It's looking like another very bright year for A24. Lee Isaac Chung's Minari picked up six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. Though it missed out on the top award, Youn Yuh-jung took home the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as a Mountain Dew-guzzling, card-playing, wisecracking grandma Soon-ja. And let's not forget, she took home the much-coveted Esquire prize for best acceptance speech too.
The film has helped push the conversation around Asian-American identity forward, and also provides another chapter in the success story that is A24.
Named after the Italian highway Autostrada 24, co-founder David Katz was driving on his way to Rome when he had what he's called "a moment of clarity" about starting a company. Alongside film and production veterans – David Fenkel and John Hodges – the trio based the company in New York and began releasing films in 2012.
Part of A24’s success is down to their positioning, operating more like a savvy lifestyle or media brand – ergo, the stylish merch, podcast, and even themed fanzines guest-edited by directors from their latest films. Everything about A24 is just so.
Plus, there's the films. Oh yes. Let’s not forget that A24 makes brave, often weird, usually very stylish, films that have defined the cultural zeitgeist. Here are five to make time for.
Ex Machina (2014)
Ex Machina is that increasingly rare beast – a film that manages to be both high-brow in concept and capable of drawing in the masses, as a box office return of nearly $37m on a $15m spend testifies.
It’s a film that explores the relationships between humans and artificial beings, posing the question as to whether or not AI can ever be truly capable of having a relationship that is genuinely 'human'.
Ex Machina features stellar performances all around, but special praise goes to Oscar Isaac in his portrayal of the creepy, hard boozing demonic tech bro Nathan. Written and directed by Alex Garland, it was the first A24 film to win an Academy Award.
Best Visual Effects aren’t something you would necessarily associate with A24. Still, the film demonstrated the studio’s consistently savvy marketing skills by launching a Tinder profile complete with a chatbot of main character Ava, a cyborg played by Alicia Vikander, at the SXSW premiere. Ava’s profile fooled hundreds of heartbroken hopefuls as they failed in the real-life Turing test.
The Lobster (2015)
Picture the pitch: "In our world, single people are given 45 days to find romantic partners or otherwise be turned into animals. However, said single people do get to choose the animal. David, the main character, has chosen to become a lobster." Tumbleweed.
Esquire accurately described The Lobster as "like Logan's Run for single people," but for all of The Lobster's offbeat sensibilities, the characters are subtle and plausible, and there's romance and a whole lot of funny in the glorious labyrinth of loneliness that is 'the hotel'.
Yorgos Lanthimos’ film wasn’t intended for release on A24 – original distributors Alchemy had to drop it – but it proved to be the start of a fruitful relationship between Lanthimos and A24, with the studio distributing his psychological horror, The Killing of a Sacred Deer.
Probably – and very rightly – the most celebrated film on the A24 roster, Moonlight deservedly swiped the Academy Award for Best Picture out of La La Land’s jazz hands back in 2016.
Barry Jenkins's adaptation of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue tells the story of Chiron and his journey from childhood in Miami to young adulthood. Chiron’s mother is a drug addict, and the closest he has to a father figure is the noble, local drug dealer Juan (the never-not-excellent Mahershala Ali). As he grows, he wrestles with his sexuality and what it means to be a man.
Although Moonlight isn’t overtly about race, it is deeply rooted in identity and how malleable that construct can be as the world shifts around us. Told over three parts, three different actors portray Chiron, a shimmering and increasingly sad metamorphosis as (spoiler alert) he eventually succumbs to selling drugs too.
Moonlight is also a triumph for the senses. Cinematographer James Laxton's colour palette, all rich, hazy blues and Nicholas Britell's score — applying foggy chopped and screwed Southern rap production techniques to orchestral music — are dazzling.
Lady Bird (2017)
A24 has a knack for picking up exciting new directors, from Alex Garland (Ex Machina) and Jonah Hill (Mid 90s), to Ari Aster and his skull-exploding horror-thrillers Hereditary and Midsommar. However, with Lady Bird and Greta Gerwig’s solo directorial debut, the studio hit the jackpot.
Gerwig's charming coming-of-age tale sees 17-year-old Christine 'Lady Bird' McPherson, played by the astonishingly good Saoirse Ronan, getting ready to leave high school behind but not quite prepared for young adulthood. She imagines that'll involve upping sticks to college in an east coast metropolis where she can flourish; her working class family in Sacramento, California, would rather she went somewhere closer and cheaper.
Relationship dynamics are central to Lady Bird: McPherson’s first boyfriend, the deeply sympathetic Danny (Lucas Hedges), who "respects [her] too much" to touch her breasts, and her strong-willed mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) are particular highlights. Ronan is so convincing, sweeping everything up in her orbit, that it leaves you thinking that the world might just revolve around her.
Uncut Gems (2019)
Adam Sandler doesn’t do many straight roles, but when he does they tend to be memorable. Sandler plays Howard, an utterly exhausting jeweller, fist-magnet and walking meme, he schemes his way in and out of trouble around New York City to cover his staggeringly huge gambling debts.
The pace of Uncut Gems rarely drops below frenetic, and Sandler is backed up by a great supporting cast including Lakeith Stanfield, actual NBA star Kevin Garnett playing actual NBA star Kevin Garnett, and Idina Menzel as Howard's soon to be ex-wife Dinah, who accurately tells him: "I think you are the most annoying person I have ever met". How Sandler wasn’t even nominated for an Academy Award is beyond me.
Uncut Gems is the second film the Safdie brothers have released on A24 after the excellent Robert Pattinson thriller Good Time. With time on their side, and an idiosyncratically immersive style of filmmaking the Safdies are beginning to have the look of auteurs. And in A24 they have the perfect foil.
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