Much overwrought hype has been made for A24, the near-decade old film production company that also makes beautiful blu-rays and the occasional beach towel. I have no beef with A24 — on the contrary, they’ve made quite a few movies I enjoy. But the ceaseless fandom and genrefication has all become a bit much, culminating today in a list over at Vulture that ranks all of the company’s film ventures since their inaugural 2013 Roman Coppola swing and miss, A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III. I had a question, and not just about the placement of Joanna Hogg’s Souvenir films below Midsommar. Mainly I was curious about the rankings of other art house and independent studios left by the wayside due to their lack of flashy merchandising.
Enter: Sony Pictures Classics. Doesn’t your whole body go up in chills when you see that bright blue screen? This past spring, I entered a raffle the company hosted, giving away bucket hats to celebrate the release of their film The Phantom of the Open, and I won.
When I emailed the company to send my address, I included a sentence telling them that they needed to get into the merch game, or at least sell a blue t-shirt with their logo on it. The email went un-replied to, but my hat came in the mail, and I do look amazing in it.
I wanted to return the favor to Sony Pictures Classics, who have been killing it since the early 1990s (millennial slay!), making me just a bit older than the studio. But they’ve released so many movies since then, just as I have written countless blogs, so in turn, I limited my criteria to the following: Sony Pictures Classics Movies I’d personally seen since the beginning of A24’s filmography, ranked from worst to best.
28. Austenland (2013)
Fell asleep watching this on a plane, so I can’t really speak to its quality.
27. French Exit (2021)
French Exit, which premiered at the New York Film Festival’s online festival in 2020, is a bafflingly acrid film, starring an always great Michelle Pfieffer traveling overseas to settle the affairs of her now-deceased husband alongside her mopey son played by who else than mopey son connoisseur Lucas Hedges. The film, based on a somewhat beloved novel by Patrick deWitt, never finds its footing, otherwise stumbling along its lush sets with little to say and less to do.
26. The Traitor (2020)
25. Blue Jasmine (2013)
“The world is round, people!” Cate Blanchett shouted in the middle of her speech. Ultimately, I agree.
24. Still Alice (2015)
Yet another Sony Pictures Classics that led an undeniably great actress (Julianne Moore) to an Oscar win for a movie no one cares about or remembers.
23. A Fantastic Woman (2018)
Sebastián Lelio’s much-acclaimed film starring the fantastic Daniela Vega won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language feature that year. It is a fine film, no more, no less, that buoys Vega’s incredible performance, but otherwise feels didactic about its trans politics and plotting, content to belabor the suffering of its lead character in order to teach its audience a lesson.
22. Toni Erdmann (2016)
21. The Wife (2018)
The Wife is better than Toni Erdmann.
20. The Human Voice (2021)
Pedro Almodóvar’s eclectic short film stars an admittedly relatable Tilda Swinton having a bad time talking on AirPods while an apartment burns down around her.
19. Son of Saul (2015)
I saw Son of Saul with my parents the year it came out — an extremely “see it with your parents” type of movie that imagines the Holocaust filmed on a GoPro. Just kidding: but its shaky, rapid-paced assault on the senses is admirable upon first viewing and sours in the mind later.
18. Julieta (2016)
Pedro Almodóvar is kind of like the only guy who gets to make movies about women, TBH.
17. The Phantom of the Open (2022)
Okay, am I literally crazy for putting the movie for which I won a promotional bucket hat above Toni Erdmann? Probably. But The Phantom of the Open is a Sunday matinee classic: Mark Rylance in a weird wig and weirder teeth playing a British man who conned the world of golf into letting him compete in multiple tournaments even though he was so bad at golf that he became kind of a proto-meme. The film is a testament to continuing to do something you really suck at, like me with blogging (just kidding — I am good at this).
16. The Rider (2018)
Chloe Zhao’s The Rider had the profound misfortune of coming out the same time of year as A24’s Andrew Haigh’s Lean on Pete, both of which are devastating movies where something bad happens to a horse and/or a person who rides them. Sony Pictures Classics’ sad horse movie, however, is a much more confident and understated piece of filmmaking, which is why Zhao got the promotion to direct a Marvel movie after. :)
15. Parallel Mothers (2021)
See No. 18.
