A24’s Best Movies Ranked, From ‘Moonlight’ to ‘Uncut Gems’ 

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In the late summer of 2012, the indie film production and distribution company A24 was born. Drama, comedy, horror, documentary, animation – nothing has been off-limits for the New York outfit. Whether it’s a monochromatic reflection of a family (“C’mon C’mon”), an offbeat character study of a former porn star (“Red Rocket”), or a man unable to resist a female robot (“Ex Machina”), some of the most memorable pieces of filmmaking of the past decade have come out of its doors.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of its founding, Variety is ranking the 30 best films released by A24.

It was Aug. 17, 2012, when Variety first wrote about the launch of the company with the plan to release eight to 10 titles annually. A24 was started by David Fenkel, former Oscilloscope Laboratories president and executive at ThinkFilm; Daniel Katz, who led the film finance group at Guggenheim Partners and John Hodges, who served as head of production and development at Big Big Beach Films.

The company would release its very first movie on a limited scale in February 2013 – a film called “A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III,” the sophomore directorial feature from Roman Coppola, starring Charlie Sheen. Critics panned it, but nonetheless, A24 persisted with four releases over the next six months – “Ginger & Rosa” with Elle Fanning, “Spring Breakers” with James Franco, “The Bling Ring” with Emma Watson and “The Spectacular Now” with Miles Teller.

By 2016, the studio quickly found its way through the Hollywood machine, navigating confidently from the east coast, becoming a production studio and fully financing its first feature film – the coming-of-age LGBTQ drama “Moonlight” from co-writer and director Barry Jenkins. In partnership with Plan B Entertainment, the film garnered universal acclaim and received eight Oscar nominations. In addition to winning supporting actor (Mahershala Ali) and adapted screenplay, in one of the most notorious and memorable Oscar ceremonies (until 2022’s infamous slap), it was named the year’s best picture in an envelope mix-up with one of the nominees, after “La La Land” was first named the winner (for approximately 30 seconds).

The sky was the limit. With critical darlings like “Lady Bird” (2017) by Greta Gerwig and “Eighth Grade” (2018), the studio has been part of partnership deals with Apple TV+ and Showtime Networks for its digital releases. It continues to execute some of the most innovative and thought-provoking films, like “Hereditary” (2018) by Ari Aster and “Uncut Gems” by the Safdie brothers.

After a decade in the game, the studio has created one of its strongest cinematic slates yet in 2022, including The Daniels’ “Everything Everywhere All at Once” with Michelle Yeoh, its highest-grossing film thus far. In addition, two other hotly anticipated titles are on the horizon — Darren Aronofsky’s “The Whale” with Brendan Fraser and Elegance Bratton’s “The Inspection” with Jeremy Pope.

Read Variety’s rankings below and watch the best clip from each of the selections. 

Honorable mentions: “Enemy” (2014) from Denis Villeneuve; “Morris from America” (2016) from Chad Hartigan; “Swiss Army Man” from Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert;  “The Florida Project” (2017) from Sean Baker; “Boys State” (2020) from Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine; “Zola” (2021) from Janicza Bravo

Locke (2014)

Starring: Tom Hardy, Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott, Ben Daniels, Tom Holland, Bill Milner

Director: Steven Knight
Writer(s): Steven Knight
Producer(s): Paul Webster, Guy Heeley

Synopsis: Ivan Locke, a dedicated family man and successful construction manager, receives a phone call on the eve of the biggest challenge of his career that sets in motion a series of events that threaten his carefully cultivated existence.

The scene that proves it: “Run Donal…”

Tom Hardy’s expressions are arresting in Steven Knight’s contained thriller. Hardy is likely one of our most unafraid thespians, shown in films like “Bronson,” but in “Locke,” he creates a psychological tour without resting solely on the film’s “gimmick” set piece.

On the Rocks (2020)

Starring: Rashida Jones, Bill Murray, Marlon Wayans

Director: Sofia Coppola
Writer(s): Sofia Coppola
Producer(s): Sofia Coppola, Youree Henley

Synopsis: A young mother reconnects with her larger-than-life playboy father on an adventure through New York.

The scene that proves it: “Poker face.”

Cinema is about joy. You don’t have to push the boundaries of cinema to make a fantastic movie and Coppola’s focus on story and the performances of her delightful threesome of actors is one of the best recent examples. Distributed in collaboration with Apple Original Films, it’s a finely tuned comedy engine that moves effortlessly toward a satisfying resolution.

