The best movies on Amazon Prime

The best movies on Amazon Prime

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)
Graphic: The A.V. Club

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 Aug. 2, 2020.

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3:10 To Yuma

3:10 To Yuma

Russell Crowe
Russell Crowe
Screenshot: 3:10 To Yuma

The original 1957 version of 3:10 To Yuma—one of the first film adaptations of an Elmore Leonard story, alongside 1957's The Tall T—is a typical psychological Western, a lean, rangy black-and-white film as much about what its protagonists are thinking as what they’re actually doing. It opens straight into the central action, with a stagecoach robbery gone wrong, and only comes back to establish its characters’ backstory with a few spare sentences. By contrast, the 50-year-anniversary remake directed by Walk The Line’s James Mangold jumps into a different action scene that establishes the desperate situation of Arizona rancher Christian Bale, in debt and about to lose his land. Screenwriting team Michael Brandt and Derek Haas (2 Fast 2 Furious) spend more time digging into their characters than Leonard did, as if determined to make sure viewers know and care about all of them before they start facing hails of bullets. Mangold delivers a taut modern take on a lesser classic, preserving the High Noon themes about doing the right thing against all odds, and injecting a more modern pacing and urgency without going overboard. His film isn’t Leonard’s classic, but it’s a solid, genre-respecting Western in its own right. [Tasha Robinson]

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3 / 48

Ali

Ali

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Screenshot: Ali

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

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4 / 48

Approaching The Elephant

Approaching The Elephant

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Photo: Approaching The Elephant

Every democracy has its growing pains, but wish special luck to one that puts voting rights in the hands of those barely old enough to tie their own shoes. Exhibiting an observational objectivity that might make Frederick Wiseman proud, first-time filmmaker Amanda Rose Wilder documents the first (and, as it turned out, second to last) academic year of the Teddy McArdle Free School, where classes were voluntary and the rules were decided upon by teachers and preteen pupils alike. There’s both drama and a good deal of savage comedy in the faculty’s weary attempts to stay true to their educational experiment, especially once the rowdy grade-schoolers they’ve empowered begin abusing their liberties. Beyond the car-crash fascination of it all, Approaching The Elephant has a lot to say about squaring big theories against harsh realities; plenty of ideals get tested, even if the students never do. [A.A. Dowd]

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5 / 48

Big Fish

Big Fish

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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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The Big Sick

The Big Sick

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Photo: Amazon/Lionsgate

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

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7 / 48

Bone Tomahawk

Bone Tomahawk

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Photo: Bone Tomahawk

For much of its lengthy 132-minute runtime, S. Craig Zahler’s directorial debut plays like a talkative riff on John Ford’s The Searchers, ambling alongside a group of Old West archetypes—the noble sheriff (Kurt Russell, sporting his bushy The Hateful Eight mustache), his old and frail backup deputy (Richard Jenkins), a well-to-do local (Matthew Fox), and a grieving businessman (Patrick Wilson)—as they set out to rescue Wilson’s wife, who’s been kidnapped by a horde of savage “Troglodytes.” Content to merely spend time with its characters as they chat, bicker and strategize, the film comes off as a lackadaisical throwback oater until it reaches its climax, at which point Bone Tomahawk veers suddenly, shockingly into outright horror, replete with what may be the most chilling, unforgettable death scene of the year. It’s an unexpectedly potent shift that rattles the nerves, and in the process, casts the preceding action as merely a prelude to what turns out to be a brutal portrait of the frontier clash between the civilized and the primitive. [Nick Schager]

