The general consensus for this movie seemed to be “meh,” but I really enjoyed it. It’s a blend of juicy things I adore in films – a period drama, a behind-the-scenes take on a Hollywood legend, and some glamourous looks. I’m also so fascinated by famous couples of this mid-century era who also worked onscreen together. The Last Movie Stars about Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward fit that bill for me this year, but Being the Ricardos also inspired me to watch Amy Poehler’s Lucy and Desi for more insight into the couple’s dynamic onscreen and off.
2) CODA (2021, Watched 2/17/22)
People who think this movie wasn’t gritty or artistic enough for all of its critical praise need to take a step back. Whoever said that every movie up for Oscars had to tell a depressing story? It reminds me of when Jon Stewart hosted the ceremony in 2008 and noted how dark and gory every nominated movie was, sans Juno (“Thank God for teen pregnancy!”). CODA was a sweet, uplifting movie about a family dynamic that’s rarely represented onscreen or even considered by most people IRL. Movies are supposed to help us empathize, learn, and relate, and that’s what CODA did for me.
The third season of this premiered this year, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet, and the first two particularly stick out to me because I binged them throughout a snowy weekend. The show follows a couple’s quest to have children, which soon becomes an adoption journey. If you love sitcoms that have you laughing one minute and crying the next, Trying is a satisfying and quick watch available in the US on Apple TV.
The general gist I knew about this book before reading it was “The Godfather, but women.” My Italian grandfather grew up in Brooklyn with guys who either ended up in the Mafia IRL or pretended to be in the Mafia in movies, and strangers regularly tell my dad he resembles Al Pacino. So, this book felt like it would be somewhat familiar territory.
In The Family, Antonia and Sofia are the daughters of two best friends recruited by the mob in the mid-twentieth century in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood. The girls are inseparable until Antonia’s father disappears, causing new feelings about this society that has sucked in their families. Antonia becomes disillusioned with this lifestyle, while Sofia is determined to prove her worth to the men in charge.
The book has a slow start, but once the girls grow and begin following their own, separate paths, the story just envelops you and refuses to let go until it ends. Family dramas taking place over decades are my catnip in fiction, and this was no exception.
Rachael Ray was a symbol of efficiency in our household. She churned out meals in a half hour, presenting thick dishes filled with macaroni and meat and cheese that would satisfy our family of six on a hectic school night. To this day, although it’s made far less frequently because of an emptier house and dietary restrictions, my mom still rattles off, “The Rachael Ray sloppy joe mac and cheese,” when she’s returning to this old favorite for dinner.
Rachael’s New York Italian roots and her assured way of instruction have always felt like home to me. I know so many women with the same friendly but no-nonsense quickness about them, and lately, I’ve appreciated the same quality inAlex Guarnaschelli and her recipes. Before Food Network was an endless loop of challenge shows and Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (not complaining, BTW), it was 30-Minute Meals and $40 a Day for me.
I find that Christina Lauren books are either straight-up rom-coms or dramedies, and I usually prefer their more serious stories to the fluffier ones. However, The Soulmate Equation was a surprising blend of these two extremes, and I ate it up completely. I love when the sexiness of certain romance novel scenes is just so palpable on the page, and this was especially true of this book.
Like anyone with a conscience, I was really feeling the damage of 2020 by last year’s holiday season. I struggled in feeling hopeful for the future and overcoming what seemed like a major dead end. Then I watched Soul, and the second its closing credits rolled, I sobbed. Suddenly, everything was going to be okay. Almost anything Pixar has made in the last decade has the power to destroy me, and Soul‘s take on enjoying your life and finding gratitude in it was no exception.
Until these last few cautious, difficult weeks of 2021, I was definitely enjoying the return of semi-normalcy in the world, and that included marathoning less television. I even went through phases of just not having the patience for much TV. This will likely change amidst colder weather and the current Omicron surge, but when I came across something this year that really clicked with me, I went all in.
As always, this isn’t limited to TV released just this year.
Dash & Lily
I initially thought this love letter to a New York City Christmas would be too difficult to watch in December 2020, when the dimmest light of hope was that a COVID vaccine was officially ready. After friends insisted it was right up my alley, I watched the entire season on New Year’s Day. It’s delightful and occasionally heartwrenching, and if you know New York, you’ll recognize plenty of settings and slight inconsistencies with real life (my nitpick: the characters drink holiday cocktails at McSorley’s, which actually only serves light or dark ale).
