12. The VVitch (2016)
Set in 17th century New England, a Puritan family lives on a farmhouse on the outskirts of a deep forest. Trying to lead a devout Christian life, the family begins to turn on each other after their newborn son mysteriously vanishes and their crops begin to fail. After another son Caleb ends up lost in the woods and returns home naked and with fever, the daughter Thomasnin is accused of witchcraft and chaos ensues.
“The VVitch” is a chilling portrait of a family unraveling within their own sins, leaving them vulnerable for an unknown evil. “The VVitch” was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize with Robert Eggers winning the Directing Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. The VVitch won Best First Screenplay and won Best First Feature at the 2017 Independent Spirit Awards.
11. Ex Machina (2015)
Ex Machina became one of the most popular sci-fi films of 2014, telling the story of a young programmer Caleb, who wins a competition to spend a week at the home of the company’s CEO, Nathan. Once he arrives, Caleb learns that he has been chosen to test the capabilities of Ava, an android in the body of a girl. Caleb soon becomes smitten with Ava and her development, but Ava may be more self-aware and deceptive than either man imagined.
Alicia Vikander received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her performance at the 2016 Golden Globes and BAFTA Awards. Ex Machina received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay, and won an Oscar for Best Visual Effects becoming the first Oscar win for A24.
10. The Florida Project (2017)
Featuring mostly first-time actors reflecting life in an impoverished area in Orlando with the ironic backdrop of Disney World, “The Florida Project” shows life in a rundown motel with tenants who live there month to month as they can’t afford more proper accommodations. Among these tenants is Halley, an ex-stripper single mother and her mischievous six-year-old daughter Moonee.
For Moonee and her group of friends the hotel is a magical playground, and they spend their day wandering about creating their own adventures. As Moonee is out playing with her friends Halley takes increasingly greater risks to make money to pay for food and rent. The hotel manager Bobby (Williem Dafoe) sees that Halley and Moonee are on a downward trajectory and tries to serve at as somewhat of a father figure to Moonee, but he can only do so much.
“The Florida Project” proved to be one of Williem Dafoe’s defining performances, and he won several critic awards for his work along with Best Supporting Actor nominations at the 2018 Golden Globes, SAG, BAFTA, and Academy Awards.
9. Room (2015)
Inspired by similar real-life events, 2015’s “Room” tells the story of Jack, a five-year old boy and his mom (Ma) who are being held captive in a one-room shed. Jack, who was born there, has been living in the room his entire life. One day Jack and Ma are finally able to make an escape and live normal lives, however the adjustment from being in captivity for years is not an easy one, and what should feel like home at times feels like a foreign place.
Room won the People’s Choice Award at the 2015 Toronto Film Festival, along with receiving Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Brie Larson won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance, along with Best Actress wins at the 2016 BAFTA, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards. Room is currently ranked 146 among IMDB’s top 250 films of all time, the highest ranking for an A24 film.
8. Lady Bird (2017)
Set in 2002 Sacramento, California, Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson is in her senior year of high school and dreams of attending a New York City college after graduation. Her mother prefers for her to stay local however, as she is pessimistic of Lady Bird’s chances elsewhere and the family is going through a difficult time financially.
The film follows Lady Bird as she experiences her first romance, meets new friends, participates in the school drama class, and makes her final decision on college. Greta Gerwig won Best Screenplay at the 2018 Film Independent Spirit Awards, and Lady Bird won Movie of the Year at the 2018 AFI Awards.
Lady Bird also won Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy at the 2018 Golden Globes along with Saoirse Ronan winning Best Actress. Lady Bird received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay.
7. 20th Century Women (2016)
Mike Mill’s “20th Century Women” centers around three women in 1979 California; Dorothea (Annette Bening), Abbie (Greta Gerwig), and Julie (Elle Fanning). Each woman is a different age reflecting their relationship to the time, and are seen from the point of view of Dorothea’s 15yr old, Jamie.
Jamie explains that his mother was a child of the Depression, and his mother looks for assistance from the two younger women to help with Jamie’s upbringing. “20th Century Women” is a portrait of a group of people at a specific moment in time, how they lived, what music they listened to, and what they cared about.
The film ends with the main characters describing the rest of their lives in voice-overs. Dorothea is shown flying in an aircraft as her death in 1999 of cancer is revealed, Jamie tries to describe his late mother to his son, but finds it impossible to explain what a woman his mother was and what a life she lived.
“20th Century Women” was nominated for Best Picture and Best Actress at the 2017 Golden Globes, and received a Best Original Screenplay nomination at the 2017 Academy Awards.
6. Eighth Grade (2018)
In his feature film directorial debut, comedian Bo Burnham’s “Eighth Grade” delves into the life of a 13-year-old girl named Kayla (Elsie Fisher) on the brink of her middle-school graduation. At the surface Kayla appears to have it all together as she spends time at home creating advice blogs on YouTube for her peers.
However, in actuality she is much less confident around her classmates at school, and avoids much interaction with her father at home. Burnham’s direction draws the viewing audience into experiencing all the awkwardness which Kayla feels around her peers, including one memorable anxiety-filled scene in which Kayla attends a pool party hosted by a classmate, nervously walking into the pool in her swimsuit.
Many viewers cited “Eighth Grade” as the scariest film of 2018 with moments so universally awkward that many were left squirming in their seat, making the realism of “Eighth Grade” one of its biggest triumphs, “Gucci!”
5. Good Time (2017)
The Safdie Brothers delivered a hypnotic and gritty thriller whose story surrounds one adrenaline filled night in New York with their 2017 film “Good Time”. The film follows Connie (Robert Pattinson) through an odyssey into the city’s underworld in an attempt to get his younger brother Nick (Benny Safdie) who has a mental disability, out of prison after a botched back robbery.
