By Eric J.

**Please note some films mentioned in this post are not appropriate for all ages.**

EVPL is proud to have Kanopy, a free, digital streaming service for libraries. Watch great movies with the click of a button but without the monthly fee of most streaming services. The app, available to download on evpl.org, works on phones, desktops, Roku, and Amazon Firestick. As an EVPL user, you will have access to 20 films per month. This feature looks at some of what Kanopy has to offer, highlighting a particular filmmaker, actor, studio, genre, or theme.

This time, the spotlight is on the company A24. While many of these spotlights are on a particular filmmaker or even genre, this one covers a company that produces and distributes independent films and in less than a decade, has already become synonymous with “quality.” Founded in 2013, the company started small, but three years later won the Academy Awards for Best Lead Actress (Brie Larson), Best Documentary (Amy), and Best Visual Effects (Ex Machina). One year after that, A24 received their first Oscar for Best Picture with Moonlight. They have even started to produce television in recent years, including the Emmy-winning Euphoria on HBO. Whether it’s drama, comedy, horror, or somewhere in-between, the A24 logo says this will be an inventive, original work that will swing for the fences every attempt.

In this special Double Sized Annual edition of Kanopy Spotlight, we will look at six of the many films produced by A24 available on Kanopy.

Moonlight (2016)

Director: Barry Jenkins

Starring: Trevante Rhodes, André Holland, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali

Runtime: 111 mins.

Rating: R

Moonlight focuses on one man at three critical points in his life, known under three names and played by three different actors. As a kid, “Little” finds himself living between two worlds: the horrible household provided by his drug-addicted mother (Harris) and the fantasy home life provided by Juan (Ali), a drug dealer who takes Little under his protection and gives him a place away from his mom and the other boys who chase him. As a teenager, Chiron is bullied every day at school, only finding peace through his best friend Kevin, who Chiron gradually realizes he is in love with. As an adult, “Black” (Rhodes) has his world shaken when Kevin (Holland) calls him out of the blue, wanting to catch up after so many years and so many things have happened…

Based on a play In the Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue written by Tarell Alvin McCraney, director Barry Jenkins and McCraney adapted it into a screenplay that closely examines many subjects, from being gay in a black community to drug addiction to the failure of schools on the issue of bullying, while always feeling like a character piece focused on Chiron. Partially based on the lives of both McCraney and Jenkins, our empathy for Chiron grows even as we understand why his experiences drift him further and further away from other people. It is heartbreaking to see the innocent boy become a hardened man, but not without some hope left. A personal but powerful film, it won Best Picture at the 2017 Academy Awards, the first film with an all-black cast and the first film dealing with LGBTQ+ issues to do so, as well as Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali as Juan, Chiron’s childhood protector and mentor.

Lady Bird (2017)

Director: Greta Gerwig

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet

Runtime: 94 mins.

Rating: R

Part comedy, part drama, Lady Bird examines the hostile, passionate, argumentative, explosive, but ultimately loving relationship that can exist between a mother and daughter. Seventeen-year-old Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Ronan) is close to graduating high school and wants to move as far away from Sacramento as possible while still being landlocked, something her mother (Metcalf) has no idea how she’ll afford. Her mom’s constant worries about their finances are contrasted with Lady Bird’s envy of the big, beautiful houses that her Catholic school classmates can easily afford. Finding herself with choices from every direction: between her childhood best friend and the popular rich girl, between the boy in her play (Hedges) and the boy in a band (Chalamet), and between the Sacramento life her mom represents and her East Coast dreams, Lady Bird must decide what she really wants…

This film is a love letter to the city of Sacramento, writer and director Greta Gerwig‘s real hometown. Although she said the events in the movie never happened directly, the nostalgia for the city and the time period it is set in (the post-9/11 early 2000s) can be felt in every frame of the film. Lady Bird has very different relationships with her family, friends, school, and boyfriends, but beneath all of them is an outward hatred of the world in which she grew up, a desire to break free and become her true self elsewhere, and a realization that it is her home after all. Lady Bird, which won Best Film – Musical or Comedy and Best Actress – Musical or Comedy (Ronan) at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards, is lighthearted and low on conflict except the difficult, heartfelt relationship of mother and daughter, presenting both a beautiful coming of age story and a slice of a particular place and time.

