Discovering Euphoria: 2019 in Review

the good place

Source: avclub.com

“If there were an answer I could give you to how the universe works, it wouldn’t be special. It would just be machinery fulfilling its cosmic design. It would just be a big, dumb food processor. But since nothing seems to make sense, when you find something or someone that does, it’s euphoria.”

When I think back on 2019, I’ll think of this quote from The Good Place. At many points this year, things—personally, professionally, and in even in my fangirl life—didn’t seem to make sense. This was a challenging year on a lot of levels for me and for a lot of people I know—and even a lot of people I know only through this wonderful world of fandom. But through it all, one of the best and most beautiful things about it were those brief moments when something clicked—when something finally made sense and the pieces fell into place and for just one moment it was euphoria.

Looking at my favorite pieces of media this year, they’re all connected by that thread—moments of euphoria amidst the pandemonium. As I searched for meaning in the chaos of my own life, I found comfort, catharsis, and so much joy in watching fictional characters do the same.

It began with The Good Place—the show that gave us those beautiful words about our search for meaning and where we find it. There’s no more perfect show for this current moment in our world because it never tells us that life is supposed to be painless or that being a good person is easy. It acknowledges that life can be hard and hope can feel a million miles away and happiness can be fleeting. But it also reminds us that the important thing is to never stop trying to make things a little better for your fellow human beings. That’s how we find euphoria—in connecting with others, for a moment or for eternity. And maybe—just maybe—those connections—that love—can be the thing that saves us all.

There’s no message more brazenly, bravely, beautifully hopeful than that.

And almost every other piece of media I loved this year followed in those footsteps—reminding me that there’s hope to be found in moments when we feel truly understood and accepted—by others or even by ourselves.

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Never Really Gone: The View from the End of the Skywalker Saga

 

SW logo

No matter how much we fought, I always hated watching you leave.

This is it. The end of the Skywalker Saga is upon us. On Thursday night (or sometime before if you’re lucky or after if you’ve got the patience or willpower of a saint), we’ll be watching the story that’s shaped so many of our lives leave us. And just like Leia and Han in The Force Awakens, when the time for that final farewell comes, I know I won’t be thinking about any parts of the story that disappointed me or didn’t turn out like I’d hoped. Instead, I’ll be thinking about the good stuff—because there was so much good stuff.

Star Wars has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I was barely out of kindergarten when I was pretending to escape the Death Star on the playground with my cousins. Return of the Jedi was my comfort movie on many sick days in elementary school, and The Empire Strikes Back was pretty much my signal that puberty started when I watched it basically every day the summer I turned 13. (No teenage girl hormones can resist Harrison Ford in his prime.) I asked for Star Wars Trivial Pursuit for Christmas (but no one would play with me because I knew all the answers). I saw both Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith multiple times in theaters. I subscribed to Star Wars magazines.

And it was one of those magazines that ultimately brought me to the fangirl life I now proudly live—in a way that’s very strongly connected to the trilogy that’s about to end this week.

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I’m Off the Deep End (Watch as I Obsessively Talk About Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga)

“We’re far from the shallow now…”

There was nothing shallow about Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s performance of their Oscar-winning, Grammy-winning, and everything-else-winning hit from A Star Is Born. In fact, in an Oscar telecast filled with a surprising number of high points (Olivia Colman! Melissa McCarthy covered in rabbits! Women winning so many things! Spike Lee climbing Samuel L. Jackson like a tree!) their breathtaking take on the instant-classic “Shallow” might have been the moment with the most depth—or at least the moment people rewound the most to make sure they caught every last detail.

And there were some magical details to catch. From the way Gaga seemed to hold her breath as he sang and their ridiculously intense eye contact to his smile as she sang and that final intimate chorus that launched a thousand tweets, it seems people can’t get enough of them and their performance (myself included).

So what made this moment so special? Why can’t we stop talking and tweeting about it?