Over the course of the night Connie comes across several individuals who he successfully manipulates, some due to race, others due to his quick thinking and resourcefulness. Connie is able to rope others into his plan not by force, but by his charisma and smooth talk.
It is arguably the best performance of Robert Pattinson’s career, as he treats everyone her comes across, family and friends and strangers, with the same contempt, preying upon their vulnerabilities to fit his needs of the moment.
4. First Reformed (2018)
Writer / Director Paul Schrader burst back onto the film scene in 2018 with “First Reformed”. Schrader’s previous work has included writing such classics as 1976’s “Taxi Driver”, 1980’s “Raging Bull”, and writing and directing 1985’s “Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters”.
With “First Reformed” Schrader tells the story of 46-year-old Reverend Ernst Toller who is an alcoholic minister at the small historic First Reformed Church in upstate New York. The church is owned and overseen by Abundant Life, a more successful mega church nearby overseen by Reverend Joel Jeffers. Reverend Toller begins to counsel an unstable environmental activist and his pregnant wife which soon leads to a profound spiritual and psychological crisis.
This downward spiral climaxes to an adrenaline pumping ending which is left to the viewers interpretation. “It’s calibrated to be read in different ways,” Schrader said, “because when you look at it closely, she suddenly appears, the room is much lighter, the footsteps go away — so [I was] trying to find the right balance between it being a kind of intervention of grace, a kind of miracle, or an ecstatic vision, which is also a kind of miracle, I guess.”
“First Reformed” may harken viewers back to such film classics as Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver”, Bresson’s “Diary of a Country Priest”, and Bergman’s “Winter Light”, telling its own story of torment, tragedy, and a tormented past.
3. A Ghost Story (2017)
David Lowery’s “A Ghost Story” was one of the most unique, profound, and memorable films from 2017. Simple in its storytelling, the film is a meditation on our perception of time and existence as much as it is about love and death.
“A Ghost Story” stars Casey Affleck as a young man who dies, but whose ghost still remains around the house which he and his wife (Rooney Mara) inhabited. The ghost does not appear to know why he is left to wander around the house, except that he was drawn to the house while he was alive, and there is a note which his wife left in a crack in the wall before she moved out.
There are no special effects of the ghost moving through objects which might be shown in any other typical ghost film, rather Lowery shows the ghost in full substance, making his existence even more substantial. Lowery places the ghost in a simple white sheet with eyeholes cut out of it and has him walk around slowly and stare blankly at things, it is a daring strategy to show such patience in today’s cinema, but it works with great affect in this film.
The music in a “A Ghost Story” has also great affect with a haunting (literally) score by David Hart which much of the narrative is based around. “A Ghost Story” is a perfect example of the unique, daring, independent American cinema which A24 embodies.
2. Under the Skin (2013)
Director Jonathan Glazer may be one of the more sporadic filmmakers of today with feature films Sexy Beast (2000), Birth (2004), and 2013’s “Under the Skin”. Glazer’s directing style harkens back to techniques used by Stanley Kubrick, but Glazer has his own unique twists and stories to tell. 2013’s “Under the Skin” starring Scarlett Johansson is a prime example of this.
The film tells the story of an alien entity in the form of a young woman who drives the streets of Scotland seducing male victims into an otherworldly dimension where they are consumed. Glazer films these encounters in a guerilla style with no actors, making the viewing experience even more disturbing.
The more encounters Johansson’s alien character has, the more complexities begin to shape and change her. She soon begins to discover herself as human and forms human relationships, which lead her wanting more and only ending with tragic consequences.
Under the Skin was voted as the best film of 2014 by film critics on the website rogerebert.com saying, “The year’s best film is also one of its most challenging. If you like your movies comforting, safe and tidy—if you treasure things like catharsis and closure and enjoy having your questions answered—then you should probably look elsewhere.
Under the Skin is not for you. But if you want to be thrilled and wowed both emotionally and intellectually—if you’re prepared to surrender yourself to inspired visuals and a mesmerizing tone, and to be moved deeply by them—then drop whatever you’re doing and go find Under the Skin now.”
1. Moonlight (2016)
It is no coincidence that the #1 film on this A24 list is also the most critically acclaimed and awarded film in A24’s catalogue. Director Barry Jenkins’ second feature film Moonlight won numerous awards upon its release in 2016 including Best Picture at the 2017 Golden Globes, Best Picture at the 2017 AFI Awards, Best Feature, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, and Best Editing at the 2017 Film Independent Spirit Awards, and Best Supporting Actor, Best Screenplay, and Best Picture at the 2017 Academy Awards.
Based upon the play ‘In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue’ by Alvin McCraney, Moonlight tells a three-part story of Chiron, a poor, black, gay youth growing up in Liberty City, a poor area within Miami which both Jenkins and writer Tarell McCraney grew up. Influenced by acclaimed Chinese director Kar-Wai Wong; Jenkins’ direction offers up bold contrasts with its use of color, particularly blue and black tones, along with a shine against the actor’s skin reflecting the heat from the South Florida sun. Jenkins direction also portrays his characters with a vulnerability, depth, and humanity that is rarely given to black males in film.
Simple scenes like children chasing after each other in the grass, a child learning how to swim, or a father figure giving advice to a child; these scenes are shown with such beauty, respect, and a quietness to make the viewer feel like they are eavesdropping in on a conversation or experience.
The music of Moonlight also stands out, in particular the haunting score created by Nicholas Britell, the introduction song “Every N*gger is a Star” by Boris Gardiner, and Chiron and Kevin’s song “Hello Stranger” by Barbara Lewis. Written, directed, and starring an all-black cast, Moonlight is a rare gem of a film, and with its success, hopefully this type of film will not be so rare in the near future.