2017 was an exceptionally strong year for films, particularly smaller budget, limited releases. Being an independent film studio has never been an easy task when production companies such as Paramount or Fox Searchlight and their endless access to cash have a stranglehold on the market.
There have been few stars, however, that have shone so brightly recently as A24. Last year was an absolutely stellar year for A24 as they have been able to capitalize off a long line of successful releases in the past five years.
Founded in 2012 by David Fenkel, John Hodges, and Daniel Katz, A24 Films LLC has released some of the best independent films to date. Fenkel was able to bring his expertise as one of the founders of Oscilloscope. Nicolette Aizenberg joined A24 as the head of publicity and has contributed a great deal to their success with guerilla marketing campaigns.
A24’s signature is making daring and bold cinema from a distinct point of view. Conventional wisdom be damned. They are going to challenge their audiences but respect their intelligence at the same time.
Last year’s Moonlight came out of nowhere as the Best Film of the year, which relied a great deal on word of mouth recommendations. Here is just a sample of some of their stronger releases. Let there be an honorable mention for Krisha. These guys are honestly so good, there is only so much room to add to the list!
20. Swiss Army Man (2016)
Starring Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano, this is about as quirky as an A24 film gets. Hank (Paul Dano) must use Manny (Daniel Radcliffe), a corpse washed upon the beach, as an all-purpose tool to get themselves home.
Only A24 could take such a subject and not only make it palatable, but make it filled with heart and pathos to boot. The soundtrack keeps what could be a dire film light and airy. This is a good entry into the A24 cannon.
19. Free Fire (2016)
Brie Larson and Armie Hammer round out this fantastic crew of misfits in an original take on the gangster film. There is definitely dialogue but the guns carry a great deal of the development of this narrative in this stunning action film. Directed by Ben Wheatley (Kill List), the film centers on Justine (Brie Larson) who is trying to arrange a deal between IRA members and gun dealers in a seedy warehouse in 1970s Boston. Naturally, things go awry, and a gunfight for the ages ensues.
The action and dialogue go hand and hand in this film. The guns really become characters themselves as hidden snipers and other characters unbeknownst to the audience are in the warehouse too. This was a bit of a sleeper hit but well worth the price of admission.
18. It Comes at Night (2017)
A24 has a handful of indie horror hits (The Witch deserves a shout out for sure) and this might be one of the more chilling entries to date. The pacing and tension in this film are almost unrivaled. Viewers who are looking for gore or fast-paced violence may be disappointed but if you allow the creepy narrative to wash over you, this is definitely a film to keep in your collection.
There has been an outbreak of some sort of illness that is not readily defined to the viewer. It’s understood that your doors must be barricaded at night and it is best not to interact with strangers. When Will (Christopher Abbott) comes to Paul’s (Joel Edgerton) house to find supplies for his family, it seems like an innocent enough gesture. This film focuses more on what the viewer does not see rather than what it does which makes it all the more frightening.
17. De Palma (2015)
Brian De Palma on Brian De Palma. What more could you ask for in this hilarious documentary on one of the greatest living directors? Directed by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, De Palma gives us an insight in the madness and genius of his work. Unrelenting and unflinching, he refused to compromise and is a giant in his field as a result.
De Palma talks about his legacy including films such as Carrie and Scarface. He paid homage to Hitchcock and made it clear that not only was he a brilliant student, he knew how to take the source material and make it his. An auteur in his own right, he lays the blueprint out for any filmmaker to take risks and get those risks to pay off.
16. A Ghost Story (2017)
This is a poignant and lyrical film that naturally belies the title. A recently deceased ghost (Casey Affleck as “C”) returns to his home to reach out to his despondent wife (Rooney Mara as “M”).
You can feel the sadness creeping through the sheet in this superbly directed film. Watching love expand through space and time, this film is haunting and mesmerizing in its own way and will stick with you for days after viewing.
15. Under the Skin (2013)
This might be one of the better entries for Scarlett Johansson who stars as a mysterious yet beautiful alien who seduces lonely men for an unspecified purpose. Either way, she consumes them. Stylistically, this film is a masterpiece. Directed by indie favorite, Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast), this film seemed divisive early on by some critics but audiences have seemed to embrace more as time had gone by.
This is another signature release by A24 where nothing is spoon-fed to the audience but it requires you to be challenged and sit with what you just watched for quite some time.
14. Green Room (2015)
One of the best films of 2015, Green Room exemplifies the versatility of A24 as a company. They can produce grimy horror in an art house style. This film delivers on every level and gets better with each viewing.
A punk band goes to play a show in some tumbleweed Pacific northwestern town. They don’t find out until they arrive that the venue is specifically for neo-Nazi skinheads. Things take a turn for the worse when the band witnesses a murder and the neo-Nazis decide they would rather have no witnesses. Not for the faint of heart, this is a highly recommended horror film, which defies its genre.
13. The Disaster Artist (2017)
Making its way across theatres for midnight screenings and plastic spoon throwing, The Roomis touted as the worst film of all time. Who knew that a film about one of the worst films ever made would be one of A24’s more successful releases in 2017?
James Franco stars as the eccentric Tommy Wiseau. Dave Franco plays Greg Sestero and does an outstanding job. It was interesting seeing the “other Franco brother” stretch his talents a bit in this movie. Ultimately this movie is about friendship and how Wiseau and Sestero’s relationship was put to the test during this debacle.
12. 20th Century Women (2016)
Directed by Mike Mills (Beginners and Thumbsucker), this film avoids a lot of the tropes about disaffected suburbanites that have been released throughout the years. The cast is phenomenal and Greta Gerwig continues to show why she will be a household name for years to come.
Annette Bening (Dorothea) enlists the help of other women to help raise her young son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) in 1979 Santa Barbara, CA. While Jamie needs space to figure life out on his own, the women are still trying to figure things out themselves. The movie expertly captures life during this era in a bohemian California town. It was also good for Annette Bening to grace us with her presence on the big screen again.
11. American Honey (2016)
Shia LeBeouf’s personal antics have unfortunately colored the public’s perception of him, but the performance he delivers in this film is phenomenal. Sasha Lane (Star) joins a misfit crew of kids selling magazine from state to state. Shia plays Jake, who has a complicated relationship with Star that develops as the two get closer to one another.
The dialogue and narrative is as real as it comes as we see this gang of kids struggle to survive through a less than savory way to make ends meet. Sasha Lane gives a brilliant performance during her debut on the big screen. Fortunately, she has a few new films in the pipeline including one that premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.