Hereditary (2018)

Director: Ari Aster

Starring: Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Gabriel Byrne

Runtime: 128 mins.

Rating: R

Hereditary takes a toxic family dynamic to its extreme. When Annie’s (Collette) mother dies, it destroys the family, not out of grief but out of the damage already done. The mom favored Annie’s brother growing up, a man who ended up killing himself to spite their mother. When Annie married Steve (Byrne) and had two kids of their own: son Peter (Wolff) and daughter Charlie (newcomer Milly Shapiro), her mother treated her grandchildren the same way, infuriating and alienating Annie even further. Not that Annie’s relationship with the children is any better; when she was younger, she sleepwalked into Peter’s bedroom and doused herself, Peter and Charlie in paint thinner, ready to light a match. Now, Peter is sixteen and distant from his mom, Charlie is thirteen and does strange, disturbing things like clucking at random times and slicing the heads off doves with scissors, and Annie can barely keep the family together…

From the premise, it may not seem like a horror film, perhaps a twisted and dark drama, but that is because so much of the power of this film is going in blind that I hesitate to say anymore. The underlying, unspoken pain of the family becomes visceral and real, and how the characters treat themselves as well as each other worsens and spirals further away. The raw power of this movie shakes most who watch it. What is even more impressive is that this is Ari Aster‘s first film. Hereditary not only brings strong emotions out of the viewer, but in a way that has complete control over the story being told, each piece of the puzzle there for a reason. It is hard to say more without spoiling it, but any fan of the horror genre needs to give this film a try.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019)

Director: Joe Talbot

Starring: Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, Danny Glover

Runtime: 121 mins.

Rating: R

Jimmie Fails plays himself, or at least a version of himself, inThe Last Black Man in San Francisco. Fails lives with his best friend, Montgomery “Mont” Allen (Majors) and Mont’s blind grandfather (Glover), but spends his days fixing and renovating a house he neither owns nor has permission to be on the property, a giant Victorian-style mansion. Jimmie’s childhood home, he says was it was built from scratch by his grandfather, the first black man in San Francisco. When the current owners are evicted and the building sits empty, Jimmie and eventually Mont secretly move into the house. Everyone tells them it’s a bad idea, but just for once, Jimmie feels like he has something that’s his, that belongs to him, even as Mont begins to worry about his friend…

Our protagonist, Jimmie is heavily based on its lead actor and co-writer of the same name, who really did have a Victorian mansion as a childhood home that his family lost. Along with his best friend, Joe Talbot, they thought up the idea for the film as teenagers, a fantasy to reclaim the house (if only in fiction), that many years later became reality when it was funded by Kickstarter, with Fails as lead actor and Talbot as director. The film is as much of a love letter to San Francisco as Lady Bird is to Sacramento. From focusing on its early history with many Japanese residents until they were forced to internment camps during World War II to the present day where pollution in some parts is so bad that government officials wear hazmat suits while citizens walk on by in regular clothing, it doesn’t shy away from the darkness, including the gentrification at the heart of the story, but it also says that you cannot hate something “unless you love it.”

The Last Black Man in San Francisco even has a connection to the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library. Co-Producer, Luis Alfonso De la Parra is the son of one of our best Storytime presenters, our very own Ms. Marisela!

The Farewell (2019)

Director: Lulu Wang

Starring: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Zhao Shuzhen

Runtime: 100 mins.

Rating: PG

Based on a “true lie” as the opening card says, The Farewell, or Don’t Tell Her as it was re-titled in China, tells the story of Chinese born but American raised Billi (Awkwafina), who learns from her father (Ma) that his mother, Billi’s grandmother (Zhao) is dying… but no one in the family is going to tell her. This doesn’t make sense or seem morally right from Billi’s American perspective, but her family insists this is normal in Chinese tradition. Under the guise of a wedding, the whole family gathers in China to say goodbye to her one last time without saying the words, something that is hard for everyone but especially for Billi, who doesn’t want to lie to her “Nai Nai” in the first place…

