The best movies on Amazon Prime Video

The best movies on Amazon Prime Video

The Big Lebowski, Step Brothers, and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless mind lead the June additions to the Prime Video library

Clockwise from top left: The Big Sick (Amazon/Lionsgate); Knives Out  (Lionsgate); We Need To  Talk About Kevin  (Oscilloscope Laboratories); Inside Llewyn Davis (CBS Films); How To  Train Your Dragon (Dreamworks Animation)
Clockwise from top left: The Big Sick (Amazon/Lionsgate); Knives Out (Lionsgate); We Need To Talk About Kevin (Oscilloscope Laboratories); Inside Llewyn Davis (CBS Films); How To Train Your Dragon (Dreamworks Animation)

Streaming libraries expand and contract. Algorithms are imperfect. Those damn thumbnail images are always changing. But you know what you can always rely on? The expert opinions and knowledgeable commentary of The A.V. Club. That’s why we’re scouring both the menus of the most popular services and our own archives to bring you these guides to the best viewing options, broken down by streamer, medium, and genre. Want to know why we’re so keen on a particular film? Click the movie title at the top of each slide for some in-depth coverage from The A.V. Club’s past. And be sure to check back often, because we’ll be adding more recommendations as films come and go.

There are plenty of great classic films available as part of your standard Amazon Prime Video subscription, but this list was first compiled of movies featured on The A.V. Club’s Best of the Year lists and ballots going back to 2010. We continue to update it as new movies are added to Hulu’s library.

Looking for other movies to stream? Also check out our list of the best movies on Netflix., best movies on Disney+, and best movies on Hulu.

This list was most recently updated June 15, 2021. 

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Ali

Ali

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Screenshot: Ali

A towering symbol not just for the world of boxing, but for the world at large, Muhammad Ali isn’t anyone’s idea of an everyday boxer, but director Michael Mann’s skills are put to good use as he attempts to get behind the symbol in the new biopic Ali. Dramatizing the eventful decade between two upsets that won Ali heavyweight titles—his first encounter with Sonny Liston in 1964 and the Rumble In The Jungle with George Foreman in 1974—the film employs an episodic structure that focuses on key phases of his development, showing him as a brash young fighter, a spokesman for Black Power, a legal martyr for his refusal to be drafted for Vietnam, and an international icon. Will Smith plays Ali, and while the choice might seem odd, it proves inspired. Mann’s Ali, like its subject in his prime, seems incapable of making a false move. [Keith Phipps]

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3 / 75

Adaptation

Adaptation

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Screenshot: Adaptation

Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze’s screwy adaptation of Susan Orlean’s digressive nonfiction book The Orchid Thief finds a smart, funny way to work in all the brainstorming notes that are sometimes the best product of the writing process. By focusing Adaptation. on Kaufman himself (played by a lumpy-looking Nicolas Cage), the film captures the basic details of Orlean’s quirky story about a Florida flower thief, and it gets at what such a tale really has to say about biological mutation, chemical attraction, and the power of choice. By the third act, the movie takes a tongue-in-cheek Hollywood turn, inspired by screenwriting guru Robert McKee and Kaufman’s much more confident (and fictional) twin brother, Donald. But really every piece of Adaptation. is about the same thing: how life, love, and creativity are subject to the demands of Darwinian evolution, whether we like it or not. [Noel Murray]

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4 / 75

An American Werewolf In London (1981)

An American Werewolf In London (1981)

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Screenshot: An American Werewolf In London

Rick Baker won the very first Best Makeup And Hairstyling Oscar for his ingenious practical effects work on An American Werewolf In London. His big showcase: the scene where a bitten American tourist becomes a creature of the night—a hilarious/horrifying set piece that required star David Naughton to undergo several different prosthetic permutations (a 10-hour-a-day ordeal), each shot progressing him into a new stage somewhere between man and wolf, while the makeup team stretched rubber torsos and limbs to capture the agonizing, bone-cracking physicality of the change. Interestingly, to do American Werewolf, Baker had to leave The Howling, that other half-comic werewolf movie from 1981. [A.A. Dowd]

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5 / 75

The Abyss

The Abyss

Ed Harris
Ed Harris
Screenshot: The Abyss

James Cameron’s The Abyss, a strangely personal underwater adventure released in 1989 stars Ed Harris asa deep-sea expert whose commercially employed drillers come to investigate a nuclear-sub accident. The mission reunites him with estranged wife Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and forces both to put their lives in danger to thwart a deranged nuclear-warhead-toting Navy SEAL (Michael Biehn) who threatens to destroy a recently unearthed species of intelligent extra-terrestrials. The Abyss presents as an exciting, often beautiful film in the best possible setting, allowing a full examination of the paradox of attempting to make a blockbuster-sized film with vision. [Keith Phipps]

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6 / 75

Alien

Alien

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Photo: Sunset Boulevard (Getty Images)

Released in 1979 at the tail end of a wave of science-fiction films, Ridley Scott’s Alien filled the future with a monster borrowed from the oldest reaches of the psyche, a pitiless creature dedicated only to devouring and reproducing, designed by H.R. Giger for maximum Freudian implication. Scott has said he set out to make a cross between 2001 and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and his wish is reflected in the result: a nightmare set in the chill of a disappointing future. [Keith Phipps]

Coming July 1 (now streaming with ads on IMDB TV)

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Aliens

Aliens

Gun? Check.
Gun? Check.
Screenshot: Aliens

If there’s a glimmer of hope that James Cameron won’t be wasting his talent with four more rounds of Avatar, it lies in the knowledge that this maestro of blockbusters is also, generally speaking, a master of sequels. The director knew how to expand his stone-cold Terminator into an awesome multiplex epic. Before that, he achieved the even more daunting feat of pulling a new sci-fi classic out of the shadow of an old one. Rather than try to replicate the glacial deep-space dread of a Ridley Scott movie arguably even better than Blade Runner, Aliens stomps on the gas, stranding an unfrozen Ripley (tough-as-nails Sigourney Weaver) on an outpost crawling with acid-bleeding creatures, alongside a platoon of over-armed but severely underprepared space marines. Few action or war movies released in the decades since can match Aliens for sheer adrenaline-junkie intensity, but there’s something affecting about its emotional arc, too—about the way Cameron turns the déjà vu storytelling logic of sequels into warped immersion therapy, allowing Ripley to overcome the trauma of Alien (and the loss of her daughter) by rushing back into the monster-blasting fray. It’s not a redo. It’s a rebirth, bursting bloody and triumphant from the cold body of a perfect genre specimen. [A.A. Dowd]

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8 / 75

Almost Famous

Almost Famous

Billy Crudup
Billy Crudup
Screenshot: Almost Famous

As director Cameron Crowe’s alter ego in Almost Famous, 15-year-old Patrick Fugit is a passive observer to the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, a starry-eyed innocent who’s affected far more often than he affects. Just as he struggles to make sense of everything going on around him, so does the film. After some freelance work in his native San Diego—home of his mentor, legendary music critic Lester Bangs, played by habitual scene-stealer Philip Seymour Hoffman—Fugit is assigned by Rolling Stone to write about an up-and-coming band called Stillwater. Against the protestations of overprotective mother Frances McDormand, Fugit goes on tour with the group during a volatile time when its middling lead singer (Jason Lee) is losing the spotlight to electrifying guitarist Billy Crudup. Fugit is befriended by Kate Hudson, a whimsical groupie (or “band-aid,” as she prefers to be called) blinded by her intense devotion to Crudup and his music. In its best moments, Almost Famous taps into the immediacy of a great rock song, the soaring mini-epiphanies that could lead Crowe (or anyone) to helpless, lifelong addiction. Perhaps because the nature of touring is so ambling and listless, the behind-the-scenes relationships never really gel, leaving Crowe to insert a pair of desperately contrived crises to spike up the third act. Still, as a well-thumbed collection of scrapbook vignettes, Almost Famous is a wounded, heartfelt triumph. [Scott Tobias]

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9 / 75

An Education

An Education

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Photo: Sony Pictures Classics

Novelist and moonlighting screenwriter Nick Hornby shifts his perceptive gaze from pop culture-obsessed men dragged into the scary world of adulthood to the coming-of-age perils of a pop culture-obsessed teenage girl in a terrible hurry to grow up in early-’60s England with An Education, a fine adaptation of journalist Lynn Collins’ memoir directed by Lone Scherfig. An Education shares with Hornby’s best work trenchant insight into the way smart, hyper-verbal young people let the music, films, books, and art they love define themselves as they figure out who they are and what they want to be. In a star-making performance, the radiant Carey Mulligan plays a precocious schoolgirl whose life changes when mysterious businessman Peter Sarsgaard spots her carrying her cello down the street and whisks her off into a glamorous adult world of nightclubs, shopping, trips, and art. An Education is brutally candid about class in ways that never feel didactic or heavy-handed. It captures with tenderness and wit the exquisite ache of growing up as Mulligan evolves into the architect of her own destiny only after incurring the scars, pain, and brutal disappointment that separate the genuinely wise from the merely precocious. [Nathan Rabin]

Coming July 1

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The Big Lebowski

The Big Lebowski

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Photo: Gramercy Pictures

From our list of the best movies of the ’90s:

When the Coen brothers followed up their Academy Award-winning breakthrough hit Fargo (a film deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by no less an authority than the United States National Film Registry) with a shaggy stoner lark about the world’s most unlikely and least qualified would-be shamus (Jeff Bridges as “The Dude,” the signature role of his magnificent career) and his mock-heroic quest to retrieve a missing rug that famously held the whole room together, it felt like one of the smartass brothers’ inside jokes. The film was released to mixed reviews, modest box-office, and widespread confusion before beginning a strange journey to becoming the cult film of the ’90s, the Rocky Horror Picture Show of its time. The Big Lebowski created an entire subculture of tongue-in-cheek “achievers” who dress up like the film’s characters and attend “Lebowski Fests” where they drink white Russians, bowl, and recite favorite lines. Like Bridges’ performance, The Big Lebowski only appears effortless: The slacker facade and shaggy-dog plotting—with its surplus of red herrings, dead ends, and seemingly pointless digressions—belie the film’s underlying meticulousness and manic perfectionism. Slow-motion shots of middle-aged men bowling are choreographed and scored as artfully as anything in Stanley Kubrick’s oeuvre, in a comedy that gave pop culture one of its quintessential antiheroes and created an absurd and insanely detailed universe. Cult movies come and go, but like its hero, The Big Lebowski abides.

