartbreakingly human, that you can’t help but burst into laughter and tears.
There are two details that I especially loved: Kayla’s signed Bring It On: The Musical program and her Hamilton calendar. I love that Kayla has theatre kid in her. Burnham was a theatre kid too. Theatre kids are full of empathy.
ROMA (directed by Alfonso Curarón)
Roma is a flat-out masterpiece. Through indelible black and white imagery, Alfonso Cuarón crafted a visually magnificent and intensely personal tribute to his memories and the beautiful chaos of life. Based on his upbringing in a middle-class family in 1970s Mexico City, Roma follows a year in the life of an indigenous domestic worker and fully immerses you in her life’s smallest details among the sweeping world around her.
LEAN ON PETE (directed by Andrew Haigh)
If you know me, you know I love a cathartic, emotional release, and my goodness, did this deliver. I came into Andrew Haigh’s Lean On Pete expecting a sweet boy-and-his-horse story, and I left an emotional wreck. I hadn’t cried that much at a movie theater since Moonlight. Lean On Pete is a raw, haunting, and heartbreaking film that will stay with me for a long time.
SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE (directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman)
Watching the wildly entertaining and wildly innovative Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, my eyes lit up at every frame and I just couldn’t stop smiling. It’s my favorite superhero movie of all time. Have you ever wanted to be inside a living, breathing comic book? Thanks to overwhelmingly breathtaking animation rendered in vibrant Ben-Day dots, now you can! The promise that anyone can be Spider-Man is fully realized in Miles Morales’ Brooklyn. This is diversity and inclusion in swinging action and the world is all the better for it.
SHOPLIFTERS (directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda)
I watched the sublime Japanese film Shoplifters on the day it received a Golden Globe nomination for best foreign language film, and boy, was it a richly deserved recognition. Shoplifters is a beautifully observed drama that follows an impoverished makeshift family of petty thieves who takes in a neglected young girl. Kore-eda deftly explores the meaning of family through moments of quirky humor and quiet devastation. Prepare to fall in love with this dysfunctional band of outsiders.
CRAZY RICH ASIANS (directed by Jon M. Chu)
There was no movie-going experience more memorable for me than watching Crazy Rich Asians in a sold-out advanced screening. I could feel that this audience, like audiences around the country, was starved to see themselves onscreen. Crazy Rich Asians was everything I could have hoped for. All hail, director Jon M. Chu, newly-minted movie stars Constance Wu and Henry Golding, and the rest of this fantastic ensemble, for revitalizing the romantic comedy and for showing that these stories matter and that these voices deserve to be heard. #RepresentationMatters
CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? (directed by Marielle Heller)
I found Can You Ever Forgive Me? to be such an utter delight of warm and weary queerness. Melissa McCarthy delivers a winning performance steeped in profound loneliness as Lee Israel, a struggling writer-turned-forger of literary letters from the likes of Dorothy Parker and Noël Coward. McCarthy and her partner-in-crime, played by the charismatic Richard E. Grant, are quite the winning pair.
A STAR IS BORN (directed by Bradley Cooper)
Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s effortless electricity and searing chemistry were more than enough reason to remake A Star Is Born for the third time.
WIDOWS (directed by Steve McQueen)
Widows is a fucking thrill and it’s a shame more people didn’t see this Chicago-set heist film. Steve McQueen and Gillian Flynn did that. Viola Davis did that. Cynthia Erivo’s arms did that.
TULLY (directed by Jason Reitman)
I wasn’t emotionally prepared for director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody’s Tully: an empathetic, bittersweet, and surprising film about the toll of motherhood and reconciling adulthood.