It felt real. Even if these are two actors who are both talented enough to be nominated for Oscars. Even if they’re just good friends (who like to look into each other’s eyes for so long it seems they’re trying to break some kind of record). The intimacy they created on that stage felt real, and sometimes what we feel matters more to us than the facts.

What I felt—more than anything else—was the best kind of vulnerability from both of them, and that’s where real intimacy comes from. Cooper has talked often about being unable to hide when you sing, and that was certainly true in this performance. From the minimal staging to the soft lighting and even the lack of introduction and stripped down arrangement, the moment was all about the two people sharing it and nothing else. Which isn’t an easy thing for an actor who didn’t sing before doing this movie and for a singer who’s used to hiding behind a persona when she takes the stage. All they had was each other and a piano, and that proved to be more than enough.

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Nerdy Girl Predicts: The 2019 Oscars

Oscars

Source: MentalFloss.com

I love the Oscars. I know they don’t always award—or even nominate—the right people and films. I know they have plenty of problems with diversity and inclusion and accepting new visions of what filmmaking can be. I know this year’s race and ceremony in particular have been a hot mess of controversy, bad decisions, and backpedaling.

So why is Oscar Sunday still one of my favorite days of the year?

It’s simple: I love movies, and Oscar Sunday is a day people set aside to celebrate movies. It’s a day to unabashedly and unashamedly care about movies. It’s a day to proudly be passionate about film. And for me, it’s even more special this year because this year rekindled my passion for film in a way I wasn’t expecting and yet in a way I desperately needed.

With the end of many of the TV shows that had been part of my life for so long, I found myself lost as a fangirl without a home. But then movies came back into my life, and they helped me find a part of myself that I lost when my enthusiasm for film waned in my 20s. I saw so many movies this year—including all but one of the year’s Best Picture nominees. (Sorry, Vice.) And in those hours spent in darkened theaters and on my couch, I remembered what it feels like to become completely transported and transformed by a movie. It’s unlike any other media experience you can have, and it brought the purest kind of joy into my life when I needed it most.

So no matter how mad I may be that Bradley Cooper was snubbed for a Best Director nomination or how annoyed I may be with all the changes—and then weird retractions of changes—to the ceremony itself, I haven’t been this excited about the Oscars since I was 17 years old and still dreaming of being a film critic. I’m more educated about these races than I’ve ever been. (Thanks in no small part to Collider’s amazing For Your Consideration videos, which I have watched religiously for months and have come to see as true bright spots of movie nerd enthusiasm in my life.) And I can’t wait to share my predictions with you this year because they come from a place of deep analysis and also genuine fangirl love, which is what NGN is all about.

I hope you share your picks for the night’s winners in the comments because I’m ready to start talking more about film around here! And as always, I’ll be live tweeting all the night’s festivities starting with the red carpet at 6 p.m. EST, so follow along on Twitter if you want to see my emotional breakdown over Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga singing “Shallow” in real time.

Without further ado, here are my picks for the winners in every category tonight (I tried to keep my thoughts short since I also added analysis for every category this year—not just the big ones)!

Picture
My Pick: Roma
My Thoughts: This is the most wide-open Best Picture race in years, and I think at least 5 of the 8 nominees have realistic chances to take home the win, especially with the preferential ballot system (which awards films that many people like rather than films that a smaller group love). Although my heart belongs to A Star Is Born, I’d love to see Black Panther break new ground with a win, and there’s plenty of support behind Green Book to make it possibly even the favorite at this point, I still think Roma is going to take home the night’s big prize. Roma is a gorgeous film that affirms the universality of themes like family, trauma, loss, and the strength of women while being stylistically in a class of its own. A win for Roma wouldn’t just be a win for a beautiful, unique movie, it would send a message about the stories we have in common being more important than the things that people want to use to divide us.

