Flower Crowns and Revolutionaries

Nicole's Personal Film Awards

In honor of the Oscars, I thought that I would share my own personal film awards. I thought about calling them The Gretas, but wasn't sure if that was too on the nose. I decided to do a combination of the traditional "above-the-line" Oscar categories and some more creative awards that are all my own. There are still a handful of 2019 films that I want to see ("Official Secrets" and "The Lighthouse" are at the top of my list), but I didn't want to hold off on posting these forever.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Laura Dern, Little Women
Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers
Billie Lourd, Booksmart
Florence Pugh, Little Women (WINNER) 
Zhao Shuzhen, The Farewell

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Timothée Chalamet, Little Women
Chris Evans, Knives Out
Shia LaBeouf, Honey Boy
Rob Morgan, Just Mercy (WINNER)
Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit

Best Actress in a Leading Role
Ana de Armas, Knives Out
Awkwafina, The Farewell
Scarlett Johannson, Marriage Story
Saoirse Ronan, Little Women (WINNER)
Tessa Thompson, Little Woods

Best Actor in a Leading Role
Timothée Chalamet, The King
Roman Griffin Davis, Jojo Rabbit
Adam Driver, Marriage Story (WINNER)
Taron Egerton, Rocketman
George McKay, 1917

Best Adapted Screenplay
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Jojo Rabbit
Just Mercy
Little Women (WINNER)
The Two Popes

Best Original Screenplay
Knives Out (WINNER)
Marriage Story
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
The Farewell

Film that Made Me Cry the Most
Avengers: Endgame
Frozen II
Just Mercy
Little Women (WINNER)
The Farewell

Film that Made Me Laugh the Most
Downton Abbey
Jojo Rabbit
Knives Out (WINNER)
Marriage Story

Actor Who Showed the Most Range Across Projects
Timothée Chalamet (The King, Little Women)
Laura Dern (Marriage Story, Little Women)
Adam Driver (Marriage Story, The Report, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker)
Scarlett Johannson (Avengers: Endgame, Jojo Rabbit, Marriage Story) (WINNER)
Florence Pugh (Midsommar, Fighting with My Family, Little Women)

Best Overlooked Film
All is True
Blinded by the Light
Just Mercy (WINNER)
Little Woods
The King

Most Rewatchable Film
Blinded by the Light
Downton Abbey
Little Women
Spider-Man: Far from Home
Yesterday (WINNER)

Best Ensemble 
Downton Abbey
Jojo Rabbit
Knives Out
Little Women (WINNER)

Best Tiny Role
Alan Alda, Marriage Story
Noah Galvin, Booksmart
Jayne Houdyshell, Little Women
Keanu Reeves, Always Be My Maybe
Andrew Scott, 1917 (WINNER)

Best Design
Downton Abbey
Knives Out
Little Women
Rocketman (WINNER)

Best Transformation
Taron Egerton, Rocketman (WINNER)
Jamie Foxx, Just Mercy
Charlize Theron, Bombshell
Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit
Renée Zellweger, Judy

Best Youth Performance (under 21 years old)
Dean Charles Chapman, 1917 (WINNER)
Roman Griffin Davis, Jojo Rabbit
Noah Jupe, Honey Boy
Thomasin McKenzie, Jojo Rabbit
Eliza Scanlen, Little Women

Best Comic Book Movie
Avengers: Endgame (WINNER)
Captain Marvel
Spider-Man: Far from Home

Best Use of Music in a Film
Blinded by the Light
Little Women
Rocketman (WINNER)
The Two Popes

Best Director
Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story
Greta Gerwig, Little Women (WINNER)
Sam Mendes, 1917
Céline Sciamma, Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit
Lulu Wang, The Farewell

Best Picture
Jojo Rabbit
Little Women (WINNER)
Marriage Story
The Farewell

Obviously, I love "Little Women" quite a lot. What were your favorite films of 2019? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter. x

My Top Ten Shows of 2019

I saw forty-six shows in 2019, which exceeded my goal of thirty shows by far. Of course, it's not anywhere close to the amount of theatre that I saw in 2018, but New York prices are a lot higher than London prices. I saw a few West End Shows, a good number of Broadway shows, some off-Broadway and even off-off-Broadway (while reviewing for BroadwayWorld), a few US Tours, and some great theatre here in Raleigh, North Carolina.

I realized that my favorites this year are very musical heavy, with only one play featured. I did see quite a few plays, but they didn't leave as much as an impact as many of the musicals did.

And yes, I realize that I'm a bit late in sharing these as it's already February, but January seemed to fly by. Without further ado, here are my top ten shows I saw in 2019 in no particular order.

