The 100 Best Movies on Amazon Prime (March 2021) | #television | #elderly | #movies
Sound of Metal.
Photo: Courtesy of Amazon Studios
This post is updated twice a month to reflect the latest movies to leave and enter Amazon Prime. *New additions are indicated by an asterisk.
You really should be using your Amazon Prime subscription for more than just shipping discounts and Whole Foods sales. The people at Amazon have amassed a truly impressive library of films that can be accessed with your Prime account, and in many ways, it’s equal to and arguably even superior to Netflix’s library. But how do you know where to begin? As we have done with Netflix, allow us to present a regularly-updated guide to 100 movies to watch on Amazon Prime. A collection of classics, blockbusters, and under-the-radar flicks, you really should watch all 100. Get back to us after you do.
Will Reiser adapted his own story of battling cancer in a tender, genuine film that ended up being a sizable box office hit given its subject matter. People were attracted to the truth in Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance as a young man diagnosed with cancer, and how that diagnosis impacted his relationships, particularly one with a good friend, played by Seth Rogen.
Until someone starts Hitchcock+ (get on that, people), there won’t be a streaming service out there that has enough films by the master of suspense. The big three (Hulu, Amazon, Netflix) only have a handful a piece, and Amazon recently added this 1935 classic, named in 2017 by a group of critics as one of the best British films of all time. Robert Donat plays a classic Hitchcock everyman caught up in a web of intrigue and suspense. Don’t miss it.
One of the best performances of Kirk Douglas’s career came in a 1951 noir that has earned its reputation as a classic in the six decades since its release. The amazing Billy Wilder broke through with his direction of this story of a disgraced reporter who will do whatever it takes to get his job back. A lot of movies are credited with being ahead of their time, but Ace in the Hole one undeniably was.
There aren’t many documentaries as difficult to watch as Joshua Oppenheimer’s Oscar-nominated film about not just the Indonesian genocides of the ’60s but the way its perpetrators haven’t been brought to justice. Oppenheimer films the murderers reenacting their crimes as if they’re in some of their favorite Hollywood movies, and the result is both enlightening and terrifying.
Tom Harper directed this film that just landed in theaters at the end of 2019 and was quickly shuffled off to Amazon. It’s a shame because this is a film that deserved more attention. It’s got cross-demographic appeal for kids and adults in its story of the first people to really break through the clouds in a hot air balloon. The Theory of Everything stars Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones reunite and deliver in a well-made action film that uses a lot more practical effects and stunts than most modern flicks like this and the result is some tension for anyone with even a moderate fear of heights.
There aren’t enough undeniable classics on Amazon, so you should take the chance to watch the few that there are, even if just to fill in your personal viewing history with some movies made before 1980. Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn are simply perfect together in this adventure rom-com that should be listed in any film dictionary next to the words star chemistry. Trivia: This is the only movie Bogart won an Oscar for.
Werner Herzog was one of the most fearless filmmakers in the world in the prime of his career, and this 1972 period adventure film captures the director at his craziest. Partnered with someone even more off-center than him in Klaus Kinski, the two recount the story of Lope de Aguirre, who lost his mind trying to find El Dorado, the city of gold. And everyone nearly lost their mind making it.
Modestly received when it was released in 2001, history has come to recognize that Steven Spielberg’s completion of a project once started by Stanley Kubrick is a brilliant film. Haley Joel Osment stars as David, an android child who learns about the meaning of life and human nature. It’s a gorgeous, ambitious piece of work that you should revisit if you haven’t seen it since it came out.
Believe it or not, this is the last movie to win both the Oscar for Best Actor (Jack Nicholson) and Best Actress (Helen Hunt). James L. Brooks’ romantic comedy is a perfect example of a movie that caught its cast at just the right moment, getting one of the last Nicholson performances that could be called charming and supporting it with great work from Hunt and Greg Kinnear. Some of it is a bit dated, but it catches just enough lightning in a bottle in terms of casting to justify another look.
Jia Zhangke is one of the world’s best filmmakers. If you can track down copies of the Chinese director’s Still Life, A Touch of Sin, and Mountains May Depart, you really should do so. Until then, check out his latest work, an epic gangster flick with a mesmerizing performance from Jia’s wife, Zhao Tao. Like a lot of great crime movies, it becomes a commentary on the state of the country in which it’s set as much as anything else.
