The 50 Greatest A24 Films (30-21)

There’s no denying the magic cinema holds (one of its pioneers was a magician after all) but one of the seldom discussed spells it weaves on an audience is that of the logo. it’s the first thing an audience sees and depending on the quality of the films that the studio releases, the happier they are every time they see them. Children of all ages respond to Disney and Pixar, old-school horror fans love Hammer and Universal and everyone recognizes the famous lion roar of MGM. Miramax conjures images of ’90s indie films, New Line Cinema is closely associated with The Nightmare on Elm Street series and few things are as nostalgic for some moviegoers as Orion and Cannon. A logo is that studio’s seal of quality. As long as they produce quality films, seeing that logo pop up should tell the audience that they’re in good hands. Since its inception in 2012, A24 set out to be the ultimate seal of quality. Whether it’s producing or distributing, It has become a frequent destination for some of the biggest names in the business. It’s no exaggeration to say that in the eleven years, they’ve been around, they’ve consistently proven themselves to be every bit the equal of their competitors. Seeing the A24 logo pop up in front of a movie is the surest sign that movie will be great.

These are the 50 Greatest A24 Films.

30. Slow West (2015)

Slow West is a visually stunning and artistically crafted film that takes audiences on a journey through the harsh and unforgiving landscapes of the American West.The film, directed by John Maclean, tells the story of Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a young Scottish man who travels to the American West in search of his lost love, Rose (Caren Pistor) Slow West is a masterpiece of modern Western cinema, incorporating elements of both classic Western films and contemporary indie cinema. At its heart, the film is a coming-of-age story, as Jay grows and matures throughout his journey, learning the harsh reality of life in the West. Smit-McPhee delivers a powerful performance, embodying the innocence and vulnerability of youth in a world where violence and danger lurk around every corner.

Even though it’s his story, the real star of the show is Michael Fassbender who gives a powerhouse performance as Silas, a jaded and cynical outlaw who becomes a reluctant mentor to Jay. The chemistry between the two is palpable, and their relationship forms the emotional core of the film. In addition to the impressive performances, Slow West is a visual feast, with stunning cinematography that captures the beauty and brutality of the West. The film’s use of color, particularly the vibrant blue and green hues, creates an otherworldly atmosphere that adds to the film’s surreal and dreamlike quality. The fact that the director hasn’t made a film since but inferior directors get tapped to helm major blockbusters seemingly everyday is criminal.

Sailor Monsoon

29. Aftersun (2022)

I went into Aftersun not really knowing what to expect. It’s a film that has really lingered with me. I find myself just thinking about it randomly, days and weeks after watching it. It follows a single father and his 11-year-old daughter during a holiday in the sun, in the 1990s. Paul Mescal plays the father and he is sensational, with young Frankie Corio standing toe to toe with him every step of the way. The story is told in such a delicate way. You are aware that Mescal’s character is dealing with some serious issues, but director Charlotte Wells indicates this so subtly that you are almost subconsciously picking up on his struggles. It’s a very emotional watch, thanks to the performers, storytelling, and also a perfectly fitting soundtrack.

Lee McCutcheon

28. The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019)

The Last Man in San Francisco is a film about friendship. It’s a film about gentrification. It’s film who’s plot is literally “home is where the heart is” but more importantly, it’s a film about the little lies we tell ourselves everyday in order to achieve some semblance of happiness and how those lies will eventually become our truths if we believe in them hard enough. It’s a film that has a lot to say and while it says those things with style and visual panache, I never really felt invested or cared about what its message was. But as Roger Ebert famously said “it’s not what a film is about but how it’s about what it’s about”. I may not have cared about what was going on at any given moment but there’s an undeniable power the film has over the viewer. The two central performances, coupled with it’s impeccable direction create a magnet that pulls you and never lets go.

