Five Star Book: Educated by Tara Westover

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You’ve probably already had this book recommended to you. I know I saw it on a ton of year end lists and my mom and sister in law both strongly encouraged me to read it. And even if “a memoir of growing up in a family of separatist Mormons” doesn’t feel as aggressively on brand for you as it did for me, let me add my voice to the chorus urging you to give this book a read.

Because, yes, it’s about faith, and an unconventional childhood, but it’s really about growing up and learning to define yourself separately from the myths of your family.  Granted, the Westover’s myths are a lot more powerful and dangerous than anyone that I know, but she writes with such clarity and empathy that I think anyone could connect to her story.

What I admire most about the book is her refusal to offer simple answers. Her childhood was undeniably abusive (and reading some of her descriptions may be triggering for some) but she never paints her family as clearly cut villains. (And it would be pretty easy to.) Instead she examines what she learned from her unconventional life and gives credit both to her family for what they did give her and to herself for having the strength to break away.

Best Picture Baking Project: Forrest Gump

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To keep my “actually doing this every month” streak going, I ended up hosting a Best Picture Baking screening the day after this year’s Oscars. (No I have no idea what I will eventually bake for Green Book…thankfully Forrest Gump had a logically built in dessert.)

Had I seen this one before? 

Only about a thousand times on TV over the years. In college when I sat down to watch it (for a class? to avoid watching the thing I was meant to watch for class? Who knows.) I was surprised there were scenes I hadn’t see before, because I felt like I knew this movie back to front from childhood.

Top 3 observations on this viewing? 

  1. Honestly, it holds up. I was a little wary, given our current cultural conversations, that it would come across as dated and cringey (so many Best Pictures do!) but the clearly metaphorical/satirical nature of the story means that while attitudes have changed, the mythical “America” Forrest et. al. are meant to portray/deconstruct is still a dominant narrative in our cultural understanding of our history and ourselves.

Oh, you weren’t expecting critical deconstruction of the metaphorical meaning of Forrest Gump, that’s probably because you take this movie too literally. (*cough* Dad, you’re very wrong about this one *cough*).

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2. All that being said, the reason this won best picture is because of Robert Zemeckis’s technical achievement of putting Tom Hanks into archival footage. And that stuff is still cute to look at, but admittedly a little cheesy.

3. This is not an important point. It’s far from the most important point to even make about her character, but Robin Wright’s hair in this film is perfect in every era, and I want to know what witchcraft Jenny was practicing.

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Every. Era.

What did it beat? Did it deserve to win? 

Four Weddings and a Funeral – One of my all time favorite movies. It’s got some “Richard Curtis thinks American women are sex aliens” issues, but it is a classic and I love it.

Pulp Fiction – The origin of all of my anti-Tarantino bias. I saw parts of this way too young and honestly find it triggering.

Quiz Show – This is an underrated movie, that I always forget about until it’s mentioned, but it’s great!

The Shawshank Redemption – Fun fact: I finally saw this for the first time like a month ago! It’s very good, though I find it very upsetting. I know I am supposed to find it uplifting, but the sad parts stick in my head rather than the ending. This is admittedly my issue not the film’s.

Wow. I feel like given these options I would have assumed a Shawshank victory, but the Academy is going to Academy. I know that my film nerd friends want to say that this is was obviously Pulp Fiction‘s year, but Tarantino is trash. I love that Four Weddings was nominated, that the Academy used to pay attention to romantic comedies, but honestly, I’d give it to Gump. 

Bechdel Test pass?

Nope. But to be fair, I don’t think any men have conversations about anything other than Forrest, except for maybe Bubba talking about shrimp.

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Mama always said that life was like a box of chocolates, and years ago when putting together this original list I found a cake called a “Box of Chocolate Cake” but when I went to look for it again this week the link was broken! So I opened up my copy of How To Cook Everything and made Mark Bittman’s “Chocolate Layer Cake,” and “Chocolate Buttercream” and then bought a box of chocolates and put them on top!

