The 30 Best A24 Movies that you Shouldn’t Miss
You go to the theatre. You sit in your seat with popcorn and a cold drink. The film begins. What is the first thing that you see on the big screen? Think. Come on, think harder. Yes, the logo of a company, unless it’s a weird Lars Von Trier movie: you just might see something else. Ever since we’ve seen the first of films, the mystery of the logo has persisted. There’s been at least one company, right from the days of MGM and Universal to Paramount Pictures and Miramax, that has dominated and almost become synonymous with good content. As far as a machine that produces some of the best movies is concerned, the 21st Century has seen A24 become just that.
Ever since its inception in 2012, A24 movies have progressed leaps and bounds, whether be it producing or distributing. It has become a frequent destination for some of the biggest names in the business. An A24 film never quite goes under the radar, especially now. So we thought of coming up with a list of some of the best films from the A24 banner that you should check out. (Note: I know a lot of your personal favorites have missed out but this is just my list. Mention the ones you feel should be there in the comments!)
30. Mid90s (2018)
Jonah Hill’s revival of the ’90s skate scene is spot on. Right from the music to the clothes, he almost nails every aspect. The film follows Stevie, a 13-year-old boy figuring out himself and the life around him. He finds his place in a group of neighborhood skateboarders and learns that the life he imagines they live is much different than it seems. ‘Mid90s’ seems like a semi-biographical account of Hill’s own life. It is for this very reason that the film doesn’t feel forced with details but instead organic and full of quaint observations about the mentality of childhood.
His misfits rejoice in the loyal company of each other and band together as a family whose bond is a result of environmental conditioning, rather than blood. Hill’s heartfelt homage to his childhood is positioned well in the realistic arches of the neighbourhood he grew in and not for one second feels dragged. Overall, ‘Mid90s’ raw mix of emotion and innocence is powerful enough to make it a lasting watch.
29. The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019)
It takes a few minutes and sincere observation to get acquainted with director Joe Talbot’s vision. Sans an attempt to make sense of things, ‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’ is a lyrical experiment in visual storytelling that is more of a hit than a miss. Talbot’s expert landscaping of the city he grew up in opens up an unseen side of the city life. His presentation style is intriguing. Every frame springs up a new surprise brought to life with care and passion for the art form.
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Following the plot can be a difficult task due to Talbot’s penchant for exaggerating character quirks. In summary, Fails schemes to reclaim his childhood home supposedly built by his grandfather after WWII when he sees the current owners embroiled in a family dispute over the property. The title refers to Jimmy as the last generational black man to fight for his birthright, standing against the gentrification of the city. There’s the idea attached to the film about the African-American community laying the foundation of the city with their hands. Everything we see today is a culmination of their hard work and craftsmanship.
The personal history behind the film results in some aspects being limited to locals and previous residents. For instance, the changing face of San Francisco over the years does not have the same impact on me as on a resident. This might open up the possibility to critique the film for being a bit overloaded with ideas. Subconsciously, Talbot also realizes his apathy for black masculinity and how that has been glorified in the culture, in a similar manner to ‘Moonlight’.
Kofi’s character embodies his theory of what really lies behind the tough exterior. Thora Birch makes a cameo appearance and my mind instantly traverses back to the ending of Ghost Town (2001). The fact that Jimmy meets her on a bus might suggest a grim ending for him in the film. Go in with an open mind and try to feel before you understand. Do the latter on the second viewing.
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28. American Honey (2016)
Andrea Arnold is one of the strongest champions of female empowerment in the industry presently. Along with names like Lynne Ramsey and Kelly Reichhardt, Arnold has complete control over her movies and often ends up behind revolutionary movies that attach themselves to popular movements.
In ‘American Honey’, she explores the unfettered odyssey of a rebellious group of young nobodies as they make a living selling magazine subscriptions. ‘American Honey’ takes you on a ride with its lively characters, wonderfully realized portrayal of youth, interesting critiques of capitalism, insightful exploration of identity, and its sheer beauty. The naturalistic performances shine, and that soundtrack is too special to ignore.
