The best films of 2024 so far — the critic’s verdict

2023 was a bumper year for film, but what cinematic treats will this year have in store? Timothée Chalamet is back for Dune: Part Two, Zendaya will be stuck in a tense tennis love triangle in Challengers, and there are Bob Marley and Amy Winehouse biopics on the horizon. Plus our favourite marmalade-loving bear will be back in a new film.

Here our critic picks the best films of 2024. From sci-fi blockbusters to indie hits, this guide has got you covered. We will keep updating this list regularly, so make sure to check it out again. Let us know in the comments below which movie you are most excited to watch in the cinema.

Organised into chapters — The Pole of Inaccessibility, Lesson from the Wasteland — this new film is a kind of petrochemical picaresque, following its heroine’s progress from childhood to adulthood, only with less in the way of secret billets-doux inviting her to commit indiscretions, and more in the way of sticks of dynamite tossed into her lap while she prangs a hotrod on the fender of her shiny chrome war rig. The film pulls through largely because of its heroine, played with angular verve by Taylor-Joy, whose large, wide eyes seem lit up by some internal inferno, propelling Furiosa to centre stage, where she seemed to belong in Fury Road.
George Miller, 15, 148min

Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt in The Fall Guy

Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt in The Fall Guy


The Fall Guy

It can be great sport when movie stars make a joke of their own sex appeal. When Ryan Gosling does it, it feels like what he was put on God’s earth to do. For years he seemed to be trying too hard to put his Mickey Mouse Club years behind him in bruising indie dramas like Half Nelson, Blue Valentine and Drive, but his version of the Method was more the Smoulder. But the moment he admitted to his own vanity, something clicked. He stole the show as himbo Ken in Barbie — finding a wonderfully dry comic pathos in the hurt pride of a poseur — and he does it all over again in David Leitch’s The Fall Guy. For those who thought Ken should have his own movie, here it is.

Gosling plays Colt Seavers, a movie stunt guy with blond highlighted hair — the sign we’re on to something good with Gosling these days — who is trying to piece together his life after a bad accident, working as a valet at a Mexican restaurant, when he gets a call for a new job working on a piece of sci-fi franchise schlock about cowboys and aliens being directed by his ex, Jody (Emily Blunt). Colt is desperate to get back together with her, but she is still mad with him about how it ended and wants to keep things “super profesh’. The pair are soon floundering miserably, after the movie’s lead (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) goes missing and Colt is told by one of the film’s producers to go and find him.

You have to go back to Mr & Mrs Smith in 2005, or even Romancing the Stone in 1984, to get what Leitch is up to here. I don’t want to overpraise the film, but these days, when studios seem so reluctant to finance non-franchise, non-sequel star vehicles developed from an original script — or, as we used to call them, movies — a film like The Fall Guy feels like a rarity. That it is actually good is a minor miracle. The downside is it cost $125 million, so go see it or they’ll never make another.
David Leitch, 12A, 126min

Zendaya, Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist in Challengers

Zendaya, Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist in Challengers



Luca Guadagnino’s Challengers is sexy, almost ridiculously so. I’m struggling to think of a recent film that basked so luxuriously in the heat of its stars — Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist as tennis players caught up in a love triangle with Zendaya. She plays Tashi, a tennis ace felled by injury who is at various points the lover and coach of both men, sometimes at the same time. Twice they play matches to settle the matter. You might call their romantic lives a case of mixed doubles, all played to love.

Faist plays the whippet-lean tennis ace Art Donaldson, who when the film opens is being coached through a losing streak by Tashi, his wife. She signs him up for a tournament in upstate New York — the minor leagues — to get his confidence back. There he draws a match opposite Patrick (O’Connor), a rumpled, burnt-out prodigy-turned-bum who plays in what appear to be his boxers after having spent the night in his car. Cut to 13 years earlier and the two men are teenage players who have just won the junior men’s doubles at the US Open, their mouths agape at the sight of Tashi in her prime.

“You want me to come tuck you in?” Tashi responds when the boys invite her back to their hotel room, and to their incredulity, she shows up. And so it begins: a seemingly never-ending triangle, hopping backwards and forwards between the years.