There are still a few Marvel movies roaming the digital prairie, waiting to be shepherded over to Disney+ exclusively. The best remaining on Amazon Prime is the original adventure for Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye, The Hulk, and Thor. Along with Favreau’s original Iron Man, The Avengers really defined the MCU style, one that would change the blockbuster for an entire generation.
Robert Zemeckis directed all three installments of one of the most beloved trilogies of all time. The story of a teen who goes to the past turned Michael J. Fox into a household name and still serves as the template for how to do this kind of family/sci-fi adventure. The two sequels may not be as good, but they’re better than you remember.
Most Amazon Prime subscribers haven’t heard of this heist thriller from 2017 but it’s the best movie on the streaming service that they haven’t seen. It’s based on true story and it combines The Social Network and a heist movie as it details the schemes of a group of students who devise a plan to cheat on their school exams. While that might sound dull, this Thai film is thrilling from beginning to end. A remake is in the works. Watch the original.
It’s not common for a breakthrough comedy to be so acclaimed and popular that it actually becomes an Oscar nominee for Best Screenplay, but The Big Sick is not a typical comedy (and Holly Hunter was robbed of a nomination too, by the way). Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon loosely adapt their story, with Nanjiani starring alongside Zoe Kazan. It’s really as crowdpleasing as comedies get. You kind of have to be an asshole not to like it.
Rian Johnson’s directorial debut was an instant cult hit, and a sign that a major new filmmaker was on the scene. Released in 2005, it’s a teen noir that stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a story that plays like Dashiell Hammett has been transported to a California suburb in the ‘00s. It won a Special Jury Prize at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival and launched an amazing career.
One of Martin Scorsese’s most underrated films when it was released, the 1999 drama has built a new appreciation in the two decades since. Nicolas Cage does incredible work as an EMS worker on the graveyard shift in New York City — not an easy job. Existential and terrifying, this is a movie that people seem to still be discovering.
One of the best films of James L. Brooks’s career is this 1987 romantic dramedy that was so acclaimed that it was nominated for Best Picture and included a couple years ago in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. Holly Hunter, William Hurt, and Albert Brooks are fantastic in this smart movie about the people who bring viewers the news. Some of it is a little dated now, but the acting and writing will always be brilliant.
Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal star in one of the best films of the ‘00s. Adapted from the short story by Annie Proulx, Ang Lee’s film is tender and heartbreaking, the story of unaccepted love between two men in the American West. It features some of the career-best work from Ledger, Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, and Michelle Williams.
Robert Altman’s 1974 gambling dramedy was one of his lost classics, unavailable for the years in which young cineastes were discovering the master filmmaker. After years of music rights issues, it was just dropped on Amazon Prime in its entirety, and it’s fantastic, the story of a veteran gambler (Elliot Gould) who makes a new friend (Peter Segal) and how the two of them circle the drain of life together.
The fifth film in the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was the first standalone vehicle for one of the company’s most beloved characters, Captain America. There’s an old-fashioned adventure movie tone to Joe Johnston’s film that fits the material perfectly, and Evans put his style on Cap and never looked back with this blockbuster.
Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson clash with dramatic results in this effective drama about a Wall Street lawyer who gets into a car accident and tries to cover it up. Roger Michell directed this 2002 flick and really drew excellent performances out of his two leading men, perfectly cast in a film that seems due for a reappraisal.
When Stanley Donen died in February of 2019, most of the obituaries pointed to Singin’ in the Rain and On the Town as the movies for which he would be most remembered, but this thriller has and will stand the test of time too. Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn are at their most charismatic, delivering Peter Stone’s witty repartee and elevating a fantastic mystery into a classic.
Who doesn’t love Chucky? The homicidal doll burst his way back into pop culture with a reboot last year, but the original franchise is still going strong too, believe it or not. Go back to where it all began with this classic horror-comedy, a movie that scared a generation into throwing away their toys.