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Big Fish

Big Fish

Ewan McGregor
Ewan McGregor
Screenshot: Big Fish

Big Fish is a Daniel Wallace adaptation and visual feast that recaptures the fairy-tale simplicity and wrenching emotional power of Edward Scissorhands. Told largely in flashbacks, Big Fish stars Albert Finney as a larger-than-life Southern patriarch who never lets the truth get in the way of a good yarn. Like his Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, director Tim Burton’s Big Fish largely takes place in a kaleidoscopic, fully formed, utterly benevolent universe that seems to have originated in its protagonist’s vivid imagination–which in this case isn’t that far from the truth. With such a world-class fantasist in the director’s chair, the question of which side of the fantasy/fact divide Big Fish will fall on is never in doubt. But Burton and company make an unbeatable case for the life-affirming power of make-believe. [Nathan Rabin]

Coming July 1

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The Big Sick

The Big Sick

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Photo: Amazon/Lionsgate

Interesting anecdotes don’t always make for interesting movies; your story may kill at parties, but that doesn’t mean it belongs on the big screen. In The Big Sick, stand-up comedian Kumail Nanjiani, who plays Dinesh on Silicon Valley, and Emily V. Gordon, the writer and former therapist he married, dramatize the rocky first year of their relationship, with Nanjiani starring as a lightly fictionalized version of himself. That may sound, in general synopsis, like a story better told over dinner and drinks; besides friends, family, and fans of the podcast the two co-host, who was clamoring for a feature-length glimpse into the couple’s courtship? But there was more than the usual dating-scene obstacles threatening their future together. Collaborating on the screenplay for The Big Sick, Nanjiani and Gordon have made a perceptive, winning romantic comedy from those obstacles, including the unforeseen emergency that provides the film its title. [A.A. Dowd]

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Black Swan

Black Swan

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Screenshot: Black Swan

Following the warm humor and lived-in sadness of The Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky made a distaff—and bonkers!—companion piece, also about the grand folly of performance. Natalie Portman won an Oscar for playing wound-up ballet dancer Nina, who creates her own horror movie out of her desire to succeed. Aronofsky, indulging his obsessive repetitions and gritty following shots, obviously understands and may even identify with Nina and her ability to go after what she wants, potentially nightmarish consequences be damned. [Jesse Hassenger]

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14 / 75

Burn After Reading

Burn After Reading

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Screenshot: Burn After Reading

Released just seven months after No Country For Old Men dominated the 80th Academy Awards, the Coen brothers’ aggressively goofy parody of self-serious espionage thrillers was largely dismissed as a cute trifle. Look beyond its ensemble of clueless narcissists (including a never-funnier Brad Pitt as the world’s most cheerfully moronic gym rat), however, and it’s clear that Burn After Reading, in the tradition of satires like Dr. Strangelove, wildly exaggerates governmental paranoia and incompetence as a means of underlining how readily they can lead to pointless tragedy, especially when they intersect with civilian greed. The plot, in which the memoir-in-progress of an ex-CIA analyst (John Malkovich) winds up in the hands of a gym employee (Frances McDormand) obsessed with cosmetic surgery, is so hilariously convoluted and absurd that the movie stops cold more than once so that an imperturbable CIA officer (David Rasche) can try to explain exactly what the hell is going on, for the benefit of his deeply bewildered boss (J.K. Simmons). And they don’t even know what George Clooney’s treasury agent/U.S. marshal is secretly up to, skulking around the perimeter of the narrative—a surreal bit of intrigue that pays off in a truly unforgettable sight gag. [Mike D’Angelo]

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15 / 75

Cheech & Chong’s Still Smokin’

Cheech & Chong’s Still Smokin’

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Screenshot: Cheech & Chong’s Still Smokin’

Still Smokin’, their fifth effort remains an improvement on the previous films under just about every vector of criticism. This film finds director Chong tentatively experimenting with form and structure, devoting the first half of the film to a comic mishap that sends the pair to Amsterdam for a Dolly Parton/Burt Reynolds film festival, and then shooting the second half as a stand-up concert documentary. If stoner comedy has a Stop Making Sense, this would have to be it; there’s a winning sense of spontaneity to the grainy footage of Cheech and Chong’s onstage set, bouncing around the theater and employing the occasional distorted exposure to nod to their countercultural roots. More exciting still, Still Smokin represents the series’ first effort to actually tussle with legitimate thematic concerns, forming cogent thoughts beyond a desire for the nearest bag of Lay’s. Most of the first half plays out as a Q&A between the esteemed European press and our dudes, affecting a Godardian aloofness as if they had just been kicked out of Cannes for taking bong rips in the bathroom of the Grand Palais. They deliver some strong one-liners (“A lot of people say we’re just in it for the drugs, but that’s true,” Cheech deadpans) and more than that, they confront their own growing public profile with more self-awareness than in the literally self-aware flourishes. They lampoon their own cult of celebrity, but there’s a genuine unease beneath the jokes as they reconcile the stardom they stumbled into with the enduring desire to remain a toasty slacker forever. Chong mutters that “responsibility’s a great responsibility, man” in Next Movie, and those words ring loud and clear over his semi-reluctant fame. [Charles Bramseco]

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16 / 75

Cold War

Cold War

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Photo: Cold War

Cold War, from Polish writer-director Pawel Pawlikowski, is a haunted romantic epic in miniature, like a novel written with the careful, precise economy of a short story. Tracking the ups and downs of a tumultuous love affair against seismic shifts in the cultural landscape, it condenses 15 years of plot and history—spread out across four countries situated on the fault line of the 20th century—into a spare, elegant 89 minutes. That kind of ruthless streamlining can make a lesser drama feel like its own CliffsNotes, all who and what and where, no texture or poetry. But Pawlikowski, who doesn’t waste a shot (nor compose one that isn’t a work of art on its lonesome), creates a gripping present tense from the clarity and efficiency of his storytelling: No matter how often he lurches us forward in time, we remain locked into the emotional sphere of his characters. [A.A. Dowd]

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17 / 75

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind

Photo: Focus Features
Photo: Focus Features
Photo: Focus Features

At its best, science fiction is a mirror. It shows us not just other planets, other eras, and other species, but also ourselves, refracted through the smoke screen of impossible conceits and creative prognostication. Directed by impish French daydreamer Michel Gondry, from a brilliant script by the mad genius screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind fulfills the full potential of the genre as a window into human experience, all while functioning as maybe the quintessentially funny-poignant love story of 21st-century cinema. Just the premise alone might have triggered all the synapses in Philip K. Dick’s noggin. On the receiving end of an especially brutal breakup, introverted sadsack Joel (a perfectly cast-against-type Jim Carrey) pays a team of cerebral janitors to wipe away all mental traces of the dead relationship. But as memories disappear into the void, Joel has second thoughts about forgetting it all, and begins scrambling through his own subconscious, trying to hide extroverted ex Clementine (Kate Winslet, in what essentially amounts to a plum dual role) in the deepest folds and recesses of his brain. Gondry and Kaufman turn the Lacuna, Inc. procedure into a fantastic voyage of collapsing landscapes and reality-bending hallucinations; in its own in-camera, lo-fi way, Eternal Sunshine is as much a special effects showcase as any blockbuster on this list. What makes it our undisputed top choice is the way the film uses a high-concept hook for the ages to make a profound point about human nature, about our stupid, reckless, romantic willingness to endure life’s lows in pursuit of its highs. Working its way to the beautifully bittersweet ending of the new millennium, Eternal Sunshine suggests that time, space, and oblivion are no more mysterious than our own complicated, sometimes contradictory desires. That’s a whole universe to explore. [A.A. Dowd]

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18 / 75

A Fantastic Woman

A Fantastic Woman

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Photo: Sony Pictures Classics

An engaging, class-conscious Tantalus myth in which the condemned’s only crime is her existence, the Chilean drama A Fantastic Woman subjects its twentysomething trans heroine, Marina Vidal (Daniela Vega), to a battery of indignities as grief and closure remain out of her reach, the frustration underscored by writer-director Sebastián Lelio’s romanticism. A classically trained singer who waits tables in between the occasional gig, Marina is no shrinking violet, and she seems to have her share of loving friends and relatives. But after her doting, middle-aged boyfriend, Orlando (Francisco Reyes), dies suddenly of an aneurysm—on her birthday, no less—her every move falls under scrutiny. The cops think she’s a sex worker, the hospital staff keep asking her about her “real name,” and Orlando’s largely estranged family doesn’t want her at the funeral. Lelio’s social critique is blunt but compelling. Repeatedly sidelining his heroine’s emotional arc, he shows how these small infringements add up to a denial of a basic right—the right of a protagonist to keeping their own story moving forward. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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19 / 75

