Favourites of 2013

It’s that time of year, where everybody is getting ready for Christmas and the start of a new year. Meanwhile, entertainment outlets everywhere are doing their “best-of” lists to cap off the year. So to keep up with my own modified version of those traditions, I give you my favourites in music/movies/television of the past year.

MUSIC – ALBUMS

  • Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience [The Complete Experience] – My year in music was made all the better with JT releasing 2 new albums this year. Some people didn’t like them for various reasons (songs were too long, not dance-y enough, a little self-indulgent?), but this was hands down my absolute favourite album of the year. I may be biased as a JT fan, but as a music fan, I appreciate that he can take musical risks while still keeping his signature sound. It was perfection to my ears.
  • Megan Hilty, It Happens All the Time – Megan had been known as a Broadway actress before starring in the TV series Smash, and though the show ended up being not so great in its two-season run, it was very much agreed upon that Megan was the best part of it. So it came as no surprise that she managed to get an album recorded and released, filled with original songs and covers. I was pleasantly surprised by how good the album is, particularly with the music selection, as it wasn’t just showtunes. For the covers, I loved her version of Switchfoot’s “Dare You to Move” and then one of the originals “Walk Away” was actually a song that was co-written by Carrie Underwood and Ne-Yo! There is just an easy feeling when you hear the album and I just fell in love with it.
  • PJ Morton, New Orleans – I only came to know about PJ when he started playing with Maroon 5 during the Hands All Over days as an additional keyboardist/vocal to fill out their sound live. Since then, he’s continued working on his own music, while playing with the band in a bigger capacity (taking over for Jesse Carmichael on keyboard while he takes a break from music). PJ had signed to Young Money Records (Lil Wayne’s label) and this album is his first release with the label. For me, this was just a solid R&B album from beginning to end, that really had a throwback sound to it (almost a Stevie Wonder quality to it) but decidedly modern as well.
  • Sara Bareilles, The Blessed Unrest – I feel as though Sara is just one of those artists who are just so damn dependable to make good music. This is her third album and you can hear the progression in her songwriting from her first album to this one. “Brave” is just a fantastic first single that follows in the footsteps of “Love Song” and “King of Anything” being sort of a pop anthem. The rest of the album is filled with wonderful piano pop that often stretches the musicality of it (I’m not sure I made sense there). Point is: she stretches herself as an artist/musician but in a way that fits into her style and personality, so it doesn’t ever feel like she’s trying too hard to do something different.
  • Matt Nathanson, Last of the Great Pretenders – What I said about Sara being so damn dependable as an artist, certainly applies to Matt as well. That the two of them released their albums on the same day this summer was a perfectly awesome coincidence. With this album, his eighth, Matt draws up a 40-minute ode to San Francisco, with all of its eclectic influences.
  • Beyonce, BEYONCE – She surprised the entire world when she secretly released this album on iTunes. I have always respected Beyonce as an artist and have really enjoyed her songs, but can’t say that I’ve been a huge fan. So I have to give her props for everything she did with regards to this album. As a whole, I think it’s her best one yet. I liked that she took different risks with the songs and that it’s a unique sound, but still completely Beyonce. There might not be a typical radio single, but who cares? When the music’s good, that’s all that matters.

MUSIC – SONGS

  • Lorde, Royals – I admittedly was late to the party in terms of hearing this song. I had heard about it but didn’t hear the song itself until sometime in the summer. I was hooked from the first listen. There’s a dynamic about the song that was just so different from anything else.
  • Megan Hilty, Bittersweet Symphony – Season 2 of Smash was a mess but for the most part, the music was still good. For some reason though, Megan’s cover of this Verve song stuck out. I already raved about Megan and her album up top, but I just fell in love with her version of this song. It’s just SO GOOD, I can’t even explain why I love it so much. I’ve always loved this song, but how they did re-did this song with Megan singing, it almost sounds like a different song
  • Ben Hazlewood, Knock On My Window – This is a case of I’m not entirely sure why it’s one of my favourites this year; I just couldn’t stop listening to it. Ben was a contestant on the first season of The Voice Australia and this track came off of his EP that he released. The song itself is pop with a very cool groove to it…and now that I think about it, it reminds me of Maroon 5’s “One More Night.” THAT’S probably why I’m addicted to it.
  • Jay-Z ft. Justin Timberlake, Holy Grail – Jay-Z & JT were just on a roll with their collaborations this year. With all the dynamics of the song, it probably shouldn’t have worked but it did. Justin sounds very melancholy starting off the song, then the hip-hop beat kicks in, with a little Nirvana “Smells Like Teen Spirit” sample put in, all serving as a backdrop to lyrics about the fickleness of fame. It is all kinds of awesome.
  • Glee, Make You Feel My Love + If I Die Young – I stuck it out until the end of season 4 of the show and I promised myself I wasn’t going to watch the show again (except the early episodes when it was good). Then tragedy struck with Cory Monteith’s untimely death. I was like everybody else, I wanted to see how the show would deal with such tragedy in their family, so I watched their tribute episode to him and his character. The episode itself was so emotional and it’s a wonder how any of them coped with such a loss. The two songs, sung in the episode by Lea Michele and Naya Rivera respectively, were particularly poignant and wrought with emotion that the tears were out of control just hearing them sing these songs.
  • Kelly Clarkson, My Favorite Things – I usually don’t listen to a lot of Christmas music, especially early on in the season; I usually limit it to a week or two leading up to Christmas. This year, all that changed and it’s completely Kelly Clarkson’s fault because she released a holiday album and one of my favourite songs on that album was this one. I’ve also never been a huge The Sound of Music fan, but good lord I love how Kelly jazzed up this song.

