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.
Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu followed the international acclaim for his breakthrough Amores Perros with this 2003 drama with an incredible cast. Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Danny Huston, and Benicio Del Toro headline a film about the aftermath of a tragic accident and the ripple effect it has on everyone involved. Now considered part of something called “Trilogy of Death” with Amores and Babel, it’s a moving piece of work.
James Cameron’s 1989 sci-fi blockbuster is one of the most prominent films never to have been released on Blu-ray in the United States. This means that the best quality in which you could watch this film is probably right here on Amazon, at least until Disney gets their act together and gives this modern classic the HD treatment that it deserves.
Ace in the Hole
One of the best performances of Kirk Douglas’s career came in a 1951 noir that has earned its reputation as a classic in the six decades since its release. The amazing Billy Wilder broke through with his direction of this story of a disgraced reporter who will do whatever it takes to get his job back. A lot of movies are credited with being ahead of their time, but Ace in the Hole one undeniably was.
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.
Michael Mann directed this 2001 biopic of one of the most important figures of the twentieth century, Muhammad Ali. Will Smith does possibly the best film work of his career as the legendary boxer, civil rights icon, and all-around role model, and Mann approaches the life of Ali with his own unique craftsmanship. This appears to be the original theatrical edition and not one of the alternate versions later released, FYI.
Cameron Crowe’s 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, Almost Famous is one of the richest and most timeless films of its era, a rare movie that gets better every time you see it.
Incredibly controversial when it was released, Alan Parker’s 1987 thriller has aged very well thanks in large part to great performances from Mickey Rourke and Robert De Niro. Rourke plays Harry Angel, a private investigator who is hired to solve a disappearance that leads him to New Orleans at the behest of a devilish man named Louis Cypher (Get it!?!?). Explicitly sexual and violent, it’s the kind of movie for adults that truly doesn’t get made anymore.
Leos Carax’s first film in years drops on Amazon Prime only a couple weeks after its theatrical premiere, and only about a month after it wowed audiences at Cannes. Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard star in the ambitious musical (with original songs by Sparks) about a couple who have a magical child named Annette. That only captures a fraction of what this incredibly unique film is about — you have to see it to believe it. (Premieres on Amazon Prime on 8/20.)
It’s hard to believe that Billy Wilder’s masterpiece is over six decades old given that it’s a film that feels as timeless as ever. The template for so many movies to come, The Apartment is a daring dissection of toxicity in the story of an insurance clerk (Jack Lemmon) who lets his coworkers use his apartment to support their infidelity. It’s a perfect movie.
Ron Howard directed the beloved 1995 historical drama about the dangerous space mission that nearly killed three American astronauts. Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, and Bill Paxton star as the space travelers with a great cast joining them on the ground, including Oscar nominee Ed Harris. Nominated for a total of nine Oscars, including Best Picture, Apollo 13 is the movie people still watch over 25 years later.
*As Good As It Gets
Believe it or not, As Good As It Gets is the last movie to win both the Oscar for Best Actor (Jack Nicholson) and Best Actress (Helen Hunt). James L. Brooks’ romantic comedy is a perfect example of a movie that caught its cast at just the right moment, getting one of the last Nicholson performances that could be called charming and supporting it with great work from Hunt and Greg Kinnear. Some of it is a bit dated, but the movie catches just enough lightning in a bottle in terms of casting to justify another look.
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.
Abel Ferrara’s landmark drama from 1992 features one of the best and most revealing performances from the great Harvey Keitel. He plays the title character, a truly corrupt and vicious cop, in a film that came around long before stories about dark people like this one were more commonplace in American cinema.
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.
One of the best films of James L. Brooks’s career is this 1987 romantic dramedy that was so acclaimed that it was nominated for Best Picture and included a couple years ago in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. Holly Hunter, William Hurt, and Albert Brooks are fantastic in this smart movie about the people who bring viewers the news. Some of it is a little dated now, but the acting and writing will always be brilliant.
Lee Chang-dong’s 2018 Cannes darling is one of the best Korean films of the last decade. Based loosely on a short story by Haruki Murakami, it stars Yoo Ah-in as an aimless young man who reunites with an old childhood friend, played by Jeon Jong-seo. When she brings home a mysterious young man named Ben (a transcendent Steven Yeun), things get weird.