Fight Club

Fight Club

Brad Pitt and Edward Norton
Brad Pitt and Edward Norton
Screenshot: YouTube

Since basically flopping at the box office, Fight Club has been widely misinterpreted as a sincere glorification of male violence. That reading misses the point of David Fincher’s adaptation of the satirical Chuck Palahniuk novel, which addresses legitimate concerns about culture commodification, cannibalistic capitalism, and increasing social isolation but ultimately argues we shouldn’t give into our darkest impulses when trying to change the world. Edward Norton’s wonderfully unhinged performance meets its match in Brad Pitt, who brings gleeful mania to Tyler Durden’s personified id. The push-pull magnetism between the pair adds emotional depth to scenes that masquerade as mere masculine posturing, and Helena Bonham Carter’s Marla Singer, with her own brand of anti-establishment survivalism, is the film’s secret weapon. Those performances, combined with the Dust Brothers’ trippy score and Fincher’s customarily confident visual flair (bringing the IKEA catalog to life with the rhythmic population of Norton’s apartment, for example), cemented Fight Club as a cult classic to be feverishly consumed (and misunderstood) for years to come. [Roxana Hadadi]

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The Fisher King

The Fisher King

Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges
Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges
Screenshot: The Fisher King

Pairing director Terry Gilliam and star Robin Williams seems like a recipe for unbridled id, like letting the flying head Williams briefly played in The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen run amok for two hours. But The Fisher King brings out the best in both artists. Jeff Bridges has the straighter role in this buddy comedy. He plays Jack, a shock-jock whose cavalier remarks convince a listener to commit mass murder. Three years after this incident, he’s marinating in self-pity, loathing, and booze; mistaken for a homeless man on the streets of New York, Jack meets Parry (Williams), an actual vagrant with a connection to his past. Back in 1991, surely some grumbled that the showier Williams performance received an Oscar nomination, while Bridges was relegated to the sidelines for more subtle work. (Call it the Tom Cruise-in-Rain Man non-award). But both actors are terrific in The Fisher King, as are Mercedes Ruehl as Jack’s patient but blunt-spoken girlfriend and Amanda Plummer as a mousy woman Parry admires from afar. The movie finds beauty in a setup as simple as the four of them sitting in a booth at a Chinese restaurant, and even a quest for the Holy Grail turns intimate. Williams modulates his performance accordingly; despite his outbursts, he never goes over the top. Against the odds, he and Gilliam ground each other. [Jesse Hassenger]

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21 / 75

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Jonah Hill and Jason Segel in Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Jonah Hill and Jason Segel in Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Photo: Universal Pictures

First shown sitting around in his sweatpants, working through a trough of sugary cereal, Jason Segel doesn’t present himself as much of a catch, so his longtime girlfriend Kristen Bell can be forgiven for being disenchanted. A musician with dreams of staging a rock opera (with puppets) based on Dracula, Segel currently logs time composing the ominous music cues for Bell’s CSI-like TV show, but his lack of ambition hangs on their relationship like a lead weight. After Bell breaks up with him, Segel decides to unwind at the Hawaiian resort she’d always talked about, but awkwardness ensues when he discovers that she’s vacationing there with her new rock-star boyfriend (Russell Brand). However, Segel finds a sympathetic ear in the resort’s pretty customer-service representative (Mila Kunis), who helps him through his frequent crying jags. Forgetting Sarah Marshall could be pegged as yet another Judd Apatow tale of arrested adolescence, but Segel has always played more a serial monogamist than a horndog, and his earnest, self-deprecating screen persona graces the film’s crudest moments with a kind of innocence. He and director Nicholas Stoller also spread the laughs around to a fine ensemble, including Apatow regulars like Paul Rudd and Jonah Hill, 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer as a spooked Christian newlywed, SNL’s Bill Hader as Segel’s reluctant confidante, and a scene-stealing William Baldwin as Bell’s smarmy, David Caruso-like TV co-star. [Scott Tobias]

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22 / 75

The Ghost Writer

The Ghost Writer

Ewan McGregor
Ewan McGregor
Screenshot: The Ghost Writer

It is both easy and impossible to separate Roman Polanski the person from Roman Polanski the filmmaker when considering his briskly entertaining new thriller The Ghost Writer, and that’s entirely to the film’s benefit. It’s easy because Polanski remains a consummate craftsman, just as capable of making swift, witty, precisely stylized diversions now as when he made Knife In The Water nearly 50 years ago. And yet there’s no mistaking the oppressive sense of isolation and exile that hangs over the proceedings, and how it relates to a man who has known public disgrace and life on the run. Based on Robert Harris’ novel The Ghost, the film opens with cars pulling off an island ferry onto the mainland; every car, that is, but one. The driver washes ashore a couple of days later, presumed dead from an accident or a suicide, but of course there’s more to the story. As it turns out, the deceased is a close confidant to a disgraced former British prime minister (Pierce Brosnan), and he’d been on the island to help put the finishing touches on Brosnan’s highly anticipated memoir. Brosnan’s publisher, eager to get the book out fast, hires Ewan McGregor, who normally specializes in quick-and-dirty celebrity autobios, to punch up the tome and turn it around in a month. When McGregor arrives, he finds the book a terrible bore, but he runs into much bigger problems once he learns of the deeper, darker intrigue surrounding Brosnan and his inner circle. [Scott Tobias]

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23 / 75

Girl With A Pearl Earring

Girl With A Pearl Earring

Scarlett Johansson
Scarlett Johansson
Screenshot: Girl With A Pearl Earring

Adapting Tracy Chevalier’s novel, Girl With A Pearl Earring seeks not so much to clear up the mysteries Johannes Vermeer’s painting as to capture more moments of pregnant ambiguity where lives find their potential, and to show the unspoken codes that keep that potential in check. As the film opens, its eponymous heroine, beautifully played by Scarlett Johansson, seems incapable of her immortal expression, or even of looking anyone else in the eye. A Protestant among Catholics, a woman in a man’s world, and a new servant in the established ranks of the busy, precariously prosperous Vermeer household, she keeps her hair covered and her head low. It takes time for her to develop any relationship at all with Vermeer (Colin Firth), and more time still for that relationship to blossom into something between infatuation and mutual admiration. When it does, Firth is struck by her beauty, but also by her instinct for color and composition, which has no outlet other than helping him. Making the transition from British television, director Peter Webber displays a great sense of understatement and a keen eye for careful framing, with cinematographer Eduardo Serra beautifully re-creating Vermeer’s signature play of shadow and light. Within Pearl Earring’s brisk running time, Webber sketches out the boundaries that money and tradition place around his characters’ lives, and shows how far their dreams overshoot those boundaries. Conveying a wicked sense of entitlement, Tom Wilkinson plays Firth’s patron as a man fully aware of the bottomless pit over which he dangles painter and subject alike, and equally aware that he need never speak of his power. Only the usually reliable Firth seems somewhat off, too much a brooding artist and too little a man. Yet this ends up working in the film’s favor, keeping the mystery of Vermeer intact until a final, offscreen gesture gives his most famous model a melancholy dignity to match the shroud of immortality. [Keith Phipps]

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The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Rooney Mara
Rooney Mara
Screenshot: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

There is no director more ideally suited to adapt Stieg Larsson’s best-selling potboiler The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo than David Fincher, and not just for the obvious reason that he knows his way around the serial-killer thriller. He’s equally adept at taking unwieldy chunks of exposition—like the lawsuits over the founding of Facebook or the leads (and blind alleys) in the investigation of the Zodiac killer or the gnarled family tree in Larsson’s book—and making it look like cinema of the first order. A typically Fincherian hero—the loner who retreats from family and society to burrow into a project—Daniel Craig stars as a Swedish journalist who seizes the chance to pivot out of highly publicized libel suit and into something new. Christopher Plummer, as the retired CEO of a large corporation, summons Craig to a remote island where he and members of his family live in luxury, and, more often than not, bitter estrangement. Plummer wants Craig to document the family’s history, but the focus of his investigation turns to the disappearance (and likely murder) of Plummer’s grand-niece 36 years earlier. As the case grows more complicated, Craig brings on an unconventional but brilliant research assistant in Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a young woman coarsened by her horrific experiences within the social system. [Scott Tobias]

Coming July 1

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Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Screenshot: Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner

From the 2012 Inventory “Death, be not unproductive: 21 inspired creative works made by the dying”:

Although the concluding chapter of Spencer Tracy’s 37-year cinematic career wasn’t the greatest of his film endeavors, there’s little argument that his performance is, in and of itself, a work of art. Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, which once again teamed the actor with director Stanley Kramer and his favorite co-star on and off the screen, Katharine Hepburn, provided Tracy with the opportunity to tackle the racial strife of the 1960s as a newspaper publisher forced to deal with the unexpected revelation that his daughter is engaged to a young physician who looks an awful lot like Sidney Poitier. Tracy’s health was so poor at the time that no insurance company would cover him, but a deal was worked out where Kramer and Hepburn put their salaries in escrow during filming, so if Tracy died during production, they’d cover the cost of hiring another director out of their own pockets. It was a disconcertingly close call—Tracy died 17 days after Dinner wrapped—but the end result leaves little doubt that he made the absolute most of his final film.