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8 / 48

Brawl In Cell Block 99 

Brawl In Cell Block 99 

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Photo: RLJE Films

It’s been a long time since an exciting new voice has emerged from the disreputable world of exploitation films (or artsploitation, as the more thoughtful variety is sometimes dubbed). S. Craig Zahler’s fine debut, Bone Tomahawk, married stomach-churning gore to colorfully archaic dialogue and a patient, leisurely pace. The same counterintuitive combination fuels Brawl In Cell Block 99, which sees a bulked-up, taciturn Vince Vaughn (in his best performance since Swingers) navigate the most horrifying prison in cinema history. That Vaughn’s character, Bradley, takes about 90 minutes of screen time just to arrive at cell block 99, where he’s agreed to murder another prisoner in order to save his wife (Jennifer Carpenter) and unborn child, is typical of Zahler’s painstakingly brutal approach. He’s as interested in the methodical nature of the journey as he is in the gruesome destination. Let the impatient and the squeamish beware. [Mike D’Angelo]

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Buried

Buried

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Photo: Buried

One man, one coffin, 90 minutes. That’s the premise of the purposefully constrained suspense film Buried, an exercise in cinematic minimalism that doubles as a metaphor for how grunts get manipulated and sacrificed in times of war. Buried opens with contract truck driver Ryan Reynolds lying in a sand-covered coffin in an Iraq desert. In the box with him: a lighter, a cell phone, and a few other items waiting to be discovered. Over the next hour-plus, the audience watches Reynolds make and field calls, in hopes of getting found—or of appeasing the men who kidnapped and buried him in the first place. He tries to reach his bosses, his family, the authorities… anyone to whom he can explain his situation quickly and clearly. But outside of a couple of pictures and videos that appear on the phone, Reynolds’ face is the only one onscreen, and his coffin is pretty much the only set. [Noel Murray]

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Cold War

Cold War

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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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Christmas, Again

Christmas, Again

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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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Computer Chess

Computer Chess

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Photo: Computer Chess

Andrew Bujalski’s first three films—Funny Ha Ha (2002), Mutual Appreciation (2005), and Beeswax (2009)—established him as the freshest (and most mature) voice to come out the so-called “mumblecore” scene. They were keenly observed social comedies, distinguished by naturalistic dialogue, deliberately anti-climactic scene structures, and grainy, handheld 16mm camerawork. Nothing about them, however, could prepare viewers for Bujalski’s fourth feature, Computer Chess—one of the headiest, most original, and downright weirdest independent films of the last decade. Set in the early 1980s and shot almost entirely on black-and-white tube-based video cameras, the film boasts a deceptively sophisticated structure. It begins as a mockumentary, turns into a comedy, and ends as an avant-garde science-fiction film. The passive-aggressive relationships and awkwardness of Bujalski’s earlier movies are present and accounted for, but they’ve been transplanted into a paranoid context that’s one part The Shining, one part Thomas Pynchon. Computer nerds (many of them played by real-life computer programmers) collide with a cult-like group of swingers at a hotel, while various suspicious characters—who may or may not be working for the U.S. government—watch from sidelines. Narcissism is pitted against “connectedness,” primal urges against technology. The result feels an awful lot like a creation myth—the past imagining our present, and responding with fear and anxiety. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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Creepy

Creepy

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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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Fair Game

Fair Game

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Photo: Fair Game

Ostensibly the story of Valerie Plame, the CIA operative who wrote Fair Game: How A Top CIA Agent Was Betrayed By Her Own Government, Doug Liman’s fact-based drama Fair Game really belongs to Sean Penn, who adds Plame’s husband, Joseph Wilson, to his gallery of unforgettable characters. Penn plays the floppy-haired veteran diplomat as a man whose strengths are inextricably connected to his faults. He’s a man of deep, furious convictions unafraid to live by his ideals, even at the cost of the comfort, safety, and happiness of his own family. Fair Game consequently registers at times like a cautionary tale about the downside of rigid, uncompromising idealism. [Nathan Rabin]

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Félicité

Félicité

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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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The Fits

The Fits

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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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The Forbidden Room

The Forbidden Room

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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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The Handmaiden

The Handmaiden

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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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Hereditary

