The Best Films of 2024 So Far: Dune and Its Challengers

That Shelf contributors pick the best movies they've seen by the halfway point

A common question arose when conferring with fellow writers about the best films of 2024 so far: are there even enough quality films to make a “best of” list? At this point last year, we already had films like Past Lives, BlackBerry, and Across the Spider-Verse setting the bar for the year ahead. All those films were on That Shelf’s final list for the best movies of 2023 with Past Lives topping the collective poll and the others ranking #1 on some individual ballots.

This year, though, it doesn’t really feel like we have a “number one” just yet, although Dune: Part Two easily proves the frontrunner by appearing on the most lists and topping many of them. It has some challengers for the top spot though, namely, well, Challengers. The films easily offer the consensus favourites of this list even though Warner Bros. is making it very clear that critics aren’t welcome to the party. (Influencer shills are another story.) They didn’t even screen the Kevin Costner western Horizon for critics in major markets like Toronto even though it premiered at Cannes, although perhaps in that case they were doing us a favour.

It feels like the third year in a row that this poll opens with a “boo hoo to studios” screed and, once again, the poll has a hefty showing for independent films that inspire passion. In some cases, these festival favourites are hidden gems to watch out for in the months ahead with lots of Sundance bounty appearing on our lists, along with TIFF premieres that found distribution. There were big guns, too, with Inside Out 2 proving that even the most hardened critic remains a movie buff at heart, and Furiosa showed us the importance of showing up. Meanwhile, homegrown favourites like The King Tide keep us grounded.

All writers at That Shelf were invited to submit their picks for the top five films of the year so far. Contributors had some flexibility in terms of what they considered a “2024 film.” (I.e: films in contention for 2023 season that didn’t receive a release until 2024, or 2024 festival films that will be released later this year are all game.) Writers were also able to submit picks for the best performance of the year so far, the biggest flop, and the film they can’t wait to see in the months ahead. Let’s salute the movies! – Pat Mullen

 

The Best Films of 2024 So Far

Colin Biggs

 

1. Dune: Part Two

Not since The Godfather has a story so surreptitiously presented us with a hero to root for, only to cut his standing down in front of us. Paul (Timothée Chalamet) spirals from a naive wanderer intoxicated by a new way of life into a messiah who accepts with heavy shoulders that he must manipulate and destroy his newfound family to right the wrongs against his father. Prophecy is lethal, Denis Villeneuve states in this series, and dangerous in the hands of anyone who wields faith like a weapon.

2. Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

Furiosa hews much closer to Road Warrior than Fury Road, perhaps more than mainstream audiences wanted, but befitting Furiosa’s story. When people break down, we replace them as quickly as parts in Wasteland vehicles. What sets Furiosa apart from other Mad Max films is that it serves as a culmination and replication of the franchise in one film, where decades are distilled into five chapters. Anya Taylor-Joy evolves before our eyes from tortured witness to a vengeful guardian. Furiosa expands the scope considerably, depicting an apocalyptic future that mirrors our landscape of ineffectual military-styled leaders, cult-like political figures, and the warring structures of capitalism and equity.

3. Love Lies Bleeding

Kristen Stewart and Katy O’Brian show just how far they’ll go to demonstrate their love for one another. The results can be as encouraging as they are horrifying.

4. The Bikeriders

Jeff Nichols hasn’t directed in eight years! There’s no rust, though, he turns in a dissection of a subculture so rich and detailed that you could feast on it.

5. Exhuma

There are some scenes in Exhuma that you won’t see anywhere else. I mean that in only the most exciting way.

The Flop: I mean, it’s gotta be Madame Web, right?

 

Ethan Dayton

 

1. Dune: Part Two

Dune may be one of the only examples in recent memory in which splitting a book across two movies was absolutely the right choice. Dune: Part Two capitalizes on all the detailed and beautiful world-building Denis Villeneuve achieved in the first film, making this an epic conclusion to Part One that still leaves plenty of room to continue the story. The visuals are breathtaking, and the religious themes are fascinating to unpack. Also, I could listen to “A Time of Quiet Between the Storms” by Hans Zimmer on repeat forever.