MOVIES

*This list is obviously based only on movies that I’ve been able to see this year. There’s many more movies that I haven’t gotten around to seeing or are too new (i.e. those darn Oscar-bait/contenders that just got released but are on several critics’ Best Of lists for the year).

  • Now You See Me – Fantastic word-of-mouth over the summer made my expectations high for when I did actually get around to watching it. It was a fun caper thriller featuring magic. The tone of the movie reminded me a lot of Ocean’s Eleven (with a slightly smaller cast of course) and though it wasn’t a perfect movie, it was highly enjoyable. Plus, bonus points for an original screenplay that’s not a remake/sequel/adaptation.
  • Thor: The Dark World – Getting Alan Taylor, best known these days for being a frequent director on Game of Thrones, to go behind the camera for this movie was a wise decision. Not to knock Kenneth Branagh for his work on the first film, but with this movie, you could really feel the scope of Asgard and the other realms. Add to the fact that there seemed to be a lot more going on in this movie than the first, everything just felt better and fuller, as if pressure had been lifted from having to make everything work. Bonus for me was getting to see Zachary Levi taking over for Josh Dallas as Fandral. Again, nothing against Josh, I just love Zac and seeing him on the big screen put a huge smile on my face.
  • Prisoners – First of all, look at the poster and check out the actors billed: almost all Academy Award nominees and/or winners. Not gonna lie, that alone made me go “Whoa” when I first heard about the movie. Then the trailer looked incredibly intense. Then when I finally got a chance to watch the movie, I saw for myself what all the talk was about after it premiered at TIFF this year. It’s a crime thriller that definitely borrowed influences from a bunch of different movies and the end result was just as what the trailer suggested – intense. Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal put in incredible performances in this movie. I myself am so looking forward to attending the In Conversation With Jake Gyllenhaal and Denis Villeneuve (the director of this movie, as well as Enemy, another movie starring Gyllenhaal) at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in early January, and hopefully they’ll talk about this movie
  • Gravity – Whether or not it is technically accurate doesn’t matter. Sandra Bullock gave the performance of her career here, essentially carrying the movie on her own, except for brief moments with George Clooney. The movie was exceptional in 3D, as director Alfonso Cuaron made you feel as if you were in space with Bullock. Everything was just visually stunning.
  • Philomena – I talked about this movie in my TIFF wrap-up post already, but I have to say it again, I’m really glad I was given the chance to see it. It’s not the typical movie I’d be interested in, yet after I watched it I was just so impressed by it. The fact that Steve Coogan, known mostly as a comedic actor, co-wrote the heartwarming script based on a true story, was a very welcome surprise and you also get to see a side of Dame Judi Dench you don’t normally see.
  • The Spectacular Now – I had listed this as one of the movies I was looking forward to watching in August, and boy did it ever live up to the praise. On the surface it is a love story, when Sutter (Miles Teller) the popular kid in school falls for Aimee (Shailene Woodley) the quiet girl – sounds cliche doesn’t it? On a deeper level, it’s Sutter’s coming-of-age story – how his unexpected relationship with Aimee changes him, his relationships with his family and friends, and his outlook on life. What made this movie stand out is that it’s not the Hollywood view of teenage life; this feels real with the awkwardness of dating and the anxiety of life after high school.
  • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – One of my most anticipated movies of the year and it did not disappoint. To some, Catching Fire (both the movie and the book) can seem like a rehash of the first movie with another Games and it serving as the bridge to the third (and fourth, for the movies). It’s not completely wrong to think that way because it’s kind of true. However, you can’t deny all the character development that occurs as we’re being set up for Mockingjay. Director Francis Lawrence also proved to be a great choice to take over for Gary Ross, as he brings a different style to the film.
  • Fruitvale Station – This movie is based on the true story of Oscar Grant, a young African-American man wrongly shot in a subway station in the Bay Area on New Year’s Day 2009. The film itself follows the final 24 hours of his life and shows him as a young man wanting to do right by his family, but has to contend with his past. Surprisingly, knowing what was going to happen didn’t make the fateful scene any less shocking because we just spent time getting to know him. It’s certainly a testament to writer-director Ryan Coogler and actor Michael B. Jordan for making us sympathize with Grant’s struggles in such a way that it still does shock us when the incident occurs.

TELEVISION (NEW SHOWS)