The gender-swapped London revival of "Company" was without a doubt my favorite show that I saw all year. In fact, I saw it twice in a two week period because I loved it so much. I think "Company" has some of Sondheim's best songs in it ("Marry Me a Little" is my personal favorite) and this new production was so well-acted, well-designed, and well-directed by visionary Marianne Elliot. I loved the gender-swapped version so much and I think the show works so much better centered around a woman that I never want to see a traditional production again. I'm very much looking forward to seeing the production on Broadway this spring, though my heart belongs to the London cast.

The Lightning Thief - Review
I was obsessed with the Percy Jackson books in middle school, so when I found out the tour of the musical was coming to New York, I had to go. This plucky little show far exceeded my expectations. The album is full of bops (I especially love "Good Kid" and "My Grand Plan") and Chris McCarrell was the Percy Jackson of dreams. It almost feels unfair to compare this to the horrendous movie adaptation, but I'll just say that this is the adaptation of "The Lightning Thief" that I wanted for so long.

Burn This 
Sometimes I think about how I met Adam Driver at the stage door of this play and want to pinch myself. "Burn This" is a really fascinating four-person show and while the play itself wasn't my favorite, the production was amazing. The whole cast was great, but Driver was really magnetic and I totally understand why he was nominated for a Tony for it.

This was definitely my biggest surprise of the year. I went to its very first performance in New York and it blew me away. It has one of the best and most original scores I've heard on Broadway in a while and it's one of the few movie to musical adaptations where I think the musical actually improves upon the movie. Plus, Alex Brightman and Sophia Ann Caruso are both otherworldly.

My Fair Lady - Review
I ended up seeing this show three times because I fell so head over heels for it. I loved "My Fair Lady" as a kid, but was disappointed by its sexism as an adult. Well, this beautifully designed production definitely subtly updates it for a modern audience and Laura Benanti's strong Eliza is the stuff of dreams. Plus, Harry Hadden-Paton's Henry Higgins broke my heart while never losing what makes him the antagonist of this show.

In the Green 
I love a show based on a historical figure, I love a show that takes risks, and I love a show written by a woman. So "In the Green" was pretty much a perfect fit for me. This was the last show I saw in New York before I moved and it was such a perfect match for the intimate theatre at the Lincoln Center. Powerhouse Grace McLean is doing really exciting and fresh things both narratively and musically.

Hadestown - Video
Apparently I just love shows about Greek mythology? "Hadestown" is not just one of the best shows I saw in 2019, but one of the best shows I've ever seen. It's a gorgeous and moving story about Orpheus and Eurydice, Hades and Persephone. The music by Anais Mitchell is absolute perfection and the direction by Rachel Chavkin is every bit as incredible as you would expect from the woman who directed "Great Comet." Plus, Amber Gray's Persephone might be my favorite Supporting Actress performance I've ever seen.

Oklahoma - Video
If you'd told me last year that a production of "Oklahoma" would be one of my favorite shows of 2019, I would have laughed. But the recent revival completely reinvented the show, illuminating all of the faults of the characters and how the show can speak to Trump's America. The performances from the whole cast were incredible, but Patrick Vaill's Jud was truly something special. And they served cornbread and vegan chili at intermission! It doesn't get much better than that.

The Bridges of Madison County - Review
I actually didn't know much about "The Bridges of Madison County" going into it, although I knew that my mom (who went with me) liked the movie. The production by Theatre Raleigh directed by Lauren Kennedy was stunning. It absolutely blew me away both in its interesting exploration of difficult topics and the gorgeous songs crafted by Jason Robert Brown. The costumes were great and the whole cast (especially Janine DiVita) were spectacular.

Ragtime - Review
"Ragtime" has been one of my favorite shows since I saw it at Elon University my freshman year. It was very exciting to get to see it done by a local theatre company with a fellow Elon alum as Coalhouse Walker Jr. The production was a really interesting updated version that showcased how relevant it is to our country's politics right now.

What are your favorite shows you saw in 2019? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter. x

My 2019 Oscar Predictions

Can you believe that the Oscars are this Sunday? With this shorter season and the earlier ceremony date, it's felt like time has just flown by. I'm very excited to watch them, especially as some of my favorite people (Taika Waititi! Mark Ruffalo! Oscar Isaac!) are presenting. How do you all feel about not having a host again this year?

You'll be able to find my full predictions, along with the rest of the team's on the Next Best Picture post, but I wanted to share them here as well. If you want to hear why I've chosen these, you can check out our predictions podcast. I'm definitely not sure that I'm right....but these are what I've gone with.