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (2022)

Starring: Jenny Slate, Isabella Rossellini, Rosa Salazar, Thomas Mann, Dean Fleischer Camp, Lesley Stahl

Director: Dean Fleischer Camp
Writer(s): Dean Fleischer Camp, Jenny Slate, Nick Paley, Elisabeth Holm (based on characters created by Dean Fleischer Camp and Jenny Slate)
Producer(s): Dean Flesicher Camp, Jenny Slate, Terry Leonard, Elisabeth Holm, Andrew Goldman, Caroline Kaplan, Paul Mezey

Synopsis: Feature adaptation of the animated short film interviewing a mollusk named Marcel.

The scene that proves it: “Saying goodbye to Grandma.”

Animation is about pushing boundaries. It’s not a genre, it’s a medium. This is shown once again by the pleasures of the live-action/animated “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On.” Voice performances are also on par with anything seen in Pixar films, with Jenny Slate leading the way and Isabella Rossellini breaking your heart. Please don’t forget this one, Academy.

The Witch (2015)

Photo : Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellis Grainger, Lucas Dawson

Director: Robert Eggers
Writer(s): Robert Eggers
Producer(s): Rodrigo Teixeira, Daniel Bekerman, Lars Knudsen, Jodi Redmond, Jay Van Hoy

Synopsis: A family in 1630s New England is torn apart by the forces of witchcraft, black magic and possession.

The scene that proves it: “Peek a boo…”

Easily an entry in the golden age of horror, Robert Eggers’ frightening period piece utilizes the artistry and striking bone structure of Anya Taylor-Joy, who is quickly becoming one of our most arresting actors. He doesn’t make your conventional films, and that’s the best thing he can offer the future landscape of movies.

The Bling Ring (2013)

Starring: Israel Broussard, Katie Chang, Taissa Farmiga, Claire Julien, Georgia Rock, Emma Watson, Leslie Mann

Director: Sofia Coppola
Writer(s): Sofia Coppola (based on “The Suspects Wore Louboutins” by Nancy Jo Sales)
Producer(s): Roman Coppola, Sofia Coppola, Youree Henry

Synopsis: Inspired by actual events, a group of fame-obsessed teenagers use the internet to track celebrities’ whereabouts in order to rob their homes.

The scene that proves it: “The robbery”

It’s Emma Watson’s finest acting moment, as she commands the screen under the writing and direction of Sofia Coppola. It’s Coppola’s most “cinematic” endeavor, displaying her auteurist sensibility with Harris Savides (in his final feature film) and Christopher Blauvelt’s cinematography. The rich and famous get the Coppola treatment, and it works.

A Ghost Story (2017)

Starring: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara

Director: David Lowery
Writer(s): David Lowery
Producer(s): Toby Halbrooks, James M. Johnston, Adam Donaghey

Synopsis: In this singular exploration of legacy, love, loss, and the enormity of existence, a recently deceased, white-sheeted ghost returns to his suburban home to try to reconnect with his bereft wife.

The scene that proves it: “Eating pie.”

Eating a pie has never looked more painful as what Rooney Mara demonstrates in David Lowery’s afterlife drama. Under a bed sheet, Casey Affleck delivers a performance of movement and sorrow, while the film features the entrancing original song “I Get Overwhelmed” by Dark Rooms that will sit with you for decades.

The Disaster Artist (2017)

Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson, Jacki Weaver, Zac Efron

Director: James Franco
Writer(s): Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber (based on “The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside the Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made” by Greg Estero and Tom Bissell)
Producer(s): James Franco, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Vince Jolivette, James Weaver

Synopsis: When Greg Sestero, an aspiring film actor, meets the weird and mysterious Tommy Wiseau in an acting class, they form a unique friendship and travel to Hollywood to make their dreams come true.

The scene that proves it: “What a story Mark.”

“500 Days of Summer” writers Neustadter and Weber capture the mystery of the making of “The Room” with biting tenacity and a too-often-overlooked incredible turn by Dave Franco. The adapted screenplay mention proved that the Oscars can recognize comedies – just not often enough.

Hereditary (2018)

Starring: Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd, Gabriel Byrne

Director: Ari Aster
Writer(s): Ari Aster
Producer(s): Kevin Frakes, Lars Knudsen, Buddy Patrick

Synopsis: A grieving family is haunted by tragic and disturbing occurrences.

The scene that proves it: “I am your mother!”

Toni Collette, plain and simple. This woman’s depiction of anguish and suffering through a horror lens is terrifyingly thrilling. Ari Aster’s difficult assembly holds nothing back and even allows the space for the audience to take the talents of Alex Wolff and Milly Shapiro home with us.