2. Challengers

Challengers is by far the most original and enthralling film to come out so far in 2024. Between the electric score, intricate script, and showstopping performances, there’s so much to enjoy every time I revisit it, which I’m unashamed to admit is a lot.

3. Inside Out 2

No other film this year spoke to me personally the way Inside Out 2 did when seeing it for the first time. The film should be celebrated for stepping towards more mature themes instead of shying away from them. Alas, another classic Pixar sequel is born!

4. Civil War

Civil War is one of the most surprising films of the year. This is primarily thanks to director Alex Garland‘s commitment to not fanning the flames of political extremists while still making poignant and thoughtful observations about what could happen if civilization (specifically America) continues to spiral downwards— grounded by moving performances from Kirsten Dunst, Cailee Spaeny, and Stephen McKinley Henderson, who’ll make you shed major tears.

5. Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

This may be controversial, but I enjoy Furiosa more than Mad Max: Fury Road. While using chapters to split up the story and a more apparent green screen didn’t necessarily work, its more complex narrative is far more engaging than Fury Road’s endless action.

Honourable Mentions: The First Omen, Love Lies Bleeding

Best Performance: Nell Tiger Free, The First Omen

The Flop: Mean Girls 

Most Excited For: Wicked

 

Barbara Goslawski

 

1. La chimera

Alice Rohrwacher’s lyrical tale of a man with an unexplained gift for finding buried treasure hovers between the ethereal world and the very real grime of his daily existence. There’s a magical quality to the manner in which she teases out the visions of Pasolini and Fellini while creating a distinctive vision. The film excels at creating echoes between levels of existence both within timelines and between them to create a more profound experience of existence.

2. Fragments of a Life Loved

Since her teens, Chloé Barreau has been documenting her experiences, filming those she lusted for and loved. Now she turns the tables and asks her friends and paramours to speak for themselves. More than a clever premise or gutsy strategy to learn about herself, Barreau breaks through all specifics to unexpectedly open hearts and minds into something utterly moving and universal.

3. Dune: Part Two

Denis Villeneuve’s latest is quite simply a breathtaking spectacle that is intelligently wrought and dynamically rendered.

4. Daughters

Natalie Rae and Angela Patton create a doc that is such a finely tuned focus on how incarceration affects Black families in the United States in the most destructive ways that if it doesn’t break your heart, you don’t have one.

5. Evil Does Not Exist

In this slow burn fable, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi builds a shattering look at the essential impulses that inevitably drive the clash between modern civilization and the natural world.

Honourable mention: Black Box Diaries

The Flop: Kinds of Kindness – a thin excuse for variations on a theme to no real purpose.

Best Performance: Jesse Plemons – despite the unending tediousness of Kinds of Kindness, he is remarkably focused and engaging.

Most Excited for: Anora by Sean Baker

 

Joe Lipsett

 

1. Femme

Queer erotic thriller Femme offers a controversial take on the aftermath of a hate crime. What begins as a revenge plot evolves into a burgeoning romance between perpetrator and survivor that challenges the audience’s sympathy to both parties. Sam H. Freeman and Ng Choon Ping’s film is a carefully calibrated character study that investigates power, sex, and gender roles while deliberately avoiding simplistic notions of right and wrong. Featuring career-best performances from leads Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and George MacKay, Femme is sure to ignite a fiery discourse.

2. The King Tide

A miracle baby arrives on the shore of an isolated Newfoundland community during a storm and changes the fate of the community. A morality tale disguised as a fable, the Canadian landscape is stunning and the film features a great cast including Frances Fisher, Aden Young, Lara Jean Chorostecki, and Clayne Crawford.

3. Challengers

Luca Guadagnino’s ode to bisexuality and throuples features some of the horniest body shots and inventive camerawork of the year. Bonus points for the wildest score since May December.