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The Guest

The Guest

Dan Stevens
Dan Stevens
Screenshot: The Guest

There’s something not quite right about David (Dan Stevens), the title character of Adam Wingard’s wickedly entertaining thriller The Guest. At a glance, he seems like the model man in uniform—a polite, soft-spoken war veteran, blessed with both the all-American good looks and aw-shucks charisma of Chris Evans’ heroic Steve Rogers. Arriving without notice on the doorstep of the Petersons, to “look after” the family of his fallen brother-in-arms, David ingratiates himself immediately: The bereaved parents (Sheila Kelley and Leland Orser) see a little of their slain son in this accommodating visitor, while their meek youngest child, Luke (Brendan Meyer), gains a protective, surrogate older brother. Only teenage daughter Anna (Maika Monroe, a terrific Final Girl) senses what the audience does about this mysterious soldier, though her judgment is quickly clouded by a rush of hormones, the only sensible response to such rock-hard abs and old-fashioned congeniality. Who but the most iron-willed could resist the charms of this dashing military man? [A.A. Dowd]

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27 / 75

The Handmaiden

The Handmaiden

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Photo: Magnolia

Park Chan-Wook achieves the rank of cinema master with The Handmaiden, which transports Fingersmith, Sarah Waters’ novel of hidden identities and lesbian passion, to 1930s South Korea, adding plenty of Hitchcockian suspense in the process. Sumptuously shot with a fetishistic formality that recalls last year’s The Duke Of Burgundy, Park creates a sensual experience as lush as biting into an overripe peach and as kinky as a pair of leather gloves gently stroking the back of your neck. Kim Tae-ri stars as Sook-hee, a young pickpocket who is hired to work for seemingly sheltered Japanese noblewoman Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee); the plan is for Sook-hee to help fellow con artist Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo)—who is, in reality, neither a count nor Japanese—defraud Lady Hideko of her fortune. But as their love triangle grows increasingly complicated, it becomes clear that Lady Hideko is not as naive as she seems. Outstanding performances from the female leads carry the film through its dizzying twists and turns, underlaid with a wicked streak of black comedy and an unexpected faith in the power of true love. [Katie Rife]

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28 / 75

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Photo: Universal Pictures

Directing a sequel to a modestly successful comic-book adaptation might seem like a perverse choice to follow up an Oscar-winning international triumph like Pan’s Labyrinth. But for Guillermo del Toro, directing the Hellboy movies is the opposite of slumming: His affection for the comic’s motley gang of misfits is palpable in every scene. Del Toro makes movies fanboys love in part because he’s such a fanboy himself. With Hellboy II: The Golden Army, del Toro proves his geek credentials once again by collaborating with Hellboy creator Mike Mignola on the story, hiring Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane to voice a fantastical creature that looks like Robby The Robot’s off-brand cousin and talks like Colonel Klink, and including a conspicuous homage to John Landis. [Nathan Rabin]

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29 / 75

Herself

Herself

Clare Dunne and Molly McCann
Clare Dunne and Molly McCann
Photo: Amazon Prime

Domestic violence extends, for many, far beyond the physical and into a brutal system not built with the survivor in mind. To leave an abusive household is an uphill battle in many advanced societies, where the courts and laws can put victims at a heavy disadvantage. Directed by Phyllida Lloyd (The Iron Lady), from a script by Malcom Campbell and star Clare Dunne, Herself approaches the subject gracefully, and with an unexpected degree of hope. In an era when neighbors often turn on neighbors, the film’s optimistic “It takes a village” perspective risks hokeyness. But thanks to Dunne’s quietly powerful performance as a single mother barely treading water, the end result is an effective, affecting look at community triumphing over fear. [Anya Stanley]

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30 / 75

High-Rise

High-Rise

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Screenshot: High-Rise

High-Rise, a darkly funny adaptation by cult English director Ben Wheatley (Kill List, A Field In England) of the J.G. Ballard novel of the same title, preserves the book’s ’70s setting, steeping its vision of a toppling society in retro decadence. Dr. Laing (Tom Hiddleston, very good), a bachelor physiologist from apartment 2505, watches as the titular building regresses into a Mad Max-esque wasteland of garbage barricades, raiding parties, and literal class warfare following a few blackouts and a problem with the trash chute—a descent into collective madness that High-Rise underplays and elides to surreal (and audience-defying) effect. Wheatley’s use of ellipses and his overall refusal to do anything that might suggest a point of view or invite identification skirt incoherence. As in Ballard’s novel, the building isn’t just a dystopian microcosm of alienation and stratification, with the wealthiest living at the top. It also seems to create a new reality of its own: a killer cocktail of claustrophobia, stylishness, and oblique irony. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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31 / 75

Honey Boy

Honey Boy

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Photo: Amazon Studios

Welcoming back a celebrity whose fallen out of public approval can seem like the amnesiac outcome of icky PR stunts, especially when the person in question has done legitimately foul things. Yet Honey Boy feels far from a manufactured apology tour. Shia Labeouf, as actor and writer, bares his soul in unexpectedly compelling ways, reckoning with the ugly parts of himself while confronting, with remarkable lucidity, the traumas that have come to define him. [Beatrice Loayza]

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32 / 75

How To Train Your Dragon

How To Train Your Dragon

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Image: How To Train Your Dragon

When you’re a Viking—or at least a Viking in the world of How To Train Your Dragon—you know one thing for sure: Dragons are the enemy. They steal sheep. They burn down houses. And given the chance, they’ll swallow a Viking whole. That’s just the way of the world. But it isn’t a way into which Hiccup, the film’s teenage protagonist (voiced by Jay Baruchel), fits particularly well. He’s eager to prove himself, but he’s kind of a wimp and everyone knows it, from his chieftain dad (Gerard Butler) to Astrid (America Ferrera), the tough chick with a grip on his heart. He lucks into downing a dragon by tangling it in a catapulted snare, but when he goes to claim his prize, Hiccup discovers he can’t bring himself to slay the beast. So he sets about befriending it instead. [Keith Phipps]

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33 / 75

I Am Not Your Negro

I Am Not Your Negro

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Photo: Magnolia Pictures

Raoul Peck’s docu-essay I Am Not Your Negro is narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, speaking in a voice so low and affected that he hardly sounds like himself. He doesn’t quite sound like James Baldwin either—or at least not like the mellifluous, twangy Baldwin seen in the old clips from talk shows and public affairs programs scattered throughout Peck’s film. Jackson sounds more like the author late at night, exhausted, half-whispering bitter truths into a tape recorder. I Am Not Your Negro could be considered one of the final statements from a great American writer, and it’s a sadly resigned one, summarizing centuries of overt and subtle racism and expressing a feeling of hopelessness. To say that this movie is as relevant now as it was when Baldwin was alive is no great analytical leap. The trends of these times would not have surprised the man himself. As repeated throughout Peck’s film, Baldwin never had much faith that black people could ever live in a United States where they’d wake up in the morning without at least some worry that they’d be shot dead by nightfall. [Noel Murray]

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34 / 75

Inception

Inception

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Leonardo DiCaprio
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Leonardo DiCaprio
Screenshot: Inception

There are only a handful of filmmakers capable of infusing spectacle with ideas, and among those, director Christopher Nolan feels uniquely tapped into the anxieties of the day. Two separate but related millennial fears drive Nolan’s ambitious, mostly dazzling new opus Inception: We have no control over our lives, and reality as we used to understand it no longer exists—or at least has been fundamentally destabilized. Squaring the beautifully engineered puzzles of Memento and The Prestige with the chaos and anarchy brought by the Joker in The Dark Knight, Inception takes place largely in a dreamscape where thieves of the mind fend off attacks from rebellious agents that clutter the subconscious. It’s a metaphysical heist picture, staged in worlds on top of worlds like nothing since Synecdoche, New York, and executed with a minimum of hand-holding. [Scott Tobias]

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35 / 75

Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Photo: Inside Llewyn Davis

Joel and Ethan Coen travel back to 1961 New York to find yet another sad sack who just can’t catch a break with Inside Llewyn Davis, a bleakly comic portrait of an artist not fortunate (or good) enough to make it in the burgeoning folk-rock scene. That unlucky soul is Oscar Isaac’s titular crooner, who finds himself on the skids professionally following the death of his partner, and at a loss for friendship or companionship, save for a housecat who becomes his unwelcome traveling partner during the film’s first half. An opening solo performance immediately establishes that Llewyn is talented, while also setting a beautifully downbeat tone—one the Coens amplify through encounters with a strange jazz musician (John Goodman), a famed Chicago music executive (F. Murray Abraham), and other colorful characters. Infused with both the hope and despair of the era’s folk music, and buoyed by a soulfully pitiful lead turn by the magnificent Isaac, it’s a tender, fatalistic portrait of creative struggle. [Nick Schager]

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36 / 75

It’s A Disaster

It’s A Disaster

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Photo: It’s A Disaster

An unusually eventful “couples brunch” among a neurotic group of bright, colorful friends is rudely interrupted by news of imminent apocalypse in It’s A Disaster, a droll social comedy about a party that takes a number of strange turns. It’s a smart, dark, tonally tricky affair about what happens when the bonds that hold civilization together come apart, whether through the impending divorce of a couple whose union helps keep a disparate group of friends together, or through some manner of dirty bomb or zombie attack. [Nathan Rabin]

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37 / 75

Joe

Joe

Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan
Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan
Screenshot: Joe

