Friday, April 19, 2024

The Best Films Of Q1 2024

2024 has been a fascinating film year so far. The superhero genre that’s dominated the release calendar for the last decade-plus has taken a step back, both in volume and quality (“Madame Web” was a throwback to the misguided Sony-Marvel days of “Daredevil”), while the concept of the movie star has rebounded thanks to marquee names like Sydney Sweeney and Timothee Chalamet.

2024 has also seen a renewed interest in genre fare, allowing studios to roll the dice on smaller budgets and high-concept pitches, whether in the form of a horror flick, a crime comedy, or a sleazy neo-noir. We here at Next Best Picture can’t wait to see what the rest of the year has in store, but seeing as we’re rounding the corner on the first quarter, we thought it’d be fun to run through our favorite releases (so far).

10. IMMACULATESydney Sweeney may have appeared in the aforementioned flop, “Madame Web,” but she quickly rebounded with the horror film “Immaculate.” The actress plays a nun who accepts an invite to an exclusive convent in Italy, only to find that the convent has nefarious plans in mind for both her and the future of mankind.

Immaculate” has a visceral ugliness reminiscent of 1970s films like “The Sentinel” (1977) and “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968), with the latter being an undeniable point of reference. Still, it manages to carve out its own path thanks to Michael Mohan’s tense direction and Sweeney’s committed performance. Mileage may vary depending on genre taste, but few can deny the power of her acting during the finale.

9. WICKED LITTLE LETTERSThe irony about comedy mysteries is that they don’t have to be particularly mysterious as long as they’re funny. “Wicked Little Letters,” director Thea Sharrock’s latest release, is a perfect example. The film does not feature mind-blowing twists, but it does have a good premise (police investigate the anonymous author of insulting letters sent to the residents of a small town) and an absolutely stacked cast (Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, Anjana Vasan, and Timothy Spall, to name a few).

There’s lots of humor to be mined from the collision of proper 1920s society with the expletive-filled letters being sent around, and “Wicked Little Letters” does a fine job of utilizing this gag without overindulging. It’s the kind of film that gets forgotten about by the end of the year, so we suggest checking it out before then.

8. FEMMENeo-noir has had an excellent run during the first few months of 2024, and “Femme” is a sterling example of why. The film takes classic conventions like violence, trauma, and fate and applies them to characters and stories previously pushed to the margins.

The protagonist of “Femme” is Jules (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), a drag performer who gets assaulted by a group of men and promptly recedes from the spotlight. Sometime later, Jules comes across one of his attackers and begins formulating a plan for revenge. The film is visually striking, flush with neon lighting and sleazy bit players, but it’s the central performance by Stewart-Jarrett that really sets it apart from its noir peers.

7. LATE NIGHT WITH THE DEVILWhat a great concept! “Late Night with the Devil” is presented as a documentary about a 1970s television broadcast in which a talk show host (David Dastmalchian) interviews a possessed teenager in an attempt to boost ratings. A decent execution of these story beats would have resulted in an entertaining film, but thankfully, directors Cameron and Colin Cairnes take the time to wring every bit of creepiness they can out of the viewer.

Found footage is something of a dead subgenre within horror, having peaked in the 2000s. However, the critical and commercial success of “Late Night with the Devil” proves that the format can still work when you have a creative vision and a wonderfully unnerving lead performance by an actor as talented as Dastmalchain.

6. DRIVE-AWAY DOLLSEthan Coen has been trying to get “Drive-Away Dolls” made since the early 2000s. He envisioned it as a tribute to the exploitation films he watched in the 1970s, decided to set it in 1999, and finally got it released in 2024. It’s worth noting all of these different time periods because “Drive-Away Dolls” plays a mashup, a frantic sprint through the various incarnations of the crime-comedy that Coen and his brother have been perfecting since they arrived on the scene.