Box of Chocolates Cake

Ingredients for cake

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 oz unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups milk

Ingredients for topping

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 6 tablespoons cream (plus a little more if needed)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 oz unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 box of chocolates (Note: I used Ferrero Rocher because it was the only box available at my grocery store which was fun and fancy – and hilarious if you know how unfancy my grocery store is.)

Directions for Cake

  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. Butter the bottom and sides of 2 9in layer cake pans, sprinkle with flour
  3. Melt the chocolate in a small double boiler
  4. Remove from heat and stir until smooth. Set aside to cool.
  5. Using an electric mixer cream the butter until smooth
  6. Gradually add the sugar
  7. Beat until light and fluffy (approx. 3 minutes)
  8. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time
  9. Add the vanilla
  10. Add the chocolate
  11. Mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt
  12. Add the dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture a little at a time, alternating with the milk
  13. Stir until smooth, no longer
  14. Whip the egg whites until they hold soft peaks
  15. Use a rubber spatula to fold them gently and completely into the batter
  16. Pour into the prepared cake pans
  17. Bake for 30 minutes (or until a knife comes out of the center clean)
  18. Cool in their pans for 5 minutes
  19. Turn out of pans to complete cooling

Directions for Decoration

  1. Melt the chocolate in a small double boiler
  2. Remove from heat and still until smooth. Set aside to cool.
  3. Using an electric mixer cream the butter
  4. Gradually mix in half of the sugar, alternating with the cream a tablespoon at a time
  5. Mix in the chocolate
  6. Return to alternating sugar and cream until all sugar is added, mixing completely after each addition
  7. Stir in the vanilla
  8. Move one cooled cake layer onto serving plate
  9. Cover top of tier with frosting
  10. Add second tier on top and cover whole cake with remaining frosting
  11. Decorate the top of iced cake with chocolates

Award Show Round Up: Oscars 2019

You know, the fact that Green Book won Best Picture, was an unpleasant surprise at the end of the night, but let’s not let that leave a bad taste in our mouths. In general, last night’s show was pleasant and fun and there were some wonderful, history making winners.

(For the record, I do not hate Green Book, but it was pretty clearly a strange choice for best movie of the year. But…at least it wasn’t Vice.) Anyway, on to better things.

For the most part I didn’t find the lack of host to be a lack at all. There are few better ways to open anything than this song:


(Also it was fun to watch which stars were really rocking out in the crowd.)

And these ladies did a great job kicking off the awards presentations:

(If we are going to return to hosts next year – not that we need to – these 3 should do that.)

Another good way to start anything: GIVE REGINA KING AN OSCAR!!!!

Everything about the costume awards presentation was epic (especially the historic winner):

Keep the good Black Panther feelings flowing for the Production Design ground breaker:

(Also I saw a tweet last night asking if the director didn’t know where Ryan Coogler was sitting or something? Why were they never cutting to him?)

I’m going to go out of order here, but like, Alfonso Cuaron got to give a lot of speeches last night, and I liked all of them. (I only wish he also got to give the final one, but we can’t everything):


(Also love how much Angela and Javier relished rolling that R.)
“There are no waves there is only the Ocean,” is also a great philosophy for looking at art.

I also LOVE that Guillermo was there to present this to Alfonso, their friendship has always made me really happy and that hug was wonderful.

Mahershela Ali is a class act who I am always happy to see get lauded, but he’s holding Richard’s Oscar:

I didn’t see Buster Scruggs but I liked our little Western moment last night:

This was a fun moment:

But my favorite duo of presenters are these awards dorks:

My first tears of the night:

And then the second:

(Sorry about the captions, the Academy was better about uploading speeches this year, but not performances for some reason…) And yes, I see all your tweets about how their chemistry is incendiary. But to quote Katey Rich, “In this house we respect Irina Shayk!”