The legendary Mike Nichols directed this incredibly successful 1971 comedy/drama that shook the cinematic world at a time when American cinema was only just starting to explore adult themes like the ones here. Art Garfunkel and Jack Nicholson star as college roommates who work their way through relationships and into middle-age. They’re matched by great turns from Candice Bergen and Ann-Margret.
One of Steven Spielberg’s most underrated films stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank Abagnale, a legendary con man who became a millionaire through his crimes, and Tom Hanks as the FBI agent trying to track him. Charming and delightful, thanks to a great script by Jeff Nathanson, Catch Me If You Can is a movie that’s easy to watch again and again.
This wonderful 1963 film is part romantic comedy and part Hitchockian mystery, courtesy of master director Stanley Donen and the blinding charisma of Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. A lot of movies try to be a little bit of everything but few in history have blended genres as diverse as screwball comedy and suspense thriller as seamlessly as this clever classic, which also has great supporting turns from Walter Matthau and James Coburn.
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 a stunning follow-up to their breakthrough with Delicatessen, delivering an even better film (and then would go on to 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. Beautiful and unforgettable.
One of the last films of Mike Nichols’s stunning career was his adaptation of the 1997 Patrick Marber play, starring a killer quartet in the lead roles Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman, and Clive Owen lead the searing drama about failing relationships, and two of them (Portman and Owen) landed Oscar nominations for their work.
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.
David Cronenberg delivered one of his best films in 1988’s Dead Ringers, a twisted thriller starring Jeremy Irons as twin gynecologists who share flings with their clients without them knowing. Creepy and masterful, the movie contains arguably Irons’ best performance.
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.
Neil Marshall’s best work remains his 2005 thriller, which works as both a study in claustrophobia and a truly terrifying monster movie. Six women make the questionable decision to go into a cave system, where they first face an incredibly tight and terrifying physical situation …and also the things that live in the dark. Bracing and brilliant.
One of the best noirs ever made is just sitting there on Amazon Prime waiting for you to discover it. Based on the 1939 novel of the same name, Detour stars Tom Neal and Ann Savage and it just oozes style in the way it uses the classic genre structure of a man who keeps digging himself into a deeper and deeper hole. Considered a lesser B-movie for years, it has only recently been reappraised as a noir classic.
Over 30 years after its release, Spike Lee’s 1989 masterpiece feels as urgent and current as the day it was released. After the social uprising in 2020, many people seemed to revisit this classic, and discovered it’s lost none of its power. In fact, every viewing of Do the Right Thing feels fresh and new again. It’s one of the best films ever made.
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.
Bruce Lee really landed on the international map with two Hong Kong films directed by Lo Wei, 1971’s The Big Boss and then this film the next year, a movie about a student who seeks to avenge the murder of his master. After some disappointment in the Hollywood system, Lee went back to Hong Kong and redefined martial arts cinema forever. This is an essential piece of work in the genre.
The late Bill Paxton directed and co-stars in an stunning psychological thriller that didn’t get a lot of attention in 2001 but has developed a following over the years. Matthew McConaughey stars as a young man who tells the FBI that his brother is the man behind a string of serial killings, inspired by their upbringing at the hands of a man (Paxton) who told them he had been visited by God and told to destroy demons in human form on Earth.
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.
Guys and Dolls
The stage musical may be a little thin but it’s the cast that makes Joseph Mankiewicz’s 1955 Oscar nominee into such a timeless charmer. Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando were at the peak of their charm when they stepped into these roles. Sure, Brando’s singing is a little dodgy, but who cares? And Jean Simmons and Vivian Blaine are pretty fantastic too.
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.
There was a time in the ‘80s and ‘90s when playwright David Mamet moonlighted as a remarkable screenwriter, a period that really culminated in this 2001 action film from the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and director. His highest-grossing film, Heist stars Gene Hackman, Danny DeVito, Delroy Lindo, Ricky Jay, and Sam Rockwell in another one of those labyrinthine narratives about complicated men destroying each other’s lives.
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.
