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What's Streaming: And the Oscar Goes To ...


The Oscars have always been my family's version of the Superbowl. We always make it a point to watch the ceremony together, sometimes making bets on who will win in each category. And with my recent viewing of the 2014 awards, it only seemed appropriate to make this month all about past Oscar winners.

Film fans are always going to have their opinion on who won, or who was robbed of the golden statue. Although I have not always agreed with the Best Picture winners, it is always intriguing to see what the Academy feels is "the perfect film" each year. I would encourage anyone to make it a point to see all of the Best Picture winners throughout Oscar history; if anything, it certainly makes for a fun challenge. In the meantime, though, here are a few past winners worth checking out.

What's Streaming: Different Shades of Love


For being such a short month, February has a lot going on. With Black History Month, Valentine's Day and Groundhog Day, this month seems to encapsulate feelings of reflection, hope and love all in just a few short weeks. I started my film watching for this month in a cheery, romantic comedy mindset. "I'll write about finding love! And happily ever afters!" I thought, focusing on Valentine's Day as my main element.

After a day or two of being on a romcom kick, I finally calmed down, took a breath, and looked at all of the people that I know in my life. I thought of the love of dear friends near and far, of parents, of the people lost over the years. It can be so easy to think that a romantic type of love is all that this month celebrates... but really, it's all of the love you share with others in your life.

Single, in a relationship, married -- whatever your status is, take the time to focus on the different kinds of love you have in your life. Maybe these films will help you to remember some of them. Happy February!

What's Streaming: Starting Fresh


Many of us tend to think the start of the New Year means the start of another year of getting older. Life catches up to us in one way or another, and sometimes we focus on the negative before we can see the positive. This New Year, someone told me they weren't sure they believed that a new year necessarily meant that you could start over. I had to kindly disagree with them.

A New Year might just seem like another notch on the belt, but it really is a chance to set new goals for yourself. Not just the usual "lose weight/exercise every day" sort of goals, but a chance to do something different and new with your year. We never realize how much time we have left until it's too late; why not take advantage of that realization in 2014?

This month's selection of films feature characters and stories about wanting to make a new start for one's self or, if anything, figuring out how to refresh their current situation at hand. Hopefully they will inspire you to take hold of this year and make it your own. After all -- it only happens once a year!

C.O.G. -- As a big David Sedaris and Jonathan Groff fan, there was no way this film was going to get past me. Groff plays David, a cocky twentysomething college graduate who decides to go off the radar for a while by working on an apple orchard in Oregon. Thinking he is the intellectual superior to everyone he meets, he quickly realizes how out of his element he is when he sees that he is in an outcast in this small community of farmers and immigrants. The film itself is full of those typical, Sedaris-esque moments of awkwardness, humor and discomfort all rolled into one. Groff's character is one that you want to hate, but end up rooting for by the end. It's a true example of the discovery that none of us is better than anyone else in this world. Available on Netflix, Amazon Instant and iTunes.

What's Streaming: Strong and Amazing Women


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When I think back on 2013, I think of all the times I heard or read about strong, brave women around the world. Wendy Davis, Malala Yousafzai, Gabrielle Giffords and Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis caught my attention, each and every one of their battles epic in their own regard. Several of these ladies fought to protect the rights of women, often getting hurt or knocked down along the way. They didn't take "no" for an answer, and in some cases put their lives on the line for what they believe in. This was a rough year for the girls, but even in spite of all of this, it still made me incredibly proud to be a woman.

I gravitated toward this topic because I feel that lately I have been stumbling upon movies with great female protagonists. Some you side with from the start, while some you feel might just be flat out crazy. Nonetheless you root for them, even if it isn't until the very end. Before the year is over, I hope you take the time to thank and root for all of the amazingly beautiful women in your life. Happy holidays! 


Frances Ha -- How lucky I was to stumble upon this gem of a film, especially after all of the discussion I'd heard about it. Frances (Greta Gerwig) is a 27-year-old modern dancer living in New York City. She lives with her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner) and has a carefree life, taking each day as it comes. This comes to a halt, though, when she turns down the opportunity to move in with her boyfriend, only to discover that Sophie is moving out to live with someone else. Frances must then figure out how to navigate life solo, taking on odd jobs and having a few too many life lessons all at once. This film is one that I believe many twentysomethings will be able to relate to, particularly those in an artistic field. It gives you hope that friendship will always prevail and, even when life throws you a curveball, you can still find the silver linings in every situation. Jette reviewed the movie when it hit theaters earlier this year. Available on Netflix, Amazon Instant and iTunes.

What's Streaming: Buddy Stories


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November is easily my favorite month of the year.  Fall is usually upon us here in Texas, friends start coming home for the holidays, and you get to start making plans for the new year ahead of you.  It's also that great time of year when Thanksgiving and Christmas movies get pulled off the shelf and popped into the DVD player.

As the time draws closer to spending time with family and friends, I always try to take the time to think of what I am most grateful for in my life.  My family and career are always at the top of the list, but there is one other thing that many of us overlook during this time -- close friends. These are the people who are there for you when your family cannot be, who encourage you to keep moving forward even when your career is at a low point. It's the friendships in our lives that push us forward more often than not.

