My Favorite Moments in the Best Picture Nominees: Little Women

So my favorite Oscars tradition, aside from getting hammered and eating Chinese food during the ceremony, is, the day before the ceremony, presenting my favorite moments in each of the Best Picture nominees. I originally started it in 2011, when I felt like there was a lot of anger over certain things that were nominated (The Artist, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help), and I just wanted to take that step back and remind myself and everyone else what it’s all about — this is because we love movies. We’re just giving out awards to the movies we liked best. It’s not about the damn awards. It’s about good movies and love of the art form. And it’s something I think we need to be reminded of, which is why I now do it before every Oscar ceremony. It doesn’t matter what wins and what doesn’t, it’s all about celebrating the great movies that came out this year.

Our next nominee is Little Women.

5. The writing sequence

Boy, I can sure relate to that one. Maybe not handwritten and with candles, but there’s nothing better than the stroke of inspiration, no matter when it is, and sitting there and getting it all out while you can. I’ve done the all-night writing jag, and it’s truly something wonderful. And Greta evokes it so well here, with some gorgeous shots along the way. I just really love this moment a lot from a pure writer’s standpoint..

4. Chris Cooper

What a beautiful, tender performance he gives here. Between this and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, everyone really missed the boat on not giving him a nomination for one of them this year. They set him up as the possible ‘strict, mean old man next door’, and the first time we see him, he’s kinda stern, but not really. But eventually you realize he’s just a nice, loving man who’s had some heartbreak in his life. The scene where he gets Beth to come to the house to play piano is so perfect. The way he sets it up for her to come out of her shell to do it. And then that moment above, where he hears her play, reminding him of his own daughter who died. And then that scene at the end, after she dies, when he’s outside… it’s so heartbreaking. Of all the characters in this film, he’s the one non-sister you feel for most. It’s a really beautiful performance that is unfortunately completely under-appreciated, much like he is as an actor.

3. The mood

I love everything about this movie. I love how it’s not stuffy. Which means both in terms of costumes and overall atmosphere. The clothes and hair feel like that of real people. Everyone’s not totally made up at all times. The clothes feel like you can move in them and they’re not all hoop skirts and corsets all the time. And then, just the way everyone behaves. They act like real people. It’s kind of like what Sofia Coppola was trying to do with Marie Antoinette, but not as specifically anachronous as that was. Part of how Saoirse and Timothee behave here you could have seen in Lady Bird. And somehow it just fits. Because you get that it’s the 1860s, and it never feels like they betray that, but it also feels like real people and real relationships and the language isn’t so ‘period’ as to be inhibitive. It just feels real. And that’s the best thing that Greta brought to this entire film. This film lives, which most period films don’t. Not like this does.

2. The structure / Sisterhood

I love that it’s not really about the story, it’s about the characters. Scenes and characters are referenced without having taken place or showing up yet. The film jumps between them older and them younger. Because it’s not about the events and how and when they happen — this story has been told a lot and people generally know it. It’s really about the way the story is being told and what it’s showing us about these people. And you see that in the film, even if you may not realize it. The first title card is of the book itself, “Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott.” And then at the end, when you see the book again, it’s written by Jo March. It starts as Louisa May Alcott’s tale, but it becomes Jo’s tale. Anyone can author a story. The truth isn’t in the words but the way the person who’s telling them does so. So Greta Gerwig chooses to tell her story in a way that best evokes what she’s trying to accomplish with this story. And the juxtapositions really are quite stunning.

You have that moment in the film where Beth dies, and then shows up a moment later in a flashback. Which is emotional in its own right, seeing a character you love who died be there again. But also, that scene is of Meg’s wedding, and the reason it happens right after Beth’s death is because those are the two times Jo sees as having lost a sister. It’s beautiful how the scenes all fit together. You really get a full picture of this family and the bond they all share. Which is also why it’s wonderful. Because you really feel the sisterhood there. Like in the scene where Jo is furious at Amy for burning her book and declares she’s never going to talk to her again, but is also right there to run and help her when she almost dies. That’s what the structure is all about. It’s about… no matter how mad you get at them, no matter how great things are, no matter how bad things are, no matter what happens along the way — the bond between sisters is always there. It’s really beautifully done.

1. The message

As I watched the last 20 or so minutes of this movie and I realized what Greta was doing with it, I audibly said, out loud, “Oh wow.” Because you realize… it’s not just about telling the story in such a way so as to evoke the relationship between the characters and give the vibe of sisterhood and make a period piece that isn’t stuffy and boring. There’s so much more going on than just that. The commentary here about women and women’s place in society, and their worth and how they should know their worth and fight for their worth is really something special. This is a film that should be shown to every young woman growing up.

They set it up all along the way, too. Amy has that great speech about how she wants to be great or nothing, and when she realizes she’s not going to be that good at being a painter, knows that all she has left is marriage. And she says it pretty plainly, when Laurie chides her: being a woman, there’s no way for her to make her own money, make a living or support a family. All her money would belong to her husband, and so would her children. So marriage, while potentially frivolous to a man, is an economic proposition to a woman. She’s selling herself.

And then there’s the speech by Jo when she’s in the attic with Marmee: “Women have minds and souls as well as hearts, ambition and talent as well as beauty and I’m so sick of being told that love is all a woman is fit for. I’m sick of it!” She’s setting up for what will end up being the masterstroke of the movie, that final sequence with Jo in the office, arguing for her own worth. She’s been told she has to change her work, has to make edits to it, has to end with a marriage, even though she doesn’t believe in it, and then she’s given a lowball deal and told to sell her own copyright. So what does she do? She fights for herself: she wants to own her own copyright. She wants a higher percentage of the book’s royalties. She bargains.

For some people, the moment where Tracy Letts’ character realizes he has to publish the book because his daughters want to know what happens to the girls — that would be enough. It would be enough for another film to make its point that women’s stories are worth telling and that there is an audience for them out there. But Greta takes it a step further. She shows Jo fighting for her vision, and seeing it through to the end, watching it come into the world and be bound. It’s a call to female filmmakers. It’s not just saying to the world that women can tell stories, it’s saying to women who want to create, “You can do this. Don’t worry what anyone says. Don’t worry about all the idiot men in charge with their dumb ideas of what sells and what doesn’t and what you need to do to make your work more marketable — follow your own creative voice and don’t allow yourself to sell yourself for anything less than you think you’re worth.”

It’s really the most powerful moment in cinema for 2019, and it’s the one moment of anything I saw this year that truly made me happiest to see.

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