Unless you’ve been living under a rock in the film world, you know about A24. Whether it be through the overpriced yet unbelievably cool merchandise, the horror movie that mentally scarred your grandparents last week, or the notable Academy Award recognitions—and snubs—it is hard to avoid the impact that A24 is having on contemporary cinema. As a shameful A24 shill myself, even I can admit that the studio has had its fair share of flops. But along with having a couple of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, A24 also has at least a dozen of my all-time favorites. So, as if I’m the first one to ever do it, I’m giving my best attempt at composing a ranking that will likely change in a week. Just to hedge my bets, here are some honorable mentions: “The Lighthouse,” “Good Time,” “First Reformed,” “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” and “The Last Black Man in San Francisco.”
Come on—there are so many A24 movies that are “Yeah I get why this isn’t your thing” type movies. Not “Moonlight.” Typically, I am not drawn to the motif of a certain color, but the constant allegory of the color blue is done so delicately and meaningfully that it’s impossible to not appreciate. I tend to not care much about the Oscars until what I love gets snubbed, but this winning Best Picture was the second-best thing the Oscars have done in the past decade—behind Parasite’s sweep.
9. A Ghost Story
Given the amount of traumatizing graphic horror films that A24 has produced, the fact that “A Ghost Story” has kept me up at night the most is saying something. The helpless goal of leaving a mark that will last on this world longer than we do is a tendency I don’t think humans will ever let go of. This movie is essentially a magnifying glass on a few of the ways we cope with death—not only that of loved ones but eventually our own.
8. The Lobster
A common trend with many of these next favorites will be utterly absurd plotlines that depict some evident theme of this world. The societal pressure to constantly be in a romantic relationship? For Yorgos Lanthimos, this means a movie in which all singles are forced into a hotel and if they don’t find a partner within a certain time frame, they are turned into the animal of their choice. There aren’t many filmmakers working nowadays that would be able to pull this absurd premise off, let alone even try it.
While some may consider “Mid90s” to just be nostalgia bait with its grainy, 16mm film, the experience of being an impressionable adolescent boy is so authentically done. Whatever it takes to feel a sense of acceptance, even if it means making decisions that hurt yourself and those around you. Even if one doesn’t connect to the youthful need to belong, the homage to skateboarding and classic hip hop is enough to make you feel something.
6. The Green Knight
As commendable as an uber faithful script adaptation is, it’s always refreshing to be able to watch a period piece without needing subtitles to understand what in the world is going on. “The Green Knight” so eloquently blends the thematic importance of the original poem with modern elements of filmmaking and screenwriting, which lends to an incredibly entertaining experience. The film also leaves the viewer with something to chew on, namely the decision between the notions of pride and honor versus self-preservation.
5. C’mon C’mon
The movie to make problematic film bros sit back and reflect and think, “Maybe it’s alright to confront my feelings. Maybe I shouldn’t problematically project myself onto Ryan Gosling-played anti-heroes.” At the very least, “C’mon C’mon” evokes such strong emotion, sometimes without you even knowing why. Plus, the leading child actor loves Death Grips in real life, which is pretty sweet.
Here comes the bias towards Ari Aster. If there was a presidential race for layering thematic purpose behind an absurd and disturbing plot, Ari Aster and Yorgos Lanthimos would be front runners with Gaspar Noe making up the third-party vote. Apart from being one of the only horror movies to make my skin crawl, the immense detail littered throughout “Hereditary” is a testament to the effort Aster puts into his filmmaking. If it were possible to get moving tattoos, Toni Collette’s dinner outrage would already be on my thigh.
3. Red Rocket
If you read my essay about “Red Rocket,” you already know how much I adore this movie—enough to name it my favorite in a year full of great choices. To keep it brief, Sean Baker is able to get award-worthy performances out of first-time actors that other directors can’t get out of household name celebrities. I can’t wait to be angry when Simon Rex doesn’t get nominated for Best Actor.
2. Uncut Gems
Speaking of outrageous Best Actor snubs. On par with “Punch Drunk Love,” “Uncut Gems” might be Adam Sandler’s magnum opus performance. What’s even more incredible is how the Safdie Brothers can evoke such a visceral feeling of stress and anxiety without leaning on gore or disturbing imagery. Further, the palpable tension created in this anxiety erupts just before the end of the film, right before aggressively dividing audiences. On top of this, Kevin Garnett’s performance is the only thing that can compare to Sean Baker’s first-timer expertise.
In what was easily the best movie-going experience I have ever had, I still remember the sense of awe I had leaving “Midsommar” for the first time—coincidentally on a hot, bright summer day. Other than maybe “Parasite,” I’ve never had a stronger urge to instantly buy another ticket and see it again. Upon watching over and over again, “Midsommar” not only holds up but keeps getting better. A pet peeve of mine is when a movie has “great rewatch value,” only to leave me just watching it with the thought of “Oh yeah it’s that guy who does it at the end.” Instead, rewatching “Midsommar” just clues the viewer in on earlier signs of manipulation and malintent. Oh, and did I mention the entire plot of the film appears on a tapestry before we see a single shot?