4. Dune: Part Two

Canadian director Denis Villeneuve truly delivered with the second part of his fantasy epic, which elevated Paul Atreides to the realm of a mythical god while questioning the dangers of religious dogma. The black and white Harkonnen sequence is sumptuous.

5. What You Wish For

A fun little thriller featuring Nick Stahl as a down on his luck chef who becomes embroiled in a dangerous South American gig. Filled with unexpected twists and a stand-out supporting performance by Tamsin Topolski, this is an under the radar gem.

Honourable Mentions:

Infested: French. Jumping. Spiders.

The Coffee Table: The best dark comedy in years.

Birder: An American version of Stranger by the Lake that warns LGBTQ folks “be careful who you sleep with”

The First Omen: Nell Tiger Free delivers in Arkasha Stevenson’s stylish Omen prequel

The Beekeeper: Jason Statham slingshots a man off a bridge with his car. I need a sequel yesterday.

Under Paris: Xavier Gens’ shark in the Seine movie is quintessential dumb fun with a surprisingly ballsy ending.

The Flop: AbigailRadio Silence assembled a great cast and there’s some fun ideas, but the vampire ballerina movie is the definition of “meh, it’s fine.”

Most Excited For: Joker: Folie à Deux – What the hell is this movie? I can’t wait to find out.

 

Pat Mullen

 

1. Challengers

Three cheers to Challengers for bringing sexy back. Luca Guadagnino’s sweltering tennis drama is just about the hottest film one can watch with the whole family. Josh O’Connor, Mike Faist, and Zendaya deliver a sizzling love triangle that pulses with desire, jealousy, rage, and longing in a well-matched set fuelled by petty rivalries. Driven by a propulsive score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Challengers serves a mean rally as the smoking hot chemistry between the three leads serves A-game realness with lobs, smashes, and orgasmic tennis grunts. The real marvel, however, is how hot Challengers makes a viewer under the collar: the whole film offers a seductive build-up as one yearns for the trio to just bang already, but they keep their clothes on, teasing our anticipation stroke after stroke. To paraphrase Jennifer Coolidge, that makes me want a churro real bad.

2. Dune: Part Two

I think we can do away with the moniker “unfilmable novel.” Denis Villeneuve proved not once but twice that the right director could tame an unwieldy beast of a book with this robust actioner that honoured the novel while giving it a darker twist and a grand, truly cinematic canvas.

3. Skywalkers: A Love Story

This Sundance doc stood tallest at the festival with its portrait of daredevil influencers who climb to such great heights while snapping selfies atop the world. I’ll admit I spent the whole film hoping they’d fall. (Coming soon to Netflix.)

4. Femme

Call it the “queer Elle,” but this sinister and seductive revenge drama has an edge one doesn’t see often enough in the movies. Stars Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and George MacKay are ferociously good—Stewart-Jarrett’s shape-shifting turn deserves more attention as the breakout performance of the year so far.

5. Yintah

This year’s in the making film chronicles the courageous fight of Wet’suwet’en land defenders as they protect the territory against devastating destruction. It’s a damning and emotionally draining doc that everyone in Canada needs to see. (Opens July 12.)

Honourable mentions: The Bikeriders, Daughters, Fancy Dance, Girls State, Hit Man, I Am: Céline Dion, I Don’t Know Who You Are, The King Tide, Love Lies Bleeding, Never Look Away, Samsara

Best Performance: Glen Powell, Hit Man. Just when you think this man can’t get any sexier, he turns out to be funny.

The Flop: This Is Me, Now – Jennifer Lopez’s cinematic album/love letter to Ben Affleck offers an impressive Rolodex of celebrity cameos, but it just might be the most cringe-worthy self-serving embarrassment ever put to film. What a waste of $20 million. Dishonourable mention goes to The Greatest Hitsnot the best year for music!