Stephen King has arguably never been more popular than in the era of blockbuster adaptations It, Doctor Sleep, and the Pet Sematary remake, but this is nothing new. Hollywood has been adapting the work of the master of horror for decades. Take, for example, this 1984 adaptation of a short story that King wrote over four decades ago. It may not be a great movie, but it’s becoming a cultural touchstone — every time there’s a creepy kid in a flick, audiences think of the little monsters that give this movie its name.
One of the cool things about Amazon’s increased theatrical output is that they’re putting their films on Amazon Prime very quickly after playing at the multiplex or arthouse. Take this 2018 Oscar nominee from Pawel Pawlikowski (Ida), a Polish drama about star-crossed lovers over decades after the end of World War II. It’s a luscious, emotional drama that demands your attention and rewards it.
It’s hard to believe there was a time when a historical drama like this could be such a phenomenon, but it shows you how much our times have changed in the three decades since its release. This movie made over $400 million worldwide (!!!) on its way to seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Director. Known more now as the movie that stole deserving Oscars from GoodFellas, this is a better movie than its reputation.
Richard Linklater’s masterful comedy about teenage life is almost thirty years old! The story of the final day of high school in 1976 has lost none of its heart or humor, thanks in large part to an incredible ensemble that includes future stars Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich, Parker Posey, Joey Lauren Adams, and Matthew McConaughey. It’s hysterical and kind of perfect.
“O Captain, My Captain.” A generation who was just the right age when Peter Weir’s coming of age drama came out will forever remember the power of those words. Set in a Vermont boarding school in 1959, this is the story of an English teacher who inspires his students to seize the day, and it features one of the career-best performances from Robin Williams.
This 1974 Charles Bronson hit changed the action movie landscape forever. Almost every vigilante movie is compared to Michael Winner’s adaptation of the Brian Garfield of the same name. After Bronson’s wife is murdered and his daughter is sexually assaulted, he goes on a rampage to get his own kind of justice. It launched a franchise and a remake with Bruce Willis, but the original is still one of the most fascinating action movies of its era for what it tapped into about fear in the American suburbs.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet directed this pitch-black comedy with his partner Marc Caro way back in 1991, before he would make a bigger splash with Amelie. In an apartment building in France in the future, food is hard to come by, leading to the butcher on the first floor going to cannibalistic extremes to feed his tenants. Visually striking in a way that instantly announced Jeunet & Caro as artists that needed to be watched, it’s a tasty treat.
There’s an apocryphal story that goes that Alfred Hitchcock made Psycho because he wanted to make a movie as scary as Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Diabolique. You’ve probably seen the story of Norman Bates. Shouldn’t you see the brilliant French thriller that inspired it into existence?
Alexander Payne’s best film is still his 1999 comedy that uses a student body election to comment on not just politics on a grander scale but human nature. Reese Witherspoon stars as the unforgettable Tracy Flick, the overachiever who basically drives her teacher, played by Matthew Broderick, totally insane. Scathing and hysterical, Election is a movie that could come out unchanged two decades after its release.
Steven Spielberg’s 1982 sci-fi classic has held up masterfully, now speaking to a new generation just as much as it did to their parents and grandparents. Henry Thomas plays Elliott, a boy who becomes friends with an alien whom he dubs E.T., who just wants to go home. It’s a beautiful, heartwarming masterpiece.
Lulu Wang wrote and directed this beautiful award-winner “based on a true lie.” Awkwafina won a Golden Globe for the role of a New York woman who is forced to go along with her family when they decide not to tell her beloved Nai Nai that she has cancer. It’s a nuanced, tender piece of filmmaking that really announces Wang as a major new talent, and a film that will be passed down from generation to generation for years to come.
The wonderful Julia Hart co-wrote and directed this very unusual superhero origin story that plays like the more character-driven answer to the blockbuster worlds of things like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The great Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays Ruth, a young woman who seems to have lost control over her life and the very unique nature of her being. As she’s being hunted by men in black, she finds her way home and back into the sphere of her mother and daughter. What unfolds is a story of empowerment, a truly female-driven narrative about generations of strength and an origin story for an unforgettable hero.