Sailor Monsoon

27. Room (2015)

Room is a tour-de-force drama that grips you with the sheer audacity of its concept, and the masterful execution of its ideas. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson, the film stars Brie Larson in an emotionally charged performance as Ma, who has been held captive in a small shed for years with her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay). The film is based on the novel by Emma Donoghue, who also wrote the screenplay, and it is a testament to her writing skills that this story, which could have easily been exploitative or sensationalized, is instead a heartfelt and deeply affecting portrayal of survival and love. The film begins with Jack’s voiceover, describing the small world of Room, which he considers his entire universe. But as the story unfolds, we see that Ma has been desperately trying to keep Jack safe and sheltered from the reality of their situation. When they finally escape and are confronted with the outside world, the film becomes an exploration of trauma, recovery, and the bonds that hold us together.

Brie Larson won an Oscar for her role in this film, and it’s not hard to see why. She perfectly captures the complexity of a mother who has endured unimaginable trauma and is struggling to cope in the aftermath. At the same time, she conveys the fierce love she has for her son and her determination to protect him at all costs. It’s the kind of performance an actor gets early in their career that they can never live up to ala Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball. Jacob Tremblay also delivers a stunning performance as Jack, conveying a range of emotions as he navigates the outside world for the first time. Abrahamson’s direction is understated but powerful, allowing the performances and the story to take center stage. The use of close-ups and handheld camera adds to the intimacy of the film, and the claustrophobic scenes set in Room contrast perfectly with the expansive shots of the real world. Room is a powerful meditation on resilience, love, and the power of the human spirit. It’s a film that will break your heart and leave you in awe of the human capacity for survival and compassion, and it’s a must-see for fans of powerful and emotionally resonant cinema.

Sailor Monsoon

26. Saint Maud (2019)

Saint Maud is one of the best psychological horrors of the last decade. The plot follows Maud, a reclusive young woman who gets struck off from being a nurse due to a horrific accident. For better or worse, this leads to her going down the path of Christian devotion. It can be quite a slow burn at times, but also very engrossing. Things start to get really interesting when Maud is tasked with the responsibility of hospice care for a retired dancer, as she lives out the last days of her life. This is where Maud’s obsessive faith spirals out of control, as she feels she must save her ward’s soul from eternal damnation whatever the cost. Morfydd Clark is fantastic in the lead role, as we begin to see things from her point of view, delusions and all. All this leads to an absolutely spine-chilling finale that will have your hair standing on end. 

Lee McCutcheon

25. First Cow (2019)

Director Kelly Reichardt has a knack for directing with a slow hand, something that hasn’t always worked for me with her other movies. But First Cow really pulled me in with it’s sweet and gentle story of “Cookie” and King-Lu, two pioneers trying to survive in a world that isn’t built for them. At the very beginning of the film, there’s a long shot in modern time as a barge chugs across the screen. It’s a full 30 seconds of runtime— no score, no camera movement, no dialogue, no characters. Watching it for the first time, it’s like it rewired my brain to accept the slow and thoughtful pace of the story to come. What results is a gentle heist film as Cookie and King-Lu form a bond and decide to trespass on the property of a wealthy English factor to milk his prize cow, the first in the territory, to make sweet biscuits that soon become a massive success. It’s low stakes, but the friendship of Cookie and King-Lu is so wonderful and sweet you just can’t help but root for them. Again, the big stand-out here for me though is the cinematography, as the characters often unconventionally walk in and out of a still frame, carrying on conversation while doing menial tasks such as cooking and cleaning.

Jacob Holmes

24. The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021)

When it was announced that the Coen Bros were going to start directing films separately, no one knew what to expect but I guarantee no one guessed the first solo project would be a Shakespeare adaptation exclusive to Apple TV+, that’s for sure. Based on one of William Shakespeare’s most iconic plays, The Tragedy of Macbeth immediately stands apart from every other adaptation with it’s stark visuals and minimalistic sets. Joel Coen his team created a haunting and immersive experience, using every cinematic tool at their disposal to bring the play’s themes of power, ambition, and betrayal to life. The film’s visual language is striking and bold, with stark black and white cinematography that lends a timeless feel to the story. The use of shadow and light creates a sense of foreboding throughout the film, hinting at the darkness to come. The camera work is equally impressive, with sweeping long takes and unconventional angles that draw the viewer into the action.

