The best movies on Amazon Prime Video

The best movies on Amazon Prime Video

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 Amazon Prime subscription, but this list is compiled of movies featured on The A.V. Club’s Best of the Year lists and ballots going back to 2010.

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 May 11, 2021.

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2 / 116

48 Hrs.

48 Hrs.

Eddie Murphy
Eddie Murphy
Screenshot: 48 Hrs.

Because 48 Hrs. was directed by economical genre specialist Walter Hill, it moves relentlessly, with scarcely a wasted scene or shot in its 96 minutes. And because it’s an early example of the buddy-cop movie, it features multiple scenes and elements that later became cliché, as when Nick Nolte’s shouty African-American boss tells him he needs to be “more of a team player and less of a hot dog.” It would be a solid actioner even without Eddie Murphy, anchored by the almost-as-colorful Nolte, whose character is so disheveled and abrasive that he’s constantly threatened with arrest by cops who don’t realize he’s one of them. As Nolte baits Murphy with racially charged insults (some overt, some subtle), 48 Hrs. plays with the question of which of these two men has the power in their relationship: the washed-up authority figure, or the smooth-talking law-breaker? But as good as Nolte is in this movie, there’s really no contest. As soon as Murphy steps out of his cell, it’s clear he’s planning to stick around. [Noel Murray]

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3 / 116

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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4 / 116

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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5 / 116

Alien³

Alien³

Sigourney Weaver
Sigourney Weaver
Photo: Rolf Konow/Sygma/Corbis via Getty Images

If Ridley Scott’s deep-space classic Alien and James Cameron’s superlative, action-packed Aliens were perfect genre specimens, Alien³ is something else entirely: gloriously imperfect art, bursting bloody and beautiful from the carcass of a blockbuster boondoggle. By now, the film’s troubled gestation has become the stuff of legend, a Hollywood cautionary tale. Whole screenplays, creative teams, and narrative directions were tossed out before David Fincher, then a music-video veteran with no features under his belt, landed at the helm of this doomed vessel. The director, who sparred with both the studio and star Sigourney Weaver, would end up disowning the movie. Audiences were lukewarm, resulting in lackluster box-office. Reviews were mixed at best. As far as just about everyone was concerned, Alien³ was stillborn. But the film’s flaws, the telltale signs of its tumultuous production, can’t obscure the singularity of its vision. More DOA “mistakes” of franchise extension should be so bold. [A.A. Dowd]

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6 / 116

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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7 / 116

Arrival

Arrival

Amy Adams in Arrival
Amy Adams in Arrival
Photo: Paramount

Arrival, Denis Villeneuve’s spookily majestic sci-fi spectacle, is on a mission of multiple objectives. Focused on the nuts and bolts of interspecies communication, this is an unusually intelligent object from Hollywood, where science fiction is usually just a fancy word for an action movie set in space or the future. But there’s also a surprisingly affecting emotional core to Villeneuve’s enigma—a stealth poignancy woven into the fabric of its cerebral design. Arrival has come, like a visitor from the cosmos, to blow minds and break hearts. One does not generally attend a film from the director of Sicario expecting four-hankie catharsis. But Villeneuve is a chameleon: Having expertly imitated the sleek moodiness of David Fincher with his missing-kids potboiler Prisoners, the French-Canadian director conjures some Malickian grandeur here during an elegiac prologue, underscoring a family tragedy with the symphonic ache of Max Richter’s “On The Nature Of Daylight.” Based on an award-winning short story by sci-fi writer Ted Chiang, Arrival possesses a setup not so different from Sicario, given that it puts another highly skilled professional woman under the jurisdiction of dismissive, trigger-happy male superiors. But a more personal dimension is immediately plain, as Villeneuve introduces the extraterrestrial fleet through a reaction shot of his heroine, linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), gaping in muted disbelief at a lecture-hall television we don’t see. [A.A. Dowd]

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8 / 116

Attack The Block

Attack The Block

John Boyega and his crew
John Boyega and his crew
Screenshot: Attack The Block

Edgar Wright reteams with his Hot Fuzz stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost for this funky little cult-movie-in-the-making by his friend and writing partner Joe Cornish. (Naturally, the two worked on Spielberg’s new Tintin movie, which co-stars Pegg and Frost.) Continuing their extraterrestrial theme, the film concerns a motley, multicultural crew of street kids who take on monsters from outer space. In a pre-Star Wars performance, John Boyega plays a charismatic gang leader whose attempts to mug a pretty nurse played by Venus’ Jodie Whittaker are rudely interrupted by the unexpected appearance of a fearsome alien monster. Whittaker, Boyega, and Boyega’s gang must subsequently put aside their gender, racial, and class differences for the sake of a common cause: fighting off a mysterious alien plague. Frost is funny as a low-level drug dealer and National Geographic buff, as is Luke Treadaway as a student who stops by Frost’s weed spot to pick up some marijuana, and gets more than he bargained for. [Nathan Rabin]

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9 / 116

Back To The Future

Back To The Future

Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox
Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox
Screenshot: Back To The Future

It’s hard to imagine anyone being more perfect for the Marty McFly role than Michael J. Fox. In Back To The Future, Fox is small and squinty and breezily charismatic. Fox was 24 when he shot the film, but he was so good at stammering disbelief that he easily passes as a high schooler. On top of that, Fox was already famous for playing Alex P. Keaton, a sort of avatar of Reagan youth. The central conceit of Family Ties was that the aging-hippie parents can’t understand how their son has become a square and uptight young Republican. In the ’80s, a big part of the Republican sales pitch was a return to ’50s values. Marty McFly and Alex P. Keaton are two very different characters, but there’s still something primally satisfying about seeing this kid go back to the ’50s and learn that ’50s values are not what he thought. [Tom Breihan]

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10 / 116

Back To The Future Part II

Back To The Future Part II

Michael J. Fox
Michael J. Fox
Screenshot: Back To The Future Part II

Arriving four years after the original, Back To The Future Part II faced the difficult task of following one of the most beloved movies of the ’80s. And it’s successful, partly because it shifts focus. Whereas the original Back To The Future was, at its heart, a personal story about a kid learning to understand his parents, Part II is a straightforward time-travel adventure. Its shifting time-space continuum sends Doc Brown and Marty McFly to the future, then back to an alternate 1985, then back to the 1955 of the first film, with a trip to the Old West waiting in the wings. [Kyle Ryan]