Bruce Lee really landed on the international map with two Hong Kong films directed by Lo Wei, 1971’s The Big Boss and then this film the next year, a movie about a student who seeks to avenge the murder of his master. After some disappointment in the Hollywood system, Lee went back to Hong Kong and redefined martial arts cinema forever. This is an essential piece of work in the genre.
The late Bill Paxton directed and co-stars in an stunning psychological thriller that didn’t get a lot of attention in 2001 but has developed a following over the years. Matthew McConaughey stars as a young man who tells the FBI that his brother is the man behind a string of serial killings, inspired by their upbringing at the hands of a man (Paxton) who told them he had been visited by God and told to destroy demons in human form on Earth.
In 1990, Paramount released one of the most influential and beloved romantic dramas of its era. Ghost was such a hit that it was nominated for Best Picture and made over $500 million (in 1990 money). Everyone could relate to the story of loss wrapped up in a mystery and a romance at the same time. Patrick Swayze plays the dead lover of Demi Moore, who turns to Whoopi Goldberg for help after she starts being haunted.
Sure, Ridley Scott’s Best Picture winner is probably playing on cable somewhere right this minute, but now Amazon subscribers can watch one of their favorite movies whenever they want. It’s an old-fashioned action drama, anchored by one of Russell Crowe’s best performances and Scott’s unimpeachable craftsmanship.
Sebastián Lelio co-writes and directs this adaptation of his own 2013 film Gloria that’s essentially the same film beat for beat with one major difference: Julianne Moore. The Oscar-winning legend plays the title role, a divorced woman with two adult children. There’s no high concept or strange hook here — just a beautiful character study with one of the best performances of 2019.
Is this Sergio Leone’s best movie? It might be. It’s arguably his most influential, changing the landscape of the Western in ways that are still being felt a half-century later. Clint Eastwood plays “The Good,” Lee Van Cleef plays “The Bad,” and Eli Wallach plays “The Ugly.” It’s even better than you remember.
John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John changed the course of the movie musical with a story about the kids at Rydell High. Based on the 1971 stage musical of the same name, Grease was a massive hit, and still draws audiences to theaters and on cable over four decades after its release. Why do people keep falling so in love with Danny and Sandy? Watch it again and report back to us.
None of the streaming services have a truly deep selection of international cinema but Amazon Prime is better than most. Take for example Park Chan-wook’s masterful period drama about betrayal, sex, and more betrayal. It’s one of the most technically gorgeous films you could possibly watch tonight. Make sure the kids are in bed first though.
Long before Paul Thomas Anderson was a legendary writer-director came this excellent 1996 drama-noir also known as Sydney. Philip Baker Hall plays a gambler who meets a young man played John C. Reilly and takes him under his wing. A few years later, they meet a woman named Clementine, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, and, well, things get complicated. PTA’s craftsmanship was top-notch right from the very beginning.
Christian Slater kinda does a Jack Nicholson impression and Winona Ryder is at the peak of her ’80s emo charm in this clever satire of high-school life. Ryder plays the high-school outcast and Slater plays the guy who teaches her that revenge is a dish best served with an attitude.
Claire Denis is one of the most unpredictable and enigmatic filmmakers alive, just as comfortable making a vampire movie as she is an intimate character drama. This is one of her crazier movies, a divisive sci-fi/experimental pic starring Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche as two passengers on what is essentially a floating prison ship. Hard to describe and even harder to fully understand, it’s something you truly need to see for yourself, and the speed with which it went from theaters to streaming services should make it easier for you to see one of 2019’s most essential films.
When people think of the most influential Hollywood comedies of all time, this 1940 Howard Hawks hit often makes the list. Watch it to see why. You’ll witness Cary Grant at his most charismatic as Walter Burns, an editor who is watching his best reporter and ex-wife walk out the door. He suggests they cover one last story, and Hollywood magic ensues. American movies don’t get much more classic than this.
Shia LaBeouf wrote and co-stars in a film that’s deeply autobiographical regarding his abusive father and the troubles the actor went through in his younger years. A screenplay that he started writing in rehab is one of the most daring in a long time, purely confessional and moving in ways that dramas are rarely allowed to be. Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges co-star, and both do excellent work.
