Live Your Dream: A Letter to Rapunzel

This is the latest addition to my collection of letters to female fictional characters who’ve inspired me throughout my years as a fangirl. If you have a letter of your own you’d like to share, check out this post to learn more about the book of letters I’m compiling (tentatively titled Fan Mail), and send your letter(s) to nerdygirlnotes@gmail.com!

tangled

Dear Rapunzel,

You came into my life when I was well past the age when girls typically want to be Disney princesses. I was 22 years old, a recent college graduate, and a member of the “working world” of adults. I thought I didn’t have any use for fairytales anymore. Sure, I’d be entertained by the them, but I tried to tell myself that I couldn’t be inspired in any profound way by them now that I was “all grown up.”

Thank you for showing me I was wrong.

Thank you for bringing magic back into my life. The moment I saw you and Flynn Rider on that boat, surrounded by floating lanterns, something changed in me—or, more accurately, something changed back. I’d spent too long trying to push down the part of me that looked at the world with wonder and wanted to believe in dreams coming true—because I thought that would make me look immature to the rest of the “adult” world. But in that magical cinematic moment, I let myself feel like a little kid again. I felt my heart open up in that moment to the idea that this kind of story might still have the power to change my life for the better—not just by connecting me to my past, but by giving me hope for my future.

Fairytales aren’t just for little kids or even little-kids-at-heart. They’re for all of us. They teach all of us, but only if we’re open to it. And with my heart newly opened to the possibility of learning from your journey, I discovered you had so much to teach me. And the things you taught me I could never have understood as a little girl. I might have liked your hair and sang your songs, but I wouldn’t have needed you as a child. I needed you as I became an adult—and I still need you now.

We’re all stuck in towers. Sometimes other people put us there, sheltering us from the world and keeping us from experiencing life for any number of reasons. But there are also many times when we keep ourselves locked in our own tower. Sometimes we’re our own Mother Gothel, and we need to find the courage to be you instead.

Continue reading

Finding Faith: A Letter to Jamie Sullivan

This is the latest addition to my collection of letters to female fictional characters who’ve inspired me throughout my years as a fangirl. If you have a letter of your own you’d like to share, check out this post to learn more about the book of letters I’m compiling, and send your letter(s) to nerdygirlnotes@gmail.com!

Source: awalktoremember.wikia.com

Source: awalktoremember.wikia.com

Dear Jamie,

I was 13 when I first saw A Walk to Remember on a snowy Sunday afternoon with my two best friends. Life isn’t easy for a 13-year-old girl. I was caught between desperately wanting to be “cool” and knowing in my gut that I could never really fit in with the “cool” kids. I was starting to ask the big questions about myself, my future, and my faith. Needless to say, you came into my life exactly when I needed you the most.

You were the rare breed of teenage character who genuinely didn’t care what other people thought of them. When you told Landon that, you didn’t say it to impress him or to make yourself look cool or better than your peers. Popularity simply wasn’t something that made you lose sleep at night like it is for so many teenagers—myself included at the time. Of course, you had bigger things to worry about (that pesky “dying of cancer” thing), but there was more to your place in “self-exile territory” than that.

When it comes to your character, Jamie, everything is a matter of faith. And you had enough faith in yourself and your principles to know that you were living the right life for you—regardless of what other people thought of it. The impact that had on 13-year-old me was immediate and intense. You weren’t naïve; you knew people made fun of your modesty, your interest in astronomy, and your religious beliefs. But you also knew something it would have taken me a lot longer to learn without your example: What mattered wasn’t what other people said; it was what you believed. So thank you for showing me that the coolest thing you can be is yourself—even if other people make fun of you for it or don’t understand it at the time.

Continue reading

The Magic of Music: My Favorite Disney Songs

Is "The Circle of Life" one of your favorite Disney songs?

Is “Circle of Life” one of your favorite Disney songs?

Music has a way of moving us like little else on Earth. The right song—heck, the right note of the right song—can instantly bring tears to our eyes and goose bumps to our skin. Music has a magic that’s all its own.

Combining the magic of music with the magic of Disney only seems to amplify that ability to move people. The greatest Disney movies are made great by their soundtracks, and great Disney songs live on in pop culture forever. Hearing a specific song from a Disney film can transport you back to the movie theater where you had your first movie-going experience, or it can remind you of a time when you first watched a child fall in love with the magic of Disney. Disney music calls to mind Disney memories, and those are magical experiences for all of us.

While I’m enjoying my own magical experience in Disney World, I wanted to start a conversation here about your favorite classic and contemporary Disney tunes. Here are my 10 favorite songs from Disney films, and I hope you share yours in the comments!