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27. Locke (2013)
A married man realizes the true love of his life and rushes across the state to be present for the birth of his child. In doing so, he abandons his family, his job, and what could have been possibly the most important day of his life. But besides love, there are much emotionally stronger forces of the mind at play. Steven Knight’s intense and taut textbook screenplay wastes absolutely no time in setting the stakes high. Even seeing Tom Hardy as Locke weighing the consequences of what he’s doing will give you anxiety.
‘Locke’s minimalist setting of Tom Hardy driving frantically in a car and talking on the phone does not evoke excitement at first. With time, though, Knight’s intention becomes crystal clear. In its seemingly simple premise, Knight manages to carve out a swivel-eyed narrative that leaves you both, breathless and emotionally exhausted. Tom Hardy becomes the vessel and central point of all that happens in the movie. He gracefully carries the burden to literally “drive the movie ahead”. A rare achievement in filmmaking that will force you to question things you really value in your life.
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26. Ex Machina (2014)
‘Ex Machina’ is an interesting take on human-AI interaction in the age of the technological revolution. Domnhall Gleeson plays Caleb, a computer expert who wins an invitation to assist his millionaire CEO, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), at his secluded residence to administer a Turing Test on a female robot. During his interactions, Caleb develops an intimate relationship with Ava, who removes the lid on Nathan’s dirty secrets and malicious practices, asking Caleb to help her escape.
Alex Garland, the director of the film, shows more commitment to ideas rather than visual execution. His speculative look at how technology is increasingly becoming the master of the very hand that created it isn’t distanced from years of literary and scholarly work on the discourse. Garland’s directional debut is essential viewing, marrying disparate elements of dystopian doom with and modern gore with stunning ease.
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25. A Most Violent Year (2014)
‘A Most Violent Year’, with its subtle, gripping pace and stunning cinematography, makes sure we have more than Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain to look forward to. I would call the film a complete crime drama that is as authentic as real-life episodes of this kind. JC Chandor paces the film without any subconscious prejudice for making things interesting. For most parts, ‘A Most Violent Year’ eludes the A24 tag that is more noticeable in most films.
Isaac stars as Abel, an ambitious businessman looking to make it big in the oil business. Chastain stars as Anna, his wife. Although seemingly without any contribution to the business, Anna’s influential family backs Abel in funding his tankers. Still young, Abel walks like an ailing fifty-year-old, burdened with running a business at the precipice of criminal inclinations. He prefers to be disciplined and not take any more risks he can safely negate. Due to rising instances of hijacking, Abel feels like upping the stakes. But he must remain careful as he stands to lose it all.
There are times when the film reminds one of ‘Good Time’ or even ‘Uncut Gems’. The three, or rather one and the other two, are clearly distinguished by shooting techniques and choice of storytelling. But the palpable tension sustains well in ‘Violent’. It remains relevant because of how the outcome of Abel’s risk hinges on just one thing going wrong. On the outset, ‘A Most Violent Year’ may seem to be languid and sluggish. But as it brings curtains to a hardened journey of the pair which sees them being tested physically as well as mentally, all the nothingness and meaningless starts making sense.
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24. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
An accomplished surgeon’s idyllic suburban life is about to fade like the white of his spotless household; as a ghost from the past seeks to obliterate his domestic bliss. Barry Keoghan’s Martin is as calm as a cucumber. Even in situations that would hysterically rile up the still water of the Pacific. His calmness becomes Steven’s bane, as he helplessly sees his perfect life gets torn to shreds.
The Kubrickian undertones are evident in the film in Lanthimos’ searching camera that never goes astray, boldly marching in its stead, measuring its every movement with the utmost care. For large parts of the film, the absurd takes precedence, managing to weave a web of impeccable and domiciled vagueness, while the others are left to be felt, experienced, and haunt the viewer. Another feather in the glorious collection of Lanthimos’ features.
