29 Movies Like Ad Astra (2019)

Staff & contributors
Many things clash in this beautifully layered, semi-autobiographical film of American director Lulu Wang: cultures, morals, and emotions. The result is a type of comedy that is complex and bittersweet⁠—and based on a true lie: this is the story of a Chinese grandma whose family won't tell her that she is fatally ill. Instead, they organize a fake wedding in China, where everyone gets together to bid a farewell to the unwitting matriarch (played by Zhao Shuzhen). The fake wedding is, in fact, a premature funeral for a person unaware that she is going to die. Played by rapper and comedian Awkwafina, Billi, a New-York-based Chinese-American with a complicated relationship to China, embodies the cultural and moral question at the heart of this story: is it right or wrong not tell grandma? It is thanks to Wang's deft writing and Awkwafina's outstanding performance that The Farewell homes in on answers without ever being melodramatic. Warm, honest, and beautiful.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Aoi Mizuhara, Awkwafina, Chen Han, Diana Lin, Gil Perez-Abraham, Hong Lu, Ines Laimins, Jiang Yongbo, Jim Liu, Lu Hong, Shuzhen Zhao, Tzi Ma, X Mayo, Yang Xuejian, Zhang Jing, Zhao Shuzhen

Director: Lulu Wang

Rating: PG

Summer 1993 charts a formative summer in the life of young Frida (Laia Artigas), a brooding six-year-old who, having just been orphaned by AIDS, is sent from her home in Barcelona to live in the countryside with her uncle (David Verdaguer), his wife (Bruna Cusí), and their little girl (Paula Robles). Catalan director Carla Simón drew on her own childhood experiences for the film, making Summer 1993 feel intimately told. It’s shot from the perspective of its young protagonist and is guided by the unpredictable rhythms of memory: we experience Frida’s new life the way she might remember it when she’s older, via snapshots of moments that stand out to a child, like the day she spent amongst the chickens in a neighbor’s farm or the moment another kid asks her why she isn’t more visibly upset about her mother’s recent death.

That emotional enigmaticness is what makes Artigas’s naturalistic performance so absorbing: she never plays Frida in a predictable dramatic register, so much so that it’s easy to forget we’re not watching a documentary. The unexpected little ways her grief manifests itself — along with Simón’s assured, impressionistic directing — make this a profoundly heart-rending watch throughout, and especially so in its gut-punch of a final scene.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Bruna Cusí, David Verdaguer, Fermí Reixach, Isabel Rocatti, Laia Artigas, Quimet Pla

Director: Carla Simón

This is quite the movie. It’s based on the true story of Brady Jandereau, an ex-rodeo star who suffered from an injury that took him away from riding horses. This is the best part, in the movie, he actually plays himself. His friends in the movie are his real-life friends. And the horse taming scenes are real wild horses being trained (by him). The line between reality and the filmmaking process is so thin here. An absolutely mesmerizing movie, directed by Chinese filmmaker Chloe Zhao. The Rider. Don’t miss it.

Genre: Drama, Western

Actor: Brady Jandreau, Derrick Janis, Greg Barber, Mooney, Tanner Langdeau, Terri Dawn Pourier, Tim Jandreau

Director: Chloé Zhao

Rating: R

A calm choir leader lives a secret life as eco-warrior in this visually stunning and intelligent story about our complex times. If you're familiar with Icelandic movies, this one has just the right amount of that Icelandic quirkiness - making it a proper feel-good movie with a message. This is added to the superb acting and an off-beat musical score. Not to be missed.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Björn Thors, Charlotte Bøving, Gunnar Bersi Björnsson, Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir, Hallgrimur Olafsson, Haraldur Ari Stefánsson, Helga Braga Jónsdóttir, Hilmir Snær Guðnason, Jóhann Sigurðarson, Jón Gnarr, Jorundur Ragnarsson, Juan Camillo Roman Estrada, Magnús Trygvason Eliassen, Margaryta Hilska, Olena Lavreniuk, Ómar Guðjónsson, Ragnheiður Steindórsdóttir, Saga Garðarsdóttir, Sólveig Arnarsdóttir, Thorir Sæmundsson, Þorsteinn Guðmundsson

Director: Benedikt Erlingsson

Rating: Not Rated

Surreal, strange, yet wondrous, Penguin Highway never takes a straightforward approach to its story. Penguins pop up out of nowhere, leading the nerdy and precocious Aoyama to study them via empirical observation and logical deduction. These studies don’t end up with a feasible explanation– in fact, by the final act, the film abandons all laws of physics. But the journey to that act feels intuitively right. This journey feels like an indescribable formative experience. Aoyama may be obsessed with growing up and committing to the reasonable adult mindset, but he is still a child. From fending off bullies to forming connections with others, his childhood imagination served him better than science could. The film reveres this discovery as well as it should.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy

Actor: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Kana Kita, Landen Beattie, Mamiko Noto, Megumi Han, Miki Fukui, Misaki Kuno, Naoto Takenaka, Rie Kugimiya, Winston Bromhead, Yu Aoi

Director: Hiroyasu Ishida

Rating: Not Rated

There are three big reasons to watch Paddleton. The first two are Ray Romano and Mark Duplass, who play the two neighbors at the center of the story. And the third is Alexandre Lehmann, the director, who also is responsible for Blue Jay (on Netflix as well).

These two misfit neighbors find themselves together when one of them is diagnosed with cancer. They embark on a trip to the nearest pharmacy (a six-hour drive) which turns into an adventure.

This premise gives Paddleton a lot to play on: it’s a comedy, but it’s also a drama about a fatal disease. It’s a bromance, but it’s about a fragile friendship. All these contradictions make Paddleton a great slice-of-life movie. And again, both actors are amazing. Watching it just for them is worth it.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alana Carithers, Alexandra Billings, Bjorn Johnson, Carlos A. Salazar, Christine Woods, Dendrie Taylor, Dylan Matlock, Ever Mainard, Hiroo Minami, Jack McGraw, Jen Sung, Kadeem Hardison, Marguerite Moreau, Mark Duplass, Matt Bush, Ray Romano, Sam Ly, Sierra Fisk, Stephen Oyoung, Yolanda Bolden

Director: Alex Lehmann, Alexandre Lehmann

Rating: TV-MA

Adam Driver, Annette Bening, and Jon Hamm are among the many recognizable faces of this star-packed political drama.

Driver, pictured above in his ‘I’m goofy but I will save the world’ signature stare 😍, plays Daniel J. Jones, an investigator working with the Senate. He is assigned to write a report (“the” report) about the CIA torture program post 9/11.

If you so much as liked Vice, the hit movie from earlier this year, you will love The Report. It covers similar grounds: incompetency, unclear intentions, confusion, etc; but in a way that is more to-the-point (which might make it feel dry to some). It also helps in understanding or getting a refresher on, how the Senate works and how organizations like the CIA interact with (bully) other branches of government. 

I would almost go as far as to say that if you are a U.S. citizen, watching this movie, with its many goofy Adam Driver moments, is your civic duty.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Adam Driver, Alexander Chaplin, Annette Bening, April Rogalski, Austin Michael Young, Ben McKenzie, Carlos Gómez, Corey Stoll, Daniel London, Dominic Fumusa, Douglas Hodge, Evander Duck Jr., Fajer Kaisi, Guy Boyd, Hope Blackstock, Ian Blackman, Jake Silbermann, James Hindman, Jennifer Morrison, Joanne Tucker, John Rothman, Jon Hamm, Joseph Siravo, Julia K. Murney, Kate Beahan, Linda Powell, Lucas Dixon, Matthew Rhys, Maura Tierney, Michael C. Hall, Noah Bean, Pun Bandhu, Ratnesh Dubey, Sandra Landers, Sarah Goldberg, Scott Shepherd, Sean Dugan, T. Ryder Smith, Ted Levine, Tim Blake Nelson, Victor Slezak, West Duchovny, Zuhdi Boueri

Director: Scott Z. Burns

Rating: R

Keira Knightley stars in this incredible true story of an Iraq War whistleblower who remains relatively little-known in the U.S. Katharine Gun was working for the communications office for the British government when she received a memo in the months leading to the war that showed that the U.S. requested illegal wiretapping assistance from the U.K. on U.N. diplomats. In a heroic act, she chooses to share this memo, hoping that it would stop her government (then led by Tony Blair) from going to war. Spoiler alert: didn't happen, but this decision, which first seemed like a personal sacrifice, has severe implications on her family as the government finds out that she was behind the leak. A compelling political mystery of a case that deserves much more attention than it once got.

Genre: Drama, History, Thriller

Actor: Adam Bakri, Andrew Marr, Angus Wright, Brett Allen, Chris Larkin, Chris Reilly, Clive Francis, Conleth Hill, David Maybrick, Fiona Skinner, George W. Bush, Hanako Footman, Hattie Morahan, Indira Varma, Jack Farthing, Janie Dee, Jeremy Northam, Jessica Fostekew, Jodie McNee, John Heffernan, Katherine Kelly, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Cranham, Lindy Whiteford, Matt Smith, Matthew Goode, Michael James, Monica Dolan, MyAnna Buring, Niccy Lin, Peter Guinness, Raad Rawi, Ralph Fiennes, Raquel Cassidy, Ray Panthaki, Rhys Ifans, Shaun Dooley, Sophie Duval, Tamsin Greig, Tony Blair, Vinta Morgan, Will Barton

Director: Gavin Hood

Rating: R

, 2019

This crazy adventure thriller was Colombia's nomination for the 2020 Oscars. "Monos" translates to monkeys, the nom de guerre of a group of teenagers holding an American hostage in an isolated bunker. Other than the occasional visit from their supervisor, they're left to their devices, forming relationships, smoking weed, drinking, and eating psychedelic mushrooms. One day, on top of the hostage, they're also trusted with a milk cow, named Shakira. A party goes wrong and one of the Monos accidentally kills Shakira, triggering a series of events that sends them deep into the jungle, and deep into despair. 

Monos is not an action movie, it's more of a character study. It was loosely based on The Lord of the Flies.

Genre: Adventure, Drama, Thriller, War

Actor: Deibi Rueda, Jorge Román, Julián Giraldo, Julián Giraldo, Julianne Nicholson, Karen Quintero, Laura Castrillón, Moisés Arias, Moises Arias, Paul Cubides, Sneider Castro, Sofía Buenaventura, Sofia Buenaventura, Wilson Salazar

Director: Alejandro Landes

Rating: R

What makes Apollo 11 stand out is its sharp minimalist approach, allowing the archival footage of the mission to the moon to speak for itself. It’s stunning to think that at one point or another we had collectively seen a bulk of the footage in this film, and yet somehow let it lay dormant until the moon landing had been reduced to black and white stills in our collective imaginations. Not only does this film reinvigorate the moon landing with the power that it once held, but it does so in a way that is more thrilling than anything the Marvel CGI wizards could muster. The vibrant score adds a layer of ferocious tension, while the breakneck pace gives the feel of a rollercoaster ride. If there is any fault to find here, it is most definitely with the film’s MAGA style yearning for a time and place that never existed. Spare us the teary-eyed patriotism and the clips of Nixon, a disgraceful criminal, and vile racist, yammering on about the world becoming one. Nevertheless, this is a fantastic example of why most biopics should just be documentaries and why the fanatical fear of spoilers is a tad silly. Spoiler alert: they land on the moon.

Genre: Documentary, Drama, History

Actor: Andy Aldrin, Bill Anders, Bruce McCandless II, Buzz Aldrin, Charlie Duke, Deke Slayton, Gene Kranz, Janet Armstrong, Jim Lovell, John F. Kennedy, Michael Collins, Neil Armstrong, Patricia Mary Finnegan, Todd Douglas Miller, Walter Cronkite

Director: Todd Douglas Miller

Rating: G

A crazy, anxiety-inducing thriller that turns Adam Sandler into a thrill-generating machine, which in its own speaks volumes about the rhythm of this movie. It follows a jeweler who gets himself in trouble with what feels like all of New York - a gang, Kevin Garnett (the NBA player), other jewelers, his family, odd twins that appear out of nowhere - everyone. This all happens in the backdrop of him feeling he has “hit big” and is on the verge of receiving a lot of money.

If you watched Good Time, you know what to expect from directors Safdie brothers: excruciating tension that keeps building up when you thought it wasn’t possible. And that might be the only problem with Uncut Gems; the tension doesn't feel that different from Good Time, and having watched one you can guess where the other one is going.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Abel Tesfaye, Adam Sandler, Alexander Gilkes, Andrea Linsky, Anthony Mecca, Ara Daglian, Aren Topian, Arthur Borukhov, Benjy Kleiner, Chad Neves, Damany Eastman, Debbie DeLisi, Eric Bogosian, Glenn 'Doc' Rivers, Greg Yuna, Hailey Gates, Idina Menzel, Jake Ryan, Jennifer Venditti, Jeremy Sample, John Amos, Jonathan Aranbayev, Josh Ostrovsky, Judd Hirsch, Julia Fox, Keith William Richards, Keith Williams Richards, Keren Shemel, Kerwin Frost, Kevin Garnett, Lakeith Stanfield, Larry Sloman, Liang Wei-Hei Duncan, Liang Wei-Hui-Duncan, Louis Anthony Arias, Maksud Agadjani, Marcia DeBonis, Marshall Greenberg, Mesfin Lamengo, Michael A. Sollecito, Mike Francesa, Mitchell Wenig, Natasha Lyonne, Noa Fisher, Paige Neuenschwander, Paloma Elsesser, Pom Klementieff, Ricky Barksdale, Robbie DeRaffele, Roman Persits, Roza Babekova, Sahar Bibiyan, Sean Ringgold, Shemsi Selimaj, Shiv Pai, Suin Zhi Hua-Hilton, Sun Zhi Hua-Hilton, The Weeknd, Thomas Kominik, Tilda Swinton, Todd Vulpio, Tommy Kominik, Trinidad James, Ursula Triplett, Victor Plajas, Wayne Diamond

Director: Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie

Rating: R

Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe are the only two actors starring in this eccentric movie, and they deliver such grand performances that it feels like another actor would have been one too many.

