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.
The 39 Steps
Until someone starts Hitchcock+ (get on that, people), there won’t be a streaming service out there that has enough films by the master of suspense. The big three (Hulu, Amazon, Netflix) only have a handful a piece, and Amazon recently added this 1935 classic, named in 2017 by a group of critics as one of the best British films of all time. Robert Donat plays a classic Hitchcock everyman caught up in a web of intrigue and suspense. Don’t miss it.
*A.I.: Artificial Intelligence
Steven Spielberg’s completion of a project conceived by Stanley Kubrick divided audiences when it was released, but most people have now come around to recognize it as a genre masterpiece. Haley Joel Osment stars as a David, an artificial boy who longs to be real, in a film that now feels ahead of its time in its representation of impactful climate change and the role that technology plays in our lives. If you haven’t seen it in the two decades since it was released, you should revisit.
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.
Tom Harper directed this film that just landed in theaters at the end of 2019 and was quickly shuffled off to Amazon. It’s a shame because this is a film that deserved more attention. It’s got cross-demographic appeal for kids and adults in its story of the first people to really break through the clouds in a hot air balloon. The Theory of Everything stars Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones reunite and deliver in a well-made action film that uses a lot more practical effects and stunts than most modern flicks like this and the result is some tension for anyone with even a moderate fear of heights.
The African Queen
There aren’t enough undeniable classics on Amazon, so you should take the chance to watch the few that there are, even if just to fill in your personal viewing history with some movies made before 1980. Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn are simply perfect together in this adventure rom-com that should be listed in any film dictionary next to the words star chemistry. Trivia: This is the only movie Bogart won an Oscar for.
Cameron Crowe’s most personal film is also his best, a semi-biographical look at a coming-of-age road trip that a young journalist takes with a fictional rock band. Patrick Fugit stars, but the movie really belongs to its supporting cast, including great performances from Kate Hudson, Billy Crudup, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Frances McDormand. It’s even better than you remember.
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.
Aguirre, the Wrath of God
Werner Herzog was one of the most fearless filmmakers in the world in the prime of his career, and this 1972 period adventure film captures the director at his craziest. Partnered with someone even more off-center than him in Klaus Kinski, the two recount the story of Lope de Aguirre, who lost his mind trying to find El Dorado, the city of gold. And everyone nearly lost their mind making it.
Any list of the best “food movies” ever made that doesn’t include this 1996 dramedy is simply wrong. Co-directed by two men known mostly for their acting — Campbell Scott and Stanley — Big Night is a tender movie about a pair of Italian brothers (Tucci and Tony Shalhoub) who own a restaurant in ‘50s New York. As they struggle to keep it afloat, Big Night becomes a heartfelt movie about the immigrant experience and the American Dream.
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 and Emily V. Gordon loosely adapt their story, with Nanjiani starring alongside Zoe Kazan. It’s really as crowdpleasing as comedies get. You kind of have to be an asshole not to like it.
Most of the films from the peak of Brian De Palma’s career were riffs on Alfred Hitchcock’s best movies, and this is the masterful director’s take on Rear Window. John Travolta gives the best performance of his career as a sound-effects technician who happens to record a murder. Travolta, Nancy Allen, John Lithgow, and Dennis Franz are all great in a movie that’s really about the excess of the era, even though it’s just as powerful today.
David Lynch’s 1986 masterpiece was widely considered one of the best films of its decade and it has an even different energy now in the wake of Twin Peaks: The Return. Kyle MacLachlan, Dennis Hopper, and Laura Dern star in one of the best examples of a film that seeks to destroy the veneer of normalcy behind the white picket fences of America. It’s still haunting and powerful. A masterpiece.
S. Craig Zahler has become one of the most divisive filmmakers working today after three vicious, brutal movies — Bone Tomahawk, Brawl in Cell Block 99, and Dragged Across Concrete. The first two are both on Amazon. This one is slightly better, a slow-burn Western that stars Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, and Richard Jenkins as a posse of men who hunt a group of indigenous savages. The final act is terrifying and intense. (If you like it, check out Brawl too.)
If you’re looking for a good, underrated thriller, look no further than this 1997 thriller about a road trip gone horribly awry. Jonathan Mostow directs the always-great Kurt Russell as a man who has some words with a truck driver and learns that road rage is never the answer. A mix of modern fears with a noir sensibility, this a tight, effective little movie of the kind that doesn’t really make it to theaters all that often anymore.