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23. The Witch (2015)
A good night’s sleep will elude you for a while after watching Robert Eggers’ harrowing debut. Shot exclusively in natural light, the unconventional modern-horror mantlepiece boasts of a striking visual appeal. The grim weather and barren terrain of New England house a family banished from their village facing an unknown and vile evil that lurks in the woods just beyond their idyllic farm life. Jump scares and ugly ghosts are a poisonous mix that has festered since ages in public view. Eggers destroys a beautiful genre and subverts many filmmakers’ precious power of expectations. He makes sure he takes back the charge and restores lost glory to the genre.
Although the buildup is gradual, the tension absently creeps under your skin. Without actually showing an entity (very briefly, we see ‘a’ witch), Eggers conjures consuming fear and doubt in the back of your head. His ascetic style of shooting compels your attendance with the character in the moment, bringing an insatiable urgency to his narration. A near sublime effort from a future rockstar.
22. The Lobster (2015)
‘The Lobster’ is a surreal comedy about serious social pressure and modern relationships. The film makes its stand clear by its visceral opening scene – “you’ll not survive if you are ignorant towards the details”. Lanthimos is one of the few filmmakers whose offbeat sense of narration and dark humour has been given immense love from audiences. His ability to fashion his stories around socio-political conflicts elevates his position in the industry and his creative endeavours. ‘The Hotel’, for instance, in The Lobster represents institutional apathy. It commends off-track and different people, whereas the ordinary and sheepish population gets punished – an attempt to shed the old rusted machinery of humanism, to bring something new by restricting the already dull world.
‘The Lobster’ has everything you want from a movie: it is unpredictable, odd, and it’s really funny. But the most impressive is the subtext, it manages to reflect how odd our own contemporary social pressure is, how feared loneliness is, how individuality loses out to the common system and how relationships must be considered “legitimate” by some higher order.
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21. Swiss Army Man (2016)
‘Swiss Army Man’ is a comedy that does not have a peer. It redefines the norms with a multi-faceted plot concept that not only has depth but also authenticity. Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe star as two men who meet on the verge of death. Former, about to die, latter, already dead (or is he?). The bond forged through this weird coincidence only grows stronger as the movie progresses.
Things do not seem to match up in reality to their appearances. Because the story is told from the point of view of Dano’s character Hank, the setting and everything that happens within the space remain ambiguous and open to interpretation. One thing that the film is not uncertain about is getting laughs from viewers. Right from the first scene where Hank rides a flatulent Manny (Radcliffe) like a jet-ski using the gases so released, to Hank explaining appropriate social behaviour to Manny.
After this rather light and absurd phase, ‘Swiss Army Man’ takes a jarring stark turn into the tragic reality. The conversation about mental illness and related abandonment was mostly offset by the final scene, which I think still was narrated from how Hank wanted it to pan out. But there is an urgent need for the same, especially in the context of the film. ‘Swiss Amry Man’ is a liberating experience, one that is rarely present in mainstream cinema. Its absurdity in conception is only matched by the generosity of its execution.
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20. The Rover (2014)
Modern-day westerns have substantially deviated from age-old genre traditions. No more do you see tacit men in oversized hats on horses preparing to commit to a Mexican standoff or unyielding desert-like terrain that’s mostly rocks and mountains. A more holistic and integrated approach has produced cinema that’s not only symbolic of yesteryear glory but also varied and more relevant in thematic exposition.
‘The Rover’ belongs to this class of new-age films. David Michod, who previously shone with ‘Animal Kingdom’, relishes in exacting the optimum visually from his minimalist screenplay. His tense and, at times, the unruly technique is significant in creating the chilling atmosphere, one that is similar to other glorious apocalypse films but has its own unique strengths.
The plot of the film is set in the aftermath of world events that resulted in a collapse of the system and erosion of civilization. The depth of the setting and imagery is matched by visceral performances, especially by Pattinson. In retrospect, his avatar might not seem to be so out of place as it was right after Twilight and Harry Potter. Michod’s New World is a melting pot of different nationalities seeking the promised land.
Despite the potential of this premise, ‘The Rover’ rests perfectly between under and over utilizing it and instead focuses on the savagery that defines its cinematic universe. Comparisons to Mad Max are seemingly obvious but unfounded. ‘The Rover’ intelligently combines elements of forlorn dystopia and compelling human drama in a slightly undercooked narrative that boasts of great central performances by Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson.
