This post is updated twice a month to reflect the latest movies to leave and enter Amazon Prime. *New additions are indicated by an asterisk.
You really should be using your Amazon Prime subscription for more than just shipping discounts and Whole Foods sales. The people at Amazon have amassed a truly impressive library of films that can be accessed with your Prime account, and in many ways, it’s equal to and arguably even superior to Netflix’s library. But how do you know where to begin? As we have done with Netflix, allow us to present a regularly-updated guide to 100 movies to watch on Amazon Prime. A collection of classics, blockbusters, and under-the-radar flicks, you really should watch all 100. Get back to us after you do.
12 Angry Men
Sidney Lumet’s American classic impacted not just the courtroom dramas that would follow but the very judicial process. Who hasn’t gone into jury duty thinking they would be the “Juror 8” in their group, the one willing to really look at the case before rushing to justice? Henry Fonda gives one of his most iconic performances in a movie that holds up six decades after it was released.
Jodie Foster won her first Oscar for her fearless performance here as a rape victim fighting for justice. When The Accused was released in 1988, Hollywood hadn’t really reckoned with rape and the issues around it like trauma and victim blaming. This movie was brave enough to do so, and it’s anchored by one of the most striking performances of the ‘80s by one of her generation’s best actresses.
The Act of Killing
There aren’t many documentaries as difficult to watch as Joshua Oppenheimer’s Oscar-nominated film about not just the Indonesian genocides of the ‘60s but the way its perpetrators haven’t been brought to justice. Oppenheimer films the murderers reenacting their crimes as if they’re in some of their favorite Hollywood movies, and the result is both enlightening and terrifying.
Andrea Arnold’s epic of heartland youth didn’t get the attention it deserved when it was released, but you can catch up with it on Amazon. Sasha Lana, Riley Keough, and a great performance from Shia LaBeouf are only highlights of a film that blends an outsider perspective of America and its music-driven youth with reckless energy.
Paramount notoriously had no idea what to do with Alex Garland’s film and barely promoted it in American theaters, dropping it on Netflix in the rest of the world. In this country, it’s on Amazon. And it’s amazing. One of the best films of 2018 stars Natalie Portman as a woman who enters an alien occurrence to find out what happened to her husband there. Although that barely scratches the surface of this complex, already-beloved film.
One of the best comedies of all time is just sitting there on Amazon waiting for you to watch it. Billy Wilder’s Oscar winner for Best Picture and Best Director stars Jack Lemmon as a lowly employee who allows his superiors to use his apartment to have affairs. Sounds dark, right? It is, and that’s only one of the daring things about this 1960 classic that is quite honestly an all-time great.
Denis Villeneuve has already developed a loyal following with massive hits like Blade Runner 2049 and this Oscar nominee, starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner. Adams plays a woman brought in to try and communicate after aliens land on Earth. That’s only a fraction of what this movie is about as Villeneuve’s challenging blockbuster becomes more of a commentary on what it means to be human than anything alien.
The Big Sick
It’s not common for a breakthrough comedy to be so acclaimed and popular that it actually becomes an Oscar nominee for Best Screenplay, but The Big Sick is not a typical comedy (and Holly Hunter was robbed of a nomination too, by the way). Kumail Nanjiani loosely adapts his own story and does great work alongside Zoe Kazan. It’s really as crowdpleasing as comedies get. You kind of have to be an asshole not to like it.
Mike Nichols’ adaptation of La Cage Aux Folles features the kind of great comedy performances that capture its stars at just the right point in their careers, especially Robin Williams and Nathan Lane. They play a gay couple who have to pretend to be straight for the sake of their son, whose conservative future in-laws (Gene Hackman & Dianne Wiest) are about to have an awakening. It’s smart and still very, very funny.
The Blackcoat’s Daughter
There are a lot of movies on this list that could be acknowledged classics, movies you’ve probably seen but would be returning to for a second or third viewing. But we wanted to make sure to save space for hidden gems, films that you may not have even heard of, much less seen. Take this debut from Oz Perkins (the son of Anthony) starring Kiernan Shipka and Emma Roberts. It’s a psychological horror film that difficult to sum up in a sentence or two. Just see it for yourself.