It’s all there on the court, where the matches play out like bedroom scenes. Guadagnino does for tennis what Call Me by Your Name did for peaches. Does he ace all five sets? He almost fumbles his finale with too much slicing and dicing of the chronology, when what the audience wants is to settle in for the final match. But then Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s thrilling techno score kicks in, O’Connor raises his arm to serve, Zendaya is on her feet and it’s game on again.
Luca Guadagnino, 15, 131min

Civil War

Word had it that Alex Garland’s Civil War, which depicts an America locked in savage war with itself, was so inflammatory that it risked provoking the very thing it depicted. Trumpians feared it would paint their leader’s march to authoritarianism in an unflattering light. Liberals feared it might inspire radical right-wing militias to copycat attacks.

Garland’s film tells the story of four journalists on their way from New York to Washington in a battered white press van to cover the last days of the siege. There’s a weary, battle-hardened photojournalist, Lee (Kirsten Dunst), whose cynicism masks the early stages of PTSD; her colleague Joel (Wagner Moura), whose shellshock manifests itself in spurts of gonzo exuberance; a veteran reporter from “what’s left of The New York Times” (Stephen McKinley Henderson); and an eager young photographer, Jessie (Cailee Spaeny), who has attached herself to Lee, whom she idolises, much to the veteran’s displeasure. You think you know where the story is going, that against her protestations, Dunst’s hardened cynic will find herself redeemed by Spaeny’s fresh-faced cub and a small measure of hope will flower for the Republic.

Nope. Garland has other plans, for Spaeny, who after her pastel-soft turn in Priscilla, really earns her acting spurs, and America. With brutal technical efficiency he intercuts the sights glimpsed through the window of their press van — an empty interstate highway with corpses hung from the underpass, a crashed helicopter in front of the department store JCPenney, a sports stadium filled with refugees — with scenes of intense, white-knuckle combat designed to leave you as shell-shocked as Lee and her team. An exchange of fire in a multistorey car park leaves Joel shaking with exhilaration; a sniper in a Winter Wonderland theme park has soldiers pinned down in a field of bluebells with Jingle Bells playing in the background. For all the eardrum-splitting intensity of the battle scenes, it’s the snatches of surreal pastoral that really get your attention: the birdsong in the background of a torturer’s lair; the chalky yellow sunlight in which we come across a mass grave.

Garland has taken fire for what is taken to be a pose of non-partisanship, but the script’s dispassion is what gives the film its oxyacetylene-like power as prophecy. We’ve seen American landmarks demolished, detonated, flooded and flambéed in numerous disaster films before, but never at its own hand. With no clear villain, the shock of Americans killing other Americans never gets old. Garland has a thing for wrecked and ruined Edens, as he showed us in The Beach and Annihilation. He may have given us his best yet.
Alex Garland, 15, 109min

Monkey Man

Monkey Man starts with Patel’s Kid, the lowest of the low. He’s a man who puts on a monkey mask to be knocked out in a bare-knuckle fighting ring, but doesn’t even manage to get the extra 50 per cent fee for a “bleed bonus”. It is brutal, and the script is sharp, with the South African character actor Sharlto Copley having a ball as a dodgy MC who has a line about gamblers being Muslim, Hindu or, even, Christian (cue booing), but all of them only worshipping “the God of the Rupee”.

Anyway, Kid wants out. His life is awful, and there is something else on his mind — avenging his mother by snaking into a job in a building where the nefarious officials who murdered her take coke and fondle sad women. He starts work in a kitchen, a man who knows revenge is a dish best served by chucking a curry at some goon’s face.

There are lapses in judgment, though. Kid’s ascent from street kid to a VIP room filled with the most important people in Mumbai — most of whom he wants to kill — is far-fetched. Also, he spends a lot of his time staring into nothingness in shock, in places that would get you killed, while flashbacks are overladen. So Monkey Man is not perfect, but it does not have to be. The film feels alive, with all the rush of Drive or Uncut Gems. This is not Bollywood — nobody sings — but rhythm is key.