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11 / 116

Big Fish

Big Fish

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

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12 / 116

The Big Sick

The Big Sick

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
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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13 / 116

Bloody Sunday

Bloody Sunday

Bloody Sunday
Bloody Sunday
Screenshot:

On Jan. 30, 1972, in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, 13 Irish civil-rights activists were killed (and many more injured) when British soldiers opened fire on a peace demonstration that had turned unruly. From the opening minutes, the sick dread of inevitability hangs over director Paul Greengrass’ emotionally charged re-creation Bloody Sunday, as the two sides hold fast to their positions, refusing to swerve out of a game of chicken. The British authorities, acting on a decree to suppress all parades and processions—not to mention an underlying thirst to avenge its fallen soldiers—take a heavy-handed approach to breaking up the march; in response, the agitated demonstrators can only add to the chaos. (Only the audience seems to hear the most pragmatic officer ask the obvious question, “Why not let the march go ahead?”) Greengrass’ rigorous, you-are-there documentary style has earned the film comparison to Gillo Pontecorvo’s masterpiece The Battle Of Algiers, which brought the French-Algerian conflict to life with stunning, unprecedented verisimilitude. At its best, Bloody Sunday produces the same chilling illusion of history writ large, clearly detailing the strategies of both sides, then blankly observing the conflict through unadorned, newsreel camera stock and the precise orchestration of large-scale chaos. [Scott Tobias]

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14 / 116

Bound

Bound

Jennifer Tilly
Jennifer Tilly
Screenshot: Bound

To say Bound is a double-meaning title understates the way the Wachowskis thread the concept into the fabric of the movie, where Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon are bound literally, bound to each other, bound to the powerful men who control their destinies, and bound by their own ideas about what intimacy could mean for them. Since this is a crime film, getting unbound involves a plan to steal $2 million in mob money and run off together, but the Wachowskis remain conscious of how their theme is developing, even as they choreograph suspenseful setpieces with a “Look, ma!” flair that’s only occasionally distracting. The stakes are high, but to the Wachowskis’ credit, the question isn’t “Will they get away with the money?” but “Will they make it out together (with their lives and their tenuous trust intact)?” That’s a different level of engagement than the crime genre usually encourages. [Scott Tobias]

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15 / 116

C.O.G.

C.O.G.

Jonathan Groff
Jonathan Groff
Screenshot: C.O.G.

One of several remarkable things about C.O.G., the first movie officially based on an essay by humorist David Sedaris, is the way it captures the spirit of the author’s writing—his self-deprecating humor, his gift for details of character and environment—without cannibalizing his prose. A lesser filmmaker might have converted Sedaris’ written words into spoken narration, essentially re-creating the experience of reading his work, but not writer-director Kyle Patrick Alvarez. He instead trusts the integrity of the yarn, maybe the toughest and most wounding of the autobiographical entries in the 1997 collection Naked. It helps that Alvarez found an actor capable of conveying, with just a well-timed glance, a breadth of private emotions. Jonathan Groff (Glee) plays the twentysomething David, fresh out of the Ivy League and on a pilgrimage to Oregon, where he’ll “get his hands dirty” as an apple picker. The film’s hilarious opening montage, in which the character copes with various weirdos and over-sharers on an endless cross-country bus ride, promises a sharp comedy of discomfort. Yet C.O.G. turns out to be a much richer, more troubling work—a coming-of-age memoir built on a foundation of difficult life lessons, and a tale of meaning discovered and then lost. Groff’s hero is a figure worthy of ridicule and sympathy, a man lacking in self-awareness (and humility) but also young enough to deserve better than what the world delivers upon him during this ill-fated adventure. Enlightenment is what he goes searching for and enlightenment is what he receives, though it may take years for him to process the experience in anything but negative terms. [A.A. Dowd]

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16 / 116

Casino Royale

Casino Royale

Daniel Craig
Daniel Craig
Screenshot: Casino Royale

The most significant shot in Casino Royale—the Daniel Craig revamp of the James Bond franchise—comes early, while the new Bond is getting his Parkour on and hopping from beam to beam at a construction site in pursuit of a terrorist bomber. When Craig severs a cable so he can rise up on a pulley, there’s an insignificant insert shot of the pipes Craig cut loose, now tumbling on the ground. But it’s only insignificant from a plot perspective. From a thematic perspective, the falling pipes reflect the mission statement for this new Bond: “Actions have consequences.” This is a messier Bond than we’d seen in a while. He’s impulsive, he miscalculates, and when he kills someone, he gets blood on his hands, his face, and all over his clothes. In Casino Royale, 007 has plenty of chances to get bloody. [Noel Murray]

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17 / 116

Catfish

Catfish

Nev Schulman and Ariel Schulman
Nev Schulman and Ariel Schulman
Screenshot: Catfish

From the “truth is stranger than fiction” file comes Catfish, a documentary about three New York artists (Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman, and Schulman’s brother Nev) who learn that the family of fans they’ve been talking to online may not be who they say they are. Nev in particular is flattered by the attention from one pretty woman, until his colleagues do a little research and discover that a lot of the information they’ve been getting from her and the rest of their e-mail pals is awfully hard to confirm. So the trio decides to launch an investigation, initially just for fun—though it becomes less fun as they get closer to the truth. [Noel Murray]

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18 / 116

Cheech & Chong’s Still Smokin’

Cheech & Chong’s Still Smokin’

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
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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19 / 116

Cloverfield

Cloverfield

Cloverfield
Cloverfield
Screenshot:

The secret-shrouded brainchild of producer J.J. Abrams, writer Drew Goddard, and director Matt Reeves, Cloverfield speaks so directly to a decade in which camera phones and YouTube have take the middleman out of video. The film taps into the spirit of the age in other, more unsettling ways as well. Its horror is devastating and citywide. Baffled news anchors report it breathlessly, inspiring panic in characters who realize that the violence that only happens elsewhere has found its way home. The monstrous source of the violence maintains an unerring concentration on destruction, and spawns other, smaller monsters with the same focus. It leaves terror, broken buildings, and clouds of dust behind. The best efforts of conventional warfare can’t bring it down. The filmmakers have gone to great lengths to keep the nature of the threat a secret, so let’s just say that it couldn’t have existed without H.P. Lovecraft, H.R. Giger, or Ishirô Honda, the director who gave Japan an embodiment of its then-recent nuclear attacks with Godzilla. Also, it’s absolutely terrifying, and it’s all the more effective for the way it lets viewers spend time getting to know the terrified stars, and the emotions and regrets behind their seemingly futile efforts to survive. It puts human faces on the victims of mass destruction, faces that might easily have been yours or mine, staring down the maw of something we don’t understand. [Keith Phipps]