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Nerdy Girl Predicts: The 2019 Golden Globes

golden globes

It’s been a while (five years, to be exact!) since I’ve predicted the Golden Globes around these parts, but I’m back and ready to talk about my favorite awards show! The Golden Globes are the kickoff party for awards season—one of my favorite times of the year. They’re typically more fun than your average award show, feature memorable speeches, and celebrate both TV and film—the two great loves of my life. They’re also famously full of surprises and are notoriously hard to predict, which is exciting for the fangirl in me but challenging for the perfectionist who always wants to get as many picks right as possible.

Despite how hard it is to play the Golden Globes guessing game, I couldn’t resist making my predictions public this year when I have so many horses in this race. From the last chance for one of my favorite television shows of all time to the movie I loved this year more than any other, I haven’t been this emotionally invested in the entirety of an awards show in a long time. So if you want to see the multiple emotional meltdowns that are sure to occur in real time, I’ll be live tweeting the festivities starting at 6 p.m. EST tonight.

Until then, here are my predictions for what’s sure to be another memorable and surprising Golden Globes ceremony. Don’t forget to share your picks in the comments!

FILM
Best Motion Picture: Drama
My Pick: A Star Is Born
My Thoughts: If there’s one thing the HFPA seems to love, it’s star power. This film had that and more. It was a fresh but faithful take on a beloved Hollywood story, the debut of an actor-turned-director (another thing the Globes often honor), and a showcase for one of the biggest stars of the moment: Lady Gaga. A Star Is Born is a film with the kind of mass appeal and genuine artistry to take home the night’s biggest film award, and my intense devotion to its sincere storytelling means I’ll be crying happy tears on my couch if this prediction comes true.

Best Motion Picture: Musical or Comedy
My Pick: Green Book
My Thoughts: This category seems a bit more wide open than its dramatic counterpart. Although both Black Panther and BlacKkKlansman pose a bit of a threat to A Star Is Born, that’s remained the frontrunner, while the comedy/musical category has many options that all make strong cases for consideration. Despite my deep love for Mary Poppins Returns, I think Green Book has the kind of broad support and critical acclaim that will give it the edge. The Favourite is another strong possibility, but I think Green Book is the kind of feel-good, crowd-pleasing “comedy” that voters will want to reward at the Globes.

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NGN’s Best of 2018: TV, Movies, and More

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

As 2018 draws to a close, it’s time once again to highlight the best of pop culture from this year. In previous years, I’ve stuck to television, but one of my goals for 2018 was to expose myself to more of a variety of media, so I watched more movies and read more books than I have in the past. That, coupled with a slight dip in the amount (and, frankly, the quality) of TV I watched this year inspired me to expand my year in review post to include movies, books, and sports in addition to television. I also hope this inspires you to share all of you favorite media from 2018, because one of the best things about these posts over the years has been all the wonderful recommendations I’ve been given in the comments. (I never would have fallen in love with The Americans without my NGN Family championing it in these posts years ago.)

Looking back on this year in media, it’s no surprise that so many of my favorite things revolved around female characters. The books, movies, and TV I loved this year almost unanimously dealt with women learning to define themselves on their own terms as brave, strong, and—most importantly—kind people. The media I gravitated toward this year often celebrated a kind of radical goodness—a message of light pushing back against the darkness, of love surviving even the most painful things life can throw at us, and of hope existing in that quiet corner of our souls that allows us to keep getting up when everything around us seems determined to keep us pinned down. This year in media taught me that we all have choices to make and those choices determine who we are. And when we choose to believe in ourselves and our capacity to love—that’s when we become our best selves. That’s the message I’m taking into 2019, and what an empowering message it is.

Without further ado, let’s take a closer look at my favorite television, movies, and more in 2018!