  • Orphan Black – I was one of the idiots who didn’t watch this show when it first aired. Despite reading tweets by entertainment writers telling me to watch it, I just didn’t know what it was; I may have also mixed it up with some other show in this brain of mine. Anyways, after getting proverbially hit over the head multiple times to watch this, I binge-watched it over one weekend and was immediately hooked after the first episode (hence the binge-watch). I mean it’s sort of a sci-fi show (it deals with clones after all!), but it also has all this character drama, a hint of a thriller, which also deals with psychological/sociological ideas. Plus, Tatiana Maslany! The girl plays SEVEN different characters with such ease, you forget that it’s just her. Also, being Canadian, I was so surprised to see that this is a Canadian made/set show. I know they say it’s a little ambiguous about where the show is set, but it’s fairly obvious it’s Toronto. The funny thing about all this is that at SDCC, my cousin was all about this show trying to get the autograph signing; she didn’t get it, but I ended up trying to take pictures of Tatiana, Dylan Bruce, and Jordan Gavaris for her during the signing, not realizing I was taking pictures of people I was about to obsess over! Now I can’t wait for my next Comic-Con (be it Toronto or San Diego) so I can try harder and meet these wonderful people!
  • Sleepy Hollow – A sort-of re-imagining of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, where Ichabod Crane wakes up in present day Sleepy Hollow to fight the Headless Horseman. Sounded awesome, with a dash of ridiculous, didn’t it? – which is kind of what it ended up being. It’s a show that ended up striking just the right balance of mythology, character, drama, action, supernatural, campy fun, and humour. Executive producers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci definitely know something about that balance, having worked on Fringe, but Len Wiseman and Ken Olin also bring a lot to the table. And the cast – regulars Tom Mison, Nicole Beharie, Orlando Jones, Katia Winter; plus recurring stars Lyndie Greenwood, John Noble, John Cho – just make everything work.
  • Almost Human – I was so excited about this show when it got picked up at Upfronts back in May because it’s from J.H. Wyman, J.J. Abrams, and Bryan Burk, the three people who were very much responsible for my beloved Fringe. Then I saw the pilot at SDCC, which re-affirmed my excitement. It’s a futuristic take on the typical procedural and that in itself just makes things more interesting because it’s a new realm of crime and technology. Add to that, the fact that this is like a buddy-cop drama, with Karl Urban’s damaged human, Kennex, being forced to team up with Michael Ealy’s emotional and wickedly awesome robot, Dorian.
  • Trophy Wife – The name has been an issue; a case you thought ABC might have learned from when they aired Cougar Town, a show that was also MUCH more than its name suggested. At times, you can have a hard time grasping how Bradley Whitford’s Pete ended up with either of his two ex-wives – the cold and stern Diane + the carefree Jackie – or his current younger wife, Kate. That suspension of disbelief aside, it’s a really funny and cute show. The dynamics between the adults, as well as the kids, are terrific. They’re all such characters that somehow work extremely well together. And yes, Albert Tsai’s Bert almost always steals the show whenever he shows up.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine – I mentioned in my fall check-in post how this cast works phenomenally well together. It was like a well-oiled machine, right from the get-go, and I count on them for my weekly laughs. I just need other people to also watch this show.

TELEVISION (RETURNING SHOWS)

  • Nikita – I’m going to keep this short. My favourite show/obsession just ended its run as one of the most underrated series in recent memory. I’m going to miss it SO MUCH.
  • Arrow – If there’s a show that just continually tries to outdo itself, this is it. Through the second half of the first season and going into the second, the writers just know no bounds. Particularly with this second season, where it seems like DC just let them go nuts with the universe and include whatever character they want. I think it’s a real testament to everyone involved with the show that they can make people like me, who don’t know the source material, still be excited about a character reveal. They’ve just done such a great job building their version of Starling City, plus Oliver’s world and relationships, that it’s very easy to get wrapped up in what’s going on.
  • The Mindy Project – Mindy is on a roll. This rom-com + workplace comedy is non-stop laughs, not just from the leads but also by the supporting characters. I don’t know what to say about it, except that more people need to be watching it! I mean where else are you going to see Chris Messina dancing to an Aaliyah song? (Seriously, watch it for yourself. It is hilariously awesome.)
  • Suits – I love this show. There’s some legal stuff that happens on the show but that’s not important. The important thing is the relationships that occur between the characters and how they seemingly riff-off each other. That, plus the pop culture references! In all seriousness though, this is a show that is the very definition of a dramedy – a drama series that infuses a lot of humour and heart. One of the best examples from this season is how they handled what seemed like a throwaway storyline involving Louis and a cat, and gave it the same depth and weight as any other legal case.

That’s it from me. Here’s hoping for the best in 2014!

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56th Grammy Award Nominations

It’s once again that time of year – awards season is upon us and music’s big night just announced their nominations for the past year. Last year’s awards and nominations weren’t that great, coming off a slightly lackluster year (for this music fan anyways). But this year bounced back with some big albums (Justin Timberlake’s return!) and some big singles. So who was nominated this year?

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • Sara Bareilles, The Blessed Unrest
  • Daft Punk, Random Access Memories
  • Kendrick Lamar, Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City
  • Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, The Heist
  • Taylor Swift, Red

First of all, SARA BAREILLES GOT NOMINATED!!!! You have no idea how excited I got when I heard her name get called. I was literally jumping up and down, and I’m glad no one was around to see me with all my reactions to the nominations. All I kept thinking was “Finally! FINALLY! People recognize how talented she is!” The happiness was a little short-lived after I heard Taylor Swift’s name called, and realized that Justin Timberlake wasn’t nominated for The 20/20 Experience. Really? Best selling album of the year gets no nod? How does that even remotely make sense? Regardless, Sara’s album is the only one I’ve heard in full, so I’m obviously rooting for her, even though she’s the underdog. My bet’s on Macklemore & Ryan Lewis winning though, which is truly great considering they’re technically indie artists, self-releasing their album (re: not through a big label).