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20 / 116

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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21 / 116

Coming To America

Coming To America

Eddie Murphy in Coming To America
Eddie Murphy in Coming To America
Image: Buyenlarge (Getty Images)

Coming To America is disarmingly sweet fish-out-of-water comedy in which Murphy’s good-natured African prince toils as a janitor at a fast-food restaurant in Queens while wooing the pretty daughter of owner John Amos. Eddie Murphy and sidekick Arsenio Hall—whose scene-stealing performance here seemed to promise a dazzling film career that never materialized—famously donned Rick Baker’s makeup to play multiple characters, but unlike in Norbit, the effect is sweet and affectionate rather than grotesque and scatological. Murphy would soon exhaust the comic possibilities inherent in donning layers of latex to become a one-man lowbrow vaudeville extravaganza, but his shtick still felt fresh here, probably because there’s an awful lot of heart hiding under all the prosthetics. [Nathan Rabin]

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22 / 116

Christmas, Again

Christmas, Again

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

A couple of years ago, Paul Giamatti and Paul Rudd starred in a mediocre not-quite-comedy called All Is Bright, about a couple of former petty thieves trying to eke out a living selling Christmas trees on the streets of New York. Nothing about it felt authentic—it’s the kind of movie that tries to liven things up a bit by making one protagonist’s girlfriend the other protagonist’s ex-wife, and by throwing in a Russian maid (played by Sally Hawkins) speaking fractured English in a broadly stereotypical accent. By contrast, the even tinier indie film Christmas, Again, which focuses on just one NYC tree merchant, offers virtually nothing but authenticity, and makes a strong case that getting the details right is more than enough. First-time writer-director Charles Poekel (who’s also worked as a cinematographer, mostly on documentaries) sold Christmas trees himself for several years, and loosely based the screenplay on his own experiences; the film amounts to a collection of indelible moments, many of them piercingly lovely and delicate. [Mike D’Angelo]

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23 / 116

Creepy

Creepy

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

The eerie and darkly funny Creepy, which marks a return to form for Japanese writer-director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, is an adaptaion of a novel by Yutaka Maekawa. Kurosawa draws on his own well-established interests in unknowable evil and familiar genre tropes to create a narrative of dream logic—the story of a retired police profiler who finds himself simultaneously drawn into a cold case involving a missing family and into the suspicious behavior of his new neighbor. As the neighbor, Teruyuki Kagawa gives a performance that belongs in the pantheon of next-door creeps, coming across as a regular awkward guy one moment and an Invasion Of The Body Snatchers pod person the next. The film somehow grows more suggestive as it becomes more literal; eventually, it descends into an underground bunker that could easily be a mad scientist’s lair in a silent film. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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24 / 116

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

 Zhang Ziyi
Zhang Ziyi
Screenshot: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

The wire effects of Crouching Tiger—the heroes who can basically fly—were nothing new to audiences in Hong Kong or China. Lee, from Taiwan, had grown up watching movies like that, and Crouching Tiger was, in some ways, the realization of a childhood dream for director Ang Lee, who’d spent the previous few years making English-language interiority dramas like Sense And Sensibility and The Ice Storm. But Lee knew that he was making something new for Western audiences, for people who hadn’t seen those wire effects create dream-realities in movies like The Heroic Trio or The Bride With White Hair. And so that first action scene was, among other things, an intentional challenge to the movie’s Western audiences. Lee was telling us that we were entering a world where the rules were not the same, where fighters could drift slowly through the air and where nobody would act like that was a weird or unnatural thing. It worked. It all worked. [Tom Briehan]

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25 / 116

Dazed And Confused

Dazed And Confused

Matthew McConaughey
Matthew McConaughey
Screenshot: Dazed And Confused

On the surface, Richard Linklater’s day-in-the-life comedy Dazed And Confused seems nostalgic for late adolescence, when young people are still technically kids, but old enough to begin to experience some of the freedoms of adulthood. Set over the course of the afternoon and night of the last day of school in 1976, the film follows a few groups of friends as the joy of that first taste of summer gives way to conflict and a more nebulous existential concern. For all the scenes of kids drinking, getting high, and partying, Dazed And Confused is hardly a nostalgic look back at the good ol’ days—despite what the trailer below seems to promise. As Randall “Pink” Floyd (Jason London) says toward the end of the film, “All I’m saying is that if I ever start referring to these as the best years of my life, remind me to kill myself.” [Kyle Ryan]

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26 / 116

Dead Poets Society

Dead Poets Society

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Screenshot: Dead Poets Society

Written by Tom Schulman (based loosely on his prep school experiences in Nashville, Tennessee) and directed by Peter Weir (on assignment from Disney/Touchstone head Jeffrey Katzenberg while Weir was waiting to make Green Card), Dead Poets Society was a small piece of summer counter-programming that became an unexpected blockbuster, as audiences responded to its story of high school boys learning to be non-conformists on the cusp of the ’60s. Schulman’s script is way too pat in its depiction of idealistic souls being squelched by stern parents and crusty headmasters, but the young actors—led by Robert Sean Leonard, Ethan Hawke, and Josh Charles—are all extraordinary, and Weir and cinematographer John Seale imbue the campus and its environs with the feel of an old myth, playing out with dark inevitability. [Noel Murray]

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27 / 116

The Dead Zone

The Dead Zone

Christopher Walken
Christopher Walken
Screenshot: The Dead Zone

The rare Stephen King adaptation to capture the author’s signature sense of inexplicable, internal/external terror, The Dead Zone stands as one of David Cronenberg’s most straightforward and eerily effective early works. Trimming King’s source material down to its lean essence—and benefiting from the lack of his imaginative monsters, which never properly translate to the screen—the film concerns Maine schoolteacher Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken), who turns down an offer to stay the night with his girlfriend Sarah (Brooke Adams), subsequently gets into a traffic accident, and awakens from a coma five years later with the gift of second sight. Far from a blessing, however, the power proves to be a damnable curse, turning Johnny into a freak show whose time and attention is coveted by many, but only for their own selfish ends. As the man’s vision expands, his life shrinks down to nothing—an isolated existence which Cronenberg depicts through direction that routinely lingers on the empty silences between words and the distant whooshing of wintry New England wind. Cronenberg’s icy directorial detachment lends The Dead Zone a haunting creepiness, greatly amplified by Walken, whose halting verbal rhythms and glassy stare imbue Johnny with an alienated (if not outright alien) quality. [Nick Schager]

