Greta Gerwig's has had a meteoric rise of sorts in her career as a filmmaker with critical success found in her screenwriting endeavours in both Frances Ha and Mistress America. This culminated in the rapturously-received Lady Bird which I'm sure will become a cultural touchstone for its pioneering depiction of a female coming-of-age experience in a genre whose history has been full of male ennui. Now Gerwig makes her largest foray into film-making yet crafting an adaptation of the timeless novel Little Women with her largest production scale yet. A lavish period drama with extraordinary sets and locations that still has its heart firmly set in the homely family bonds that unite its central protagonists. The March sisters are well-known literary characters and have been portrayed by countless iconic women each reflecting the acting talent at the forefront of the times in which they were made with Winona Ryder, Claire Danes and Kirsten Dunst heading the cast of the most pivotal adaptation prior to Gerwig's version. Of course Gerwig has assembled a fantastic cast helmed by some of the most promising actors of today as once again a film written and directed by Gerwig has the incredibly talented Saoirse Ronan as the lead. Ronan portrays protagonist Jo March and captures her spirit, angst and defiance whilst maintaining the deep loneliness she feels when rebelling against the institution which women are seen most fit for in the Victorian era the film is set in and which limits the agency and power. I am speaking of course about marriage in terms that are not romantic and sentimentalised but the reality they presented women with for centuries- an economic proposition. The purpose of Little Women ever since its publication in the 19th century is to define its central female characters beyond how they were typically seen in a patriarchal society that limited them and deemed them either wives, mothers or spinsters. Its empowering message has given it a universal appeal that gives reason to the numerous adaptations made to voice it to generation after generation.
When Mr Robot first began it was almost an instant cult sensation, garnering plenty of critical support and accolades and a sizable fan-base that fell for its initial premise that bore exact similarities to Fight Club- another cult sensation but one that is adored for the wrong reasons at times. Both protagonists have dissociative identity disorder whereby one of the personas engages the host in anarchic rebellion and attempt to clear everyone's financial debt and set the scale at 0. While some fans of Fight Club misunderstand some of the film's messaging in that they idolize Tyler Durden who is actually a false visionary, full of hypocrisy who dons the products he condemns, this should not be the case for Mr Robot. Elliot Alderson is a jaded protagonist, heavily damaged and an unreliable narrator capable of losing himself in his own unreality which happens in multiple instances. With its extended run in comparison to Fight Club, Mr Robot has long since outgrown the film's basic premise and runs much deeper in its depiction of mental illness, ruthless capitalism and its most personal storytelling- relationships. Mr Robot has undoubtedly been seen as a sharp thriller with psychological overtones but it's also an emotionally charged drama series that's capable of moments of real heartache as it foregrounds Elliot's emotional troubles amidst the increasingly frayed relationships with those he loves but is at times too emotionally repressed with everything happening around him to express how vital his connections with those closest to him are.
Futurama picked off right where golden age Simpsons left off in terms of quality and humour when it found its footing at around the ninth episode of its first season- the sublime classic Hell is Other Robots where Bender finds himself in robot Hell and the show graces us with its first of many great show tunes. Both shows look at society and satirise much of the media that is at the forefront of our popular culture as well as looking at the facts of life with graceful humour and wit. While the animation style is of course strikingly similar, what connects the show is the similarities in their approach to humour, parody and even emotion. Back in its heyday the Simpsons gave emotional looks into the inner lives of each member of the Simpson family. Homer reconnected with the Mother who had to leave him due to circumstances out of her control in Mother Simpson; Lisa finally got to connect with people her own age as a rather friendless overachieving child in Summer of 4ft2; Marge tried to find social acceptance and self-betterment in Scenes from the Class Struggle in Springfield and Bart showed that he's not just a thoughtless troublemaker but just someone fed up with trying his hardest but never achieving anything in Bart Gets an F. These episodes show a poignancy to one of the most zany, chaotic shows on television and with many of the show's most talented writers moving on to write for Futurama it makes sense that this show has the same balance.