These days, the performances of Nicolas Cage can usually be divided into one of two categories. The actor is either outright bad, in that lazy Con Air kind of way, mumbling through his lines and defaulting to sullen action-star mode. Or—and this is much more fun, obviously—he’s good bad, offering the kind of bellowing, cartoon-junkie intensity that seems readymade for YouTube encapsulation. (The Wicker Man remake may be awful, but because of its star and his lunatic line readings, it’s rarely boring.) Every once in a while, though, Cage does the unthinkable and offers a performance that requires neither apologies nor camp appreciation. For two hours or so, he becomes a magnetic actor again, the same vibrant presence who wowed audiences with his work in Leaving Las Vegas and Adaptation. He is, in these rare instances, just plain good. That Cage, the serious and committed one, shows up for work again in Joe, a ramshackle Southern drama about poverty, dead-end lives, and the day-to-day difficulty of keeping your hands clean in a dirty world. [A.A. Dowd]

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38 / 75

Knives Out

Knives Out

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Photo: Lionsgate

Rian Johnson’s witty and phenomenally entertaining whodunit may have been inspired by classic Agatha Christie adaptations, but its underlying story of fortune and upward mobility owes more to Charles Dickens (who had his own fondness for mystery plots). Explaining why, however, would involve spoiling some of the film’s crucial twists. After a famous mystery novelist dies of an apparent (but very suspicious) suicide on his 85th birthday, an anachronistic “gentleman sleuth” (Daniel Craig) arrives to investigate the family of the deceased—a rogues’ gallery of useless modern-day aristocrats that includes a trust-fund playboy, an “alt-right” shitposter, and a New Age lifestyle guru. Johnson, who made his name with geeky delights like Brick and Looper before hitting it big with Star Wars: The Last Jedi, finds ingenious solutions to the rules of the murder-mystery movie formula. But more impressively, he manages to stake out a moral position in a genre in which everyone is supposed to be a suspect. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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39 / 75

The Ladykillers

The Ladykillers

Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks
Screenshot: Tom Hanks

The Ladykillers remakes a classic 1955 British film directed by Alexander Mackendrick and starring Alec Guinness as a grim would-be criminal mastermind whose can’t-fail heist encounters unwitting opposition in the form of a kindly old woman. Already as dark as London soot, the comedy hardly needed work to bring it in line with the Coen brothers’ sensibility, but the remake moves to a beat of its own, one unexpectedly in sync with the gospel music dominating its soundtrack. Playing a kindly, churchgoing widow prone to conversing with her dead husband and railing against the excesses of “hippity-hop music,” Irma P. Hall fills the old-woman role. Living in a house within convenient tunneling range of a riverboat casino’s none-too-secure vaults, she becomes the landlady to a self-proclaimed professor of Renaissance music played to white-suited perfection by Tom Hanks—who, under the cover of music rehearsals, begins working with a grab bag of criminals (Marlon Wayans, J.K. Simmons, Tzi Ma, Ryan Hurst) on a dig for the money. In his first truly comedic role in years, Hanks summons up an unforgettable caricature of Southern gentility turned foul, a creation well-suited for filmmakers who have made rich caricatures their stock in trade. [Keith Phipps]

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40 / 75

Last Of The Mohicans

Last Of The Mohicans

Daniel Day-Lewis
Daniel Day-Lewis
Screenshot: Last Of The Mohicans

Michael Mann’s interest in men at work and Daniel Day-Lewis’s career-long project to retell the history of the United States intersect in The Last Of The Mohicans, a 1992 adaptation of the James Fenimore Cooper novel that’s also a credited remake of the 1936 film version. Day-Lewis plays Hawkeye, a white man adopted by the Mohican tribe in upstate New York, caught between sides during the French And Indian War in 1757. Hawkeye, his brother Uncas (Eric Schweig), and their father Chingachgook (Russell Means) save Cora Munro (Madeleine Stowe), the daughter of a British soldier, from an attack by the Huron, and form an uneasy and extremely temporary alliance with the British against the attacking French. The Mohicans’ position (concerned more with protecting their friends and family) allows Mann to portray an armed conflict where neither warring side is particularly worth rooting for—and he nonetheless features a memorable villain in Magua (Wes Studi), as ruthless and avaricious on his people’s behalf as Hawkeye, Uncas, and Chingachgook are protective on theirs. [Jesse Hassenger]

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41 / 75

The Little Hours

The Little Hours

The LIttle Hours
The LIttle Hours
Photo: Gunpowder & Sky

One of the first things Aubrey Plaza says in The Little Hours is “Don’t fucking talk to us.” Anachronism, as it turns out, is the guiding force of this frequently funny, agreeably bawdy farce, which imagines what a convent of the grubby, violent, disease-infested Middle Ages might look and sound like if it were populated by characters straight out of a modern NBC sitcom. Plaza’s Fernanda, a caustic eye-rolling hipster nun born eons too early, sneaks out to get into mischief, using a perpetually escaping donkey as her excuse. Uptight wallflower Genevra (a priceless Kate Micucci) tattles relentlessly on the other women, reporting every transgression to Sister Marea (Molly Shannon, playing her dutiful piousness almost totally straight—she’s the only character here that could actually exist in the 1300s). And Alessandra (Alison Brie), the closest the convent has to a spoiled rich kid, daydreams about being whisked away and married, but that would depend on her father shelling out for a decent dowry. If the plague doesn’t kill them, the boredom will. When Plaza, Micucci, and Brie get smashed on stolen communion wine and perform a drunken sing-along of a wordless choral staple, like college girls sneaking booze past the RA and belting some radio anthem in their dorm, the true resonance of all this anachronism slips into focus: An itchy desire for a better life is something women of every century experience, regardless if their catalog of curses yet includes “fuck.” [A.A. Dowd]

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42 / 75

Long Strange Trip

Long Strange Trip

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Photo: Amazon Prime Video

The rare rock documentary that appeals to hardcore fans and also functions as a full, satisfying movie, Amir Bar-Lev’s Long Strange Trip tells the story of the Grateful Dead in an appropriately winding way, taking four hours to riff on different aspects of the band. For those who want to know how and why guitarist Jerry Garcia and his mates emerged from the mid-’60s San Francisco hippie scene to become global cult sensations, that basic info is here. For connoisseurs who want rare live footage and intimate personal anecdotes, Long Strange Trip offers plenty of both. But the main reason why this film will endure is that Bar-Lev (best-known for My Kid Could Paint That, Happy Valley, and The Tillman Story) uses the best and worst moments from Garcia and company’s story to explore how myths are made, and then misinterpreted. [Noel Murray]

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43 / 75

Lost In Translation

Lost In Translation

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Photo: Trailer screenshot

Sofia Coppola’s derided performance in The Godfather: Part III trailed her like a curse, but Lost In Translation—which she wrote, directed, and produced—dulled the mockery. Made for only $4 million, the comedy-drama brought in nearly $120 million, and Coppola won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar. After portraying Charlotte and Bob, unlikely friends plagued by loneliness in Tokyo, Scarlett Johansson’s and Bill Murray’s careers transformed, the former vaulting onto the A-list and the latter settling into bemused dad roles. Fan obsession over what Bob whispered into Charlotte’s ear at the end, as well as Coppola’s particular brand of sad-rich-people cinema, remains strong years later. [Roxana Hadadi]

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44 / 75

Love & Friendship

Love & Friendship

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Photo: Love & Friendship

Whit Stillman adapting Jane Austen feels at once apt and almost unnecessary. His previous films—obsessed as they are with manners, social status, and conversational diplomacy—come pretty close to fulfilling any need we might have for a modern-day Austen. Metropolitan’s characters even discuss Austen at length, arguing passionately about Mansfield Park’s virtuous heroine and her relevance to contemporary readers. Some cinephiles may still feel exhausted, too, by the deluge of Austen adaptations that hit TV and multiplexes during the mid-’90s: BBC’s six-part Pride And Prejudice, Ang Lee’s Sense And Sensibility, Roger Michell’s Persuasion, the Gwyneth Paltrow Emma. (These all aired or were theatrically released within a 16-month period, believe it or not.) Still, it’s not as if movies today offer such a surfeit of wit and sophistication that one as purely pleasurable as Stillman’s Love & Friendship can be dismissed. If nothing else, it gives Kate Beckinsale, who previously starred in Stillman’s The Last Days Of Disco, a lead role that isn’t a vampire, and doesn’t require her to battle werewolves while clad in black-rubber fetish gear. [Mike D’Angelo]

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45 / 75

Manchester By The Sea

Manchester By The Sea

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Photo: Roadside Attractions

Manchester By The Sea sweats the big stuff and the small stuff, and that’s key to its anomalous power: This is a staggering American drama, almost operatic in the heartbreak it chronicles, that’s also attuned to everyday headaches, like forgetting where the car is parked and hitting your noggin on the freezer door. Director Kenneth Lonergan has had troubles of his own; his last movie, Margaret, suffered a litany of setbacks, disappearing into the editing room for years. Getting another tough, complicated character study off the ground after the well-publicized difficulties of that one is an accomplishment in and of itself. But for his third feature, the playwright-turned-filmmaker hasn’t retreated from Margaret’s messy ambition. Instead he’s managed, somehow, to wed it to the emotional intimacy of his acclaimed debut, You Can Count On Me. The results are almost unspeakably moving—and, at times, disarmingly funny. [A.A. Dowd]

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46 / 75

Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Screenshot: Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette was the third in a trilogy of films about the inner lives of young women from director Sofia Coppola, who first paired with star Kirsten Dunst on The Virgin Suicides. That film, Coppola’s debut, was draped in gauzy nostalgia, but Marie Antionette takes a more irreverent stance from the start. In the opening credits, Gang Of Four’s “Natural’s Not In It” rakes its claws over a tableau of Dunst lounging on a mint-green chaise surrounded by extravagant pink cakes as a maid slips Manolo Blahnik shoes on her feet. This postmodern style of historical filmmaking was not yet common in 2006, and critics and audiences reacted with confusion; a shot of powder-blue Converse casually dropped amid Marie’s bespoke finery is still listed as a “goof” on IMDb. (It wasn’t.)