ACADEMY AWARD WINNER SPIKE LEE LADIES AND GENTLEMAN!:

The least surprising win of the night (totally deserved of course):

And the most. Look, I love Olivia, I really really do, but what does Glenn have to do? Kill and skin a horse?

(Also – I know his speech wasn’t perfect and he should have thanked Freddie more directly, but I love Rami and I especially love that he and Lucy Boynton are in love and so this speech warmed my heart a lot):

This blog is a Peter Farrelly free zone, so I will not be posting the video of Best Picture. So, let’s move onto fashion. It was a night of a lot of fluffy pink (like a lot) of fluffy pink, but there were a lot of great gowns!

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Constance Wu in custom Versace (Photo Credit: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

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Yalitza Aparicio in Rodarte (Photo Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

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Regina King in Oscar de la Renta (Photo Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

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Glenn Close in Carolina Herrera (Photo Credit: Jay L. Clendenin/LA Times)

Give this woman a fucking Oscar.

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Melissa McCarthy in Brandon Maxwell (Photo Credit: Getty/Steve Granitz)

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Helen Mirren in Schiaparelli Haute Couture (Photo Credit: Getty Images/Nielson Barnard)

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Emma Stone in Louis Vuitton (Photo Credit: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

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Lucy Boynton in Rodarte (Photo Credit: Steve Granitz/WireImage)

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Danai Gurira in Brock Collection (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

 

And the Nominees Are 2019: Final Round

Happy Oscars Week! I did not do as much catch up as I hoped…but I did finally see The Wife and a couple of British documentaries ( but not the one that will most likely win.) Here are my thoughts:

 

They Shall Not Grow Old

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Firstly, as a technical achievement this film is a marvel. As an archivist, I applaud Peter Jackson and his team’s innovation in bringing 100 year old filmstrips into the 21st century so those captured on them feel remarkably alive. The use of oral history along with the images does a lot to personalize WWI, which is one of those events that can feel etched in stone, a landmark rather than an experience had by actual humans.

That all being said, this was very hard to watch, the reality of war is grimy and gross and longtime readers will know those are not words that describe art I love. So, instead I’ll say, I appreciate this film and the intent of its creators, but I can’t go further than that.

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McQueen

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Before we started watching this I told my boyfriend that all I knew about Alexander McQueen was that he was twisted, but then would turn around and design a gorgeous gown for a royal wedding. And, this documentary confirmed that impression, but also gave a wonderful view into his background and world without ever feeling exploitative. He was an artist that worked in a commercial medium and the tension of that, along with the after effects of trauma led him to a dark place. Remarkably, this movie manages to tell this story, and show his legendarily dark runway presentations without ever making me viscerally uncomfortable. Which isn’t to say that it sugar coats, because it doesn’t. It’s just a humane look at a successful but sad man. And it’s beautiful. (Though I admit, if I were to ever somehow become filthy rich, I would want of his sell-out Givenchy collection more than any of his revolutionary self-branded output, but I think that’s an issue with me.

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The Wife

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Glenn Close is a legend and deserves an Oscar. I just want to say that up front, and I’m totally fine with that Oscar being for this performance.

The movie as a whole has some issues. The score, for one, is overly dramatic and deployed strangely throughout the film to heighten tension (I guess?), but actually it just undercuts the realism of Close and co-star Jonathan Pryce‘s performances. (Overly dramatic could also describe Max Irons‘s whole character, which is disappointing since I’ve loved him since The White Queen, but this movie allows him no swagger.) Also, for a movie with with characters that spend a lot of time discussing the woodeness of dialogue, there are come clunky sections here.

All that being said, when director Björn Runge allows the camera to linger on Glenn’s face she is masterful and I was totally compelled.

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Sad Motivation Playlist

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Sometimes I get weird thematic ideas for playlists, and this week inspired by Brandi Carlile’s Grammy performance (see below), I put together this mix of songs that are uplifting but also sad. Because, apparently that’s a genre I like a lot.