1. Circle of Life (The Lion King)
The best Disney songs resonate on a level deeper than just their relevance to the film they’re in, and that’s certainly true of this song. Its poignant lyrics are matched by a sweeping score, which builds to a soaring crescendo that is guaranteed to give you the best kind of chills. There has never been a better song for introducing the spirit of a Disney film. The stirringly unique beginning of this song, coupled with the image of that rising red sun, created a truly iconic Disney moment.

Continue reading

Nerdy Girl Goes to the Movies: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

captain-america-winter-soldier-poster

Title: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Rating: PG-13

Cast: Chris Evans (Steve Rogers), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson), Robert Redford (Alexander Pierce), Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes), Cobie Smulders (Maria Hill)

Director: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo

The Basics: Captain America: The Winter Soldier begins with Steve Rogers (aka the eponymous Captain America) still struggling to adjust to the modern world after being awoken from a frozen state that he remained in since the 1940s. His sense of unfamiliarity in this colder, bleaker world is made worse by his growing sense of distrust for S.H.I.E.L.D., the government intelligence and defense agency he’s a part of. Steve’s suspicions turn out to be more than just unfounded fears; a faction within S.H.I.E.L.D. is planning to use advanced surveillance methods to kill millions in the name of the greater good. Steve—along with Natasha Romanoff (aka Black Widow) and Sam Wilson (aka Falcon)—must confront old and new enemies, but one new enemy (the mysterious Winter Soldier) might not be so new after all. Captain America: The Winter Soldier succeeds not just as a highly entertaining superhero blockbuster; it also feels darker and more thematically complex than any Marvel Cinematic Universe film that came before it, while still being driven by the sharp writing, strong character development, and charismatic performances that have made Marvel films huge box-office draws season after season.

Continue reading

The Best of the 2014 Oscars

The 2014 Oscars were a little long and a little predictable, but they were also a lot of fun. There wasn’t a lot of surprise to be found in the night’s winners, but my Oscar-predicting credibility is thankful for that fact. There also weren’t a lot of surprising or shocking moments within the ceremony itself, but sometimes even a relatively tame award show can still be a thoroughly entertaining one.

It may have been the fact that the Oscars gave me a wonderful evening of laughing and talking about movies with my sister and my best friend, or maybe it’s the lack of sleep (or high amounts of caffeine in my bloodstream) talking, but I think these were my favorite Oscars in terms of entertainment value in quite some time. It probably helps that I really love Ellen DeGeneres and her particular brand of comedy—and I also really love pizza.

Today I want to focus on some of the evening’s best moments—from the speeches that moved me to the fashions that made me green with envy.

Best Performance By an Ensemble in a Selfie:

oscar selfie

Where else but the Oscars would you be able to take a photograph featuring three of Hollywood’s biggest heartthrobs, multiple living acting legends, and two of the biggest ingénues in the business? My favorite thing about the whole “selfie” bit was that it felt like everyone involved was having so much fun with it (my personal favorite being Jared Leto sprinting across the theater to be a part of it). I like seeing celebrities who genuinely seem to be enjoying themselves at big events and in each other’s company, so kudos to Ellen for taking that sense of enthusiasm and turning it into millions of re-tweets.

Continue reading

Nerdy Girl Predicts: The 2014 Oscars

Gravity will probably walk away with the most Oscars tonight, but I don't think Best Picture will be one of them.

Gravity will probably walk away with the most Oscars tonight, but I don’t think Best Picture will be one of them.

After months spent sitting in darkened theaters and on comfortable couches watching movie after movie, the film fanatics’ Super Bowl has arrived—it’s Oscar Sunday! More than any Oscars in recent memory, this one has a number of important categories that might still be too close for anyone to call ahead of time. From a Best Supporting Actress race for the ages to a Best Picture group without a clear favorite, this year’s ceremony is more difficult to predict than usual, but I think that’s going to make it even more fun to watch.

Below are my picks for all 24 categories, with analysis (and my sentimental favorites) for each of tonight’s major awards. Let me know in the comments what your ballot looks like, and don’t forget to join me on Twitter, where I’ll be dissecting everything from the red carpet fashions and Ellen’s sure-to-be-fabulous hosting skills to the night’s big winners and losers.

Picture
My Pick: 12 Years a Slave
My Wish: Her
My Thoughts: No movie I saw in this past year made me think or feel as deeply as Her, but I know it doesn’t stand a chance against the big boys in this category, despite its originality. In the three-horse race between 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, and American Hustle, I expect the Academy to choose the emotionally potent historical drama (a favorite genre of theirs over the years), and the choice is not without merit—12 Years a Slave was fearless and filled with strong performances.