Of course, adding winking anachronisms to period projects has become a stylish affectation in the years since; it’s just one of the ways that Marie Antoinette’s youthful decadence was ahead of its time. The film’s pastel palette—which, in an appropriately worldly touch, was inspired by a specific Parisian bakery’s macarons—is currently being replicated all over Instagram and interior design blogs. And scenes of Dunst petting lambs and picking strawberries in a frilly cotton dress now read as an ur-text for the cottagecore craze. Every time Elle Fanning looks directly at the camera in The Great, Marie Antionette’s foot-high hairdo gains another peacock feather, and while Promising Young Woman is more self-consciously edgy, the way it uses femininity as an aesthetic weapon makes it this film’s pissed-off younger sister. [Katie Rife]

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47 / 75

Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World

Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World

Russell Crowe
Russell Crowe
Screenshot: Master And Commander

Estimates put the budget of Peter Weir’s Master And Commander, a mega-production backed by three major studios, somewhere in the neighborhood of $130 million. That’s a staggering amount of money by any measure, but a solid percentage of it appears to have made it to the screen. With imposing scale, it captures the weight and proportion of early-19th-century warships in a way that digital effects could never express. A stately answer to today’s more fleet-footed action-adventure films, Master And Commander simply revolves around a cat-and-mouse game between one large ship and another with twice its guns and manpower. But the story’s simplicity helps elevate the battle to a colossal stage. Patched together from three of Patrick O’Brian’s serial novels, Master And Commander takes place in 1805, against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars, which pit the British Navy’s H.M.S. Surprise against a formidable French opponent. On a production of this magnitude, few actors have the presence to assert themselves above the cacophony, but Crowe carries the film with the rare combination of charisma and brute masculinity that has made him a star. [Scott Tobias]

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48 / 75

Midsommar

Midsommar

Midsommar
Midsommar
Photo: A24

Midsommar, a disturbing, ambitious, and unsettlingly colorful horror movie from the writer-director of Hereditary, unfolds within a remote village in northern Sweden, a land where the sun never completely sets. The place doesn’t look especially threatening, in its bucolic summer-camp splendor, and neither do its residents, a community of calm, welcoming, very… Swedish hippies, decked out in white frocks and garlands, smiles plastered perennially across their faces. Audiences will, of course, know to instinctively distrust them; in a horror movie about a cult, the true believers often come on friendly, the better to lure sacrificial lambs to the slaughter. But in Midsommar, that mask of holistic, New-Age-that’s-really-very-Old-Age congeniality never entirely slips, even when the bloodshed starts. And that’s a big part of the movie’s black magic, its spooky-queasy power: It makes madness look like an extension of the commune’s blissed-out worldview—a benevolent malevolence. [A.A. Dowd]

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49 / 75

Minority Report

Minority Report

Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise
Screenshot: Minority Report

“What keeps us safe, keeps us free,” declares a propagandistic advertisement for the controversial Pre-Crime Division of the Washington D.C. police force, a unit that uses three visionary “Precogs” (short for “precognizant”) to apprehend would-be killers before they kill. The inherent contradiction of the “safety is freedom” proverb seems as lost on the leaders of 2002 as it does on the ones in 2054, which is only part of what gives Steven Spielberg’s astonishing Minority Report such enormous relevance and power. Expanding on a Philip K. Dick short story, the film could be the mirror image of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, only instead of violent crime being deterred after the fact, the perpetrators are arrested before it happens. Free will is lost in both cases, but the certainty is enough for Tom Cruise, a “future crimes” detective who synthesizes the visions of three Precogs like he’s conducting a virtual orchestra. Few directors are capable of marrying ideas and entertainment—one is often sacrificed for the other—but Spielberg peppers one gripping action setpiece after another with trenchant details about a near-future robbed of the most basic freedoms and privacy. [Scott Tobias]

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50 / 75

One Child Nation

One Child Nation

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Photo: Amazon Studios

In 1979, China launched its one-child policy, which legally prohibited most parents from having more than a single child. A drastic attempt to curb the nation’s urgent population crisis, it would go on to shape an entire generation. The repercussions of the program—still being felt today, both in China and internationally—are the subject of One Child Nation, which won the U.S. Documentary Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. As wide-ranging in scope as it is horrifying in its particulars, the film does the necessary work of illuminating, for a large audience, a dark chapter of Chinese history. [Lawrence Garcia]

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51 / 75

One Night In Miami...

One Night In Miami...

One Night In Miami
One Night In Miami
Photo: Toronto International Film Festival

Based on a play by Star Trek: Discovery staff writer Kemp Powers, who adapted the story for the screen, One Night In Miami... mostly takes place in a single location: a segregated Hampton House motor lodge. First-time feature director Regina King adds subtle touches (she’s especially fond of pulling focus) that keep the film from going visually flat, as does the assiduous period detail. But as one might expect from a movie based on a play and directed by a famous actor, dialogue and performances are the driving force. The casting is remarkable: Everyone looks close but not too close to the famous figures they’re playing, which allows the audience to get caught up in the verisimilitude of the story without being distracted by the eeriness of the resemblance. The title card doesn’t appear until 19 minutes in, after each of the four main characters appear in a vignette that lays out the underlying tensions they’ll bring to the extended conversation at the center of the film. (For Brown, it’s the cognitive dissonance of racist whites cheering for him on the football field but only on the football field. For Clay, it’s the stubborn need to prove himself.) As a result of this extended prologue, the cast is huge: Most of the supporting roles, like Lance Reddick as X’s bodyguard, Brother Kareem, and Michael Imperioli as Clay’s trainer, Angelo Dundee, have a relatively small amount of screen time. But there are no weak links in King’s ensemble. [Katie Rife]

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52 / 75

On The Waterfront

On The Waterfront

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Screenshot: On The Waterfront

From the Inventory “A working class hero is something to be: 23 proletariat classics”:

On The Waterfront is widely regarded as director Elia Kazan’s mea culpa for fingering alleged communist sympathizers in front of the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1952. It may be a case of too little, too late, but subtracting Kazan’s reputation as being the number one name in naming names still reveals a film steeped in genuine sympathy for its cast of working-class stevedores. In this Method-acting classic, burly Marlon Brando plays a dockworker torn between his conscience and the dockworkers’ edict of playing “D and D” (that’s “deaf and dumb”) when it comes to all the racketeering, exploitation, and murder ordered by Lee J. Cobb’s corrupt union boss. While it may be a bit difficult to stomach coming from the turncoat Kazan, Waterfront’s message of workplace (and community) solidarity rings true in spite of its director’s eagerness to redeem himself.

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53 / 75

Only Lovers Left Alive

Only Lovers Left Alive

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Screenshot: Only Lovers Left Alive

Jim Jarmusch’s cinema is one of genre reinvention and laid-back slacker cool, and Only Lovers Left Alive proves one of his finest to hew to that template. Reimagining vampires as lonely souls prone to emotional isolation and secluded guitar-playing sessions in a burnt-out Detroit, the story—about married bloodsuckers (Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton) who reunite after living apart for years—is equal parts doomed romance and languorous hangout movie. [Nick Schager]

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54 / 75

Peterloo

Peterloo

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Photo: Amazon Studios

Mike Leigh’s sprawling dramatization of the events leading up to the 1819 Peterloo massacre features a colorful big band of working-class revolutionaries and government cronies. Rather than focus on a single character, Leigh takes a somewhat experimental route, narrowing his attention to the varying textures of speech within the collective to ultimately show how the relationship between rhetoric and action is fraught with misapprehension. The script is a goldmine of delectable language, from the motley Manchester dialect of the peasantry to the ornate, bloviating speech of the aristocracy. It’s politics rendered poetic. [Beatrice Loayza]

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55 / 75

Philadelphia

Philadelphia

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Screenshot: Philadelphia

In what could have been a clichéd, TV-movie-maudlin look at the AIDS epidemic—which had only recently begun making tentative, tepid inroads into pop culture—1993’s Philadelphia instead earned its weighty mantle of being the first high-profile film to take on the disease. Admittedly, it doesn’t bear much of Demme’s usual audaciousness: It’s a predictably beautifully filmed, but also beautifully predictable in its middle-of-America-friendly handling of then-controversial subjects like homosexuality and basic human tolerance. But aside from its social importance, and a deservedly Oscar-winning performance from Tom Hanks, Philadelphia deserves credit for being so affecting despite its occasionally corny, Frank Capra trappings. Much of that has to do with Demme’s ability to smartly shift tones and perspectives (Denzel Washington’s homophobic lawyer benefits most from this), as well as his ability to create emotionally honest moments—never more so than the standout scene where Hanks plays Washington his favorite aria, while Demme allows the viewer to fill in the subtext on these two men’s thoughts and feelings—even in a movie whose important message could have drowned out subtext entirely. [Sean O’Neal]