Speaking of psychological horror, this is one of the best of that subgenre of all time. David Lynch’s cinematic masterpiece pulls back the curtain on the sadism and malevolence hiding behind the picket fences of middle America. One of the best films of the ‘80s, Blue Velvet has lost absolutely none of its power, revealing just how far ahead of its time it was when it was released.
The Blues Brothers
Is this the best musical comedy ever made? It’s high on the list, that’s for sure. Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi will forever be defined in those iconic shades and suits, but it’s the music and the use of Chicago that have really made this into a modern American classic.
Before they entered the Matrix, the Wachowskis directed this fascinating noir that reimagined the traditional femme fatale and her mark through the lens of a lesbian relationship. Jennifer Tilly plays a gangster’s girlfriend and she works with her new partner Corky (Gina Gershon) to take the bad guy for all he’s worth. Stylish and unforgettable, this is great thriller with a twist.
When Stanley Donen died in February of 2019, most of the obituaries pointed to Singin’ in the Rain and On the Town as the movies for which he would be most remembered, but this thriller has and will stand the test of time too. Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn are at their most charismatic, delivering Peter Stone’s witty repartee and elevating a fantastic mystery into a classic.
Who doesn’t love Chucky? The homicidal doll is about to come back into pop culture with a reboot, but the original franchise is still going strong. Go back to where it all began with this classic horror-comedy, a movie that scared a generation into throwing away their toys.
Looking for an under-the-radar genre flick to tell your friends about? This is the one. A group of friends get together for a dinner party when power goes out on the block they’re on. They notice lights on in one house down the street and they go to investigate and…we won’t spoil. Just check this one out for yourself.
One of the nice things about Amazon is how quickly they turn around their hits from theatrical to Prime. Take this film, which was only released in theaters in December, and was nominated for multiple Academy Awards, including Best Director, Cinematography, and Foreign Language Film. This striking romantic drama about a doomed relationship was a number of people’s favorite film of 2018. And you can watch just a few months later.
Arguably the best performance of Gene Hackman’s career resides in this Francis Ford Coppola masterpiece. Hackman plays Harry Caul, a surveillance expert in San Francisco who gets embroiled in a job that amplifies his already-high paranoia. One of the best films of the ‘70s, Coppola actually released this the same year as The Godfather, Part II.
We don’t deserve David Cronenberg. One of the best living filmmakers delivered one of his best films in 1988 in this twisted thriller starring Jeremy Irons as twin gynecologists who share flings with their clients without them knowing. Well, they do until one of them develops an attachment to the latest patient. Creepy and masterful, this contains arguably Irons’ best performance.
*The Dead Zone
Stephen King is everywhere lately from Pet Sematary to It to Castle Rock. Why not revisit one of the more successful adaptations of his work from the ‘80s? Christopher Walken stars as a man who can learn a person’s secrets just by touching them. For most people, this probably wouldn’t be that big a deal, but then he makes contact with a Senator (Martin Sheen) running for President and…well, see for yourself. It’s a little dated but still a fun movie.
Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father
You know all those true crime docs that you can’t stop watching on Netflix and HBO? Most of them aren’t as good as Kurt Kuenne’s heartbreaker about his friend Andrew Bagby. After Andrew died, Kurt decided to make a movie about his buddy for the son that would never get to know his father. What began as a project for a friend and his family became a word-of-mouth indie hit with a twist so devastating that most people can’t talk about it without crying.
There’s not a streaming service out there that has enough Dario Argento. Forget the remake of Suspiria, go back to one of the master’s best, this 1975 giallo which features the filmmaker at the top of his stylish game. The transition from Argento’s thrillers to his more horror-driven films, this is arguably his best work, filled with his trademark style, use of color, and, of course, buckets of blood.
There’s an apocryphal story that goes that Alfred Hitchcock made Psycho because he wanted to make a movie as scary as Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Diabolique. You’ve probably seen the story of Norman Bates. Shouldn’t you see the brilliant French thriller that inspired it into existence?
It’s a mad world in Richard Kelly’s sci-fi hit starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Drew Barrymore, Patrick Swayze, and Jena Malone. Darko made almost nothing in theaters but developed a loyal following on the home market, becoming one of the more acclaimed sci-fi films of the ‘00s. Join in the conversation that seems to constantly surround this film (and maybe Kelly will be encouraged to make another one soon – he hasn’t directed in a decade!)