*Bringing Out the Dead
Martin Scorsese’s 1999 adaptation of Joe Connelly’s book was widely seen as a critical and commercial disappointment when it was released but has developed a loyal following in the two decades since. Nicolas Cage plays Frank Pierce, a paramedic who has burned out to such a degree that he’s starting to see things. Haunting and moving, the movie surprised people expecting to see the action star version of Cage, but it has really held up. Most Scorsese movies do.
Stephen King has arguably never been bigger than he is in 2019, with the release of films like Pet Sematary and It: Chapter Two, as well as a new book arriving in the fall. Use this Brian De Palma masterpiece to flash back to a time when King wasn’t yet a household name. Sissy Spacek gives one of her best performances as the title character, a bullied girl who discovers that she’s not your ordinary teenager. This is still one of the best King adaptations of all time.
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.
Jon Favreau doesn’t only make gigantic Marvel movies or remakes of animated Disney classics. Take the time to check out his most intimate, personal film, this 2014 dramedy about a passionate chef finding his voice again after losing a job at a popular L.A. restaurant. The fact that Favreau wrote, starred, and directed this story of a man tired of popularity and looking for truth again is fascinating in the context of his wildly successful blockbuster career. It’s also just a sweet, funny movie.
Children of a Lesser God
There was a brief window in the mid-’80s when William Hurt was arguably the best working actor. In this film, he plays a new teacher at a school for the deaf, where he meets an outcast named Sarah, played unforgettably by Marlee Matlin, who won an Oscar for her work here. Some of this romantic drama plays a little broad and manipulative, but the performances by Hurt and Matlin carry it.
Children of the Corn
Stephen King has arguably never been more popular than in the era of blockbuster adaptations It, Doctor Sleep, and the Pet Sematary remake, but this is nothing new. Hollywood has been adapting the work of the master of horror for decades. Take, for example, this 1984 adaptation of a short story that King wrote over four decades ago. It may not be a great movie, but it’s becoming a cultural touchstone — every time there’s a creepy kid in a flick, audiences think of the little monsters that give this movie its name.
One of the cool things about Amazon’s increased theatrical output is that they’re putting their films on Amazon Prime very quickly after playing at the multiplex or arthouse. Take this 2018 Oscar nominee from Pawel Pawlikowski (Ida), a Polish drama about star-crossed lovers over decades after the end of World War II. It’s a luscious, emotional drama that demands your attention and rewards it.
Sometimes you want to see complex character studies or detailed documentaries; sometimes you just want to see Liam Neeson shoot people. One of the unexpected action star’s best recent films is this 2018 thriller by his regular collaborator Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown, Run All Night). Neeson plays an ordinary guy sucked into a murder plot on a train in a simple but effective story that Alfred Hitchcock would have loved.
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.
*Dead Man Walking
Susan Sarandon won an Oscar for her leading role as Sister Helen Prejean in her partner Tim Robbins’ moving drama. Dead Man Walking tells the true story of when Prejean met a man named Matthew Poncelot (Sean Penn), who as a prisoner on death row (although Penn’s character is an amalgam of two real prisoners). How religion and capital punishment exist in the same world is the focus of Robbins’ film, but it’s really just a showcase for two incredible performances from Sarandon and Penn.
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.
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 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?
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.
The wonderful Julia Hart co-wrote and directed this very unusual superhero origin story that plays like the more character-driven answer to the blockbuster worlds of things like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The great Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays Ruth, a young woman who seems to have lost control over her life and the very unique nature of her being. As she’s being hunted by men in black, she finds her way home and back into the sphere of her mother and daughter. What unfolds is a story of empowerment, a truly female-driven narrative about generations of strength and an origin story for an unforgettable hero.
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.
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.
Sebastián Lelio co-writes and directs this adaptation of his own 2013 film Gloria that’s essentially the same film beat for beat with one major difference: Julianne Moore. The Oscar-winning legend plays the title role, a divorced woman with two adult children. There’s no high concept or strange hook here — just a beautiful character study with one of the best performances of 2019.
The people who still refer to Robert Pattinson as “The Twilight Kid” obviously haven’t seen his magnetic work in this Safdie brothers thriller that recalls some of the great cinema of the ’70s. Pattinson plays a bank robber whose brother gets nabbed after a job goes very wrong. As he stumbles through a long New York night, the film maintains a propulsive, jittery energy that’s even more essential to the Safdies’ followup, this fall’s excellent Uncut Gems.
