Song of the Day #4,217: ‘Christmas Morning’ – Alexandre Desplat

Best Movies of the 2010s
#10 – Little Women (2019)

Alas, we have arrived at the much-anticipated Top Ten films of the 2010s. The top five titles have been cemented in place for awhile, but I’ve been all over the place with the rankings of numbers six through 10. I’ve changed a couple even as I’ve written these posts. But the order is unimportant; what matters is that these ten films spoke to me more than any others over the last decade.

Greta Gerwig’s Little Women is the most recent title on this list. I watched it for the first time on Christmas Day, less than a month ago. But to hell with recency bias, I was so touched and inspired by the film I knew right away it would find a place high on this list.

Little Women is the only adaptation on my Top 20, and it works so well because it is such a brilliant one. Gerwig takes a much-beloved classic, one that has been committed to film no less than five times, and makes it feel fresh and essential.

Gerwig has said “as a child, my hero was Jo March, but as an adult, it’s Louisa May Alcott.” Her Little Women makes that distinction thrillingly clear, incorporating writing from Alcott’s other works and details from her life as an author who maintained copyright control of her books. Saoirse Ronan’s Jo essentially merges with Alcott by the end of the film, writing herself a Hollywood ending on paper to ensure a fulfilling professional life.

I read Little Women for the first time a month before this film came out, as preparation, and like most people was unsatisfied with the ending. Was I supposed to cheer Jo’s marriage to Professor Bhaer and shedding of her literary aspirations to run a school? Publishers in the mid-19th century sure thought so, but in forcing that ending on Alcott they undermined the rest of the story, which was refreshingly ahead of its time.

Gerwig solves that narrative hiccup, and does so in the most satisfying way. Her movie is a love story between a woman and the art of writing. A late-film montage of Jo penning her novel is swooningly romantic, as is the loving attention given to the old-fashioned process of binding a book.

This framing is what takes the movie to another level, but I can’t sell short how well Gerwig delivers the traditional highlights of this tale: the Christmas morning trip to feed a needy family; Amy’s devilish burning of Jo’s manuscript; Laurie’s desperate hillside plea for Jo’s hand; Beth’s graceful acceptance of death. All of this is delivered with such warmth and affection, I just wanted to climb inside the frame and live there.

Ronan is predictably wonderful as the icon Jo, but the film’s MVP is Florence Pugh, capping off an extraordinary year (Fighting With My Family, Midsommar) by delivering her best work yet as Amy. She turns this long-vilified character into a complex, nuanced heroine.

Every cast member is spot-on, and all are given memorable scenes. Timothee Chalamet makes a splendid Laurie while Laura Dern brings a world-weariness to Marmee. Chris Cooper is heartbreaking in the small but powerful role of Mr. Laurence, who sees shades of his late daughter in Eliza Scanlen’s Beth.

So early in her career, Greta Gerwig has become a master of mood and tone. Everything in this movie is so lush and lived-in and beautiful, every detail perfectly calibrated to either warm or break your heart.

As I said early on in this countdown, the quickest path a movie has to my heart is through my tear ducts. Little Women is the rare movie that got me teary not just in certain scenes but practically throughout.

Note: I didn’t plan this, but looking back, my Top Ten Movies of the 00s list had Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice in the 10th spot. I’m not generally a big fan of period costume dramas, but I guess one per decade hits all the right notes and manages to land in this position. Guess we’ll have to wait until 2030 to see if the trend continues.

12 thoughts on “Song of the Day #4,217: ‘Christmas Morning’ – Alexandre Desplat

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    I too am generally not a fan of period pieces, though my bias against them is less when they are set in America rather than Europe. I’m also usually not a big fan of adaptations of classic works of literature. So, this film had a few hurdles to overcome from the start, and overcome it did.

    Still, as with Knives Out, I think placing this movie on a Best of the Decade list does benefit from recency. So, I’m more curious to see if, in 2030, you will still feel that either Knives Out or Little Women should have made the cut.

  2. Clay says:

    Given that 2019 is one of ten years making up the decade, and that it has been an excellent year for movies by all accounts, wouldn’t you expect that the year’s very best films would be on an end-of-decade list?

    • Dana Gallup says:

      I don’t necessarily agree that this has been one of the best years of the decade for movies. As I said before, you have made that proclamation in other years as well. It may be the case that 5 or 10 years from now you will reevaluate the strength of this year as a whole, and you may also reevaluate your top films for 2019. You’ve already acknowledged that some shuffling took place regarding past years ranking, so I think there is a better chance than not that the same will hold true for 2019, especially movies you have seen within the past few months.

      • Clay says:

        I guess we just disagree on the overall quality of this year’s movies. I definitely think it’s one of the best years of the decade, up there with two or three others.

        But again, if you were to make a decade-best list, do you think it would include movies from each of the ten years making up the decade (including this one)? The law of averages says two per year should be on a Top 20.

        • Dana Gallup says:

          As I said, I think you need to allow for the possibility, if not the probability, that your opinion about the strength of the year as a whole as well as the ranking of movies within the year will change 1, 5 or 10 years from now.

          As to your question, I assume my top movie of 2019, which is probably “Once upon a Time in Hollywood” would make the decade list. However, I would be skeptical about putting my second or third favorite from 2019 of the best of decade list, particularly over the top few choices of previous years and especially if some of those earlier movies have stood the rest of time to remain on top of the list for their year.

          • Clay says:

            I totally agree that time can shift perceptions. But as I said last week, I’m not going to wait five years to create my 2010s list, and I’m not going to handicap 2019 movies simply because they’ve had less time to marinate.

            Besides, have you seen the shitshow that was 2011?! I defy you to find a movie worthy of a decade list that year, which opens things up for more titles from a very strong year like 2019.

          • Dana Gallup says:

            I get your point, but I think as between your 2nd or 3rd pick for 2019 vs. your 1st, 2nd or 3rd pick from another year that, looking back, remains so highly ranked, perhaps the older movie should get more deference.

            As for 2011, we just looked at Amy’s list, and there were some strong movies that year such as Warriors, Moneyball and Bridesmaids.

          • Clay says:

            Three solid movies that would be in my 9-15 range this year.

  3. Peg says:

    I agree this was a wonderful adaptation. I have loved this book and all the movie adaptations over the years. This was the best.

  4. Maddie says:

    Loved this movie so much and I’m glad to see it so high on your list. If you haven’t, I highly recommend checking out the screenplay. Greta’s writing is wonderful and it stands alone as a really lovely written piece, which isn’t surprising given the level of attention in the film.

  5. Amy says:

    I loved this novel and reread it regularly throughout my early teen years, so I was a bit wary of a Gerwig adaptation that would minimize any of the elements I loved most. Luckily, she did the opposite and brought the characters and moments I loved to splendid life. I disagree with your perception of Jo’s happy ending in the novel, and I was a big fan of Gabriel Byrne’s more accurate representation of Professor Bauer in the Winona Ryder version. Still, I did love how Gerwig tweaked the ending by giving us both Jo’s and Louisa’s realities. A fine film, indeed, and one worthy to find itself on a list such as this one.

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