Amy (2015)

Starring: Amy Winehouse

Director: Asif Kapadia
Writer(s): Asif Kapadia
Producer(s): James Gay-Rees

Synopsis: Archival footage and personal testimonials present an intimate portrait of the life and career of British singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse.

The scene that proves it: “In the studio with Mark Ronson”

The Oscar-winning documentary examines the life and death of Amy Winehouse with a broad scope, using archival footage and clips to offer a glimpse into an artist we lost far too soon.

Good Time (2017)

Good Time (2017)

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Benny Safdie, Barkhad Abdi, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Buddy Duress, Taliah Lennice Webster

Director: Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie
Writer(s): Ronald Bronstein, Josh Safdie
Producer(s): Paris Kasidokostas Latsis, Terry Douglas, Sebastian Bear-McClard, Oscar Boyson

Synopsis: After a botched bank robbery lands his younger brother in prison, Connie Nikas embarks on a twisted odyssey through New York City’s underworld to get his brother Nick out of jail.

The scene that proves it: “I am better than you.”

The Safdie brothers’ heist thriller is superbly erected on the shoulders of Robert Pattinson, in what can easily be considered his single best performance yet. Distress is an undertone, but enjoyment is the result, as the story puts you through an adrenaline-inducing ride that leaves you wanting more.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019)

Starring: Jimmie Falls, Jonathan Majors, Tichina Arnold, Rob Morgan, Mike Epps, Finn Wittrock, Danny Glover

Director: Joe Talbot
Writer(s): Joe Talbot, Rob Richert, Jimmy Falls
Producer(s): Khaliah Neal, Joe Talbot, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Christina Oh

Synopsis: A young man searches for home in the changing city that seems to have left him behind.

The scene that proves it: “Keep building it.”

Joe Talbot, thank you for making movies and entering our world. His delectable debut film shines with wondrous performances from Jimmie Falls and Jonathan Majors. It’s hard to take your eyes off the screen, so the film’s omission from most awards is something that remains questionable, but many can discover its magic in the cinematic afterlife.

Under the Skin (2014)

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay

Director: Jonathan Glazer
Writer(s): Walter Campbell, Jonathan Glazer (based on “Under the Skin” by Michel Faber)
Producer(s): James Wilson, Nick Wechsler

Synopsis: A mysterious young woman seduces lonely men in the evening hours in Scotland. However, events lead her to begin a process of self-discovery.

The scene that proves it: “Human harvesting.”

Everything about Jonathan Glazer’s single character orchestra rests upon the assurance of Scarlett Johansson’s audacious turn. Also featuring some of the best sound work by the amazing Johnnie Burn and an entrancing score by Mica Levi, the film is a genre-bending force.

Obvious Child (2014)

Starring: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffman, Gabe Liedman, Richard Kind, Polly Draper, David Cross

Director: Gillian Robespierre
Writer(s): Gillian Robespierre, Karen Maine, Elisabeth Holm
Producer(s): Elisabeth Holm

Synopsis: A twenty-something comedienne’s unplanned pregnancy forces her to confront the realities of independent womanhood for the first time.

The scene that proves it: “Tell him.”

We love Jenny Slate and the movie world loves her. She’s a box of talent, selling her whimsical charm and joyous delight in Gillian Robespierre’s underrated comedy. A terrific standout for women filmmakers sharing fresh material regarding life and the obstacles that hit along the way.

The End of the Tour (2015)

Starring: Jason Segel, Jesse Eisenberg

Director: James Ponsoldt
Writer(s): Donald Margulies (based on “Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself” by David Lipsky)
Producer(s): James Dahl, Matt DeRoss, David Kanter, Mark Manuel, Ted O’Neal

Synopsis: The story of the five-day interview between Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky and acclaimed novelist David Foster Wallace, which took place right after the 1996 publication of Wallace’s groundbreaking epic novel, ‘Infinite Jest.’

The scene that proves it: “Why?”

There are few things that can make me smile more than thinking about Jason Segal’s savvy performance in James Ponsoldt’s drama. It’s everything that acting is about, and his invitation into the life of David Foster Wallace is a gift we didn’t know we needed. We’ll be eternally grateful.

