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MoviesThe best movies of 2024 (so far)

The best movies of 2024 (so far)

It’s still early days, but 2024 is already shaping up to be a gala year at the multiplex. Last year was a cracker – thanks to Oppenheimer, Barbie, Past Lives et al – but the next 12 months promise plenty, with Denis Villeneuve delivering a long-awaited Dune sequel, George Miller back at the bullet farm with Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, a resurrection of the Alien franchise, and a tonne of other big-screen fare to get excited about. So far, we’ve been spoiled rotten, with the achingly lovelorn All of Us Strangers, Yorgos Lanthimos’s riotous Poor Things, and Luca Guadagnino’s sexy AF tennis psychodrama Challengers just a few of the good reasons to get to the cinema. 

So, the criterion for entry: some of these movies came out in the US at the back end of 2023 – Oscars qualification required it – but we’re basing this list on UK release dates to include the best worldwide releases from between January and December. We’ll be updating it with worthy new releases as we go, so keep this one bookmarked.

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The Zone of Interest

Photograph: A24

1. The Zone of Interest

  • Film
  • Drama

A great artist can offer a radical new perspective on a well-trodden subject. So it is with Jonathan Glazer’s Holocaust masterpiece, which takes Hannah Arendt’s phrase ‘the banality of evil’ and shows us what banal evil really looks like. The family life of Auschwitz camp commandant Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel) and his wife (Sandra Hüller) is a vision of cursed domesticity. The horrors remain out of sight but, crucially, not out of earshot. Sound designer Johnnie Burn’s soundscape has the yelling of guards and the crack of rifle shots punctuating scenes of gardening and kids’ playing. The result is a Come and See for the 2020s.

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Poor Things

Photograph: Atsushi Nishijima

2. Poor Things

  • Film

Sensual coming-of-age journey on helium or problematic story of sexual exploitation? The conversation came late to Yorgos Lanthimos’s singular adaptation of Scottish writer Alasdair Gray’s cult 1992 novel, but it came pretty hard. And yet, with DogtoothThe Lobster and The Favourite behind him, the Greek is a master of creating lopsided, not-for-everyone visions of the human experience – and this Victorian Frankenstein riff, in which a magnet Emma Stone plays a lustier-than-normal version of the monster, is no exception. Surely the most bonkers film to score 11 Oscars nominations.

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Dune: Part Two

Photograph: © 2024 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc

3. Dune: Part Two

  • Film
  • Science fiction

Does Denis Villeneuve ever miss? He’s certainly hitting close to .400 when it comes to blockbuster moviemaking – and his first proper sequel keeps that hot streak alive. Having done the heavy lifting of reimagining Frank Herbert’s sci-fi epic in the first DunePart Two adds moral complexity and giant desert battles to the world-building and galactic scheming. But even the ludicrously starry cast can’t compete with those monstrous sandworms – giant Tube trains careering through the sandy substrata of Arrakis that give this awe-inspiring movie its most awesome motif.

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All Of Us Strangers

Photograph: Searchlight Pictures

4. All Of Us Strangers

  • Film
  • Thrillers

A flooring piece of work – in the sense that it will leave you sobbing on the cinema floor – Andrew Haigh’s ghostly love story could just be the Brit’s masterpiece. It’s the story of a screenwriter (Andrew Scott, wonderful), whose lonely life in a London apartment block is interrupted by a mysterious neighbour (Paul Mescal, all dangerous charm) and an even more mysterious visit to his childhood home, where his parents (Claire Foy and Jamie Bell) are there to meet him. It’s at least semi-autobiographical – remarkably, Haigh shot it in his own boyhood home – and that makes its undercurrents (connection, loneliness, and just really missing mum and dad) feel personal as well as universal.