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Rear Window

Rear Window

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Screenshot: Rear Window

Opening with a memorable shot of blinds rolling up like curtains on a screen, [Director Alfred] Hitchcock plants laid-up photojournalist James Stewart in a wheelchair facing a courtyard of open windows. Confined all day to his stuffy two-room apartment, Stewart passes the time by peering into his neighbor’s private lives, a growing obsession that doesn’t please his “too-perfect” girlfriend, played by Grace Kelly. But the suspicious behavior of a salesman (Raymond Burr) who may or may not have killed his wife convinces the pair to do some sleuthing. Hitchcock proves again to be “The Master Of Suspense,” but in Rear Window—and much of his other work, for that matter—he’s the master of a lot more than that. Witness, for example, his suggestive use of offscreen space to piece together a murder without showing a single violent act. Or the subtle erotic charge that finally hits Stewart once Kelly leaves the apartment and crosses over into his voyeuristic gaze. Or the film’s witty commentary on the fundamental oddities of human behavior. In its perfect fusion of popular entertainment and high art, Rear Window ranks among Hitchcock’s best. [Scott Tobias]

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The Report

The Report

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Photo: Amazon Studios

Scott Z. Burns’ look at an Obama-era investigation into the Bush-era CIA torture program captures a sentiment that feels more timely now than ever: the stunned disbelief that somehow even detailed documentation of incompetent, illegal government action isn’t enough to get anyone to do anything about it. Adam Driver may deliver a showier performance in Marriage Story, but the sense of internalized frustration he conveys in The Report is every bit as compelling. [Caroline Siede]

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Robot & Frank

Robot & Frank

Frank Langella and the robot
Frank Langella and the robot
Screenshot: Robot & Frank

In the indie dramedy Robot & Frank, Frank Langella plays Frank, a semi-retired jewel thief with a failing memory and a messy home, situated in a quaint small town in the not-too-distant future. And Peter Sarsgaard provides the voice of Robot, the technologically advanced butler/health-care worker Langella’s son James Marsden buys for him, so Marsden won’t have to spend 10 hours every weekend driving up from the city to check on his pop. Langella initially resents this meddling hunk of metal, and finds a sympathetic ear in his hippie daughter Liv Tyler, who rails against dehumanizing technology. But then, in typical buddy-movie fashion, Langella has a change of heart, once he realizes he can train Robot to help him pull a couple more big heists in his neighborhood. [Noel Murray]

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Saint Maud

Saint Maud

Saint Maud
Saint Maud
Photo: A24

The new converts are usually the most intense. Even those raised in an evangelical environment complete with speaking in tongues and creationist puppet shows (à la the subjects of the infamous Jesus Camp) can’t compete with the flinty fervor of an ex-addict who’s found God. Some even replace old vices with religion, in a kind of one-to-one swap of self-destructive obsession. Such is the case with the title character of writer-director Rose Glass’ first feature. Maud (Morfydd Clark), a home nurse with a troubled past, depends on her regular fix of communion with the divine in order to stay on her newfound righteous path. And when she doesn’t get it? Well, you’ll see. Saint Maud’s combination of talky chamber drama, Paul Schrader-esque character study, and visceral body horror is an ideal fit for A24. In fact, the film contains a scene that’s in direct conversation with an oft-quoted sequence from one of the distributor’s early “elevated” horror triumphs, The Witch. And if there’s no taste of butter for Saint Maud, that’s because her supernatural visitor is the Old Testament type of angel, the kind that inspires both transcendent awe and bone-shaking fear. [Katie Rife]

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School Daze

School Daze

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Screenshot: School Daze

From our Primer on the films of Spike Lee:

She’s Gotta Have It was such a unique, personal, and effusive film that some wondered whether Lee had anything left to say. He answered those questions with 1988’s musical comedy School Daze, a more broadly appealing but no less idiosyncratic movie. Laurence Fishburne plays a student activist who clashes with materialistic fraternity leader Giancarlo Esposito at a historically black university. School Daze humorously—and tunefully—takes on the question of discrimination, though in this story it’s discrimination within the black community, where people are divided by skin tone, hairstyle, political commitment, and education.

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Sideways

Sideways

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Screenshot: Sideways

Making another claim on the title “the Preston Sturges of his generation,” Alexander Payne (Election) defines the universe of road-trip comedy Sideways through these sorts of wry behavioral observations. Paul Giamatti stars as a man who expects nothing from life but disappointment, and his attitude has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Still, he’s a diamond in the rough, a noble and sensitive soul who begs for (yet aggressively resists) discovery. A true wine connoisseur, capable of arch phrases like “quaffable but far from transcendent,” Giamatti sees his road trip as a casual jaunt through boutique vineyards and public golf courses, but his mismatched pal (Thomas Hayden Church) has other ideas. A washed-up soap-opera actor who acts like a castaway from a Mike Judge cartoon, Church expects a frat-guy bacchanal before he gets married the following weekend. To that end, Church trains his bird-dog eyes on sexy single mother Sandra Oh while Giamatti tentatively courts the charming Virginia Madsen, a local waitress who shares his rarefied palette. As much as Payne lampoons the haughty language of the tasting elite, he also uses wine as a natural metaphor for aging gracefully and seizing peak moments before they crest. Though his unpretentious style and generous sense of humor could be mistaken for a lack of artistry, Payne’s knack for broad, crowd-pleasing comedy fails to do justice to how much thought and feeling goes into the tiniest details in his movies. [Scott Tobias]

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Signs

Signs

Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin
Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin
Screenshot: Signs

With the action confined mainly to a remote farmhouse in rural Pennsylvania, M. Night Shyamalan’s conceptually brilliant Signs plays like a living-room War Of The Worlds, gaining most of its unsettling force from the suggested and the unknown. Signs confirmed Shyamalan as an exceptionally supple and intuitive visual storyteller, evoking fear and dread through insinuating camera movements, subtle sound and lighting effects, and canny use of offscreen space. For a big-budget Hollywood feature, the film places an unusually high amount of stock in the audience’s imagination; not since The Others or The Blair Witch Project had so many shocks been indirect or kept teasingly out of view. In every sense the anti-Independence Day, Signs is a lesson in the art of withholding information, shining a flashlight’s beam into a sea of darkness and hiding its bogeymen in the shadows. [Scott Tobias]

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The Sixth Sense

The Sixth Sense

Haley Joel Osment
Haley Joel Osment
Screenshot: The Sixth Sense

Willis stars as a Philadelphia psychologist who, shortly after receiving an award for his work with children, is confronted in his home by a disturbed former patient (Donnie Wahlberg), who feels Willis failed him. A year later, he encounters a child (Haley Joel Osment) who reminds him of Wahlberg, a boy who eventually reveals he has some traffic with the supernatural. Though not without some genuinely frightening moments, The Sixth Sense is less a horror film than a moody piece of magic realism. Shyamalan’s approach, composed largely of Kubrickian extended takes, has a sense of purpose and an artful construction that respects both its story and its audience, allowing both to take their time sorting things out. It’s a style that also brings out the best in its cast; Willis has rarely been better, and both Olivia Williams (as Willis’ wife) and Toni Collette (as Osment’s overworked, deeply concerned mother) turn in convincing performances. Also great—and had he not been, the film would have been ruined—is Osment, whose unrelenting gravity and ability to convey sadness beyond his years threatens to give a good name to child actors. The Sixth Sense teeters on the brink of New Age ludicrousness, but it never goes over: Like Kieslowski and others, Shyamalan knows that what makes for lousy metaphysics can make for powerful metaphor, and in the end he creates a deeply, surprisingly affecting film out of a little bit of smoke and brimstone. [Keith Phipps]

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Step Brothers

Step Brothers

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Screenshot: Step Brothers

The funniest moments of Adam McKay’s films with Will Ferrell are in the downtime between absurdist set pieces, when Ferrell’s allowed to riff on something so mundane, you can practically smell the money burning. In this regard, he has no better scene partner than John C. Reilly, who perfectly matches him, improvised inanity for inanity. And there’s no better showcase for their flights of nonsense than this 2008 film about two 40-going-on-12-year-olds forced to live with each other when their parents get married, only to become allies in a war against adulthood. As Ferrell and Reilly karate fight, record dumb rap songs, teabag drum sets, and generally act like swaggering idiots for 90-plus minutes, the film similarly just sort of dicks around with almost zero pretense to growth or narrative. But that leaves—to paraphrase one of the film’s many quotable lines—so much more room for activities, with a cast stacked with people clearly enjoying themselves (including Richard Jenkins, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, and Rob Riggle) firing off enough nested jokes to make Step Brothers endlessly rewatchable—and as inexplicably magical as the fucking Catalina wine mixer. [Sean O’Neal]

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Suspiria

Suspiria

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Photo: Amazon Studios

Dario Argento’s horror masterpiece Suspiria (1977) is beautiful to look at, but calling it an art film is a distinctly revisionist impulse. Although the heightened aesthetics and hysterical melodrama of Italian opera have undoubtedly influenced Argento’s style, he also overlays those high-art impulses onto B-movie genre forms. Shot mostly without sync sound and dubbed for both its Italian and American releases, Suspiria wasn’t intended to be a museum piece. In fact, take away the delirious beauty of the color-coded lighting and surging prog-rock score, and you’ve got a simple slasher movie, a film whose “witches at a ballet school” mythology is a mere delivery device for the real attraction: the violent, symbolic violation of young female bodies. Not so with A Bigger Splash and Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino’s new remake of Suspiria, a film that replaces Argento’s fixation on sexualized violence with arthouse ostentation. In his version, Guadagnino doubles down on the commitment to aesthetics that has given Argento’s original such staying power, but draws from a wholly new set of influences: Soviet-era Eastern Bloc architecture, folk-art collage, ’70s feminist performance art, the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder. What was bright and colorful is now drizzly and gray, and what was lurid is now self-consciously weighty. [Katie Rife]