As always, the mix is available here on Apple Music.

The Joke – Brandi Carlile

She Used To Be Mine- Sara Bareilles

Little Me- Little Mix

Rainbow- Kacey Musgraves

Sign of the Times- Harry Styles

(This was going to be an all female mix, but then I couldn’t help myself…)

Not Ready To Make Nice- Dixie Chicks

Praying- Kesha

Golden- Kelly Hogan

GIRL- Maren Morris

Long Live- Taylor Swift

Award Show Round Up: BAFTAs 2019

Once again the British Academy scheduled their awards on the same night as the Grammys, so sorry you won’t get a crazy fashion countdown from me. But, there was a lovely, very British, awards night that I enjoyed last night. But, BBC America – why did you start the rebroadcast at 9 this year instead of 8?!?! I need to sleep. And all you were showing before the show was The Godfather, for the 3rd time that day!

OK, rant over, Joanna Lumley’s opening was uncomfortable and the crowd was silent, which was not a great way to start the night, but the first few awards of the night going to the supremely British The Favourite, got us back on track. Regina was somehow not nominated for Best Supporting Actress, but since she wasn’t nominated, I’ll take a win for Rachel:

EE Rising Star speeches are usually bombastic affairs, but Leticia Wright went much more humble, and religious with hers, but I liked her humility:

And really appreciated Andy Serkis and Danai Gurira’s celebration for her later in the show. (Which I can’t find a clip of right now, but trust me it was cute. There was a dance.)

I would have given Best Adapted Screenplay to Barry Jenkins for Beale Street but I like to see Spike Lee win things. And also, liked to see that the good Brits in the Royal Albert Hall didn’t know what to do with the Brooklyn shout out at the end:
Also, I’m pretty sure he photobombed the Duke of Cambridge, which I love.

Bradley Cooper finally got to give a speech! And yes, it was partly, because Gaga was at the Grammy’s, but whatever:

(Sorry this is such bas quality, BAFTA was weirdly selective about what categories they uploaded.)

Mahersehla Ali is a lovely human, but he is holding Richard E. Grant’s award:

Roma won a lot of awards, which meant Alfonso got to give a lot of speeches. My favorite speech was his first for Cinematography, but there is no clip of that on YouTube so here’s his producer being great:

Rami gives a good speech:

Also please note at the beginning of this video 2 things:
1. He and Lucy Boynton are the cutest couple in Hollywood right now.
2. Spike Lee is so pumped for him!

I still haven’t seen The Wife but I was pulling for Gwen, but Olivia Colman was the most delightful winner of the evening:

One of the things I really love about the BAFTAs is the way their Lifetime Achievement Award (“The Fellowship”) is awarded more broadly than to just actors and famous directors. Like, last night they gave it to Scorsese’s editor Thelma Schoonemaker, who is a legend, and it was very cool to see her honored:

(This is a shortened version of her speech. She told a cool story about editing Cate Blanchett in The Aviator but the BAFTA social media team is strange and cut it.)

Best Picture went to Roma which I guess makes it the Oscar front runner, as much as we have one this year, which is great!

It was a relatively hum-drum fashion night (all the fun designers were focused on the Grammy’s I bet), but here were my favorites:

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Regina King in Versace (Photo Credit: Anthony Harvey/BAFTA/REX/Shutterstock)

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Michelle Yeoh in Elie Saab (Photo Credit: David Fisher/BAFTA/REX/Shutterstock)

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Olivia Colman in Emilia Wickstead (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

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Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge in Alexander McQueen with Prince William, Duke of Cambridge (Photo Credit: Getty/Samir Hussein)

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Elizabeth Debicki in Armani Privé (Photo Credit: Getty)

Also – she didn’t attend the main show, because she and her boyfriend (and star of like 4 awards season movies) Joe Alwyn don’t walk carpets together, but this picture on her Instagram is too pretty not to share:

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Taylor Swift in Stella McCartney (Photo Credit: Instagram)

 

Music For Your Weekend

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As always if you want to listen to this playlist on Apple Music, you can click here!