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28 / 116

Devil In A Blue Dress

Devil In A Blue Dress

Denzel Washington
Denzel Washington
Screenshot: Devil In A Blue Dress

Denzel Washington’s redo of The Equalizer was reportedly developed with a franchise in mind—his first such attempt in a long and ultra-successful career. As many have pointed out, Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins, hero of Walter Mosley’s series of detective novels, makes a great alternate what-if choice for a Washington-fronted series. The first Easy Rawlins book, Devil In A Blue Dress, was adapted by Carl Franklin in 1995, with Washington perfectly cast in the lead, but the movie didn’t do much business and follow-ups never materialized. It’s a shame, because the first try more or less nails the origin story. Rawlins doesn’t start out as a private detective; he’s just looking for work to pay the mortgage on his Los Angeles home when Albright (Tom Sizemore) hires him to find the missing girl, Daphne Monet (Jennifer Beals), at the behest of a Los Angeles mayoral candidate. Much of Devil In A Blue Dress is textbook noir: A shadowy figure approaches the detective with a seemingly straightforward case that has more dimension than meets the eye. Soon he’s forced to work multiple angles and sort out who, if anyone, he can trust, as various parties—cops, politicians, sexy dames—try to use him for their benefit. [Jesse Hassenger]

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29 / 116

Donnie Brasco

Donnie Brasco

Johnny Depp and Al Pacino
Johnny Depp and Al Pacino
Screenshot: Donnie Brasco

The underrated and eclectic 1997 crime melodrama Donnie Brasco, written by Paul Attanasio (Quiz Show) and directed by Mike Newell, posits the life and perpetually non-starting career of a low-level career criminal played by Al Pacino as an extended study in sour desperation. Pacino plays his aging criminal as the crime-world equivalent of Willy Loman, a sad-sack small timer whose outsized legend exists only in his own over-active imagination. Based on a true story, Donnie Brasco casts a pitch-perfect Johnny Depp as a young FBI agent who goes undercover as a Florida jewel thief and befriends Pacino, a frustrated hitman who works for hot-headed and equally disappointed boss Michael Madsen. Pacino takes Depp under his wing as a protégé and surrogate son, and Depp increasingly finds himself torn between his sense of duty and his loyalty to Pacino. Donnie Brasco invests the enduring, resonant themes of the undercover-cop movie with grubby verisimilitude and a keenly observed sense of time and place. The haunting character study’s unblinking, unsentimental depiction of organized crime as the sorrowful domain of small-timers and no-hopers stands as a necessary and bracing antidote to the pantheon of great mob movies—some of the best of which star Al Pacino—that depict life inside the mob as a world filled with glamour and excitement. [Nathan Rabin]

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30 / 116

Dr. No

Dr. No

Sean Connery
Sean Connery
Screenshot: Dr. No

In lieu of the elaborate, expensive set pieces that would dominate later entries, Dr. No shows James Bond (in this case, Sean Connery) engaged in actual spycraft. Before leaving his hotel room, he sprinkles powder on the latches of his briefcase and attaches a hair to one of his closet doors, so that he’ll know whether someone searches his room in his absence. (Someone does.) When an enemy poses as his ride at the airport—apart from a quick London check-in, the entire film is set in Jamaica and surrounding islands—he discovers the truth by cleverly… phoning the people who allegedly sent the ride and confirming that they did no such thing. There’s more shoe leather involved than usual, to the point where the movie occasionally feels as if it’s mostly Bond striding confidently across various rooms in exquisitely tailored suits. Even Dr. No’s plan isn’t especially diabolical, compared to those of future villains like Blofeld and Goldfinger; had Bond failed to stop him, the doctor would merely have set back Project Mercury a few years, in all likelihood. (World domination may be S.P.E.C.T.R.E.’s ultimate goal, but the present-tense stakes here are quite low.) It’s all pleasingly modest, combining the freshness of something new with the relaxed assurance of something well-established. When the Bond franchise starts to seem oppressive, Dr. No is the ideal palate-cleanser. [Mike D’Angelo]

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31 / 116

Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb

Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb

Peter Sellers
Peter Sellers
Screenshot: Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb

For those who know Dr. Strangelove well, here’s a fun experiment: Watch it with the sound off, imagining that you’ve never seen it before, and try to determine at which point you’d realize that you’re supposed to be laughing. Stanley Kubrick, collaborating on the script with Terry Southern and Peter George, deliberately warped George’s novel Red Alert (originally titled Two Hours To Doom), turning what had been a deadly serious thriller into a black comedy. Equally inspired was Kubrick’s decision to fashion the movie’s visual scheme as if nothing had been changed at all. Apart from some mugging by George C. Scott (who was famously tricked into giving a much broader performance than he wanted to) and a few especially goofy moments in the last few minutes, Dr. Strangelove looks for all the world as if it’s telling the same sober cautionary tale as does Fail-Safe, the remarkably similar movie that was released just eight months later. Only the dialogue and some new, silly character names openly express the absurdity that Kubrick and company find in the doctrine of mutually assured destruction. [Mike D’Angelo]

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32 / 116

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
Image: Amblin Entertainment

Steven Spielberg’s E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, now following Jaws in a pristine (though less revelatory) deluxe Blu-ray edition, draws on the director’s memories as a child of divorce, when he created an imaginary friend to keep him company. Spielberg and his screenwriter, Melissa Mathison, have channeled those memories into a open-hearted piece of storybook science fiction, but the fundamentals of E.T.—the reason why everyone talks about it making them cry—have nothing to do with the marvels of outer space and interstellar connection, or even the touching vulnerability of the creature itself, as it struggles to survive on an uninhabitable planet. The core theme of E.T. is home, and the journey of the film, taken in literal synchronicity by the young hero and his alien friend, is about them helping each other find it. It’s a common story told on a celestial scale. [Scott Tobias]

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33 / 116

Extract

Extract

J.K. Simmons and Jason Bateman
J.K. Simmons and Jason Bateman
Screenshot: Extract

