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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Alejandro González Iñárritu would go on to win two Oscars but he first earned worldwide acclaim with this time-jumping 2000 thriller starring Gael Garcia Bernal. At the end of a wave of violent triptychs inspired by Pulp Fiction, this somehow still felt fresh and new thanks to its director’s daring storytelling style and skill with actors.
*A.I.: Artificial Intelligence
Modestly received when it was released in 2001, history has come to recognize that Steven Spielberg’s completion of a project once started by Stanley Kubrick is a brilliant film. Haley Joel Osment stars as David, an android child who learns about the meaning of life and human nature. It’s a gorgeous, ambitious piece of work that you should revisit if you haven’t seen it since it came out.
Cameron Crowe wrote and directed this 2000 masterpiece about a young man (Patrick Fugit) who ends up on tour with a rock band known as Stillwater. With incredible supporting performances from Kate Hudson, Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, this is one of the richest and most timeless films of its era, a rare movie that gets better every time you see it.
Jia Zhangke is one of the world’s best filmmakers. If you can track down copies of the Chinese director’s Still Life, A Touch of Sin, and Mountains May Depart, you really should do so. Until then, check out his latest work, an epic gangster flick with a mesmerizing performance from Jia’s wife, Zhao Tao. Like a lot of great crime movies, it becomes a commentary on the state of the country in which it’s set as much as anything else.
There are still a few Marvel movies roaming the digital prairie, waiting to be shepherded over to Disney+ exclusively. The best remaining on Amazon Prime is the original adventure for Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye, The Hulk, and Thor. Along with Favreau’s original Iron Man, The Avengers really defined the MCU style, one that would change the blockbuster for an entire generation.
This clever and sweet film was so well-received that it was adapted into a hit musical in 2016 that became a Tony winner. It’s the story of eight men from the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra in Egypt who are supposed to perform at an Arab Cultural Center in Israel but end up in a small town in the middle of the Negev Desert. It’s a heartfelt story of compassion and commonality.
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.
The great Paul Verhoeven (Robocop, Starship Troopers) returned to his home country of the Netherlands for an insane period thriller starring Carice van Houten. Only the director of Total Recall could make a movie about a Jewish spy during World War II that pulses with this much cinematic energy.
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.)
One of Martin Scorsese’s most underrated films when it was released, the 1999 drama has built a new appreciation in the two decades since. Nicolas Cage does incredible work as an EMS worker on the graveyard shift in New York City — not an easy job. Existential and terrifying, this is a movie that people seem to still be discovering.
Robert Altman’s 1974 gambling dramedy was one of his lost classics, unavailable for the years in which young cineastes were discovering the master filmmaker. After years of music rights issues, it was just dropped on Amazon Prime in its entirety, and it’s fantastic, the story of a veteran gambler (Elliot Gould) who makes a new friend (Peter Segal) and how the two of them circle the drain of life together.
The fifth film in the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was the first standalone vehicle for one of the company’s most beloved characters, Captain America. There’s an old-fashioned adventure movie tone to Joe Johnston’s film that fits the material perfectly, and Evans put his style on Cap and never looked back with this blockbuster.
As No Time to Die has been delayed multiple times due to COVID, Amazon Prime is here to satisfy your 007 needs with the first outing for Daniel Craig as the most famous movie spy of all time. This is easily one of the best Bond movies, a flick that redefined the character with more intense stakes and realistic action sequences.
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 burst his way back into pop culture with a reboot last year, but the original franchise is still going strong too, believe it or not. Go back to where it all began with this classic horror-comedy, a movie that scared a generation into throwing away their toys.
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.
*The City of Lost Children
Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet directed this stunning follow-up to their breakthrough with Delicatessen and delivered an even better film (and would follow this one up with Amelie). The City of Lost Children is an impossible movie to describe in a capsule — a crazy vision of a fantasy world that’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It’s beautiful and unforgettable.
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.