RECORD OF THE YEAR

  • Daft Punk & Pharrell, Get Lucky
  • Imagine Dragons, Radioactive
  • Lorde, Royals
  • Bruno Mars, Locked Out of Heaven
  • Robin Thicke ft. T.I. & Pharrell, Blurred Lines

The only surprise from these nominations is that Justin Timberlake wasn’t nominated for “Mirrors.” I know I’m a JT fan, so I’m a little biased, but come on, “Mirrors” deserved to be nominated. All these songs, admittedly, were some of the biggest songs of the year. Actually, now that I’m looking at the list again, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis weren’t nominated either, which is interesting to me – I would’ve thought “Can’t Hold Us” would be nominated. Considering he was performing, I figured Robin Thicke would be nominated for something, but I have to admit I’m still a little surprised that he was nominated. With all the controversy associated with “Blurred Lines” (the song, the video, the MTV VMA performance…), I foolishly thought it wouldn’t get nominated. I think ideally, I’d want Lorde to win (lies, I’d still want JT to win even though he’s not even nominated), but I’d be okay with any of the other ones (except maybe “Blurred Lines”).

SONG OF THE YEAR

  • Pink ft. Nate Ruess, Just Give Me A Reason
  • Bruno Mars, Locked Out of Heaven
  • Katy Perry, Roar
  • Lorde, Royals
  • Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Same Love

On here, it’s the third category. On the Grammy Nominations Live! concert, it was announced first, so as soon as I heard Katy Perry get nominated for “Roar” I was very upset. I kind of figured that with how this stupid world works, “Roar” was going to get nominated and Sara Bareilles’ “Brave” wasn’t (the fact that Sara got nominated for Album of the Year later on made me feel better). Not only did I get upset that “Roar” got nominated, but I also got angry real fast over the JT snub. Again, JT fan, I’m biased, whatever. To repeat, this was the first category to be announced, so seeing how JT was snubbed already, did not bode well for me for the rest of the telecast. Now if I had to choose who would win, I might go with “Same Love” because it has a great message, and this award is technically handed out to the writers of the song, so to have this song be filled with so much meaning might actually give it an edge. That’s not to say the other songs are void of meaning because that’s not true. It’s just that “Same Love” has that strong message that differentiates it from the rest.

BEST NEW ARTIST

  • James Blake
  • Kendrick Lamar
  • Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
  • Kacey Musgraves
  • Ed Sheeran

I definitely expected Macklemore & Ryan Lewis to be nominated, and kind of figured Kacey Musgraves and Kendrick Lamar would get nods as well. James Blake is a name I’ve read but have never listened to any of his songs, so he’s the only question mark for me. Interestingly enough, I wasn’t expecting Ed Sheeran to be nominated because I expected it to happen last year. I know per Grammy rules, if you’re a “new artist” nominated for any award the previous year and you don’t win, you are still eligible for Best New Artist in the current year. With how big “The A-Team” was last year, and with it being nominated for Song of the Year last year, I thought he was going to be nominated in this category LAST YEAR. I was ultimately disappointed when he wasn’t, but now that he is, it just seems weird. So now this year, I’m completely disappointed that Lorde wasn’t nominated in this category, because I legitimately thought she was a lock to be nominated. If she doesn’t win in any of the other categories in which she’s nominated, that means she’s nominated by default in this category next year, right? When it comes down to it, it’s a toss-up between Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and Ed Sheeran. It’s been a long time since a rap act has won Best New Artist, so this might be the year things change. We’ll have to see.

BEST POP SOLO PERFORMANCE

  • Sara Bareilles, Brave
  • Lorde, Royals
  • Bruno Mars, When I Was Your Man
  • Katy Perry, Roar
  • Justin Timberlake, Mirrors

I had said prior to the nominations that it would be hilarious if both “Brave” and “Roar” were nominated in this category. And would you look at that? They both are! If it was just those two songs nominated, I would choose “Brave” in a heartbeat but there are other people nominated, one of them being Justin Timberlake for “Mirrors.” Clearly, JT is my pick to win.

BEST POP DUO/GROUP PERFORMANCE

  • Daft Punk & Pharrell, Get Lucky
  • Pink ft. Nate Ruess, Just Give Me A Reason
  • Rihanna ft. Mikky Ekko, Stay
  • Robin Thicke ft. T.I. & Pharrell, Blurred Lines
  • Justin Timberlake ft. Jay Z, Suit & Tie

Most years, the Grammy’s can stretch their definition of pop music, but this year was pretty on point. I personally would’ve put “Stay” under R&B and “Get Lucky” in the Dance category; not a huge deal that they’re in the Pop category though. “Suit & Tie” for the win.

BEST POP VOCAL ALBUM

  • Lana Del Rey, Paradise
  • Lorde, Pure Heroine
  • Bruno Mars, Unorthodox Jukebox
  • Robin Thicke, Blurred Lines
  • Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience – The Complete Experience

With Justin releasing two albums within the eligibility period and how the label packaged the albums, particularly when the second album came out, I figured that the two albums would be submitted as one for consideration. Being that it is 21 songs of awesomeness, of course I’m going with JT for the win. Interesting takeaway: none of these albums are nominated for Album of the Year, but Sara Bareilles’ album, which should’ve been included here, is nominated for the big prize.

BEST TRADITIONAL POP ALBUM

  • Tony Bennett & Various Artists, Viva Duets
  • Michael Buble, To Be Loved
  • Gloria Estefan, The Standards
  • Cee Lo Green, Cee Lo’s Magic Moment
  • Dionne Warwick, Now

I normally don’t pay attention to this category, but for one thing, Michael Buble is nominated (yay Canadian! And also, the only album of the bunch I’ve listened to). Secondly, I got caught completely off guard by seeing Cee Lo Green being nominated here. A quick Google search reminded me that this was his Christmas album.