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19. Zola (2021)
There can not be a better representative of the stricken and exciting world of social media than ‘Zola’. The story behind the film is as extraordinary and confounding to reason as the story in it. This 148-tweets long thread serves as the bizarre foundation of an even more convoluted episode in Tampa, Florida some years ago.
Taylour Paige and the increasingly visible Riley Keough star as the two best friends-cum-worst enemies on the run and unwittingly become part of a prostitution racket. The various elements of crime involved in the film are thriving business avenues for the “Xs” of nightlife in various parts of the US. ‘Zola’s fashionable visual aesthetic is pleasing to the eye and remains true to all the best movies with A24 DNA. It is difficult to separate the rather imperceptible but fleeting social commentary from the thrilling adventures of the story. Director Janizca Bravo ably uses the sexual prowess of her leads without glorification to great use. It is, at times, overwhelming as a viewer but not without purpose.
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18. Climax (2018)
You can never be too sure about a Gasper Noe movie. Over the years, his eccentric brand has inclined to surprise, always brimming with raucous energy and relentless conflict. ‘Climax‘ is no exception. In a highly charged, drug-induced ecstasy, members of a dance troupe lose their inhibitions, allowing fatal primal instincts to dictate terms, eventually leading to a destructive climax.
Noe’s stylized single long takes, none seconding the electrifying dance sequence, work at a level of sophistication that is difficult to deconstruct. The experience of watching ‘Climax’ is overwhelming, as a result. Its refreshing perspectives on the classic “whodunit” relinquish everything familiar that you’ve ever known and bind you in an inescapable trance that’ll leave you dizzy and satisfied. A pretty good feeling to take away from a movie if you ask me.
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17. Hereditary (2018)
Critics of Ari Aster’s work have called his style pretentious and an original mix of the unoriginal. His films, especially ‘Hereditary‘, have not been regarded as an embellishment to commonplace cinematic traditions as they rightfully should. His narration in ‘Hereditary’ gets under your skin from the very first frame and is hardly a contender to leave you anytime soon. Movies about cults have mostly been plastic, monotonous, and predictable in the recent past. There’s so much you do not see coming your way in ‘Hereditary’. The gory and jarring surprises are potent enough to give you the chills. Superior sound effects and reasonable use of jump-scares, which are few in number for a horror movie, are elements that distinguish ‘Hereditary’.
Toni Collette brilliantly plays a grieving mother who falls into the trap of a cult proliferator. The roots of which harken back to her dead mother. Allowing her to take over opens the door to the finalization of her mother’s plan: the descent of an unholy king. The film is a fascinating and contorted family drama. And, it packs in a harrowing tale about things in a society no one wants to pay attention to. ‘Hereditary’ does not have a match in creating an unknown and exciting language in the realm of a genre that now operates with dated methods.
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16. 20th Century Women (2016)
Continuing the trend for well-written, flawlessly acted, and character-driven, small-scale American films about familial relationships, ’20th Century Women’ is more than a worthy companion piece to writer-director Mike Mills’ previous award-winning autobiographical piece, ‘Beginners’. Annette Benning stars as Dorothea, the matriarch of a hippie boarding lodging Santa Barba in the early ’80s.
The central conflict of the film stems from Dorothea’s confusion over her relationship with her son Jamie (Lucas Jade). She harkens help from her fellow boarders to explore uncharted territory in her understanding of men and relationships. Mills pits the beginners on the opposite ends of the age spectrum – Dorothea into teenage and Jamie and Julie into adulthood – and creates a giving world where each character helps another with their worldview. The connection and discord that the four protagonists share reaffirm the notion that no one is perfect and capable of dealing with all problems in life on their own.
Elle Fanning continues her penchant to simply be outstanding at playing grey characters. They are borderline unlikeable and prone to judgment. Her character arch of the four is probably the most complete only seldom going off track. Mills’ rather unassuming narration is key in shaping rich, thesis-like character studies that are even better when put together. Sharply observant and wryly funny, ’20th Century Women’ has a lot in common with the novels of Anne Tyler and Richard Russo and serves to remind us that relationship dramas can move without succumbing to the cutes.