The supporting turns by Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal are delightful (the former is rarely better than when he’s in cameo mode), but the appeal of “Drive-Away Dolls” lies in the mismatched chemistry of its titular stars, Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan. These two are absolutely dynamite together, selling both the incredulity of the plot and the deranged fun that comes along with it.

5. HOW TO HAVE SEXComing-of-age films have historically alternated between comedies like “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986) and angst-ridden dramas like “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955). It’s an oversimplified binary, sure, but most seminal films within this subgenre fall towards one end of the spectrum or the other. “How to Have Sex” is a rare coming-of-age story that manages to do justice to both.

Molly Manning Walker wrote and directed the film, which details the experiences of three British teenagers as they go on holiday and attempt to have the best summer of their lives. There’s hilarity to be found in such a naive gambit. Still, each character’s empathy, coupled with the painfully relatable instances in which they are confronted with reality, makes “How to Have Sex” as refreshingly honest and upfront as its title.

4. PROBLEMISTAQuirkiness is an oversaturated term in 2024, but it’s hard to come up with a better adjective for the delightful comedy “Problemista.” The debut feature from writer-director-actor Julio Torres follows a toy designer from El Salvador as he travels to New York City and tries to realize his dream before his visa expires.

It’s a hilarious film, but it’s to Torres’ credit that the humor never feels broad. The stakes for the main character are maintained throughout, even during surreal detours with eccentric New Yorkers played by Tilda Swinton and RZA. We won’t spoil what happens, but we will say it’s handled with an impressively delicate touch. Keep an eye out for what Torres does next.

3. SUNCOASTThere are dozens of indies like “Suncoast” released every year. At least superficially. The film is a coming-of-age story about a woman who has to juggle a burgeoning friendship with an activist with the care she has to provide for her ailing brother. It has the tone and the tempo you’d expect, and it even boasts indie stalwarts like Woody Harrelson and Laura Linney.

The thing that sets “Suncoast” apart, of course, is the thing that separates all good films from mediocre ones: execution. Harrelson and Linney infuse their characters with humanity and specificity, while Nico Parker shines as the aforementioned protagonist. Other films may be more indicative of 2024 as a whole, but “Suncoast” is the kind of indie release that will play just as well a decade from now.

2. LOVE LIES BLEEDINGThis is our second helping of sexually charged neo-noir. “Love Lies Bleeding” is a sizzling period piece in which a gym manager (Kristen Stewart) and a bodybuilder (Katy O’Brien) fall in love against the wishes of the former’s crime boss father (Ed Harris). Needless to say, things get ugly, and co-writer/director Rose Glass proves that she single-handedly has the chops to navigate a pulp landscape previously dominated by siblings.

The influence of these directing siblings is evident, as “Love Lies Bleeding” pulls generously from Joel and Ethan Coen’s “Blood Simple” (1984) and Lily and Lana Wachowski’s “Bound” (1996). However, Glass manages to inject her own hard-bitten nihilism into the story, and the result is immensely rewarding.

1. DUNE: PART TWODune: Part Two” is the cinematic event to beat in 2024. The first film was a critical and commercial success, but its streaming rollout and vague marketing handicapped its cultural ubiquity (many viewers had no clue they were watching “Part One“). The sequel fixes these extraneous issues while improving upon every conceivable artistic facet.

Director Denis Villeneuve played the long game by dedicating so much of the first film to world-building, and it paid off handsomely, as “Dune: Part Two” is a towering blockbuster achievement that manages to be exhilarating and thought-provoking in equal measure. It has been likened to “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) in terms of its bleak resolution and middle chapter status, and it’s easy to envision a world in which it is also considered THE masterpiece in its respective franchise. We can’t wait for “Dune: Messiah.”

What has been your favorite film from the first three months of 2024? What are you looking forward to for the rest of the year? Please let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.

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Danilo Castro
Danilo Castro
Music lover. Writer for Screen Rant, Noir Foundation, Classic Movie Hub & Little White Lies.

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