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.
Long before Paul Thomas Anderson was a legendary writer-director came this excellent 1996 drama-noir also known as Sydney. Philip Baker Hall plays a gambler who meets a young man played John C. Reilly and takes him under his wing. A few years later, they meet a woman named Clementine, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, and, well, things get complicated. PTA’s craftsmanship was top notch right from the very beginning.
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.
Claire Denis is one of the most unpredictable and enigmatic filmmakers alive, just as comfortable making a vampire movie as she is an intimate character drama. This is one of her crazier movies, a divisive sci-fi/experimental pic starring Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche as two passengers on what is essentially a floating prison ship. Hard to describe and even harder to fully understand, it’s something you truly need to see for yourself, and the speed with which it’s gone from theaters to streaming services should make it easier for you to see one of 2019’s most essential films.
His Girl Friday
When people think of the most influential Hollywood comedies of all time, this 1940 Howard Hawks hit often makes the list. Watch it to see why. You’ll witness Cary Grant at his most charismatic as Walter Burns, an editor who is watching his best reporter and ex-wife walk out the door. He suggests they cover one last story, and Hollywood magic ensues. American movies don’t get much more classic than this.
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.
In the Heat of the Night
Fifty years before Green Book won Best Picture, a very different portrait of race relations in the South took home that same prize. Sidney Poitier stars as a black officer who gets caught up in a murder case, and Rod Steiger plays his white counterpart. Both men are breathtakingly good, and the film contains one of cinema’s most notable slaps.
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.
Adrian Lyne’s best film is this 1990 thriller starring Tim Robbins as a Vietnam vet who is living an increasingly terrifying waking nightmare. Haunted by demons and chased by visions, Robbins’ postman becomes convinced that something happened to him in the war that he can’t remember. An unforgettable commentary on PTSD and how we treat our vets, it’s also just straight-up terrifying.
King of New York
There’s a cult following around Abel Ferrara’s 1990 crime classic that knows the truth: This movie rules. Just look at that cast — Laurence Fishburne, David Caruso, Wesley Snipes, Giancarlo Esposito, Steve Buscemi — and they’re led by one of the most iconic performances in the career of Christopher Walken. This is before he became something of a caricature, imbuing Frank White with just the right balance of confidence and menace. It’s one of his best performances.
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.
*The Last Waltz
Any list of the best concert films of all time that doesn’t included Martin Scorsese’s 1978 masterpiece about the final performance of the legendary group The Band in late 1976. It’s a perfectly constructed ode to creativity and musical passion, featuring appearances by Eric Clapton, Robbie Robertson, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Ringo Starr, and Dr. John.
Leaving Las Vegas
Remember when Nicolas Cage won an Oscar? Believe it or not, the actor now known mostly for his “extreme” acting choices gave one of the most subtle performances of the ‘90s in this Mike Figgis film, which won Cage the Academy Award. He plays Ben Sanderson, a screenwriter so in the grip of alcoholism that he goes to Las Vegas with the plan to drink himself to death. There he meets Sera (Elizabeth Shue), a hooker with a heart of gold who gives him a reason to live.
The Lost City of Z
James Gray may be the most underrated American filmmaker, what with The Immigrant, Two Lovers, and 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.
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.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Tom Cruise’s latest adventure as Ethan Hunt may actually be his best. It’s certainly one of the best action movies of the last couple years, and it’s already available on streaming services! Sure, you’ve read a lot about how Cruise does his own stunts (which is impressive), but watch this for a masterclass in action film editing too. The film hums and moves in ways that other action movies just don’t. It’s as wildly entertaining as anything you’ll find on Amazon Prime.
It’s fun to see a movie that catches a star at just the right moment in his or her career. A great example of that is 1987’s Moonstruck, which contains Cher’s best performance, an acting turn that won the famous singer an Oscar. She stars as an Italian-American who faces a small problem when she falls for the brother of her fiancé, played by an also-perfectly-cast Nicolas Cage.
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.
Murder on the Orient Express
Long before Kenneth Branagh resurrected Agatha Christie’s beloved detective Hercule Poirot for a new generation, Sidney Lumet gathered a cast of all-stars to adapt one of the suspense master’s most beloved novels. You think the 2017 version had an impressive cast? Check out the ’70s version, with Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Perkins, and more. It’s held up wonderfully.