HERE ARE 8 MORE (because it’s 2018):
PADDINGTON 2 (dir. Paul King) BLACK PANTHER (dir. Ryan Coogler) BURNING (dir. Lee Chang-dong) FREE SOLO (dir. Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi) SEARCHING (dir. Aneesh Chaganty) BLINDSPOTTING (dir. Carlos López Estrada) THE FAVOURITE (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos) LEAVE NO TRACE (dir. Debra Granik)
HERE ARE 2 MOVIES FROM 2017 THAT I SAW IN THEATERS IN 2018 THAT I LOOVED:
GOD’S OWN COUNTRY (directed by Francis Lee)
FACES PLACES (directed by Agnès Varda and JR)
BONUS FAVORITE THINGS!
WAITRESS on Broadway starring Sara Bareilles and Jason Mraz was a magical experience. Both are musical idols of mine; I have CDs from Bareilles’ college a cappella group and Mraz was my first-ever concert. When I handed my WAITRESS ticket to the usher, she said, “You look so excited!” Damn right, old lady, I was!
Being in the room where it happened for the live taping of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR LIVE IN CONCERT in Brooklyn.
The hit West End musical EVERYBODY’S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE, about a teenager with dreams about being a drag queen, was broadcast in movie theaters and it reaffirmed my love for musical theatre.
BRING IT ON: THE MUSICAL, performed by Hillbarn Theatre Conversatory
These high schoolers were so damn talented and so full of joy. It was mightly impressive and inspiring, watching them leave every ounce of themselves onstage and killing Adrienne Walters’ choreography and stunts.
KEEP IT! – Ira Madison III, Kara Brown, and Louis Virtel’s show about the collision of pop culture and politics through POC and queer lenses never fails to make me laugh out loud.
DIRTY COMPUTER by Janelle Monáe
“My My My!” by Troye Sivan
I was a year late, but I loved Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give. I sadly missed the film adaptation in theaters.
FAVORITE INTERNET THINGS:
Pretty much anything Adam Rippon said and did.
“Zendaya is Meechee” by Gabe Gundacker, which was stuck in my head for weeks.
Take me back to Call Me By Your Name‘s warm Italian summer of 1983. I devoured André Aciman’s sun-kissed pleasure of a novel early last year and I was looking forward to Luca Guadagnino’s adaptation with eager anticipation. The film was everything I had hoped for and more. Call Me By Your Name is an intoxicating dive into the thrill, ache, lust and heartbreak of first love. A sweeping primal dance between the inner and outer lives of awakening and desire.
It’s a refreshing gift to watch a story of gay love unfold where the villain isn’t crippling self-hatred, devastating disease, or homophobic violence. We’re free to just be and exist with these characters. At the same time, there are signifiers of potential ruin and as an audience, we’re conditioned to wait for the other shoe to drop. Instead, the enemy of Call Me By Your Name is time. The movie speaks beautifully to the delay of queerness, how queer people typically aren’t able to act on their feelings at the same time as the sexual discovery of their heterosexual peers.
Timothée Chalamet delivers a knockout performance as the 17-year-old Elio, every fiber of his physicality bursting with curiosity and confusion. As the heart and soul of the film, he is my pick for Best Actor by a mile. His magnetic attraction to Armie Hammer’s handsome and seemingly aloof Oliver develops at a restrained pace, a yearning bubbling just under the surface, until the floodgates of infatuation are no loner able to contain him.
Call Me By Your Name‘s journey of discovery certainly has moments of pure gay wish-fulfillment. Towards the end of the movie, Michael Stuhlbarg, as Elio’s father, delivers a stunning monologue so full of empathy and humanity, an appeal to his son to accept both love and pain, that it left me breathless. (Stuhlbarg’s lack of an Oscar nomination is the season’s biggest disappointment.) Soon after, Elio’s final moments left me a silent, emotional wreck. Call Me By Your Name instantly became my favorite film of 2017.
