There are many building blocks of the internet, but the cornerstones are think pieces, offhand lists, and other hollow provocations meant to stir arguments and, therefore, briefly redirect web traffic. Engaging such material is utterly pointless. Then again, it’s not like I have anything better to do.
If nothing else, I’m always amused and impressed at the effort required when Vulture, the online, pop culture–focused outpost of New York magazine, mounts a ludicrously comprehensive ranking of some categorizable slice of the entertainment pie. Beyond a curious glance, I usually don’t engages with these lists all that much because it’s not like I’m going to do the work to forward a properly informed counterargument to the fifty best King of Queens episodes or a qualitative tallying of every Al Pacino movie performance. I figured nothing would be different with their latest, a bottom-to-top assessment of the entire output of independent studio A24 by writer Nate Jones, presented on the occasion of their tenth anniversary. Then I saw the poster for a certain cinematic triumph at the top of the section headlined “Tier II: The Nearly Great,” and my umbrage was raised sufficiently to shove words together. Nearly great? Harumph.
I still don’t have it in me to go all the way with this. Until Coffee for Two miraculously becomes a cash cow instead of a hobby, no one’s going to trick me into watching the likes of The Vanishing of Sidney Hall or Sea of Trees. (I did, however, review the first A24 film, A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III, at the time of its release, and I can confirm that the bottom-of-the-list placement of the debacle is accurate.) I’ve got enough A24 offerings in my viewing history from my normal cineaste commitment to come up with an alternative top ten.
- Lady Bird — Writer-director Greta Gerwig’s highly personal comic-of-age comedy is about as perfect as a move can get. I declared it the second-best film of the twenty-tens, and I sometimes think that high standing was still too low.
- C’mon C’mon — Another highly personal film from a writer-director, Mike Mills’s deft depiction of an audio documentarian (Joaquin Phoenix) looking after his nephew (Woody Norman) is open-hearted emotion channeled into art.
- The Last Black Man in San Francisco — Ranked at a respectable but unjust #29 by Jones and Vulture, this is the film that set me to typing my response.
- Moonlight — The artistry of Barry Jenkins hits like a typhoon in this adaptation of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s unpublished, unproduced play.
- 20th Century Women — Mills again, mining his own history for a tribute to his mother that results in the best performance of Annette Bening’s career (and that’s really saying something).
- Everything Everywhere All at Once — Wild invention that’s playful, lively, and utterly fearless. Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert writer and direct together and truly deliver a film that feels like it has double the ideas of most.
- First Cow — Writer-director Kelly Reichardt might be the kindest, most honest evaluator of humanity since Jonathan Demme. Her storytelling in so movingly pure.
- The Lobster — A warped and yet deeply insightful film from director Yorgos Lanthimos. It might have the best ending of any film on my version of this list.
- The End of the Tour — Echoing Jones in the Vulture piece, I acknowledge that director James Ponsoldt’s film hasn’t endured for me as I once expected it would. Still, Jason Segel’s performance as David Foster Wallace has an unorthodox authority.
- Midsommar — As is my habit with my various decade-based Top 50 lists, I’m cheating a little bit on the last entry. There are a handful of films I’d rank higher than Ari Aster’s tale of a bad vacation in Sweden, but Midsommar to me is the feature most emblematic of A24’s boldness and commitment to artistic vision. On second thought, this might have the best ending of any film on my version of this list.
I have chomped on digital bait before.