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.

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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.

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Nerdy Girl Predicts: The 2014 SAG Awards

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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.

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Nerdy Girl Predicts: The 2014 Golden Globes

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Nerdy Girl Goes to the Movies: Gravity

gravity poster

Title: Gravity

Rating: PG-13

Cast: Sandra Bullock (Ryan Stone), George Clooney (Matt Kowalski)

Director: Alfonso Cuarón

The Basics: Gravity is a story of survival in a world where life is factually impossible. After being detached from the space station she was working on as part of her first mission, NASA medical engineer Ryan Stone finds herself adrift in space, with a rapidly depleting supply of oxygen. Tethered to veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski, Stone must fight seemingly insurmountable external obstacles to get back to Earth, which mirrors her internal struggle to survive after the death of her young daughter. The way the themes of isolation, birth, death, and survival are developed and reflected in every moment of the film is nothing short of masterful. Technically, this film is like nothing that has ever been seen before, but the reason Gravity is so special—such a masterpiece—is that it never lets its technical achievements overshadow its emotional ones. Anchored by the best performance of Sandra Bullock’s career, this film is about so much more than the terrifying beauty of space; it’s about the struggle for a woman to survive in both a physical and emotional environment that would destroy most people.

M.V.P. (Most Valuable Performer): Sandra Bullock has been known as many things throughout her career—adorable, funny, sharp-tongued, relatable, and warm. But after seeing Gravity, I think the best word to describe her work as an actress is fearless. Her performance in Gravity is astoundingly brave in its vulnerability, its humanity, and its incredible mixture of strength and weakness. Ryan Stone feels like a real woman—not a superhero. For most of the film, she’s terrified, and Bullock makes that fear almost painfully palpable. We see so much of this film from Stone’s perspective; her voice is the only one we hear for most of it; her helmet is the one we see the chaos through. And in order for Gravity to succeed, the actress bringing Stone to life needed to be someone who could captivate audiences on her own for nearly the entire 91 minutes of the film’s runtime. Bullock is exactly that; she’s utterly captivating every moment she’s onscreen. Ryan Stone is a fascinating character, a woman whose strength manifests itself not in big moments of heroics but in choosing to live rather than give up, despite having every reason to want to die. We see Ryan as a hero because we are able to believe her at her lowest—in the quiet depths of her grief and the panicked extremes of her fear—and at her best. Her hero’s journey is a story of rebirth, and Bullock makes it resonate with an emotional intensity and honesty that should put her at the top of any Best Actress race this year.

Scene Stealer: From the very first moments of Gravity, I was in awe of its score. Steven Price’s work is unsettling from the start, and its hold on my emotions never let up. It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up, it made me hold my breath, and it even made me cry. Price’s score captures the grandeur and danger of space as brilliantly as it captures the grief and hope coexisting in Stone’s character. I don’t normally single out a film’s score as something worthy of intense praise, but this wasn’t any ordinary film—or any ordinary score, for that matter.

Bring the Tissues? I cried way more than I was expecting to during Gravity. Bullock’s fierce vulnerability has a way of getting under your skin and going straight to your heart. When she reveals how her daughter died, I started tearing up, but once she started talking to a man back on Earth (whom she reached while trying to unsuccessfully contact Houston), I started genuinely sobbing. Her loneliness—both in the vastness of empty space and in the grief-stricken life she lived back on Earth—moved me beyond anything else I’ve seen in a movie theater so far this year.

Most Memorable Scene: On a technical level, I’m not sure any scene in any of this year’s Oscar contenders will be more memorable than the opening minutes of Gravity. Filmed in one, unbroken shot, this scene builds spectacularly from awe-inspiring to terrifying. The way Cuarón captures the feeling of weightlessness is extraordinary; it puts you off balance just by watching the action unfold. And that’s all before the debris begins to rain down on Stone and Kowalski. In that moment, the strange serenity of space is turned into sheer panic, and the feelings it invokes are oppressive in their intensity. I felt like I was holding my breath through the entire sequence, and I know I was gripping my armrest with white knuckles. The direction, the sound mixing and editing, and Bullock’s performance all combined to create one of the most visceral experiences of panic I’ve ever felt while watching a movie. It was—at the risk of sounding hyperbolic—breathtaking.

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Nerdy Girl Goes to the Movies: Catching Fire

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Just as a warning, this review is not spoiler-free, so read at your own risk if you haven’t seen the movie yet! 

