Jordan Peele’s surreal, laugh-out-loud horror film, which stars Lupita Nyong’o up against her evil twin in a blood-red jumpsuit, toys with what makes us feel most comfortable. “Playfully using classic tropes of the genre while channelling primal fears, Us can make you laugh and cower at once,” wrote Caryn James for BBC Culture. Littered with Easter eggs, Us leaves the viewer wanting more.
Created and released for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, which landed the first man on the Moon, this stunning documentary is made entirely from archive footage. Directed and produced by Todd Douglas Miller, “the film’s emotional power comes not in the documentation of astronauts in space but in the absolutely incredible footage of the crowds who watched the launch from Earth,” wrote Adrian Horton for The Guardian, calling it “one of the most astounding films about space ever made”.
Are you afraid of the dark? Perhaps the scariest thing of all is the daylight Midsommar dares you to contemplate. Set during the Swedish summer solstice, it sees a group of unsuspecting US tourists join a rural community for a holiday of a lifetime – or so they think. Ari Aster’s second feature film after Hereditary, it stars Florence Pugh, Will Poulter and William Jackson Harper. Empire wrote: “After a slow simmer, with the village’s off-ness being ramped up degree by degree, it finally reaches a boil in a climax that makes the famous ending of The Wicker Man look like a documentary on the Fyre Festival”.
Syrian filmmaker Waad al-Kateab made this documentary about her life in one of the last standing hospitals in rebel-held Aleppo, where her husband Hamza Al-Khateab was a doctor treating those caught up in the brutal conflict. During their time there, Waad gave birth to her first daughter, Sama. Unflinching in its portrayal of war in all its gruesome reality, For Sama was described by Variety as “simple in concept and shattering in execution, blending hard-headed reportage with unguarded personal testimony” and “you-are-there cinema of the most literal order”.
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
The ninth film from Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood is set in Hollywood’s swinging 60s and stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt as a fictional fading actor and his stunt double, and Margot Robbie as the very real Sharon Tate. At nearly three hours long, this marathon love letter to Hollywood’s golden years “could be his late-career masterpiece: uproariously funny, surging with cinematic adrenaline and strewn with delectable period detail,” wrote Robbie Collin for The Telegraph. Just don’t tell anyone the ending.
Written and directed by Lulu Wang, The Farewell tells the story of a Chinese-American woman, Billi (Awkwafina), who is told her grandmother – Nai Nai, played by Shuzhen Zhou – has terminal cancer. However her extended family decide to keep the diagnosis from their sick relation – and plan a wedding to bring the whole family together for one final time. Based on a true story, which gained traction after Wang told it on NPR’s This American Life in 2016, it was praised by RogerEbert.com as “a story about cultural clashes without ever leaning on wacky stereotypes or lazy clichés… The entire film is pretty perfect, actually.”
Winner of the 2019 Palme d’Or, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite “is a black comedy, a social commentary, an action thriller and a bloodbath, all rolled into one,” said BBC Culture’s Emma Jones. The South Korean auteur’s genre-bending seventh feature-film explores the dynamics of class through the intersecting lives of two families, one living in poverty, another in luxury. The son, Ki-woo, becomes a tutor at the rich family’s mansion, and is determined to share his new lifestyle with his parents and sister.
Set over one eventful night, Booksmart follows geeky girls Molly and Amy on the eve of their high-school graduation. The earnest plan of going to the cool kids’ party becomes a hilarious sequence of misadventures in the pursuit of romantic – and platonic – love. Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut shows female friendship in a glorious light, with brilliant supporting characters rounding out this coming-of-age gem. “Booksmart is endlessly funny and outrageous, yet always grounded by its realistic central relationship,” wrote Caryn James for BBC Culture.
Starring Tilda Swinton and her daughter Honor Swinton Byrne, The Souvenir is inspired by the writer-director Joanna Hogg’s youth in 1980s London. Julie, the young film student played by Swinton Byrne, is romantically involved with an older man, Anthony (Tom Burke), who has a thing for opera and drugs. “What is so appealing about it is that Hogg hasn’t made a coming-of-age-film – there are no neat endings to Julie’s journey into womanhood,” wrote Emma Jones for BBC Culture.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Written and directed by Céline Sciamma, Portrait of a Lady on Fire transports the viewer back to 18th-Century Brittany in France, where a relationship blossoms between Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) and her new companion Marianne (Noémie Merlant). But Marianne is actually an artist, assigned by Héloïse’s mother (Valeria Golino), to secretly paint her portrait to send to a potential husband. The Guardian called it “a superbly elegant, enigmatic drama that compels a shiver of aesthetic pleasure and fear”.
The Lion King
Donald Glover and Beyoncé star in the photo-realistic remake of the 25-year-old Disney classic, which divided critics’opinions. The original is widely regarded as being one of the animation studio’s greatest films, and many felt that there was no need for an expensive remake. But “Jon Favreau’s film is funnier than the original, even while it enhances the story’s dark themes,” wrote Caryn James for BBC Culture, nodding to the casting of Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen’s Timon and Pumbaa as “among the film's happiest choices”. Despite the film’s detractors, it became the fourth Disney film this year to make $1bn (£821m) in worldwide box office sales.
Fighting with my Family
A teenage goth girl in Norfolk, UK who grew up in a family obsessed with wrestling is the heroine of this delightful biopic of WWE superstar Paige. Directed and written by Stephen Merchant and starring Florence Pugh, with a cameo from Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson (who also produced it), Fighting with my Family is “so good-hearted in nature that you can't help but get won over by its charm, however familiar it feels at times,” wrote Digital Spy.
Sorry We Missed You
Ken Loach’s Sorry We Missed You follows the life of Ricky Turner (Kris Hitchen), a delivery driver in the north of England who relies on self-employment in the gig economy for income. A father of a teenage boy and an 11-year-old girl, Ricky and his wife Abby (Debbie Honeywood) grapple with the reality of raising a family on precarious incomes. Loach’s first film since winning the Palme d’Or with I, Daniel Blake, Sorry We Missed You was descibed by Variety as an “intimate and powerful drama about what’s going on in people’s everyday lives”.
The 22nd film in Marvel’s incredibly successful Avengers franchise, Endgame was the most hotly-anticipated cinema ticket of 2019. Following on from Infinity War, the Avengers assembled once more to put the universe to rights, and defeat the evil Thanos. Vox called Endgame “a movie steeped in years of lore that still manages to recapture the excitement of watching your very first Marvel experience.” It went on to beat Avatar as the world’s highest-grossing film ever, and was the UK’s fastest-selling digital download film of all time.
Rolling Thunder: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese
Made up of fictional and non-fictional elements, this follow up to Martin Scorsese's previous Bob Dylan film, No Direction Home, it documents Rolling Thunder Revue tour of 1975-76. Netflix told Variety Rolling Thunder “captures the troubled spirit of America in 1975 and the joyous music that Dylan performed during the fall of that year.” NME wrote: “Scorsese has given us an immersive and unparalleled insight into the era that solidified his legacy. You’ll feel like one of the many hanger-ons who latched on for the ride.”
Love film? Join BBC Culture Film Club on Facebook, a community for film fanatics all over the world.
If you would like to comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Culture, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.
And if you liked this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter, called The Essential List. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Culture, Capital and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.