Best Picture
Prediction: 1917
Alternate: Parasite

Best Director
Prediction: Sam Mendes, 1917
Alternate: Bong Joon-ho, Parasite

Best Actor
Prediction: Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
Alternate: Adam Driver, Marriage Story

Best Actress
Prediction: Renée Zellwegger, Judy
Alternate: Saoirse Ronan, Little Women

Best Supporting Actor
Prediction: Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Alternate: Joe Pesci, The Irishman

Best Supporting Actress
Prediction: Laura Dern, Marriage Story
Alternate: Florence Pugh, Little Women

Best Adapted Screenplay
Prediction: Little Women
Alternate: Jojo Rabbit

Best Original Screenplay
Prediction: Parasite
Alternate: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Cinematography
Prediction: 1917
Alternate: Joker

Best Costume Design
Prediction: Little Women
Alternate: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Film Editing
Prediction: Ford v Ferrari
Alternate: Parasite

Best Makeup and Hairstyling 
Prediction: Bombshell
Alternate: 1917

Best Production Design
Prediction: 1917
Alternate: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Sound Editing
Prediction: 1917
Alternate: Ford v. Ferrari

Best Sound Mixing
Prediction: 1917
Alternate: Ford v. Ferrari

Best Visual Effects
Prediction: 1917
Alternate: Avengers: Endgame

Best Score
Prediction: 1917
Alternate: Joker

Best Original Song
Prediction: "(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again," Rocketman
Alternate: "Stand Up," Harriet

Best Documentary Feature
Prediction: American Factory
Alternate: For Sama

Best Animated Feature
Prediction: Toy Story 4
Alternate: Klaus

Best International Film
Prediction: Parasite
Alternate: Pain & Glory

Best Animated Short
Prediction: Hair Love
Alternate: Kitbull

Best Documentary Short
Prediction: Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone
Alternate: St Louis Superman

Best Live-Action Short
Prediction: The Neighbors' Window
Alternate: Nefta Football Club

Let me know what you think will win the Oscars in the comments below or on Twitter. x

My Top 10 Albums of 2019

In past years, I've shared lists of my favorite books I've read and shows that I've seen. (My top ten shows list is coming soon, worry not.) This year, I really enjoyed listening to a lot of new music so I wanted to share some of my favorite albums. I've gotten into folk pop and indie folk music and even started using Spotify finally. (Here's one of my favorite Spotify playlists.) 

But I wanted to share some of my favorite albums that were released this year with you all. It's a mix of cast albums, movie soundtracks, EPs, and new releases from favorite artists. I've presented them here in no particular order.

Lover (Taylor Swift)
Track I have on repeat: "I Think He Knows" 
It will likely be a shock to no one to hear that Taylor Swift's latest album, "Lover," is undoubtedly my favorite album of the year. When Taylor releases a new album, it's not just new music for me to listen to; it tends to open a new era in my life. This album is really special to me because for the first time, Taylor seems so genuinely happy both in her relationship and in who she is. I'm not sure if I'm willing to relinquish "Red" as my favorite TS album, but this one is certainly close.

Beetlejuice cast album 
Track I have on repeat: "The Whole Being Dead Thing" 
I'll be talking about "Beetlejuice" more in my top shows I saw this year post, but suffice to say it was one of the biggest surprises of this year for me. Alex Brightman and Sophia Ann Caruso are easily two of the brightest talents on Broadway right now. This album captures the essence of the show really well, is perfect for singing along to, and has a couple of lyrics specifically for the recording.

Rocketman soundtrack 
Track I have on repeat: "I'm Still Standing" 
"Rocketman" was another surprise for me this year; I've always liked Elton John's music, but I loved this film. It was everything that I wanted "Bohemian Rhapsody" to be. I've actually returned to this album quite a bit. While I, of course, love hearing Elton sing his own music, I also love to hear Taron Egerton sing it. Plus...Richard Madden singing "Honky Cat." Enough said. 

Company cast album 
Track I have on repeat: "Marry Me A Little" 
As soon as I saw "Company" last January in London, I was eagerly awaiting the release of a cast album. The musical was great in its original form, but it's transcendent in this new gender-flipped production. So many of my favorite performers were in this show from Rosalie Craig to George Blagden to Jonny Bailey and it's such a treat to be able to listen to their incredible vocals over and over. I lost count of the number of times I cried while walking through the streets of New York listening to Rosalie sing "Being Alive." 

January to June (Zach Adkins) 
Track I have on repeat: "Dexter Hall" 
I love discovering newer singer-songwriters and Zach Adkins's music is something really special. Fans might know him from Broadway's "Anastasia" and I was lucky enough to see him in North Carolina Theatre's production of "West Side Story" earlier this year. He has a beautiful voice to complement his songwriting skills and I look forward to more music of his in the future. If you like indie folk type music or Ed Sheeran's albums, you'll probably love Zach's.