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15. Enemy (2013)
I’m openly admitting here that I did not get the symbolism or lateral social commentary that people have talked about ‘Enenmy’ for so long. I have tried to make sense of it but to no avail. What I do know about the movie is that it is convoluted and torturous at times, and keeps the intrigue burning till the last second, making for a fantastic mantlepiece for modern psychological cinema. Denis Villeneuve directs a Javier Gullon script loosely based on Jose Saramago’s novel The Double. Gyllenhaal stars in the central role(s) with a supporting act from Melanie Laurent.
The chaos that penetrates the film is largely undeciphered, just like the opening line suggests. The film’s dream-like structure does not follow a strict, chronological regime. Villeneuve’s guidance, in fact, puts much of what happens during the film as happening in the protagonist’s mind. ‘Enemy’ falls in the league of films like ‘Mulholland Drive‘ and ‘Primer‘; films that do not demand an explanation but exist to enthrall and entangle your brain cells. Better keep it that way!
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14. Saint Maud (2019)
A24 is renowned for forging the temptations of the modern horror genre. Without typification, the films belonging to the brand have developed a rare cinematic language of their own. ‘Saint Maud’ continues in the tradition of atmospheric, spine-chilling films that bode well for the future of a forgotten genre. The plot revolves around Katie, who rechristens herself as Maud, as she overcomes the tragic passing away of one of her patients. Maud now resorts to private palliative care and further finds strength in her devotion to religion. Her upcoming assignment with a single, wealthy woman proves to the revelation and “signal” from her saviour of His love towards her.
‘Saint Maud’ funnily enough seems to be a delusional coming-of-age tale; the beautification of a woman into an angel. But there are several doubts poked at the theory by those who champion the right to mental and psychological care. It is almost painful to see Maud go through what she does, get “influenced” to do what she does, and still see her as the villain in the end. Morfydd Clark is magnificent as the leading lady and confirms herself as a major future star. Her nuanced act perfectly captures the state of confusion and desperation. No stone is left unturned by the production and associated artists in order to defy the high standards set by its predecessor corporate projects.
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13. The Green Knight (2021)
The most hyped-up movie of 2021 lives up to expectations. David Lowery‘s new project seems like a personal obsession that the mercurial filmmaker gorges with matte finished frames. ‘The Green Knight’ is based on the poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, about an unsure son of a witch (literally) in the green of his youth determined to prove his worth to decorated Knights and the Crown, tricked by the promise of becoming a part of legend and fables. His foolishness in taking his mother’s bait to realize this ambition leads him on a hardened journey towards certain death.
The central conceit of the film is the idea of goodness v. greatness. Gawain, despite having love and integrity, embraces the fallacy of the idea of himself as someone with the courage to fight wars like a Knight. His identity crisis is crystal in his conversations with Lord Bertilik when he is called out for not knowing what honor is. Gawain yearns to be etched in the golden echelons of history in the same sentence as the great King Arthur. He wants to become something and have tales of bravery to narrate to an eager and impressionable crowd.
Lowery’s fine-tuned details such as choosing the right color palette for different emotions or using his imposing score. made up of a foreboding soundscape of medieval chants and witchcraft whispers and incantations gives a fulfilling experience. Similarities with Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth (2015) in style and dramatic performances are agreeable, despite a difference in their thematic core. I am convinced that the pair of leading females, Vikander and Cotillard, outperform their male counterparts after rewatching both sets of films. If you liked this one, be sure to check that out as well. ‘The Green Knight’ can be summed up in this choice line juxtaposed with an old adage: heavy lies the head that wears the crown; heavier so, with an unfulfilled and cursed destiny.
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12. Lady Bird (2017)
The success of coming-of-age films often relies upon the heft of experience of the people behind the screen. The tender and vulnerable emotional state of adolescence does not give much of a margin of error. Getting it exactly right is hard but the trio of Gerwig, Ronan, and Metcalf triumph in ‘Lady Bird‘. The three women create a hauntingly real and grounded portrait of a young, ambitious girl caught in the headwinds of the American dream.