Actor
My Pick: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
My Wish: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)
My Thoughts: As much as I would love to see DiCaprio (my favorite actor since the age of 10) finally take home an Oscar for what many are calling his best work to date, I don’t think anyone is taking this Oscar from McConaughey. His physical transformation was astounding, but it was the emotional commitment he gave to this role that floored me. Also, his trademark charm helped make Dallas Buyers Club not just an emotionally compelling film but also a surprisingly warm and entertaining one.

Actress
My Pick: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
My Wish: Amy Adams (American Hustle)
My Thoughts: I still haven’t seen Blue Jasmine, but I’m not sure there’s been a performance more universally accepted as the best in its category this year. This award has been Blanchett’s since the film was released. As much as I’d love for Adams to finally get Oscar recognition in a year in which she served as the sexy but surprisingly vulnerable heart and soul of my favorite ensemble of the year (and turned in another excellent performance in Her), I’m sad to say it’s just not going to happen this year.

Continue reading

Nerdy Girl Predicts: The 2014 SAG Awards

AMERICAN-HUSTLE-poster2

Will American Hustle take home the SAG award for best ensemble?

Award season continues tonight with the Screen Actors Guild Awards, which air at 8 p.m. on TNT and TBS. I love actors—I love the way just the smallest change in their expression, just the slightest shift in their body language, or just the hint of a tremor in their voice can make us feel things that go beyond the pages of script.

Actors bring life to words, and as someone who lives in a world of words, I have always admired the courage and dedication it takes to make sentences on a page become a physical reality. So I love the fact that there’s an award ceremony every year where actors gather together to honor one another, to give the most deserving among them awards that mean so much because they were given by a group of respected peers.

However, I will admit that this year’s crop of nominees has left me less excited than usual about the ceremony. No love for Amy Adams, Christian Bale, or Joaquin Phoenix? Why do I have to suffer another year of Parks and Recreation being snubbed for even a nomination for best comedic TV ensemble? And where the heck is Amy Poehler’s name on the list of nominees?

I have a prior family commitment that will be keeping me from watching/live tweeting the red carpet and start of the ceremony, but I’ll join the party on Twitter as soon as I can tonight. Until then, here are my predictions for tonight’s big winners. Let me know in the comments who you think will be victorious this evening!

FILM

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role:
Bruce Dern (Nebraska)
Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)
Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips)
Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
Forest Whitaker (Lee Daniels’ The Butler)
My Pick: Matthew McConaughey. Dern could be honored for his storied career, but I think McConaughey’s fellow actors will appreciate his physical transformation and emotional commitment to this role. Does this mean we’ll be hearing “All right, all right, all right…” on Oscar night?

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role:
Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
Sandra Bullock (Gravity)
Judi Dench (Philomena)
Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)
Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks)
My Pick: Cate Blanchett. Another award ceremony, another victory on Blanchett’s road to the Oscars.

Continue reading

Nerdy Girl Predicts: The 2014 Golden Globes

golden globes

The Golden Globes are my favorite award show. Yes, I love seeing television get its day in the sun with the Emmys; I love the way the SAG Awards honor my favorite thing about most films (the performances); and you can’t beat the Oscars when it comes to glamour and style. But the Golden Globes are different—the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) brings the worlds of television and film together, and it does so with a genuine sense of humor.

There’s something uniquely fun about the Golden Globes. The celebrities are a little more relaxed. The nominees (and winners) are often a little more random and harder to predict than other award shows. And you can’t mention “fun” and “Golden Globes” in the same sentence without mentioning this year’s returning pair of hilarious hosts: Amy Poehler and Tina Fey.

I’m so excited to watch one of my favorite times of year—award season—kick off tonight. I’m excited to see all of the gorgeous (and maybe not-so-gorgeous) looks on the red carpet. I’m excited to see what smart and memorable material Poehler and Fey have in store for us this year. I’m excited to watch many of my favorites from this year in film and television have their names read along with all the other great nominees. And I’m excited to celebrate film and television, two mediums that I love differently but equally and continue to love more each year.

Before tonight’s ceremony, (which begins at 8 p.m. on NBC), I wanted to share my predictions, which should always be taken with a grain of salt because I often pick with my heart instead of my head when it comes to these things. Let me know in the comments who you think will win, who you think should win, and who you’re most excited to see tonight. And join me on Twitter around 6 p.m. when I kick off my annual Golden Globes live-tweeting coverage!

FILM NOMINEES

Best Motion Picture: Drama
12 Years A Slave
Captain Phillips
Gravity
Philomena
Rush
My Pick: 12 Years A Slave. While Gravity’s technical brilliance is hard to ignore, I think the emotional impact and sheer nerve of 12 Years A Slave is even harder to overlook.