Red Rocket (2021)

Starring: Simon Rex, Bree Elrod, Suzanna Son, Judy Hill, Brittney Rodriguez

Director: Sean Baker
Writer(s): Chris Bergoch, Sean Baker
Producer(s): Sean Baker, Alex Coco, Samantha Quan, Alex Saks, Shih-Ching Tsou

Synopsis: Mikey Saber is a washed-up porn star who returns to his small Texas hometown, not that anyone really wants him back.

The scene that proves it: “Bye Bye Bye”

With his uncomfortable and biting depiction of a former porn star who is grooming a young girl, Sean Baker pushes the boundaries as a screenwriter and filmmaker. Simon Rex’s Mikey Saber is a grotesque human, but it’s an invigorating performance that won him an Independent Spirit Award for best male actor. If only Oscar would have followed suit, along with the technical mastery of Bree Elrod and newcomer Suzanna Son.

It Comes at Night (2017)

Starring: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Riley Keough

Director: Trey Edward Shults
Writer(s): Trey Edward Shults
Producer(s): David Kaplan, Andrea Roa

Synopsis: Secure within a desolate home as an unnatural threat terrorizes the world, a man has established a tenuous domestic order with his wife and son. Then a desperate young family arrives seeking refuge.

The scene that proves it: “You killed my baby!”

It’s not just about the monster you see, but also the one that lives inside of you. Shults shows the viewer that very theme in the deeply dark drama that introduced the world to the talents of Kelvin Harrison Jr. Led with juggernaut performances by Joel Edgerton and Carmen Ejogo, the tension is almost impossible to survive but you’re the better for having experienced it.

The Lobster (2016)

Starring: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Jessica Barden, Olivia Colman, Ashley Jensen, Ariane Labed, Angeliki Papoulia, John C. Reilly, Léa Seydoux, Michael Smiley, Ben Whishaw

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Writer(s): Efthimis Filippou, Yorgos Lanthimos
Producer(s): Ceci Dempsey, Ed Guiney, Yorgos Lanthimos, Lee Magiday

Synopsis: In a dystopian near-future, according to the laws of The City, single people are taken to The Hotel, where they are obliged to find a romantic partner in 45 days or they’re transformed into beasts and sent off into The Woods.

The scene that proves it: “The hunt.”

It’s the kind of comedy that makes you cringe in a prickly way. But there might be no better kind. Colin Farrell is massively entertaining and precise in Yorgos Lanthimos’ darkly constructed romp about relationships and reincarnation. Like many, I still can’t watch the “fork” scene.

Uncut Gems (2019)

Starring: Adam Sandler, Lakeith Stanfield, Julia Fox, Kevin Garnett, Idina Menzel, Eric Bogosian

Director: Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie
Writer(s): Ronald Bronstein, Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie
Producer(s): Eli Bush, Sebastian Bear-McClard, Scott Rudin

Synopsis: With his debts mounting and angry debt collectors closing in, a fast-talking New York City jeweler risks everything in hope of staying afloat and alive.

The scene that proves it: “This is how I win.”

The social media and cinema-loving community united to get behind the mission to educate the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences that Adam Sandler, once again, delivered an awards-worthy performance in the Safdie brothers’ tension-filled flick. With Sandler’s best outing since “Punch Drunk Love” and memorable moments from Lakeith Stanfield and NBA basketball star Kevin Garnett, the film’s existence would be warranted even if it was only for the single moment of Julia Fox saying “uncut jamzzzz” that went viral on Tiktok.

Room (2015)

Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, Sean Bridgers, William H. Macy

Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Writer(s): Emma Donoghue (based on “Room” by Emma Donoghue)
Producer(s): Ed Guiney, David Gross

Synopsis: Held captive for seven years in an enclosed space, a woman and her young son finally gain their freedom, allowing the boy to experience the outside world for the first time.

The scene that proves it: “Do you remember how Alice wasn’t always in Wonderland?”

Brie Larson gets to cement herself as one of the gifted actresses of her generation while co-leading her drama with the young Jacob Tremblay. Nominated for best picture, the adaptation is a fresh and honest look at PTSD and the general wonderment of the world from a child’s perspective. It also asks Hollywood, why isn’t Joan Allen in more movies and can we please get her an Oscar one day soon?

20th Century Women (2016)

Starring: Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, Lucas Jade Zumann

Director: Mike Mills
Writer(s): Mike Mills
Producer(s): Megan Ellison, Anne Carey, Youree Henley

Synopsis: The story of a teenage boy, his mother, and two other women who help raise him among the love and freedom of Southern California of 1979.

The scene that proves it: Talking about Abbie.

