Right in the Feels: Anna Does “The Next Right Thing” in Frozen 2

I’ve seen dark before
But not like this
This is cold
This is empty
This is numb
The life I knew is over
The lights are out
Hello, darkness
I’m ready to succumb…

This moment in Frozen 2—as Anna finds herself trapped in a cave and totally alone after watching Olaf disintegrate and realizing that meant something horrible had happened to Elsa—isn’t for kids. In fact, when I saw Frozen 2 in theaters on its opening night back in 2019, I remember hearing lots of tiny sniffles as Olaf turned to snowflakes and thinking that this was going to traumatize a heck of a lot of children for years to come.

Luckily, the trauma is short-lived—this is a Disney movie, after all (and not Bambi). But as with all emotionally compelling media, the point isn’t that we know Elsa and Olaf are most likely going to be fine because we know how these movies work. The point is that Anna doesn’t know this. And she’s written so well—and her moment of grief is written so well—that we’re able to suspend our disbelief as if we’re right in that cave with her, trying to figure out how to survive in a world that’s suddenly changed beyond recognition.

Trying to figure out if we want to survive in a world that’s suddenly changed beyond recognition.

It doesn’t seem like a moment Anna should have. She’s the perky princess who sees the good in everyone. She’s the ray of sunshine to her sister’s ice and snow. She always has a smile, always tries to find the bright side, and always seems to make the best of a bad situation (see her entire childhood and adolescence kept locked away in a castle without even her sister to talk to). She’s a woman of action, never giving up—even in the craziest of circumstances.

But that’s exactly why it matters.

Because grief and depression are things that can affect anyone. And the idea that “happy” people can’t be depressed, extroverted people can’t be lonely, and take-charge people can’t be immobilized by grief does so much damage to people who are suffering but feel they have to do so in silence because struggling doesn’t fit their personality—that no one would believe them if they said they feel like they can’t keep going because they’ve always kept going through whatever else life has thrown at them.

Anna—one of the most popular Disney princesses in the most popular Disney animated franchise—is so consumed by her grief that she can’t see a reason to keep going. If she stays in that dark and isolated cave—the physical representation of depression—she’s going to die in there. And for a moment, things seem so bad and she feels so hopeless that she seriously considers it.

It’s an important moment for kids to witness—even if they’re hopefully too young to understand what she’s describing. Because they’re going to internalize the message that sometimes even the brightest people feel the darkness pressing in, that there’s no shame in struggling with loss or sadness—no matter who you are or what your life looks like on the outside—and that they’re not alone if they ever start to feel that way as they grow up. Because even Princess Anna felt hopeless and lost once too.

And they’re also going to internalize the message that there’s a way out of that darkness if they ever feel stuck in it.

Do the next right thing.

They may be 5 small words, but they’ve left a big impact on so many people.

People like me.

Do the next right thing.

Late at night last week, I had a panic attack in the shower. It was exhausting and awful, and one of the few things I remember from those moments of shaking and crying and feeling like I was drowning was saying out loud in between sobs, “I just don’t know what to do.”

I have a tendency to spiral when I’m left alone with my own thoughts for too long. That’s always been true. My thoughts race ahead faster than an Olympic track star, and they tend to go in circles like one too. I’m someone who likes to always have the right answer, but lately I’ve been grappling with some big questions that don’t seem to have one. I’m someone who believes in listening to her gut, but lately I’ve been having a hard time hearing it—or maybe it’s more that I’ve been having a hard time accepting and acting on what it’s been telling me.

But in that moment—when I was at my lowest—I could hear it loud and clear:

Do the next right thing.

There it was—the answer to maybe the biggest question.

What do I do?

Do the next right thing.

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week: Chloe Zhao and the Triumph of Goodness

Chloe Zhao is everything I want to be—and not just because she’s a fanfic writer who’s become an Oscar winner.

She’s unapologetically herself. Her words, her work, and her style speak to a woman who knows who she is and shows that to the world without hesitation.

And who is she?

She’s a believer.