BEST R&B SONG

  • Anthony Hamilton, Best of Me
  • Tamar Braxton, Love and War
  • PJ Morton ft. Stevie Wonder, Only One
  • Justin Timberlake, Pusher Love Girl
  • Fantasia ft. Kelly Rowland & Missy Elliot, Without You

There’s also a category called Best R&B Performance, which should not be confusing at all. Like the difference between Record & Song of the Year, the Best Song is awarded to the songwriters, but to make it easier, I list who is singing the song. I didn’t expect Justin to get nominated for “Pusher Love Girl,” let alone in this category, so I am extremely happy about it. But I am also so incredibly happy to see PJ Morton nominated for his wonderfully sweet song “Only One.” PJ, for those who don’t know, is currently playing with Maroon 5 on piano/keys and back-up vocals; he’s such an amazing talent and I love his album.

BEST SONG WRITTEN FOR VISUAL MEDIA

  • Coldplay, Atlas (from Catching Fire)
  • Jessie J, Silver Lining (from Silver Linings Playbook)
  • Adele, Skyfall (from Skyfall)
  • Colbie Caillat & Gavin DeGraw, We Both Know (from Safe Haven)
  • Lana Del Rey, Young & Beautiful (from The Great Gatsby)
  • Regina Spektor, You’ve Got Time (from Orange Is The New Black)

It’s an interesting list of nominees and though I’m excited for Colbie & Gavin’s nomination, let’s be real – Adele is totally taking this.

Some other quick thoughts:

  • Jay Z’s “Holy Grail” featuring Justin Timberlake is nominated for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration and Best Rap Song. In the Best Rap Song category however, they are nominated against Drake’s “Started From the Bottom” and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop.” I think Jay Z & JT will take Rap/Sung, but lose to Macklemore in Rap Song.
  • Kelly Clarkson is nominated with Vince Gill for their song “Don’t Rush” in the Best Country Duo/Group Performance. I’m not usually big on country, but it’s Kelly, so I’m obviously rooting for her.
  • I’m not sure how Taylor Swift’s Red qualifies as country, but she’s still nominated for Best Country Album.
  • There’s no way Pharrell loses Producer of the Year (Non-Classical), right? Such a great year for him.
  • Justin Timberlake & Jay Z’s video for “Suit & Tie,” directed by the awesome David Fincher, is nominated for Best Music Video.

At the end of the day, Jay Z leads all nominations with 9. Justin Timberlake ended up with 7 nods, the number I thought he would end up with, but I thought he was going to get nominations in the big 3 (which instead means he SHOULD’VE ended up with 10 nominations). Kendrick Lamar, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, and Pharrell also have 7 nominations. Any surprises? Shocking snubs?

The 56th Annual Grammy Awards air January 26th, 2014 on CBS and CityTV in Canada.

TIFF 2013 Wrap-Up!

It was another successful year at the Toronto International Film Festival! At the end of the festival, Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave won the Blackberry People’s Choice Award, with the runners-up being Stephen Frears’ Philomena and Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners. As a movie fan, I always enjoy going to TIFF, not only for all the celebrities who come to Toronto, but because it allows me to see some movies before it gets released and see movies I might not have seen otherwise. This year was no exception.

Due to last year being quite a success for us, my friend and I opted to once again purchase the TIFF Choice Premium package, whereby TIFF organizers choose three films for us and allow us to see the premiere screenings of those movies, for which the stars of said film would be in attendance. Last year we got to see Rust and Bone (starring Marion Cotillard), Venus and Serena (the directors of the documentary were there, as was Wyclef Jean who did the music for the film), and Twice Born (featuring Penelope Cruz, with bonus Javier Bardem sighting, and Emile Hirsch). This year, the movies we got to see were Philomena, Dom Hemingway, and Bright Days Ahead.

Philomena stars Dame Judi Dench as the title character, a woman who after decades decides to open up and reveals that she once had a son as a teenager and was forced to give him up for adoption. The film follows her quest in finding her son, with the help of a journalist played by Steve Coogan (who also co-wrote the screenplay). Although I was unfamiliar with it, the movie was based on a true story. What the film did well was counter the dramatic moments of hope, despair, and heartbreak, with moments of humour. At the end of it, I started tearing up, along with most of the audience, because the movie was just so emotional.

Premiere Screening of "Philomena" w/ director Stephen Frears and writer/co-star Steve Coogan. Dame Judi Dench was unable to attend.

Premiere Screening of “Philomena” w/ director Stephen Frears and writer/co-star Steve Coogan. Dame Judi Dench was unable to attend.

Our second movie, Dom Hemingway, written and directed by Richard Shepard, was a completely different movie experience from Philomena. The movie stars Jude Law as the title character, playing against type in a role that is unlike any of his previous roles. Dom Hemingway is a foul-mouthed and aggressive safecracker, just getting out of prison after 12 years. Upon his release, he’s looking to collect his money for not ratting out his boss all these years, and then wants to re-connect with his daughter (played by Emilia Clarke) and his grandson. If it wasn’t for the festival, I don’t think I would have watched this movie because it’s not something I’d watch normally, but that feeling didn’t come until after it was over. If you ever watch this movie, you’ll realize that it is a very different role for Law, and you’ll immediately get a sense for the tone of the rest of the film.

