Dear Fellow Critics,
“Little boys like shootouts and car chases, but real men like Little Women.”
Tracey Letts said this in a recent GQ essay, and while my list of favourite films from this past year includes at least one film that is essentially nothing but shootouts and car chases, it sits far behind the one I loved the most: Greta Gerwig’s ingenious, subversive, joyous adaptation of Little Women.
Of the good movies I saw this year, Little Women was the one that stayed in my head the longest, and seemed, in its lingering afterglow, to satisfy all the things I hope for in a movie: to be transported, and immersed, and surprised; to laugh, to weep; to be worried, to be relieved; to appreciate, from the outside, the impeccable craft, and to live on the inside as if there is no craft at all.
The manner in which the story is adapted, whether you’ve read the book or not (I hadn’t), drops you into the lives of the March girls the same way an Avengers movie drops you into the middle of a decades-old mythology. The effect is pleasantly disorienting, and puts you in the mode of detective: scanning for clues and connective tissue about how the past and present will coordinate. The pace is intricate, the ambience relaxed, the melodrama subtle, and the way Greta Gerwig directs it all somehow makes a small world and the small people in it feel as big and important as a sky full of Star Destroyers is supposed to feel.
To be honest, this Top 10 list might simply be called “The Movies I Saw This Year”—there is so much I haven’t caught up with, and in the coming weeks, when/if I finally do see all those movies that are crowding the lists of other folks, some new films may be added, some old films may drop off. But I am certain, despite these gaps, that there was no film I could have liked better in 2019 than this one.
A few decades ago, I made a list of my 50 favourite all-time films. I was in my late teens, and considered myself a cinephile, well-watched, well-educated (at least relative to my average teenage peer). Somewhere in the 40s, behind all those movies it seems I was programmed from birth to love — Aliens, The Thing, Goodfellas, Seven, Reservoir Dogs — I listed Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 adaptation of Little Women, the one with Claire Danes and Winona Ryder. I can’t recall much about that film, but it struck me enough, clearly, to make my list, so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that I find myself once again enchanted by Louisa May Alcott’s gang.
That Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Hobbs & Shaw are also on my list might make Little Women seem like an anomaly — or, worse, some misguided proclamation of my own wokeness — but it shares much in common with another of my favourites from this past year, Booksmart. Teenage girls, the bonds of sisterhood, the perils and pressures of seeking self-determination—none of these things are intimately familiar to me, but, to be fair, I’ve never been in a car chase or shootout, either, and all this proves, I think, is the preternatural magic of a great film: that it allows you to live another life, to see another world, to be utterly outside of yourself.
I loved Once Upon a Time in Hollywood for all the reasons that some people hate it: how meandering it was, how focused on the trials and anxieties of a person to whom we’re supposed to withhold our empathy: a white middle-aged man who wants more from the world. And yet: I myself am a white middle-aged man who wants more from the world, and Little Women spoke to me even more directly. Why? Because I loved it, and there is no logic to why and how you love the things you love; the heart simply wants what it wants, and my heart wants to be in Concord, Massachusetts, among the March girls as they find their way into the future.
Jared Young’s Top 10 Films of 2019
- Ford vs Ferrari
- Knives Out
- Hobbs & Shaw
- The Irishman
- Avengers: Endgame
- Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
- Marriage Story
- Little Women