The Best Movies of 2024 So Far

The Oscars are done and over with and 2023 is officially off the books. That means we’re ready to start prepping our list of the best movies of 2024 for next year, and there are already plenty of standouts worth noting.

Festivals like SXSW and Sundance kicked things off strong (though we’re only considering features that have been released. Sorry, “Thelma”). But even at the multiplex we’ve seen big-budget dazzlers like “Dune: Part Two” and “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” shake audiences in their seats. On the horror front, features like Michael Mohan’s Sydney Sweeney-fronted “Immaculate” have already made a mark. And don’t forget some of the movies that entranced people sitting on their living room couches, including the new “Road House.”

We’re looking at some of the best films that have come out over the last few months of 2024.

“Cobweb” (Sony Pictures Classics)

Anthology Studio

Sony Pictures Classics picked up the latest film from Korean auteur Kim Jee-woon after it premiered out of competition at Cannes last year. And then … they decided to dump it in early February, directly to PVOD, with little (if any) promotion. What a shame.

Wild, wacky and warm, “Cobweb” is one of director Kim’s very best, most big-hearted movies. The movie gamely toggles between two narratives – a film shoot in the early 1970’s in Seoul, led by an obsessive filmmaker (played by a remarkable Song Kang-ho) who strives for perfection; and then the footage from what they shot, which appears in black-and-white. The movie piles on the layers of meta-textual mischievousness without ever losing the plot, a sort of “Ed Wood” on psychedelics.

While critics were mixed on the movie (with some suggesting “Cobweb” falls into the trap of becoming too entangled in itself), it feels like an obvious highlight. It’s a movie in love with both the limitations and oversized ambition of filmmaking and it’s proof that Kim Jee-woon is still one of the world’s most exciting filmmakers. To paraphrase one of his earlier films, “Cobweb” contains the good, the bad and the weird; it’s all delightful. –Drew Taylor

“Love Lies Bleeding” (A24)

Love Lies Bleeding

Rose Glass’ pulp noir “Love Lies Bleeding” is a movie that grabs you by the lapels and never lets go with its dark 1980s story involving lovers Jackie and Lou (Katy O’Brian and Kristen Stewart, respectively) who become embroiled in murder. Glass skillfully blends body horror with drama, her camera showcasing Jackie’s massive muscles, many of them straining so much you’re worried she’ll burst. But what makes the movie work so well is how O’Brian and Stewart craft a dirty, complex romance between two people whose baggage threatens to destroy them. It’s dark, it’s nasty and it can be sexy as hell. I haven’t stopped thinking about this movie since I saw it. –Kristen Lopez

“Road House” (Amazon MGM Studios)

Road House
Jake Gyllenhaal in “Road House” (Prime Video)

To some, the idea of a “Road House” remake is sacrilegious. After all, the rowdy Patrick Swayze-led original from 1989 is something of a cult classic. (And for good reason – it rules!) But this new movie, directed by Doug Liman and starring Jake Gyllenhaal as the Swayze approximation, might be even better.

In this new version Gyllenhaal plays a disgraced UFC fighter who takes a job bouncing at a roadhouse in the Florida Keys. A local tough (Billy Magnussen) has been harassing the bar and its owner (Jessica Williams), and Gyllenhaal’s Dalton not only wants to temper the violence but also discover what’s behind the antagonism. Aggressive, in-your-face and almost pornographically violent (we mean that in a good way), this new “Road House” is a shit-kicking masterpiece.

Liman, always willing to experiment, stages the action with a you-are-there virtuosity and Gyllenhaal, for all his pretty boy trappings, boldly inhabits the character, a laconic hero who doesn’t want to end things in force but will anyway. Written by Anthony Bagarozzi and Charles Mondry, proteges of the great Shane Black, “Road House” crackles and sparks. It might be too slick to embody the same infamous legacy as the original but the movie is just as good, if not better. A triumph. –Drew Taylor

“Lisa Frankenstein” (Focus Features)

Focus Features

Zelda Williams made her directorial debut this year with the snappy, neon-tinged horror-comedy “Lisa Frankenstein,” a movie everyone’s going to pretend they always loved 20 years from now.

Kathryn Newton stars as Lisa, a high school oddball navigating life after tragedy when a freak accident resurrects a long-dead corpse (Cole Sprouse) who might be the man of her dreams … if they can find him all the right body parts. What I love most about “Lisa Frankenstein” is that it’s unabashed: silly, sweet, twisted, colorful, grotesque, playful and disturbed — often all at once and always without flinching. Newton makes big, bold choices with her performance and she’s perfectly suited to the strange brew of Williams’ irreverent ’80s throwback.

