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Top Movies of 2024: A Roundup of the Year’s Finest Films

In the shakier movie climate we now find ourselves in, it could simply mean more of the same: more staying at home, in the air-conditioning, watching whatever’s streaming. Summer is here! Following are seven of the best, harbingers of hope for the remaining months of this moviegoing year. In the old days, that would mean heading to the multiplex to load up on big summer blockbusters. But midyear is also a good time to reflect on the releases of the previous few months, and to catch up on some you may have missed.

The Fall Guy

This action-comedy directed by longtime stunt performer David Leitch may have “underperformed,” in the parlance of box-office pundits, but that’s no reason to dismiss it. The Fall Guy is an ode to the stuntpeople who drive cars at death-defying speeds, fall from dizzying heights, and get set on fire, all in the service of the fantasy of movies. But its biggest selling point is its duo of leads, Ryan Gosling as a once-swaggering stuntman struggling to make a comeback, and Emily Blunt as the fledgling director he’s trying to romance. Together, these two are the opposite of a car wreck, a romantic-comedy pairing whose fizziness keeps even this sometimes-plodding movie afloat. Charm is in short supply at the movies these days, but Gosling and Blunt give us every reason to believe in it.

Robot Dreams

In this gorgeous animated parable of love and friendship set in 1980s New York, a lonely dog orders up a mail-order robot friend, and his life is changed. The two stroll through the city, and though Dog has seen it all, Robot takes in every sight with fresh eyes. This fantasy New York is populated by anthropomorphized animals—yaks in business suits, gazelles in dresses and lipstick—and for Dog and Robot, everything, from an octopus subway drummer to a morning of roller-dancing in Central Park, is a source of delight. But a day at the beach spells bad news for a being made mostly of metal, and Dog and Robot are tragically separated; as they try to find their way back to one another, their story shifts into a complex reflection on the nature of goodbyes and new beginnings. In adapting Sara Varon’s graphic novel of the same name, Spanish director Pablo Berger has made a movie that feels, in the best way, like the last day of summer: radiant, bittersweet, redolent of memories in the making.

DogMan

In a career spanning some 40 years, French filmmaker Luc Besson has specialized in fantastic flights of fantasy and shockeroo violence. But his DogMan is an exceedingly tender film, and a surprising one. Caleb Landry Jones’ Douglas is a wounded human being, a survivor of childhood abuse, who is mostly in a wheelchair and finds solace in living with his community of dogs. But his life isn’t joyless: he takes pleasure in the companionship of his four-legged friends, and in his one-night-a-week job as a performer in a drag bar. When he runs afoul of thugs, his dogs protect him: rest assured that nothing bad happens to the canine characters in this film, but evil humans aren’t so fortunate. This is the perfect movie for those days you’re convinced that dogs are better than people—even if that’s every day.

La Chimera

In Alice Rohrwacher’s La Chimera, set in the Tuscan countryside circa 1980, Josh O’Connor plays Arthur, an Englishman caught in an Italian reverie. He’s a grave robber in love with relics of the past, but he’s also mourning a lost love, a woman named Beniamina, who has disappeared from his life under circumstances that are never explained. Beniamina’s aged and slightly addled mother, Flora (played, wonderfully, by Isabella Rossellini), insists she’ll be coming back, but Arthur knows better; he’s tormented by visions of his inamorata, longing to join her, wherever she is. Rohrwacher is an assured filmmaker, and she steers this dream of a movie as steadily as a kite in a stiff breeze. It’s the kind of movie you wake up from, as opposed to one you merely watch.

Tótem

Seven-year-old Sol (Naíma Sentíes) is looking forward to an elaborate birthday party for her father, Tona (Mateo Garcia), to be held in her grandfather’s home. She and her mother, Lucia (Iazua Larios), have prepared a little performance, a surprise for her father, involving a rainbow clown wig and a feat of operatic lip-synching. But when she arrives at the house, the extended family, bustling about in preparation, has little time for her, and she’s told she can’t see her father. The reality is that Tona is dying of cancer, and though Sol knows he’s very ill, this is the first time she truly has to reckon with his inevitable death. That may make Tótem sound like a downer, but in the hands of director Lila Avilés, it’s not: what do grief and loss mean to children? As adults, we can’t really know, but Tótem offers a promise of light beyond the sorrow of loss, for young and old alike.

Kidnapped: The Abduction of Edgardo Mortara

Italian director Marco Bellocchio (Fists in the Pocket, The Traitor) is 84 years old, but his movies are more vital and muscular than those of many filmmakers half his age. With Kidnapped, he tells the true story of Edgardo Mortara, a six-year-old Jewish boy who, at the behest of Pope Pius IX, was taken away from his family in 1858 Bologna and whisked off to be indoctrinated into Catholicism. His parents try desperately to get Edgardo back, but to no avail: he has become a pawn of a zealous, anti-Semitic pope who’s clinging to his waning power. Bellocchio’s chief target is the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church, but the movie works as straightforward melodrama, too: Edgardo is a figure locked so tightly in a nightmare that he eventually succumbs to it. His story, in the hands of a master, is both compelling and chilling.

Hit Man

Glen Powell plays mild-mannered college professor Gary Johnson, a guy who earns extra money by posing as a hit man for the New Orleans Police Department: He meets with ne’er-do-wells hoping to enlist his services; when they come clean with their intent, the cops move in with the handcuffs. Gary loves this side hustle, happily donning any disguise or persona necessary to get the job done. Then he falls for Maddy (Adria Arjona), an unhappily married woman who approaches him about offing her husband. He dissuades her, and they fall in love—but that’s only the beginning of their problems. Richard Linklater directs this foxy caper with buoyant good humor. And Powell, sexy and mischievous, makes a great, casual matinee idol, whether you discover his charms on the big screen or the small one.