“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.
As a recent college graduate in a serious monogamous relationship, I was incredibly wary of On Chesil Beach before stepping foot in the theater. Would the story of young love turned sour be too affecting, too real? Could I sleep that night? Saoirse read me like an open book in Lady Bird, a favorite that recently made me weep (once more) on a commercial airline, and I wasn’t sure if I was prepared for that kind of emotional beating again just a week later. Luckily for me, On Chesil Beach can’t hold a flickering candle to the emotional realities of Lady Bird or Atonement, a much more successful adaptation of an Ian McEwan novel.
Stilted, flat and infuriatingly narrow-minded, On Chesil Beach takes its supposedly heartbreaking, interior-focused source material and runs with it in the opposite direction, resulting in a film that’s as unsatisfying as its subjects’ sex life. Although Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle give everything they’ve got, wigs and all, to Dominic Cooke’s directorial debut, their performances aren’t enough to save this wilting period piece from itself.
For many of us, the world sets unrealistic expectations of being materially or academically successful at a young age, leaving behind a lingering emptiness for the rest of our lives when we fail to achieve that in our 20s, maybe even our 30s. It’s the heavy wistfulness of wishing you were more, and the resonating regret because you weren’t. So we keep on chasing an ideal just within reach, but never winning the race.
Oh the mighty Award Season! In the second half of every year, fans of cinema everywhere, long forgotten their sufferings in the first half, start to say: “I wish Award Season was here already!”. And then before we know it, it’s here! Oh no… Our favourites are losing. Everyone is angry at each other. Non-Americans are staying up all night to watch red carpets just to see their favourites for 5 seconds then to suffer through bad jokes in award shows themselves. And then before you know it 2-3 awards have passed, three weeks till next one. “We needed a break.” says the fans of cinema, oh no they forgot their suffering and ask “It’s been a week c’mon when’s the next one?!” and the circle of life keeps going until the Oscars. Everyone is exhausted by then, friendships are torn, predictions are off the roof! And then, whoever wins wins. Everyone goes to bed and sleeps off the season exhaustion for 14 hours, wakes up next morning saying: “Did I dream that or did Annette Benning’s husband actually announced Best Picture wrong?”
Well don’t worry, Much Ado is here to give you a little bit of help in this award season of surprises. Here are eight films from some of this season’s best nominees to help you pass the time and help with withdrawals!