One of David Mamet’s best films is this 1991 drama featuring his muse, Joe Mantegna, giving arguably the best performance of his career (it’s this or another great Mamet flick, House of Games). Mantegna plays Bobby Gold, a detective on the trail of a killer played by Ving Rhames when the investigation starts to challenge not only his intellect but his faith. William H. Macy, another Mamet regular, is great here too.
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.
One of the best things about Bong Joon-ho winning multiple Oscar for his brilliant Parasite is the exposure likely led more people to his other works, including the wonderful monster movie The Host. In fact, this story of a creature in the Han River also stars the leading man from Parasite, the great Song Kang-ho. It’s a gorgeous piece of work that really put Bong on the map worldwide.
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.
The brilliant Julia Hart co-wrote and directed this very different thriller, a crime movie told only from the POV of one character, the wife of a criminal. Rachel Brosnahan of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel gives her best film performance to date as Jean, a woman who is forced to go on the run with her young child after her criminal husband goes missing. It’s a finely calibrated piece of work that reshapes an overdone genre in a way that makes it feel fresh again.
Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War earned him raves, but his previous drama is arguably even stronger, and it too is now on Amazon Prime. Set in Poland in 1962, this mesmerizing film tells the story of a young woman on the verge of taking her vows to become a nun. Before she can do that, she wans to fill in some holes in her personal history, including exactly what happened when she was orphaned during World War II.
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.
Long before he directed Frances McDormand to an Oscar for Three Billboards, Martin McDonagh wrote and directed this pitch-black 2008 comedy starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as a pair of hitmen stuck in purgatory, a.k.a. Bruges, Belgium. McDonagh’s dialogue is razor-sharp, but it’s Farrell and Gleeson that really make this comedy deadly.
Michael Mann directed one of the best films of the very good year that was 1999 in this retelling of a landmark 60 Minutes broadcast in which Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe), a tobacco industry insider, blew the whistle on what they knew and when they knew it. Al Pacino does fantastic work as producer Lowell Bergman while Christopher Plummer is also phenomenal as Mike Wallace.
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.
The movie that ushered in the blockbuster era is often viewed more in terms of how it changed the industry than the fact that it’s, well, perfect. Seriously, you don’t need to change a single frame, line reading, or edit in Jaws, a film that works to raise tension from its very first scene.
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.
Pretty much every Robert Altman film on streaming is going to make a list like this one, especially his truly underrated 1996 crime flick set in the jazz scene of Kansas City in the 1930s. Jennifer Jason Leigh, Miranda Richardson, Harry Belafonte, and Steve Buscemi star in a film that opens with a kidnapping in 1934 when Leigh’s husband is held prisoner by a notorious gangster. It’s talky in that Altman way and never boring.
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.
The Lady Vanishes
When people consider the career of Alfred Hitchcock, this 1938 genre playground is too rarely mentioned. Part comedy, part thriller, part mystery, part romance, The Lady Vanishes stars Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave in the story of a tourist who believes that an elderly woman on the train has met violent ends when she disappears. As everyone around her tries to convince the woman that she just imagined the traveling companion, Hitchcock plays with perception and expectation in fascinating ways.
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.
Artists Daniel Day-Lewis and Michael Mann merged their talents for their 1992 action epic adaptation of the classic James Fenimore Cooper novel. It ended up one of the most popular films in either of their careers, a highbrow action movie with great set pieces and wonderful supporting turns from Madeleine Stowe and Wes Studi.
Everything comes full circle in Life Itself as Steve James tells the life story of Roger Ebert in a way that only he could. Ebert helped bring James’ Hoop Dreams to the world with his praise for it and so it makes perfect sense that James would now tell his story, one that is even more poignant since his passing.
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.
The brilliant Paul Schrader directed Willem Dafoe to one of his best performances in an underrated 1992 neo-noir. The Oscar nominee plays a drug dealer in the middle of a mid-life crisis, co-starring with Susan Sarandon and Dana Delany. Largely ignored when it was released, Light Sleeper that has gained a critical following over the last three decades as Schrader and Dafoe continue to artistically excel.
Steven Soderbergh directs a searing performance by Terence Stamp in this 1999 thriller about a Brit who comes to California trying to find his missing daughter, and those who may be responsible for hurting her. Soderbergh rarely missteps and this is one of his most underrated films, a perfectly paced angry shout of a movie that matches its captivating leading man.