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The Taste of Things

Photograph: Carole Bethuel

5. The Taste of Things

  • Film

Juliette Binoche and Benoît Magimel, her old flame IRL, combine to dizzyingly romantic effect in Tran Anh Hung’s Cannes-prize-winning period piece. The Scent of Green Papaya man delivers what’s basically ‘The Intoxicating Aroma of Flash-Fried Loin of Beef’ in a movie so in love with the sensuous pleasures of food, its opening 30-odd minutes of Nigella-style sizzling, chopping, roasting and saucing that it might leave you gnawing your arm in hunger. And in the spirit of great foodie films – Babette’s Feast, Big Night, Tampopo et al – it’s about more than just the culinary arts. Binoche is luminous as a gifted cook whose tender bond with the man she works for (Magimel) is entirely on her own terms. With its rural, 19th century setting, it’s a swooning time machine to past pleasures.

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Io Capitano

Photograph: Greta De Lazzaris /Altitude

6. Io Capitano

  • Film
  • Action and adventure

A hard-scrabble adventure story, Matteo Garrone’s (GomorrahTale of Tales) tale of two gangly Senegalese boys trying to make it to Italy by land and sea is bleak and bruising one minute, transcendent and magical the next. Despite desertscapes straight out of a David Lean epic, it never sugarcoats the migrant experience. Far from it – Seydou and Moussa, played with huge charm and increasing trepidation by Seydou Sarr and Moustapha Fall, suffer deeply for their dreams of a better life. It’s a sensitive, stirring and hugely relevant film that’s well worth searching out on the big screen.

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Challengers

Photograph: Warner Brothers

7. Challengers

  • Film

The sexiest thing to happen to tennis since Björn Borg launched his range of skimpy undies, Luca Guadagnino’s homoerotically-charged love triangle is like Jules and Jim sponsored by Head. Mike Feist and Josh O’Connor are great as the jaded champion and scrappy coulda-been facing off in a US Open warm-up event, but Zendaya steals the show as the pointy bit of the triangle: an injury-hit ex-prodigy whose ambitions are poured into a husband (Faist) incapable of satisfying them. And Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s fierce, electro score might be their best work since The Social Network.

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The Iron Claw

Photograph: Devin Yalkin

8. The Iron Claw

  • Film
  • Drama

You don’t have to like wrestling, or Zac Efron, or know anything about the true story of the Von Erich family to be hit like a piledriver powerslam by Sean Durkin’s no-holds-barred ‘70s and ‘80s-set drama. Efron, bafflingly untroubled by awards attention, physically transforms to play Kevin Von Erich, one of four siblings (The Bear’s Jeremy Allen White is another) driven by their wrestler-turned-trainer father (Mindhunter’s Holt McCallany) beyond physical and emotional human limits. Go in cold if you can; the less you know, the better.

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The Holdovers

Photograph: Universal Pictures

9. The Holdovers

  • Film

That sound you hear – some mild grousing, a bit of ‘no fucking Merlot’ – is the Giamatti hive assembling. For so long one of cinema’s most underappreciated (appreciated, just not enough), he’s emerged from Alexander Payne’s bittersweet ’70s-style Christmas movie as a popular hero of the kind that would probably make a few of his own characters sick. His spiky chemistry with newcomer Dominic Sessa, as a sour history teacher and the troubled student he’s stuck with over the vacations, and the upbeat support of Da’Vine Joy Randolph, make this Payne’s most oddly life-affirming movie.

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Evil Does Not Exist

Photograph: NEOPA, Fictive

10. Evil Does Not Exist

  • Film
  • Drama

Surely no film in 2024 will have a more bamboozlng ending than Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s rural fable. If the Drive My Car director, one of Japan’s finest purveyors of gentle human dramas since Ozu, goes fully mystical in the final reel, the lead-up offers a painfully relatable tale of ecology and capitalism at loggerheads. A Tokyo business’s insensitive plan to build a glamping site on a virgin patch of countryside shows how easily the balance between people, as much as the natural world, is disrupted. But it’s Hamaguchi’s ability to gift each of its characters an inner life that makes this quiet gem special.