When she accepted her much-deserved Oscar for Best Director for Nomadland on Sunday night (making her only the second woman and first woman of color to earn this award—please let this pave the way for more female filmmakers!), she stood on that stage and gave us a glimpse into her soul. And in her vulnerability—her beautiful sharing of her truth—she gave voice to the very point of view that earned her this award, the thing that made Nomadland so unique in the sea of sadness that makes up most of the typical awards-season contenders.

Chloe Zhao believes in people.

She believes in the truth of the words she’s carried with her since she was a little girl memorizing poems with her father: “People at birth are inherently good.”

There’s something revolutionary about hearing those words in an Oscars acceptance speech, especially for Best Director. In so many cases, Oscar-winning movies are dark and depressing, focused on the worst in humanity and the awful things we can do to one another. And while the world needs those stories—we need to confront our darkness and we need the catharsis that comes with that kind of painful storytelling—the world needs the other kinds of stories too. The ones about healing rather than hurting. The ones that are warm and gentle instead of cold and brutal. The ones about light instead of darkness.

Sometimes we still want to believe there’s goodness left in humanity.

Sometimes we still need to believe that.

(And it’s often because we still need to believe there’s goodness left in ourselves.)

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Nerdy Girl Predicts: The 2021 Oscars

Oscars

Source: MentalFloss.com

It’s been a weird year for movies. We had to watch them on couches or in bed instead of in the transportive silence of a movie theater. The screens we saw them on were smaller, the popcorn we ate with them didn’t taste quite the same, and we often watched and processed them alone instead of being surrounded by cheering, gasping, and crying fans and talking about them with friends as we made our way through a darkened parking lot, forever changed by what we experienced inside that movie theater.

It’s been a weird year—but that doesn’t mean it was a lost one.

It was different—but different doesn’t always have to be bad.

Even though I missed movie theaters more than most places during the last year, I still got to watch a lot of great movies. I still managed to watch all of this year’s Best Picture contenders, and I’m still excited for tonight’s Oscars ceremony.

The date may be different. The experience might not be the same. But the joy’s still there.

Today is still a day to celebrate movies. And movies still gave me a whole lot to celebrate in a long, hard, lonely year.

As I went through my Oscar ballot (with plenty of help from the wonderful folks at Collider FYC), I was struck by just how much movies—and a lot of these movies in particular—helped me work through the emotions that came along with this year. Whether it was the way Promising Young Woman helped me process my anger, the way Nomadland gave me language to talk about grief, the way Judas and the Black Messiah gave me the space to cry about injustice, the way Minari gave me a moment of peace and beauty while still acknowledging that life is hard, or the way Sound of Metal made me feel okay about grieving experiences and parts of myself, so many of these movies spoke to the common human experience of grief and how we work through it. And that was exactly what I needed to see this year—stories of heartbreak but also, in so many of these movies, stories of hope, of lights at the ends of long tunnels that we sometimes have to light ourselves.

So even though I picked my favorites below, I want this post to serve as a celebration of all the movies that made us feel exactly what we needed to feel in a year when we all needed catharsis perhaps more than ever.

Today is a good day. And no matter who wins any of these awards, tonight is going to be a good night.

It’s been a weird year—for movies and for everything else.

But there’s still joy to be found. There are still things to celebrate.

And today, I’m choosing joy.

Picture
My Pick: Nomadland
My Thoughts: Some years, the Best Picture race is tight up until the very end. This is not one of those years. With critics’ groups wins, film festival accolades, and plenty of other precursors all lined up, it seems Nomadland is a pretty sure thing to take home the biggest award of the night. And I can’t think of a more deserving frontrunner. This film is beautiful—what could have been a gritty look at a difficult lifestyle is instead a tribute to the beauty of the open road and the possibility and freedom it symbolizes. But it’s also a tribute to the power of community. From the outside, this looks like a film about one woman, but it’s actually about the fact that this one woman is part of a family she has found and made for herself—and how no one could survive a nomadic life without the support, love, and care their community provides for them. It’s a film about contrasts—the splendor of America’s landscape versus the brutality of America’s economic system; the darkness of grief versus the soft light of hope; isolation versus community; families you’re born into versus families you choose. And the way this movie weaves seamlessly between all those contrasts with empathy and a uniquely gentle touch made it unlike anything else I watched this year—in the best possible way.