I've never been a particularly avid viewer of documentaries, not even the swarm of true-crime docs that so many people indulge in a fad I find slightly worrying in the state of the desensitised media consumer. Documentary Now mostly sidesteps this current obsession too, going for something deeper and truly digging into the vast backlog of classic documentaries, that the series co-creators and stars Fred Armisen and Bill Hader clearly adore and wish to homage in their absurd comedic parodies of. Parodies can usually go too over-the-top and in the twenty-first century have been exceptionally lazy and unfunny but Documentary Now manage a delicate balance of intriguing narrative and good humoured fun. With documentaries, the form is utilised to showcase realism so parodying them provides ample difficulty since it is much easier for gags to become heavily overdone and become too absurd but somehow the show manages to find this balance constantly and finds the right source material that is absurd enough as is that serve as excellent sources to mine hilarious jokes from. Once the show opens and the documentary parody is presented with faux seriousness by Dame Helen Mirren who reads every absurd title like Sandy Passage, Juan Likes Rice and Chicken and the most aptly named Batshit Valley. It's even better that she does so with such an air of gravitas that the actor has become known for turning on its head in breezy, fun comedic roles and it's so fun seeing her appear in such a niche show just to read a few silly self-serious opening lines because she can. The cast although spearheaded by Armisen and Hader themselves for the first two seasons (Hader is now busy with the sublime Barry) is filled to the brim with A-list ringers, hinted already with the appearance of Mirren as show host, and appearances from Jack Black, Owen Wilson and even two-time Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett shows how high the quality of this show is that it attracts such big names for absurd guest-spots. With a deceptively niche premise, the show manages to craft exceptionally absurd comedy in narratives that are still genuinely interesting and actually make you care for the characters in the sparse twenty something minute run time of each episode.
The Simpsons in its heyday produced some of the most subversive, absurd and outright hilarious sitcom episodes of all time and narrowing down my top ten has been so difficult and over time I will probably change my mind. There will of course be some contentious opinions as many iconic episodes- there are probably about fifty or more classics- and you could really choose anything between seasons three and eight and they'd be nothing wrong with any of your choices. The ranking may see absurd at times and will be incredibly debatable but that's the problem when a show was so consistently great as The Simpsons was in the 90s and rest assured there will be nothing from season 9 and onward.
We're at the beginnings of awards season and many new limited prestige releases are coming out in abundance for our entertainment but mostly to be in time for upcoming award shows. Some are actually in fact mid-budget films that studios hope will hope that word of mouth from festival circuits will carry them into profitability as we are seeing with Ford v Ferrari and A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood. Knives Out is a peculiar case because although it has high acclaim and has been well-received in festivals, critics don't think it's "serious" enough to be in the running for awards. Unlike the aforementioned films which are the kind of adored biopics the Academy fawns over and instead is a crowd-pleasing whodunit with a gleeful and light touch. I'm so glad that audiences appear to be taking to the film as it shows hope for future non-franchise films aimed at adult audiences and shows the power of an interesting hook that interests viewers regardless of absent brand recognition that mainstream film relies so heavily upon nowadays. Perhaps much of this is owed to its stellar ensemble that's so smartly cast it can grab multiple demographics but among the A-listers and rising stars, comes a breakthrough performance from Ana de Armas as the moral protagonist emerging from an absurd cast of characters to give meaning and depth to a film that has its fair share of stinging satire. Rian Johnson instills scenes with up to the minute dialogue delivered with so much enthusiasm from a delightfully game cast where every player gets their opportunity to deliver venomous one-liners that have sharp insights into the material and social media driven culture of the present day. With its modern spin of a classic sub-genre, Knives Out looks at the familiar themes associated with whodunits as it scathingly critiques class and old money families but present them in a 21st century context with modern language, politics and technology foregrounded in Johnson's rich and endlessly entertaining film.