Dressed to Kill
There are elements of Brian De Palma’s thriller that haven’t exactly aged well in terms of the way it treats gender issues, but it’s impossible to deny the strength of the suspense master’s display of craft here. Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, and Nancy Allen star in a film that feels like De Palma’s riff on Psycho with more style than nearly any other BDP film – you can decide if that’s a good or bad thing.
Bo Burnham’s feature film debut won him multiple awards last year and it’s already on Amazon Prime for you to see what all the fuss is about. Elsie Fisher gives a breakthrough performance as a young lady who makes YouTube videos that pretty much only she sees and struggles her way through the most socially awkward years of existence. Smart, moving, and incredibly clever, this is a great comedy that rings of enough truth that it hurts.
Ethan Hawke stars in Paul Schrader’s best film in a generation. Hawke stars as a small-town priest confronted with a crisis of faith when he meets a man who teaches him about the evil of environmental poisoning. Would God really let his planet be destroyed? This crisis hits head on with health problems and the result is one of the smartest screenplays of 2018 and arguably its best performance, period.
A Fistful of Dollars
Start with the first third of the wildly influential “The Man with No Name Trilogy,” a trio of films that defined Clint Eastwood’s on-screen persona and Sergio Leone’s unforgettable style. If you’ve never seen a Spaghetti Western, this 1964 foundation setter for the genre is a wonderful place to start. (And then move on to For a Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, both also on Prime.)
Werner Herzog set out to make a movie about a man who was insane enough to try and move a steamship over land from one river to another and Herzog himself was insane enough to actually try and replicate it. The result is a film that’s mesmerizing in its detail and blatant in its study of power gone mad, both in the narrative and the filmmaking. Watch Burden of Dreams after – a great doc about the crazy making of this film. (It’s on Prime too.)
The Florida Project
Sean Baker’s study of a mother and daughter on a low run of the social ladder in a Florida motel is a riveting blend of character study and magical realism. It has a sense of wonder that reflects its unforgettable child leading lady without ever pandering to her or looking down on its subjects. It’s heartbreaking and beautiful, one of the best films of the ‘10s.
Gangs of New York
Martin Scorsese films from this century don’t get the same adoration as his classics from the last one. There’s even a sense in some circles that he sold out in some way (a silly charge if you look at the passion that still drives his choices). While this may not be a classic when compared to other Scorsese films, it’s still a great movie, anchored by yet another masterful turn from Daniel Day-Lewis.
Look at me. Barry Sonnenfeld directed one of the best adaptations of an Elmore Leonard novel in the history of the great author and anchored it with one of John Travolta’s best performances. Everyone remembers the comeback with Pulp Fiction, but this one really allows Travolta’s incredible ‘90s charisma to shine. It’s a perfectly calibrated comedy with phenomenal performances all around, including Rene Russo, Danny DeVito, Delroy Lindo, and Gene Hackman too.
A Ghost Story
It may not be a movie for everyone, but those who love David Lowery’s meditation on loss really love it. Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck star in a film that’s incredibly difficult to sum up in a few sentences. It’s about time, grief, and the afterlife, but not in a way that you’ve ever seen before. Just watch it.
Robert Pattinson does his best film work to date in the Safdie brothers’ story of a numbskull who gets caught up in a robbery and struggles to find his way to safety. This is not like pretty much anything else you could watch on Amazon, a film that feels like it would have felt at home in the ‘70s in the way it captures the heat of a night in the city on the run.
There’s a bunch of James Bond on Amazon from all different eras of the most famous movie spy of all time, but this one is possibly the most essential. Most of the legend of 007 still comes from this American classic, a movie that capitalized on Sean Connery as his most charismatic and redefined the spy flick for generations to come.
None of the streaming services have a truly deep selection of international cinema but Amazon Prime is better than most. Take for example Park Chan-wook’s masterful period drama about betrayal, sex, and more betrayal. It’s one of the most technically gorgeous films you could possibly watch tonight. Make sure the kids are in bed first though.