Carolina – Harry Styles

Happy Birthday Mr. Styles!

TROUBLE – Parov Stela feat. Nikki Wiliams

Wedding in Finistère – Jens Lekman

Come On-A-My House – Jeff Goldblum & The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra feat. Imelda May

Did you know Jeff Goldblum is a jazz pianist? I didn’t until today, when something from his album came up on my “For You” on Apple Music.

Almost Lover – A Fine Frenzy

(Just in case you need a cry this weekend…)

Call My Name – I’m With Her

Thunder Road – I’m With Her

Did you know there is a charity album of ukulele covers of Bruce Springsteen songs? Well, now you do.

Carry On With Me – Júníus Meyvant

The Tide – Niall Horan feat. The RTÉ Concert Orchestra

It’s not surprising to anyone who knows me/follows my Instagram and saw the trek my boyfriend and I took last fall to Niall play in deep Jersey, so I was pretty excited to see today that he released a new version of his album Flicker today with the backing of the Irish TV station RTÉ’s in house orchestra. The original album is lovely, but we thought he and his band were much better live than in studio and I think these versions of these songs show a part of why.

Where Do Broken Hearts Go – One Direction 

Since we now have two former members of One Direction on this list, let’s end it with a classic. Have a great weekend!

Five Star Book: Stray City by Chelsey Johnson

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I haven’t fallen into a book like this in a while, but I wanted so desperately to keep reading Chelsey Johnson’s debut novel that I even attempted to read it standing up on the subway. (That didn’t last long, New Yorkers who can do this – teach me your secrets!)

There isn’t a ton of plot to hook you, basically the story is in the premise – young, queer Andrea, broken hearted after a break up, starts an ill-thought-out fling with a straight man and finds herself pregnant – but the setting (Portland in the 90s and 2000s) and the characters that inhabit it all feel so real. Even at its most emotionally fraught moments there is a real warmth to this book. I’m not a member of the queer community and I (obviously) didn’t live in Portland 20 years ago, but I could still relate to Andrea’s search for community and the way she works to create a sense of family in a world where seemingly everyone is transitory.

I also appreciated how the story has no obvious villains, just a lot of people trying (and often failing) to do their best by each other and themselves. This could have been a soap opera, but instead it’s a slice of life full of the consolations of friendship and joy.

Best Picture Baking Project: Driving Miss Daisy

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I’ve now officially seen the movie that won Best Picture the year I was born! That feels like some sort of milestone. I’m not sure what it marks except that I have actually managed to stick to a pattern of continuing this project consistently in the last few months, but I’ll take it as a win.

Had I seen this one before?

As you can guess from my intro, no I hadn’t seen it before, though, obviously, it’s joked about and referenced enough that I knew the broad outline.

Top 3 observations on this viewing? 

  1. The score – recorded all on synthesizers by composer Hans Zimmer – is so 1989 and insane, but also bouncy and kind of fun.

2. I was on edge the whole time waiting for this uncomfortable premise (old Southern white lady hires an African American man to be her driver) to veer somewhere really offensive. (I watched Cimarron, Crashand Dances With Wolves all in a row I don’t trust the Academy very much on race right now.) But, despite the deferential language Morgan Freeman uses, which would have been true to the period I’m sure, this was much more nuanced that I was expecting.

3. The fact that Dan Ackroyd was nominated for a Supporting Actor Oscar for this is insane. I mean, he’s fine, nothing wrong with his performances, but it’s literally just “affable guy with an accent.” They should’ve nominated Patti LuPone as his wife for her side eye alone.

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What did it beat? Did it deserve to win? 

Born on the Fourth of July I have a lot of issues with Oliver Stone, but his is a great film

Dead Poets Society – As I am a former prep school girl obsessed with poetry, it will surprise no one that this movie is burned into my brain. it was the first time a move made me cry until I shook.