Lady Bird considers that paying close attention to something is an act of love. You can truly feel the love and compassion Greta Gerwig has for all of her complex characters in her first outing as a solo director. Not only is it wonderful to see all this affection focused on the life of a teenage girl, but we’re able to feel the perspectives of both generations, of Saoirse Ronan’s Christine, aka “Lady Bird,” and her mother Marion, played by marvelous Laurie Metcalf (how unfortunate she hasn’t gotten the awards recognition she deserves). This is both a coming-of-age film and a gracefully realized examination of parenting, as these women so desperately want to be seen by each other.
The early 2000s NorCal high school setting and theatre kid experiences rang so true for me. While many of my peers deeply related to the relationship between mother and daughter, I was moved most by the arc of Lady Bird and her first boyfriend, Danny (Lucas Hedges). Lady Bird succeeds because its lovingly crafted specificity is key to universality. Again, love and attention. The more I think about what worked so delightfully about Lady Bird, the more I fall in love with it.
Special shout-out to Beanie Feldstein’s buoyant charisma as Lady Bird’s best friend, Julie. These two share my favorite dialogue from all the nominated pictures:
JULIE: Ms. Patty assigned you a role, by the way. You just never showed up to claim it.
LADY BIRD: What role?
JULIE: The Tempest.
LADY BIRD: There is no role of The Tempest.
JULIE: It is the titular role.
If I were casting an Oscar ballot, I would vote Get Out for Best Picture in a heartbeat. No other film speaks so urgently and directly to these troubled times we live in. Part racial satire, part societal thriller, Jordan Peele’s audacious directorial début captures a vital American horror story. Peele masterfully explores real-life anxieties and dives into both the absurdity and menace, illuminating along the way, hypocrisies in performative wokeness. I’m thrilled with the awards recognition of Daniel Kaluuya’s complex performance, as his character struggles for a sense of normalcy in an increasing abnormal environment, from being black in a white space, from blackness simply existing. Get Out will leave an enduring impression in our pop culture psyche long after this awards season is over.
Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water is a gorgeous film. Every frame is exquisitely rendered in lush and opulent blues and greens. The radiant Sally Hawkins, as the mute janitor, Elisa, lures you into her world with a silent tenacity, as she races to save her fish-man love, with whom she connects so profoundly.
Elisa’s friends on the fringes (Richard Jenkins and a woefully underused Octavia Spencer) have touches of inner lives, elevating them from mere thankless sidekick tropes. Jenkins, as a lonely gay man, gives an especially nuanced performance. The Shape of Water is told from an artist’s point of view, framing the story as a fable. Though a feeling of inevitability permeates throughout, there’s enough clever originality that satisfies like a warm wave of emotion. Truth be told, I’m done with the “love letter to Old Hollywood” for a while.
I’m not fond of war movies, and I’ll never forgive the Oscars for making me watch Hacksaw Ridge. Much to my surprise, I was thoroughly entertained by Dunkirk. Whereas Hacksaw Ridge was at once both achingly saccharine and punishingly cruel, Dunkirk was thankfully neither. Though the film features a sea of same-looking brown-haired Brits, emphasizing the anonymity of war, I still managed to care for the survival of these soldiers, even without knowing much about them. Deep in the chaos of war, Dunkirk makes no time for clichéd backstories and stock characterizations, unlike other war movies.
Director Christopher Nolan has crafted an immersive war epic that celebrates the perseverance of the human spirit, yet doesn’t shy away from showing a primal fear. Through a clever storytelling structure that weaves timelines and narratives, this harrowing rescue mission is depicted on a scale both epic and personal, claustrophobic and cavernous. Dunkirk was such a technical achievement that Harry Styles wasn’t much of a distraction.
An exquisitely delicate film by Paul Thomas Anderson, PhantomThread,chronicles the tense emotional life of an obsessive artist (Daniel Day-Lewis) who meets his match in his muse, Alma (Vicky Krieps). Their passionate love is a twisted and destructive duet, and while I admit I’m tired of meticulous creative geniuses (who are almost always white men), Alma’s keen resolve keeps the story on its toes. Their relationship weaves in surprising directions, but I could only enjoy Phantom Thread at a cool distance.
