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‘They are in a different league’: the British films coming for Hollywood in 2024

Andrew Haigh on All of Us Strangers

For one British director to have made a movie named the world over as the year’s best may be regarded as good fortune. For two to do so looks like carefulness. Three, however, suggests a trend. And that only takes us to February.

The vicissitudes of awards season mean that some of 2024’s finest films – including the Holocaust psycho-horror The Zone of Interest, the metaphysical love story All of Us Strangers and the wartime Amsterdam documentary Occupied City – were out in the US before the end of 2023, in order to qualify for the Oscars. UK distributors, however, hold them for the first two months of the new year, for maximum Baftas momentum.

All three films have topped numerous critics’ lists, all three already hoovered up a lot of trophies. And all three are by British directors – Jonathan Glazer (born in Hadley Wood, north London), Andrew Haigh (Harrogate) and Steve McQueen (Ealing, west London).

“I do think that All of Us Strangers and The Zone of Interest are towering, serious, incredible achievements,” says Julie Huntsinger, who runs the Telluride film festival, a major Oscars launchpad which screened all three – including the world premiere of All of Us Strangers. “They are in a different league than the other films. These are the most beautiful examples of pure cinematic art that we’ve seen in a while.”

Both of these fiction films are stylistically ambitious and entirely uncompromising – and movies apparently without antecedent. They are superficially inspired by source novels but transformed by the men behind them into works of unflinching biography.

The Zone of Interest takes the Martin Amis book of the same name, strips away its fiction and replaces it with mundanely horrifying insight into the idyllic life of Rudolf and Helga Hoss at the dream home they built for themselves and their children just outside the walls of Auschwitz, where he is camp commandant.

All of Us Strangers upends Taichi Yamada’s novella, Strangers, about a man who returns to his childhood home to find his long-dead parents still living there, adds a gay romance and a ghost story whose final reel delivers one cathartic body-blow after another. Haigh also shot it in the suburban Croydon semi he grew up in.

Unflinching … Christian Friedel in a scene from The Zone of Interest. Photograph: AP

After a few doldrum years – maybe more like a decade – Brits are back making not just the most envelope-pushing movies around, but (following Christopher Nolan, with Oppenheimer) some of the biggest. Strangers’ Paul Mescal has just finished shooting Ridley (South Shields) Scott’s Gladiator sequel, due in time for next Christmas.

Alex Garland (born, like Nolan, in London in the summer of 1970) moves from the folk horror of Men to the all-out dystopian action of Civil War, with Kirsten Dunst as a journalist staggering between assorted danger zones in a violent future America.

The buzziest horror film of 2024, meanwhile, is Speak No Evil, a psycho-horror set in a country house starring James McAvoy and directed by James Watkins, born in Nottingham, who cut his fangs on Eden Lake and The Woman in Black.

Rose (Chelmsford) Glass made her debut in 2019 with the impeccably terrifying Saint Maud; her second feature, Love Lies Bleeding, is one of the hottest tickets of 2024’s Sundance. It stars Kristen Stewart as the employee of a gym who starts a relationship with a bisexual competitive bodybuilder.

Almost certainly Cannes-bound is the latest from Glasgow-born Lynne Ramsay, who reunites after seven years with Joaquin Phoenix, star of You Were Never Really Here. Polaris, which also features Phoenix’s wife, Rooney Mara, is reportedly set in Alaska in the 1890s and revolves around a meeting between “an ice photographer and the devil”.

McQueen’s documentary, Occupied City, shows us Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation and beyond. The four-hour film is immersive, intense and has a contemporary relevance likely to also inform Blitz, his first fiction film since Widows (the Small Axe trilogy was for TV), which is positioned for release later in 2024. Set in London during the second world war bombings, it stars Saoirse Ronan, Harris Dickinson, Stephen Graham and Kathy Burke and – in his acting debut – Paul Weller.

The last British director on this list is an honorary one. Joshua Oppenheimer might have been born in the US and partly lives in Denmark, but he was educated at Central Saint Martins and now teaches at the University of Westminster. Ten years on from The Look of Silence – his follow-up to The Act of Killing – he delivers The End, with Tilda Swinton and Michael Shannon as heads of a wealthy family in a bunker two years after the end of the world, which they directly hastened. And it’s a musical.

Forty-three years ago, Colin Welland yelled “the Brits are coming!” as Chariots of Fire won its first Oscar. Last year saw the death of that film’s director, Hugh Hudson, and the retirement of its producer, David Puttnam, from the UK Film Distributors’ Association.

“This business needs a shake-up,” said Puttnam in a departing interview. “This business needs to be rethought.” Based on the current state of British cinema, best not make it too dramatic a rattle.

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