Field of Dreams – I’ll admit I’ve never seen this all the way through, but it’s great as far as I’ve seen

My Left Foot – Great. Classic. Large Irish Family, Daniel Day-Lewis, Jim Sheridan, what more could you ask for?

Wow, what a stacked year! I’m not mad Daisy won, but I’d give it to either Born or Poets. 

Bechdel Test pass?

Um, off the top of my head, yes I think this passes. (Note: The Bechdel site confirms it does!) Daisy and her maid – Idella – both have names and talk to each other. Though their conversations are in passing and their relationship is clearly a depiction of an uncomfortable power imbalance.

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But enough about all of that, I made a cake with Coca Cola (because the movie is set in Atlanta.) I modified the recipe by leaving the coca cola syrup off (it was supposed to have an entire box of powdered sugar in it, and as you can see the cake itself already had more than enough sugar in it.

Coca-Cola Cake

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Coca-Cola
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cup miniature marshmallows

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. Grease and flour 13 x 9 in pan (Or be lazy like me and just line it with parchment paper.)
  3. Combine Coca-Cola and buttermilk and set aside
  4. Beat butter at low speed until creamy
  5. Gradually add sugar, beat until blended
  6. Combine flour, cocoa and soda
  7. Add flour mixture to butter alternately with cola mixture (beginning and ending with flour)
  8. Beat at low speed until just blended
  9. Stir in marshmallows
  10. Pour batter into cake pan*
  11. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes

* This step broke my spatula (full disclosure, it was old):

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This is the kind of content you can get if you follow me on Instagram at @kathryndennett

Award Show Round Up: SAG Awards 2019

This awards season has been insane, we really still don’t have a front runner for Best Picture, which is insane. But, I had a lot of fun with the SAG Awards last night. (Despite Megan Mullallay kind of bombing as host.

The traditional, “I’m an Actor” intro was worth it just for the Geoffrey Owens appearance!

It was a big night for Maisel (as it should be), and Tony fanboying out over Alan Arkin was a delightful way to start the speeches:

Obviously, Regina King should have been nominated for Supporting Actress, but Emily Blunt and John Krasinski are the most adorable couple, maybe ever:

JUSTICE FOR RICHARD E. GRANT (But Mahershela Ali is a class act always):

Patricia Arquette is bonkers and I love her:

Sandra Oh should win all of the things:

This Is Us winning best Drama cast again was a lovely surprise, mostly because we got to see the kids in the cast look adorably happy. (If I may suggest, press cause when Justin Hartley starts talking all he does is make a stupid joke.):

I literally yelled with joy when Rami won best lead. I don’t even love his performance that much (it’s great don’t get me wrong), I was just so excited that Vice didn’t win anything, because awards season does something to my brain:

Calling it now, Glenn Close is going to finally win her Oscar, (and if she doesn’t pretty much anyone else in her category would be cool too):

(Also, I really need to see The Wife.)

Then Black Panther won Best Cast! Because the Best Picture race is wide open!! What a time to be alive! And also, Chadwick gave a very good speech:

It continues to a year full of strange sheer panels and extra sleeves. (Or extra collars? What was that thing on Emily Blunt?) But there were some wonderful standout looks:

 

 

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Contance Wu in Oscar de la Renta (Photo Credit: MediaBest)

 

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Margot Robbie in Chanel (Photo Credit: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)

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Mandy Moore in Jason Wu (Photo Credit: Getty)

 

 

 

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Marin Hinkle (Photo Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

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Melissa McCarthy in Lorane (Photo Credit: Getty/Dimitrios Kambouris)

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Susan Kelechi Watson in custom Christian Siriano (Photo Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

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Jane Fonda in Valentino (Photo Credit: Getty/ Mark Ralston)

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D’Arcy Carden (Photo Credit: Steve Granitz/WireImage)