Best Movies of ’24 … So Far

Our critic reveals his favorite movies so far in what feels like a very good year.

As I say every time I draw up one of these lists: There are always good movies. But, in many cases, most of the media would rather whine about the disappointing earnings of a hyped-up star vehicle or action movie. Eager to fashion themselves as insiders, critics praise virtually everything and even now scold audiences for not going to see the studios’ low-hanging fruit. This energy could be spent on directing you towards movies that don’t have the benefit of a bottomless marketing war chest.

In that spirit, I will dismount from my soap box and offer a list of the 15 best movies —big, small, and in between— that I’ve seen this year, as we approach halftime for 2024.

“The Beast” (Bertrand Bonello)

This moody, apocalyptic sci-fi thriller as tone poem mixes Henry James with David Lynch, juggling multiple plots and timelines in an effort to get at the heart of technology as a means of alienation and maybe even also affirmation. Léa Seydoux is unforgettable as several interconnected characters, and Bonello, at the top of his game, springs a handful of classic set pieces. (Streaming on VOD.)

 

“Challengers” (Luca Guadagnino)

At some point it became uncool to like “Challengers,” but this is still a sharp and timely romantic dramedy about how our modern cultural obsession with branding can bleed into everything, from the tennis courts to the boardroom to the bedroom. Zendaya, Mike Faist, and Josh O’Connor are sensational. (Available on Blu-ray and VOD.)

 

“Chime” (Kurosawa Kiyoshi)

This 45-minute short about a sound that drives folks to murder is the horror film of the year so far, a return to form for Kurosawa that is so quiet and tactile that it’s irrational. It feels like the visualization of a social anxiety that we didn’t even know we had, concerning a contagious disassociation that evokes the supernatural element of Kurosawa’s “Pulse” and the mass media of real life. (Available to stream on Roadstead.)

 “The Devil’s Bath” (Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz)

In a forest village in 18th century Austria, a recently married woman succumbs to depression, which her community is woefully unequipped to handle. Researched from true-life events, “The Devil’s Bath” is a bitter brew that earns its nastiness, as the shock tactics are part of a nuanced concern with how social norms can fail individuals. The period texture is equal to that of Robert Eggers’ “The Witch.” (Streaming on AMC +)

 

 “Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World” (Radu Jude)

Overworked and turned on by her frenetic purgatory, Angelica hops around Bucharest in and out of the lives of vividly-sketched working-class characters, an adventure which Jude renders into a mutating fantasia of film references, archive footage, TikTok videos, and global atrocities. Unwieldy, but this is the sharpest satire that we’ve had in ages. (Streaming at MUBI and rentable at Amazon.)

 

“Evil Does Not Exist” (Hamaguchi Ryûsuke)

Hamaguchi communicates the ecological violation of a village by carving his narrative into hard and beautifully bleak shards, thusly violating conventional expectations of resolution. “Evil Does Not Exist” is a trance, a requiem, and maybe a sign of a shift in Hamaguchi’s typically more expansive aesthetic. This film has stayed in my system for over a year. I’ve seen it three times and am eager to return again. (Still in theaters.)

 

“The Fall Guy” (David Leitch)

This surprisingly enjoyable summer movie owes less to the old Lee Majors TV show from which it takes its name than it does to Shane Black action-mysteries like “The Nice Guys.” It’s Shane Black for the whole family, and while I prefer my Black uncut, the action, absurdism, and movie-star hijinks between Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt are assured and even poignant. (Still in theaters and streaming on VOD.)

“Gasoline Rainbow” (Bill Ross IV, Turner Ross)

The Ross brothers are mastering a blend of documentary and fictional film that offers the best of both worlds: the realism of documentaries and the poetry and catharsis of good fiction. In “Gasoline Rainbow,” the Rosses apply their particular magic to the teenage road trip narrative, and come up with one of the most convincing and moving youth films since “Dazed and Confused.” (Streaming on VOD.)

 

“Ghostlight” (Kelly O’Sullivan, Alex Thompson)

This rough-and-ready study of a man who is led back to his family through theater is one of the rare honest movies about grief. Kelly O’Sullivan and Alex Thompson understand that grief is ugly and resurfaces unpredictably and inconveniently. Real-life father and daughter Keith Kupferer and Katherine Mallen Kupferer are poignantly raw, evading the potential cutesiness of the scenario. (In theaters.)

 

“Hit Man” (Richard Linklater)

Glen Powell and Adria Arjona’s sexy star power and Richard Linklater’s discursive comedy are the candy shells of “Hit Man,” which dissolve to reveal a story of fluid personalities and moral borders that are easily broached. “Hit Man” is a cold-blooded thriller in a lark’s clothing, and for that it was misunderstood. (Streaming on Netflix.)

 

“Hometown Prison” (Richard Linklater)

Like “Pictures of Ghosts,” which is mentioned below, “Hometown Prison” is a documentary that uses autobiography as a launching pad for an examination of sociopolitical infrastructure. Linklater revisits a town central to his films and his childhood, Huntsville, Texas, and in his shaggy and humanist way shows how the incarceration and execution industries cast a long shadow over everyone and everything else. (Streaming on Max as a part of the “God Save Texas” series.)

 

“In Our Day” (Hong Sang-soo)

Another list, which is to say another Hong Sang-soo movie about artists and their acolytes drinking and eating their way towards a quiet reckoning. Wry, funny, and well-acted, with a casual, hard-earned humanity that is among Hong’s hallmarks. (Available to stream on MUBI.)

 

“I Saw the TV Glow” (Jane Schoenbrun)

Like Betrand Bonello, Jane Schoenbrun is one of the few filmmakers to lean on the aesthetic of David Lynch and get out alive, fashioning an otherworldly film concerned with media as a realm of solace that can become a trap. Despite her many obvious influences, Schoenbrun’s imagery is singular, and the performances of Justice Smith and Brigette Lundy-Paine are heartbreaking. (In theaters and streaming on VOD.)

 

 

“The Last Stop in Yuma County” (Francis Galluppi)

This is one of those movies that might prompt a mild chuckle on a Sunday afternoon only to quietly and pleasantly stick in your mind as time passes. This lean and very mean pastiche of vintage and modern noir, with the expected nod to Quentin Tarantino, is one of the most pleasurable pure genre exercises of the year, with a typically excellent performance by the underrated Jim Cummings. (Available to rent on VOD.)

 

“Pictures of Ghosts” (Kleber Mendonça Filho)

Filho’s reminiscences about growing up in Recife among its classic and now vanishing movie palaces doubles as a vaster exploration of childhood and cultural and political change, including the insidious effect of corporate gentrification. This intimate, first-person documentary is one of Filho’s most poetic and moving films. (Available on Blu-ray and still playing in festivals.)

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