One is a war film made by a James Bond director. The other is a new version of Little Women from the last woman to get an Oscar nomination for best director.
They have now both been billed as two of the best films of the year.
Reviews for 1917 and Little Women have just come out, and critics are raving about both. Empire magazine said Little Women confirmed director Greta Gerwig as “a major talent in American cinema”.
And The Times declared Sam Mendes’ 1917 “an Oscar-night frontrunner”.
‘The definitive adaptation of Little Women’
“If there were any remaining doubts that Greta Gerwig is a major talent in American cinema, put them to rest now,” wrote Empire critic Helen O’Hara.
Gerwig received an Oscar nomination for best director for Ladybird in 2017 – the only woman to have been up for that award since 2010.
Now, she might repeat that feat for adapting Louisa May Alcott’s classic autobiographical novel of sisterhood. The star-studded cast includes Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Laura Dern and Meryl Streep.
Little Women has been on the big screen several times before, but O’Hara said this is now the “definitive” version. “Gerwig takes several bold storytelling choices that make this adaptation quite unlike any of its predecessors,” her five-star review said.
Vulture’s Alison Willmore said the film “feels, exhilaratingly, like the throwing down of a gauntlet”. She added: “It doesn’t just brim with life, it brims with ideas about happiness, economic realities, and what it means to push against or to hew to the expectations laid out for one’s gender.”
Writing in The Daily Mail, Brian Viner also gave the movie a glowing five stars, saying Little Women was “a proper family treat for Christmas”, adding that Gerwig’s vision had produced an “enormously engaging adaptation”.
Viner praised Gerwig’s handling of the story, saying: “She has ingeniously tinkered with the book’s simple chronology, daring to move its cherished Christmas Day opening and constantly whisking us forward and backward in time.”
However, Richard Lawson of Variety had reservations. Overall, he conceded “it’s often a lovely experience” and admitted to leaving the cinema “with eyes brimming”.
But when it came to Gerwig’s handling of the timeline, Lawson was not so readily swayed. He felt the director was “too concerned with cramming in every plot beat from her source material”.
1917 is a ‘single-shot masterpiece’
In 1917, Mendes, who directed 007’s Spectre and Skyfall, follows a mission by two messengers in World War One – supposedly inspired by a story the director’s grandfather told him as a child.
The Times’ Kevin Maher gave it five stars and wrote: “The resulting two hours of amphetamine-rush cinema is both a monumental technical achievement and, instantly, an Oscar-night frontrunner.”
Peter Bradshaw, writing in The Guardian, also gave the film five stars, describing it as a “single-shot masterpiece”, adding: “Sam Mendes’s 1917 is an amazingly audacious film; as exciting as a heist movie, disturbing as a sci-fi nightmare.”
The movie appears to have been shot in one take. Cinematographer Roger Deakins “pushes the single-take concept into new territory”, according to IndieWire’s Kate Erbland. “The idea is wild enough, but to make it look this dazzling from moment to moment is something else entirely,” she wrote.
Forbes critic Scott Mendelson declared that 1917 “might be the best movie of 2019”. He wrote: “Universal just dropped a bomb on the ongoing Oscar season, because Sam Mendes’ 1917 is indeed one of the best movies of the year, if not THE best.
“It works as a visual miracle, a violent action picture, a grim anti-war fable, a character play and an emotional rollercoaster. It’s everything it promises to be, visually, narratively and emotionally, operating both as a technical blow-out and just a damn great movie.”
But Robbie Collin, writing in The Telegraph, gave it a more lukewarm three stars, making a comparison with Saving Private Ryan in his review.
“One of the most devastating manoeuvres in the history of negative Oscar campaigning was carried out in the 1999 season, when word was successfully put about – by the office of Harvey Weinstein, no less – that Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan didn’t amount to much more than its undeniably impressive opening 27 minutes.
“You sense that slur would be received as rapturous praise by Sam Mendes’s 1917, which in spirit is those 27 minutes and nothing but, showily stretched out to feature length.”