Gerwig goes a step further and explores through the mother-daughter duo her own relationship and struggles in this phase of life. The drama is understated and subtle without too much emphasis on deriving theatrics. The exchanges between Ronan and Metcalf, both said and unsaid, are so genuine and simple in appearance, one wonders why this does not happen more often. The representation of their relationship might possibly be the closest thing to how it actually is – a delicate mixture of love and hate.
11. First Reformed (2018)
‘First Reformed’ was criminally overlooked at the awards season back when it first released. The media bore absolutely no mention of how fantastic Ethan Hawke was as Reverend Toller, let alone commenting on the film’s political relevance and spiritual impact. ‘First Reformed’ focuses, primarily, on the life of a former military chaplain, Ernst Toller, who, from the outside, seemingly lives a content life at the historic titular church. Inside, though, Toller grows increasingly suspicious of God’s will and plans for his bountiful creation- the earth- after he’s asked to counsel a churchgoer’s husband denying bringing a child into the world.
Comparisons with ‘Taxi Driver’ are inevitable, purely because of how Schrader bridges his spiritual and film lives through the protagonists in both films. Although these characters seem to be reflective of Schrader’s deeply personal conflict resolving the two, they also are politically indicative of the respective eras. Urban decay, exacerbated by the onset of capitalism and consumerism, wraps both the protagonists in its mist and shrouds them with an intangible force much powerful than their faculty to see optimism and happiness in life. But how does that impact one’s conviction in his faith? Is it powerful enough to wither such man-made storms? Does questioning His ideals and roadmap of life weaken one’s temporal connection to him? ‘First Reformed’ never answers these questions and leaves Toller boxed in (for similar impact, see Bergmann’s ‘Winter Light‘) his unyielding world.
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10. Good Time (2017)
When the Safdies and Pattinson agreed to do a movie which “didn’t exist based on nothing“, they could have never imagined it would turn out to be this good. But simply labeling ‘Good Time‘ as a bank robbery gone wrong would be unfair. It tells the story of brothers, Connie and Nick. The former a bank robber, the latter in therapy on account of his developmental disability, who decide to rob a bank. During the getaway, a dye pack bursts and causes the car to crash. It leaves the two scurrying for their freedom. When Nick is arrested by the police, Connie vows to do anything to save him and place him back in therapy.
‘Good Time’ movies with Connie. It traces his patterns, his adrenaline, his tumultuous emotional state, and as a result, moves at a great pace. The narrative also picks up on how Connie’s circumstance doesn’t really allow him to be morally ambiguous. Thus preventing him from being labeled as a ‘protagonist’. The jarring tone compliments the style and overall vibe of the film. And, it seems to be of paramount importance to the Safdies. ‘Good Time’ is an electric experience and a worthy take on the delicacy of human relations.
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9. First Cow (2020)
Kelly Reichardt’s weight in modern independent cinema has increased substantially with every new film. Her films, often light on plot details and production values, make the best out of minimal settings. The characters that populate her films are not role models or perfect people. But her penchant to facilitate the embracement of their journeys by the viewer without proper acceptance sets her apart. ‘
First Cow’ is a transportive experience birthed out of a fleeting episode, a buried story of the past. The friendship of two men, now a remnant of their skeletons found decades ahead by a traveller and her dog. Reichardt’s craft and gift in storytelling are in the manner she explores unsaid themes through Cookie (John Magaro) and King-Lu’s (Orion Lee) bond without ever spotlighting them.
As a viewer, your obligation is to be observant and patient. Be a sponge and absorb things as they come your way. Visually and aesthetically, ‘First Cow’ is mesmerizing and probably superior to her previous works. Despite the scruffy and rural setting, frames are full of warmth and carry a poetic tenderness generally lacking in mainstream commercial cinema. They combine well with a steady and intentionally understated score. Reichardt reaffirms her status as a unique chronicler of subdued American lives censured into oblivion.