The Clockmaker's Daughter cast album 
Track I have on repeat: "Spindlewood" 
What's not to love about a musical concept album that sounds like you combined an Irish and a Disney fairytale? I wrote a full review of this album, but I continue to love it just as much as I did when it was released. It has gorgeous vocals from the likes of Fra Fee and Ramin Karimloo and a lovely mix of ballads and uptempo songs. I would love to get to see a production of this show someday. 

RH-2: Live at Summerhouse Studios (Rob Houchen) 
Track I have on repeat: "More" 
Rob Houchen is one of my favorite songwriters and singers and I've loved all of the music he has released thus far. I love the rendition of "More" that he has on this album; it's the perfect song to listen to if you need to pump yourself up.

Oklahoma cast album 
Track I have on repeat: "Lonely Room" 
I've been very outspoken about my love for this radical new production of "Oklahoma" on Broadway that unfortunately closes this month and I'm so grateful to have a cast album for it. If you'd told me I'd be jamming out to "Oklahoma" last year, I would have thought you were crazy. But with exciting new folk-y orchestrations and fantastic vocals, it's an obvious choice for one of my favorite albums of the year.

Amidst the Chaos (Sara Bareilles) 
Track I have on repeat: "Orpheus" 
This was the year that I properly discovered Sara Bareilles who had sort of been in my periphery for years. Not only did I finally see "Waitress" on Broadway, but I also fell head over heels for Sara's newest album. I had the hardest time choosing just one song to list above! It's the perfect album for when I'm chilling in my apartment because I find Sara's voice to be very soothing but the lyrics and the artistry on display are so inspiring.

Hadestown cast album 
Track I have on repeat: "Livin' it Up on Top" 
I love listening to this album on my way to work in the morning because it's so fun to sing along to. I love the folk influence. From Reeve Carney and Eva Noblezada's beautiful ballads to Andre de Shield and Amber Gray's upbeat bops, each song feels more perfect than the last. And can we talk about Patrick Page's voice?

Honorable Mention: Dove Cameron's singles 
Track I have on repeat: "Out of Touch" 
In the past few months, actress and singer Dove Cameron has started releasing her own music. It's exciting to see her flourish as an artist post-Disney Channel life and get to have more freedom over her work and her image. I've loved each of the four tracks she has released: "Waste," "Bloodshot," "Out of Touch," and "So Good." They're perfect songs to dance around to or blast in the car. I can't wait for Dove to release more of her music in 2020! 

What were your favorite albums of 2019? Do you have recommendations for me to listen to? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter. x

My Goals for 2020

Now that my goals for 2019 are (mostly) done, it's time to share with you all my goals for 2020. As I've said before, I prefer goals to resolutions are they're more concrete so it feels easier to work towards them.

One. Watch 100 movies.
This is one goal that I'm carrying over from last year. For this challenge, I only include films that I haven't seen before or that I haven't seen in at least ten years. (AKA rewatching Joe Wright's 2005 "Pride and Prejudice" twelve times does not count.) It was a bit of a struggle at the end to try to hit one hundred, but I think that it will be easier for me this year as I won't have a big move getting in my way and I get screeners sent to me now because of being a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. It's one of the challenges I've enjoyed most in 2019 as I've discovered some new favorites, fixed blind spots, and rewatched things I haven't seen since I was a child.

Two. Visit five new historic sites. 
This is another that I'm carrying over, but demanding five instead of three. I'm hoping that this spurs me to actually visit some of the historic sites here in Raleigh that I haven't gone near since moving. Maybe I'll even do some traveling within North Carolina to find some cool ones.

Three. Read 12 books. 
I'll admit that my goal of 20 books for last year was too ambitious and I came nowhere near it. I'm hoping that I can actually keep myself to one book a month if I offset some of the longer books on my TBR with quicker, shorter reads.

Four. Do a blog series based on my undergraduate thesis. 
I've been meaning to round up all of the research that I did on French Enlightenment salonnières and make a blog series about them for a few years now. There are so few people who actually know much about them and I'd like to introduce at least a few more people to them. I'm determined that this is the year that I actually stop procrastinating and do it.

Five. Put money aside into my savings. 
Now that I'm properly settled down into an apartment and not looking to move states again anytime soon, I'm hoping to start putting money aside into savings instead of living paycheck to paycheck as I have been. I just moved a bit over last week, which is an encouraging starting point. I'm hoping to use some of this money to fund a bit of traveling this year.

Six. See 30 shows. 
Hopefully this won't be too difficult as I'm hoping to plan trips to New York and London over the course of 2020 and I'll be seeing shows to review for BroadwayWorld Raleigh here at home.

Seven. Work out at least twice a month. 
I haven't properly worked out much since I moved to North Carolina in July (wince). I need to get back into it in the new year and I figured that setting an easy goal like working out twice a month would actually make me more likely to achieve it. I have a small gym in my apartment complex that I can use, but I'd also like to try out Class Pass.