The brilliant Julia Hart co-wrote and directed this very different thriller, a crime movie told only from the POV of one character, the wife of a criminal. Rachel Brosnahan of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel gives her best film performance to date as Jean, a woman who is forced to go on the run with her young child after her criminal husband goes missing. It’s a finely calibrated piece of work that reshapes an overdone genre in a way that makes it feel fresh again.
Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War earned him raves, but his previous drama is arguably even stronger, and it too is now on Amazon Prime. Set in Poland in 1962, this mesmerizing film tells the story of a young woman on the verge of taking her vows to become a nun. Before she can do that, she wans to fill in some holes in her personal history, including exactly what happened when she was orphaned during World War II.
Nicholas Ray gave Humphrey Bogart one of the richest roles in his career in this 1950 noir based on the Dorothy B. Hughes novel of the same name. When it was released, this story of a screenwriter suspected of murder didn’t connect the same way that Bogart generally did at the time, but history has been very kind to it, and it’s now widely considered one of the best film noirs of all time.
There’s a reason that this story of pod people has been remade pretty much for every generation. It taps into something timeless about the fear of distrusting our fellow man (and seems pretty ready for a 2020 update). The ‘70s version by Philip Kaufman is arguably the best, anchored by one of Donald Sutherland’s best performances and that creepy sense that the sense of community fostered by the late ‘60s was being dismantled from within.
Frank Capra’s classic often gets a ton of replay around the holidays, but it’s the kind of heartwarmer that works all year long. This is no mere Christmas movie but a story about the impact that one man can have on an entire community. It really defined the on-screen persona of Jimmy Stewart and has become a beloved film around the world, even in warm weather.
It’s hard to overstate what a juggernaut the Ju-On franchise has become over the last two decades. There are over a dozen films in this franchise and three American versions, including one earlier this year. There’s also a Netflix prequel series (that’s pretty good!). But this is still the tentpole of them all, the 2002 flick that really defined the style of these vicious ghost movies. It still works as well today as when it came out.
Orson Welles may get more attention for unqualified masterpieces like Citizen Kane, but this has always been a fan favorite for people who love him, a stunning example of his incredible visual sense. This is a gorgeous noir starring Rita Hayworth and Everett Sloane based on the novel If I Die Before I Wake that was only modestly received in 1947 but has been recognized as a masterpiece over the decades since it was released.
Amazon Prime has arguably the best mix of legitimate classics and recent hits like this 2019 Sundance darling from director Joe Talbot. It’s the story of a young man who hopes to reclaim his childhood home in a now-overpriced section of San Francisco. Lyrical and poignant, it also features a stunning supporting performance from Jonathan Majors, who is about to blow up in HBO’s Lovecraft Country.
Do you think the people at Amazon have a sense of humor? Or is just a coincidence that they dropped a film about two people going crazy in a confined space together during the pandemic? Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe are fearless in Robert Eggers’ black-and-white nightmare about two people who learn that nothing is scarier than being trapped with someone unbearable.
James Gray may be the most underrated American filmmaker, what with The Immigrant, Two Lovers, and this period piece about obsession starring Charlie Hunnam and Robert Pattinson. This is not your typical explorer movie as Gray seeks to present something more challenging about why men seek the unexplored and commit themselves long past the point of sanity to seemingly impossible tasks.
One of the best films of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology, this piece is set in 1980s West London at a killer house party. Micheal Ward and Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn star as two lovers who meet at the party in this gloriously joyful ode to youth and passion. A lot of Small Axe is really intense stuff, but this one will make you smile.
Casey Affleck won an Oscar for his heartbreaking performance in Kenneth Lonergan’s drama about a broken man finally put back together when he’s forced to take care of his nephew. Lonergan’s film is an unforgettable character study, full of complex emotions and beats. And it has two scenes that are almost guaranteed to make you cry.
Letitia Wright (Black Panther) stars in one of the best films in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology, a collection of works about life in West London in the ‘70s and ‘80s. This one is the true story of the Mangrove Nine, a group of people arrested after a protest march ended in violence in August 1970. It was one of the first major cases about systemic racism in the country.