Premiere Screening of "Dom Hemingway" (L-R): Director Richard Shepard, Richard E. Grant, Demian Bichir, Madalina Ghenea, Emilia Clarke, Jude Law

Premiere Screening of “Dom Hemingway”
(L-R): Director Richard Shepard, Richard E. Grant, Demian Bichir, Madalina Ghenea, Emilia Clarke, Jude Law

The third film that got chosen for us was a French film, Bright Days Ahead. The film follows Caroline (played by Fanny Ardant), an older woman at a crossroads in her life after retiring from dentistry, who begins an affair with a younger man. The plot doesn’t seem like much, but the execution to which director Marion Vernoux developed Caroline was wonderfully done.

We also took in two other movies, which were looking for distribution at the festival, and ended up being the hot movies getting picked up. The first was John Carney’s follow-up to the wonderful little movie Once, Can A Song Save Your Life? The movie stars Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo, as two down on their luck individuals, who connect after the former performs a song at an open mic night. Knightley’s Gretta has just been dumped by her rising star boyfriend/musical partner, Dave (played by Maroon 5’s Adam Levine in his feature film debut), and decided that with nothing holding her to New York, she’ll move back home to England. Ruffalo’s Dan is a music exec who refuses to play to the current industry’s state of business, has an alcohol problem, and estranged from his wife and daughter. The movie does invoke a similar feeling to Carney’s first film, but the good intentions and the great music really made it a wonderful movie. The Weinstein Company picked up the film and I am eagerly awaiting its official release (along with the soundtrack).

We capped off the festival with Bad Words, the directorial debut of Jason Bateman, who also starred. A small registration loophole for a national spelling bee for kids allows 40-year old Guy Trilby to enter and wipe out his pint-sized competition. It’s a great first effort by Bateman as a director, which also allowed him to play a character that isn’t completely likeable like we’ve come to see of him. Bateman is also supported in the film by the likes of Kathryn Hahn and Allison Janney, who add so much hilarity to the movie. Focus Features picked up distribution rights and I can totally see the general public LOVING this movie upon its release, because it is just so funny.

That’s it for this year, and I can’t wait to do it all again next year!

Fan Expo 2013 – The Time I Met Oliver Queen, Anna Espinosa, Annie Walker + Sandy Cohen!

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So these happened at Fan Expo…

Last month, I fulfilled my dream of going to San Diego Comic Con for the first time ever. I know the true comic book fans are upset at the Hollywood-ization of SDCC, but it’s kinda one of the big reasons why I wanted to go. In comparison, Toronto’s Fan Expo, the third largest Con in North America, is much more comic-oriented but still has lots of room for the TV shows and celebrities.

I actually went to Fan Expo last year, not really knowing what to expect. This year, having survived the crazy awesomeness of SDCC, I decided that I would once again go to Fan Expo, though just for one day. I picked Sunday as my day to attend. Now, one of the biggest changes for Fan Expo this year was the inclusion of a Sports Fan Expo, which meant that the entire Metro Toronto Convention Centre was being used, not just the South building. I can’t tell you how great a decision that was. It might have been that I went on Sunday, so maybe it was less crowded than Saturday, but there was actually room to walk around the exhibit hall. There was no feeling like people were invading your personal space like at SDCC! Plus, the lines aren’t nearly as crazy as SDCC. I heard some people complaining about how long some of the lines were, and I thought to myself “This is nothing compared to Hall H & Ballroom 20!”

I’m not sure if this happens at other Cons that aren’t SDCC, but one of the cool things about Fan Expo is that because they have a limited number (but still a fair amount) of celebrities attending, the celebs have an area where they sign autographs while they are at the Expo. Between these autographs and photo-ops, it gives the fans a good opportunity to meet the stars they want to see. The downside to this is that, whereas at SDCC the stars are sponsored/brought in by the studios and networks, at Fan Expo the stars are essentially paid to take time out of their schedules and show up, so you have to pay for the autographs and photo-ops (which are taken by professionals).

Now I got to the Convention Centre pretty much as they opened, so after getting my wristband and heading in, I figured I’d check out the autograph area to see what times certain celebs were gonna be there signing. When I got there, Stephen Amell was already at his table! Awesome! I’m terrible at small talk, being the awkward introvert that I am, so I said a few quick words when it was my turn to see Stephen, got my autograph and was on my way. Of note, I paid $40 for his autograph, and for an extra $20 I could’ve gotten my picture taken with him, but I didn’t, and I kind of regretted it later (See, sometimes, the real Asian in me can cause me to be really cheap and not spend money. Idiot.) I figured since I’m there, let’s get in line to see Gina Torres! Gina does not usually do Cons so I HAD to make sure I went to see her. And sure, Gina is in town because Suits films in Toronto, but between me not actually living in Toronto, the bad luck I have at meeting celebs on set, and my general awkwardness, this was my only chance. What’s funny is that meeting Stephen, I was my usual awkward self, though he was really nice. With Gina, I was actually shaking a little bit, on top of being my awkward self. I might not have seen Firefly (a little blasphemous, I know) but I’ve admired this woman from her days on Alias (I will always remember her as Anna Espinosa), and of course now Suits. With getting these autographs, we can get the celebs to personalize them, and I’m already paying for it so why not? My name may be short but since kindergarten, everybody has had a hard time guessing how to pronounce my name until I tell them (it’s pronounced like the letter T). So I get very impressed by anyone who does it on the first try, which is what Gina Torres did. And man, did it feel nice to just get her acknowledgment like that. Yup, it’s the little things that can turn me into a dork.