Title: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Rating: PG-13

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss Everdeen), Josh Hutcherson (Peeta Mellark), Liam Hemsworth (Gale Hawthorne), Woody Harrelson (Haymitch Abernathy), Elizabeth Banks (Effie Trinket), Sam Claflin (Finnick Odair), Jena Malone (Johanna Mason), Lenny Kravitz (Cinna), Donald Sutherland (President Snow), Stanley Tucci (Caesar Flickerman), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Plutarch Heavensbee)

Director: Francis Lawrence

The Basics: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the second of what will be a four-film franchise based on Suzanne Collins’s trilogy of Young Adult novels. This installment focuses on Katniss Everdeen’s inadvertent role as the spark behind a revolution in the 12 districts of Panem after she defied the Capitol to keep herself and her partner, Peeta Mellark, alive in the 74th Hunger Games. While still plagued by crippling nightmares and PTSD after the Games, Katniss attempts to return to life back home in District 12 after a grueling Victory Tour, but a surprise twists sends her and Peeta back into the arena to fight amongst other former victors in the 75th Hunger Games. Catching Fire was my favorite book in Collins’s trilogy, and this film met even my high expectations. The special effects, the character development, and the chemistry between all of the major players was even better than it was in the first film in the franchise. And it doesn’t hurt to have Jennifer Lawrence leading the way with a performance as fearless and as faithful as any fan of Katniss could hope to see.

M.V.P. (Most Valuable Performer): Jennifer Lawrence was born to play the role of Katniss Everdeen. In the novels, everything we experience comes from Katniss’s point of view, but the films don’t have that luxury (and thank God we haven’t had to deal with cheesy voiceovers to make up for that fact). Somehow, though, Lawrence makes you feel every single one of Katniss’s emotions—from the most painfully open ones to the ones she hides even from herself. Lawrence acts with every fiber of her being; she’s such a physical actress—her whole body shakes with fear in one scene and rage in another, and she makes both feel so completely different from one another. Lawrence’s eyes are a character all on their own; pay special attention to the very end of the film when they are her only tool to convey what’s going on in Katniss’s head and heart, and marvel at how she makes you want to cry, cheer for, and even fear this girl on fire who has everything and nothing to lose. The Hunger Games franchise is Katniss Everdeen’s story, and it’s not a simple story to tell. It requires an actor whose fearless pursuit of honesty makes every moment she’s onscreen crackle with an intensity that dares you to look away all the while knowing you will never be able to take your eyes off her for a moment. Lawrence is such an actor—perhaps the best one of her generation.

Scene Stealer: Every member of the supporting cast of Catching Fire was wonderful, but I have to give special recognition to the actor who surprised me the most. That was Elizabeth Banks, who gave Effie so much depth and compassion in this film while still maintaining the same sense of overbearing propriety that made her such a strong source of comedic relief in The Hunger Games. Banks manages to bring both the laughs (another excellent “mahogany” reference) and the tears in this film. Her work in the reaping scene is incredibly powerful in its subtlety. The war waging in Effie between her need to maintain decorum and her overwhelming sadness at watching these people she’s come to care for go back into the arena has to stay just under the surface, but you can feel it in every second the camera spends focused on her tear-filled eyes. And her goodbye to Katniss and Peeta was one of the most moving moments in the film. Banks’s control over her emotions was brilliant, and it made those rare moments when Effie’s prim and proper exterior begins to crack all the more powerful. I didn’t care about Effie all that much while reading the books, but Banks makes it impossible not to care about this woman who has grown from an annoying symbol of the Capitol to a beloved member of a team bonded by love and loss.

Bring the Tissues? If you think the answer could possibly be “no,” then you have no idea what this series is about. The big emotional moments deliver with a breathless kind of power, but there’s a special kind of potency to the film’s smaller moments of love and friendship, too. A show of unity among the former victors, Peeta’s face when the Quarter Quell is announced, Haymitch hugging Katniss, and Peeta helping Katniss through her nightmares with a perfectly-delivered “Always”—each of those moments blindsided me with how much they moved me. And if you’ve read Mockingjay, some scenes will be almost brutally sad to watch because you know what’s coming for these characters in the next films. (I’m thinking especially of Peeta and Katniss’s last kiss and an early conversation they have about favorite colors.)

Most Memorable Scene: It was almost impossible for me to choose just one scene. I could have picked the District 11 Victory Tour scene for its emotional impact, the announcement of the Quarter Quell for the great performances put on display without any of the actors saying a word, the jabberjay scene for its ability to bring one of the most powerful scenes in the book to life, or the beach scene between Katniss and Peeta for its quiet intimacy. However, the scene that is still haunting me a day later was the scene between Katniss and Haymitch near the end of the film. I didn’t think anything could equal the power of that scene in the book, with Katniss trying to scratch Haymitch’s eyes out over his part in saving her and letting Peeta become a prisoner of the Capitol, but this scene matched it in every possible way. Lawrence astounded me with how fearlessly she attacked that moment; she made Katniss’s pain, grief, and anger so palpable it made me grip the armrests of my theater seat.