Kelly Reichardt directed this detailed, mesmerizing drama starring Michelle Williams in the true story of a doomed section of the Oregon Trail. Reportedly, in 1845, Stephen Meek decided to lead his portion through the Oregon desert, with disastrous results. It’s a slow, deliberate film that builds in power in unexpected ways and reminds us that Reichardt is one of the best working filmmakers.
There’s still a weird belief that Woody Harrelson is better at comedy than drama, even using the former to shade roles like that in Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri. However, Woody kills it when he goes deeply dramatic too as in this Oren Moverman drama about the men who tell loved ones that soldiers have died in combat. Ben Foster is incredible here too.
Amazon’s horror selection is a little lacking if you don’t have the Shudder add-on, but they do have exclusive streaming rights to Ari Aster and A24’s excellent Midsommar, the story of a vacation gone horribly awry. Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor play a couple who go to Sweden for a festival. A comedy of cultures gives way to something much darker when the true purpose of the festival is revealed in a series of final scenes that you’ll never forget.
Satoshi Kon is one of the most important filmmakers who ever lived, and this is arguably his masterpiece. Released in 2001 and co-written by Kon too, it’s a drama that’s loosely based on the lives of Setsuko Hara and Hideko Takamine and features two filmmakers trying to pin down the life of a legendary actress. Kon uses animation to explore the image of the actress in cinema.
All you need is love in Baz Luhrmann’s addictive and delightful jukebox musical, which turns twenty this year. It’s the story of Christian (Ewan McGregor), a young poet/writer who falls in love with a mesmerizing cabaret dancer played by Nicole Kidman. Using beloved pop music, Luhrmann crafts an unapologetically romantic piece, a delight for the senses that also touches the heart.
When it was released in 1988, Mystic Pizza barely had an audience, although people who did see it could tell that co-star Julia Roberts would be something special (this was the year before Pretty Woman) and it also marked the debut of Matt Damon. In the three decades since, the cult status of Mystic Pizza has only grown.
No one makes movies quite like Nicolas Winding Refn. The director of Drive delivered one of his most unforgettable flicks in this horror film about the fashion industry, featuring a fearless performance by Elle Fanning. And Keanu Reeves is in it too!
Sidney Lumet is one of the top American filmmakers in history, starting his career with 12 Angry Men and moving through modern classics like Dog Day Afternoon, The Verdict, and Prince of the City. This 1996 crime drama is one of his most underrated, starring Andy Garcia as a New York District Attorney who is trying to confront corruption in the NYPD.
Paul Newman gave one of his best career performances in this 1994 Robert Benton drama based on a beloved book by Richard Russo. Newman plays “Sully” Sullivan, a normal guy in a normal New York time, but the Oscar winner finds a way to make a very normal life seem extraordinary. It’s one of the most remarkable pieces of character work that you could watch on any streaming service.
Sergio Leone’s most ambitious and epic work was his 1968 masterpiece. Henry Fonda, Jason Robards, Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale, and an ensemble of familiar Western faces got together for this genre masterpiece, a movie that also contains one of Ennio Morricone’s best scores. It’s also a movie that Leone almost didn’t make, announcing his retirement from the genre after The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. We’re lucky Paramount talked him into it.
Regina King really can do everything. The Oscar and Emmy winner directs this adaptation of the 2013 play about four legendary Black icons coming to a hotel room in Miami in 1964. Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) knew a lot about fame and expectation in 1964, and King’s acclaimed film about them is smart, funny, and moving.
Jim Jarmusch’s best film is also on Prime. The indie auteur finds one of his best mouthpieces in Adam Driver’s Paterson, a bus driver who moonlights as a poet. Gentle, beautiful, and unforgettable, it’s a movie that honestly captures how easy it is to find poetry in everyday life without ever being as cheesy as that description sounds like it could be.
Amazon Prime added dozens of acknowledged classics in July 2020 and this is one of the standouts, George Stevens’s adaptation of the Theodore Dreiser novel An American Tragedy. It’s a great example of a masterful filmmaker catching stars at just the right time in their careers. Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, and Shelley Winters are phenomenal in a film that won six Oscars, including Best Director and Best Screenplay.