Stephen Amell signing autographs

Stephen Amell signing autographs

We technically weren't supposed to take picture of Gina or Nathan Fillion (who was signing autographs beside her), but I sneaked one in

We technically weren’t supposed to take picture of Gina Torres or Nathan Fillion (who was signing autographs beside her), but I managed to sneak one in

I had intended on going to see Shawn and Aaron Ashmore’s panel, after getting my autographs, but in a case of not thinking straight, I had made my way to the South Building, instead of staying on the North side where the panel was. Needless to say, I missed it so I went roaming around the exhibit hall instead. I’m not one to buy a lot of things at Cons, unless something catches my eye, and honestly, I’m really all about the free swag. There actually wasn’t that much in swag but I ended up picking a couple posters from E1 and some Orphan Black (my newest obsession) buttons from the Space booth. Again, I know it’s terrible to go to these Cons and say I’m not really into comics, but I’m not. I made an exception though, picking up the early Fringe comic/graphic novel and one issue of Beyond the Fringe, the one that Joshua Jackson co-wrote.

Stephen Amell's panel

Stephen Amell’s panel

The first of two panels I ended up seeing was Stephen Amell’s panel. I know I saw him as part of the Arrow panel at SDCC and that I got to meet him earlier that day, but I couldn’t miss the chance to see him again and just hear him talk about stuff. Besides being ridiculously handsome, if you’ve seen him do interviews, he comes off as a genuinely nice and cool guy, and it’s probably partially due to the fact that he’s Canadian. During his panel, there was obviously talk about season 2 of Arrow, which for the most part I had heard already at SDCC, but he added in some on-set/off-screen stories, which I as a TV fan always appreciate, as well as personal anecdotes. One of the highlights of the panel was when Stephen was asked about Ben Affleck’s casting as Batman, the possibility of a Justice League movie, and if the TV and film worlds of the DC universe would intertwine like how Marvel now has S.H.I.E.L.D on TV. I’ll tell you this, I was a little taken aback by how honest and candid he was with his answers. With regards to Affleck as Batman, he just stated that DC (or even Marvel for that matter) and producers don’t just hand out iconic roles like that, so we simply just have to have faith in Affleck’s portrayal of the caped crusader. With regards to possibly taking his Green Arrow/Oliver Queen to the big screen if a JLA movie does happen, he says he wants to just take things as they come but revealed that casting decisions (once again) don’t just get handed out and have to go through many levels of approval by DC and goes up so far as Christopher Nolan. It was that tidbit of information that surprised me. I knew Nolan was one of the producers of the latest Superman film, Man of Steel, but I didn’t realize the clout that Nolan has on the DC/Warner Brothers superhero universe, in essence making him the equivalent to Joss Whedon’s role in the Marvel film universe.  The hour panel with Stephen went by quickly, and before we knew it, the moderators were saying that we needed to wrap it up and let Stephen go back to signing autographs. For proof of just how great a guy Stephen is, when asked if there was any final words he wanted to say to us fans, he said he wanted to answer 3 more questions and then he ended up answering 4. Like I said, cool guy.

Unlike at SDCC where you can camp out in a room all day, at Fan Expo they clear out after each panel. They also leave some time between panels so that if you happen to want to check out back-to-back panels in the same room, you can still get yourself in line for the next one. That’s exactly what ended up happening for me because after Stephen Amell was the Covert Affairs panel. Now funny story while I was waiting in line for Covert Affairs – Stephen Amell walked passed all of us in line. The girls in front of me who were talking and gushing about him, barely even noticed that he was walking past, and then there’s me who saw him and said “Hi” to him like it was no big deal. (I tell you, my awkwardness can act in a very weird ways.) Another thing that’s cool about Fan Expo is that for the shows that do get brought in from the networks (like Covert Affairs, in this case, being brought in by Showcase), there’s a lottery/raffle to get into the line for the free autograph session as you head into the panel. They put 2 different coloured raffle tickets into a bag, you pick one as you go inside, before the panel starts they tell you which colour gets the autograph. Simple, and no need to wait in an extra line.

Covert Affairs panel with Piper Perabo, Kari Matchett, and Peter Gallagher. Christopher Gorham & Hill Harper were unable to make it due to filming.

Covert Affairs panel with Piper Perabo, Kari Matchett, and Peter Gallagher. Christopher Gorham & Hill Harper were unable to make it due to filming.

I have to admit it was a little weird sitting in the panel hearing Piper Perabo, Kari Matchett, and Peter Gallagher talk about season 4 in a non-spoilery way because the new season hadn’t premiered in Canada yet, but I’ve been watching online so I know what’s been going on unless it’s later on in the season. As always, the real gems of all these panels are the behind-the-scenes stories. Hints/spoilers on what’s coming up are cool, anecdotes and random tangents are cooler (and funnier). Take for instance Piper recounting the time they were in Venice and they’re filming a scene where she’s in a foot chase because some guy stole from her. Now when they film on the street in Toronto, the area gets blocked off with security stopping people from entering a scene. When they’re filming abroad though, that doesn’t happen, so it’s sort of a free-for-all. So Piper’s filming this scene and these local guys don’t know/realize that there’s filming going on, so they would go after Piper and try to help her catch this thief; the crew kept on having to stop filming to let these locals know that it’s all fake and go back to whatever they were doing. Another fun moment was getting Peter Gallagher to sing, which for the record, didn’t take much work to convince him.