Displaying Annette Bening’s best performance since “American Beauty” (1999) and Greta Gerwig’s career best outing, Mike Mills’ period drama offers meditation and. The surprise original screenplay nom for Mills at the Academy Awards was a welcome surprise, but it was worthy of so much more.

Eighth Grade (2018)

Starring: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson, Jake Ryan, Fred Hechinger

Director: Bo Burnham
Writer(s): Bo Burnham
Producer(s): Eli Bush, Scott Rudin, Christopher Storer, Lila Yacoub

Synopsis: An introverted teenage girl tries to survive the last week of her disastrous eighth grade year before leaving to start high school.

The scene that proves it: In the backyard with Dad.

The innocence and struggle of a 13-year-old girl is captured lavishly by debut director Bo Burnham in his hit dramedy “Eighth Grade.” Bestowing the gift of newcomer Elsie Fisher, he beat some incredible odds to beat out the likes of Bradley Cooper (“A Star is Born”) for the DGA prize for first-time directing. We sure wish the original screenplay nom would have come along for Oscar.

Waves (2019)

Starring: Kelvin Harrison Jr, Lucas Hedges, Taylor Russell, Alexa Demie, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Sterling K. Brown

Director: Trey Edward Shults
Writer(s): Trey Edward Shults
Producer(s): Kevin Turen, James Wilson, Trey Edward Shults

Synopsis: Traces the journey of a suburban family — led by a well-intentioned but domineering father — as the members navigate love, forgiveness, and coming together in the aftermath of a loss.

The scene that proves it: “I hate him.”

It may be a heavy sit for many cinephiles but not all vivid expressions should be easy. Schults’ respectful portrait of addiction and regret made stars out of Kelvin Harrison Jr and Taylor Russell, with some of the best uses of panoramic camera work ever shown in modern cinema.

Minari (2020)

Starring: Steven Yeun, Yeri Han, Yuh-jung Youn, Alan Kim, Noel Kate Cho, Will Patton

Director: Lee Isaac Chung
Writer(s): Lee Isaac Chung
Producer(s): Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Christina Oh

Synopsis: A Korean family starts a farm in 1980s Arkansas.

The scene that proves it: “I can’t do this anymore.”

Lee Isaac Chung gets up close and personal with the predominately Asian cast, offering the world a much-needed redefining of what makes an American movie. With tender turns throughout, notably by the overlooked Yeri Han, and the comical and scene-stealing balance of Yuh Jung-Youn, the playful and narrative focus doesn’t rely on big set pieces in order to get the tearducts flowing. The characters take up that job.

Ex Machina (2015)

Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander, Sonoya Mizuno, Gana Bayarsaikhan, Corey Johnson

Director: Alex Garland
Writer(s): Alex Garland
Producer(s): Andrew Macdonald, Allon Reich

Synopsis: A young programmer is selected to participate in a ground-breaking experiment in synthetic intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a highly advanced humanoid A.I.

The scene that proves it: “Tearing up the dance floor.”

Alex Garland is brave, and he holds nothing back when he makes a film. I will always be reminded of conversing with the late producer Steve Golin at a tastemaker event for “Spotlight,” who shared that “Ex Machina” was by far his favorite film of the year, along with many of his friends. Maybe it was the dance moves of Oscar Isaac, the sultry elegance of Alicia Vikander or daring depiction by Domhnall Gleeson. The safer answer is all of the above. Although it wasn’t nominated for best picture, who could forget its jaw dropping win for visual effects against four other bigger movies?

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)

Starring: Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, Jenny Slate, Harry Shun Jr., James Hong, Jamie Lee Curtis

Director: Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
Writer(s): Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
Producer(s): Dan Kwan, Mike Larocca, Anthony Russo, Joe Russo, Daniel Scheinert, Jonathan Wang

Synopsis: An aging Chinese immigrant is swept up in an insane adventure, where she alone can save the world by exploring other universes connecting with the lives she could have led.

The scene that proves it: The rock scene.

In The Daniels’ comically charged look at the multiverse, they exquisitely allow the visual cues on screen to assist in the spot-on performances of the dynamic cast. Michelle Yeoh is grounded in a role that’s just as emotionally challenging as it is physically demanding. One of the heroes by the end credits is the riveting turn of Stephanie Hsu as Joy, the daughter and “threat” to the multiverse. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the return of “Goonies” actor Ke Huy Quan, utterly brilliant, and Jamie Lee Curtis, as committed as ever.