And when the violence comes, it erupts. Axes, biting, cutlery, all very bad for the Mumbai tourist board. Battered and bruised, Kid is saved by a Rocky training montage in a temple of transsexuals. And, yes, I have checked my notes, and, yes, there is perhaps too much packed in here: corruption, fascism, spiritualism, Diwali. But then this is a film about excess, so let’s celebrate it — with immense credit to Patel. His vision and acting pull the disparate strands together, and it will be fascinating to see what he does next.
Dev Patel, 18, 121min

Steve! (Martin): A Documentary in 2 Pieces

Morgan Neville’s two-part documentary for Apple, Steve! (Martin): A Documentary in 2 Pieces — about as in-depth as an officially sanctioned biography can be — is a superb reminder of just how big Martin once was. The first comedian to play stadiums like a rock star, he used to outsell Fleetwood Mac. The first half covers his loveless childhood in Orange County, California, and teenage job in the Disneyland Magic Shop, where he first noticed that the audience “love it when the tricks don’t work”. Later, studying symbolic logic at UCLA, he found himself deconstructing the cheesy mechanisms of old-school showbusiness: set-up to create tension, punchline to release it, indicator to let the audience know when to laugh. What would happen, he wondered, if you created tension but never released it? What if there was no punchline?

The second half of the documentary is a more loose-leaf album of his movie career and personal life which, for a long time, was non-existent. “I don’t have a home life,” he once declared. The product of a frigid, suburban household presided over by his father, Glenn, a property salesman with frustrated showbiz ambitions, Martin was in no hurry to reproduce it. For a long time, he ate out for most of his meals, “even breakfast”, had no girlfriend and in his movie roles — The Jerk, The Lonely Guy, All of Me, Roxanne, Planes Trains and Automobiles — exhibited a streak of loneliness and longing that would these days get him classified as the first incel comedian. When Sammy Davis Jr hugged him once on The Tonight Show after a riotous performance by Martin, he visibly flinched.

You think the documentary is going to descend into the schmaltz that drowned the Parenthood movies, but even here the old comic instincts are in fine fettle. At one point, his daughter interrupts a podcast and Martin opens his arms wide: “It’s OK, give your old poppa a hug.” Only once she is in his arms does he say: “Remind me of your name again?”
Apple TV+, Morgan Neville, C, part one is 94min and part two is 97min

Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan in Drive Away Dolls

Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan in Drive Away Dolls


Drive Away Dolls

Jamie (Margaret Qualley) and Mariam (Geraldine Viswanathan) are two friends, lesbians but not lovers, who set out for Tallahassee to visit Jamie’s aunt. Jamie is a brainy, motormouthed chatterbox who decries the entanglements of love and has the notches on her bedpost to prove it. “Love is a sleigh ride to hell” reads the graffiti on the car they drive to Florida. Mariam is her more uptight friend, who hasn’t slept with anyone since her most recent girlfriend and sits in a motel bed primly reading The Europeans by Henry James — the author that put Jamie off reading “like someone dragging day-old spaghetti across my tits”, which gives the literary criticism of FR Leavis a few pointers for pithiness.

Unknowingly they drive off with a suitcase belonging to some gangsters (Colman Domingo, Joey Slotnick and CJ Wilson). It’s like the suitcases in Repo Man and Pulp Fiction in that we don’t need to know what’s inside it except that this time, for once, we do — a twist of a twist, which is very in keeping with the film’s levels of madcap playfulness. It’s not just a throwback to the Eighties when the Coens began strutting their stuff, but also, as the film’s title suggests, a throwback to that bit of the Eighties that recycled the exploitation cinema of the Seventies, when film-makers served up lesbians, lava lamp psychedelia and trigger-happy violence in a midnight screening double bill. Even the film’s sexuality is retro: no correct-pronouns-please diffidence of the non-binary.

