Anyone else sick of superhero movies? Tired of cinemas being clogged with bloated film franchises or nostalgia-exploiting remakes? Sure, there's an embarrassment of riches on streaming services, but there's something to be said for getting off the couch, shutting off our phones, and engaging in the communal experience of going to the cinema. Is it really so much to ask for thought-provoking films borne out of original ideas?
Thank the cinematic stars for A24. Founded in 2012, A24 is a film/TV distribution and production company that's relatively new to the scene but has already garnered a reputation as an innovative heavy-hitter in the world of independent cinema. A24 films currently in theaters are Midsommar and The Last Black Man in San Francisco, both critically acclaimed. The Farewell, the much-anticipated Awkwafina film, is set for release later this month.
This young company has been a major force on the awards scene, having nabbed a handful of Oscars for films like Room and Moonlight, the latter arguably being the most important Best Picture winner of recent years. While you've likely heard of these films, along with other A24 hits, there are more than a few that never became a part of a greater cultural conversation, despite their quality and novelty. Here are 10 Underrated A24 Movies Everyone Should See.
10 Cut Bank (2015)
It's rare that a character can pass up a get-rich-quick scheme, no matter how foolhardy, and Cut Bank's Dwayne McLaren (Liam Hemsworth) is no exception. He tries to exploit witnessing a murder in order to leave his small town of Cut Bank, Montana. Let's just say things do not go as planned.
Cut Bank is a black-humored, thrilling examination of the dark side of pursuing the American dream. Critics didn't agree, giving Cut Bank a measly 35% on Rotten Tomatoes. The film never found much of an audience either, only coming out in limited release. Cut Bank may not be at the pinnacle of A24's esteemed quality, but it's a fun ride that's worth checking out.
9 The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
The sins of Dr. Steven Murphy's (Colin Farrell) past come back to haunt him in The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Director Yorgos Lanthimos delivers this pitch-black psychological thriller in which Dr. Murphy takes the fatherless teenage Martin (Barry Keoghan) under his wing. There's something off about Martin, and as he spends more time with the Murphys, Steven finds his family members succumbing to illness, one by one.
Lanthimos is known for exposing the bleak, seedy underbelly of humanity. His films are as polarizing as they are dark, but that is why they're important to watch. Challenging movies like The Killing of a Sacred Deer provoke the deepest of conversations and debates. Step outside your comfort zone and give this film a try.
8 The Bling Ring (2013)
The Bling Ring is a sharp comedy that skewers society's obsession with celebrities. Directed by Sofia Coppola, it is the true story of a cadre of teenagers who rob the homes of Hollywood's rich and infamous.
Critics split on The Bling Ring, which is reflected in its 59% Rotten Tomatoes score. The unfavorable reviews dismiss the film as shallow in tone. While there's no doubting the superficiality of The Bling Ring's characters, the story also forces the viewer to question our fame-infatuated culture at large. Take a break from scrolling through your Instagram feed and watch The Bling Ring. Beneath its glossy surface, it's a film of substance.
7 The Spectacular Now (2013)
Hands up if you've ever rolled your eyes at teen romance flicks. Do you think of them as vapid and unrealistic? You likely haven't seen The Spectacular Now, A24's refreshing contribution to the genre. Based on the novel by Tim Tharp, the film chronicles the unlikely romance of party animal Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) and girl-next-door Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley) throughout their senior year of high school.
This may sound like a tired premise but its realistic depiction of teen life, combined with the earnest chemistry of the two leads, makes The Spectacular Now worth watching. It transcends its unfairly maligned genre and emerges top of the class.
6 While We're Young (2015)
Who says indie comedies can't be laugh-out-loud funny? Director Noah Baumbach's While You're Young is about a married couple (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) who embark on a hilarious quest to recapture their youth. They're inspired by a pair of millennial hipsters (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried) who appear to be living their best lives but, in reality, are the definition of pretentious pseudo-bohemians.
While We're Young is one of Baumbach's most financially successful films. Still, walk into your average waiting room, and most of its occupants likely haven't heard of it. It's a shame because While We're Young is an inventive movie with broad appeal. Trust us—you don't need a beanie and a cocktail in a mason jar to enjoy it.
5 20th Century Women (2016)
Need a break from movies with a mile-a-minute plot and two-dimensional characters? Try 20th Century Women. Photographer and single mom Dorothea (Annette Bening) rallies the women in her life (Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning) to help raise her teenage son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann). The film captures the cultural upheaval of the 1970s, as it parallels Jamie's transition into adulthood.
Despite the critical praise for 20th Century Women and its ensemble cast, it barely made a splash during awards season. Its only Oscar nomination was for Best Original Screenplay. Had it received a Best Picture nod, 20th Century Women likely would have attracted the attention it deserved.
4 Equals (2016)
Those who have seen and enjoyed A24's Ex Machina will definitely want to check out Equals. It blends science fiction with romance, depicting an apparent utopian society in which most humans no longer experience emotion and thus, crime and violence ceases to exist. Those who are caught with their hand in the emotional cookie jar are dispensed with. This creates a huge problem for a pair of ill-fated lovers (Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult), who carry on an illicit relationship that could cost them their lives.
A movie featuring most characters speaking in monotone ought to be boring, but Equals is engrossing start to finish. Like Minority Report, Equals asks who has to suffer in order for there to be a world without crime and if it's worth it. This contemporary take on Romeo and Juliet will have you questioning all sorts of aspects of humanity, long after the credits roll.
3 Obvious Child (2014)
It's ironic how the best comedy often comes out of life's harshest moments. Obvious Child follows freshly dumped comedian Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) who has a one night stand, resulting in an unplanned pregnancy. She decides to have an abortion, scheduled on Valentine's Day—it was either that or her mom's birthday.
In lesser hands, the film could have easily come across as exploiting delicate subject matter for cheap laughs. However, the talents of Jenny Slate and director-writer Gillian Robespierre give us a brave, pioneering work of cinematic art. Obvious Child gives you all the feels, without once broaching cliché.
2 The Lobster (2016)
Bring on the bleakness. The Lobster marks Yorgos Lanthimos' second appearance on the list. This dark comedy takes place in a dystopian world in which single adults are given 45 days to find a life mate. Should they fail, they will be transformed into an animal of their choosing.
A premise doesn't get more absurdist than this, making it an overall tough sell. Critics loved it, but The Lobster barely managed to garner any awards buzz. The film is cynical, disturbing and is about as comfortable as wearing wet clothes. But if you're able to embrace it, you'll find yourself laughing through the pain.
1 The Florida Project (2017)
Get your Kleenex ready. The Florida Project takes place over the course of one summer, following the lives of Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her friends. They all live in dilapidated motels, minutes away from Walt Disney World. Impoverished and unsupervised, Moonee and pals make their own fun. Sometimes the results are humorous, other times dangerous, but ultimately devastating.
The Florida Project found itself on many year-end Best Of lists. But while critics adored the film, it barely got any awards recognition. It's solitary Oscar nomination was Best Supporting Actor for Willem Dafoe, the only name actor in the film. It deserved more, particularly for Brooklynn Prince. Her performance in the last five minutes is so memorable, it will cement itself in your mind. As will this exquisite film.