Image Credit: Focus Features
If you’ve caught some of the last decade’s most striking and original movies, it’s likely that you’ve started to notice the logo that introduces them— white letters with a technicolour silhouette, scudding across a black screen. A24 is an American production company started in 2012, which first saw success with the release of Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers: a movie that has since achieved cult status through its sensory parade of lurid and sinful subject matter, embodying the kind of low-budget, neon-grit that A24 has come to be associated with as well as being distinguished by James Franco’s turn as a bling-toothed drug dealer.
But beyond these aesthetics, and the frequency of A24 films that have seen stars like Robert Pattinson and Adam Sandler play against their typecasted reputations through messier dramatic roles, the reputation and recognisability of these movies has mostly been a reflection of the core aim of A24’s founding— to shine a light on stories that create unique, authentic impressions under the creative control of the artists telling them.
From coming-of-age tales like Ladybird, Eighth Grade and Mid90s to standout entries in the new wave of critically-acclaimed indie horrors like Hereditary, The VVitch and Saint Maud, these movies find fresh ways to transcend genre— helmed by a new generation of filmmakers subverting tropes and letting their vision play out across iconic soundtracks and unforgettable images, thrilling audiences along the way. Since branching out from distribution into production, the role of A24 in fostering these hotly anticipated moments has only increased, extending to an involvement in hit TV shows like Euphoria and Ramy.
If you’re into using Oscars as a metric for success, since a best-documentary win for the Amy Winehouse biopic Amy, A24 movies have won the award for best visual effects with Ex Machina and best lead actress for Brie Larson in Room, and have garnered multiple best-picture nominations including 2016’s heart-rending standout of a winner— Moonlight. But beyond this industry acclaim, there are further implications when it comes to the emergence of A24 as a stamp of quality across genres and budgets.
The shorthand for thinking about good movies has usually entailed the same references to directors with a well-respected catalogue and maybe an adjective to their name— Tarantinoesque for orgies of dialogue and violence, Kubrickian for the obsessive symmetry of a director’s immutably precise frames— along with nods to the rest of Hollywood’s established auteurs. But when it comes to the zeitgeist, and to a new and diverse bracket for movies that don’t adhere to the industry dominance of white male perspectives, the phrase ‘A24 vibes’ conveys almost everything a film needs to deserve our attention in its casual evocation of unpretentious, picturesque cinema and the distinctive voices that make it.
Upcoming contenders include Minari, a Korean-American family drama with Steven Yeun, and a modern reimagining of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight starring Dev Patel. But in the meantime, here is the Nouse Film and TV Editors' list of the 10 best A24 movies that we jealously wish we could watch again for the first time.
~ Sam Harding
10— Waves (2019) dir. Trey Edward Shults
The story of a family in South Florida, Waves builds towards the shock and fallout of unspeakable tragedy. Tyler is a popular student athlete with a beautiful girlfriend, but the pressures to succeed reveal a surface belied by pain and raw emotions. It's a film of two halves, where the whiplash at its centre results in an intense and moving experience— accentuated by the playlist of a score, which transitions from the relentless energy of A$AP Rocky and Kanye West, to the tender calms of SZA and Frank Ocean.
Following his 2017 horror It Comes at Night, director Trey Edward Shults delivers tides of emotion that wound as well as heal, against a backdrop of dazzling colours and stellar performances.
~ Sam Harding
Waves is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
9— The Farewell (2019) dir. Lulu Wang
Releasing in 2019, Lulu Wang’s wholesome debut delivers a poignant tale of identity, family and one’s national roots. Although channeling many auto-biographical elements pertaining to Wang’s own upbringing, The Farewell finds universal affinity within its irresistible warmth. The film follows Billi (Awkwafina), an aspiring Chinese-American writer who receives sudden news of her grandmother’s cancer diagnosis. This prompts Billi and her parents, along with the western ideals they’ve acquired over the last two decades, to return to China for one last farewell.
