The Top A24 Films, and Where to Start

 

Illustration by Luke Spooner

Warning: There are spoilers below. Also, all data, figures, and rankings were accurate as of August 2, 2018.

In an age of remakes, spin-offs, and watered-down franchises, A24 Films is bringing unique movies to the big screen, with astounding results. A film distribution company rarely gets much attention—they are behind the scenes, unnoticed. They buy movies, design the movie posters and movie trailers, and get the films into the theaters. But starting in 2012, that logo crisscrossing the film screen started to mean something. It was Pavlov ringing a bell, and I was a dog, salivating.

“It wasn’t just that, for a new distribution company, it seemed to have a level of taste and an instinct for cool that is atypical in Hollywood. It was also that A24 was releasing these films not with a sigh and a shrug, but with panache, style, and humor,” said GQ Magazine. In the same article, director Alex Garland continued, “I would say that if Ex Machina had been distributed by a big studio—this isn’t actually a criticism of studios; it’s actually just a statement of fact—the film would not have been remotely as well received or successful as it was.”

Ex Machina. Under the Skin. Room. Amy. Enemy. Green Room. Moonlight. The Witch. The Lobster. Swiss Army Man. It Comes at Night. A Ghost Story. The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Lady Bird. The Disaster Artist. And most recently, Hereditary.

Do you recognize these titles? You should.

All A24 Films.

When it comes to the new-weird, indie films, original perspectives, and innovative takes on genre, A24 is getting a lot of attention—award nominations, and wins. And making some money. How? By appealing to more than the standard fan base—smart movies, shocking movies, films that surprise, and move you, that leave you unsettled.

What are the top movies that A24 has put out, to date? Where should you start? Let me make a few lists, consult a few websites and appendixes, and see if I can’t wrangle you a weekend, or three, of quality motions pictures.

BIG AT THE BOX OFFICE

Let’s look at the top five films distributed by A24 Films, as far as gross sales in the USA. What do they have in common? You might be surprised at the list.

The Witch movie poster

FIVE. The Witch—$25M (2016)

In 1630s New England a family leaves their Puritan plantation, setting out to survive on their own in the remote wilderness. From an unknown director (Robert Eggers in his debut) this moody, slow burn of a horror film both upset and thrilled viewers. It was not a slasher, not your standard horror fare—no, this was religious fervor that turned a family against itself, while bad things happened in the woods just out of sight (and sometimes, revealed in the shadows). Anya Taylor-Joy (Split) is compelling as Thomasin, our main character, and we see how hard she works, though her parents are quick to blame her for everything that goes wrong. As each member of the family slowly loses their mind (and their lives) the darkness creeps in closer, ultimately corrupting Thomasin, in a scene with Black Philip that has been quoted and elevated to meme status: “Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?” (Yes, we would, it turns out.) The final scene cements this experience, splitting the audience, but showing us a fate that was unavoidable—the only choice left to an already tainted, and abandoned, Thomasin.

Ex Machina movie poster

FOUR. Ex Machina—$25M (2015)

Directed by Alex Garland, this science fiction thriller starred several emerging actors—Oscar Isaac (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), Alicia Vikander as A.I. Ava (Jason Bourne, Tomb Raider), and Domhnall Gleeson (Black Mirror, The Revenant). A smart, layered film, this movie didn’t appeal to the lowest common denominator, either—it challenged us to keep up, to test us as Ava worked to pass her own Turing test. Visually stunning (winning an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects) we are manipulated along with the cast, feeling a wide range of emotions along the way. The empathy and sympathy are handled well, with an ending that will leave you reeling. It doesn’t take much imagination to tack on the words “deus es” to the title, turning this film into “God from the machine,” adding additional philosophical discourse to the end of the film—is it God, the machine, or man who is responsible? And what happens next? Similar themes are playing out on Westworld, as we speak. It’s hard to say if this film helped launch the current movement of “smart science fiction,” but there have been a number of movies that have followed Ex Machina, and challenged audiences—mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually. Arrival (2016), comes to mind, as does Annihilation (2018)—both based on literature: Ted Chiang’s short fiction, “Story of Your Life,” and Jeff VanderMeer’s novel of the same name, respectively.

Moonlight movie poster

THREE. Moonlight—$27M (2016)

I mean, if you want to get some attention, this is the way to do it. Moonlight was a powerful film that got a lot of recognition—nominated for eight Academy Awards and five Golden Globes. It won the Oscar for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor to Mahershala Ali (House of Cards, Luke Cage, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons), and Best Adapted Screenplay, winning the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture-Drama, too. It was the first film with an all-black cast, the first LGBT film, and the second lowest-grossing film domestically (behind The Hurt Locker) to win the Oscar for Best Picture. This coming-of-age story deals with sexuality and identity, physical and emotional abuse, as well as bigotry. The triptych structure (i. Little ii. Chiron iii. Black) helps to show the split and divide that haunted the main character, Chiron (who is played by three different actors). Written and directed by Barry Jenkins, Moonlight is based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s unpublished semi-autobiographical play, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue.