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Take Shelter

Take Shelter

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Screenshot: Take Shelter

There’s no scarier plausible scenario than slowly losing your mind, especially when you’re at least partially aware that it’s happening. In Jeff Nichols’ masterfully suspenseful Take Shelter, Michael Shannon plays a husband (to a steely, fantastic Jessica Chastain) and father whose visions/hallucinations of world-ending storms take a slow-motion toll on his sanity and his family. Shannon’s edgy intensity sells the story of a man so brittle and delusional (maybe) that he could snap at any second, but whose problem has a real-world solution: at least in his mind, a backyard storm shelter. It’s a thriller with no real antagonist, only the threat of a psyche that’s threatening to create a monster. [Josh Modell]

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The Terminal

The Terminal

Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks
Screenshot: The Terminal

Scripted by Andrew Niccol, Sacha Gervasi, and Jeff Nathanson, The Terminal draws its inspiration from the true story of Iranian dissident Merhan Nasseri, who has been living in Paris’ Charles De Gaulle airport since 1988 thanks, at least at first, to a series of political snafus. The film has much softer politics in mind, as it uses JFK as a stage to play out the American immigrant experience in miniature. At first confused, threatened, and hungry—think E.T. in out-of-fashion Eastern European clothing—Tom Hanks becomes resourceful in order to survive, making friends with those who can help him and plugging into the airport economy by returning baggage carts for a quarter a pop. Director Steven Spielberg gives the bulk of the movie over to this upward climb, and even fits love into the picture through Hanks’ makeshift courtship of Catherine Zeta-Jones, a stewardess still in thrall to her latest affair with a married man. Told “America is closed” when he first tries to make his way out of the airport, and continually encouraged to move on and become someone else’s problem by status-quo-minded customs chief Stanley Tucci, Hanks instead finds a little America inside, complete with the opportunity to pursue happiness, though there’s no guarantee that he’ll find it. [Keith Phipps]

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The Terminator

The Terminator

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Screenshot: The Terminator

It’s strange to return to The Terminator after years of sequels that resemble it only in overarching narrative. The original is small, spare, unforgiving, and closer in spirit to creeping horror than shoot-’em-up action on the sliding genre scale. Set pieces, like the Terminator’s grisly rampage through an ill-equipped police station, inspire more pit-of-the-stomach dread than adrenaline rush. The nocturnal timeframe also enhances the supernatural terror of the material, as do gory shots of the villain performing surgery on himself. Even the fiery finale resembles the final scenes of a slasher movie more than the slam-bang climax of a Hollywood blockbuster. The film’s real special effect is its marquee star. Conan The Barbarian had already catapulted Arnold Schwarzenegger into the limelight, but it was The Terminator that made him an action hero. His take on the character isn’t robotic, exactly; he’s remorseless but not quite emotionless, judging from the occasional flare of volcanic, bestial anger. Cameron sees more of an alien quality in Schwarzenegger’s iron-thick accent, halting delivery, and impossible physique; he’s the mechanical man as hostile new species—and Schwarzenegger, draining his eccentric star persona of any warmth, has never been so frighteningly well-utilized. (In fact, the series as a whole has made marvelous use of the actor, finding menace, humor, and even poignancy in his superhuman otherness.) [A.A. Dowd]

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Unbreakable

Unbreakable

Samuel L. Jackson
Samuel L. Jackson
Screenshot: Unbreakable

Unbreakable was something of an oddity in 2000. It was an origin story when non-comic readers were unfamiliar with them. It was a serious-minded, reality-based superhero movie when there were none. Not only that, but it was an unconventional hero narrative, in which security guard David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is led to believe that he has powers by an osteogenesis-imperfecta-suffering comic devotee, Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson). It was a small-scale origin story not about a hero needing to learn how to use new powers, but one that made a mystery—one unsolved until late in the movie—out of whether its hero even had powers at all. What also distinguished Unbreakable was its greater emphasis on the human parts of its superhuman story. The mystery may drive the film, but in spirit it’s closer to a character drama. [Alexander Huls]

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Vertigo

Vertigo

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Screenshot: Vertigo

[Alfred] Hitchcock’s thriller was not a major commercial or critical success upon its original 1958 release, and while Hitchcock is said to have blamed some of that failure on Stewart’s advanced age as compared to co-star Kim Novak, it seems entirely possible that audiences reacted more strongly against seeing Jimmy Stewart lose his shit over a woman he’s been asked to tail than his middle-aged visage specifically.

But Stewart’s visible aging does affect a viewing of Vertigo, in ways that contribute to the movie’s effectiveness (as a disturbing thriller, not a crowd-pleaser). John “Scottie” Ferguson, like L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries before him, is a bachelor getting on in years who has been recently lamed. Scottie, a retiring cop, is injured in a rooftop pursuit, during which a fellow officer died trying to help him through his attack of vertigo. Later, an acquaintance has Scottie follow his wife, who he claims to suspect is possessed. Scottie falls in love with the woman, Madeleine (Novak), but due to his fear of heights and accompanying vertigo, cannot save her from an apparent suicide at a belltower. When he meets a woman who bears a striking resemblance to Madeleine, his obsession is rekindled.

Scottie’s age isn’t key to making sense of his obsession, but it does add a layer of sadness and loneliness to his pursuit of Madeleine in whatever form he presumes her to have taken. It’s easy to imagine him as an alternate version of Rear Window’s Jeffries, who continued to resist settling down with his lady, only to be pulled into another bout of chronic voyeurism—the first chunk of Scottie’s relationship with Madeleine consists of him following her around in secret. Again, Hitchcock cloaks Stewart in shadows during key moments, whenever he ascends up the belltower steps. But otherwise, Vertigo is a rich, even lushly colored movie, leaving its star in plain sight. Filtered through Scottie’s obsession with Madeleine, the colors take on a feverish quality not often associated with Stewart’s steadfast image. [Jesse Hassenger]

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Warrior

Warrior

Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton
Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton
Screenshot: Warrior

The naturalistic camerawork, gritty urban environments, or brutal setting of mixed-martial-arts fighting may mislead viewers away from the truth: Gavin O’Connor’s Warrior is a man-weepie of the highest Hollywood order, a would-be Rocky for an empire in decline. It’s irresistible, but how could people resist when Warrior comes packing double-barreled underdog arcs in the form of brothers played by Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton? They’re estranged from each other, but not as much as they’re estranged from their alcoholic father (Nick Nolte), who terrorized them and their mother until she ran away with her younger son, prompting her husband to eventually get sober. Hardy is a distraught former Marine who washes up on his dad’s Pittsburgh doorstep and starts training at the local MMA gym, beating the consciousness out of what turns out to be a highly ranked fighter in what was meant to be a casual sparring match. Edgerton is a Philly physics teacher and family man struggling to pay the bills, a former UFC pro who moonlights in parking-lot matches for extra cash to throw an upside-down mortgage. These two archetypes of bruised American masculinity are played by a Brit and an Australian, and played well—particularly in the case of Hardy, who’s been poised for stardom since 2009’s Bronson. He’s riveting here, a little boy lost with the hulking build of a minotaur; his dialogue would scarcely fill a few pages, but his character speaks volumes with his fists. [Allison Willmore]

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We Need To Talk About Kevin

We Need To Talk About Kevin

Tilda Swinton
Tilda Swinton
Screenshot: We Need To Talk About Kevin

For her radical adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s book, director Lynne Ramsay (Morvern Callar) dispenses with the epistolary format altogether and attempts to access the mother’s troubled psyche without a breath of narration. And in its best sequences, Ramsay puts her duress in dazzlingly visual terms, collapsing the past and present in an associative rush of red-streaked images and piercingly vivid moments out of time. When the film finally settles, it eases into scenes of a zombiefied Swinton, post-massacre, trying to carry on with her son (Ezra Miller) in jail and her neighbors openly expressing their hostility. It also tracks the mother-and-son relationship from the beginning, as an unresponsive infant and toddler grows into a sullen, violent, frighteningly remote teenager—all while his oblivious father (John C. Reilly) looks away. [Scott Tobias]

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The Wrestler

The Wrestler

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Photo: Searchlight Pictures

In The Wrestler, Mickey Rourke plays a wrung-dry ex-superstar dealing with the realization that his body is breaking down, and that he doesn’t have much going on in his life to compensate. His daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) wants nothing to do with him, because he was never around when she was growing up. He’s infatuated with a stripper (Marisa Tomei) whose affection dries up whenever he puts his money away. And his part-time supermarket job doesn’t pay well enough to keep him in wrestling costumes, muscle-enhancing drugs, and rent for his cruddy trailer in New Jersey. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine an actor better suited for this part than Rourke, whose surgically altered face and chemically altered body don’t require much makeup to look worn and abused—and that’s not even taking into account Rourke’s own well-documented fall from showbiz grace, which gives every apologetic line he speaks an extra layer of contrition. [Noel Murray]

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You Were Never Really Here

You Were Never Really Here

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Photo: Amazon Studios

Director Lynne Ramsay’s latest dive into the deepest, most diabolical trenches of the human psyche is as fractured as the consciousness of its protagonist, the physically intimidating, psychologically fragile assassin-for-hire Joe (Joaquin Phoenix). Ramsay swings between understatement and excess with bravado, a destabilizing tactic that injects every loaded silence with a sense of palpable dread. The result is an impressionistic fugue state of a film that illuminates moments of unspeakable violence with the blinding indifference of a flashbulb, a series of Polaroid photographs stashed under a dirty, bloodstained mattress in a blighted Skid Row hotel room. But for all of its grim, broad-shouldered misanthropy, You Were Never Ready Here also finds time for moments of simple, unspoiled beauty—ephemeral, but beautiful nonetheless. [Katie Rife]

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