While most of the films discussed so far were partially autobiographical, The Farewell is based on an actual incident in the life of director Lulu Wang (partner of Moonlight‘s Barry Jenkins), who first told the story on an episode of the public radio show This American Life. A bilingual film that often switches from English to Mandarin with English subtitles, the “meta” aspect of the movie got even stranger when the real-life grandmother (who still had not been told her terminal diagnosis) learned her granddaughter was making a movie in her hometown of Changchun and frequently visited the set, all while Wang and the crew kept secret what the film was about. Only when the film was finished and released in China did her Nai Nai tell her sister, “Little Nai Nai” (who plays herself in the movie) that she understood she was the “her” of the title Don’t Tell Her. Speaking to audiences both domestic and abroad, Awkwafina won Best Actress – Musical or Comedy at the 2020 Golden Globe Awards while the film won Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress (Zhao) at the 2020 Independent Spirit Awards.

The Lighthouse (2019)

Director: Robert Eggers

Starring: Robert Pattison, Willem Dafoe

Runtime: 109 mins.

Rating: R

The Lighthouse features two men, Ephraim Winslow (Pattison) and Thomas Wake (Dafoe), trapped on an island with only each other for company. Supposed to only be there for a couple of weeks towards the end of the 19th century, Winslow works under Wake, forced to do the hard and difficult labor while Wake works the light at the top of the tower, something Winslow is never allowed to do. A few short weeks of servitude seems tolerable to Winslow, until the weather gets worse and their replacements never arrive. Trapped and with no sign as to when help may show up, Winslow’s sanity drifts away, seeing many strange and bizarre sights as his hatred for Wake gets stronger and stronger…

Shot in black and white and a 1.19:1 aspect ratio that makes the film look like a square, the film brings to mind the past, whether that be Universal monster movies or late 19th-century literature, or ancient mythology. Originally an attempt to adapt Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Light-House,” Robert Eggers and his brother Max Eggers co-wrote something new that exists between surrealist horror and paranoia thriller, showing the effects of what a quarantined lockdown can do to a relationship, which may or may not make this a good film to watch right about now. Equally frightening, bewildering, and thought-provoking, The Lighthouse succeeded as a horror film and art film alike, even being nominated for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography because of its gorgeous but haunting, black and white imagery.

These only scratch the surface of what Kanopy has available. If you like serious drama, there is Room starring Brie Larson (Captain Marvel), who won an Academy Award playing a mother being held captive with her son and the stories she tells to comfort and explain their world to him. First Reformed is a character piece directed by Paul Schrader (writer of Taxi Driver) and starring Ethan Hawke (Sinister) as a pastor of a dying church, who is struggling with his faith and place in the modern world.

If you liked the slice of life, coming of age comedy of Lady Bird, there is Eighth Grade, directed by Bo Burnham and starring actual teenager Elsie Fisher, showing the awkwardness and uncertainty of the time spent just before high school. The Florida Project is a much darker film, starring The Lighthouse‘s Willem Dafoe as the handyman to a cheap motel in Kissimmee, Florida right behind Walt Disney World, and seen through the eyes of a little girl who lives there with her drug-addicted mother.

For horror fans, there’s Midsommar starring Florence Pugh (Black Widow, Little Women), Ari Aster‘s folk horror follow-up to Hereditary and every bit as harrowing and grief-inducing, with terrible events occurring in the bright sunshine of Sweden. Robert Eggers‘ first film The Witch (stylized as The VVitch) is a superstitious based period piece set in pre-colonial America and starring The Queen’s Gambit‘s Anya Taylor-Joy as a woman accused of being a witch by her mother after the disappearance of her baby brother.

For those into sci-fi, there’s Ex Machina, where both the audience and Domhnall Gleeson (About Time) must determine how real an android, played by Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) and created by Oscar Isaac (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), truly is, and Under the Skin starring Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) as an alien examining human beings. For thrillers, Green Room stars Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: The Next Generation) and the late Anton Yelchin (Star Trek Beyond), a movie about a punk band who must ward off Neo-Nazis. For documentaries, Amy focuses on the life and death of Amy Winehouse and won the Oscar for Best Documentary in 2016.

A24 has a true treasure trove on Kanopy, featuring almost their entire library, many of which rank among the best films of the 21st century.

More Kanopy Spotlights

Eric J.

Eric J.

With 8 locations throughout Vanderburgh County, EVPL is ready to discover, explore, and connect WITH you! We encourage you to uncover new things, revisit old favorites, and to engage with us along the way.

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