This month's film choices all have a strong friendship theme to them or, as I like to call them, a "buddy story."  Take this month to thank your friends for being there for you -- maybe by watching one of these films together.

VOD Review: All the Boys Love Mandy Lane


All the boys may love Mandy Lane, but this girl doesn't.

After spending seven years in distribution limbo, the first feature from Jonathan Levine (50/50, Warm Bodies), All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, screened at this year's Fantastic Fest and is available for anyone to watch on various VOD outlets. But for me, having seen the film once was enough.

If I want to watch a 21st-century The Breakfast Club, I'll go hang out in my campus's Quad. That way I won't have to see star and Austin native Amber Heard (Machete Kills) constantly tucking her hair behind her ear or making sidelong glances in an effort to portray the "good girl" (a la Kristen Stewart). You know that really uncomfortable, borderline-gastrointestinal-disorder look? That is not method acting. 

Mandy Lane is not only shy and quiet, but has been ostracized by her peers for years, that is, until she sprouted acceptable-sized breasts and began participating in high-school track. 

Review: Muscle Shoals


Muscle Shoals

It's been a stellar year for music documentaries. Twenty Feet From Stardom, A Band Called Death and Sound City have all managed to tell important stories and still be crowd-pleasing films. Much like Dave Grohl's warm and friendly portrait of the Sound City studios out in Southern California, the movie Muscle Shoals invites us to take a closer look at a studio where some of the most important recordings of all time have been created. 

Rick Hall opened FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama in 1960 after establishing a music publishing business. With a life-altering personal tragedy behind him, he focused all of his energy into the studio and truly got hooked by producing local and regional artists. Shortly after Percy Sledge recorded "When A Man Loves A Woman" at FAME in 1966, the floodgates opened and the studio become a destination for Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records to bring his artists to ensure they'd have hit singles.

Review: Escape from Tomorrow


Escape from Tomorrow

If Don Draper had taken Betty and the kids to Disneyland (circa season two, let's say), and had been fortified by something mysterious from Roger Sterling, and the whole thing had been shot covertly on film by Smitty and Kurt, the result might have been Escape from Tomorrow.

For those of you who don't watch Mad Men, let's just say the movie takes a Disney trip by your average All-American family and turns it completely on its head, with a few kicks in the teeth for good measure. Unfortunately, it moves slowly and ultimately relies too much on weirdness for weirdness' sake. The movie premiered at Sundance, screened at Fantastic Fest and is now available on VOD. It's screening in Austin this week as well.

Escape from Tomorrow potentially offers pleasure to its audience on two levels. The first is the traditional moviegoing experience, natch. But in addition, the movie is controversial -- and interesting -- because much of it was covertly shot at Disney World (including Epcot) and Disneyland. The filmmakers and actors would buy tickets to the parks and pretend to be regular visitors shooting family home video of their vacation antics. In reality, they were shooting a feature film, and had to manage all kinds of tricks to get the shots they needed, like racing around right when a park opened to get shots of deserted rides, and so forth.

What's Streaming: Overcoming Fear


October has gained a reputation for being the scariest month of the year. Halloween is upon us, the air is getting colder, and we dance the line between autumn and winter. This is, understandably, also the time of year when all of the ghoulish and haunted films come off the shelves. Just like with classic Christmas movies, Halloween films also have their place in our hearts.

When you think of the horror films we've come to know over the years, you might first consider the scary elements: the monsters, the traps, the thought of yelling out "behind you!" every five minutes, etc. These themes jump out at us right away because they are usually very obvious. When I think of these films, I mostly think of the endings -- when the hero has survived the monster along with the fear that has been chasing him or her for about 90 minutes or so.

With that in mind, I've selected a few films that I think embody the theme we don't always think about in a scary movie: overcoming fear. I didn't choose any scary or Halloween themed films for this month, but I did select a few that I think show what it means to overcome a large or personal battle. We often celebrate the hero for the physical obstacles they have overcome, but not always the emotional ones.

What's Streaming: Learning To Grow


For anyone under the age of 22, September can be a dreaded time of year. Not only does the weather change, kicking us out of our swimming pools and fun outdoor activities, but it also means time for the one word most kids hate: school. Although I myself used to be one of those kids, there is one thing in particular that I have always remembered and liked about this month: it is usually time for a new chapter in my life to begin.

With the start of a new school year, I recall the feeling of seeing old friends again, and being so excited to make new ones. I knew I would be learning new subjects, and expanding my mind on ones that I had already been taught. As I got older though, I realized that every year also meant getting older, becoming more mindful of the world around me. I was more aware of myself as a person in my chosen career and, even though I am long since out of the classroom, I still find myself looking at September as a month of change.

This month, I've selected a few films that I enjoy because of the elements of growth the stories present. Some might be obvious, but some might leave you thinking about it even long after the credits roll. I hope that this month, you'll take a moment to think about how much you've grown as an individual, and maybe (just maybe) how certain films have helped you do that.

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