Qualley is the motor for the film and very close to the heart of her creator, one suspects, with her mixture of the hedonistic and the cavalier. Coen’s direction is like a cheap paper party-plate version of his brother’s — there’s lots of screaming and crazy, canted camera angles — but in his wife he seems to have found a terrific partner in crime as well as a grounding for the story in a milieu he can never have observed first-hand. No one could mistake the film for art — there’s no more than a nod to the value of finding true luurrrvvve — but Coen and Cooke have fashioned a zippy piece of trash cinema so unencumbered with ambition or pretension that it’s the perfect pick-me-up after the juggernaut of seriousness that is Oscar season. Take a date and a quart bottle of vodka in a paper bag.
Ethan Coen, 15, 84min

Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya in Dune: Part Two

Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya in Dune: Part Two


Dune: Part Two

“I am not the messiah,” insists the thrusting young blade Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) in Denis Villeneuve’s Dune: Part Two when greeted as a prophet by half the planet of Arrakis (also a pretty fair description of Chalamet’s treatment on the red carpet when the first movie premiered in London). Paul arrived on the planet to mine its precious spice in the first Dune instalment and defected to the side of the indigenous desert scavengers, the Fremen. “I’m here to learn your ways,” he tells them in the new film, which as anyone who has seen Lawrence of Arabia or Avatar knows is movie code for “my arrival in your life will shortly be accompanied by a rain of death and hellfire the likes of which you poor people have never seen”.

So it proves. On his tail are the ruthless Harkonnen, whom we first see setting up Nazi-like funeral pyres for their enemies, this time headed by a ruthless new leader, Feyd-Rautha, who is played with cobralike sinuousness by Austin Butler. If you thought Butler’s Elvis Presley was smooth, check out this guy: bald, eyebrowless, alabaster-skinned, with black teeth — Villeneuve shoots him in black-and-white at one point and you barely notice — and his favourite trick is to slit the throat of an insubordinate and feed them to his harem. “He’s a sociopath, highly intelligent, in love with pain but sexually vulnerable,” says Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh).

This movie displays all manner of magnificence — black suns and 800mph winds, sandstorm assassins and massive stone ziggurats, all in a palette of grey and beige like a Mesopotamian temple renovated by Jasper Conran. My only complaint is that Butler is not in it nearly enough. It’s a masterful piece of screen acting. The Dune saga is as much an audiovisual spectacle as a film franchise, with Hans Zimmer’s synths hitting you in the solar plexus: you don’t watch it so much as submit.
Denis Villeneuve, 12A, 167min

Jessie Buckley and Olivia Colman in Wicked Little Letters

Jessie Buckley and Olivia Colman in Wicked Little Letters


Wicked Little Letters

There’s nothing like two of the finest actresses of their generation waging war against each other. Reuniting after playing older and younger versions of the same woman in The Lost Daughter, Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley turn against each other as next-door neighbours in Wicked Little Letters, Thea Sharrock’s comedy about the Littlehampton poison pen case that transfixed Britain in the 1920s. Colman and Buckley have enormous fun trolling, hazing and doxxing one another — not via social media, but with good old-fashioned letters: handwritten, anonymous, popped into a red pillar box and filled with filth.

Colman plays Edith Swan, a pious, God-fearing stick-in-the mud who lives next door to an Irish single mum. Rose Gooding, played by Buckley, is everything Edith is not: foul-mouthed, free-spirited, raucously holding court at the pub with her boyfriend (Malachi Kirby), Rose is the life of the party. So, when Edith starts receiving obscene letters — “Edith Swan takes it up the swannee, the big smelly bitch”, “mouldy old tart”, “foxy-arsed old whore” and so on — it doesn’t take long for Edith to accuse her neighbour. “She’s heinous,” Edith complains to the police, “and she’s what we feared would come after the war.” Everyone believes Swan except for the police officer Gladys Moss (Anjana Vasan), who, as one of the first women on the force, is forced to introduce herself as “woman police officer Moss”. She quietly sets about working out the real source of the letters.

It doesn’t take an Einstein to figure it out — it’s obvious almost from the first frame — but therein lies the chief pleasure of Sharrock’s broad, gutsy comedy: the delight we all take in unpicking the social mores and hypocrisies of the past, the more obvious and glaring the better, so we can all feel grateful for the liberated present.
Thea Sharrock, 15, 100min

The Taste of Things

What is it with French cinema and food? Whether it’s Gérard Depardieu and lapin à la cocotte (rabbit stew) in Jean de Florette, or Stéphane Audran bringing her French flair to conquer hearts with stuffed quail and rum sponge cake in Danish drama Babette’s Feast, or Juliette Binoche roasting a young chicken with a bittersweet demi-glace of orange and sage in Chocolat, the French seem to delight in transposing these national pastimes, until haute cuisine and haute cinema are entwined. You don’t know where the film stops and the food starts.