Through its juxtapositional themes of (de)familiarity - the Mandarin / English linguistic gap, the filmic collusion between Western coming-of-age and Eastern family drama, the vibrantly rich textures of China enclosed within immaculate, Wes Anderson-esque framing - The Farewell’s stylistic choices are just as compelling as its script. And although Wang is still finding her directorial voice, The Farewell marks the introduction of a fresh, invigorating creator that can effortlessly cross, and subsequently humanise, geographical and cultural schisms.
The Farewell is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
Image Credit: Universal Pictures International
8. Ex Machina (2014) dir. Alex Garland
Ex Machina is a modern Sci-fi classic which centres on Caleb, a software engineer who is selected by the CEO of a Google-esque data company, Nathan, to act as the human component in a Turing Test — to verify the creation of a female artificial intelligence, Ava. Within the walls of Nathan’s prison-like home, the techie minimalist style is inverted to create a profound sense of unease, which is amplified by the trio of ominously opaque characters confronted by Caleb. After Ava flirts with him, he becomes suspicious of Nathan’s motives, and decides to act.
The multiple Oscar-winning directorial debut of acclaimed author Alex Garland, Ex Machina effortlessly investigates the nature of human consciousness, women's oppression, and toxic masculinity, all contained within a toe-curling psychological thriller.
Ex Machina is available to stream on Netflix
7— A Ghost Story (2017) dir. David Lowery
From the understated charm of its title comes a hauntingly (get it) beautiful vision of the afterlife, one that lingers in the loneliness of old houses and across the longing gaze of empty windows. After suffering from a fatal car crash, a ghost returns to the home in which he lived with his wife, remaining as a silent witness to her grief and departure as the property changes owners and succumbs to the lifespans of the universe.
Casey Affleck gives one of the best performances of his career from beneath a white sheet with cut-out eye holes that express a kind of emotion too lonely to consider. A Ghost Story is a time-bending journey that works on its own audacious logic, resulting in an utterly moving film unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.
~ Sam Harding
A Ghost Story is available to stream on a variety of services, including Amazon Prime Video
6— The VVitch (2015) dir. Robert Eggers
A banished Puritan family begins a new life at the fringe of a dread-inducing, uncharted wood, and when their baby vanishes, they soon stumble into hysteria. Marketed as a ‘New-England Folktale’, Robert Eggers’ blood-curdling horror takes the phrase ‘historically accurate’ to another level. Not only are the set and costumes meticulously recreated, but the story itself is based on real accounts of witchcraft from the 17th Century. Much of the dialogue is even directly lifted from these accounts.
But do not be deterred by the prospect of listening to taxing antiquated speech, for an exemplary cast bring exceptional vitality and terror to their roles. Bergman-inspired cinematography synthesises with Mark Korven’s chilling score to establish Robert Eggers as the horror writer-director to watch.
The VVitch is available to rent on a variety of services, including Amazon Prime Video
Image Credit: Universal Pictures International
5— Lady Bird (2017) dir. Greta Gerwig
In her solo-directorial debut, Greta Gerwig can do no wrong. Released in 2017, Lady Bird received universal acclaim for its flawless execution of the coming-of-age trope for post-9/11 audiences. Like Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, Lady Bird largely emulates its directors own upbringing and experiences, carving an all-encompassing audience in the process.
To put it simply, the film follows Christine McPherson (Saorise Ronan) in her final year of high school as she experiences the staples of adolescence; parental conflict, overbearing teachers, boys (Yes, Timothee Chalamet is in this), and finding solace within the roots that one abhors when growing up. Nothing and everything happens simultaneously, but Lady Bird’s 90-minute runtime is paced to perfection.
Gerwig’s flawless direction is amplified by thoughtful performances and John Brion’s incredibly apt soundtrack. Sunny Sacramento has also never looked this good, thanks to Sam Levy’s wonderful cinematography. Ultimately, Gerwig delivers something close to perfection in Lady Bird; a distinctly 21st century, feminine evolution of François Truffaut’s groundbreaking coming-of-age classic, The 400 Blows. Lady Bird is undoubtedly an important milestone in A24’s brief history.