Eight. Earn money from my writing. 
This is definitely my most ambitious and nerve-wracking goal. I'm very happy writing for the three outlets that I regularly write for, but I would like to branch out and try pitching my work to some other outlets -- maybe even paying ones.

Nine. Cook three meals in my Instant Pot. 
I got an Instant Pot for Christmas from my parents and I'm so excited to learn how to use it. I really want to do more proper cooking in my apartment so I thought that this would be a fun goal.

Ten. Read War and Peace
Yes, this is one I've been carrying over in my goals for a few years now. But hopefully 2020 is the year that it will finally happen!

What are your goals or resolutions for 2020? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter. x

An Update on My 2019 Goals

I thought I would do a quick update on my 2019 goals before I share my goals for 2020. I stopped doing "resolutions" a few years ago and instead like to do measurable goals that I can feel like I properly check off. I certainly didn't achieve all of my goals this year, but I made significant progress on a fair few.

One. Write at least one blog post a week. 
I don't know that I wrote one post a week for this blog, but I did plenty of other writing for BroadwayWorld, Next Best Picture, and In Their Own League. Thus, I'm still considering this a success though I'm aiming to create more content for this blog in 2020.

Two. Reach 450 subscribers on YouTube.
I only made six videos in 2019, but I managed to get my follower count up to 446. It's still a few away from my goal of 450, but it's rather close! I kind of fell out of making videos in 2020 but I have some filmed and ready to edit and have lots of ideas for content in 2020. 

Three. Visit five new historic sites. 
I visited lots of new historic sites this year while on vacation in London, while on a work trip to Colorado, and while living in New York City. Some of my favorites were Winchester Cathedral, the Molly Brown House, and Fraunces Tavern. 

Four. Watch 100 movies. 
I didn't quite hit 100 movies this year, but I watched 94! For this goal, I only included movies I hadn't seen before or films that I hadn't seen for at least six or seven years. I caught up on a lot of 2018 films, watched a lot of 2019 films, and rediscovered ones that I had missed in years before. My favorite film that I watched this year was "Little Women" (2019) and my least favorite was "Burnt" (2015). 

Five. Watch and rank all of Lily James's films. 
I did manage to watch all of Lily James's films within the year of 2019. It was such an interesting thing to see all of an actress's work close together and I love that if I continue to watch her new films as they come out, I can continue to say that I've seen them all. Keep an eye out for my ranking coming soon! It was such a fun challenge that I've decided to continue it next year; I'll be watching all of Saoirse Ronan's movies in 2020. 

Six. See 30 shows. 
Between theatre in London, New York, and Raleigh, I saw 46 shows this year. Not bad at all! A lot of them were luckily through being a reviewer for BroadwayWorld, first in New York and then here in Raleigh. I will have a top shows of 2019 post coming soon.

Seven. Read 20 books. 
I basically failed at this goal as I only read nine books this year, though I'm halfway through two different ones right now. Part of this is because it's taking me forever to get through Oscar Wilde's De Profundis and it kind of threw my reading off. My favorites were the To All the Boys I Loved Before series by Jenny Han and Persuasion by Jane Austen. My least favorite was definitely The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. I'm setting a less ambitious goal for 2020, but hoping I'll have more luck finishing it.

Eight. Read War and Peace
I actually didn't even start War and Peace to my absolute shame. But this is a goal that I'm going to carry over into 2020 -- and every subsequent year until I achieve it, I suppose. 

Nine. Finish reading all of Jane Austen's novels. 
I actually finished this fairly early on in the year. I didn't care too much for Mansfield Park but fell head over heels for Lady Susan and Persuasion. I'm so happy that I can now say I've read all of her work. 

Ten. Cook a proper meal in my apartment. 
Not long after moving into my apartment in Raleigh, I decided to cook a vegan chili based on the recipe they use for the chili they serve at the intermission of Broadway's Oklahoma. It was surprisingly a success and I was able to take it for lunch for several days. I'm looking forward to cooking more in my lovely new kitchen!

What were your goals or resolutions for 2019? Did you achieve them? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter

"Little Women" and Me: A Love Letter to Jo March and Greta Gerwig

I recently returned home from an advanced press screening of "Little Women." (This will luckily prevent the inevitable fight with my family when I would have left Christmas Day celebrations to go see it.) I have a proper review for In Their Own League forthcoming, but I needed to get my more emotional, personal feelings onto the page about what this novel has meant to me throughout my life and how well this film has captured it. What can I say, Jo March would definitely approve.