Christian Slater kinda does a Jack Nicholson impression and Winona Ryder is at the peak of her ‘80s emo-charm in this clever satire of high school life. Ryder plays the high school outcast and Slater plays the guy who teaches revenge is a dish best served with an attitude.
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
John McNaughton’s document of the life of a serial killer and his new also-homicidal friend is one of the best independent films of its generation. Not only does it use a dark, rarely seen side of Chicago brilliantly, but its balance of horror and even humor remains powerful three decades later.
Make sure you’re in the right mental place before watching Ari Aster’s 2018 debut film, a movie that will rattle you to your core. Toni Collette gives one of the best performances of 2018 as a mother who faces tragic loss before she faces something much scarier. It’s unforgettable.
Any list of the most influential movies of all time that doesn’t include Fred Zinneman’s 1952 Western classic is simply incomplete. Gary Cooper won an Oscar for a performance that would redefine square-jawed, American grit, and the final scenes of this movie have been mimicked ever since.
The selection of high-quality docs on streaming services are more limited than one would like (there are a lot of them, but not necessarily the best). However, Amazon does feature one of the best non-fiction films of all time, Steve James’ examination of two young men on the South Side of Chicago and their aspirations to be NBA stars. It’s the kind of deeply humanist storytelling that James makes look it easy when it’s really not.
Don Cheadle stars in this recounting of the Rwandan genocide of 1994, seen through the eyes of a hotelier caught up in the madness and forced to act. Paul Rusesabagina saved not only his family but hundreds of other refugees. Films like this can often feel exploitative, but Cheadle’s amazing work breaks through that and allows it to feel genuine and moving.
Martin Scorsese adapts Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret in for this beautiful 2011 family film, a flick nominated for 11 Academy Awards (and winner of five). This is one to watch on the biggest TV in the house. You probably can’t replicate the experience of Scorsese’s foray into 3D but this is a movie that needs to be watched as big as possible to appreciate its vision and technical craftsmanship.
Hustle & Flow
Long before Empire, this was the breakthrough for Terence Howard and Taraji P. Henson. Craig Brewer’s story of a pimp turned hip-hop artist pulses with an energy and authenticity often missing from these films. And a song called “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” won an Oscar! Let that sink in.
Inside Llewyn Davis
Have we started to take the Coen brothers for granted? The Oscar winners hit home runs every single time, but their recent output doesn’t seem to garner the attention that every one of their new releases once did. Take this music masterpiece, a film that unfolds like a great lost folk album and contains so-far-career-best work from Oscar Isaac. It’s one of the best movies of the last decade, much less on Amazon.
*Interview With the Vampire
There once was a time when Anne Rice was one of the most popular novelists in the world, primarily for her stories of really sexy vampires. Who better to play sexy vampires than Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise? Both are great here in Neil Jordan’s adaptation of Rice’s most famous book, and you should also check it out for an early performance by Kristen Dunst, proving as a child that she would become an excellent actress as an adult.
*Invasion of the Body Snatchers
There’s a reason we keep coming back to the concept of everyday people being taken over by an alien force. What’s scarier than no longer being able to trust your neighbor, co-worker, or even your significant other? While there are positive qualities to all the iterations of this classic Jack Finney story, this is the best film version, the 1978 one starring Donald Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum, and Leonard Nimoy.
It’s a Wonderful Life
Frank Capra’s classic often gets a ton of replay around the holidays, but it’s the kind of heartwarmer that works all year long. This is no mere Christmas movie but a story about the impact that one man can have on an entire community. It really defined the on-screen persona of Jimmy Stewart and has become a beloved film around the world, even in warm weather.
Nicolas Cage has become one of the kings of VOD, so you may find it hard to believe that there are actually good, recent films from him that you can watch at home too. When he really cares about a project, he delivers, as he does in this David Gordon Green film about a foreman who befriends a teenage boy and chooses to release him from the grip of an abusive father.
Greta Gerwig’s Oscar nominee is one of the most personal and striking coming-of-age films in years. Saoirse Ronan stars as the titular character, a young Californian who longs for someplace cooler than her own hometown. It’s a heartfelt and very smart film, buoyed by great performances throughout, including Ronan, Tracy Letts, Timothee Chalamet, Lucas Hedges, Beanie Feldstein, and Laurie Metcalf, who was robbed of that Oscar.