Jane Campion directed this acclaimed adaptation of the Henry James 1881 novel of the same name. Nicole Kidman stars as Isabel Archer, a young woman manipulated by the other women in her life, including Madame Serena Merle (Barbara Hershey) and Henrietta Stackpole (Mary-Louise Parker). It can be a little stuffy and pretentious, but it’s a great performance piece, especially for Kidman and Hershey, who landed a Supporting Actress Oscar nomination.
One of Christopher Nolan’s most acclaimed films, the 2006 mystery stars Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman as rival stage magicians in late 19th century London. Obsessed with besting each other at the ultimate stage illusion, they go to extremes previously unimagined by man. It’s a gorgeous period piece with a wonderful twist ending.
There aren’t a lot of great Westerns on Amazon, but this modern one is worth your time. John Hillcoat directs a gritty, vicious script by Nick Cave (of the Bad Seeds fame) and draws excellent performances from a cast that includes Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, Emily Watson, John Hurt, and a movie-stealing Danny Huston. With riveting cinematography by Benoit Delhomme, this is a Western that looks phenomenal, unfolding like a visualization of one of Cave’s albums.
Barry Levinson directs Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman in the story of a man who learns he has a brother who is an autistic savant after the death of his father. Both gentlemen are fantastic in a movie that’s arguably a little manipulative but should be watched or rewatched purely for the strength of its performances. The movie won four Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor for Hoffman.
Amazon Prime’s selection of classic films is more robust than Netflix or Hulu, and it includes this 1948 legit masterpiece from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. The wildly influential directors tell the story of Victoria Page (Moira Shearer) and her time in the Ballet Lermontov with stunning visual flair and unforgettable filmmaking.
One of the best films of 2019 is right there on Amazon for you to watch. Picked up at Sundance for a small fortune, Amazon quietly released it in major cities, but have done little to promote this sturdy, smart thriller about the torture report that revealed the extent our government went to cover up its behavior after 9/11. Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Tim Blake Nelson, Jon Hamm, Corey Stoll, and many more star in a film reminiscent in tone and accomplishment to Spotlight.
Maybe you’ve heard of it? The only Quentin Tarantino film on Amazon Prime right now is his first effort, a movie that announced a major new talent as much as any debut of the ‘90s. Remarkably, unlike a lot of ‘80s and ‘90s debuts, this one works just as well today.
People like to point at ‘80s movies and say they were ahead of their time, but this may be most true about Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 masterpiece, a film that foretold how technology would impact law enforcement in ways that took decades to come true. A brilliant action satire, this is the story of a Detroit cop who is murdered and revived as the title character, a superhuman cyborg enforcer. It’s just as riveting and relevant over three decades later.
Forget that Queen nonsense, this is the best rock biopic in recent memory. Taron Egerton plays Elton John, whose life story unfolds in vibrant musical numbers actually sung by the leading man in this case. Energetic and emotional, Rocketman works by embracing the creative passion of its subject and trying to express it cinematically.
One of Wes Anderson’s best films remains this 2001 comedy about three gifted siblings who learn that adult life may not be all that they were promised when they were young. Gene Hackman is great as Royal Tenenbaum, the irascible patriarch of the clan, but this is really Anderson’s show, boasting one of his smartest screenplays.
Writer/director Wes Anderson’s best film is arguably still his second work, a brilliant coming-of-age comedy about a teenager named Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) and the love triangle that forms (at least in his mind) between him, a teacher named Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams), and a wealthy man named Herman Blume (Bill Murray). Charming, eccentric, and hysterical, Rushmore is a modern classic.
M. Night Shyamalan followed the success of The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable with one of the biggest hits of his career, the story of an average family man (Mel Gibson) who ends up the center of an alien invasion. Smart and thrilling, it’s easily one of the better films of Shyamalan’s career, and one of the stronger genre pics of its era.
The great Lawrence Kasdan co-wrote and directed one of the best Westerns of its era, a film with a rock-star ensemble of young ‘80s actors. Silverado stars Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Danny Glover, and Kevin Costner in the lead roles and they’re ably assisted by an incredible supporting cast that features Brian Dennehy, John Cleese, Jeff Goldblum, Rosanna Arquette, and Linda Hunt. This is a smart, funny Western that has stood the test of time.