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If Only I Could Hibernate

Photograph: Conic Film

11. If Only I Could Hibernate

  • Film

The plot of Mongolian writer-director Zoljargal Purevdash’s Cannes-selected first feature may be nothing special – a teenage boy’s gift for physics could lift his struggling family out of poverty – but when every aspect of a film is so perfectly curated and calibrated, from performances to music to cinematography, it becomes something truly extraordinary. The setting may be icy, the story bleak at times, but the warmth shines through.David Hughes

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Monster

Photograph: Cannes International Film Festival

12. Monster

  • Film
  • Drama

Japanese master Hirokazu Kore-eda’s humane lens is applied to another intimate-but-universal parable of lives in flux and embroidered with a gentle score by the late, great Ryuichi Sakamoto. Actually, it’s several lenses, because Monster takes a turn for the Rashomon when it reframes its story of a supposedly abusive teacher, struggling pupil Minato (Soya Kurokawa) and his anxious single mum from different angles, each non-judgmental but increasingly knotty. It won the Queer Palm at Cannes for its sensitive depiction of the growing bond between Minato and his school friend Eri (Hinata Hiiragi). In an Anatomy of a Fall-less year, it might have won the Palme D’Or too.

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Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World

Photograph: © 4 Proof Film

13. Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World

  • Film
  • Drama

The ’90s was full of films that rinsed laughs from the soul-destroying tedium of McJobs – Office SpaceClerks, et al. But even the most gifted filmmakers have struggled to alchemise the zero-hour horrors of late capitalism into jokes, leaving the terrain clear for social realists like Ken Loach instead. Romanian maverick Radu Jude delivers a daring, starkly funny exception. His blackly funny road-trip through the gig economy collages Andrew Tate TikTok send-ups, film history homages, and a sharply observed takedown of modern working life through the eyes of Ilinca Manolache’s spiky, twentysomething production assistant doing the shift from hell. The result is the kind of bold jab at corporate bullshit that would have Peter Gibbons nodding in approval. 

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Origin

Photograph: Atsushi Nishijima, Courtesy Array Filmworks

14. Origin

  • Film

If movies are empathy machines, as Roger Ebert put it, Ava DuVernay’s travelogue is the highly calibrated kind. It’s a meta-narrative of a kind – an imagining of the creative process behind Pulitzer-winner Isabel Wilkerson’s 2020 book ’Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents’ – and one with major intellectual heft, but it’s also deeply moving: confronting with stark truths about systems of oppression and consoling with moments of quiet romanticism from the Selma director. Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor’s (King Richard) is wonderful: warm but unsentimental as a questing woman who is wounded by personal grief but galvanised by historical injustice.

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The Promised Land

Photograph: Henrik Ohsten

15. The Promised Land

  • Film
  • Drama

A magnificently windswept Mads Mikkelsen heads into the hostile wilds of Jutland in this epic Scandi western set in the 18th century. He’s tasked with cultivating the unforgiving landscape on behalf of the King – only for his aristocratic neighbour (Simon Bennebjerg, flamboyantly odious) to turn up and start torturing people. It’d make for a satisfyingly old-fashioned tale of good against bad, except that Mikkelsen’s settler has some bastard in him, too. Minimalist but magnetic, the great Dane is almost as spectacular as director Nikolaj Arcel’s widescreen landscapes.

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Priscilla

Photograph: Philippe Le Sourd

16. Priscilla

  • Film

In Cinderella, a young girl escapes a life of drudgery by meeting a dashing prince and living happily ever after in his castle. Sofia Coppola’s portrait of Priscilla Presley (Cailee Spaeny) is that in reverse. The gross imbalance of power in the young Priscilla’s relationship with the controlling Elvis (Jacob Elordi) is the thing that #MeToo movements are built on, and few filmmakers can wield this mix of the dreamy and dark-edged with Coppola’s levels of emotional precision. Here, she made a horror story dressed up as a fairy tale.

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Samsara

Photograph: Curzon

17. Samsara

  • Film
  • Drama

Giving glorious new meaning to the phrase ‘cinema trip’, this meditative voyage through sound and space challenges your senses by exploring life, death and reincarnation as it follows the transmigration of an elderly soul from Laos to Zanzibar. With a cast of non-actors, naturalistic camerawork, some colourful lap dissolves, and an intense ‘keep your eyes closed’ interlude, Spanish filmmaker Lois Patiño has crafted a playful and potent sojourn into the metaphysical.