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8. The Farewell (2019)
Billi is a struggling writer in New York City. Having just received a rejection letter for a fellowship while on the phone with her precious Nai Nai, Billi’s life doesn’t seem to be on track. The misery gets compounded when she discovers Nai Nai’s diagnosis of a terminal illness. The family keeps the result from Nai Nai, owing to a traditional belief that cancer doesn’t kill the person; it is the fear of knowing they have cancer that does. Although her parents advise her to stay home as they hatch an elaborate plan to bid her a farewell, Billi tags along, barely trusting herself to keep the secret.
Lulu Wang’s semi-autobiographical narrative is as moving and scandalous as the real-life story. Both. the depiction of Billi and Nai Nai’s relationship and a family united by tragedy and cultural diversity is brutally honest and tender. Wang engineers enough time for the members to express how they deal with the illness on an individual level. With an ensemble that big, she surely does a commendable job. Despite a largely heavy and melancholic premise, Wang refreshingly executes a comic and insightful undercurrent that makes ‘The Farewell‘ accessible to a vast audience. Awkwafina might have confirmed herself as a major star with this turn, but it is Shuzhen Zao that steals the show in one of the best performances in one of the best films of 2019.
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7. A Ghost Story (2017)
‘A Ghost Story‘ most certainly proves to be a challenging watch. It tackles viewers with an unusual cinematic discourse and altruistic ideas. The premise’s boldness and innate mysticism furnish Lowery (who recently made The Green Knight) with an opportunity to mingle around more abstract and philosophical themes such as our connection with the past and the power of our memories.
The plot, which I personally found to be quite complex, offers a connection of sorts between the three timelines of time and space: past, present, and future. It is not descriptive or decrypt but accessible and universal enough to be relatable and appreciable. Measuring the experience of the ghost in the movie to your own might be an exacting exercise but surely yields fruitful results.
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6. Eighth Grade (2018)
Every second after Kayla says “Gucci” in Bo Burnham’s poignant sketch of a teenage girl on the precipice of adolescence, is a battle for her: a battle between self-acceptance and the world’s. For outsiders like us, the contest may seem to be one that is easy to win. But things aren’t often as simple as they seem to be. ‘Eighth Grade’ is a timely and intricate deconstruction of how Kayla and millions like her around the world navigate the dilemmas and unique challenges of teenhood.
‘Eighth Grade’s layered take on the intertextual relationship today’s youngsters have developed with technology is filled with quiet moments of vulnerability. Kayla’s creation feels a very personal and open-minded reflection of Burnham’s own personality. “The most personal is the more creative”. Eighth Grade certainly doesn’t lack any of that.
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5. Minari (2020)
‘Minari’, as a Korean film, subverts expectations that foreign audiences have come to be so habitual to. Convoluted plotlines and surreal characters are often engaged in a poetic and tragic cadence that is non-conforming. ‘Minari’ opens up an entirely new avenue of emotionally vulnerable and simplistic filmmaking styles for fans of Korean cinema. Just like minari can grow and sustain itself anywhere, this immigrant family shows resilience and togetherness. They best adverse living conditions without the promise of a changing landscape to keep fighting.
I couldn’t help but think of ‘Shoplifters‘ after watching ‘Minari’. Imperfections and discord in and among family members quite often are traded for superficial unity and understanding. Both these films successfully represent a tangent in family dynamics that is heightened in self-awareness and rare to pull off. Lee Isaac’s precision in storytelling is matched by measured performances by the entire cast, especially David, whose winning scene, in the end, stopping his grandmother is a sure shot tearjerker. Films like ‘Minari’ continue t0 reinforce the notion that stories about ordinary people are no less than extraordinary.
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4. The Lighthouse (2019)
There’s just something so mystical and seductive about films shot in black and white. Add that to an unconventionally told story about two lighthouse keepers who can’t really ‘keep’ themselves from the lighthouse, you’re all set for a satisfactory evening. ‘The Lighthouse‘ serves as a companion piece to ‘The Witch’, at least in the temperament of unnerving storytelling. There’s a disquiet, unformed and fleeting, that controls and never quite settles during the film. Eggers’ demonstrates a heightened indulgence in details as to how things feel and look, with a minimalist plot. His composition of sight and sound produces an incredibly enchanting cinematic experience that seems hard to forget.
