Five Years In, A24 Has Staked Its Claim in the Studio System and Benefited Movie Fans By Letting Independent Film Flourish
The studio system has been in a disarray lately. There is really bad shit, like the tanking of the Weinstein Company and its current bankruptcy proceedings, and last year’s forced liquidation of Relativity Media, which went into bankruptcy after Kevin Spacey, who once tried to save the company, exited (and, like Harvey Weinstein, we all know what’s happened to Spacey since). DC Films has been up and down for a while (the wondrous success of Wonder Woman, the underperformance of Justice League, and the news that Ava DuVernay is directing The New Gods), and the affiliated Warner Brothers had a couple of big busts last year with Geostorm and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.
The only studios that truly seem like Teflon are, of course, Marvel (I mean, the Infinity War trailer is kind of great, and not enough praise can be heaped upon Black Panther) and, on the total opposite of the spectrum, A24, the upstart distribution and production company that in only five years has burst into arthouse theaters, carved a niche of horror and auteur filmmaking, and conquered the Oscars (including Brie Larson’s win for Best Actress for Room and the many wins acquired for Moonlight).
Since its first releases in 2013—including Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers (which was a co-production with Annapurna Pictures, the Megan Ellison-founded company that is also attacking the status quo) and Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring—A24 has aligned itself with a clique of directors who keep changing the way we view cinema, filmmakers who seemed too weird and too particular for the traditional studio system but who have flourished under A24’s mostly hands-off approach. Coppola, Barry Jenkins, Denis Villeneuve, Alex Garland, and numerous others spoke to GQ for an extensive oral history of the company that film industry veterans Daniel Katz, David Fenkel, and John Hodges created in 2012, and that piece is absolutely worth a read.
But what I want to do here is pinpoint moments from some of my favorite A24 films, the ones that have won Oscars like Moonlight (Best Picture for Jenkins and his collaborators!) and the ones that have already become cult classics despite not receiving much awards attention. Let’s get into it.
THE SPECTACULAR NOW
There are many people who aren’t the biggest fans of either Shailene Woodley or Miles Teller, but you have to make an exception for The Spectacular Now. The relationship between their two characters, both wounded and yearning in their own ways, will remind you of the most invigorating and most devastating elements of high school romance. Oh, and Kyle Chandler will break your heart.
THE BLING RING
The moment Emma Watson let the world know she wasn’t Hermione Granger anymore. A lot of people got pervy over this moment, but it ultimately marked a turning point in Watson’s career, opening up a path for her that wouldn’t forever be dominated by Hogwarts.
UNDER THE SKIN
Before there was Annihilation, there was this trippy sci-fi film starring Scarlett Johansson. I won’t say anything else. You really just have to see it.
A MOST VIOLENT YEAR
A little slow, a little narratively obvious. But the pairing of Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain cannot be beat, and Chastain excels with a no-bullshit approach to a role that allows her to go full Lady Macbeth. (With bonus David Oyelowo!)
LIFE AFTER BETH
Dane DeHaan has gotten some flack recently for being miscast in Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets and for the divisiveness of Gore Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness, but he is excellent alongside Aubrey Plaza in this zombie comedy. And in Plaza’s unhinged performance here, you can see the beginnings of who she would transform into for last year’s Ingrid Goes West, also underseen and undervalued.
Oscar Isaac dancing became the meme that can’t be stopped. I’m giving the people what they want.
One of the best A24 releases that came and went pairs Ryan Reynolds and Ben Mendelsohn as two gamblers whose paths cross—for better and for worse. Aside from Deadpool, this may be the best Reynolds has ever been.
In the year A24 seemed to be everywhere, its biggest triumph was the Best Picture-winning Moonlight, a movie that I will always remember by this scene. How not to weep at this moment?
Because maybe worshipping before woods that hold fears you can’t comprehend is a bad idea!
You know what? Nazi punks should fuck off! (RIP, Anton Yelchin, whose performance in the currently in theaters Thoroughbreds is expectedly great.)
20TH CENTURY WOMEN
I still don’t understand how Annette Benning didn’t get nominated for an Oscar for this damn movie.
Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult have killer chemistry, neon lighting, and monochromatic outfits, and sometimes those are all you need.
THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER
A horror film starring Kiernan Shipka and Emma Roberts that ended up on a few best-of lists last year for its eeriness and an exceptionally strong performance from Shipka. There’s this one scene in a basement that gave me nightmares for a week or so after, and now I’m remembering its creepiness, so that’s cool.
The first film from Kate and Laura Mulleavy, the sisters between the fashion house Rodarte, which I praised at length last fall. It’s strange, it’s dreamlike, it’s beautifully odd.
TO COME IN 2018
What’s coming up for A24 is more of the same in a dozen or so releases, and that’s fine: the Andrew Garfield-starring Under the Silver Lake, from David Robert Mitchell, the director of It Follows; the unbelievably terrifying Hereditary, starring Toni Collette; and the Bo Burnham-directed Eighth Grade, which looks like Lady Bird for the YouTube generation, all seem like standouts.
And there’s also the announcement of a film adaptation of the classic Richard Wright novel Native Son starring Ashton Sanders from Moonlight. The expectations for that project are high.
In Production: NATIVE SON, directed by Rashid Johnson, adapted by Suzan Lori Parks, and starring Ashton Sanders pic.twitter.com/tEKBYHFAOA— A24 (@A24) March 16, 2018
Do you have any A24 favorites? Any of their releases you thought were only so-so? (I hated Tusk, A Ghost Story, and Good Time, and thought Trespass Against Us, Laggies, and Mojave were meh.) And which new A24 projects excite you? Join me in the comments!