As with Ron Livingston in Office Space and Luke Wilson in Idiocracy, director Mike Judge centers the film around a put-upon everyman, played here by Jason Bateman, who watches his small universe collapse at his feet. Though his extract business is successful enough to win him a nice house and a pending takeover offer from General Mills, he’s having problems on two separate fronts. His sexual frustration at home leads him to make the drastic decision—encouraged by his dimwitted bartender (Ben Affleck, in top form)—to hire a gigolo to seduce his wife (Kristen Wiig) so he won’t feel guilty about cheating on her. Bateman is unaware, however, that the object of his desire, a fetching new temp played by Mila Kunis, is actually a con artist using her feminine charms to sabotage his business. [Scott Tobias]

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34 / 116

Félicité

Félicité

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

Screenwriting manuals and workshops frequently suggest three key questions to be asked when crafting a story: 1) What does the protagonist want? 2) What’s in the protagonist’s way? 3) What happens if the protagonist doesn’t get it? Generally speaking, that third question is hypothetical—it represents the threat, which will only be realized at the end of the movie, if it’s realized at all. What’s remarkable about Félicité, an offbeat character study made by the Franco-Senegalese director Alain Gomis, is that it devotes its entire second half to exploring what happens when the title character fails to achieve her goal. It’s as if Seven’s bleak conclusion had been that film’s midpoint and Morgan Freeman’s detective, rather than muttering “I’ll be around,” had proceeded to have a complete nervous breakdown. Indeed, Félicité itself seems to lose its bearings, in the best possible way, once its ostensible plot has collapsed. [Mike D’Angelo]

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35 / 116

The Fits

The Fits

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

Writer-director Anna Rose Holmer’s debut film is partly a coming-of-age tone poem and partly a deeply metaphorical art-horror exercise, but mostly it’s its own strange and wonderful thing, as unclassifiable as it is beautiful. Preteen actress Royalty Hightower plays a tomboy who becomes enamored of the award-winning dance troupe at her Cincinnati community center, which she joins right around the time that her peers get seized by unexplained spasms. Has something gone sour in the environment? Or is all this strangeness just an expression of the heroine’s alienation from other girls, who seem to know much more than she about how to talk to each other and how to look pretty? Holmer never offers any definitive answers as to what The Fits means. She just sticks close to one kid who’s trying to figure it all out herself and lets us see and feel along with her. [Noel Murray]

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36 / 116

Flight

Flight

Denzel Washington
Denzel Washington
Screenshot: Flight

For the opening scene of Flight to have maximum impact, it’s probably best to go in knowing nothing about its protagonist’s profession, which is unfortunately revealed in the film poster, if not the title itself. Waking in an anonymous hotel room, Denzel Washington stares at the naked woman he bedded the night before, while his ex-wife calls him to argue about money. Bleary-eyed and surrounded by the remnants of a party only hours dead, he swigs the dregs from a beer bottle, stumbles around the room, does a line of coke to get straight. And then he eventually strides confidently into the hallway in his airline pilot’s uniform, to the tune of Joe Cocker’s “Feelin’ Alright.” Directing his first live-action film since 2000’s Cast Away, Robert Zemeckis paces it brilliantly, slowly ramping up the energy from hungover lethargy to coke-fueled confidence, while creating undercurrents of dread as Washington hits his stride. He looks the part of the perfect pilot, and he may feel all right, but beneath the surface, something has clearly gone wrong. Whatever his problems—and by the film’s end, they’ve been depicted in exhaustive detail—his confidence isn’t misplaced. There’s only one flight in Flight, what should be a routine morning transit from Orlando to Atlanta. It’s destined to be more harrowing than usual, however. As a new co-pilot (Brian Geraghty) looks on in concern after their plane takes off in the rain, Washington punches through a narrow corridor of clouds while traveling at a speed just on the right side of what’s considered safe. It’s how he flies and how he lives: pushing the limit but never going over, thanks to his perfect control. Then, as the plane nears its destination, events beyond Washington’s control take over. [Keith Phipps]

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37 / 116

The Forbidden Room

The Forbidden Room

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Image: The Forbidden Room

A hilarious and edifying intervention against “slow cinema,” The Forbidden Room is filled to the brim with stories, which keep rudely tumbling over top of each other like monkeys in a barrel. In compiling a tribute to lost films of the silent era, Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson simultaneously satirize and sanctify their source material: Their pitch-perfect pastiches of early 20th century melodramas are exactly as ridiculous, grandiloquent, and perverse as any cinephile could hope (or dream). A gallery of louche art-house movie stars, from Geraldine Chaplin to Mathieu Amalric, helps put the whole thing over the top, where it stays, hovering, for two hours—more than enough time to get from the bowels of a stranded submarine to the peak of a sweltering volcano and all points in between. [Adam Nayman]

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38 / 116

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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39 / 116

The Full Monty

The Full Monty

Mark Addy
Mark Addy
Screenshot: The Full Monty

Robert Carlyle (Trainspotting) stars as a laid-off Sheffield steelworker who devises an unusual scheme to better himself in this boisterous new comedy. Inspired by the popularity of a Chippendales appearance, Carlyle begins recruiting other unemployed men to form their own stripshow. That none of them, for various reasons, are really qualified to be taking off their clothes in public is the source for much of The Full Monty’s humor—most often in the form of some very funny physical gags—but the film has much more going for it than that one obvious joke would suggest. The Full Monty takes a harsh look at the state of post-Thatcher labor in Britain, portraying some of the humiliation involved with life on the dole. Carlyle’s attempts to win the respect of his young son, and some of the other men’s insecurity with their bodies—a rarely touched topic—are treated sensitively and incorporated seamlessly into the story. [Keith Phipps]

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40 / 116

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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41 / 116

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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42 / 116

The Graduate

The Graduate

The Graduate
The Graduate
Photo: Sunset Boulevard (Getty Images)

Director Mike Nichols had made only one previous feature, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, a deliberately claustrophobic chamber piece. Here, he shoots widescreen compositions that use the entire width of the frame to striking effect, and alternates between lengthy choreographed shots and jarring cuts (the most memorable being three consecutive shots of Ben turning his head when Mrs. Robinson walks into the room naked, and a surreal match cut from Ben pushing himself off of a pool raft to Ben landing on top of Mrs. Robinson in bed). His use of Simon and Garfunkel’s music was equally revolutionary—movies had employed pop songs before, but never by combining one artist’s back catalogue with original material composed expressly for the film. (The version of “Mrs. Robinson” heard onscreen even syncs up with Ben’s car running out of gas, via a guitar part not found on the single.) None of this feels moldy or antiquated today. If anything, The Graduate’s sensibility feels remarkably modern. [Mike D’Angelo]