Television

the-americans-episode-607-harvest-promotional-photos

Source: spoilertv.com

Best Show (Drama): The Americans
The Americans changed me in ways I never could have expected when I first started watching it. It changed me as a writer; it changed me as a TV viewer. It forced me to look more closely and think more deeply about the media I consumed, and it challenged me every week to find the words to talk about its brilliance with others. Although I was sad to see it end this year, I couldn’t have asked for a better final season for what I consider the best show I’ve ever watched. The Americans was always a show about marriage and family above everything else, and this final season reinforced that in the most surprising and impressive ways imaginable as it built to a finale that was all about letting your children leave you behind as they grow. From “Don’t Dream It’s Over” to “With or Without You,” this season took us on a journey of self-definition for nearly every character that ended in a way I don’t think anyone expected. Along the way, it gave us heart-stopping chase scenes, romantic axe mutilations, line dancing, and a moment that will go down in TV history simply as “the parking garage scene.” With everyone in the cast turning in top-notch performances and masterful moments of silence balanced by lines that cut like a dagger (“You’re a whore!”), The Americans turned in one of television’s most complex and unique final seasons by staying true to itself until the very end.

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“But I Won’t Feel Blue”: The Case for Purposeful Fluff

Mamma Mia

When my friend asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday later this month, I told her all I really wanted was go to brunch and see Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again—for the third time since it came out last week.

Why the sudden, overwhelming interest in sitting in a movie theater and watching a bunch of actors sing ABBA songs? Is it the gorgeous Grecian landscapes? The spunky choreography? The presence of icons like Christine Baranski, Meryl Streep, and Cher?

All of those things have contributed to my latest pop culture obsession (especially Cher), but my love for Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again goes beyond my love for catchy pop songs and iconic actresses.

I love this movie because it’s happy. It exists to do nothing other than make you leave the movie theater feeling better than you did when you went in. And in a world where it can be really hard to feel good most days, that’s a downright heroic mission statement.

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Nerdy Girl Predicts: The 2018 Oscars

Oscars

Source: MentalFloss.com

Oscar Sunday has been a special day for me since I was a little kid. I’ve always loved movies, so the Oscars and all their pomp and circumstance and glamour have always drawn me to my couch to marvel at the gorgeous gowns, cheer when my favorites finally win, and loudly complain when other favorites are snubbed.

Although the Oscars can sometimes be frustrating to watch and we all know the best movies and performances don’t always win, my desire to watch them from an educated perspective taught me so much about film—especially in my teens. I used to try to watch every Best Picture nominee in a given year (which was much easier when there were only five), and that broadened my understanding of what movies could be and how they could make me feel by introducing me to movies I might never have seen without Oscar nominations behind them. (I’m looking at you, Brokeback Mountain, The Social Network, Slumdog Millionaire, and Revolutionary Road.)

In recent years, I was lucky to see one or maybe two Oscar contenders, but this year, I made a point of seeing as many as I could, and in the process, I fell back in love with movies and how much life-affirming beauty can be found in the hours spent in a darkened theater. So I wanted to come back to these predictions after four years off because I have a stronger sense of the year’s biggest contenders than I’ve had in a while. I hope you’ll share your own predictions with me in the comments and join me on Twitter for all the fun starting with my annual live tweeting of the red carpet at 6 p.m. EST!

Without further ado, let the predicting begin!

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My Pick: The Shape of Water
My Thoughts: This is such a wide-open category this year, but I can’t pick against the magic of this movie. Some movies are simply works of art—like paintings come to life—and The Shape of Water is one of those movies. I can’t stop thinking about this movie as a whole, but what’s so special and unique about it is the way certain shots have gotten under my skin and become unforgettable to me not because they were disturbing or shocking or upsetting, but because they were so beautiful. Everything about this film was beautiful—its score, its cinematography, its color palette, its performances (I will sing the praises of Richard Jenkins in this film until the end of time.), and its message that love (even the strangest, most unexpected kind of love) can conquer all. This is a movie about a group of outcasts and outsiders coming together, and it’s also a movie that speaks to the power of cinema to inspire, which we all know Oscar voters love. It’s a love letter to movies, and it’s a creative love story unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. While I wouldn’t mind seeing Lady Bird or Get Out pull a shocking upset, I think this will be a case where the film with the most nominations takes home the big prize.