I don't remember when I first read or watched "Little Women." It feels like it must have been a part of me since birth, though in truth I was likely eight or nine when I first read Louisa May Alcott's masterpiece. Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy were as much my childhood friends as my elementary school classmates were. Laurie was my first love and Beth, my first loss. In short, I was one of many girls raised on "Little Women."

Growing up, I wanted to be Jo March more than anything. It was Jo who inspired my love of writing and Jo who taught me what it meant to be a writer. I was forever scribbling on something, though I don't know which was worse: my childish short stories or my angsty high school poems. Now, at twenty-five, I have circled back to being a writer as a blogger and film and theatre critic. And at times, I feel that there's a script rustling around in my head, begging to be written.

Director and writer Greta Gerwig captures what it means for Jo to be a writer better than I've ever seen before. Perhaps, it is because Gerwig is a writer herself. There is a great scene towards the end of the film in which we get to see Jo's writing process as she gives birth to her great novel. She eats and sleeps amongst its pages, tirelessly working and reworking. Jo taught me that being a writer means to work hard.

As much as I idolized Jo in my childhood, I came to the realization in my teens that I was as much a Meg as a Jo. I am the mom friend extraordinaire, forever ready with a tissue or a Bandaid and always getting told off by my younger sister for attempting to mother her. I yearn for fine things, romance, and a family and often was a bit ashamed of this part of myself when I was younger. I thought that to be strong and smart, you had to be a Jo or an Amy. It was only as I grew older that I could accept this Meg-like side of myself.

I've always felt that film adaptations didn't do Meg justice, didn't understand that Alcott shows that both Meg and Jo's paths are equally valid. But this film has a beautiful portrayal of Meg by the wonderful Emma Watson. It feels like a special blessing to have an actress that I've admired for so long play one of my favorite literary characters and she does a splendid job. In this version, we get to see Meg fall in love with John Brooke (played perfectly by James Norton, my coworker once upon a time when I was an intern at the Donmar Warehouse) and then we get to see them struggle to raise a family and keep their love as they deal with being poor. We see that Meg's decision to follow her heart and marry a "penniless tutor" (Aunt March's words, not mine) is as brave as Jo or Amy's decisions to pursue their passions.

When I was eight years old, to my delight, my parents gifted me with the younger sister I'd always wanted. Hannah is the Amy to my Meg, the Beth to my Jo. She has never understood my frustration with Amy, declaring the spoiled brat her favorite character. I cannot wait for her to see Florence Pugh's performance because Gerwig has somehow made me appreciate and even like Amy. In this portrayal, I can see my younger sister reflected back to me.

A few years ago, my sister suddenly fell ill. She was diagnosed with a heart condition and eventually received a heart transplant. For months, it felt like my world was teetering on its axis. Now, our life is largely back to normal, but we know that, as Jo says, it can never be the same. I have always been sensitive to stories about sisters (catch me crying over "Frozen" or "The Hunger Games"), but "Little Women" suddenly hurts in new and fresh ways. I understand Jo's struggle to understand a world that could hurt Beth, her desperation not to be left behind.

I started crying about halfway through this film and never really got it back together. I don't want to spoil it, but the way that Gerwig builds the narrative around Beth's illness and death is exquisite and poised for optimal emotional impact without ever feeling manipulative. I cried because I now know what Jo was feeling, sitting at her sister's bedside, trying to bring about her recovery by sheer force of will. I know because I've sat there. And as someone who has, I can attest to the fact that Saoirse Ronan's performance was perfect.

Like Jo, I had dreams of living in New York City and making some large contribution to culture and the world. I moved to New York a little over a year ago and, like Jo, found that the city didn't inspire my creativity as I had hoped. (Unfortunately, I did not meet any dreamy professors too willing to offer advice; Louis Garrel makes Professor Bhaer seem like quite the catch in this film.) After several months of misery, I began to feel that I would be better off at home, back in North Carolina where I could be near my family. My sister's illness has made me realize how important each moment together is and I had already had my grand year abroad doing my Master's in London.

And yet, leaving New York felt like giving up, not just on the city, but on some part of myself and my dreams and who I imagined I would be. I spent many therapy sessions trying to come to terms with my decision; I knew it was best for my mental (and financial) health to leave and yet, I struggled. Everything clicked into place one day when I realized that Jo March had also left New York to be near her sisters and that it was back home, not in the city, that she wrote her masterpiece.

Please, don't expect a great novel from me anytime soon, but since moving home, I've reviewed many theatrical productions, attended my first film festival as a member of the press, written countless reviews and blog posts, and been accepted into the North Carolina Film Critics Association. I feel comfortable that I, like Jo, made the right choice.

