My Top 20 Favorite A24 Films (2012 – 2018)

My Top 20 Favorite A24 Films (2012 – 2018)

I spent the year watching and revisiting the entire film catalog of distributor/producer A24. Now that I’ve seen all they have to offer, here are my top twenty favorites in ascending order.

20. Lean on Pete (2018) – Written & Directed by Andrew Haigh

From my review:
It was so much darker and bleaker than that. Yes, there is somewhat of an uncertain happy ending at the film’s conclusion, but overall Lean on Pete is a character study of a young man put through the wringer by life. I loved it. I don’t think I have seen a picture in a long time that so unflinchingly depicts the descent into homelessness that a young person can encounter. Charley tries to argue that he isn’t to a fellow transient in a shelter, who replies with a chuckle and lets Charley know, “Sorry to break it to you kid…”

19. Mississippi Grind (2015) – Written & Directed by Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck

From my review:
This is one of those hidden gems from A24 that doesn’t get talked about enough. The film makes obvious nods to Robert Altman’s gambling film California Split but doesn’t follow that formula. Instead of having one character as the calm, collected figure and the other as more neurotic we learn both men are riddled with personal and psychological problems. The duo ends up looking more like a couple of drunks enabling each other. When they reach those moments where they should step away, they both are so enthralled with the adrenaline rush of risk we watch them push past that boundary.

18. Krisha (2015) – Written & Directed by Trey Edward Shults

From my review:
Shults is powerfully skilled for such a young filmmaker, and it is evident he has influences from the American canon. The tension built with a wandering camera and taught percussion feels at home next to Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love. The naturalistic exchanges between family members and the overlapping family conversations are very much a stroke of Robert Altman across the screen.

17. American Honey (2016) – Written & Directed by Andrea Arnold

From my review:
Viewers could become frustrated with the aimless quality of American Honey, and I can understand that. However, this wanderlust and lack of a stringent series of plot beats are what makes the film so hypnotic. We feel that lack of forward momentum that these young people are experiencing, however, there is energy exploding all over the screen just without any target in mind.

16. Swiss Army Man (2016) – Written & Directed by Daniels

From my review: Swiss Army Man is a film that revels in its strangeness. It is filmed in a strange way and the plot doesn’t have much of an arc. However, it’s a film that I was completely engrossed in and felt ended so quickly. There’s no time wasted getting the conceit of the film going and so the pace moves you along nicely. A lot of credit goes to Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe who commit to the insane premise of the film. Their characters are so earnest and genuine that you quickly give in to how absurd this all is.

15. Under the Silver Lake (2018) – Written & Directed by David Robert Mitchell

From my review:
Mitchell seems to be challenging his audience to like his movie, but not in an overtly offensive way. He presents Sam as everything we would naturally dislike in a central protagonist. He is exceptionally unkempt, doesn’t seem to concern himself with staying economically stable, treats women like objects. None of this is done with any charm; he is intentionally gross both physically and spiritually. Mitchell deliberately leaves large and seemingly significant chunks of Sam’s backstory obscured to the viewer. Not until the third act do we get enough pieces to figure out why he’s allowed himself to collapse into such a state of squalor.

14. The Lobster (2015) – Written & Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

From my review:
Personality is absent from every character in the film. Conversations are monotonous and devoid of emotion. A character is violently punished for self-pleasure and his reaction is fairly muted for what happens. Characters fall in love and barely crack a smile. Characters die and are killed and everyone essentially walks away with a shrug. There’s no room for sentimentality in the world, dating, marriage, and having children are like business transactions. It is expected and frankly demanded of everyone in the world of the film.

13. Green Room (2015) – Written & Directed by Jeremy Saulnier

From my review:
The violence in Green Room reminded me a lot of Simon Rumley’s Red, White, & Blue. Harm to human beings is presented as realistically as possible, taking into account what actually happens to a body when hit with these sorts of traumas. There are many moments where you have to look away and the film doesn’t pull punches about who gets hurt and killed either. These are a group of young adults who aren’t trained to fight for their lives and they make the sorts of mistakes and show ineptitude with weapons that they truly would. I also loved the confidence of a couple characters going into extremely bad situations. That confidence is dealt with appropriately.

12. The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015) – Written & Directed by Oz Perkins

From my review:
I was floored by how good The Blackcoat’s Daughter turned out to be. From the opening frames, there is a concerted effort to build a dark atmosphere, anticipating the coming horror. The director chooses to spend time developing the characters and not through heavy exposition. Perkins understands that often spouted film advice of “Show, don’t tell.” While some reviewers are expressing their dislike of the movie due to its slow burn nature, I see it as the same structuring that made The Witch so lucky. We learn who Kat is, not some facts about her life, but about the core of her character and her values through her actions and interactions with Rose.

11. The Florida Project (2017) – Written by Sean Baker & Chris Bergoch, Directed by Sean Baker

From my review:
It would be dangerously easy for The Florida Project to slip into harmless sentiment. That’s often the case with films that deal with poverty. A filmmaker becomes too worried about being too harsh to his mostly middle-class audience that they soften the blows. Baker diminishes nothing about Moonee’s life. Hailey loves her daughter but doesn’t have the necessary opportunities to create a safe, healthy life. Moonee isn’t given any sense of discipline, and as a result, rifts form between Hailey and her friends with children. Others are trying to instill a sense of responsibility and respect for their kids, but Hailey is still a kid herself. We don’t dislike Hailey though, she is a strongly sympathetic character.