The whole film builds to this moment of Katniss lashing out in response to people controlling everything about her life, and it’s even more powerful because she’s lashing out at Haymitch, one of the only people she trusted. Lawrence makes you believe that losing Peeta has finally pushed Katniss over the edge; he was her anchor in this film, keeping her from getting lost in the darkness because she had someone to navigate that darkness with her. And now he’s gone, a prisoner of the Capitol because others—including Haymitch—deemed Katniss more important to save. The sense of betrayal Katniss feels knowing Haymitch left Peeta to die—or at least to be tortured—is so visceral, and it hurts even more because we understand it. The juxtaposition of that scene and the earlier beach scene puts everything into perspective; Katniss is the only one who needs Peeta, and when he’s gone (with Haymitch being partly responsible), she has no one left to trust. The absence of Peeta for mere moments has such a profound impact on Katniss, and it’s an impact that will reverberate through the rest of the series. To see both Lawrence and Woody Harrelson approach this brutal scene with such honesty was something special. It broke my heart, but it made me feel proud that such brilliant actors were bringing to life a book I love so much.

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Nerdy Girl Goes to the Movies: The Butler

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Title: Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Rating: PG-13

Cast: Forest Whitaker (Cecil Gaines), Oprah Winfrey (Gloria Gaines), David Oyelowo (Louis Gaines), Elijah Kelley (Charlie Gaines), Cuba Gooding Jr. (Carter Wilson), Lenny Kravitz (James Holloway), Robin Williams (Dwight D. Eisenhower), John Cusack (Richard Nixon), James Marsden (John F. Kennedy), Liev Schreiber (Lyndon B. Johnson), Alan Rickman (Ronald Reagan), Jane Fonda (Nancy Reagan)

Director: Lee Daniels

The Basics: The Butler is a sweeping portrait of the civil rights movement in America, told through the eyes of Cecil Gaines, who served as a butler in the White House from Eisenhower to Reagan. While the film highlights important moments in American history from inside the White House, the true heart of this film lies in Cecil’s house, where he struggles with an alcoholic but loving wife, a son in Vietnam, and another son making his voice heard as a Freedom Rider and later as a member of the Black Panther Party. This film takes the fight for equal rights—from a sharecropping field in the 1920s to the election of President Obama—and makes it intensely personal. This is a story that needs to be told, and its told through some truly fantastic performances. Yes, some of the presidential stunt casting was unbelievable to the point of taking away from the film, but, ultimately, what really mattered where the performances given by Whitaker, Winfrey, and Oyelowo. This trio of actors anchored the film with performances that were nuanced, powerful, and completely compelling.

M.V.P. (Most Valuable Performer): Without a strong actor taking on the role of Cecil, this film could have felt like a dry history lesson, jumping from one milestone to the next without any real emotional connection. Thankfully, Forest Whitaker gives his performance the quiet strength that we’ve come to expect from such a brilliant actor. Cecil never feels like a caricature or anything less than a real, three-dimensional person. We can feel the toll that years of hard work and suffering have taken on this man, but we can also feel the pride he takes in his job and the life he was able to build for his family. There is a quiet dignity to Whitaker’s performance that could get lost among the more flashy performances to come as “Oscar season” approaches. But his work should not be forgotten or lost in the shuffle because he is able to make you believe in this man and in the values by which he lives his life. It’s a testament to Whitaker’s performance that I found myself crying by the end of the film because I felt like I could understand what the election of President Obama would mean to Cecil Gaines. That ability to make the audience connect so strongly with a character in just a couple of hours is something only the best actors possess.

Scene Stealer: David Oyelowo might be a relative unknown (to me at least), but I walked away from this film incredibly impressed with him. There was such passion in his performance, and that uncontrolled fire of purpose worked so well opposite Whitaker’s more quietly powerful Cecil. The generation gap between Louis and Cecil is a driving force in this film, and it works because you are able to understand both sides of that gap. Whitaker makes you believe in Cecil’s reasons for acting the way he does (the murder of his father being the horrible foundation for his views on acting out too strongly), but Oyelowo also makes you understand Louis’s need to take action and to fight. He’s not just some rebellious kid; he’s someone who wants a better life for his future family the same way Cecil did. He doesn’t hate his father; he just doesn’t understand him. And that kind of universal struggle between generations takes on such a unique life in this film, a life that rings with authenticity because of the honesty Oyelowo gives to Louis’s journey.

Bring the Tissues? If you remain unmoved while watching Cecil react to the 2008 Election Night results, then I’m not sure you were really watching the movie. I was on the verge of tears a few times throughout the film, but that moment is what made me actually start crying because I could feel how much it meant to these characters, especially Cecil.