Lady Bird is available to stream on Netflix.
4— Hereditary (2018) dir. Ari Aster
Only one year before directing Florence Pugh in 2019’s Midsommar, Ari Aster was being praised for his spectacular debut— a dollhouse of grief and occult menace. When a family loses their grandmother, her presence lingers in the shadows and mysterious goings-on that seem to be directed towards their young daughter.
At the centre of its evil puppetry, Tony Collette delivers an utterly masterful performance, her face contorting like a marionette in fits of grief and horror as the love she feels for her family becomes infiltrated by the strange forces that have their origin in the unsettling secrets of their family ancestry. The harrowing events of the movie build in dread and disturbance towards a climax as tense as piano-wire.
~ Sam Harding
Hereditary is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
3. Uncut Gems (2019) dir. Josh and Benny Safdie
Although their first feature film was released in 2008 (The Pleasure of Being Robbed), the Safdie Brothers’ only truly burst on the film scene with A24’s Good Time in 2017. Two years later, the eccentric brother-director-duo coalesced the two prior films’ titles into their relentlessly abrasive masterpiece: Uncut Gems.
New York jeweller Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) is possessed with crippling gambling addiction, lack of self-awareness, and most importantly, a death wish. These culminate in an unlikely odyssey that effectively epitomises the word ‘anxiety’, in true Safdian fashion. In doing so, Sandler gives arguably his greatest performance to date.
Outside of Sandler, It's impossible to summarise the film’s qualities in such brevity; from the unconventional, yet appropriate casting of non-actors like Kevin Garnett and Julia Fox, to Oneohtrix Point Never’s pulsating cyberpunk soundtrack, to its endless quotability and humour, Uncut Gems never becomes more than the sum of its parts. As a result, the Safdies’ have crafted something that will almost certainly give you heart palpitations while still compelling you to endless rewatches.
And while their production budget(s) increased from $2M (Good Time) to $19M (Uncut Gems), the Safdies’ effortlessly retained their punk-like, DIY approach to filmmaking, and outdoing themselves in the process. Uncut Gems is ultimately the A24 label at its best.
Uncut Gems is available to stream on Netflix.
2— American Honey (2016) dir. Andrea Arnold
Andrea Arnold’s epic road-trip across America is a masterfully intimate spree of freedom and adolescence. It follows Star, a girl who escapes her abusive home life through the arrival of Shia LaBeouf and his crew of teenaged magazine-subscription sellers at her roadside shopping mall. Rootless and wild, their lifestyle cuts across the underbelly of American motels, suburbs and poverty-struck fringes. Alongside LaBeouf and Riley Keough, the ‘street-cast’ of non-professional actors is distinguished by Arnold’s discovery of Sasha Lane as Star, who delivers an extraordinary breakout performance.
Sex, love and burning hopes for the future collide in this lawless odyssey that unfolds across America’s midwest, lighting up the air like fireflies.
~ Sam Harding
American Honey is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
Image Credit: Altitude Film Distribution
1— Moonlight (2016) dir. Barry Jenkins
The number one spot on this list goes to Moonlight, a film both delicate and devastating that will go down as one of the greatest of the century. Barry Jenkins’ triptych of sexuality and identity sees the growth of Chiron, a young African-American boy, set against the ravages of America’s crack epidemic.
Conflicts of love and guilt erupt through performances by Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris, spanning the pain and pull of drug dealing and addiction, as the three actors that play our lead at his life’s different stages each tap into the same quiet vulnerabilities. Wrenching strings and moonlit waters offer unforgettable moments of aching emotion, as stereotypes are deconstructed and complex internal realities are carved out against the lonely watercolours.
If you haven’t seen this movie, do yourself a favour. At this point, an article on A24 is just an excuse to rewatch and rediscover some amazing films that just so happen to be related by studio.
~ Sam Harding
Moonlight is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.