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43 / 116

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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44 / 116

Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle

Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle

John Cho and Kal Penn go to White Castle
John Cho and Kal Penn go to White Castle
Screenshot: Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle

While Cheech and Chong’s career is the exception that proves the rule, there was a time when Caucasians possessed an apparent monopoly on lead roles in dopey, lowbrow stoner comedies and raunchy teen-targeted fare. Happily, cinema and society have advanced to such a degree that now Asians, blacks, gays, and other minorities all have inept teen- and young-adult-oriented comedies to call their own. The wildly uneven but intermittently funny new feature-length fast-food commercial Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle fits squarely into this brave new paradigm. It boldly subverts stereotypes and challenges conventional wisdom by presenting affable Korean and Indian antiheroes who are just as sex-crazed, irresponsible, mischief-prone, and chemically altered as their white counterparts. Danny Leiner’s theatrical follow-up to 2000's Dude, Where’s My Car?, which has enjoyed a surprising second life as a national punchline, Harold & Kumar stars John Cho and Kal Penn as twentysomethings with just two things on their minds: getting baked and grabbing White Castle food. [Nathan Rabin]

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45 / 116

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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46 / 116

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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47 / 116

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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48 / 116

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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49 / 116

The Hurt Locker

The Hurt Locker

Anthony Mackie and Jeremy Renner
Anthony Mackie and Jeremy Renner
Screenshot: The Hurt Locker

Over the course of the Iraq War, reports of people killed and maimed by the crude roadside bombs known as IED (Improvised Explosive Devices) became commonplace. And yet the people who save lives by defusing such bombs remained largely untrumpeted. Kathryn Bigelow’s nerve-jangling thriller The Hurt Locker seeks to redress the balance, but it wouldn’t be accurate to describe the film as merely a paean to American courage and derring-do. Granted, the members of the Army bomb squad are a courageous lot, and Bigelow and journalist screenwriter Mark Boal (who was embedded with a unit in 2004) treat them with proper reverence. Yet there’s a kind of madness that comes with the job, where the hair-raising, red-wire/blue-wire stresses of day-to-day life can make some soldiers punch-drunk on adrenaline. With his brash, devil-may-care cockiness and good-ol’-boy swagger, Jeremy Renner recalls Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now. Both men have seen and survived so much that they project a dangerous aura of invincibility. Called in to take over for the fallen leader of a three-person bomb squad, Renner is precisely the wrong replacement: With the other two men, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty, still reeling over their loss, Renner drags them ever more recklessly into sticky situations on the streets of Baghdad. Though Renner’s skills are as undeniable as his extraordinary resolve, Mackie in particular takes exception to his eccentric tactics and abandonment of protocol. At the same time, Mackie recognizes that they both have a job to do. [Scott Tobias]

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50 / 116

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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51 / 116

I Used To Be Darker

I Used To Be Darker

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime Video
Photo: I Used To Be Darker

In the slim but affecting family drama I Used To Be Darker, the end of a marriage is depicted through the eyes not of the splitting spouses, but of a distant relative who suddenly appears at the doorstop of their broken home. Fleeing her job and boyfriend in Ocean City, Maryland, a Northern Irish runaway (unknown American actress Deragh Campbell, adopting a lilting brogue) drops in unexpectedly on her aunt (Kim Taylor) and uncle (Ned Oldham, brother of Will), both musicians. What she doesn’t know, but quickly discovers, is that the two are in the middle of a messy separation—a development that has sent shock waves of resentment through their Baltimore home, some of them absorbed by their daughter (Hannah Gross), back from her first year of college. There’s not much more to the movie’s bare-bones plot, save for a secret badly kept by Campbell. Yet what this tender indie lacks in incident, it makes up for with a wealth of sentiment. While divorce dramas tend to run on the bitter bons mot exchanged between their warring lovers, here’s one in which the pregnant silences speak as loudly as the toxic words. [A.A. Dowd]

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52 / 116

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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53 / 116

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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54 / 116

The Interview

The Interview

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

Because many of the best jokes in The Interview have nothing to do with North Korea, it’s worth recapping the ancillary mayhem that the Sony hackers would have suppressed. Franco stars as Dave Skylark, the foppish, airheaded host of a celebrity gossip program. He scores a coup when Eminem, on camera, makes an offhand announcement that he’s gay, prompting elation in the control room. Another of Dave’s scoops involves Rob Lowe’s coming-out as a secret bald person (“His head looks like somebody’s taint!” someone from the booth exclaims). But Dave’s producer, Aaron (Rogen), yearns for credibility. A larky call lands them an interview with Kim Jong-un (Veep’s Randall Park, a worthy foil to his better-known co-stars), supposedly a Skylark superfan. Soon, the CIA turns up with a request that the two assassinate him. Much of the film is devoted to the hit-and-miss (but strangely moving) riffing between the leading men. [Ben Kenigsberg]

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It’s A Disaster

It’s A Disaster

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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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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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The King’s Speech

The King’s Speech

Colin Firth
Colin Firth
Screenshot: The King’s Speech

Tom Hooper’s respectably solemn, crowd-pleasingly good-humored historical feature The King’s Speech quickly became a front-runner for the 2011 Best Picture Oscar, an award it would indeed go on to win. It’s easy to see why: Speech hits all the right marks. The historical setting (beginning in 1925 Britain) is rendered with handsome detail but reasonable restraint. Colin Firth gives a riveting central performance as a noble underdog with a crippling handicap and a wry, self-effacing sense of humor. The film’s central friendship, between Firth as Britain’s King George VI and Geoffrey Rush as his speech therapist, is troubled enough for drama, but redemptive enough to provide uplift. But The King’s Speech goes that critical step further. In spite of all the calculated awards-bait trappings and the starched tone, it’s a pleasure to watch. Firth brings such tension and frustration to his role, and Rush meets him so adeptly as his social and psychological foil, that the entire film crackles with the discomfort they bring to the screen, and the sweet relief as they begin to find their way together. [Tasha Robinson]

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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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Kramer Vs. Kramer