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About that autograph lottery earlier, I was not one of the lucky people to get the “winning” raffle ticket. I will tell you this though, sometimes (and by that I mean VERY RARELY) it pays to be a fan of a less popular show. Not enough people drew the winning colour so Showcase still had spots for the autograph signing. After the panel, I quickly made my way to the Showcase booth and tried to see if I could get one of those spots and all I had to do when I got there was answer the question they posted on Twitter. Needless to say, I got into the autograph signing! Surprisingly, when I came up to Peter, I managed to say that I was a big fan of Center Stage and The O.C., which is infinitely more than I was able to say to either Stephen or Gina earlier, and he mentioned how he just had dinner a couple weeks ago with Melinda Clarke (who’s obviously been in town filming Nikita). My day was made.

Covert Affairs autograph signing

Covert Affairs autograph signing

After the autograph signing, I made another run through of the exhibit hall and then called it a day. I had a lot more fun at Fan Expo this year than last, that’s for sure. I know I keep comparing FE & SDCC, but they are two different beasts. The general feeling at both events are similar but very different at the same time. Obviously in terms of meeting celebs, I was way more successful in my one day at FE than I was the entire 4 days at SDCC, but I was afforded a lot more opportunity to make those meets happen. Will I be back to FE next year? As long as they continue to bring celebs/shows that I’m a fan of, most definitely.

Oscars 2013 Winners

Daniel Day-Lewis, Jennifer Lawrence, Anne Hathaway, Christoph Waltz

It was an exciting year for movies, which made for an equally exciting awards season that came to an end with Sunday’s Academy Awards. Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane hosted the show with great laughs and amazing self-awareness, giving the show a new and fresh feeling that was much-needed by the producers of the show.

A run-down of the night’s winners…

BEST PICTURE: Argo 

With the movie picking up pretty much all the precursors leading up to the Oscars, it was nearly a sure thing that it would win the big prize. That, however, didn’t make it any less exciting to see it actually win and getting to hear producer/director/actor Ben Affleck’s incredibly touching speech. And can you believe that it’s been nearly 15 years since Affleck and Matt Damon won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Good Will Hunting? He has come such a long way.

ACTOR: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln 

One of the few locks to win, Daniel Day-Lewis became the first actor to win 3 Oscars in the category. Though I myself could not watch Lincoln in its entirety (I’m just not the right demographic for it), I have to admit that he put in an incredible performance. I suppose there’s something to be said about being really careful in choosing the right roles in the right films.

ACTRESS: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

When I had made my initial comments upon hearing the nominees, I had thought the race would come down to Jessica Chastain and Naomi Watts. Of course at the time, I had yet to see Silver Linings. Leading right up to the show, I still believed that it was a really tight race, but I was really happy about Lawrence’s win. For 22, Lawrence really continues to impress us all with just how real she seems and she handled herself wonderfully after her fall up the stairs to collect her award.

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained

It was anybody’s guess who would win the award, amongst a group of former winners. In the end, Waltz came out on top for yet another Tarentino role that seemed made for him.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

There was no doubt that Hathaway wasn’t going to win. There’s really nothing else to say about it.

DIRECTOR: Ang Lee, Life of Pi

With Ben Affleck absolutely snubbed in the category, the race ultimately came down to Ang Lee and Steven Spielberg, both great directors. While some believed that Spielberg would add a 3rd Oscar to his collection, I had the sense that Lee would win in the end. Everyone kept on talking about how Lee was able to make a movie based on a book that was deemed unfilmable. If filming the impossible doesn’t get you a win, I don’t what would.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Quentin Tarentino, Django Unchained

For some time, it seemed that Mark Boal’s script for Zero Dark Thirty would win, but having won the award for his The Hurt Locker script just three years ago (against Tarentino’s script for Inglourious Basterds, no less) and continued controversy over the story and the facts, Boal’s chances of winning were diminishing. Tarentino’s penchant for original stories ultimately gave him a win – his first since winning for Pulp Fiction.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Chris Terrio, Argo

With the swell of support for Argo, Terrio’s script based on a Wired magazine article and Tony Mendez’s book “The Master of Disguise” was clearly the favourite to win against David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook script and Tony Kushner’s script for Lincoln.

ORIGINAL SONG: “Skyfall” by Adele and Paul Epworth, Skyfall

It’s Adele. Was there really any doubt that she wouldn’t win?

ORIGINAL SCORE: Mychael Danna, Life of Pi

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: Amour

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM: Brave

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Rick Carter and Jim Erickson, Lincoln

CINEMATOGRAPHY: Claudio Miranda, Life of Pi

COSTUME DESIGN: Jacqueline Durran, Anna Karenina

FILM EDITING: William Goldberg, Argo

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: Searching for Sugar Man

DOCUMENTARY SHORT: Inocente

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING: Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell, Les Miserables

SOUND MIXING: Andy Nelson, Mark Patterson, and Simon Hayes, Les Miserables

SOUND EDITING: (TIE) Per Hallberg & Karen Baker Landers, Skyfall; Paul N.J. Ottosson, Zero Dark Thirty

VISUAL EFFECTS: Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer and Donald R. Elliott, Life of Pi

ANIMATED SHORT FILM: Paperman

LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM: Curfew

Once again, with the great amount of movies in 2012, it was nice to see that wealth was spread, and not just one movie swept. Despite the expected long running time, the overall show was well-produced and provided some great moments. Here’s to hoping that 2013 will provide another great pool of movies by which audiences and critics alike will enjoy.

In the meantime, what were your thoughts on the show? Happy with the winners? How did Seth MacFarlane do as host? Since MacFarlane has already stated that his hosting gig was a one-time thing, who should helm the show next year?