Last House on the Left
We can’t really be shocked anymore in the same manner that audiences were when they saw Wes Craven’s 1972 debut. Based on Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, this low-budget horror classic remains a brutally shocking and effective thriller.
Lean on Pete
Andrew Haigh makes nuanced, subtle character studies, and this is one of his best. Charlie Plummer stars as a boy who befriends the horse that gives this delicate film its title. In an effort to save the horse, the boy ends up on a cross-country journey that you won’t soon forget.
Leave No Trace
One of the best films of 2018, Debra Granik’s return to filmmaking stars Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie and Ben Foster as a daughter and father who live way off the grid. His PTSD doesn’t allow him to live in traditional settings, but he can sense that his daughter is pulling away from him and ready to live in the society he has shunned.
The Lost City of Z
James Gray may be the most underrated American filmmaker what with The Immigrant, Two Lovers, and his latest, this period piece about obsession starring Charlie Hunnam and Robert Pattinson. This is not your typical explorer movie as Gray seeks to present something more challenging about why men seek the unexplored and commit themselves long past the point of sanity to seemingly impossible tasks.
Even people who have never seen this movie know the story of how Christian Bale nearly killed himself with weight loss to make it all the more harrowing. Bale stars as Trevor Reznik, an insomniac who spirals into complete madness. Brad Anderson is the best director you probably don’t know by name and this is one of his best films, anchored by the complete commitment of its leading man.
Manchester by the Sea
Casey Affleck won an Oscar for his heartbreaking performance in Kenneth Lonergan’s drama about a broken man finally put back together when he’s forced to take care of his nephew. Lonergan’s film is an unforgettable character study, full of complex emotions and beats. And it has two scenes that are almost guaranteed to make you cry.
The Manchurian Candidate
John Frankenheimer’s beloved 1962 adaptation of the 1959 novel of the same name has become such a part of the national consciousness that one can reference its title in political conversations and be completely understood. If you somehow have never seen it, Frank Sinatra stars as a Korean vet who may be a sleeper agent for enemies of the United States. It has held up better than nearly any other film from its era.
This 1976 thriller stars Dustin Hoffman as a graduate student who gets caught up in a scheme run by a Nazi war criminal, played with icy malevolence by Sir Lawrence Olivier. Working from one of William Goldman’s best screenplays (from his own novel), director John Schlesinger delivered one of the most acclaimed heart-racers of the ‘70s. Three little words made movie history: “Is it safe?”
Memories of Murder
Bong Joon-ho has become an internationally renowned filmmaker with movies like The Host, Snowpiercer, and Okja, but arguably his best film has yet to really find an audience because it doesn’t have a U.S. Blu-ray release. How wonderful that you can still watch what could be called “Korean Zodiac” on Amazon. It’s a riveting study of two cops who become obsessed with a true serial killer.
There’s still a weird belief that Woody Harrelson is better at comedy than drama, even using the former to shade roles like that in Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri. However, Woody kills it when he goes deeply dramatic too as in this Oren Moverman drama about the men who tell loved ones that soldiers have died in combat. Ben Foster is incredible here too.
One of the most influential and important films of its era, Midnight Cowboy won Oscars for Best Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay, which is in itself a sign of how much film was about to change. Gone were the days of crowd-pleasing Oscar winners, and an era of progressive, complex storytelling was about to begin. Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman give two of the most iconic performances in film history here.
Barry Jenkins’ 2016 drama might be the most shocking Best Picture winner of all time, and not just for the way it went down on Oscar night. Envelope-gate somewhat overshadowed how crazy it is that such a small, gentle, personal film won the biggest prize in movies. If you have somehow never seen it, correct that oversight now. And, if you have, watch it again. It’s a movie that grows richer with each viewing.
Cher and Nicolas Cage have sizzling chemistry in this ‘80s classic, a story of a woman who falls in love with her fiancé’s brother. The two leads are great, but this is also memorable for its sprawling portrait of an Italian family, including excellent supporting turns by Danny Aiello and Olympia Dukakis, who won an Oscar (as did Cher).