No matter that Chocolat was a sickly sweet confection, filmed by a Swede, with Johnny Depp in the role of gypsyish, guitar-strumming eye candy; Binoche is back to restore her foodie credentials — and French honour — in Tran Anh Hung’s The Taste of Things. Binoche plays a cook, Eugénie, working in the kitchen of a gourmet, Dodin (Benoît Magimel), who reduces his guests to stunned silence in the opening scenes with a consommé and crayfish vol-au-vent.

Eugénie is also subject to mysterious fainting spells, adding a pinch of mortality to the film’s appreciation of passing pleasures, as displayed joyously on Binoche’s face. Gather ye rosebuds. And ye wild rosemary. Infuse, blanch, reduce. And serve to a table of nodding heads, mute with appreciation.
Tran Anh Hung, 12A, 135min

The Promised Land

Mads Mikkelsen meets his match in the craggy, wind-blasted landscapes of Denmark’s Jutland in Nikolaj Arcel’s sinewy historical drama The Promised Land. Mikkelsen plays Ludvig Kahlen, an officer of humble origins who strikes out on behalf of the king to try to tame the barren moorland for settlement.

What follows is a colonial drama in the American mould — a kind of Scandinavian western — although thankfully there are no indigenous people to displace and thus gum up the morality of the thing. To succeed, Kahlen must employ serfs who have run away from the sadistic local magistrate, Frederik de Schinkel (Simon Bennebjerg), and protect his potato crop from the bitter frosts that scour the stony earth. At one point Mikkelsen even lies atop the soil, as if he could coax the saplings up and out by sheer force of charisma.
Nikolaj Arcel, 15, 127min

The Zone of Interest

Everybody knows that the story of the Holocaust can be told only from the point of view of its victims. When we watch Schindler’s List we are moved by the plight of the Jews, and by the spectacle of Schindler’s guilt that he didn’t do more. That’s because Schindler stands in for us, the audience. We empathise, and our empathy, Hollywood reassures us, is enough. We did our bit — we were moved.

Empathy shmempathy. It’s all as cosy and comfortable as the upholstered seats that cushion our behinds in the cinema. Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest will have none of it. Loosely adapted from a Martin Amis novel of the same name, Glazer’s film tells the story of an upwardly mobile married couple, Rudolf (Christian Friedel) and Hedwig (Sandra Hüller), and their five children as they live out their dream life in the Polish countryside. “Auf Wiedersehen, Papi,” the children cry as their father goes to work. Hedwig asks her husband to bring back “chocolate if you see it, any goodies” while she tends the garden, whose creepers she nurses up their garden wall and whose flowers are fed with the ashes of the men, women and children being gassed and burnt next door. Rudolf is Rudolf Höss, commandant of Auschwitz, whose furnaces rumble away at night, making the sky glow red.

Some may balk at the film’s mood of uncanny moral disquiet. “Hey, want to see a film about the Holocaust that denies us the usual complacency and asks us to examine our potential for moral complicity in genocide?” doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue. But if “never again” really is the aim, Schindler’s List tells us only half the story. The Zone of Interest teaches us an equally valuable lesson: how not to look the other way.
Jonathan Glazer, 12A, 105min

American Fiction

Fans of Jeffrey Wright’s rumpled, leonine intelligence — he was Felix Leiter in the most recent Bonds — will have a ball with Cord Jefferson’s marvellously sardonic satire American Fiction. Wright plays Monk Ellison, a tweedy, irascible professor at a Los Angeles college whose most recent novel, a reworking of Greek myth, has been rejected by publishers for the umpteenth time.

A medical emergency forces Monk to reconsider his position, and one night he bangs out a manuscript called My Pafology, full of gun-totin’ crack dealers — “If they can’t get the joke then it’s on them,” he tells his agent — and of course it sells like gangbusters.