This one’s been more or less written off by critics, but it has the air of a film that’s going to age into its audience. The script comes from the always excellent yet consistently divisive Diablo Cody, who famously penned the zero-to-hero early aughts horror-comedy “Jennifer’s Body.” That film has had a hell of a redemption tour in recent years, and I expect it will be much the same for “Lisa Frankenstein” in the decades to come. -Haleigh Foutch

“Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” (Warner Bros.)

Godzilla x Kong
“Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” (Legendary)

If you saw 2021’s “Godzilla vs. Kong,” a rare pandemic-era hit despite its simultaneous release on HBO Max, and thought, “Haven’t we said all that needs to be said about Godzilla battling King Kong?” The answer is an emphatic no. Adam Wingard returns from the earlier film, eager to make something wackier and with more personality. Mission: accomplished.

In this entry, both Godzilla and King Kong are threatened by a new giant ape known as the Scar King and the Space Godzilla-like monster he has control over. (There’s too much to get into now but he could trigger a new ice age.) Wingard fully gives over to the monsters; there are whole stretches of the movie where the only characters you see on screen are towering creatures. It’s one of the movie’s biggest surprises and its biggest pleasures.

Not that the humans are wasted here; new addition Dan Stevens as a colorful kaiju veterinarian is the most delightful human character in the entire MonsterVerse. He’s introduced on screen singing along to Greenflow’s 1977 single “I Got’Cha” as he extracts an inflamed tooth out of Kong’s jaw, Hawaiian shirt blowing in the wind. Priceless. Wingard, again working with longtime collaborator Simon Barrett, stages the monster mayhem with an even more impish,  more artful sense of play. This movie is more fun than spending the entire day at a theme park. And significantly less expensive. –Drew Taylor

“Immaculate” (Neon)

“Immaculate” (Credit: Photograph by Fabia Lavino, Courtesy of NEON)

We’ve all seen horror films focused on nuns and pregnancy. In April we’ll have two movies featuring both topics between 20th Century’s “The First Omen” and Neon’s “Immaculate.” But it’s the latter, starring Sydney Sweeney as a nun who discovers she’s the vessel for a possible immaculate conception, that stands out.

What makes “Immaculate” work is the mutual fearlessness of its director, Michael Mohan, and Sweeney. Inspired by Italian giallo and Ken Russell’s “The Devils,” Sweeney’s Sister Cecilia is one the audience immediately bonds with, particularly once she’s considered a holy vessel and a group of men are hellbent on deciding her fate. For much of the film, the movie parcels out its scares deliberately, more content to emphasize the growing sense of dread – both in that Cecilia isn’t being told something concurrently with just being a pregnant woman in  general.

The final scene, though, is one for the ages that has shocked and angered certain people and left others cheering. That final scene, for me, was one where I was throwing my arms in the air, celebrating Cecilia’s need for autonomy. Mohan was right when he said the movie could only end one way. –Kristen Lopez

“The Greatest Night in Pop” (Netflix)

"The Greatest Night in Pop"
“The Greatest Night in Pop” (Credit: Courtesy of Netflix)

A fastball straight down the middle, “The Greatest Night in Pop” recounts the recording of “We Are the World” in 1985. How does that make for a compelling documentary? Well, thanks largely to archival footage and new interviews by organizer Lionel Ritchie but also Bruce Springsteen, Huey Lewis, Dionne Warwick, Sheila E., Cyndi Lauper and technicians and musicians that were also there that night, it really does spring to life.

There were hurt feelings, weird machinations, and Waylon Jennings showing his ass when Stevie Wonder suggested they might want to do a take in Swahili. (Wonder was then reminded that the single was meant to help out in Ethiopia and the language was wrong. Jennings was already gone.) Director Bao Nguyen moves things along briskly, never ruminating over one part of the evening for too long (and wisely sidestepping thornier issues like Michael Jackson and whatever drugs were being done in the bathroom that night). Nguyen presents a somewhat mythologized, brightly colored account of a night that still resonates today. How many times has somebody told you about the “Leave Your Egos at the Door” sign that hung above the recording studio’s entryway that night? Exactly. “The Greatest Night in Pop” proves that sometimes the greatest stories are also true. Mostly. –Drew Taylor

“Dune: Part 2” (Warner Bros.)

Timothee Chalamet in “Dune: Part Two” (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Denis Villeneuve has pulled off nothing short of a cinematic miracle, transforming what for decades stood as the most unadaptable sci-fi novel ever written into an epic tragedy that has captured the pop culture zeitgeist in a way no one ever thought possible.

Yet that is exactly what “Dune: Part Two” pulls off, bringing together all of the setup of Villeneuve’s 2021 adaptation of the first half of Frank Herbert’s novel and paying it off with one incredible scene after another. At its center is Timothee Chalamet as Paul Atreides, the man who fears that his quest to avenge his father will lead him to become a tyrant, yet chooses that dark path out of fear of losing everything else he values. As Paul’s beloved Fremen companion Chani, Zendaya puts on the best performance of her career as a warrior who goes from being a loyal follower of Paul in Herbert’s book to being the sole voice of reason as she watches the man she once believed had the best interests of her people at heart turn into a religious manipulator.