The Farewell (2019)

Starring: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Zhao Shuzhen

Director: Lulu Wang
Writer(s): Lulu Wang
Producer(s): Daniele Melia, Marc Turtletaub, Peter Saraf, Andrew Miano, Chris Weitz, Jane Zheng, Lulu Wang, Anita Gou

Synopsis: A Chinese family discovers their grandmother has only a short while left to live and decide to keep her in the dark, scheduling a wedding to gather before she dies.

The scene that proves it: “Why are you crying so much?”

It’s not just about the laughs in Lulu Wang’s carefully designed picture, which showed that Awkwafina could go on to explore more challenging characters in the future. She clearly knocks it out of the park in every frame. Even more spirited is Zhao Shuzhen, who always provided a pathway for Yuh Jung-Youn (“Minari”) the following year. With Anna Franquesa Solano’s stunning camera movements, it begs the question — why aren’t we getting a collaboration with these two once a year?

A Most Violent Year (2014)

Starring: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, Alessandra Nivola, Albert Brooks, Elyes Gabel

Director: J.C. Chandor
Writer(s): J.C. Chandor
Producer(s): J.C. Chandor, Neal Dodson, Anna Gerb

Synopsis: In 1981 New York City, an ambitious immigrant fights to protect his business and family during the most dangerous year in the city’s history.

The scene that proves it: “This was very disrespectful.”

A period drama that sits comfortably in the arsenal of writer and director J.C. Chandor as his best film, the Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain vehicle is powerfully ambitious as it pushes to challenge the viewer with its imagery and underlying themes. It’s also a craftsman masterclass from the always brilliant Bradford Young behind the camera and subtle beauty from Alex Ebert’s music.

C’mon C’mon (2021)

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Gaby Hoffmann, Scoot McNairy, Molly Webster, Woody Norman

Director: Mike Mills
Writer(s): Mike Mills
Producer(s): Chelsea Barnard, Lila Yacoub, Andrea Longacre-White

Synopsis: When his sister asks him to look after her son, a radio journalist embarks on a cross-country trip with his energetic nephew to show him life away from Los Angeles.

The scene that proves it: “I’m fine.”

What’s incredible about Mike Mills’ modest but beautiful “C’mon C’mon” is that it’s clearly not for everyone who loves movies, and that’s why it sits so high on this list. It speaks directly to the soul with its art-house flavor, which Mills does not shy away from, and its lingering in an individual moment. In addition, it features what is Joaquin Phoenix’s single greatest performance as he steers his Johnny with an articulate countenance, yet unsure of himself. Robbie Ryan’s black-and-white cinematography is the chef’s kiss on this delicious endeavor that includes the sweetness of newcomer Woody Norman and the underrated Gaby Hoffman.

Lady Bird (2017)

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Lois Smith

Director: Greta Gerwig
Writer(s): Greta Gerwig
Producer(s): Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, Evelyn O’Neill

Synopsis: In 2002, an artistically inclined seventeen-year-old girl comes of age in Sacramento, Calif.

The scene that proves it: “Let’s just sit with what we heard.”

Making her debut as a solo director, Greta Gerwig captured an accurate snapshot of a high school senior in 2002, simply trying to figure herself out. Capturing the mundane and comical daily life of a teenager, Saoirse Ronan became a beloved pop culture symbol, while Laurie Metcalf brought new depths to the familiar role of a coming-of-age film mother. The film’s four Oscar noms are all well-deserved and gave mainstream audiences a chance to see the awesomeness that is Beanie Feldstein.

Moonlight (2016)

Starring: Trevante Rhodes, André Holland, Janelle Monáe, Ashton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali

Director: Barry Jenkins
Writer(s): Barry Jenkins, Tarell Alvin McCraney
Producer(s): Adele Romanski, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner

Synopsis: A young African-American man grapples with his identity and sexuality while experiencing the everyday struggles of childhood, adolescence, and burgeoning adulthood.

The scene that proves it: “You’re the only man who’s ever touched me.”

A stunning insight into the life of a young Black man coming to terms with his sexuality, Barry Jenkins’ empathetic and resounding film captured the hearts of audiences and the Hollywood industry. One of the decade’s finest ensembles is at work here, with standouts by Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali, Oscar-nominee Naomie Harris, and the unsung heroes of Trevante Rhodes and Janelle Monáe. Not to mention the introduction of young sensations Jharrel Jerome and Ashton Sanders. All of their beauty is captured against the blue hues of cinematographer James Laxton. “Moonlight” also featured the first Black woman to be nominated for editing with Joi McMillon, plus a notable score by Nicholas Britell.

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