Best Motion Picture: Comedy Or Musical
American Hustle
Her
Inside Llewyn Davis
Nebraska
The Wolf of Wall Street
My Pick: American Hustle. With a cast full of talented stars used to their fullest potential in a smart, entertaining period piece (which feels weird to say since the 1970s weren’t that long ago), I think American Hustle is the kind of film the HFPA often gravitates towards.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture: Drama
Chiwetel Ejifor (12 Years A Slave)
Idris Elba (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom)
Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips)
Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
Robert Redford (All is Lost)
My Pick: Chiwetel Ejifor. While Redford could take home the award because of his pedigree (and brilliant work), I still think Ejifor’s work as the heart and soul of the year’s most brutally emotional film will take precedence over the HFPA’s usual bias towards bigger names.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture: Drama
Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
Sandra Bullock (Gravity)
Judi Dench (Philomena)
Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks)
Kate Winslet (Labor Day)
My Pick: Cate Blanchett. While I would give this award to Bullock, I have heard nothing but ecstatic raves for Blanchett’s work, and she seems like a lock in this category filled with great actresses who gave great performances this year.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture: Comedy Or Musical
Amy Adams (American Hustle)
Julie Delpy (Before Midnight)
Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Enough Said)
Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)
My Pick: Amy Adams. Meryl or Amy? In the battle of Hollywood royalty versus the next generation of great actresses, I think Adams is going to come out on top for her standout performance in an ensemble filled with today’s most compelling actors. It’s about time her chameleon-like ability to play nearly every kind of role was rewarded.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture: Comedy Or Musical
Christian Bale (American Hustle)
Bruce Dern (Nebraska)
Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis)
Joaquin Phoenix (Her)
My Pick: Leonardo DiCaprio. As a DiCaprio fangirl since the age of 9, nothing makes me happier than the critical acclaim his work in Wolf of Wall Street is getting, and if anyone deserves some award-season love after so many years of being overlooked, it’s him.

Continue reading

NGN’s Best of 2013 (and 2014 Preview): Movies

American Hustle was one of 2013's most critically-acclaimed films.

American Hustle was one of 2013’s most critically-acclaimed films.

I hope all of you had a lovely end to 2013 and a fresh, fun, and hopeful start to 2014. May all your resolutions be beneficial and all your days full of learning, laughter, and love.

After ending 2013 with a look at the year that was in television, I’d like to kick off 2014 with a look at the world of film. It’s time to reflect on the performances and movies that made 2013 such a memorable year, and it’s also time to look ahead at what movies we have to look forward to in the coming year.

Top Five Female Performances of 2013:

1. Jennifer Lawrence as Rosalyn Rosenfeld (American Hustle) and Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire)
Lawrence’s turns as American Hustle’s charismatic but unstable housewife and Catching Fire’s stoic but tortured heroine were both outstanding on their own, but what was truly impressive was looking at them side-by-side as a testament to her incredible range. For someone so young to have built such an impressive body of work is no small feat, but in 2013, Lawrence proved herself able to rise to every challenge put in front of her as an actress—and I wouldn’t be surprised to see another Oscar at the end of this year’s journey.

2. Sandra Bullock as Ryan Stone (Gravity)
Gravity was literally Bullock’s film—she was onscreen for nearly all of its 90 minutes, and, for much of it, she was onscreen alone. Bullock’s ability to convey the terror of her situation was excellent, but the most captivating thing about her performance was the way she was able to convey both the physical isolation of space and the emotional isolation of grief with such relatable humanity.

3. Amy Adams as Sydney Prosser (American Hustle)
For American Hustle to succeed as brilliantly as it did, Sydney needed to be the kind of woman everyone would fall in love with, and in Adams’s capable hands, she became that and so much more. Adams balanced Sydney’s sensuality, intelligence, ambition, and fierce vulnerability with grace and—even more importantly—with power you couldn’t help but be attracted to.

4. Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers (Saving Mr. Banks)
The way Thompson managed to show the broken little girl underneath P.L. Travers’s icy exterior was nothing short of magnificent. Her harsh sarcasm gave a film that could have been saccharine a nice edge, but it was her emotional journey that gave the film its most winning asset—its beating, beautiful heart. I still find myself tearing up thinking of the emotional range she showed during the scene in which Travers watches Marry Poppins onscreen for the first time, which was possibly the best acting without dialogue I saw all year.