Hereditary

Hereditary
Hereditary
Photo: A24

Of all the blood-curdling images conjured up by Hereditary, the most traumatically terrifying horror movie in ages, one sticks out as particularly definitive: Toni Collette, face twisted into a grotesque grimace of fear, staring off screen at a ghastly something we’ll soon have the bad luck of laying eyes on too. Her recurring expression of fright and pain is more than just a perfect mirror, reflecting back the audience’s own mounting distress. It also captures, in shuddery microcosm, the tactics of this relentless, ingenious shocker, the way it builds its haunted house on a foundation of raw and ugly emotion. The real horror—a tempest of unspoken, unspeakable feeling—lurks behind the safer, faker kind, enhancing every macabre funhouse moment. [A.A. Dowd]

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Hitch

Hitch

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Photo: Hitch

Hitch mainly it sells the formidable brand that is Will Smith, who produced the film and stars in a role that expertly exploits the immense likeability and non-threatening charm that’s made him an icon. He’s also found the perfect partner in Stuck On You’s Eva Mendes, a radiant combination of nuclear sexuality and unforced sweetness. By making Smith a professional cupid of sorts, the filmmakers have pushed the mechanics of romance to the forefront, a move that pays off in a lively early Smith/Mendes exchange that doubles as flirtation and a sort of meta-commentary on flirtation. Smith’s professional wisdom seldom transcends the kind of advice found in the average women’s magazine, but there’s precious little mystery to love in romantic comedies, where the path to romantic bliss generally runs a course as predictable as a mathematical equation. The real mystery in Hitch is how a comedy so formulaic can be so seductive. The answer has a lot to do with intangible qualities like chemistry and charisma, as well as the gullible heart’s strange power to override the strenuous objections of the skeptical mind. [Nathan Rabin]

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Honey Boy

Honey Boy

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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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How To Train Your Dragon

How To Train Your Dragon

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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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I Am Not Your Negro

I Am Not Your Negro

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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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I Used To Be Darker

I Used To Be Darker

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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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The Imposter

The Imposter

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Photo: The Imposter

Even some critics who raved about this astonishing true-crime doc didn’t seem to understand what it was attempting. Had it simply told the story of Frédéric Bourdin—a French criminal who somehow managed to pass himself off as a missing American teenager, fooling the boy’s own family even though he looked nothing like him and spoke with a thick French accent—it would still have been compulsively watchable. But director Bart Layton cannily manipulates viewers’ experience of the events, via point of view (Bourdin himself, speaking directly to camera, is our guide), heightened re-enactments, and selective editing of the family’s recollections, until the audience winds up making the same mistake the family did. It’s a dizzyingly effective look at the internal mechanisms of confirmation bias, inviting observers to goggle at other people’s inexplicable behavior while failing to notice a similar choice to believe patent nonsense. Anyone who thinks the film’s ending is ambiguous, implying an unsolved mystery, has failed the test. [Mike D’Angelo]

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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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Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis

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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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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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Knives Out

Knives Out

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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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Long Strange Trip

Long Strange Trip

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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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Love & Friendship

Love & Friendship

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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

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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

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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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Megamind

Megamind

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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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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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One Child Nation

One Child Nation

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Photo: Amazon Studios

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

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Only The Young

Only The Young

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Photo: Only The Young

Documentaries too often function like a mirror image of the justly derided fotonovel. Just as those tie-ins were books pretending to be movies (using stills and a minimum of text), many docs these days do their best to approximate a book, filling the screen with information rather than compelling images. So the first striking thing about Only The Young, a non-fiction portrait of three California teens, is how flat-out gorgeous every frame looks. Directors Jason Tippet and Elizabeth Mims shoot these kids as if they were characters in an especially arty high-school melodrama, evoking the scuzzy-lyrical aesthetic of filmmakers from Larry Clark to Gus Van Sant. Brisk, impressionistic editing further heightens the sense that viewers are watching something that’s been carefully crafted rather than just dutifully recorded. Only the fact that everyone’s talking directly to the camera indicates that it’s unscripted. [Mike D’Angelo]