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!
Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut is the platform for Jake Gyllenhaal’s best performance to date. As Louis Bloom, a creature of the night who stalks accidents and other violent events in Los Angeles to get the footage to make him a star, Gyllenhaal has a mesmerizing nervous energy that’s impossible to tear your eyes away from. Nightcrawler remains one of the most definitive films of the ‘10s, a thriller that feels even more urgent regarding what it says about our viral world than it did when it came out.
Paul Newman gave one of his best career performances in this 1994 Robert Benton drama based on a beloved book by Richard Russo. Newman plays “Sully” Sullivan, a normal guy in a normal New York time, but the Oscar winner finds a way to make a very normal life seem extraordinary. It’s one of the most remarkable pieces of character work that you could watch on any streaming service.
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 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.
Tom Hanks may be America’s Favorite Dad now, but there was a time when it was difficult to see the star of things like Bosom Buddies and Big transitioning into being one of the most acclaimed actors of all time. This was the film that really realized that potential. Before Forrest Gump and Saving Private Ryan, Hanks starred in Jonathan Demme’s true story of a lawyer fired because of his HIV diagnosis, and the system-changing lawsuit that followed.
Richard Gere stars in this 1996 thriller about an attorney who becomes deeply involved in his latest case, that of an altar boy (played unforgettably by Edward Norton) who has been accused of murdering a Catholic Archbishop. A battle of wills between Gere and Norton with the backdrop of allegations of abuse against the church, this is a smart, riveting genre movie. Norton was so good he even won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor, and earned an Oscar nomination too.
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.
A Quiet Place
Who could have possibly guessed that Jim from The Office would be behind one of the most successful horror films of the ‘10s? Or that it would be on streaming services only a year after its release? You’ve probably already seen it, this story of a world in which silence is the only way to survive, but it’s worth another look to marvel at its tight, taut filmmaking and a stellar performance from Emily Blunt. This one is going to age well.
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.
Barry Levinson directs Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman in the story of a man who learns he has a brother who is an autistic savant after the death of his father. Both gentlemen are fantastic in a movie that’s arguably a little manipulative but should be watched or rewatched purely for the strength of its performances. The movie won four Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor for Hoffman.
Gore Verbinski directed one of the best animated films on Amazon Prime, this Oscar-winning featuring voice work by Johnny Depp in the lead role and some of the most inspired visuals in any animated film this decade. Rango is a chameleon who stumbled into a town called Dirt in this inventive riff on the Western genre that plays equally to children and adults.
One of the best films of 2019 is right there on Amazon for you to watch. Picked up at Sundance for a small fortune, Amazon quietly released it in major cities, but have done little to promote this sturdy, smart thriller about the torture report that revealed the extent our government went to cover up its behavior after 9/11. Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Tim Blake Nelson, Jon Hamm, Corey Stoll, and many more star in a film reminiscent in tone and accomplishment to Spotlight.
*Romeo is Bleeding
The most underrated performance in Gary Oldman’s illustrious career is in this 1993 Peter Medak thriller, a movie that far too few people have seen. Oldman plays the kind of anti-hero we didn’t see much in the early ‘90s (but do all the time now) – a corrupt cop caught up in a web of lies and dangerous women in this neo-noir. Oldman is excellent, but the movie is arguably stolen by its powerful female cast, including Lena Olin, Annabella Sciorra, and Juliette Lewis. The great ensemble also includes Roy Scheider, Michael Wincott, Will Patton, James Cromwell, and Ron Perlman. Yeah, you want to see that.
Any list of the best car-chase movies that doesn’t include John Frankenheimer’s 1998 action flick is simply wrong. Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, and Sean Bean star in this David Mamet–scripted thriller about a team of operatives with a habit of betraying one another. The story is secondary to the stunt work, which includes some of the best choreographed and shot car-chase sequences of all time. Your pulse will race. We guarantee it.
*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.
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.
Rooney Mara stars in this wonderful thriller from the great Steven Soderbergh, co-starring alongside Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Channing Tatum. This is a Hitchockian movie that works best the least you know about it, so just trust us that it’s worth every minute of your time. Soderbergh is one of our best directors and this is one of his most underrated movies.
*The Silence of the Lambs
Movies don’t get much better than Jonathan Demme’s adaptation of Thomas Harris’ chilling thriller about Clarice Starling and Dr. Hannibal Lecter. With career-defining performances from Jodie Foster and Sir Anthony Hopkins, this movie still absolutely slays a quarter-century after it was released.