Hereditary movie poster

TWO. Hereditary—$43M (and climbing) (2018)

One of the best horror films I’ve seen in a long time, Hereditary is about a family, and their tainted bloodline, and how the presence of something old, and evil, manifests in them. Much like The Witch, this film built on the success of defying expectation, of elevating horror to a new level—not just through the use of violence (though there is some, in crucial moments) but psychological terror, gradually increasing tension, and moments of temporary madness. I cannot remember the last time I was so genuinely scared in a movie—skin crawling, head spinning, brow sweating. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the exceptional cinematography and sound—a beautifully haunting movie that keeps your attention from the opening credits, never letting up. Cluck. And the casting—Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense) brilliantly chosen at the mother, Annie; Gabriel Byrne (The Usual Suspects) in a subtle, creepy turn as the father, Steve; Alex Wolff as the son, Peter; Milly Shapiro as the unsettling Charlie (that car ride!); and Ann Dowd in a guest performance (The Handmaid’s Tale) as Joan, a friend of the family. A must-see movie on the biggest screen you can find.

Lady Bird movie poster

ONE. Lady Bird—$48M (2017)

And at the top of the list, is a comedy, Lady Bird, a coming-of-age story starring Saoirse Ronan (Hanna) as “Lady Bird,” and Laurie Metcalf (Roseanne) as her mother. While the previous films on this list were science fiction, horror, and drama, this comedy (with dramatic moments) is a pleasant change. A24 Films embraces comedy, and this story, set in 2002 in Sacramento, California, showcases humor with depth. Written and directed by Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha), many felt that she was snubbed at both the Golden Globes and Oscars, and women directors in general. (Though Lady Bird did win several Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture-Comedy, and Best Actress-Comedy, for Saoirse Ronan. Gerwig did get a nomination for Best Director at the Oscars.) One of the things I liked most about this film, and you may notice a theme here, is the fact that I was surprised throughout. Whether it was Lady Bird opening the door to her car and tumbling out in a moment of rage and desperation, or the emotion that swept over me at the end of the movie, the suitcase full of letters from her mother—Lady Bird got to me. It was funny, honest, and not without bite.

So, what are some other ways we can figure out what A24 Films to watch? I have a few ideas, and quick thoughts.

TOP TEN IMDB

  1. Eighth Grade (2018) 8.2
  2. Room (2015) 8.2
  3. Amy (2015) 7.8
  4. Ex Machina (2014) 7.7
  5. Hereditary (2018) 7.6
  6. The Florida Project (2017) 7.6
  7. First Reformed (2017) 7.6
  8. Lady Bird (2017) 7.5
  9. The Disaster Artist (2017) 7.5
  10. Moonlight (2016) 7.5

If we take the top ten A24 Films, according to IMDB (Internet Movie Database), this should help expand our list. A few notes on the films that haven’t been mentioned yet.

Eighth Grade just came out, so I haven’t seen it yet, unfortunately. Room, based on the novel by Emma Donoghue, won an Oscar for Best Actress (Brie Larson). Amy was a tragic documentary about singer Amy Winehouse. The Florida Project follows a young girl through the shadows of Walt Disney World, with Willem Dafoe. First Reformed stars Ethan Hawke as a priest of a small congregation in upstate New York. And The Disaster Artist? I mean, where to start. You’ve probably heard of Tommy Wiseau and his film, The Room, by now (not to be confused with the aforementioned Room). This film is widely touted as quite possibly the best worst movie ever made. And you may have seen James DeFranco’s Golden Globe acceptance speech, with Tommy on stage, trying to grab the mic. Let’s just say this is a rabbit hole that is worth going down—from the memes and catch phrases that have popped up (“Oh hi, Mark,” and “You’re killing me, Lisa” both come to mind), to Tommy in general, to the original film, and then this take on what happened—it’s all worth it.

The Disaster Artist mug shot

METASCORE

  1. Moonlight (2016) 99
  2. Lady Bird (2017) 94
  3. The Florida Project (2017) 92
  4. Eighth Grade (2018) 90
  5. Hereditary (2018) 87
  6. Room (2015) 86
  7. Krisha (2016) 86
  8. Amy (2015) 85
  9. First Reformed (2017) 85
  10. A Ghost Story (2017) 84

A24 Film’s Metascore (at Metacritic) is similar to Rotten Tomatoes, weighing critics and the public together. And they happen to track A24 Films specifically, so, what movies on this list have we not mentioned yet? Only two. Krisha is a drama about a woman who returns for a Thanksgiving dinner to suburban Texas after ten years apart from her family. Of course things go wrong—past transgressions and personal issues coming up. And, A Ghost Story (with Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara). I know people were split on this film, some saying it wasn’t scary at all. It’s a slow, dramatic film, with very little dialogue, but when it comes to horror, it’s all very subjective. Some thought The Blair Witch Project was dull, but the ending terrified me. Paranormal Activity freaked me out. And of course we’ve already talked about The Witch, and Hereditary. The one thing you can say is that A Ghost Story is not your conventional horror movie.