Director
My Pick: Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water)
My Thoughts: The creativity, care, and unique perspective del Toro brought to this film took my breath away. Every part of the film was touched by del Toro’s ability to balance the gritty and dark realities of life in the real world with the magic of the movies. This is his masterpiece, and I hope it earns this visionary a well-deserved Oscar.

Actress
My Pick: Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
My Thoughts: Although I feel like you can never count out Meryl Streep and Saoirse Ronan gave my favorite performance among the nominees this year, McDormand’s fierce and fearless work makes her one of the night’s few sure bets. Her ability to use seething silences to portray the overwhelming anger of grief in a way few actors are brave enough to touch made Three Billboards work, and I can’t see anyone else upsetting what’s essentially been a one-horse race since early on in awards season.

Actor
My Pick: Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)
My Thoughts: The Oscars love a good makeover, and no one changed their appearance for a role more than Oldman did this year. Although I didn’t see Darkest Hour so I can’t offer a truly informed opinion, I think picking with crowd is the way to go on this one. However, part of me is really hoping for a Daniel Kaluuya upset.

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NGN’s Best of 2017: Reasons to Hope

the good place

Source: avclub.com

One woman, standing in the middle of no man’s land with only a shield and an unshakeable sense of purpose, drawing all the fire to protect those who cannot fight for themselves.

One woman, staring down certain death with steel in her eyes, deciding to sacrifice herself to save the people and the cause she believes in with everything she has.

Two sisters, coming together despite their differences, finally executing the man who caused them, their family, and their home so much loss.

A mother and daughter, training together in a garage, learning what it means to never feel like a victim again.

A team, finding their strengths in the wrestling ring, using their bodies for themselves and not for anyone else.

A group of mothers, putting aside the things they believed divided them, acting as a force of nature to make sure an abuser never lays a hand on his victims again.

When I looked back on my favorite media moments of the year, one theme emerged loud and clear: This was a year that so many pieces of media—from prestige TV dramas to big-budget blockbusters—let women be their own heroes. This was the year that women teamed up, fought back, and found strength in themselves and in their relationships with one another.

This was the year female characters said “No more.” No more pushing us to the background. No more telling us people don’t care about our stories because of our gender, our race, our sexuality, or our age. No more trying to divide us or painting us as each other’s enemies. No more abuse. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this was also the year more women than ever before started to say “No more” in real life, too.

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Hope and Heroism in The Last Jedi

last jedi poster

Source: StarWars.com

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD! PROCEED WITH CAUTION! 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is many things. It’s surprising. It’s emotional. It’s visually stunning. It’s challenging. And at its heart, it’s deeply, profoundly, and unashamedly hopeful.

Star Wars has always been a story about hope—who embodies it, how it spreads, and what happens to those who lose it. In this way, it’s perhaps our most cherished piece of uniquely American mythology. For generations now, people have seen reflections of our collective national fears and aspirations in this saga, and they’ve found hope in this story that has now been passed on for more than 40 years. And that’s what myths are. They’re the stories we tell ourselves to get through the darkest nights, to inspire us to keep going, and to help us believe that heroes exist and maybe even exist inside of us.

In the eyes of some people, The Last Jedi takes that mythology and smashes it—making heroes fall and hope shrink. However, those eyes are trained on the past, and The Last Jedi is a story about the past giving way to the future and old heroes passing the torch to new ones. It doesn’t destroy the Star Wars mythology that’s been passed down since 1977; it expands it. And in doing so, it provides us with a new message of hope that is deeply important for the world we’re living in:

You don’t have to look like a traditional hero to be a hero. You don’t have to be born into greatness to do great things. Your worth isn’t determined by other people’s expectations; every person has value, and everyone’s journey can be a hero’s journey.

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