As if to demonstrate what black stories really can be, Jefferson’s script spends time examining the state of Monk’s relationships with his brother (Sterling K Brown), mother (Leslie Uggams) and neighbour (Erika Alexander). Jefferson is at pains to underline how little Monk enjoys his success — really? — and remains wedded to the cynicism with which he embarked on the whole exercise. So, the film doesn’t wrap up so much as dissolve in a postmodern shuffle of alternative endings. But Wright is the perfect foil for the film’s satirical skewering of white guilt: weary, beleaguered, soft as cashmere, Wright makes the film not so much an angry howl as a long, weary, civilised sigh.
Cord Jefferson, 15, 117min

All of Us Strangers

Andrew Haigh’s utterly magnificent All of Us Strangers summons such depth of feeling — and by such subtle magic — that you may feel blindsided by it. Do not operate heavy machinery after watching.

Haigh has made a movie about the connections we all know exist between our childhood histories and our adult relationships. Ask any screenwriter — that’s something notoriously hard to dramatise without ending up on the therapist’s couch. Haigh has done it by marrying the kind of what-if conceit usually found in high-concept Hollywood films — think Big or It’s a Wonderful Life — to the lyrical, deeply personal film-making found in indie movies. Easier said than done.
Andrew Haigh, 15, 106min

Mean Girls

Just when you thought your eyeballs couldn’t take any more pink, along comes Tina Fey’s Mean Girls, which has had as many iterations as its teenage heroines have had makeovers, most of them a fetching shade of Pepto-Bismol. First it was a 2004 movie co-written by Fey, starring Lindsay Lohan and Rachel McAdams. Then it became a Broadway stage musical. Now it is a movie again, with some snappy songs and tweaked jokes picked up along the way, which means Fey has successfully rebooted herself, which is as difficult as it is unanatomical.

There is the authentic Fey tone: sharp, smart, tart, funny, horrified. The plot is, by this point, as time-honoured as The Epic of Gilgamesh. Cady falls under Regina’s spell, then falls for her ex, Aaron (Christopher Briney), is wronged by Regina, vows revenge, and slowly but surely finds herself turning into a plastic herself. The two perform a doppelgänger pas de deux, like Eve Harrington and Margot Channing in All About Eve.
Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr, 12A, 112min

The Holdovers

Wearing a walrus moustache and eyes that stare off in slightly different directions, Paul Giamatti gives the kind of rich, precise performance in Alexander Payne’s new drama, The Holdovers, that makes it easily their best film since Sideways in 2004. He’s a comic miniaturist, like an American Toby Jones, whose rich voice coupled with his roly-poly physique makes him perfect for playing the outraged little man, railing against fools, whose own destiny on the losing side will always win us over.
Alexander Payne, 15, 133min

Poor Things

In the audacious Poor Things Emma Stone plays Bella Baxter, a young woman stitched together by a surgeon, Dr Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe) — himself horribly disfigured — from body parts left over from a suicide. I’m glad that Jorgos Lanthimos’s film got made. It’s a beautifully odd duckling and Bella’s quip to Duncan — “My heart has become dim towards your swearing, weepy person” — is one of those classic, Withnail-ish lines that deserves to be quoted back at errant husbands and sluggardly boyfriends the length and breadth of England. Men, be on guard. Bella Baxter will eat you for breakfast. Edward Porter
Yorgos Lanthimos, 18, 142min

Cailee Spaeny and Jacob Elordi as Priscilla and Elvis

Cailee Spaeny and Jacob Elordi as Priscilla and Elvis



Some film-makers make movies that are five-course meals, some make junk food, and some make snacks. Sofia Coppola makes gourmet treats — cinematic macarons that you wouldn’t want to live off, but if you’re in the mood are exquisite and delicious. Her latest, Priscilla, adapted from Priscilla Presley’s memoir of her relationship with Elvis, is a mood board as much as a movie — a teenage dream fairytale, blown up big like a Roy Lichtenstein painting, with hearts and exclamation points in the margin!!!!
Sofia Coppola, 15, 113min

Priscilla Presley: ‘There isn’t a day goes by when I don’t think of Elvis’

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