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American Fiction

Photograph: Curzon

18. American Fiction

  • Film

If the end product wasn’t so entertaining, it might be a bit depressing to watch a 2001 race satire become one of 2024’s most culturally relevant movies. But the message of Percival Everett’s seminal novel ‘Erasure’ – that African-American artists are pressured to present the Black experience as a ghetto-based tragedy – finds the perfect expression in Jeffrey Wright’s career-best performance as author Thelonious ‘Monk’ Ellison, an author who sets out to expose that system only to get dragged deeper into it. The supporting turns, especially from Sterling K Brown as Monk’s troubled brother, add real pathos to the laughs.

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The Fall Guy

Photograph: © Universal Studios

19. The Fall Guy

  • Film
  • Action and adventure

Plundering a dusty corner of 1980s TV and turning it into an action movie and stunt showcase with a puppy dog-ish eagerness to please, The Fall Guy is the ideal Friday night cinema outing: big laughs. big explosions, and nothing that’s going to linger too long in your brain. Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt make it sing as a lovelorn stunt man and the newbie director he’s trying to win back. Can he save her movie? Would it be better if he didn’t because it looks really terrible? Turn off your brain and enjoy the silliness. 

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Monkey Man

Photograph: Universal Pictures

20. Monkey Man

  • Film

Sometimes you have to take the law into your own hands. Dev Patel does that on both sides of the camera in a nonstop revenge thriller that somehow adds a splash more violence to the John Wick formula. With the support of producer Jordan Peele, he carves – literally, at points – the action-star role for himself that Hollywood wasn’t providing. As a filmmaker and storyteller, Monkey Man is a statement too. A little room to breathe and a few wider shots would have made the helter-skelter action all the more satisfying, but by foregrounding real social issues in his country boy’s quest to take down a fictional Mumbai’s corrupt one percent, Patel elevates his debut above standard exploitatiation thrillers.

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Four Daughters

Photograph: Cannes International Film Festival

21. Four Daughters

  • Film
  • Drama

Any film that draws comparisons with Abbas Kiarostami is automatically a grabber. Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania’s meta-doc has an Oscar nomination to its name, too. Both endorsements feel richly deserved: her daring, playful and emotionally charged film turns expectations on their head as it pieces together the real story of four siblings and their stern but matriarch Olfa. Except nothing – and no one – is quite what they seem here. The result is a mesmerising hybrid of filmmaking trickery and emotional authenticity that’s as gripping as any mystery-thriller.

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Memory

Photograph: Bohemia Media

22. Memory

  • Film
  • Drama

In the latest film by celebrated yet underrated Mexican director Michel Franco (Sundown), Oscar winner Jessica Chastain gives a restrained, pitch-perfect performance as a New York social worker Sylvia, a single mum and recovering alcoholic whose encounter with a man (Peter Sarsgaard) suffering from early-onset dementia brings memories up to the surface so quickly, she experiences an emotional equivalent of the bends. The irony is typical of Franco’s sparse, authentic oeuvre, and Jessica Harper is icily brilliant as Sylvia’s estranged mother, whose own repressed memories have spread like a cancer in her family.

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The End We Start From

Photograph: Signature Entertainment

23. The End We Start From

  • Film

Add another brilliant Jodie Comer performance to the list in this very British disaster movie. She plays a new mother trying to survive when ceaseless rain makes much of the UK uninhabitable and causes society to collapse. We’ve seen a lot of the story beats before, but, ironically, the mundanity of the disaster – which initially just looks like your average November in London – makes this particularly chilling.