Most Looking Forward to: Maria – Okay, so I just have to accept that Florence Foster Jenkins is the closest that Meryl Streep ever got to playing her beloved opera diva Maria Callas. However, I am super psyched that the superb Angelina Jolie is portraying Callas in the third entry of Pablo Larraín’s “lady with heels” trilogy after Jackie and Spencer. I’m praying to the TIFF gods that Angie will get the red carpet treatment. Brush up with the swell doc Maria by Callas beforehand to get all the juicy insights about the life and talent of an artist whose story is long overdue for a dramatic treatment. I’m also really looking forward to Amy Adams’ furry flick Nightbitch, Luca Guadagnino’s Queer, Pedro Almodóvar’s The Room Next Door, and the final cut of Lucy Walker’s Mountain Queen after its wowzer of a work-in-progress screening at TIFF last year.

 

Shawn Peer

 

1. Dune: Part Two

Dune: Part Two exceeded every expectation set by its predecessor. Denis Villeneuve’s vision brought Arakis to life with awe-inspiring visuals. Its all-star cast grows even bigger with the additions of Florence Pugh and Austin Butler, who command the screen every time they appear. Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya’s relationship on-screen built to an emotional climax that left me wanting more immediately. The passion for film both in front of and behind the camera makes it an easy pick for my #1 movie of 2024 so far.

2. Inside Out 2

Inside Out 2 takes Pixar’s exploration of emotions to a new height, delving further into the complexities that resonate deeply on a personal level.

3. Civil War

Alex Garland’s bare-bones approach to exploring all of America forces us to ask ourselves just how divided we are as human beings. This one will take a while to leave my mind.

4. Love Lies Bleeding

With a star-turning performance by Katy O’Brian, Love Lies Bleeding is elevated but its tight, dark, and test-filled screenplay that always left me wondering what would happen next.

5. Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

Furiosa delivers non-stop action, complemented by a fantastic lead performance by Anya Taylor-Joy and Chris Hemsworth, who is having the time of his life playing the villainous Dr. Dementus.

Favourite Performance: Katy O’Brian – Love Lies Bleeding

The Flop: Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire

Most Excited for: Wicked

 

Matthew Simpson

 

1. Challengers

A tour de force from Luca Guadagnino chronicling the lives of three professional tennis players, Challengers features love, lust, envy, and everything else that comes up when three people are deeply emotionally entwined with one another. Mike Faist and Josh O’Connor both give performances as brothers in arms turned rivals that would stand out in any year, but it’s Zendaya who captures every single frame in which she appears. It’s a career-best performance that I hope won’t be forgotten come awards season this year.

2. Civil War

Kirsten Dunst and Cailee Spaeny lead this story of journalists covering a modern American civil war. All at once, highlighting and questioning the importance and actual possibility of an impartial press during major world events but also serving as a warning to everyone about what a civil war might actually look like, Alex Garland has created a film we’ll be talking about for years to come.

3. The King Tide

A moody, atmospheric, and unsettling horror film about a young girl with the power to heal living in a small Newfoundland village, The King Tide examines the dynamics of power in a community, the entitlement of those adjacent to power, and the lengths they’ll go to maintain their position. It is a great Canadian film and one of the best of the year.

4. Daddio

A woman gets a cab home from the airport. That’s the entire setup for Daddio, a two-hander showcase for Dakota Johnson and Sean Penn. The former continues to prove that she is one of our best performers, and the latter shows up to remind us all that he’s one of the best who ever did it. This is one you won’t want to miss.

5. The First Omen

Legacy sequels—or, in this case, prequels—are often on a knife edge between being true to themselves and true to the original material, and Arkasha Stevenson’s The First Omen walks this line expertly. Stevenson expertly crafts a modern horror film using the style of the 1970s, and along with an excellent performance from Nell Tiger Free, it creates some visuals that you will not soon forget.

