Focus Features’ latest movie, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, opened in the U.S. on July 15th, 2022, to rave reviews from critics. Led by Lesley Manville in the title role, this charming story of an aging widow going on an adventure to the world’s most romantic city is sure to be a favorite for many viewers, especially fans of period comedies.
Focus Features is no stranger to such success, though, and their resume is filled to the brim with acclaimed films going all the way back to their debut in 2002. Going through all their narrative films (documentaries aren’t included in this list) reads like a catalog of the highest-rated movies of the 21st century, with many of them going well above 90% approval on Rotten Tomatoes.
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10 Raw (2017) – 93%
French horror can often go to graphic, gory extremes, and Raw does not disappoint in that regard, being a disturbing look at cannibalism that more than lives up to its title. While festival screenings had some viewers fainting in shock, the movie became a critical darling, with Mark Kermode even calling it 2017’s best.
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Raw tells the story of Justine, a lifelong vegetarian who gains a taste for human flesh after eating meat for the first time. Not only does the film have great gore effects, but it’s also very intelligent, with first-time Julia Ducournau crafting an engaging coming-of-age story with surprisingly relatable themes.
9 Milk (2003) – 93%
As a highly important figure in American LGBTQ+ history, it was perhaps inevitable that San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk would get his own biopic, but Gus Van Sant’s Milk rises above the standard fare. Anchored by Sean Penn’s Oscar-winning performance, the movie is based on the true story of the LGBTQ+ icon and serves as both a great character study and an examination of ’70s culture wars.
Following Milk’s life from his move to San Francisco to his tragic assassination, the movie portrays Milk as a fully realized character and a man of great courage and conviction, without glossing over his very human flaws. It also handles its subject matter with care, with every character portrayed realistically, even when they’re on the wrong side of history.
8 Moonrise Kingdom (2003) – 93%
Wes Anderson is one of the most celebrated auteurs working today, so it makes sense that his movie released by Focus Features is widely cited as one of his best. Moonrise Kingdom is a coming-of-age film in a way only Anderson could make it, combining adolescent themes with his signature visual style.
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As with many of Anderson’s films, one of the highlights is seeing how many of his usual stars he can pack on screen, and Moonrise Kingdom doesn’t disappoint. With hilarious turns by regulars like Frances McDormand, Jason Schwartzman, and Tilda Swinton, it’s no wonder many Anderson fans have come to love the film.
7 Pariah (2011) – 95%
A small indie film even by Focus standards, Pariah is the story of Alike, a Black teenage girl coming to terms with her lesbian identity. While Pariah didn’t set the box office on fire, it was beloved by critics and served as an excellent debut for LGBTQ+ director Dee Rees, who went on to receive further critical acclaim for her work on Bessie and Mudbound.
What makes the movie so important is how it explores both race and sexuality and the struggles that can sometimes come with embracing these identities. Seeing Alike endure emotional and physical abuse from her mother is a difficult experience, but an all too common one that deserves attention from filmmakers and audiences alike.
6 The Mustang (2019) – 95%
Focus Features has long been a company willing to take a chance on first-time directors, and The Mustang offers a compelling reason why. The debut feature of French director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, the movie earned very strong reviews, with critics especially singling out stars Matthias Schoenaerts and Bruce Dern for praise.
A quiet drama about a convict placed in a rehabilitation program for training wild horses, The Mustang may not be flashy, but it’s an effective tale of friendship and redemption that doesn’t pull any punches. Roman is a sympathetic protagonist who has still committed terrible deeds, but the movie doesn’t condemn him for it, instead letting him become a better person in a realistic way.
5 The Pianist (2002) – 95%
Holocaust films are often favorites of the Academy, but for a film like The Pianist, all those Oscars are well-deserved. Based on the true story of Władysław Szpilman, a Polish-Jewish pianist who survived the Nazi occupation of Warsaw, the film was a critical and commercial success that made Adrien Brody a star.
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Like all the best films following the survivors of real-life tragedies, The Pianist is an inspiring story of survival while never sugarcoating the horrors that the victims of Nazi oppression had to face. While director Roman Polanski will always be a controversial figure, his filmmaking prowess, as well as his own experiences surviving the Holocaust, were put to good use in this highly personal story.
4 Lost In Translation (2003) – 95%
A romantic dramedy that breaks with many of the genre’s most treasured conventions, Lost in Translation established Sofia Coppola as a unique voice with a future outside her father’s shadow. It also served as a breakout for Scarlett Johansson and a showcase for Bill Murray’s considerable dramatic talent.
Along with The Pianist, Lost in Translation was one of Focus Features’ early success stories that established them as a force to be reckoned with. It’s also a rare drama movies that actually leaves room for a sequel, ending on a cliffhanger that leaves lots of potential for Bob and Charlotte to reunite years later.
3 BlacKkKlansman (2018) – 96%
A black comedy with a timely message, BlacKkKlansman is based on the true story of Ron Stallworth, a Black police officer who successfully infiltrated Colorado Springs Ku Klux Klan. It won Spike Lee his first competitive Oscar (for Adapted Screenplay) and was a huge hit with critics, who praised it as one of the director’s best films in a long time.
As one would expect from a film by Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman is far from subtle, but its story is an important one that packs a dramatic punch as well as some dark laughs. It’s filled with stellar performances, especially from John David Washington and Adam Driver, and also shines a light on an oft-forgotten part of Black history.
2 Kubo And The Two Strings (2016) – 97%
Focus Features’ partnership with Laika was quite a fruitful one, producing a string of impressive animated films, but Kubo and the Two Strings is widely considered the strongest of them all. A fantasy adventure with a heavy Japanese influence, the movie’s gorgeous animation earned it Oscar nominations for both Best Animated Feature and Best Visual Effects.
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Kubo and the Two Strings may have been a box office disappointment, but it’s essential viewing for fans of animation and fantasy alike. The story of a boy on a quest to stop his power-hungry family members is fun and engaging, and Laika’s signature stop-motion work keeps getting better with each film.
1 Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020) – 99%
Many movies got lost in the shuffle during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Never Rarely Sometimes Always is one of the more underserved victims. An unsung gem in a difficult year for the film industry, the movie was a big success on the festival circuit and earned near-unanimous acclaim from critics.
Not only does the film feature strong performances from young actors Sidney Flanigan (in her film debut) and Talia Ryder, the film’s look at abortion deserves more attention, especially in light of recent events. It’s not an easy watch, but Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a hard-hitting but sensitive look at a difficult issue, as well as an enjoyable buddy film.
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About The Author
(23 Articles Published)
Pierce Brenner is a freelance list writer for Screen Rant. He graduated from California State University, San Marcos in 2019 with a BA in History, with a minor in Film/Video Production. Pierce’s childhood love of Disney, Pixar, and Star Wars sent on him the path to movie fandom early, but it was The Lord of the Rings trilogy that inspired him to become a filmmaker. His love for film knows no bounds, and he’ll watch anything from prestige epics to 70s/80s exploitation. Currently writing a script for a horror-thriller feature.
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