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“The Truth Is Enough”: Wonder Woman 1984 and the Cost of Perfectionism

wonder-woman-1984-columns-e1605234040302

This world was a beautiful place just as it was. And you cannot have it all. You can only have the truth. And the truth is enough. The truth is beautiful”.

Wonder Woman 1984 is a flashy homage to 1980s superhero movies. It’s a love story. It’s a story about grief. It’s a story about family. It’s a story about the need for people to collectively choose the greater good over their own selfish desires.

That’s the beauty of an effective piece of media. It can mean something different to every person who interacts with it.

For me, Wonder Woman 1984 is a story about perfectionism.

It’s a story about what we lose when we chase the facade of a perfect life instead of standing in our truth and loving our lives—and ourselves—for all of the messy imperfections, losses, and struggles that make us who we are.

The plot of this film is based around three wishes: Max Lord’s wish for unlimited power, Barbara Minerva’s wish to be special, and Diana’s wish for her love, Steve Trevor, to return to her. Each of these wishes is made (not always knowingly) out of each character’s belief that their lives would be perfect—that the cracks in them left by trauma and loneliness and loss would be filled—if they could just have that one thing.

As Max says, “You can have it all. You just have to want it.”

For a moment, we get to see these characters having it all. We get to see Max turning his facade of power and prestige into reality. We get to see Barbara turning heads and charming crowds. And we get to see Diana gloriously, deliriously happy with Steve.

It’s perfect. Max gets his revenge on the businesspeople who doubted him and embarrassed him in front of his son. Barbara gets the attention she’s always craved—and the power to handle herself when that attention turns violent. And Diana gets to have Steve in her life—and her bed (or, more specifically, his futon)—again, eating breakfast and going to work the way he’d told her about all those decades ago. This is what perfection looks like for these characters; this is what they’ve always thought their lives were missing. This is what they saw in their mind’s eye when they looked with secret envy at successful oil magnates and confident coworkers and happy couples.

But what does it cost them?

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How Movies Got Me Through 2020

Happy New Year, fellow nerds! This is the third and final post in a series wrapping up a different year in a different way. I’ve been recapping my year in media not through traditional “Best of” lists but instead through snapshots of how my relationships with TV, books, and movies reflected my journey through 2020. If you’re looking for great “Best of 2020” content, I highly recommend heading over to Marvelous Geeks and TVexamined for their lists and listening to the 2-part podcast I recorded with the wonderful women behind those two sites, where we recapped our TV favorites from this year. Since this post is going live on New Year’s Eve, I want to wish you all a happy, safe, and healthy start to 2021. May we all find brighter days in the coming year!

I’m not sure how to talk about movies this year.

Movies got me through 2018. And 2019. And I was ready for them to get me through 2020. In a string of years that featured major work stress, family health issues, and personal struggles, movies were my saving grace. When I stepped into a movie theater, I could forget about my own life for a couple of hours and become enveloped by a story that was all-encompassing. And when I stepped back out into the world, the world felt different. It felt brighter. It felt lighter. It felt bigger than me and my problems.

Then, a pandemic happened. And my world suddenly shrank to the four walls of my house and the often claustrophobic confines of my anxiety-ridden brain. The world felt so much smaller—suffocating and smothering.

And when it felt that way, I found myself missing movies, missing the ability to walk into a dark room and go somewhere else—anywhere else—and emerge from that journey feeling better than I did before the previews began.

I found myself missing the shared joy of a New Year’s Day family excursion to see The Rise of Skywalker, the excitement of taking myself to a Saturday matinee of Parasite, the emotional journey of Onward turning out to be nothing like I expected—in the best possible way.

I started 2020 on a movie fan high—seeing every Best Picture Oscar nominee before the ceremony for the first time in more than a decade. I was going to the movies by myself more often—relishing the sense of independence it gave me and the deeply personal, almost spiritual, experience that’s the closest thing I get to church (outside of church itself). I was making plans with friends and family to see a long lineup of great movies that were set to open this year.

And then it all stopped.

Of course I still watched movies. I enjoyed the lush beauty of Emma. I found Disney’s new take on Mulan to be thrilling and gorgeous to look at. I rewatched a lot of Star Wars movies and took comfort in animated favorites.

But it didn’t feel the same.

My couch is comfortable, and my TV screen is big. I’ve watched plenty of new movies at home before. But it never feels the same as a trip to the theater.

The phone rings. People walk into the room to talk. The siren song of Twitter and Instagram is so close. The lights are too bright, and the popcorn never tastes exactly the same.

So for a long time, I didn’t watch any movies. And I could feel my world getting smaller—and my problems feeling bigger—as a result.

It took until Christmas Day—and two miraculous movies—for that to start to change.

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Nerdy Girl Predicts: The 2020 Oscars

 

Oscars

Source: MentalFloss.com

This is a special Academy Awards for me. For the first time since I was 17 years old—and the first time since they expanded the field of nominees beyond five—I watched all of the films nominated for Best Picture before the Oscars telecast. I feel more educated about the nominees and in a better position to share my opinions than ever before. But my knowledge of this year’s nominees is only part of the reason why I can’t wait to celebrate this year in film.

In a lot of ways, movies got me through this past year. This was a year of health scares, work woes, and high anxiety, and in the midst of it all, I turned to the movies. I laughed through Booksmart and Jojo Rabbit, I cried through Avengers: Endgame and The Rise of Skywalker, I hung on for every twist and turn in Parasite and Knives Out, and I was inspired by brilliant performances like Adam Driver’s in Marriage Story, Charlize Theron’s in Bombshell, and Robert De Niro’s in The Irishman. I saw movies with friends and family, and I also embraced the simple pleasure of seeing a movie by myself. I read more reviews, I talked more analytically with fellow movie fans, and I once again followed the ups and downs of award season with the good folks at Collider FYC. In a year when I needed moments of calm in the chaos of life, I returned to one of my oldest and most cherished happy places: the popcorn-scented, peacefully dark, transportive movie theater. And in doing so, I found the escapism that has always helped me walk away from the rolling credits of a movie a little lighter and a little less burdened by life’s trials than I was before the title card appeared.

So when I curl up on the couch with my favorite people and my favorite food to watch my favorite awards show, I won’t just be celebrating my favorite movies this year. I’ll be celebrating the version of myself that I am when I watch movies and the million ways both big and small that these stories helped me, healed me, and gave me hope. And while I might be sad when my favorites inevitably lose or when my predictions turn out wrong and while I’ll always be bitter that Greta Gerwig wasn’t nominated for Best Director and Jennifer Lopez was snubbed for one of the best performances of the year, Oscar Sunday is still one of the best days of the year. It’s a day to remember what movies mean to us, and this year, they meant everything to me.

Without further ado, let’s make some predictions! I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about most of the races this year, but I’ll try to keep my analysis brief—this is a big ballot to get through!

Picture
My Pick: 1917
My Thoughts: I love when the last category of the night is still up in the air in the days, hours, and even minutes before it’s announced, and that’s certainly true this year. Throughout award season, it’s never felt like this category was any single movie’s to lose, and that’s still true, even though 1917 seems like the safest best and surest thing at this point. It has all the requisite precursors and positive industry buzz, it’s a war film (The Academy loves those.), and it’s a truly impressive technical achievement. It did something groundbreaking with its single-take technique in such a large-scale film, making this tale of World War I feel immediate, visceral, and inescapable. And despite some claims that it’s all style and no substance, I found the performances of the two leads to be utterly captivating and its unflinching look at a war that’s not often the subject of major movies (Wonder Woman notwithstanding) heartbreaking at times and surprisingly hopeful at others. While I wouldn’t rule out the Parasite victory it seems so many are hoping for or the Jojo Rabbit upset that would truly thrill me, I still think they both have too much working against them to dethrone 1917. (For Parasite, it’s the fact that it’s going to win Best International Feature, and I don’t know if voters will want to give it two “Best Picture” wins in one night. For Jojo Rabbit, I don’t think some people can get past the satirical treatment of the subject matter.) I enjoyed 1917, and while I’m still hoping for a surprise, I do think it’s a worthy winner should voters choose to play it safe.

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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)!

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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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