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.
One of the best films of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology, this piece is set in 1980s West London at a killer house party. Micheal Ward and Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn star as two lovers who meet at the party in this gloriously joyful ode to youth and passion. A lot of Small Axe is really intense stuff, but this one will make you smile.
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.
Over four decades after the wildly influential original film, Jonathan Demme returned to the Richard Condon 1959 novel and delivered a movie that was widely underrated. Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Jon Voight, and Liev Schreiber star in the 2004 story of a sleeper agent, a film that played a lot differently in a scary post-9/11 world.
Letitia Wright (Black Panther) stars in one of the best films in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology, a collection of works about life in West London in the ‘70s and ‘80s. This one is the true story of the Mangrove Nine, a group of people arrested after a protest march ended in violence in August 1970. It was one of the first major cases about systemic racism in the country.
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.
One of Steven Spielberg’s best modern movies is this adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story about a future in which crime can be predicted before it happens. Tom Cruise stars as a man who is convicted of a crime he has no intent of committing in a fantastic vision of a future in which the systems designed to stop crime have been corrupted. It’s timely and probably always will be.
Bennett Miller’s brilliantly adapts Michael Lewis’s non-fiction book of the same name. It’s the story of the 2002 season of the Oakland Athletics, one in which general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) tried to find a system that could keep his team competitive without the budget of other franchises. It’s one of the best baseball movies ever made.
Amazon Prime doesn’t have the Kenneth Branagh remake that impressed audiences in 2017, choosing instead to stock the 1974 thriller directed by the legendary Sidney Lumet. Like the Branagh, this Agatha Christie adaptation contained a powerhouse cast of stars of its day that includes Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Vanessa Redgrave, and many more. It’s just a great mystery, well-told.
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!
Night Falls on Manhattan
Sidney Lumet is one of the top American filmmakers in history, starting his career with 12 Angry Men and moving through modern classics like Dog Day Afternoon, The Verdict, and Prince of the City. This 1996 crime drama is one of his most underrated, starring Andy Garcia as a New York District Attorney who is trying to confront corruption in the NYPD.
Elia Kazan’s complicated place in film history shouldn’t overshadow the incredible performances that anchor this 1954 drama, once considered one of the best films ever made. It undeniably features a top-tier performance from Marlon Brando, who won an Oscar, but he’s matched by Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger, and Eva Marie Saint.
Regina King really can do everything. The Oscar and Emmy winner directs this adaptation of the 2013 play about four legendary Black icons coming to a hotel room in Miami in 1964. Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) knew a lot about fame and expectation in 1964, and King’s acclaimed film about them is smart, funny, and moving.
How does one possibly begin to describe one of the most wonderfully odd films of the 2010s? Jim Jarmusch wrote and directed this story of apathetic vampires, creatures who have lived so long and seen so much that the world mostly leaves them apathetic. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are fantastic in the lead roles, and they’re matched by great supporting turns from Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin, Jeffrey Wright, and John Hurt.
It gets nowhere near the attention that Dances With Wolves does, but Kevin Costner directed an arguably superior Western in 2003, one that’s deeply poetic and moving. Costner’s work with mood is strong, but it’s the actors who really carry this film, including Costner himself, Annette Bening, Michael Gambon, Robert Duvall, and the final turn from the wonderful Michael Jeter.
Alan J. Pakula directed this incredible thriller from 1974 that examines the power structures that rule the world in a way that feels oddly timely a half-century later. Warren Beatty does some of the best work of his career as a journalist who discovers a powerful organization known as the Parallax Corporation, who not only pull the strings but organize political assassinations. It’s a piece of work that’s still riveting today.
From the brilliant writer and director John Sayles, 1992’s Passion Fish is a drama about a soap opera star (Mary McDonnell) who has been paralyzed after being hit by a cab. She returns to her family home, where she crosses paths with a nurse (Alfre Woodard) who refuses to give up on her. It’s moving in a way that feels genuine, never manipulative.
