Dan Wheldon in 'The Lionheart' documentary, available on HBO Max. Photo Credit: HBO

We’re halfway through 2024. After watching 150 movies, here are my best so far:

10. Inside Out 2

Available: Only in theatres

Quote: “Maybe that’s what happens when you grow up— you feel less joy.”

The best sequels tightrope the balance of catering to fans of the original and luring in new fans who might not have seen the first film. Inside Out 2 accomplishes that goal as well as any movie in recent memory. This Pixar animated feature comes almost a decade after Inside Out. Rest assured, knowledge of the previous plot won’t impede your enjoyment. Inside Out 2 perfectly captures the awkwardness of being 13 and trying to fit in. As usual, Amy Poehler shines as Joy, but the star is Maya Hawke who introduces herself by saying: “Oh My gosh! I’m Anxiety. Where can I put my stuff?”

9. In the Land of Saints and Sinners

Available for rent on: YouTube, Apple TV, Amazon

Quote: “There’s more to me than this. I’d like folks to see it.”

Liam Neeson starring as an aging hitman is hardly a stretch. However, the plot of In the Land of Saints and Sinners elevates it above typical Neeson action fare. This tense drama set in the 1970s during the Northern Ireland conflict centers around four members of the Irish Republican Army who hide out in a small town after a car bombing in Belfast. When the brother of one of the four is murdered in an unrelated incident, that leads to a hunt for Finbar (Neeson). The gang leader is a chilling Kerry Condon whose Doireann is one of the best villains of 2024. It’s very different from her Oscar-nominated role in The Banshees of Inisherin.

8. Immaculate

Available for rent on: YouTube, Apple TV, Amazon

Quote: “I know God saved me for a reason, but I guess I’m still searching for what that reason is.”

Every now and then two movies that seem very similar are released around the same time. The Illusionist and The Prestige came out within months of each other in 2006. This year, we have Immaculate and The First Omen— horror films featuring nuns with striking similarities. Choose Immaculate, which has a better script, a leaner run time, and a more intense third act. Sydney Sweeney knows how to carry a movie, and when she takes control of a scene, it’s amazing to watch. Immaculate has plenty to say about women’s reproductive rights and bodily autonomy. This is a strong movie with a strong finish.

7. Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

Available for rent on: YouTube, Apple TV, Amazon

Quote: “Where are you going, so full of hope? There is no hope!”

In Mad Max: Fury Road, Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron were the co-stars, but Hardy was hardly in the movie. It was Theron’s show. The follow-up focuses on Furiosa’s origin story with Anya Taylor-Joy in the lead role. But she only has 30 lines of dialogue. No worries. George Miller’s incredible visual style for chase scenes makes up for the limited amount of conversations. It’s an incredible watch that must be seen in theatres to be appreciated. The one actor with plenty to say is Chris Hemsworth, who has all the best lines as Dr. Dementus. Proving yet again, that it’s more fun to be the bad guy.

6. The Fall Guy

Available for rent on: YouTube, Apple TV, Amazon

Quote: “I’m just a boy in a neon suit, standing in front of a girl, reminding her that Notting Hill is her favorite movie.”

Director David Leitch, a former stuntman and stunt performer, takes us inside a movie within a movie— and it’s all gas, no brakes. This reboot of the 1980s TV show is pure fun. It’s also a stealth romcom. Amidst the car chases, car crashes, explosions, fighting, and special effects, this is a boy-loses-girl comeback story. Don’t think too hard about the silly plot. Just sit back and enjoy Ryan Gosling as stuntman Colt Seavers, and Emily Blunt as director Jody Moreno. They work so well together that this action-romance-comedy wouldn’t be the same without their chemistry. We can only hope for a sequel, and Gosling revealed that a script has already been written.

5. Civil War

Available for rent on: YouTube

Quote: “What kind of American are you?”

Alex Garland’s highly anticipated exploration of a divided America literally at war with itself sparked much debate. Civil War surprisingly focuses more on action and less on politics. Some have criticized Garland for not clearly stating what each side was fighting for. Fair point, but that doesn’t alter the movie-watching experience. This dystopian version of the USA is engaging and thought-provoking. Kirsten Dunst’s portrayal of a war photographer is believable, according to a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer. You gain insights from Dunst’s Lee working with youngster Jessie (Cailee Spaeny). Also, give it up for Jesse Plemons for delivering the cameo of the year.

4. Challengers

Available for purchase on: YouTube, Apple TV, Amazon

Quote: “This is a game about winning the points that matter.”

It feels too simplistic to call Challengers a tennis love triangle. This drama is more of a character study than a typical sports movie where we’re rooting for underdogs. Tashi (Zendaya), Patrick (Josh O’Connor), and Art (Mike Faist) are all dealing with disappointment on some level. Once a close trio, Patrick has splintered away, and Tashi and Art are married. However, the gang is reunited at an ATP Challenger Tour event in New Rochelle, New York. Directed by Luca Guadagnino, Challengers looks at friendships and how people disconnect and reconnect. Plus, the tennis scenes are filmed beautifully in a way that’s unlike any we’ve seen before.

3. Snack Shack

Available for rent on: YouTube, Apple TV, Amazon

Quote: “We don’t say goodbye, just see you later.”

Genuinely funny teen comedies are rare these days. That’s what makes Snack Shack such a welcome surprise. Director/screenwriter Adam Rehmeier delivers a throwback on two Nebraska kids in 1991 who spend the summer running a swimming pool concession stand. Besties A.J. (Conor Sherry) and Moose (Gabriel LaBelle) seem like people we all knew growing up. They have big ideas and don’t always play by the rules. This dynamic duo is so much fun. Their plan to have a fun, money-making summer is upended when a love triangle develops between them and Brooke (Mika Abdalla). This conflict tests their friendship but also gives this comedy much more heart than you expect.

2. The Lionheart

Streaming on: Max

Quote: “He was a risk taker. That’s one of the things I fell in love with.”

You don’t need to be an auto racing fan to appreciate the best sports documentary of the year. Keep the tissues close because this emotional examination of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon looks at his life, death, and his young sons attempting to follow in his footsteps. The interviews with his widow and former teammates are raw and gut-wrenching. But it’s also an illuminating portrait of how a family deals with grief— especially when the children pursue the same career that killed their father. Credit Susie Wheldon for speaking candidly about the worst day of her life and concerns for her kids’ future.

1. Love Lies Bleeding

Available for rent on: YouTube, Apple TV, Amazon

Quote: “It’s the ones you love the most who always disappoint you in the end.”

Lesbians, bodybuilding, steroids, and murder. We haven’t seen a thriller quite like this one. The only thing that comes close is Bound (1996). Love Lies Bleeding is set in 1989 and tells the story of gym manager Lou (Kristen Stewart), who falls for gym member Jackie (Katy O’Brian). Things get more complicated when Lou’s brother-in-law is killed. This sets off a chain of events leading to Lou confronting the criminal past of her family, including her estranged father, played by Ed Harris, who wears an utterly ridiculous wig/hair extensions. Love Lies Bleeding is dark, violent, and surprising. This neo-noir centers on desperate people— and what they’re willing to do to improve their lives.

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant.