There’s a wealth of extra special films at the cinema right now – ones that will surprise, shock, or give you pause – and we think they’re best enjoyed in the dark with a bunch of strangers. We’ve spent long enough on the sofa. Here’s to popcorn spilled in the aisles, embarrassed laughter, and sobbing as quietly as possible in public.

For Oscar-tipped storytelling: The Power of the Dog
Benedict Cumberbatch went full method actor while filming Jane Campion’s extremely tense western. He learned to play the banjo, refused to wash, and got nicotine poisoning while embodying the role of rancher Phil Burbank, who instills fear, loathing and awe in everyone around him. Campion’s latest film – her first in 12 years – is a masterful portrayal of emotional abuse and repressed sexuality. Phil’s brother George (Jesse Plemons, Breaking Bad, Fargo) meets and marries Rose (Kirsten Dunst); Phil later taunts his new sister-in-law and her son Peter (played by the mesmerising Kodi Smit-McPhee). The film is visually stunning (it was filmed in Otago, New Zealand), and if you’ve been yearning to travel it’ll only fuel that desire. Campion was named best director for the film at this year’s Venice Film Festival. In cinemas now and on Netflix from December 1.

For the not-so-faint-hearted: Titane
Sydney Film Festival audiences passed out at screenings of shocking body horror Titane, which might come as an instant turn-off – but hear us out. We think there’s nothing quite like sharing a collective gasp of disgust followed by nervous laughter in a packed cinema, and that’s exactly what you’ll get at a screening of the violent and titillating French film. It’s stomach churning. It’s also captivating. Iif you have the stamina, it’s something of an oily, semi-erotic ride that might be the most entertaining arthouse film you’ll see all year. It should come with a trigger warning, but to reveal why will give away too many spoilers. Buckle in for a wild exploration of family dynamics with the unflinching Alexia (Agathe Rousselle). Director Julia Ducournau was awarded the Palme d’Or for the film – the highest prize at Cannes. She’s the second woman to do so, following Jane Campion’s win for The Piano in 1993. In cinemas from November 25.

For facing the climate crisis head on: Burning
Emmy and Oscar-winning Australian filmmaker Eva Orner has made a confronting and urgent documentary about the bushfires that ravaged the country two summers ago. Her exploration of what happened – told from the perspective of victims of the fires, activists and scientists – has received rave reviews. Orner was awarded the $10,000 prize at this year’s Sydney Film Festival in the first Sustainable Future Award for the doco. It’s the type of film that’ll give you goosebumps for its storytelling, but also make you furious for the lack of action our government has taken since the nation’s hottest and driest summer on record, which resulted in 17 million hectares burnt and three billion animals killed. Orner, who’s based in Los Angeles, has made a number of moving factual films including the Netflix original Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator. Streaming on Amazon Prime Video from November 26.

For psychological blurred lines: Last Night in Soho
Edgar Wright fans – particularly those who love his Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and the lesser The World’s End) – should note this is a world away from the writer-director’s previous styles. The seemingly Swinging Sixties nostalgia trip is also a far cry from other glamorised depictions of the era. It tells the story of Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie, JoJo Rabbit), an aspiring fashion designer, who encounters the dazzling Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy). What follows is a psychological thriller that blurs fantasy and reality – with a cracking 1960s London soundtrack. Wright has urged fans not to divulge details of the film’s twists and turns, and we won’t spoil it either. In cinemas now.

For something wacky: Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn
Watching this Romanian romp in a cinema is a must. Otherwise, you miss out on the potential skin-crawling discomfort and bewilderment that comes with trying to figure out which of filmmaker Radu Jude’s jokes are hilarious and which ones are downright offensive. Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn can be thought of as a three-part film – with a middle section we’ll call “dictionary memes”. It opens with an explicit (and amusing) sex tape made by a schoolteacher, Emi (Katia Pascariu) and her husband. The tape makes its way to the internet, more than once, and Emi has to defend herself in front of the parents of her students. It is by no means a serious drama, but it is a critique of the attitudes and prejudices rooted in European history. It won the Golden Bear in the main competition at Berlin International Film Festival this year. In cinemas from November 25.

For nightmarish road tripping: Zola
Faithfully based on a viral 148-tweet thread from 2015, Zola tells the story of Detroit waitress Zola (Taylour Paige) and her new friend Stefani (Riley Keough, The Girlfriend Experience), who take a trip together to strip and make “schmoney”. James Franco’s company Rabbit Bandini was the first bidder to tell A’Ziah “Zola” King’s story at the time – instead, theatre director-turned-filmmaker Janicza Bravo has taken a dreamy approach to the tale. Its vivid, sun-bleached and slightly gritty look is thanks to Australian cinematographer Ari Wegner’s decision to shoot on 16mm film; almost like a period movie for the year 2015. Zola was nominated for the Grand Jury Award at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. In cinemas now.

For something raw: Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain
“It was almost never about food” starts the trailer for Morgan Neville’s documentary about the globally famous travelling chef and writer Anthony Bourdain. It’s highly likely you’re already familiar with Bourdain’s life story, and the events of his death in 2018. There was a wave of concern when Roadrunner was being made – fans were unsure how a film of his life would treat the topic of suicide and grief for a man who was best known for his appetite for taking the lesser-known path to experience real human encounters wherever he went, rather than make a so-called food travel show. Neville, who won an Oscar for documentary 20 Feet From Stardom, never met Bourdain, but his storytelling honours the man and the people who knew him best. It’s raw and unfiltered, just as the Parts Unknown host would have liked it. BYO tissues. In select cinemas now.

For an against-all-odds story: The Rescue
It’s truly remarkable how documentary filmmakers can keep you enthralled in a story when you already know how it all turned out. In 2018, 12 boys and their football coach were trapped deep inside a flooded cave in Northern Thailand. At the time, we didn’t know if the trapped boys were still alive, and if so how they were all going to survive a highly risky rescue. In this documentary, directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin (who won an Oscar for Free Solo in 2019) focus on the stories of the two UK cave divers who were called in to lead the mission. It uses the news footage we were captivated by at the time, but also reconstructions, interviews and footage filmed by locals. If you’re curious why there isn’t more focus on the boys’ stories, it’s because Netflix bought the rights to their telling of events for another project. Nonetheless, this documentary highlights the very real danger and ethical decision-making the rescue team was tasked with, while the whole world watched every move they made.
In cinemas now.