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Panic Room

Panic Room

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Screenshot: Panic Room

Grafting twist after twist onto a classically simple setup, Panic Room plunges a dream home into a storm-drenched nightmare out of the grimiest pulps, dragging an unsuspecting mother (Jodie Foster) and child (Kristen Stewart) along for the ride. From Seven and Fight Club director David Fincher, Panic offers a model of tightly orchestrated suspense, compressing Fincher’s technical mastery into a pressure cooker of a film. An old-house thriller retrofitted for the 21st century without any touch of unneeded flash, the film is scary enough to do for downtown living what Jaws did for beaches. [Keith Phipps]

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Peterloo

Peterloo

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Photo: Amazon Studios

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

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Pineapple Express

Pineapple Express

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Photo: Pineapple Express

Written by Seth Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg—the duo also scripted SuperbadPineapple Express refers to an exclusive strain of weed that James Franco offers to Rogen, his favorite customer and secret best friend. Rogen’s job as a process server allows him to toke up in his car between jobs, but one night, while waiting to hand out a subpoena, he witnesses a murder, and murderer Gary Cole witnesses him right back. As it happens, Cole is also Franco’s chief supplier, and he traces the marijuana strain back to the source, sending Franco and Rogen on the run with a crooked cop (Rosie Perez) and a couple of bumbling henchmen (Kevin Corrigan and The Office’s Craig Robinson) hot on their trail. A subplot involving Rogen’s relationship with a high-school student (Amber Heard) could have been excised, though at the expense of the one of the film’s funniest scenes. But good stoner comedies like Pineapple Express have a rambling, shaggy-dog nature that can make quirky little detours and non sequiturs more essential than story itself. [Scott Tobias]

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Rabbit Hole

Rabbit Hole

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Graphic: Rabbit Hole

In the opening scenes of Rabbit Hole, Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart play characters who look the part of a content, happily settled married couple. Then, when the phone rings at a too-late hour, the looks on their faces tell another story. These are people who’ve learned how easily chance can make a life collapse. In fact, it’s been only eight months since they lost their 4-year-old son when he ran out in the street in front of a passing car. Rabbit Hole is a tremendously sad movie, but it’s also the furthest thing from a miserablist wallow, portraying grief as something that doesn’t arrive in neat stages, but in unpredictable waves with forceful undercurrents. The film is also unpredictable in its own way, setting up sensational plot developments that never arrive, ones that would break the film’s concentration on people trying to understand why so much weight has landed on their shoulders, and how, or even whether, they can learn to carry it. [Keith Phipps]

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The Report

The Report

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Photo: Amazon Studios

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

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Something’s Gotta Give

Something’s Gotta Give

Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson
Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson
Screenshot: Something’s Gotta Give

In Something’s Gotta Give, Jack Nicholson plays a man who’s worlds apart from Warren Schmidt, but who comes to wear Schmidt’s knowledge for all the world to see. That adds a touch of gravity to Nancy Meyers’ pleasantly but deceptively lightweight film, a romantic comedy that takes a rare tack by leaving its characters different from how it finds them. Nicholson begins the film as a man happy to keep reminders of aging at arm’s length: He’s driving to a romantic Hamptons weekend with girlfriend Amanda Peet, the latest in his string of nubile twentysomethings. But their getaway is interrupted by the arrival of Peet’s playwright mother, Diane Keaton, then by a mild heart attack that leaves him recuperating in the latter’s beach house. The setup is about as obvious as they come, but Meyers steers away from romantic-comedy clichés until she has no other choice. But mostly, it’s just a pleasure to watch Keaton and Nicholson learning new steps in an old dance, stumbling to grab at happiness before it’s too late. [Keith Phipps]

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Suspiria

Suspiria

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Photo: Amazon Studios

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

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We Need To Talk About Kevin

We Need To Talk About Kevin

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

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

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You Were Never Really Here

You Were Never Really Here

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Photo: Amazon Studios

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

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