They star as lighthouse keepers in the 19th century, left on an island to interact only with each other and their rock. It's a fascinating premise of how these men, left on their own, deal with boredom, loneliness, and being annoyed with one another.

Incredible performances, an interesting aspect ratio, and perhaps excessive weirdness, make this movie unforgettable.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Horror, Thriller

Actor: Jeff Cruts, Kyla Nicolle, Logan Hawkes, Pierre Richard, Preston Hudson, Robert Pattinson, Shaun Clarke, Valeriia Karamän, Valeriia Karamän, Valeriia Karaman, Willem Dafoe

Director: Robert Eggers

Rating: R

You may have heard about this 2019 critic-favorite from clips like this one of a kid running to flee the movie theater during a screening. “little billy ran the f**k out the door”, the caption reads.

You will want to do the same. Recovering from losing her sister and her parents in a single incident, a young girl goes on a trip to Sweden to observe a ritual within a bizarre commune that occurs every 90 years. This cult’s idea of death and their traditions intersect with the girl’s grief to create unthinkable monstrosities.

Note: while some readers praise the movie for its depiction of anxiety, I highly recommend against watching Midsommar if you suffer from panic attacks.

Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery

Actor: Agnes Westerlund Rase, Anders Back, Anders Beckman, Anki Larsson, Anna Åström, Anna Berentzen, Archie Madekwe, Austin R. Grant, Björn Andrésen, Ellora Torchia, Florence Pugh, Frans Cavallin Rosengarten, Gunnel Fred, Hampus Hallberg, Henrik Norlen, Isabelle Grill, Jack Reynor, Julia Ragnarsson, Katarina Weidhagen, Klaudia Csányi, Lars Väringer, Lennart R. Svensson, Levente Puczkó-Smith, Liv Mjönes, Louise Peterhoff, Mats Blomgren, Mihály Kaszás, Rebecka Johnston, Tove Skeidsvoll, Vilhelm Blomgren, Vilmos Kolba, Will Poulter, William Jackson Harper, Zsolt Bojári

Director: Ari Aster

Rating: R

Legendary Talking Heads frontman David Byrne returns with this enigmatic stage show, and with Spike Lee in tow, the film reaches for the heights of the iconic concert doc Stop Making Sense. For those unfamiliar, Stop Making Sense directed by Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) captured the Talking Heads’ invigorating live show in their early eighties prime, and is often considered one of the best concert films of all time.

Now nearly forty years later Byrne attempts a resurrection of that spirit or a form of it given his former bandmates notably absent from the project. His propellant energy is on full display as he goes through the ‘Heads catalog with a backing band that dances in intricately choreographed sequences around him. Most notable, however, is the sparseness of the stage production which brings to mind a dirge-like atmosphere. Byrne’s righteous thrashings against Reagan’s America carry renewed weight in the despondency of the Trump-era. So despite his attempts at optimism, aching futility runs through the heart of the show; most pointed when Byrne sings the famous lines from in Once In A Lifetime: “Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.”

Genre: Documentary, Drama, Music

Actor: Angie Swan, Bobby Wooten Iii, David Byrne, Jacqueline Acevedo, Mauro Refosco, Tendayi Kuumba

Director: Spike Lee

Filmed in Paul Greengrass' signature documentary style, Bloody Sunday captures one of the worst tragedies in Northern Ireland's recent history with stunning attention to detail and a single-minded focus that most thrillers only dream of having. But this film doesn't dress up its violence with Hollywood flashiness or contrived suspense. Everything is presented in a matter-of-fact way (and over the course of just one day), emphasizing how unjust the balance of power was between the Irish citizens and the British Army. It's a remarkably realistic reenactment that should inspire plenty of angry tears, having already made a mark by winning the prestigious Golden Bear at the 2002 Berlin International Film Festival.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Allan Gildea, Christopher Villiers, David Clayton Rogers, David Pearse, Gerard Crossan, Gerard McSorley, James Hewitt, James Nesbitt, Kathy Kiera Clarke, Mary Moulds, Nicholas Farrell, Tim Pigott-Smith

Director: Paul Greengrass