*The Color of Money
Martin Scorsese directed this adaptation of the Walter Tevis sequel to The Hustler and gave Paul Newman and Tom Cruise two of the most iconic performances of their entire careers. History has allowed The Color of Money to falter a bit when compared to other Scorsese masterpieces but it’s a thoroughly entertaining drama that’s better than you remember.
The fact that David Cronenberg hasn’t made a movie since 2014’s Maps to the Stars means he’s at least semi-retired, which is a true shame given he’s one of the best directors who ever lived. This 2012 drama went relatively under the radar, but its vision of a world in turmoil feels ahead of its time in 2020. Cronenberg movies have a habit of doing that.
*Days of Heaven
Terrence Malick wrote and directed one of the best movies ever made in this 1978 period drama starring Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard, and Linda Manz. It is the story of two lovers who move to the Texas panhandle in 1916 to harvest crops and get caught up in trying to trick a dying farmer into leaving them his fortune. Lyrical and intense at the same time, it’s a legitimate masterpiece.
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.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet directed this pitch-black comedy with his partner Marc Caro way back in 1991, before he would make a bigger splash with Amelie. In an apartment building in France in the future, food is hard to come by, leading to the butcher on the first floor going to cannibalistic extremes to feed his tenants. Visually striking in a way that instantly announced Jeunet & Caro as artists that needed to be watched, it’s a tasty treat.
Martin Scorsese finally got his Best Picture Oscar with this 2006 adaptation of the acclaimed Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs. Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon star in a story of cops and criminals that unfolds in a way that only Scorsese could direct. It did so well at the Oscars that it’s become kind of a punching bag, but it’s still such a well-made, entertaining piece of filmmaking.
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 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.
Alexander Payne’s best film is still his 1999 comedy that uses a student body election to comment on not just politics on a grander scale but human nature. Reese Witherspoon stars as the unforgettable Tracy Flick, the overachiever who basically drives her teacher, played by Matthew Broderick, totally insane. Scathing and hysterical, Election is a movie that could come out unchanged two decades after its release.
Lulu Wang wrote and directed this beautiful award-winner “based on a true lie.” Awkwafina won a Golden Globe for the role of a New York woman who is forced to go along with her family when they decide not to tell her beloved Nai Nai that she has cancer. It’s a nuanced, tender piece of filmmaking that really announces Wang as a major new talent, and a film that will be passed down from generation to generation for years to come.
Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1996 masterpiece is only one of the best films ever made, a story of violence and redemption in the great American North. The Coens won Best Original Screenplay and Frances McDormand took her first Oscar home for playing the unforgettable Marge Gunderson, a Minnesotan cop who gets entangled in a car salesman’s deeply inept foray into the criminal world.
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 portrays 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.
Forget that mediocre remake with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell, just stick with this 2014 dramedy about a man who makes a very bad decision when the life of his family is threatened by an avalanche. Instead of trying to save them, he flees in the other direction, and it changes everything in his marriage and family from that day forward. Equal parts funny and insightful.
The legendary Jessica Lange plays Frances Farmer, an actress in the 1930s who struggled to manage her career and her mental illness. It is a powerhouse of a performance from Lange, who should have won the Oscar for which she was nominated here. Co-star Kim Stanley was also nominated and the film features Sam Shepard and Jonathan Banks in supporting roles. But it’s Lange’s movie from front to back.
Ghost in the Shell
One of the most influential action films of all time is actually this 1995 sci-fi anime epic from Mamoru Oshii based on the manga of the same name. Set in 2029 (which is really not that far away), it’s the story of a cyborg agent hunting a mysterious hacker, but it’s influential because of what it says about fluid identity and its incredibly powerful visuals. Forget the live-action version and just watch this one again.
Terry Zwigoff directed the brilliant 2001 adaptation of the comic book of the same name by Daniel Clowes. The film version stars Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, and Steve Buscemi, and basically reminds people that even introverts need people too. Birch and Johansson play friends whose bond is tested when Birch’s Enid gets involved in the life of a loner, played perfectly by Buscemi. (He’s pretty much always perfect.)
An exceptional 2010 thriller based on a novel by Robert Harris. Ewan McGregor is excellent as a ghost writer for the former Prime Minister, played by Pierce Brosnan, in the wake of a mysterious drowning accident. Razor-sharp and perfectly directed, it’s the kind of smart movie for adults that doesn’t get made that often even just a decade later.
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.
Sir Ian McKellen does arguably the best work of his career in Bill Condon’s biopic of James Whale, the legendary filmmaker behind Universal monster movie classics like Bride of Frankenstein. Condon’s film mostly takes place later in Whale’s life, as he draws closer to a young gardener, played by Brendan Fraser. McKellen and co-star Lynn Redgrave were nominated for Oscars (as was Condon for his sharp screenplay).
Werner Herzog tells the tragic story of Timothy Treadwell in a manner that only he could pull off. Both empathetic to Treadwell’s death from a grizzly bear he lived among as a diehard nature enthusiast and fascinated by what this story says about the relationship between man and nature overall, Herzog delivers one of his best films.
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 her that revenge is a dish best served with an attitude.
Make sure you’re in the right mental place before watching Ari Aster’s 2018 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 went from theaters to streaming services should make it easier for you to see one of 2019’s most essential films.
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.
Shia LaBeouf wrote and co-stars in a film that’s deeply autobiographical regarding his abusive father and the troubles the actor went through in his younger years. A screenplay that he started writing in rehab is one of the most daring in a long time, purely confessional and moving in ways that dramas are rarely allowed to be. Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges co-star, and both do excellent work.
*In a Lonely Place
Nicholas Ray gave Humphrey Bogart one of the richest roles in his career in this 1950 noir based on the Dorothy B. Hughes novel of the same name. When it was released, this story of a screenwriter suspected of murder didn’t connect the same way that Bogart generally did at the time, but history has been very kind to it, and it’s now widely considered one of the best film noirs of all time.
There’s a reason that this story of pod people has been remade pretty much for every generation. It taps into something timeless about the fear of distrusting our fellow man (and seems pretty ready for a 2020 update). The ‘70s version by Philip Kaufman is arguably the best, anchored by one of Donald Sutherland’s best performances and that creepy sense that the sense of community fostered by the late ‘60s was being dismantled from within.
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.
David Gordon Green directed Nicolas Cage to one of the best performances of his career in this 2013 drama about a logger who befriends a young boy and then tries to wrest him from the control of his alcoholic, abusive father. Cage gives a subtle, complex performance that’s matched by Tye Sheridan as the boy Gary.
Ju-On: The Grudge
It’s hard to overstate what a juggernaut the Ju-On franchise has become over the last two decades. There are over a dozen films in this franchise and three American versions, including one earlier this year. There’s also a Netflix prequel series (that’s pretty good!). But this is still the tentpole of them all, the 2002 flick that really defined the style of these vicious ghost movies. It still works as well today as when it came out.
*The Lady from Shanghai
Orson Welles may get more attention for unqualified masterpieces like Citizen Kane, but this has always been a fan favorite for people who love him, a stunning example of his incredible visual sense. This is a gorgeous noir starring Rita Hayworth and Everett Sloane based on the novel If I Die Before I Wake that was only modestly received in 1947 but has been recognized as a masterpiece over the decades since it was released.
Amazon Prime has arguably the best mix of legitimate classics and recent hits like this 2019 Sundance darling from director Joe Talbot. It’s the story of a young man who hopes to reclaim his childhood home in a now-overpriced section of San Francisco. Lyrical and poignant, it also features a stunning supporting performance from Jonathan Majors, who is about to blow up in HBO’s Lovecraft Country.
Do you think the people at Amazon have a sense of humor? Or is just a coincidence that they dropped a film about two people going crazy in a confined space together during the pandemic? Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe are fearless in Robert Eggers’ black-and-white nightmare about two people who learn that nothing is scarier than being trapped with someone unbearable.
Daniel Day-Lewis won his third Oscar for playing Abraham Lincoln in this masterful historical drama from Steven Spielberg, one of cinema’s most artful historians. Based on the Doris Kearns Goodwin book Team of Rivals, this is the story of the final four months of Lincoln’s life, told on a broad, ambitious canvas of one of the most pivotal moments in American history.
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.
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.
Kelly Reichardt directed this detailed, mesmerizing drama starring Michelle Williams in the true story of a doomed section of the Oregon Trail. Reportedly, in 1845, Stephen Meek decided to lead his portion through the Oregon desert, with disastrous results. It’s a slow, deliberate film that builds in power in unexpected ways and reminds us that Reichardt is one of the best working filmmakers.
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.
Amazon’s horror selection is a little lacking if you don’t have the Shudder add-on, but they do have exclusive streaming rights to Ari Aster and A24’s excellent Midsommar, the story of a vacation gone horribly awry. Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor play a couple who go to Sweden for a festival. A comedy of cultures gives way to something much darker when the true purpose of the festival is revealed in a series of final scenes that you’ll never forget.
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.
Jeff Nichols wrote and directed this coming-of-age drama that really kicked off the McConaughaissance that pulled him out of bad rom-coms and made him a legit actor again. He plays the title character, a fugitive on a small island who encounters a couple of local kids who agree to help him escape. Nichols is one of the best American directors alive.
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!
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.
*O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Joel and Ethan Coen directed one of their most beloved films with this quirky reimagining of Homer’s The Odyssey that takes that epic journey and transplants it to the American South in the 1930s. George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson star as three escaped convicts who go on a wild adventure in Mississippi that actually makes them bluegrass stars. It’s funny, quirky, and very rewatchable.
Sergio Leone’s most ambitious and epic work was his 1968 masterpiece. Henry Fonda, Jason Robards, Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale, and an ensemble of familiar Western faces got together for this genre masterpiece, a movie that also contains one of Ennio Morricone’s best scores. It’s also a movie that Leone almost didn’t make, announcing his retirement from the genre after The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. We’re lucky Paramount talked him into it.
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.
Ben Stiller almost never does drama anymore, which is a shame because arguably the best performance of his career came in this story of addiction based on the autobiography of Jerry Stahl. Stiller plays Stahl, a hit writer on ‘80s TV shows that becomes such an addict that it destroys his life and career. Maria Bello, Owen Wilson, and Elizabeth Hurley co-star.
Adrien Brody won the Oscar for Roman Polanski’s true story of the life of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish-Jewish pianist who survived the Holocaust. Moving and gripping, The Pianist captures something rarely seen in historical documents — how much survival was often dictated by chance encounters and downright luck. Polanski also won the Oscar for Best Director.
Amazon Prime added dozens of acknowledged classics in July 2020 and this is one of the standouts, George Stevens’s adaptation of the Theodore Dreiser novel An American Tragedy. It’s a great example of a masterful filmmaker catching stars at just the right time in their careers. Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, and Shelley Winters are phenomenal in a film that won six Oscars, including Best Director and Best Screenplay.
*The Portrait of a Lady
Jane Campion directed this acclaimed adaptation of the Henry James 1881 novel of the same name. Nicole Kidman stars as Isabel Archer, a young woman manipulated by the other women in her life, including Madame Serena Merle (Barbara Hershey) and Henrietta Stackpole (Mary-Louise Parker). It can be a little stuffy and pretentious, but it’s a great performance piece, especially for Kidman and Hershey, who landed a Supporting Actress Oscar nomination.
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.
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.
Forget that Transformers junk, this is still the best movie of Michael Bay’s career, a fantastic action piece about a siege on Alcatraz. When terrorists take tourists hostage on the infamous island, a group of SEALS have to save the day before they launch nerve gas at the city of San Francisco. Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage, and Ed Harris lead a great action cast.
Forget that Queen nonsense, this is the best rock biopic in recent memory. Taron Egerton plays Elton John, whose life story unfolds in vibrant musical numbers actually sung by the leading man in this case. Energetic and emotional, Rocketman works by embracing the creative passion of its subject and trying to express it cinematically.
Campbell Scott does the best film work of his career in this 2002 dramedy about a man who tries to train his nephew in how to talk to the opposite sex. Jesse Eisenberg plays the young man in one of the first notable roles of his career. It’s a smart, tight film about generational differences between gender dynamics with fantastic performances from Scott and Eisenberg.
This Sundance darling bypassed theaters and landed directly on Amazon Prime in the middle of the pandemic. It’s a promising feature about social factions at a prestigious school led by a star-making turn by Lovie Simone. Seriously, she’s going to be major. See it all begin here.
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.
*Southside With You
A unique kind of biopic, this lovely 2016 romantic drama tells the story of the first date between Michelle Robinson and a young politician named Barack Obama. Parker Sawyers and Tika Sumpter are excellent in the central roles, but it’s Richard Tanne’s nuanced screenplay that really elevates the story of one of the most important first dates in the history of American politics.
The fan base for this 1989 dramedy is loyal and loud. They quote it. They tweet about it. They love it. Based on the 1987 play of the same name, it’s about a bond between a group of women in a small southern town, but people really remember it for its incredible cast and moving final act. Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis, and Julia Roberts star in a melodrama that has really stood the test of time.
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 onstage. Opening up more with each song, this film becomes a joyous expression of creativity.
Billy Wilder’s 1950 dissection of Hollywood excess has become so iconic that most people probably feel like they’ve seen it even if they never actually have. William Holden plays the doomed Joe Gillis, but the film belongs to Gloria Swanson, who turned the faded star of Norma Desmond into an instant classic.
J.J. Abrams wrote and directed a loving homage to the Steven Spielberg films of the ‘80s that he loved as a child. Long before Stranger Things, there was another group of kids in smalltown America who stumbled onto something out of this world when a train derailed in their town. An early wonderful performance from Elle Fanning helps anchor this one.
*The Taking of Pelham One Two Three
“We are going to kill one passenger a minute until New York City pays us 1 million dollars.” That’s what it said on the poster of this 1974 action hit. Who wouldn’t want to see that? Forget the remake, and stick with the original starring Walter Matthay, Robert Shaw, and Martin Balsam. It’s a tight, well-made ‘70s action flick that still works today.
Richard Linklater directed this searing adaptation of the play of the same name by Stephen Belber. The entire film takes place in a Michigan motel and features only three performers — Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, and Robert Sean Leonard. Also unfolding in real time, it starts as a reunion between two old friends but turns into something darker when a past assault on Thurman’s Amy is revealed. It’s an intense actor’s showcase.
This film is such a part of pop culture now that it’s hard to remember that it didn’t make as much of an impact on its initial release. The high-budget sequel and a healthy life on VHS really made this a part of movie history as people were able to appreciate what James Cameron did with such a small budget and a bodybuilding superstar who wasn’t yet a household name.
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?
The wonderful Steve Buscemi wrote, directed, and starred in this 1996 drama about a cast of characters at an average watering hole. Hanging out at the titular bar, Buscemi’s gift with character and nuance shows through in every scene, and reportedly influenced David Chase’s The Sopranos and Buscemi’s eventual directing of that show and later supporting role.
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.
One of the best small-movie success stories of the last few years, this gem premiered at Slamdance, Sundance’s little cousin up the mountain in Park City, in 2019. After a small drive-in run, it’s already on Prime, where you can appreciate this lo-fi take on aliens in the heartland of America. Smart, funny, and daring, this is one of the best movies of 2020.
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.
Gavin O’Connor co-wrote and directed this moving tale of two estranged brothers who end up combatants in a mixed martial arts ring. Brutal and genuine, it features some of the best performances in the careers of Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, and Nick Nolte, who was nominated for an Oscar. It’s the kind of deconstruction of macho male archetypes that dares you not to cry during its ending, and it’s one of the best films of 2011.
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.
One of the best films of the 2000s stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., and Mark Ruffalo as three men who become individually obsessed with the unsolved mystery of the Zodiac Killer. David Fincher directed this masterpiece that’s as detailed as any film of this type and nuanced in the way it dissects that which we can never really know about true evil.