14. Foxcatcher (2014)
We all laughed at Steve Carell’s big fake nose and weird voice, but it’s time for someone who is brave (me) to go on the record and say that Foxcatcher rocks. It is a mean-spirited, deeply unpleasant movie, which we need way more of.
13. The Truffle Hunters (2021)
This sweet, thoughtful Italian documentary on the changing and increasingly cutthroat truffle-hunting economy is beautiful and strange and niche and interesting. Pig (2021), retire bitch!
12. Call Me by Your Name (2017)
Say what you want about me, but number twelve is the perfect place for this movie on this list.
11. The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015)
Before a charming supporting turn in Queen’s Gambit or her excellent Mr. Rogers non-biopic A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, there was Marielle Heller’s daring and funny adaptation of The Diary of a Teenage Girl, based on a graphic novel about a high schooler’s affair with her mother’s boyfriend. The film features what should have been a star-making performance from Bel Powley (where are you, girlie??) and a career best from hot guy, Alexander Skarsgård.
10. Whiplash (2014)
It is really fun to say “not my tempo.”
9. The Red Turtle (2017)
This under-seen Studio Ghibli co-production is a quiet, lush film about a shipwrecked man who falls in love with a turtle (in a normal, kind of like Aesop’s fable way, not an Alissa Nutting way).
8. Elle (2016)
Paul Verhoeven’s very black comedy about a woman (who else but Isabelle Huppert) who begins to court her rapist is not for everyone, barely for me, but certainly the most audacious film of the past decade, and the only motion picture to ever suggest that someone like Isabelle Huppert could be in charge of a video game company.
7. The Father (2021)
By now, The Father’s reputation is perhaps marred by the strangeness of Sir Anthony Hopkins’ Oscar win in 2021, a ceremony in which he could not attend and whose victory was seen as perhaps a slight over the late Chadwick Boseman. No doubt, The Father is the scariest movie of all time, scarier than Hereditary, the stuff of nightmares for people who see movies at 11AM on a Tuesday. It’s a marvelously acted and, perhaps more importantly, staged film.
6. Love Is Strange (2014)
Ira Sachs’s quiet romance starring John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as longtime lovers who tie the knot is a sweet and sour piece of filmmaking, a calling card for Sachs’s melancholy and wistfulness, his love and frustration with New York City. It’s a gay film concerned with the lives of older gay men, who have survived the most to be where they are, facing one last challenge together.
5. The Meddler (2016)
4. Only Lovers Left Alive (2014)
Jim Jarmusch’s take on vampires — they would just go see a lot of live music — remains the definitive 21st century take on vampires.
3. Pain and Glory (2019)
Obviously Almodóvar is the only guy who can really make movies about men, also, but I consider this his true Sony Pictures Classics, a meditation on his own life and career, starring a never-better Antonio Banderas (with gray hair!) as a version of Almodóvar reflecting back on a life full of art and drugs and love and grief.
2. Leviathan (2014)
Leviathan, released in the United States on December 25th, 2014, the same day as American Sniper and Into The Woods, is a grim, sprawling film by Andrey Zvyagintsev about a family in rural coastal Russia for whom things are bad but about to get worse. Bureaucratic corruption, alcoholism, church scandals, a missing woman — if it’s a thing that can be terrible, it’s in the movie. Known perhaps best for having an amazing poster of a whale skeleton, Leviathan is a scathing, daring work of filmmaking.
1. Mr. Turner (2014)
At the Mike Leigh retrospective in June this past year, I turned to my friend at the Sony Pictures Classics logo and said, “omg they should do shirts,” and he was like, “you’re so right.” Mr. Turner, a sort of non-biopic biopic of British painter J.M.W. Turner starring Timothy Spall, is maybe Leigh’s funniest and most lavish film, a brusque comedy about an oaf who is also a genius, for whom color is the thing that makes the world turn. Or consider: everyone at the noon showing, most of them a good thirty years older than me, were having the time of their lives while watching. A Sony Pictures Classics promise.