It felt very special to see this with my mother. Saoirse Ronan is my favorite actress; Meryl Streep is hers. We share a love for Laura Dern, who brilliantly portrays Marmee in this film. (My sister actually calls my mother "Marmee" as a pet name, on occasion.) Marmee is the calm amongst the storm, who holds down the fort for her daughters, and yet this version allows her to be more than that, too. By incorporating Marmee's best line from the novel, "I am angry nearly every day of my life," we are given a glimpse into who this woman really is. I think that "Little Women" is something that is special for many mothers and daughters; it has certainly been inextricably linked to mine and my mother's life.

All of this is to say: Greta Gerwig is a genius who took a novel that is over a century old and made it feel fresh while still respecting and loving it. She brought the characters to life in a way that allowed me to recognize all of my old friends, while also seeing them each from new angles. She didn't leave out a single important thing -- from Amy's limes to Laurie's promise to be a saint. This film feels made for me and yet, I also feel oddly comforted by knowing that there are people out there -- namely, Gerwig and Saoirse Ronan -- who understand exactly what Jo March and "Little Women" mean in the same way that I do.

Sunday Summary | November 17

My family all went to the cinema to see "The Current War." (Yes, because of Tom Holland.) Unfortunately, it's a film that definitely doesn't live up to its premise. The story doesn't really tell the story of the men it's about and while the acting is good, it's otherwise fairly poorly made.

I watched "The Beguiled" to write my review for In Their Own League's Top 50 Films of the Decade directed by women list. I love Sofia Coppola's films and was so impressed by how atmospheric this one is.

Of course, there was no way I would miss a biopic starring Cynthia Erivo, Joe Alwyn, and Leslie Odom Jr. I went to see "Harriet" with my friend, Lexi, and while it's not a perfect film, I think it's a lot better than many are giving it credit for. It is formulaic, but it also has gorgeous performances and is a really important story to be told. Read my full review here.

I'm a big fan of Aidan Turner's, so I thought I ought to give his new indie film "Love is Blind" a try. Unfortunately, while I appreciated that it had a unique view on grief and relationships, it is a bit of a mess. You can read my full review here.

As part of our preparation for our upcoming DisneyWorld trip, my family finally watched "Avatar." Yes, ten years late. I was so impressed by the technology and the message of the film and it made me so excited to go to Pandora in Animal Kingdom.

I reviewed my first national tour at DPAC earlier this month. I got to see "A Bronx Tale" and was surprised by how much my dad and I both enjoyed it. It's a really lovely show about family and ambition and love with fun retro-inspired music. You can check out my full review here.

I also got to see "Having Our Say" by North Carolina Theatre, a really wonderful two woman show about two actual African-American women who grew up in Raleigh and went on to become trailblazers. It was fascinating to hear their stories, based on actual oral history given to a journalist when the two ladies were still alive, especially about their father who was born a slave. You can check out my review here.

This month, I've been listening to Anthony Ramos's new album, "The Good & The Bad." You might know Anthony Ramos from Broadway smash hit "Hamilton" or his role in last year's "A Star is Born." It's a really solid first album, full of bops. You can listen on Spotify here.

1) Ashley from bestdressed has made a gorgeous look-book of office attire, with the help of Amazon Prime Wardrobe. I always love seeing fashionable people put together work-friendly outfits. .

2) I loved the teaser trailer for Pixar's upcoming movie, "Soul." I'd watch anything with Daveed Diggs, but it looks really great!

3) Carrie Hope Fletcher's vlog from her trip to Disneyland Paris earlier this year isn't new this month, but I finally got around to watching it. It brought back such great memories of my trip to Disneyland Paris last year!

Sunday Summary | October Edition

Yes, I know. It's not a Sunday. And it's no longer October. But I saw tons of wonderful movies during the month of October that I didn't want to get lost. So normal Sunday Summaries will resume soon, but for now....here's my catching up on October and in particular everything I saw at Film Fest 919.

The opening night film for Film Fest 919 was "Marriage Story," a film I still haven't recovered from. It's currently my number one film of the year and I can't say enough good things about it. It's hilarious and heart-breaking and features some of the best acting of the whole decade.

While I didn't love "Honey Boy," the performances in it (by Shia LaBeouf, Lucas Hedges, and especially Noah Jupe) are undeniable. It's definitely a cathartic work by LaBeouf who wrote it during rehab based on his own relationship with his father and his childhood as a young actor. You can read my full review here.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked "The Report," a grueling look at the creation of the Torture Report that detailed what the CIA did in Afghanistan. It features a great performance by Adam Driver and really opened my eyes to things I only partially knew. You can read my full review here.

I also saw two French films, "The Truth" and "Portrait of a Lady on Fire." I thought that "The Truth" was a fascinating look at an aging actress and her relationship with her family, even if it did drag at points. "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" is one of my favorites of the year. It's a gorgeous period drama, a beautiful lesbian love story, and just an incredibly well-made film. Reviews for both are coming to Next Best Picture soon.