Darren Aronofsky talked someone at Paramount into letting him make the strangest and most ambitious studio film in years. Jennifer Lawrence stars in the movie that notoriously angered audiences when it was released in theaters, but this movie has a loyal fan base for a reason and it seems to be growing. It’s crazy, and we mean that in a good way. If only more studios made more crazy movies.
A key entry in the McConaughaissance is this 2012 coming-of-age thriller from the great Jeff Nichols. McConaughey stars as the title character, someone living way off the grid who is discovered by two local boys in the Deep South. He’s hiding out, waiting for his gal, played by Reese Witherspoon. Sam Shepard, Sarah Paulson, and Michael Shannon add flavor to a great supporting cast.
The Neon Demon
No one makes movies quite like Nicolas Winding Refn. The director of Drive delivered one of his most unforgettable flicks in this horror film about the fashion industry, featuring a fearless performance by Elle Fanning. And Keanu Reeves is in it too!
Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills
Have you heard of the West Memphis Three? You won’t forget them after you watch this 1996 HBO documentary about a trio of boys accused of a horrific murder in 1993. Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky followed this case so closely that they produced two sequels to this doc (in 2000 and 2011), both of which are also on Prime. Marathon!
Jim Jarmusch’s best film is also his most recent, and it’s on Prime! The indie auteur finds one of his best mouthpieces in Adam Driver’s Paterson, a bus driver who moonlights as a poet. Gentle, beautiful, and unforgettable, it’s a movie that honestly captures how easy it is to find poetry in everyday life without ever being as cheesy as that description sounds like it could be.
Oliver Stone’s most personal and devastating film resurrects the demons that haunted this filmmaker from his time in Vietnam. Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, and Willem Dafoe star in one of the best war movies of all time, a film that won Best Picture in a way that felt like the voting could have been unanimous. It’s an important film that remains deeply powerful in how it captures the cruelty of war.
There aren’t a lot of great Westerns on Amazon, but this modern one is worth your time. John Hillcoat directs a gritty, vicious script by Nick Cave (of The Bad Seeds fame) and draws excellent performances from a cast that includes Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, Emily Watson, John Hurt, and a movie-stealing Danny Huston. With riveting cinematography by Benoit Delhomme, this is a Western that looks phenomenal, unfolding like a visualization of one of Cave’s albums.
The Purple Rose of Cairo
With all the animosity between Amazon and Woody Allen, it’s a little hard to believe that any of his films are still on the service, so watch this one while you still can. One of his personal favorites, this great comedy stars Jeff Daniels as a man who literally steps off the big screen into the real world. Some of Allen’s best works incorporate magical realism, and this one does a beautiful job of that in the way it captures how great cinema can feel transportative.
One of the best movies of the ‘80s has become more famous for the weight gain of its leading man, Robert DeNiro, arguably the best actor of that decade. He earned that title by being fearless in films, many of which were directed by his friend Martin Scorsese. His work as Jake La Motta remains career-defining for the superstar, and the fact that this lost the Oscar to Ordinary People remains a talking point whenever anyone wants to talk about the Academy getting it wrong.
The Running Man
This one is peak Ah-nuld. Is it a great movie? Maybe not, but they can’t all be Oscar winners. Sometimes you’re more in the mood to watch the biggest action star in the world survive a homicidal TV show in a dystopian future than anything serious.
*The Shawshank Redemption
One of the most beloved films of all time, this is a movie that most of you probably own, but why not fire it up on Amazon too just for a change of pace? Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman star in an American classic, a movie that often tops lists of filmgoers’ favorite movies ever made. It’s easy to see why. This is a movie that taps into timeless themes and presents them through likable characters. It’s a movie that people will be watching 100 years from now (if people are still watching movies).
David Cronenberg became widely known for movies you’ve probably seen like The Fly and Eastern Promises, but maybe you never caught his twisted 1975 horror film about alien parasites that work their way through the residents of an average apartment complex. With his focus on body horror and buckets of blood, this one still has the power to shock. It was shot under the title Orgy of the Blood Parasites. Who doesn’t want to see that?
Every once in awhile a film comes along that deconstructs not just a character but the career of a performer. Think Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven or Robert Redford in Old Man & the Gun. John Wayne has a couple of these fascinating deconstructions, especially his final film, this 1976 Don Siegel Western about an over-the-hill shootist in his final days. Wayne co-stars with Lauren Bacall, Ron Howard, James Stewart, John Carradine and more in his final classic.