It would be safe to assume that Eggers intended to keep his thematic introspection mostly symbolic, with no clear-eyed distinctions. The characters, though called Ephraim and Thomas in the movie, are penned as the Old Man and the Young Man in the script; the exactness of their surrender to the light in the tower is never made clear; the entire story really, dabbles mostly in ambiguity. But this opens it up to widespread interpretations from audiences. Eggers cages Dafoe and Pattinson in his mad doghouse and the result is a pair of remarkable performances that are etched into your memory. An intensely disturbing and consuming nightmare at sea and within is how I would describe ‘The Lighthouse‘.
3. Moonlight (2016)
Barry Jenkins’ expressive drama tells the story of Chiron, a young, sensitive African American boy. He discovers his sexual identity in an exhilarating three-part odyssey. More than just making a film about self-discovery, Jenkins also tries to change competing perceptions of manhood in societal discourse. While it is not exclusively esoteric to black males and captures a much broader sentiment, Jenkins explores Chiron’s journey in life against the backdrop of the hard-hitting realities of the African American community. He still generously allows additive experiences for viewers, wherein they bring something of their own to the characters and their conflicts.
‘Moonlight’ boasts of a rich thematic tapestry. As a result, Chiron faces a multitude of challenges through different phases of his life. The issues range from conformity in early teens, his resistance against becoming a product of his environment, to the probing needle of masculinity in adulthood. The process of how Little becomes Black is shown to be one devoid of tenderness and empathy. Little by little, Jenkins’ protagonist loses every avenue of love in his life, rebuked at every attempt.
‘Moonlight’s grandiosity in accepting and furnishing a universal roadmap to young boys and girls suffering from an identity crisis is its real victory. It defines how care and affection shape a person, emancipating them from gender and identity archetypes, and allows them to make their own paths.
2. The Florida Project (2017)
The idea of compassion is quite commonplace in cinema, but ironically enough, its manifestations don’t quite compare to Willem Dafoe’s Bobby. An everyday manager at the Magic Castle – a lowly motel in Florida. The occupants in the building are more like his wards than customers. He is overprotective of the kids, a kind of fatherly figure who looks out for them. Hailley is a single mother, working as an exotic dancer, living with her daughter, Moonee. The ups and downs that they go through individually become the primary subject matter of Sean Baker’s poignant portrait of working-class America.
While poverty and miserable living conditions form the background of the film, Baker focuses on the joy of childhood. And, the inhibited sense of being that children carry with themselves. Much of the life that flows through comes from the children and their interactions. This gives the storytelling an innocence that puts you at ease. Shot exclusively on 35mm, Baker rigorously experiments the way he shoots the characters, effectively bringing out their perspectives on things. The idea of Disney world, the elusive happiness for children, being on the cusp of their adobe strikes as a hard-hitting eye-opener of how happiness has been commercialized and melancholy normalized.
1. Uncut Gems (2019)
Howard Ratner is no ordinary jeweler; he has a secret apartment that houses his mistress Julia, who works at his glamorous store; he hangs out with highly influential celebrities, who are also his primary customers; and he’s secretly smuggled a rare black opal from an African mine. Unbeknownst to him, the opal will change his life in a manner that even he couldn’t have possibly bet on. Howard’s a betting man; he’s an adrenaline junky. More than the win, he seems to enjoy that blood rush, the energy that flows with the unknown, completely ransoming himself to the odds. He often sees opportunities where others don’t.
The Safdie brothers have followed up their 2017 classic ‘Good Time’ with another frantic anxiety fest. This time, though, the stakes are higher, the journey more labored, and a climax you will never forget. Adam Sandler’s soaring turn as Howard Ratner might just be the best performance of his career. His exasperation and desperate energy is the emotional backbone of the film. His central act is brilliantly understated and reflects the chaos that envelops him throughout. The Safdies have created an unnerving masterpiece that is a tragic celebration of the travesty of human nature.