On paper, The Post screams Oscar excellence: a Steven Spielberg-directed movie about the true story of Washington Post journalists rushing to expose government flaws, starring American treasures Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. Onscreen, The Post was… fine. It was more impressive for its timeliness and political relevance than anything else. Even so, there were sequences when film was too heavy-handed with its modern parallels; the shot of Streep as Katherine Graham, the first female publisher of an American newspaper, walking out of a courthouse among admiring female onlookers comes to mind.
Honestly, I was more entertained, if not a bit distracted, by the seemingly endless cavalcade of television stars. Carrie Coon! Sarah Paulson! Zach Woods! And on and on and on. It’s only when the Pentagon Papers are actually acquired, maybe halfway through, does the movie actually pick up steam. Historical spoiler alert: We know that the Post does publish the Pentagon Papers, so the sweeping climax of Streep in a kaftan making that history-altering decision just sits there, no matter how awesome the kaftan.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is my anti-LadyBird; the more I think about it, the less and less I like it. On its surface, it’s a thrilling rollercoaster, racing from searing drama to black comedy and back, featuring Frances McDormand’s visceral and raw performance. Her portrayal of a grieving mother who turns her agony into a steadfast rage is worthy of acclaim, but boy, is the film that surrounds her problematic AF.
Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards feels like it’s made by someone who isn’t acquainted with the place they’re operating in. The way race is handled in this contemporary rural setting just doesn’t work. Unlike in Peele’s Get Out, McDonagh doesn’t have a coherent understanding of American racism. Rockwell’s violent and racist cop, who has tortured a black man in custody in the past, gets a redemption arc that is completely misguided and unearned. Rockwell is admirable in the role, but his character’s transformation is unjustified. It’s also extremely disappointing to see black characters, both onscreen and off, as merely plot devices and ciphers.
So much more of Three Billboards doesn’t come together, including the aforementioned tonal whiplash, unexplored consequences, a plethora of narrative coincidences and false endings, and whatever Abbie Cornish is doing.
I must give Darkest Hour credit; it was way more visually interesting than I expected it would be. On the flip side, I expected the movie to be a talky snooze… and it was. This plodding historical drama attempts to portray Winston Churchill not as a revered deity, but as a flawed man. It’s a damn shame that the luminous Timothée Chalamet will lose the Oscar to Gary Oldman, impressive as Oldman’s prosthetic and skilled imitation may be. The Academy has filled its ranks with younger and more diverse voters, and you can sense these Best Picture nominations as a result, with one foot in the thrilling contemporary (Get Out) and one foot in the stodgy past (Darkest Hour).
Before we burn 2017 to the ground, here are my top 10 favorite TV shows, films, and more of the year.
THE LEFTOVERS (HBO)
How do you make sense of a fundamentally broken world? The post-Rapture drama, The Leftovers — hands down, one of the best shows I have ever seen — embarked on a journey to explore these mysteries. What it uncovered was nothing short of a miracle.
Damon Lindelof and Tom Perotta’s series was a powerful, and at times bleakly funny, meditation on loss and the meaning of life and love. Every episode in this final season was innovative and extraordinary — from a mystical walkabout, to a sex lion cult, to joyous trampolining set to the Wu Tang Clan.
The best art reflects our lives and processes the shared human experience. This year I experienced a profound loss of a best friend, and The Leftovers was there to help me process my emotions. Speaking to the profound series finale, creator Lindelof said, “We find release from suffering though community, through family, through love.” In the end, the show didn’t answer every question, but instead, “let the mystery be.” The Lefovers revealed the importance of human connection at its core and nothing was more satisfying.
THE GOOD PLACE (NBC)
Holy fork, this show is tremendous. Come for the candy-colored afterlife absurdity and stay for the twisted wordplay. (This genius list of food puns by The Good Place writer Megan Amram is one of my favorite things of the year). This scrappy and delightful cast knocks it out of the park with every chaotic curveball that’s thrown at them, from Jameela Jamil’s self-absorbed Tahani, to Manny Jacino’s lovable doofus Jason Mendoza. My life is so much better for The Good Place and yours can be too.