A Simple Favor
Who would have guessed that the director of Bridesmaids would helm one of the best thrillers of 2018? That’s the case with this Paul Feig thriller, the story of an ordinary woman (Anna Kendrick) who becomes obsessed with a new best friend (Blake Lively) after she just ups and disappears one day. The two stars are excellent, but it’s the buoyant, lively tone that Feig brings the film that really makes it fun.
A Simple Plan
Sam Raimi directs a dramatic thriller that’s not exactly like the horror and superhero films for which he is primarily known. Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton star as Minnesotan brothers who find a plane crash with $4.4 million in cash. They take the money and, well, things go wrong from there. It’s a fantastic thriller with a “what if” premise about what you would do in the same situation.
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.
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.
*Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Khaaaannnnnn! Unless you’re of the right age, it’s hard to understand what a phenomenon this movie became, completely redefining the entire Star Trek franchise. The stories of Captain Kirk and the USS Enterprise were always relatively benign (people forget the first movie is rated G!) but then this dark, twisted adventure story came along, and proved that this world could be just as rich and daring as the one created by George Lucas. It’s a genre classic, and still the best Star Trek movie.
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.
Billy Wilder’s 1950 classic has become iconic mostly for Gloria Swanson’s scenery-chewing performance. People have probably seen clips of it more than the actual movie. Watch the actual movie. It’s a brilliant noir set in the changing system of Hollywood with Swanson as a fading star and William Holden as the screenwriter who gets drawn into her world.
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.
James Cameron’s sci-fi/action game-changer is one of those films that has become such an iconic part of ‘80s movie history that even people who haven’t seen it quote and GIF it. Why not actually go back and watch the film that altered sci-fi history and made Ah-nuld a star? The superior Judgment Day isn’t on Prime, but you should really own that one already anyway.
Terms of Endearment
It’s hard to convey how huge this James L. Brooks drama was in 1983. After a December release, it would not only make an absolute fortune (over $100 million on a budget less than 10% of that) but would go on to win five Oscars, including ones for Shirley MacLaine and Jack Nicholson, along with Best Picture and Director. In many ways, it’s one of the most acclaimed films of the ‘80s, a movie that tapped into something emotional and true thanks in large part to a ridiculously talented ensemble.
Thelma & Louise
It’s hard to believe it’s been almost three decades since Thelma & Louise took over the national conversation and the Academy Awards. Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis give two of the best performances of their careers in this unforgettable story of an assault that sends two women on a fateful road trip. Everything about this movie works better than you remember, particularly the performances from its two stars.
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?
Here’s a cool project for you: Watch the John Wayne 1969 original and then the Jeff Bridges 2010 remake of this classic Western, both on Amazon Prime, and contrast and compare. They’re both interesting films, the original a snapshot of Wayne’s star power, and the remake more of an ensemble piece anchored by the Coen Brothers’ immaculate craftsmanship.
Under the Silver Lake
A24 had no idea what to do with David Robert Mitchell’s followup to It Follows, holding it for almost a year after its Cannes premiere and then barely releasing it at all. The lack of exposure may explain how it’s snuck its way on to Amazon Prime already, but this film is already developing a loyal following. It’s one of those movies that everyone will tell you they always loved in about a decade.
The Virgin Suicides
Sofia Coppola made her directorial debut with this adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides’s beloved novel about a group of sisters who captivated the entire neighborhood in which they lived. Kirsten Dunst anchors a dreamy, enchanting movie about the myth of perfection that exists in the world of picket fences in Middle America. It’s got a great Air soundtrack too.
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.
More people talk about Jason Reitman’s Oscar contenders Juno and Up in the Air, but there’s a loyal group who believe this film, his fourth, is actually his career peak. One of the reasons for that is that it contains one of the best performance he’s directed from the amazing Charlize Theron, who stars as the unforgettable Mavis Gary, a woman who returns to her hometown and basically tries to reclaim the toxic popularity she had in high school.
David Fincher’s 2007 masterpiece has only grown in esteem with each year since its release. A perfect blend of obsession and mystery, Zodiac is more about how crime impacts the world around it than the crime itself. Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., and Mark Ruffalo star in the story of people who became a part of a madman’s twisted plan, and the questions that remain about his identity only make this film stronger.