Most people have seen Alfred Hitchcock’s voyeurism masterpiece about Mr. Norman Bates, but there’s a film from that era about a similar kind of madman that’s nearly as good. Directed by Michael Powell, 1960’s Peeping Tom is about a photographer who has a habit of shooting the people he’s killing, recording their final moments. So controversial at the time that it derailed Powell’s notable career, it’s a landmark piece of art that was a generation ahead of its time.
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.
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.
Late in his career, Akira Kurosawa delivered one of his most epic films in this adaptation of William Shakespeare’s King Lear, blending that story with legends and history of Japan. The most expensive Japanese film ever made at the time, this 1985 war epic was a worldwide hit, bringing new viewers into the career of one of the best filmmakers of all time.
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.
It’s been a quarter-century since Baz Luhrmann released his beloved Shakespeare adaptation that cast Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes as the doomed leads. Loaded with bright colors and catchy pop music, it’s the Bard for the MTV Generation.
Alexander Payne’s’$2 2004 adaptation of the Rex Pickett novel centers on a surly wine lover and his chance at love. Paul Giamatti stars as Miles Raymond, a misanthropic teacher who goes on a trip to wine country with his more outgoing friend Jack (Thomas Haden Church). The film won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, and was nominated for four other Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
We could all use a little romance every now and then, and romances don’t get much sweeter than the 1993 blockbuster that made Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan one of the most beloved movie couples of all time. Nora Ephron directs the story of a widower who moves to Seattle and tries to raise his 8-year-old son, and the Baltimore woman who hears his tragic tale and falls in love.
One of the best movies of the 2010s has returned to Amazon Prime after a brief hiatus. With a razor-sharp screenplay by Aaron Sorkin and some of the best direction of David Fincher’s career, The Social Network resonates even more now in the era of constant internet than it did a decade ago.
Darius Marder co-wrote and directed this phenomenal character study about a heavy metal drummer (Riz Ahmed) who loses his hearing. Dealing with the loss of one of his senses takes him to a community of deaf people, where he learns how to communicate and finds himself again. Touching and brilliantly directed, it also features one of the best performances of 2020 from Ahmed (and one that nearly matches him from Paul Raci).
Actor/Director Sarah Polley discovered that she was the product of an extramarital affair by her mother and turned that revelation into one of the decade’s best documentaries. Far more than just a biopic about a fascinating family, Polley turns her story into a discussion about why we tell stories and make movies in the first place.
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.
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.
Richard Linklater’s searing adaptation of Stephen Belber’s play of the same name. The entire film takes place in a Michigan motel and features only three performers — Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, and Robert Sean Leonard. It all unfolds in real time, starting with a reunion between two old friends that turns into something darker when a past assault on Thurman’s Amy is revealed. It’s an intense actor’s showcase.
Documentarian Garrett Bradley followed the story of Sibil Fox Richardson for years as the woman sought to get her husband Rob released from prison, where he was serving a six-decade sentence for bank robbery. Bradley’s approach is both deeply empathetic and visually striking — the film unfolds in gorgeous black and white. You won’t soon forget one of the best documentaries of 2020.
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.
A sharp spoof of Hollywood blockbusters, Ben Stiller’s hit comedy has become divisive over the years in terms of how comedy has changed since its release. Yes, some of it hits differently now, but there’s no denying the fearless performances that carry it, including Stiller, Jack Black, and, most of all, Robert Downey Jr., doing anything to get the laugh.
Peter Weir directed Jim Carrey to one of the strongest performances of his career in this 1998 dramedy that now seems far ahead of its time in the way it foretold people living lives online. Carrey plays Truman Burbank, a man who has grown up on a TV show but has no idea that his entire life has been watched by millions. Ed Harris and Laura Linney are also just phenomenal in this modern classic.
One of the greatest twists of all time made Bryan Singer’s 1995 noir into a worldwide smash, winning star Kevin Spacey an Oscar for his work. Sadly, Singer and Spacey’s choices have made the film hit differently than it did a quarter-century ago, but it’s still a taut, tight piece of work. Watch it for Benicio del Toro, Gabriel Byrne, and Chris McQuarrie’s great script and ignore the other two guys.
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.
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.
Gene Wilder stars as a descendant of the infamous Dr. Frankenstein in Mel Brooks’s classic parody of Universal monster movies. Young Frankenstein was an international smash hit, landing an Oscar nod for Best Adapted Screenplay.