Darius Marder co-wrote and directed this phenomenal character study about a heavy metal drummer (Riz Ahmed) who loses his hearing. Dealing with the loss of one of his senses takes him to a community of deaf people, where he learns how to communicate and finds himself again. Touching and brilliantly directed, it also features one of the best performances of 2020 from Ahmed (and one that nearly matches him from Paul Raci).
This might be the best concert movie ever made. Jonathan Demme doesn’t just film a Talking Heads performance, he makes a film that truly conveys how special they were as musicians and onstage. Opening up more with each song, this film becomes a joyous expression of creativity.
Billy Wilder’s 1950 dissection of Hollywood excess has become so iconic that most people probably feel like they’ve seen it even if they never actually have. William Holden plays the doomed Joe Gillis, but the film belongs to Gloria Swanson, who turned the faded star of Norma Desmond into an instant classic.
J.J. Abrams wrote and directed a loving homage to the Steven Spielberg films of the ‘80s that he loved as a child. Long before Stranger Things, there was another group of kids in smalltown America who stumbled onto something out of this world when a train derailed in their town. An early wonderful performance from Elle Fanning helps anchor this one.
Documentarian Garrett Bradley followed the story of Sibil Fox Richardson for years as the woman sought to get her husband Rob released from prison, where he was serving a six-decade sentence for bank robbery. Bradley’s approach is both deeply empathetic and visually striking — the film unfolds in gorgeous black and white. You won’t soon forget one of the best documentaries of 2020.
Another under-the-radar film you may not have seen, this 2008 Brad Anderson thriller owes a great deal to Hitchcock in the way it captures average people caught up in a very not-average situation. Woody Harrelson, Kate Mara, and Emily Mortimer star in a movie for which it’s truly best if you know as little as possible going in. International train travel and mystery — what more do you want to know?
Peter Weir directed Jim Carrey to one of the strongest performances of his career in this 1998 dramedy that now seems far ahead of its time in the way it foretold people living lives online. Carrey plays Truman Burbank, a man who has grown up on a TV show but has no idea that his entire life has been watched by millions. Ed Harris and Laura Linney are also just phenomenal in this modern classic.
A24 had no idea what to do with David Robert Mitchell’s followup to It Follows, holding it for almost a year after its Cannes premiere and then barely releasing it at all. The lack of exposure may explain how it’s snuck its way on to Amazon Prime already, but this film is already developing a loyal following. It’s one of those movies that everyone will tell you they always loved in about a decade.
One of the best small-movie success stories of the last few years, this gem premiered at Slamdance, Sundance’s little cousin up the mountain in Park City, in 2019. After a small drive-in run, it’s already on Prime, where you can appreciate this lo-fi take on aliens in the heartland of America. Smart, funny, and daring, this is one of the best movies of 2020.
Sofia Coppola made her directorial debut with this adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides’s beloved novel about a group of sisters who captivated the entire neighborhood in which they lived. Kirsten Dunst anchors a dreamy, enchanting movie about the myth of perfection that exists in the world of picket fences in Middle America. It’s got a great Air soundtrack too.
Gavin O’Connor co-wrote and directed this moving tale of two estranged brothers who end up combatants in a mixed martial arts ring. Brutal and genuine, it features some of the best performances in the careers of Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, and Nick Nolte, who was nominated for an Oscar. It’s the kind of deconstruction of macho male archetypes that dares you not to cry during its ending, and it’s one of the best films of 2011.
Joaquin Phoenix stars in Lynne Ramsay’s technically masterful deconstruction of the life of a hitman. Ramsay’s amazing skill with editing and sound design is balanced by Phoenix’s instinctual, almost primal performance. When he’s asked to save the daughter of a prominent politician from sex trafficking, his life comes apart. Well, what little life he had left. This is riveting filmmaking and Phoenix’s work is one of the best performances of 2018.
One of the best films of the 2000s stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., and Mark Ruffalo as three men who become individually obsessed with the unsolved mystery of the Zodiac Killer. David Fincher directed this masterpiece that’s as detailed as any film of this type and nuanced in the way it dissects that which we can never really know about true evil.