5. Amy Acker as Beatrice (Much Ado About Nothing)
It takes an impressive actor to make me truly care about a Shakespearean character. So the depth with which I came to care about Beatrice proves what an impressive actor Acker truly is. The lines rolled off her tongue like she was born speaking Shakespeare, but it was the genuine humor and gravitas she brought to the role that made this character come to life for me as if she was as real as one of my friends.

Continue reading

Nerdy Girl Goes to the Movies: Frozen

frozen poster

Title: Frozen

Rating: PG

Cast: Kristen Bell (Anna), Idina Menzel (Elsa), Jonathan Groff (Kristoff), Josh Gad (Olaf), Santino Fontana (Hans)

Director: Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck

The Basics: Frozen, Disney’s latest animated feature, is an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.” Sisters Anna and Elsa are separated from a young age after Elsa’s ability to magically create snow and ice put Anna’s safety in jeopardy. While Anna craves companionship and romance, Elsa’s powers and her fear of them being exposed make her crave solitude instead. After a disastrous Coronation Day for Elsa in which her powers are revealed, Anna goes in search of her sister to stop the eternal winter Elsa has wrought upon their kingdom. Along the way, Anna meets Olaf, a snowman who longs for summertime, and Kristoff, a young ice salesman who challenges her naïve beliefs about falling in love. Frozen has all the makings of a classic Disney film: great songs, stunning animation, a surprisingly strong sense of humor, and a heart worn firmly on its sleeve. But what makes this film special is the way it adds something new to the tradition of great Disney princess films. Frozen is a story about true love, but this true love is not the stuff of princes and princesses and love at first sight. Rather, it’s the love between sisters that drives this film. Frozen is an empowering film that celebrates all kinds of love—familial love, romantic love, and love for ourselves.

M.V.P. (Most Valuable Performer): Frozen is the first Disney film to focus on two princesses, and both Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell carry this film equally with their unique vocal skills. Menzel’s voice is peerless, and she gives Elsa a power and edge unlike any other Disney princess. Her control over her voice perfectly suits Elsa’s journey through the film—from the quiet tension in her part of “For the First Time in Forever” through her complete unleashing of her power in “Let It Go.” No other actress could have given this character the kind of depth Menzel gives her. Elsa is unlike any other Disney princess who came before her, and it seems fitting that she was given life by a woman whose voice is unlike any other.

The same can be said for Anna—she’s certainly not your stereotypical, poised and perfect princess. She’s awkward, naïve, and overly eager for companionship at times, but she’s also fiercely loving, brave, and warm. Bell brings a vivacity to this princess that jumps off the screen, but she’s also able to communicate a very real vulnerability in her voice. Bell’s pure, gorgeous singing voice was a huge surprise to me.

Menzel and Bell have very different but equally beautiful voices, and listening to them sing—alone and especially together—was a feast for the ears to rival the best Broadway performances.

Scene Stealer: Olaf the snowman is a character who could have gone extremely wrong, but instead turned out to be one of the highlights of the film. A lot of credit for that should go to the fact that he was used just enough to be entertaining and consistently funny but not so much that he became obnoxious. Also, a lot of credit should go to Josh Gad for the way he’s able to make Olaf silly enough for kids to love him and sweet enough to feel important to the story beyond just comedic relief. (“Some people are worth melting for” was one of my favorite lines.) His big music number, “In Summer,” is a highlight of the film and a fantastic moment of musical comedy. Gad makes the silly and the smart facets of the number work perfectly, and I found myself surprisingly charmed by this addition to the list of great Disney sidekicks.

Bring the Tissues? Frozen worked my heartstrings with a dexterity usually reserved for Pixar movies. It hits you with a sucker punch of heartbreak at the start (“Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” somehow manages to be both a cute and devastating musical number.), and the rest of the film has moments of real emotion that sneak up on you with their power. The climax of the film put more than a few tears in my eyes, and I have to imagine I wasn’t the only one moved by the film’s message of love and acceptance.

Most Memorable Scene: Every Disney princess movie has a moment where the heroine sings about what she really wants and who she really is, and those are often my favorite moments in the film. “Let It Go” is another one of those moments, where Elsa embraces her power and vows to leave behind a lifetime of repression and fear of letting her true self be seen by the world. Sung with Menzel’s characteristic power, this song is sure to become an instant Disney classic. This is a love song a princess sings about herself, and it’s one of the best songs a Disney movie has featured in a long time.

The animation in this scene is just as incredible as the vocal talent on display. As the song builds, so does Elsa’s ice castle, and the combination of stunning visuals and inspiring music combine to make this scene a moment worthy of its place among others that defined their respective Disney films: Ariel singing as the waves crash behind her; Belle and Beast in the ballroom; and Rapunzel and Flynn Rider watching the lanterns.

Continue reading