Combine that with thrilling battle sequences across the deserts of Arrakis, a delightfully sadistic performance from Austin Butler as the villainous Feyd Rautha, a surprisingly funny performance from Javier Bardem as Paul’s most devoted follower Stilgar, and possibly the best film score ever from Hans Zimmer, and you have a film that feels like the culmination of Villeneuve’s sparkling career. –Jeremy Fuster

“Hundreds of Beavers” (SRH)

"Hundreds of Beavers"
“Hundreds of Beavers” (Credit: SRH)

Explaining a film like “Hundreds of Beavers” feels like a disservice to its genius. One would be better served by looking at its trailer, which does a perfect job of encapsulating its 108 minutes of slapstick brilliance. While it premiered at Fantastic Fest back in 2022, “Hundreds of Beavers” is only getting a public release now via a roadshow theatrical run and a digital on-demand release.

Directed by Mike Cheslik, who co-wrote it with lead star Ryland Brickson Cole Tews, the film follows a man named Jean Kayak who loses his successful applejack business when his trees and distillery are destroyed by a horde of beavers. Left with practically nothing, Jean finds a new life as a fur trapper, as the film follows his utterly wacky battles against the beavers, bunnies and wolves of the Great White North, all of whom were played by friends and families of the crew in animal costumes.

“Hundreds of Beavers”could have easily ended up as an idea for a cartoon-length short film that outstays its welcome as it stretches out to feature length, but Cheslik and his team manage to come up with one brilliant slapstick gag after another as Jean goes from struggling to find a way to survive, to engaging in a full scale war against an army of beavers. The influences, from Looney Tunes and Buster Keaton, will be obvious, but younger audiences may also see parallels to video games, as the film keeps count of Jean’s travels across the forest, the tally of beaver pelts he’s racked up and the goods he purchases from the nearby merchant as he tries to win the hand of the merchant’s daughter. –Jeremy Fuster

“Orion and the Dark” (Netflix)

Orion and the Dark – Paul Walter Hauser as Dark and Jacob Tremblay as Orion. Cr: DreamWorks Animation © 2023

One of the year’s best animated films, “Orion and the Dark” is an odd, endearing story written by Charlie Kaufman and based on a children’s book by Emma Yarlett.

Orion (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) is an anxious little kid. Everything scares him, especially nighttime. That’s when he meets Dark (Paul Walter Hauser), the physical embodiment of night. Together they go on an adventurous and comical journey, meeting other “night entities” like Sweet Dreams (Angela Bassett), Sleep (Natasia Demetriou), Unexplained Noises (Golda Rosheuvel), Insomnia (Nat Faxo) and Quiet (Aparna Nacherla). He also learns that Light (Ike Barinholtz) might not be all that he makes himself out as.

Sure, both the concept and the characters (many fashioned as Muppet-y creatures) feel vaguely Pixar-ish, but thanks to Kaufman’s script, which always throws zigs where you’ll imagine a zag, and the fresh direction and design choices of filmmaker Sean Charmatz, “Orion and the Dark” feels genuinely new, apart of everything that’s come before. It’s a dream of an animated feature, one that everyone can enjoy. –Drew Taylor

Problemista (A24)

Julio Torres and Tilda Swinton in “Problemista” (Credit: A24)

For anyone who has ever worked as an assistant, “Problemista” might hit a little too close to home. Julio Torres’ directorial debut sees him play Alejandro, a soft-spoken Mexican immigrant who, in a desperate attempt to find a new visa sponsor, takes a job as an assistant for a neurotic art critic named Elizabeth who is determined to open a gallery on behalf of her cryogenically frozen husband.

Through surreal imagery, Torres satirizes the kafkaesque journey that immigrants must take to stay in the U.S., needing money to pay for the immigration and visa process but unable to take jobs that don’t pay cash-in-hand because they are not citizens. Things as mundane as a job search on Craigslist or a phone call about bank fees turn into a headfirst dive into absurdism.

But the centerpiece of “Problemista” is Tilda Swinton as Elizabeth, a woman who makes Miranda Priestly look like an angel as she rants at tech support about why her iPad doesn’t work (it does, but she’s just not using it right with her acrylics) and demands to know why Alejandro isn’t using the needlessly complicated Filemaker Pro as a database for her husband’s work instead of Excel. She is a pure nightmare who lashes out at everyone around her, yet Swinton keeps her humanity present even at the center of her rants, showing how even monsters are just looking for love. –Jeremy Fuster

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