Kramer Vs. Kramer

Kramer Vs. Kramer
Kramer Vs. Kramer
Photo: Columbia Pictures (Getty Images)

The opening scenes of Kramer Vs. Kramer, the highest-grossing film of 1979, play out like a horror movie. Dustin Hoffman’s Ted Kramer is a cheerfully oblivious ad exec. The term “yuppie” wasn’t in use yet, but Ted is one. He’s on an upward trajectory at work, and he hangs out at the office long after the day is done, bullshitting with his boss. Even the music—a cheerful, sprightly Vivaldi piece—is familiar and welcoming. But one evening, as the movie opens, Ted comes home and learns that his life is over. In one gut-ripping scene, Ted’s wife Joanna tells him that she’s leaving him, and that she’s leaving their kid, too. Meryl Streep, playing Joanna, has a quiet and tender moment with her son Billy as she’s putting him to bed, but then she’s all business. Streep is emotional, but she’s brusque as well. It’s immediately clear that she’s not going to change her mind. (The scene may be the first recorded use of the phrase “It’s not you, it’s me.”) And she’s just as insistent that she’s not going to live as a mother anymore either: “I have no patience. He’s better off without me.” As a moment of family rupture, it’s nearly as traumatic as anything in The Exorcist. Before the movie is 10 minutes in, the Kramer clan is no more. [Tom Breihan]

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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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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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The Legend Of Bagger Vance

The Legend Of Bagger Vance

Will Smith and Matt Damon
Will Smith and Matt Damon
Screenshot: The Legend Of Bagger Vance

In The Legend Of Bagger Vance, a Robert Redford-directed adaptation of Steven Pressfield’s best-selling Bhagavad Gita-inspired novel, Matt Damon plays a one-time golf champ, the golden-boy hero of Savannah, Georgia, whose WWI experiences have left him a specter of his former self. Ten years after leaving the military, he spends his time drinking as often as possible while trying to forget the past. He is, in short, a man in need of redemption, or at least a redemptive sports-as-metaphor-for-life movie, and he finds the opportunity for both when financially strapped ex-lover Charlize Theron organizes a golf tournament with stakes considerably higher than the $10,000 purse. Though his initial attempts seem hopeless, Damon discovers untapped potential under the guidance of an easygoing passerby (Will Smith) who offers sage, symbolic advice about the game. In a lesser film, Smith’s suggestion that Damon “find his swing” would seem about as appealing as Patricia Wettig’s demand that Billy Crystal “find his smile” in City Slickers. But Redford has developed into a director of such understated skill that he makes some mighty suspect material work beyond expectations.. Bagger Vance sheds its slightness early on, using thin profundities as guideposts rather than destinations and revealing itself as a moving story of one man’s struggle against a game, his past, and his willingness to surrender to both. [Keith Phipps]

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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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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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The Longest Yard

The Longest Yard

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

The movie doesn’t waste a lot of time on setup: Director Robert Aldrich and screenwriters Albert S. Ruddy and Tracy Keenan Wynn introduce Burt Reynolds with a scene of him pushing a shrewish girlfriend around, followed by a car chase with the police, then a bar fight. Ten minutes into the story, Reynolds is in prison, and officious, American-flag-lapel-pin-sporting warden Eddie Albert is explaining the film’s premise. Albert runs a guard-staffed semi-pro football team, and wants Reynolds to coach and quarterback. Instead, Reynolds puts together a team of prisoners to give the guards a warm-up game, and through that team’s gradual assembly, the movie reveals Reynolds’ character, as well as his past as a former NFL MVP disgraced in a point-shaving scandal. Football aside, The Longest Yard draws mainly from Aldrich’s own The Dirty Dozen, plus existential prison pictures like Cool Hand Luke and I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang, where aloof anti-heroes gets punished beyond what their crimes demand. Reynolds takes on a game he can’t win (because the guards will make his stint miserable if he does), and can’t lose (because his fellow inmates will treat him even worse than the guards). The movie winds up being about small victories. Who can exploit whom, and who can inflict the most damage along the way? [Noel Murray]

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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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The Love Witch

The Love Witch

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

In a perfect world, Anna Biller would be swimming in the kind of grant money that Cindy Sherman was getting back in the ’90s. But this isn’t and she’s not, so we only get a Biller film every half decade or so. (It takes a long time to sew all the costumes and make all of the sets and write and direct and edit and produce a movie all on your own.) The level of control in Biller’s newest, The Love Witch, is remarkable; from the mannered performance of its lead actress to the rich interplay of colors in its mise en scène, The Love Witch is designed to evoke an extremely specific period in cinema history and to subtly undermine its ideology through that very faithfulness. Biller plays with the idea of the femme fatale by making her a fool for love and her victims straight fools; early on in the film, someone tells Elaine (Samantha Robinson), “You sound like you’ve been brainwashed by the patriarchy,” not yet realizing that that’s exactly what makes her so dangerous. Unapologetically feminine and wickedly subversive, The Love Witch is a treat for both the eye and the mind. [Katie Rife]

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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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Margin Call

Margin Call

Zachary Quinto and Penn Badgley
Zachary Quinto and Penn Badgley
Screenshot: Margin Call

Set during one long 24-hour period, Margin Call opens at a Lehman Brothers-like New York investment firm that’s resting its century-plus history on a rapidly crumbling foundation. After a veteran risk-management officer (Stanley Tucci) loses his job in the latest round of layoffs, he leaves his egghead protégé (Zachary Quinto) with a flash drive and urges him to look at the information on it. As Quinto analyzes the data, he discovers that the company is severely overleveraged, and if market trends curve even slightly in the wrong direction, the health of the firm—and the entire global economic system—could be in jeopardy. At its best, Margin Call feels like the Fail Safe of our time, a doomsday thriller where the fate of the world rests on a few people with their fingers on the button. [Scott Tobias]