"The Two Popes" will drop onto Netflix late December and I think it'll make quite a splash. Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins play Pope Francis and Pope Benedict and a fascinating look at two opposing factions of the Catholic Church follows. The two are clearly some of the best actors of their generation and it's a movie that challenges its audience just as it delights them.

I saw two movies about the death penalty at Film Fest 919: "Clemency" and "Just Mercy." While I thought that Alfre Woodard's performance was stunning, I didn't much care for "Clemency." (Review coming later to Next Best Picture.) However, I absolutely loved "Just Mercy." It has a really touching story, fantastic performances, and it got me all fired up and wanting to help change the way the justice system is failing our country.

One of my favorite movies I saw all month was Netflix's "The King." (In fact, I loved it so much that I've watched it again this month!) It's a loose adaptation of Shakespeare's Henriad, starring Timothée Chalamet and Joel Edgerton, who also co-wrote it. Chalamet really continues to prove his skills in it and it's a great medieval epic that questions if a ruler can ever really remain uncorrupted by power and paranoia. You can hear more of my thoughts on the NBP podcast.

The closing film of Film Fest 919 was "Jojo Rabbit" and it absolutely blew me away. Taika Watiti is absolutely a genius and this film proves it. It's the perfect anti-hate satire while also being a really heartfelt story about a boy who has been brainwashed by those around him discovering that his beliefs might not be what they seem.

The two films that I saw outside of Film Fest 919 in October were rather disappointing. Renee Zellwegger is absolutely outstanding as Judy Garland in "Judy," but the film around her doesn't live up to her performance. I truly don't have anything good to say about Netflix's "The Laundromat." It's currently clocking in as my least favorite film of 2019. If you want my full thoughts, you can find them here and on this podcast.

Mostly in October, I listened to a lot of different versions of "Sweeney Todd" to prepare for our Next Best Theatre podcast episode about it. I'm not sure I realized before just how clever this show's lyrics are. I also made a playlist of tons of spooky musical theatre albums in honor of Halloween that I listened to a lot. 

I got to see a darling family show, "80 Days Around the World" by Theatre Raleigh. It was a really charming adaption of the well-known classic and well adapted to be enjoyed by children and adults alike. You can read my full review for BroadwayWorld Raleigh here.

1) I went cruelty free with my makeup and skincare a few months ago and this guide by Lucy Moon on how to go cruelty free is super helpful. If anyone ever wants to hear more about my decision to go cruelty free or my favorite cruelty free products, let me know.

2) This interview with Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet on the set of their Entertainment Weekly photoshoot is probably my favorite thing to hit the Internet all month. I couldn't possibly be anymore excited for "Little Women"!

3) This one's rather NSFW, but man is Anthony Ramos's music video for his new song "Mind Over Matter" hot. It features his real-life girlfriend and former "Hamilton" co-star Jasmine Cephas Jones. The song's also an absolute bop.

Getting Ready for Film Fest 919

I'm very excited to share that I'm attending my first film festival as a member of the press next week. Film Fest 919 is back for its second year and I'll be there covering quite a few films for Next Best Picture. For those that aren't being reviewed by me for Next Best Picture, I'll be writing a short review here on my blog (partially to help me remember my thoughts so that I can be on the NBP podcast reviews of them). I will also be writing a piece for Next Best Picture recapping the festival so make sure to keep an eye out for that.

I attended a couple of screenings last year at Film Fest 919 ("Boy Erased" and "The Favourite"), but wasn't able to do more because it was the weekend that I was apartment hunting in New York City. I'm thrilled to be in town for the whole time and there four out of the five days. Last year, they had movies like "Roma" and "Green Book" that went on to win major awards so it seems that this might be a good year for their opening and closing films, "Marriage Story" and "Jojo Rabbit."

Film Fest 919 has an impressive array of films, many of which have great reviews from Cannes, Sundance, TIFF, and other previous festivals. One of my favorite things about it is that it is run by two women, Randi Emerman and Carol Marshall. It takes place at the Silverspot Cinema in Chapel Hill and runs from October 9 to 13.

I'm thrilled to get to see these films, some of which I'm not sure we'll get here in Raleigh in cinemas like "The King" which may skip us and go straight to Netflix or foreign film "The Truth." Here is a list of the films I'm planning on seeing:

  • Marriage Story 
  • The Report
  • Honey Boy
  • The Truth 
  • Clemency
  • Portrait of a Lady on Fire
  • The Two Popes
  • Motherless Brooklyn
  • Just Mercy 
  • The King
  • Jojo Rabbit
Is anyone else planning on going to Film Fest 919? Does anyone have tips for attending a smaller film festival as a member of the press? Let me know on Twitter. x
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