Every year, A24 becomes a seemingly bigger name. The biggest studio productions somehow just keep on making more money and end up burying some smaller and worthwhile smaller movie, but no one is forgetting about A24. They are synonymous with quality. It has gotten to the point where people will go out to see a movie just because of the namesake, because they have such confidence they are about to a see a film of high quality. A24 is arguably the most honored name at the theaters right now, and these are the best films they offered this year.
1. C’mon C’mon (2021)
With A24 releasing just 12 movies in 2021, just because a film is one of the 10 best does not mean it is impeccably made. C’mon C’mon is about as technically messy as the story it presents. It wants to address the messiness of life and have you take it in but it also wants to bury all the nasty events with warmth and happiness. It proposes that people are irredeemably screwed up but then decides to just overwhelm that sadness with the innocence of kids and the small moments humans share with each other.
The film knows unbelievably screwed up things happen but wants to have sweet, optimistic moments of human interaction to wash all the badness away, making for a muddled thematic experience. But there is undeniably something that resonates with people about C’mon C’mon. Perhaps it’s the sincere love it has for parents and specifically mothers, or how it has no problem taking a detour to talk about the power of interviews. Maybe it’s the film’s very acute melancholy, or how Phoenix and Norman sporadically bounce off each other during their misadventures. Some of the truths it offers feels stale, and moment to moment it is not nearly as captivating as some of the other entries on the list, but there is some mystical power C’mon C’mon has over many who watch it.
2. The Green Knight
The Green Knight patiently builds up to its inciting incident. It dares the viewer to enter into its eye-catching world of pitch-perfect production design and cinematography. The characters dance around subtext and honor before the titular character emerges like an otherworldly figure and waits for Arthur to strike him. His head stumbles off, but he ends up dashing out of the room cackling like a madman, awaiting the overconfident knight to honor the promise made.
Not all of The Green Knight can live up to its opening sequence. It feels a little too eager to impress critics with its patient movements into colorful imagery and cryptic exchanges. But The Green Knight is a success for high fantasy. It takes an incredibly complicated source material with dozens of interpretations and feels as though it pays tribute to all of them. Is Arthur a fool who meets a morbid end? Did the knight expect such a decision to be made and is simply teaching a soon-to-be king the ways of the world? So many questions are asked, and this is all layered with A24’s usual affinity for existential dread.
The Green Knight is exactly the type of rewarding, challenging film that makes A24 what it is, the reason it exists in the first place. It does not offer vapid large-scale battles or tired medieval tales of politics but instead offers up a befuddling story of honor and mortality while treating viewers to the best fantasy world created since Game of Thrones exited tv.
Documentaries are certainly not what A24 is known for, and yet Val is very much in the spirit of A24. Because it’s about an actor trying to tell a story he otherwise would have no chance to tell. A24 is about showcasing stories that would likely never see the light of day in the studio system, and Val captures that same righteous quest.
Val can be simplistic and borderline incomplete in the way it captures its subject matter as it dances around the bigger aspects of the performer’s life. It is lacking in some respects but the opportunity to see Kilmer elucidate the misfortunes of his career are too interesting to pass up. Val can be a sad experience not just for witnessing Kilmer’s fight with throat cancer, but also for seeing an actor be mistreated as just a face. Kilmer wanted so much more out of his acting career. Here, he and the viewer are both able to get satisfaction as he shares his side of the story and shares his disappointment with never being treated more than just a pretty face.
4. Tragedy of Macbeth
The biggest weakness of The Tragedy of Macbeth is that it’s not quite a Coen Brothers movie. No amount of dense, senseless rhetoric should convince you it quite captures the spirit of the rest of their filmography. But while this moody retelling of Shakespeare’s arguable masterpiece is not quite a great Coens movie, it is certainly a great movie. Tragedy of Macbeth has life breathed into it by magnificent performances by all actors involved. Kathryn Hunter somehow steals the show up against the two acting heavyweights who do their own phenomenal work as the leads, and the rest of the ensemble goes to work as well.
Tragedy of Macbeth splices itself with the grim look of noir of the 1940s and is a sensible retelling that stays very true to the original spirit of the text. Shakespeare aficionados won’t have to fret over the original work being contorted into an unrecognizable form, but the film still manages to bring enough new to the table (specifically with its cinematography and score) to make it feel fresh and worthwhile.
A social media focused comedy thriller that feels as though it actually captures the energy of the platform it talks about; Zola is a candidate for A24’s best genre-blending work. Zola indulges in being deceptively deep while also being able to have fun with a vibrant trio of leads, each one trying to outdo the other in hilarity and in bad decisions. It also helps that they are not just a colorful band of misfits but also a group of extremely likable characters, raising the stakes in all of the dangerous situations they find themselves in.
Zola is probably the most truthful representation of the toxicity and strangeness of social media yet, but it also smartly remembers the basics first. It rapidly makes its characters endearing and strikes a meaningful balance between jokes and danger that, if done poorly, could have sabotaged the whole feature.