I kicked off 2021 with a New Year’s Day marathon of Dash& Lily after friends kept telling me it was right up my alley. Any reminder of New York City at Christmas in the before times initially seemed too devastating, but this was exactly what I needed at that point in time. Lily, a romantic and old-fashioned teenager, leaves a notebook in the Strand bookstore with the intention of a boy finding the dares she wrote on its pages. Cynical, guarded Dash discovers the book, initiating a series of wild missions for the duo across the city before they even meet. Yes, it’s a slightly bittersweet viewing, but being quite the Lily myself, the series was almost a restorative balm for me.
I had a delayed start to the Bridgertoncraze, but better late than never! After finishing and loving Season 1, I began binge-reading Julia Quinn’s books, and I’m now up to Eloise’s story, To Sir Phillip, With Love. I love how readers can identify certain aspects that the TV writers clearly honed in on for an adaptation tweak. That being said, the books aren’t as enveloped in the family’s world and contemporaries as the series is, and their focus remains firmly on a particular story’s starring couple. I’d compare their differences to something like The Princess Diaries — they’re both so beloved for what they are and each has elements you can appreciate separately from its other representation. Basically, the two mediums are more like close cousins than identical twins.
TV has honestly been my saving grace of 2020. It was one of the few pros of early quarantine, and even now, when there still isn’t much to do safely but stay home, it remains a great distraction. This year, I’ve had the time to try out some prestige TV, revisit old trashy favorites like Four Weddings, 16 and Pregnant, and America’s Next Top Model, and discover some unexpected gems.
Up until the summer hit and the glaring uncertainty of the fall TV season was palpable, 2020 really delivered when it came to escapist TV. While I’ll refrain from my rant about Peter Weber’s Bachelor season cursing the rest of the year (his finale aired just as everything was imploding in March), I feel like 2020 allowed for a new kind of inclusive creativity that hasn’t quite happened before.
By that, I mean that there was truly something for everyone. I have no interest in dark, brooding dramas like Ozark and I can’t find the energy to commit to a new dating reality show like Love is Blind, but they’re there for whoever wants them. I want nothing to do with shows’ COVID-adjacent storylines, but they’re there if you want them. On the other hand, witty dramedies with smart female characters that delivered a perfect combination of joy and heartbreak? There was an abundance of them this year that I don’t think I’ve seen before.
That being said, I’m still working through popular 2020 favorites like The Queen’s Gambit and Normal People, because content that’s on the slow, bleaker side isn’t really doing it for me now. The common theme among the following favorites is definitely a sense of optimism and happiness.
1) Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, Season 1
The final scene of this season finale is honestly the most beautiful piece of television I’ve seen in a really long time (and I cry at a lot of TV!). My parents unexpectedly stumbled upon the premiere episode on their own and loved it, so all of us watching the show together every Sunday became a highlight of our early quarantine. It delivered so much joy but could also crush your heart within a matter of seconds. I’m so excited for its second season premiere on Jan. 5 and its schedule upgrade from a Sunday night slot to Tuesdays.
It took extremely gloomy weather and moods for me to pull another Emily Gilmore and insist upon finding some joy and letting it be satisfying and enough and motivating. I made an indulgent brie grilled cheese for lunch. I played Christmas music while working. I exercised after the workday, which I haven’t done enough in the pandemic world because, gosh darn it, I love and miss my Planet Fitness. I also recognized that I’m still finding joy in certain pop culture that really has made this time more manageable.
Let’s start with the title of this post. I keep playlists for my writing projects that consist of songs that either inspire this particular work or are directly included in it. For my current work-in-progress, I recently stumbled across “For Now” from the musical Avenue Q, which is just a sweet, delightful song reminding us that everything, good or bad, is temporary — for now. Every listen of it always cheers me up.
I’ve recently discovered the Pod Ledom podcast, a recap series of America’s Next Top Model. If there’s anything my 2020 posts might have taught you, it’s that ANTM rewatches will always be my top TV guilty pleasure. Just when I had exhausted my favorite cycles and confirmed that certain seasons are still unwatchable, this podcast came along with its hilarious and insightful trio of hosts. Plus, they’re only up to Cycle 10 of their rewatch, so I have tons of content to look forward to. If you’re a fan of America’s Next Top Best Friend, Pod Ledom is similarly goofy, but it dives a little deeper into ANTM episodes without tangents.