“I want to be great, or nothing.” This defining line from Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel Little Women has become a catchphrase of American literary feminism, repeated out of context, embroidered onto pillows, and championed nearly to the point of losing all meaning.
The sentiment, first delivered by Alcott’s Amy March in regards to her skills at a painter, rings particularly hollow when you consider its place in the countless film, television, and stage adaptations of Little Women that have come since its first publication. These retellings, like so many adaptations of classic novels, have rarely striven for that artistic greatness Amy speaks of—they’ve by and large been pale, sentimental imitations of what a great story looks like, designed to print cash and appease the period piece crowd, i.e. women. Aside from Gillian Armstrong’s hit 1994 film, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Little Women as vital as the original.
That is, until Greta Gerwig came along. The writer-director behind Lady Bird and Frances Ha has been emphasizing the value in quotidian stories about young women throughout her short filmmaking career, and her talents and interests have found a perfect home in Little Women. Lively, ambitious, and deftly directed, Gerwig’s adaptation takes both its subjects and audience seriously, building its own kind of greatness that extends far beyond the power of the original text. It doesn’t attempt to overwrite Alcott’s story with modern feminism, but rather highlight how the joys and struggles of her characters have persisted across time. Filled out by an exhilarating ensemble cast, Gerwig’s Little Women is the best we’ve ever seen this story—and it’s one of the best films of the year.
The hottest name in horror right now is Ari Aster. He’s got it all: family trauma, gore, cults, piano wire, and, now, flower crowns. When Hereditary hit theatres last summer, Aster was lauded as one of the best up-and-coming horror filmmakers with his story about trauma, grief, and covens. Well he’s back at it again with trauma and grief, but this time he’s tackling those themes within a Swedish pagan commune. His newest film, Midsommar, pulls even more aggressive emotional punches and splatters the screens with shocking moments of gore.
Midsommar addresses similar themes of grief, trauma, isolation, and relationships seen in Hereditary, but this time it is through the lens of young couple Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor). Dani and Christian have been together for four years but those four years haven’t necessarily been happy. Each of their conversations is so full of passive aggressive comments and halfhearted apologies that you’re just ready for someone to snap. But then, Dani suffers a horrific family tragedy. She loses her entire family and, understandably, sinks into a deep depression. Christian feels obligated to stay with Dani, even if he has the emotional intelligence of a potato sack and has no clue how to comfort his grieving girlfriend.
As this award season’s frontrunner reveal themselves, there are many performances that were surprisingly overlooked. One of performance that I thought would, for sure, be Oscar-bait was from the newcomer, Florence Pugh in the haunting Lady Macbeth. William Oldroyd’s directorial debut in cinema has received critical acclaim and award attention in the UK but, shamefully, didn’t translate to the American awards circuit. By the trailer, alone, it looked like a film that critics would eat up.