My biggest surprise of the year. American Vandal is a pitch-perfect true-crime satire and a marvelously authentic high school story with unexpected emotional beats. I was particularly impressed with how social media was used in its storytelling. Social media depiction in movies and TV shows is often embarrassingly bad, but American Vandal’s footage felt like real teenage digital lives.
BOJACK HORSEMAN (Netflix)
At the end of Bojack Horseman’s magnificently silly and profoundly heartbreaking fourth season, a single smile filled my heart and delivered unexpected joy. We can be enough.
PLEASE LIKE ME (Hulu)
Josh Thomas’ coming-of-age comedy is a warm and witty romp, with an awkward gay 20-something at its core, doing his best to keep his life and family together. The fourth and final season of this Australian import was a welcomed treasure, featuring an ending that packed a powerful emotional wallop.
JANE THE VIRGIN (The CW)
Our world is in desperate need of empathy and Jane the Virgin is our saving grace. This loving telenovela-inspired series gave me an unexpected gift of healing, which you can read more about here. Thank you, Jane the Virgin.
With 35 seasons under its belt, not every season can be a winner. This year, we saw two mid-tier seasons in Game Changers and Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers. The legacies of these two seasons include an ugly outing of a trans contestant, a beloved Survivor legend eliminated without receiving a single vote thanks to too many idols, and a controversial new twist which allowed one player, who would have been eliminated at Final 4, to save himself and ultimately win the game. Not the greatest of looks.
Bonus points for the triumphant return of my all-time favorite player, two-time Survivor winner Queen Sandra Diaz-Twine.
MASTER OF NONE (Netflix)
When I look back on this year in TV, the one episode that immediately comes to mind is the beautifully poignant “Thanksgiving.” Its audacious structure highlights that coming out is a continual process, and the strong performances by Lena Waithe and Angela Bassett keeps the humanity at its core. Writers Aziz Ansari and Waithe (who became the first black woman to win a comedy writing Emmy), are more than deserving of all their accolades for telling this story.
AT HOME WITH AMY SEDARIS (truTV)
No other show this year made me laugh harder. Amy Sedaris’ take on DIY homemaking shows is wacky, wonderful, weird as all hell.
HERE ARE 7 MORE (because it’s 2017):
PLANET EARTH II (BBC America)
THE AMERICANS (FX)
AMERICAN CRIME (ABC)
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
(directed by Luca Guadagnino)
(directed by Greta Gerwig)
(directed by Jordan Peele)
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES
(directed by Matt Reeves)
THE BIG SICK
(directed by Michael Showalter)
(directed by Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina (co-director))
The final dress rehearsal of the First National Tour of Hamilton. When Amber Iman first sang her rich, sultry alto notes of “Say No to This” as Maria Reynolds, the stranger sitting next to me and I gay gasped at the same time, looked at each other, and laughed.
FAVORITE COMEDY THINGS:
Hasan Minhaj’s “Homecoming King” (Netflix)
John Mulaney & Nick Kroll’s “Oh, Hello On Broadway” (Netflix)
Here are my top 10 favorite TV shows and films of 2016. Let’s get this year over with, shall we?!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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: Fury Roadis 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 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.
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.
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 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!
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]
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?!
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.
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.
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.
* 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.
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.
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.
Granted, there wouldn’t be a Veronica Marsmovie 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 Marsseries is already downloaded to my Kindle. The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line, here I come!
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 fakeTwitteraccounts. 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.
The theme of this year’s Oscars was “Heroes in Hollywood,” but night came across as “Celebrities Are Just Like Us—Only 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!
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.”
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!)
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 Badand 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:
Congrats to Johnny Depp's hair for so bravely playing gay tonight.