Casey Affleck (left) and Rooney Mara (right) in A Ghost Story

THEIR WEIRDEST FILMS

And then there are those films that simply defy expectation—surreal, bizarre movies, that are impossible to categorize. I had to pull a few descriptions from A24 Films and IMDB, because I was having a hard time figuring out how to even sum these movies up! Swiss Army Man (2016)—“Hank (Paul Dano) is stranded on a deserted island, having given up all hope of ever making it home again. But one day everything changes when a corpse named Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) washes up on shore; the two become fast friends, and ultimately go on an epic adventure that will bring Hank back to the woman of his dreams.” (A24 Films) The Lobster (2015)—(with Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz) is an absurdist, black comedy: “In a dystopian near future, single people, according to the laws of The City, are taken to The Hotel, where they are obliged to find a romantic partner in forty-five days or are transformed into beasts and sent off into The Woods.” (IMDB) Locke (2013), starring Tom Hardy, which was shot almost entirely inside a BMW X5. And, The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) again, with Colin Farrell, as well as Nicole Kidman: “Steven, a charismatic surgeon, is forced to make an unthinkable sacrifice after his life starts to fall apart, when the behavior of a teenage boy he has taken under his wing turns sinister.” (IMDB) If you’re looking for something offbeat and eccentric, these choices are for you.

Daniel Radcliffe (left) and Paul Dano (right) in Swiss Army Man

RECENT AWARDS

Sure, why not look at the A24 Films that have won awards, too!

Academy Award Winners—2016: Best Actress (Brie Larson, Room), Best Documentary (Amy), Best Visual Effects (Ex Machina), Best Motion Picture (Moonlight).

Golden Globe Winners—2016: Best Actress—Drama (Brie Larson, Room); 2017: Best Motion Picture—Drama (Moonlight); 2018: Best Motion Picture—Comedy (Lady Bird), Best Supporting Actor—Comedy (James Franco, The Disaster Artist), Best Supporting Actress—Comedy (Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird).

MY TOP TEN

  1. Under the Skin (2013)
  2. Hereditary (2018)
  3. The Witch (2016)
  4. Enemy (2013)
  5. Ex Machina (2015)
  6. Lady Bird (2017)
  7. Amy (2015)
  8. The Lobster (2016)
  9. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
  10. Locke (2013)

And here is my personal list. You’ll recognize quite a few from other lists—best-selling movies, IMDB, and Metascore, as well as the section on “weird” films. But there are a few on here we haven’t spoken about yet. And I think they’re essential viewing. Under the Skin is a movie I have watched every year since it came out, even tracking it down to a big screen recently, and I think this is Scarlett Johansson’s best work to date. I liked her a lot in Ghost World, and Lost in Translation, but everything you’ve ever thought may have held her back as an actress is an asset in this film. Don’t watch the trailers, don’t read a synopsis at IMDB or anywhere else, don’t read reviews online (it’s very easy to spoil this film) just go rent it now. It is a stunning arthouse film, and it elevated Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast) to a whole other level, in my opinion. Enemy is another film that may have gone under your radar. I think it’s a stellar performance by Jake Gyllenhaal. Directed by Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Blade Runner 2) this is a beautiful, gritty, tense film that takes truth and identity to some very interesting places. The ending alone should keep you up at night, not just wondering, “What the hell just happened?” but also, “What does it all mean?”

Under the Skin movie poster

IN CONCLUSION

So now you have quite a few ideas of where to begin with A24 Films. You can start with the movies that have done well at the box office, for sure. I mean, can 48 million people be wrong? Or you can look at the films that the critics liked, the award-winners. And you can of course consult a few of these handy lists. Or seek out the weirder offerings. Or maybe your personal aesthetic aligns with my own. What’s important here is that you start seeking out A24 Films, in general. Catch them on the big screen; some don’t last that long. (Under the Silver Lake in April of 2019 looks great.) Or rent a few and scurry down the rabbit hole with me. What I can tell you now is that the A24 logo at the start of a film is going to be your own ringing bell, a signal of great things to come. Buckle up and get comfortable—A24 Films is the new purveyor of all things innovative, thought-provoking, and inspiring. You don’t want to miss out.

4 comments on “The Top A24 Films, and Where to Start

  1. Kris Peterson says:

    Kanopy (https://www.kanopy.com) streams many of A24’s films. The beauty of Kanopy is that you likely have free access to it through your local library. I found out about it this week (https://news.avclub.com/a24s-film-library-is-available-on-a-streaming-service-y-1830679969).

  2. Wow–what an informative survey/critique. I’ve been curious about a number of these films, and value your opinions. Thanks!

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