Most Memorable Scene: The generation gap that fuels the tension throughout the film comes to a powerful head in a dinner table confrontation between Cecil, Louis, Gloria, and Louis’s girlfriend. With Louis in his Black Panther clothing and his girlfriend sporting a huge afro while sitting with the modestly dressed Cecil and Gloria, the contrast is evident before any of the characters even begin speaking. And when they do begin speaking, it erupts into the best scene in the film. A discussion about Sidney Poitier turns from small-talk to fighting words when Louis scoffs at men like him and, by extension, his father. Louis’s inability to understand the pride his father takes in his job finally proves too much for the usually stoic Cecil, who explodes with a force we only see once in the film—but it’s enough.

But the true “scene stealing” moment belongs to Oprah. I know it’s been shown in every commercial and trailer for the film, but the moment when she slaps her son and tells him that everything he is and has is because of “that butler,” I still got chills like I was hearing it for the first time. And I wanted to cheer when she kicked his horrible girlfriend out of her house. I was worried going into the film that Oprah wouldn’t be able to disappear into this role as much as she would need to, but this scene was the moment when I knew my concerns were unfounded.

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Nerdy Girl Goes to the Movies: The Heat

The Heat poster

Title: The Heat

Rating: R

Cast: Sandra Bullock (Sarah Ashburn), Melissa McCarthy (Shannon Mullins), Marlon Wayans (Levy), Demian Bichir (Hale), Michael Rapaport (Jason Mullins), Taran Killam (Adam)

Director: Paul Feig

The Basics: The Heat is a classic buddy-cop comedy about an uptight, conceited FBI agent who’s forced to work with a gruff and unorthodox detective from Boston in order to bring down a drug kingpin and murderer. The unique thing about this film is that both the FBI agent and Boston detective are women. Although it’s probably not the greatest cop film anyone will ever see, this film should be remembered for its dedication to focusing solely on the relationship between these two female characters—and what great characters they are. Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock both bring such different but equally fantastic comedic energies to this film, proving once again that a film driven by women can be just as funny as (if not funnier than) a male-centric comedy.

M.V.P. (Most Valuable Performer): There’s no way to separate McCarthy and Bullock when talking about this film, especially not when trying to judge who was better. They were a true team, bringing different comedic styles to the table and bouncing those styles off each other to create something genuinely entertaining. Both actors played variations on roles we’re familiar with (McCarthy’s Mullins was in many ways similar to her role in Bridesmaids, and Bullock’s Ashburn had notes of her performances in both Miss Congeniality and The Proposal.), but the combination of the two of them together was lightning in a bottle. They’re each skilled in so many different ways to be funny—from physical comedy to deadpan delivery to the perfect time to drop an f-bomb (or 10). When I first heard that McCarthy and Bullock were making a buddy-cop comedy together, I knew they would be a dream team, but they exceeded even my high expectations. They seemed to bring out the best and funniest in each other, creating a kind of comedic chemistry that can’t be forced. Actors either have it or they wish they did, and these two have it in spades.

Scene Stealer: The movie really belonged to Bullock and McCarthy—to the point where it was hard to pick someone who diverted any attention away from them. The closest this movie came to having any scene stealers was Mullins’s family. From Joey McIntyre as one of her loudmouthed brothers to Jane Curtin as her constantly disapproving mother, the casting of this family was excellent. The scene where Mullins and Ashburn cram the whole family into a van to get them out of their neighborhood was absolutely hilarious.

Bring the Tissues? Only if you have a tendency to cry when you laugh really hard.

Should I Stay or Should I Go? Stay in your seat during the credits for an extra scene featuring Ashburn, Mullins, and the cat Ashburn likes to borrow from her neighbor. It’s worth sticking around for a little bit to get one last laugh in before you leave.

Most Memorable Scene: There were a lot of memorable, hilarious scenes in The Heat, but the funniest scene—the one that combines all of Bullock and McCarthy’s comedic strengths—is the scene where Mullins and Ashburn follow a suspect into a club and attempt to get close to him to bug his phone. Yes, one of the biggest laughs was spoiled in the trailers and commercials for the film (Mullins asking “What’s gonna come popping out?” when she learns what Spanx are for). However, that scene is so much more than just one punch line. When Mullins tells Ashburn to ventilate the area usually covered by her Spanx, I couldn’t breathe because I was laughing so hard. It’s a kind of humor that appeals to women because we can relate and I’d think appeals to men as well because McCarthy and Bullock’s delivery is just so good. And once the women leave the bathroom and go back into the club, it’s physical comedy gold. Watching Bullock try to seduce the suspect while McCarthy yells out encouragement (“Use your boobs!”) was hilarious, and I loved watching them try to get rid of one woman who kept trying to get herself in the middle of their seduction attempt.

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