Ah, A24. Every millennial cinephile’s favourite independent film studio. Since its inception in 2012, the New York-based studio has enjoyed a wealth of success among avid filmgoers across the globe, and there’s no mystery as to why. With films like Lady Bird, Moonlight and The Florida Project under its belt, A24 has managed to distribute a plethora of critically acclaimed projects from an abundance of beloved filmmakers. Sally Potter, Andrea Arnold, Barry Jenkins, Denis Villeneuve; these are all directors who have managed to project their vision onto our screens thanks to the support by A24.
Over the next year, I have given myself a mighty challenge (there are worse things to subject myself too, of course), to watch the entire catalogue of films distributed by A24. Too much time on my hands? Yep. A sad, lonely loser who would rather be cwtched up in a room watching Indies rather than enjoying the vast outdoors? Undoubtedly. But boy, am I bloody excited.
So here’s how I’m going to do it. Every few months I will be releasing a new round-up piece of the films I’ve watched so far, gloating about my favourites and shitting on the ones that I wasn’t fond of (there won’t be many, I’m sure).
In this episode, I will be discussing a handful of A24 projects, including the likes of The Bling Ring, The Spectacular Now and Enemy. Let’s get started.
A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III (2013)
Yeah, this didn’t start well. It’s fair to say that I pretty much despised A24’s debut outing.
Charles Swan III is a misstep in every sense of the word. Roman Coppola’s attempt at comedy is dry and gruelling, epitomised by its central despicable star – a narcissistic, sex-obsessed gargoyle brought to life by the equally as degrading Charlie Sheen, whose performance here is nothing short of laughable.
Although elevated by Nick Beale’s impressive visuals, Roman’s film has nothing else to offer by wasting the comedic talent of Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray and Mary Elizabeth Winstead; with the film acting as a permanent stain on their impressive resumes.
As Roger Ebert once said; “A film is a terrible thing to waste”.
Ginger & Rosa (2013)
Now, this was more like it.
Set against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1960s Britain, Ginger & Rosa is a compelling Carpe Diem exploration into adolescent friendship and self-identity in a time where existential crisis and the fear of potential nuclear extinction was at high.
Robbie Ryan once again lends a social realism eye to the events on screen by blending picturesque landscapes of 1960s London with an abundance of dimly-lit extreme close-ups to give the characters their own emotional connection to the viewer. Such emotion is epitomised by the film’s denouement; an emotionally explosive climax guided by a powerful performance by a young Elle Fanning that has an overwhelming tint of suppressed self-destruction to it – a nuance that reflects upon the prevalence of existential trauma that Sally Potter has based her film upon.
But Potter’s over-reliance on extensive monologuing results in a somewhat preachy political statement that undermines the sincerity of the female coming-of-age story in regard to the titular girls’ adventures and their slowly dilapidating friendship.
Spring Breakers (2013)
Korine’s neon-lit exploration of youth pop culture is a fascinating one. The initial promise of fun and freedom is overshadowed by the underlying malevolence that lurks underneath, a nuance that is expertly captured by Benoît Debe’s grainy but vibrant cinematography; a style that prides itself on its guerilla, hand-held brand of filmmaking.
Such malevolence is embodied through James Franco’s harrowing portrayal of the grill-toothed Alien – a ‘hustler’ who preys upon the titular spring breakers. His unrecognisable demeanour is by far the selling point of the movie, despite similar devoted performances from the girls in question.
Perhaps Spring Breakers acts as a mirror being held in the face of millennial pop culture, or perhaps it’s a satire on the vulnerability of youth – only multiple viewings will tell. But Korine captured my attention and held onto it throughout.
A conflicting experience, indeed.
The Bling Ring (2013)
Sofia Coppola’s adaptation of the Vanity Fair article ‘The Suspects Wore Louboutins’ showcases the string of celebrity house burglaries by a group of privileged, narcissistic, celebrity-obsessed youths in 2009.
Whilst Coppola’s film acts as a fascinating insight into the millennial celebrity-obsessed culture, it never gains enough momentum to feel meaningful, unlike likeminded projects such as Scorsese’s ‘The King of Comedy’. The real-life inspired characters are bland and are given no sense of individualism, leaving the viewer to feel completely disengaged from the gravitas of the source material.
But perhaps this is the point. Coppola’s abundance of slow-motion shots of the youths gloating their unearned riches helps illustrate the selfishness of the thieves, thus evoking a sense of contempt from the viewer.
This, however, does not excuse the film’s inability to tell a thoughtful and engaging story. The string of robberies become repetitive and arduous as if we are forced to watch the same sequences over and over. It’s never a good sign when a 90-minute flick feels like a 3-hour slog, and this was sadly the case here.
The Spectacular Now (2013)
The contrast between Teller’s egotistical, borderline-alcoholic Sutter and the innocent, cautious Aimee works perfectly; mainly because of the genuine chemistry between the pair, and the impeccable writing on display. The script is seeping with authentic and plausible dialogue between the characters and manages to remain cinematic, brought to life by a duo of grounded performances by Teller and Woolley.
At times, the film wobbles and dips its toes into cliché; the bad boy falling for the nice girl, the uncertainty of academic futures, but it never seems disingenuous. It has true moments of warmth and poignancy, and with its jaw-dropping denouement, propels any sense of conformity out of the window.
I can understand the adoration that many have for this film. What starts as a harmless romantic comedy soon manifests into a hard-hitting drama about familial negligence and the hard truths of romance. This is a coming-of-age story to be remembered.
When I first watched Denis Villeneuve’s enigmatic Enemy last year, I found myself being overwhelmed by the events that unfolded on-screen and have never had the urge to watch it again.
Thankfully, I plucked up the courage. Now, I am convinced it’s a bona fide masterpiece.
Enemy is a film that is heavy with enigmatic imagery and symbolism, particularly the prevalence of spiders that occupy the core of the film’s narrative. The connotations of which are entirely subjective and are reliant on individualistic interpretation; are they a metaphor for insecure masculinity in the face of femininity, or perhaps a metaphor for societal totalitarianism? It’s not easy to unravel such enigmas, but an eye for detail and the required level of patience opens the door to unpacking the many meanings that Villeneuve aimed to address in his film.
The overwhelming insurgency of enigmatic imagery would not work, however, if the performances by its cast fall short. Jake Gyllenhaal is terrific in a dual role of the supposed estranged twins – capturing the intensity and paranoia of Adam and the sexual perversion of Anthony through a physically provocative performance. Equally as impressive is Sarah Gadon as Anthony’s paranoid wife, whose reactionary performance helps heighten the emotional stakes of the movie, and with her shape-shifting form at the end of the story, brings to the fore what could be the scariest ending to any film, ever.
There are arguments that Enemy is far too depressed and mundane for its own good, but I think that’s the whole point. Villeneuve has proven time and time again that he is a master of mis en scène, and in Enemy this reputation is fully deserved. The reliance on monotonous lighting and cinematography, the contrasting features of Adam and Anthony; all come together to add a sense of uneasiness for the viewer, feelings that ultimately result in a distinctive cinematic experience.