A Shot in the Dark
The best movie in the Pink Panther franchise is actually the second one, this 1964 comedy classic, the movie that really defined the role of Inspector Clouseau as played by the amazing Peter Sellers. When you think of Clouseau’s bumbling crime-solving, this is really where that began as Sellers’ work in the first film made the producers shift focus from David Niven’s charismatic criminal.
Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s best novel is a perfect example of one of those movies in which people have just started taking a master filmmaker’s skills for granted. Who else could have directed such a technically precise and visually striking film as Marty did here? And who could have drawn one of the best performances of Leonardo DiCaprio’s career but his favorite collaborator? People seem to be coming back to this film and agreeing we underrated it when it came out. Join the chorus.
Another modern Scorsese masterpiece has already found its way into the Amazon library. A deeply personal film about faith and sacrifice, this one stars Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver as two religious leaders off to a hostile land in search of one of their own. It’s a slow film, but it rewards the patient.
*Some Like It Hot
One of the best comedies ever made. It’s as simple as that. When someone in your life is struggling to watch anything made before 1990, introduce them to this Billy Wilder classic, a movie that is so good that it works as a gateway drug to classic cinema. It may have been made in 1959, but the perfect performances by Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, and Marilyn Monroe, as well as Wilder’s masterful timing, mean that it’s just as funny as it was six decades ago.
Jonathan Demme was a master of tonal balancing, finding a way to perfectly blend the comedy and the dread in this story of an average man caught up in a criminal’s web. Charlie (Jeff Daniels) is a milquetoast banker who goes on a wild ride with a girl named Lulu (Melanie Griffith), but everything changes when Lulu’s ex (an unforgettable Ray Liotta) enters the picture.
Meryl Streep won her second Oscar for this heartbreaking adaptation of William Styron’s novel. Everyone remembers the unforgettable scene to which the title of this film refers, but there’s more to this movie than just that impossible decision. It’s as much about the impact of war and trauma as it is the events themselves, and Streep’s landmark work is ably supported by Kevin Kline and Peter MacNicol.
The Squid and the Whale
Noah Baumbach’s personal 2005 drama dissects the impact of divorce on an average family and offers the suggestion that the flaws of parents will only be amplified in their children. Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, and Jesse Eisenberg all give excellent performances in a film that feels both specifically revealing and universal in its themes.
J.J. Abrams successfully resurrected the then-dead film arc of the U.S.S. Enterprise with this fun, clever blockbuster that reboots the entire original series. Stepping into William Shatner’s shoes, Chris Pine proves an able leading man, and the supporting cast is underrated in its greatness, including John Cho, Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana, Anton Yelchin, and more. Both sequels – Star Trek Into Darkness and Star Trek Beyond – are also on Prime.
This movie is a fascinating litmus test as to how people read cinema. Invite some friends over, put it on, and then discuss what Paul Verhoeven is going for with his story of interstellar killer aliens and, more importantly, the space force of beautiful people put together to stop them. Suggest that maybe there’s more going on than just sci-fi/action. Or just sit back and enjoy the ride provided by one of the most purely entertaining genre pics of its era.
Stop Making Sense
This might be the best concert movie ever made. Jonathan Demme doesn’t just film a Talking Heads performance, he makes a film that truly conveys how special they were as musicians and on-stage. Opening up more with each song, this film becomes a joyous expression of creativity.
*Stories We Tell
Sarah Polley may still be better known as an actress, but those who have seen her films know of her power as a director too. This documentary is her best work to date, tapping into her own history in a way that doesn’t just recount her life story but serves as a commentary on why we tell stories in the first place. As Polley digs into her own biography, she discovers that she was the product of an affair, but it’s not merely the personal story that’s powerful here but the way Polley presents it that matters.
*The Sweet Hereafter
If you don’t know the name Atom Egoyan, you really should fix that oversight in your viewing history. He’s made some more challenging films than this one (Exotica, Felicia’s Journey) but this film remains his best, an emotionally devastating adaptation of Russell Banks’ novel about a horrific bus accident that kills numerous children. How something that awful tears an entire community apart is handled with complexity and grace.