10. Hereditary (2018) – Written & Directed Ari Aster

From my review:
The power of Hereditary is not in some shocking reveal in the plot, but in the outrageous outbursts between family members, particularly Annie and Peter. The film is primarily about the relationship between this mother and son, with the doomed and damned relationship between the late matriarch and her son, Charles looming in the murky shadows. Toni Collette plays Annie and once again reminds us of her power as an actor. She finds that unbalanced place of a mother who has fears about the mental illness that may be present in her family tree.

9. Eighth Grade (2018) – Written & Directed by Bo Burnham

From my review:
Middle school is the setting, but it is not the idea being explored. Burnham has been very adamant that Eighth Grade was made because he was doing deep self-reflecting on his struggles with anxiety. During his time as a stand-up comedian, Burnham was having severe anxiety attacks even on stage but concealed in a such a way that he’s commented he can’t see it when watching the recordings of his performances. While Kayla is a middle schooler the worries and insecurities she feels are the same many grown adults experience daily. Do these people want to be around me? Why can’t I act normal and not weird? Is this how life will be forever?

8. A Prayer Before Dawn (2017) – Written by Jonathan Hirschbein, Directed by Jean-Stephane Sauvaire

From my review:
Director Sauvaire doesn’t shy away from showing us the brutal nature of life in prison. Moments of violence are filmed naturalistically, no sense of exploitation but neither holding back from what is happening in front of us. Yet, he also uses that naturalism to highlight the beauty and sensuality of rare moments. Billy’s trysts with Fame are also not exploited but showcase the intimacy and tenderness these people are sharing in the midst of darkness. Boxing also becomes a display of intimacy, the ring a place where a small group of prisoners can unleash their anger at their situation while bonding closer as a family.

7. Moonlight (2016) – Written & Directed by Barry Jenkins

From my review:
The final scene between Chiron and Juan is profoundly painful and the final scene between Chiron and Kevin is a release of emotions and honesty. The element of the film that I want to praise director Jenkins the most for was the refusal to have a villain. No one is the villain, but many people make horrible choices that hurt people. However, Jenkins chooses to reveal layers to these characters that make a reductive judgment of good/evil near impossible.

6. The Witch (2015) – Written & Directed by Robert Eggers

From the review:
The Witch announces itself as a work of extreme importance from its first ten minutes. Robert Eggers emerged a director of such powerful craft who delivers a work that is both superb on a technical level (production design, costumes, music, dialogue) and thematically complex. The Witch is a horror film that refuses to unfold in the way we expect. Early in the movie, Eggers shows us the titular Witch, and the audience views her performing a horrific task. There’s never any doubt that a witch is menacing the family, so the film becomes less about the mystery of the horror and more about the degradation of this family.

5. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) – Written by Yorgos Lanthimos & Efthymis Filippou, Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

From my review:
The opening shot of The Killing of a Sacred Deer sets the stage for what you are about to see. After a brief musical overture, we go from black to the image of an actual human heart, splayed open in a patient’s chest during surgery, writhing and pulsing. The camera slowly pulls up from this overhead shot but never far enough away to get this raw, visceral image off the screen. Director Lanthimos is about to put us through an intensely uncomfortable and horrific cinematic experience. This heart is one of only a few moments of gore, as Lanthimos chooses to evoke horror through profoundly strange and awkward conversations, punctuated just by sharp, dissonant strings.

4. Under the Skin (2013) – Written by Walter Campbell & Jonathan Glazer, Directed by Jonathan Glazer

From my review:
The majority of the film functions without dialogue. It is never explicitly stated that our protagonist is an alien, but it is implied through her actions and a third act reveal. What is conveyed through the screen is a sense of isolation while surrounded by life. It is quite the impressive feat that Glazer is able to orient the audience through the eyes of his near-wordless main character and allow us to view our own world through alien eyes. Pivotal moments are obscured through the overlapping of images until they become a golden haze that the alien’s face emerges from.

3. First Reformed (2017) – Written & Directed by Paul Schrader

From my review:
Typically I am not too fond of a voice-over in films, and it is often used as a narrative crutch when a filmmaker or studio doesn’t feel confident in the storytelling of a picture. However, the voice over (readings from Toller’s daily journal) works because it is an internal thought process after the fact that informs the audience of how Toller has come to feel about the events of the day. The viewer gets to hear these thoughts while the situation is taking place, so it recontextualizes what is happening in front of us.

2. Good Time (2017) – Written by Ronald Bronstein & Josh Safdie, Directed by Benny & Josh Safdie

From my review:
The film accurately captures the quicksand mire that living on the edge of poverty can bring. Characters are pushed to make illegal choices because their options are limited. They display very little sense of long-term critical thinking because they are like animals being rattled in a cage, always kept off balance so they cannot think beyond the present. The movie never lets Connie off with this excuse though. He is still an adult who is ultimately responsible for his actions, and he savages some people over the course of the story.

1.Enemy (2013) – Written by Javier Gullon, Directed by Denis Villeneuve

From my review:
That sense of insignificance is critical in Enemy. Early on, Bell gives a monologue as a lecture to his students about the nature of dictatorships. They are at their core an obsession with total control. The consequences of this control are never taken into account, merely the desire to have all under your heel. Bell learns that St. Claire has a wife who is six months pregnant and soon after that begins having daydreams and hallucinations involving spiders. Adam Bell is trapped in a web as we see through constant shots of the cable car wires crisscrossing against the yellowed sky.

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