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Banel & Adama

Photograph: We Are Parable

24. Banel & Adama

  • Film
  • Drama

So far, it’s been a year of seasoned filmmakers – Ava DuVernay, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Wim Wenders, Denis Villeneuve – strutting their accomplished stuff. But there’s been new names to clock, too, including, of course, American Fiction Oscar-winning writer-director Cord Jefferson. But don’t sleep on French-Senegalese filmmaker Ramata-Toulaye Sy’s debut either, a quietly simmering story of poisoned love in a rural West African village. It’d be reductive to describe it as a Senegalese ‘Romeo and Juliet’, but it dances gracefully along similar faultlines: how the expectations of a traditional community and the dreams of two of its lovelorn members make for a tragically combustible mix.

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Late Night With the Devil

Photograph: Vertigo Releasing

25. Late Night With the Devil

  • Film
  • Horror

Aussie filmmaking brothers Colin and Cameron Cairnes give a winningly creepy David Dastmalchian the perfect platform in a diabolically fun Satanic possession shocker set on a ’70s talk show. A possessed tween is wheeled onto the show with her wary parapsychologist to give Jack Delroy’s ratings the kiss of life. Needless to say, it has the opposite effect. The gore spurts liberally when it all goes south, but it’s the nicely observed ensemble of media figures, and the Cairnes’s smart riffs on Network and The King of Comedy, that gives it texture to go with the terror.

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Love Lies Bleeding

Photograph: A24

26. Love Lies Bleeding

  • Film
  • Thrillers

A wild mix of Thelma & LouisePumping Iron and Nicolas Winding Refn’s neon-noirs, Saint Maud’s Rose Glass delivers the sort of erotically-charged thriller we’ve all been missing – while also feeling like something else entirely. Kristen Stewart is a bored gym manager in 1980s New Mexico whose life is upended when an uber-jacked drifter (Katy O’Brian) wanders into her dead-end town. It’s the odd details that make it: the flashes of hallucinatory horror; the close-ups on bulging muscles; the mortifying hairdos. But for all the blood, sweat and steroids, Glass never forsakes the queer love story at the movie’s heart. Not that she ever could: Stewart and O’Brian are far too magnetic.

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Scala!!!

Photograph: BFI London Film Festival

27. Scala!!!

  • Film
  • Documentaries

A film made in the image of its subject, this punky, scrapbook-style doc tells the story of London’s legendary Scala Cinema, the kind of they-don’t-make-’em-like-they-used-to temple of cinema – and, you know, general shenanigans – that your local multiplex couldn’t emulate without being shuttered in minutes. It’s the kind of place that people queued for all-nighters and emerged changed forever, and not just by the fug of weed smoke. Many of those Scala-rites are reassembled here to share giddy reminiscences. Some of them now have influential moviemaking careers of their own.

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The Delinquents

DR

28. The Delinquents

  • Film

Los Delincuentes (‘The Criminals’ in Spanish) is no more a heist thriller than L’Avventura is a manhunt movie. Sure, it starts with a Buenos Aires bank clerk opportunistically nicking $650,000 from his own bank’s safe, but from the moment he entrusts the loot to his wary colleague to hide it and hands himself into the police, the genre trappings begin to come apart in all kinds of digressive and surreal ways. There are detours into the rich Argentine countryside, two love affairs – with the same woman – and a fourth-wall-breaking for the ages. It’s like a bit queuing for a rollercoaster and finding yourself in the hall of mirrors: irksome for some, but a treat for anyone willing to go with the flow.

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Out of Darkness

Photograph: Signature Entertainment

29. Out of Darkness

  • Film
  • Horror

A windswept and Stone Aged ancestor of Neil Marshall’s supremely discomforting caving horror The Descent, the taut terrors in Andrew Cumming’s debut film come thick and fast. A small band of early settlers traverse a bleak Highland landscape, only to start dying mysteriously – and fairly violently – at the hands of a demonic presence in the woods. The Scottish director knows what to show and what not to, giving us bursts of disorientating carnage and sharp jabs of unsettling sound design. The cast, speaking a made-up but highly plausible-sounding Paleolithic dialect, put meat on the bones of that lean premise with lived-in performances, and while the reveal drains some of the momentum, the final scenes provide an expectedly thoughtful finale.  

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