But as impressive as the visuals are, Shakespeare adaptations live or die based on the strength of whoever is delivering the bard’s words. Knowing this, Joel Coen assembled a murderer’s row of incredible talent. Denzel Washington’s portrayal of Macbeth is nuanced and powerful, conveying the character’s inner turmoil and descent into madness with subtlety and grace. His chemistry with Frances McDormand, who plays Lady Macbeth, is electric, and their interactions are some of the film’s most captivating moments.

The supporting cast is equally impressive, with standout performances from Brendan Gleeson as King Duncan and Harry Melling as Malcolm. But as good as the supporting cast is, they pale in comparison to Katherine Hunter who plays the witches. Watching her deliver impossible dialogue while twists and contorting her body into various shapes, in nothing short of awe inspiring. The sound design deserves special mention, with eerie whispers and otherworldly effects creating a sense of supernatural dread that permeates the film. The score, by Carter Burwell, is equally effective, with driving percussion and haunting strings underscoring the action. It’s going to be weird referring to each one as the Coen Bro going forward but if they keep producing films as good as this, I’ll get used to it real quick.

Sailor Monsoon

23. A Ghost Story (2017)

Many people incorrectly assume A Ghost Story  is going to be another of A24’s horror classics, but not so. Instead, director David Lowery treats us to a hauntingly methodical and moving portrait of life moving on after death with stunning imagery. Rooney Mara is pitch perfect as a woman grieving her husband, and following around our ghost gives us a sense that we’re seeing intimate moments that we truly aren’t meant to be in on. And there’s somehow an expressive quality to the silent ghost, a feeling of confusion and a search for understanding. This is a meditative masterpiece to return to again and again.

Jacob Holmes

22. Krisha (2015)

After being estranged from her family for a decade, Krisha returns for a Thanksgiving dinner but past demons threaten to ruin the festivities. Based on director Trey Edward Shults’s cousin and played by his aunt, Krisha is one of the most captivating characters to hit screens in a long time. Krisha Fairchild’s lead performance starts off as riveting and grows ever more compelling as the film unfolds. Her relentless downward spiral is as heartbreaking as it is terrifying. You don’t know what she’s going to do or say next but you know whatever it is, it won’t be pretty. Because of her addictions, she’s become a ghost the family tolerates.

She haunts their lives not out of malice or ill will but because she has nowhere else to go. It’s a performance too real for the Academy. They hardly ever nominate first-time performances from non-actors because they can’t tell how much of the performance is acting and how much is real. Which is bullshit because no matter what you call it, it’s still acting and I’m telling you right now, no actor alive could pull this performance off as well. She’s dynamite in the role and the film itself ain’t too shabby either.

Sailor Monsoon

21. American Honey (2016)

Ladies and Gentlemen, Andrea Arnold reinvented the coming-of-age genre for the 21st Century, and it never looked this viscerally awesome before. Also, we can be grateful for this title as it welcomed Shia LeBeouf back to the fold. Dude electrified the screen in this turn. Newcomer Sasha Lane is a force to be reckoned with carrying the film on her shoulders. American Honey is the most honest exploration of Americana we’ve seen this century. In an era of teen-films boasting mediocre adaptations of futuristic utopia or shimmering vampires — AH is a gritty, stripped-down, near three hour epic of filthy — yet — beautiful illumination of the misfits we often ignore. Watch the trailer and tell me you’re not compelled to dive-in — I dare you. A modern American masterpiece in every sense of the term. Can we get a Criterion release on this already?

Mitch Roush

40-31 | 20-11

What are some of your favorite films released by A24? Maybe they’ll show up later in the list!