Honorable Mentions: Dune: Part Two, Late Night with the Devil, Love Lies Bleeding, The People’s Joker, Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, Hit Man 

Best Performance: Zendaya, ChallengersZendaya is already a multiple award winner for her work in television, and this year will cement her as one of the best actors working in film as well.  Her interpretation of Chani in Dune: Part Two is both an on-point adaptation of and a radical departure from the character in the book, but it’s her turn in Challengers as the stone-cold, manipulative Tashi Duncan who has both Mike Faist and Josh O’Connor’s characters in the palm of her hand at all times. Tashi is whatever she needs to be, whenever she needs to be it, in order to get the one thing she truly wants: to watch some great fucking tennis, and the last few frames of the film, when she finally gets what she wants, should be studied for years to come as one of the best moments of acting of this decade so far.

 

Courtney Small

 

1. I Saw the TV Glow

Few films this year have pulled me into its mesmerizing, and at times mystifying, lure like I Saw the TV Glow. Jane Schoenbrun transforms suburban malaise into a haunting environment where pacification and conformity are the ultimate soul-sucking illness. Emphasizing the dangers of suppressing one’s identity, the film finds strength in the unifying power of art and fandom, while simultaneously reminding viewers that even the pop culture we find ourselves reflected in has an expiry date.

2. Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

Expanding on the world of Mad Max: Fury Road, George Miller brings plenty of texture to this prequel while ensuring that the film stands on its own thrilling merits.

3. Dune: Part Two

Denis Villeneuve surpasses his achievements with the first film by making a science fiction epic for the ages.

4. Exhibiting Forgiveness

A thoughtful exploration of the nature of forgiveness and how difficult it is to achieve.

5. It Was All a Dream

One of the best journalists to ever cover hip hop makes one of the best hip hop films in the past decade.

Honourable Mentions: Kneecap, Daughters, The People’s Joker, Tendaberry, Civil War, Any Other Way: The Jackie Shane Story

 

Rachel West

 

1. Kneecap

I have watched over 6400 films according to Letterboxd. Therefore, it is a delightful surprise when I can truly say I have never seen a movie like Kneecap before. Brash, funny, and wholly entertaining, the true story of Northern Irish rappers Kneecap springs to life in writer/director Rich Peppiatt’s Irish-language film. Set in 2019, the film tells the story of the rap trio’s formation and how their infectious tunes have won over audiences. Starring the real-life members Mo Chara, Móglaí Bap and DJ Próvaí as themselves, the most remarkable thing about the film may be how unbelievably good the stars are. Winner of Sundance’s NEXT Audience Award, Kneecap is one you should race to theatres to see on its release later this year.

2. Robot Dreams

One of the most affecting and touching stories about friendship, the animated feature about a dog and a robot says so much without uttering a single word. There is a reason the TFCA voted it the Best Animated Film of 2023.

3. Civil War

It’s one of Kirsten Dunst’s best roles to date and the one movie from the first half of 2024 I am eager to watch again.

4. The King Tide

Gloriously dark and brooding, Christian Sparkes’ Newfoundland-set thriller assembles a sensational ensemble with a standout performance by Frances Fisher. We’re truly in an era where we are blessed by Canadian cinema and storytellers.

5. Love Lies Bleeding

Sexy, sweaty, sinister. Come for Kristen Stewart and stay for Katy O’Brian’s star-making turn in Rose Glass’ neo-Noir thriller.

The Flop:
Drive Away Dolls – Very rarely can a movie be so unappealing in the first five minutes. By the time the opening titles rolled on Drive Away Dolls, I knew I’d made a huge mistake. It’s been a long time since I despised a movie this much.

Most Excited for: Longlegs, Speak No Evil – Thriller lovers rejoice for not one but two new films headed to theatres. Osgood Perkins returns in July with Longlegs starring Maika Monroe as an FBI agent tracking a serial killer (Nicolas Cage!). In the fall, the Danish psychological thriller Speak No Evil about an American family whose weekend visit to a British family they met on vacation takes some unexpected turns gets an English-language remake with James McAvoy, Mackenzie Davis and Scoot McNairy.

 



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