*The Thomas Crown Affair
Not the Pierce Brosnan remake (although that’s a good flick too) but the 1968 original starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway at their sexiest. There are a few films from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s on this list that could be called iconic, but few that redefined a subgenre more than this one. You couldn’t watch a heist film the same way after seeing how Norman Jewison crafted this one.
Thelma and Louise
Ridley Scott’s best non-sci-fi film stars Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon as the title characters, a pair of women sent on the run after an attempted assault leads to death. One of the most influential road movies of all time, Thelma & Louise would still be powerful if it came out in theaters today, and contains two of the best performances of its era.
Probably the least-seen film on this list, Jim Cummings’ 2018 SXSW hit is a film that will certainly gain a following through word of mouth. Cummings wrote, directed, and stars as a cop who is going through a bit of a rough patch, to put it mildly. Just watch the opening scene – the most awkward eulogy in film history – and try and not be hooked.
Another under-the-radar film you may not have seen, this 2008 Brad Anderson thriller owes a great deal to Hitchcock in the way it captures average people caught up in a very not-average situation. Woody Harrelson, Kate Mara, and Emily Mortimer star in a movie for which it’s truly best if you know as little as possible going in. International train travel and mystery – what more do you want to know?
*Up in the Air
Jason Reitman’s best film stars George Clooney as a “downsizer,” someone who helps companies reduce their workforce and spends more time traveling than at anything approaching a home. Clooney does arguably his best film work ever, and he’s ably supported by Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick — all three were nominated were for Oscars and Reitman won the Golden Globe for his insightful, character-driven script.
We’re not worthy! Doesn’t it feel like a long time since a movie really became a quote machine, changing the culture? This one certainly did that, becoming an essential part of comedy history the day it was released. It’s not just about headbanging to “Bohemian Rhapsody” — this is an underrated comedy about friendship and the days in which music, hockey, and hanging out were all that really mattered.
*We Are Still Here
Amazon isn’t as strong in the horror department as some other streaming services so you have to dig a little deeper to find the unheralded gems like this 2015 from the great Ted Geoghegan. Horror icons Larry Fessenden and Barbara Crampton co-star in a story about grief and the supernatural after two parents move into a disturbing house after the loss of a child. Smartly conceived, written, and constructed, this is the kind of underrated genre flick that you can recommend to your friends when you want to seem smart.
If there was any cinematic justice in the world, Whale Rider would have made Niki Caro and Keisha Castle-Hughes into household names. This is one of those movies that everyone who has seen it loves – it’s just not enough people have seen it. Castle-Hughes stars as a 12-year-old who wants to be the leader of her tribe, a role that has been filled by only men for generations. Castle-Hughes is so genuine that she was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress (the youngest at the time to ever be nominated) and the story of female empowerment remains timely. After the little girl in your house sees Captain Marvel, introduce her to another kind of hero.
Peter Weir directed Harrison Ford to the best dramatic performance of his career in this 1985 thriller about a detective who finds himself in Amish country after a boy witnesses a murder. Weir is a master at using setting and space, and he directs Ford to find layers that one wishes he was allowed to show more over the rest of his career.
Michael Douglas gives perhaps his most underrated performance as Grady Tripp, an egocentric professor and novelist who has been struggling to write his second novel. Relationships come together and fall apart in a tonally perfect dramedy that also features great work from Tobey Maguire, Frances McDormand, and Robert Downey Jr.
You Were Never Really Here
Joaquin Phoenix stars in Lynne Ramsay’s technically masterful deconstruction of the life of a hitman. Ramsay’s amazing skill with editing and sound design is balanced by Phoenix’s instinctual, almost primal performance. When he’s asked to save the daughter of a prominent politician from sex trafficking, his life comes apart. Well, what little life he had left. This is riveting filmmaking and Phoenix’s work is one of the best performances of 2018.
David Fincher’s masterpiece is more about the impact of crime than crime itself. The fact that he made a sprawling epic about an unsolved murder is daring enough, but what’s most remarkable is how much this movie becomes less and less about figuring out the identity of the Zodiac Killer and more about the impact of obsession. It’s one of the best films of the ‘00s.