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The Mask Of Zorro

The Mask Of Zorro

Antonio Banderas
Antonio Banderas
Screenshot: The Mask Of Zorro

Many filmmakers have attempted to emulate Steven Spielberg; it’s an occupational hazard of being the most commercially successful movie director of all time. But few of these imitations, even those shepherded by Spielberg himself as an executive producer, have approximated his pop sensibility as surely and satisfyingly as The Mask Of Zorro. Director Martin Campbell, an able journeyman who occasionally resembles a contemporary Michael Curtiz when he connects with the right material, competently mimics Spielberg’s flair for swift, Rube Goldberg-infused stunts that follow a minutely intricate physical chain reaction to an explosive punchline. When Zorro seizes several soldiers’ drawn guns with his whip, for instance, the firearms are diverted so that they point to the opposing side of the screen to inadvertently fire, killing another rampaging bad guy who was fixing to do the hero in from an altogether different vantage point. This tumbling-dominoes approach to set pieces particularly benefits the witty and exciting sword fights, which—like Spielberg’s action films—strike just the right balance between kinetic pathos and slapstick. [Chuck Bowen]

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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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Megamind

Megamind

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

Most decent kids’ entertainment blends material for older and younger viewers. But DreamWorks’ CGI movie, Megamind, pushes this dynamic weirdly far, squarely targeting viewers who’ll catch jokes based on the original Donkey Kong, or recognize Marlon Brando from Superman, or Pat Morita from Karate Kid. The tone draws heavily on wryly postmodern, self-aware send-ups like The Venture Bros., and it’s so packed with references familiar to longtime superhero aficionados that smaller viewers may not be sure what they’re seeing, apart from bickering and explosions. There’s nothing wrong with animation aimed at adults, but this may be the first kids’ movie that throws fewer bones to its supposed intended viewers than to their parents. [Tasha Robinson]

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73 / 116

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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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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75 / 116

Monster’s Ball

Monster’s Ball

Halle Berry
Halle Berry
Screenshot: Monster’s Ball

Spelled out in its broadest outlines, Monster’s Ball reads like a crude liberal fantasy worthy of the late Stanley Kramer (Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner): It’s a message movie about a white racist redeemed by the love of a poor black woman, who is, in kind, redeemed by his generosity. The action could have swayed toward unbearably turgid and patronizing, but director Marc Forster and his stellar cast transform Ball’s dubious premise into a surprisingly nuanced and resonant melodrama, bolstered by an unusually strong feeling for the crawling tenor of life in the Deep South. Though its vision of racial harmony appears too tidy and simple-minded at times, Monster’s Ball sticks closer to its characters than its message, smartly deferring any questions of authenticity to the actors. [Scott Tobias]

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Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom

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

When Kara Hayward steals away for a romantic camping adventure with her endearingly awkward 12-year-old suitor (Jared Gilman), she brings along an impractical array of supplies, including a portable record player and a cachet of illustrated books with titles like Shelly And The Secret Universe. Wes Anderson’s charming fantasy Moonrise Kingdom feels like an adaptation of one of those books, at least in the world it creates—cloistered, enchanted, and full of hand-drawn wonders, the sort of place that authors lay out in a detailed map before the first chapter. For seven features now, Anderson has created secret universes like the one in Moonrise Kingdom, and invited viewers to immerse themselves in the idealized realm of his own miniaturist obsessions. Yet as tempting as it can be to dismiss them as fussy little art objects or shallow exercises in pastiche, his films aren’t closed off entirely. Real emotions occasionally ripple their pristine surfaces. [Scott Tobias]

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Moulin Rouge

Moulin Rouge

Ewan MacGregor and Nicole Kidman
Ewan MacGregor and Nicole Kidman
Screenshot: Moulin Rouge

Moulin Rouge is Baz Luhrman’s crazily audacious—and occasionally just crazy—tribute to the eponymous fin de siècle Parisian cabaret, the power of popular song, and love with a capital “l” (and a capital “o,” “v,” and “e”). As much Bugs Bunny as Busby Berkeley, and more MTV than anything else, Moulin Rouge presents a world in which characters’ outsized emotions can only be contained by song lyrics, and only conveyed by swooping, rapid-fire, anything-goes camerawork. Nicole Kidman and Ewan MacGregor’s star-crossed every-lovers inflate their symbolic value until their story only works on a ritualistic level. But where the leads don’t seem real, their emotions do, and for all the high-camp posturing and stylistic excess, Luhrman has still crafted a transporting, tremendously openhearted, and deeply endearing film that uses the setting of one century and the songs of another to reinvent the musical for the next. In the process, he creates a film that in the best sense is, for all its borrowed parts, like nothing else. [Keith Phipps]

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78 / 116

Mud

Mud

Matthew McConaughey
Matthew McConaughey
Photo: Mud

“His name is mud” isn’t a likely expression for a film to make literal, but writer-director Jeff Nichols—whose previous film, Take Shelter, repeatedly featured the protagonist and his family taking shelter—doesn’t shy away from bluntness or directness. Yes, Matthew McConaughey is Mud, a laconic ne’er-do-well hiding from the authorities on a small island off the Southern coast after killing a man in anger. The movie, however, isn’t so much about him as it is about the pair of teenage boys, Tye Sheridan (from The Tree Of Life) and Jacob Lofland, who happen upon him there and get drawn into his efforts to reconnect with his childhood girlfriend (Reese Witherspoon) back on the mainland. Sheridan, in particular, deeply identifies with McConaughey’s ostensibly pure love—a sense of kinship that blinds the boy to the real danger his friendly outlaw chum represents. And as if that isn’t enough potential mayhem, Joe Don Baker, playing the dead man’s understandably pissed-off father, is gearing up for some serious vigilante justice. [Mike D’Angelo]

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79 / 116

Neil Young: Heart Of Gold

Neil Young: Heart Of Gold

Neil Young
Neil Young
Screenshot: Neil Young: Heart Of Gold

Concert films became more common as MTV (and later, DVDs) grew more popular. They used to be reserved only for the biggest stars; now it’s rare to find a band that hasn’t shot a concert. But that doesn’t make all concert films equal. Anyone can point a camera at Journey while the music plays. It takes talent to make a concert film a film. Enter Jonathan Demme, whose 1984 Talking Heads film Stop Making Sense took the form to a place that its predecessors (with the possible exceptions of The Last Waltz) had only suggested. Namely, he took it to the stage, putting viewers close enough to see the sweat drip off David Byrne’s brow, but maintaining just enough distance that it looked like art. The shots seemed composed but the action spontaneous, a balance that few directors ever find. Demme repeated the trick on a much smaller scale with the little-seen but priceless Robyn Hitchcock feature Storefront Hitchcock. With Neil Young: Heart Of Gold, he more or less splits the difference, capturing a Young performance before a small crowd at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. [Keith Phipps]

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Next Day Air

Next Day Air