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 Jan. 25, 2021.

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2 / 83

Big Fish

Big Fish

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime
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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3 / 83

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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4 / 83

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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5 / 83

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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6 / 83

Brawl In Cell Block 99 

Brawl In Cell Block 99 

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime
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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7 / 83

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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8 / 83

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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9 / 83

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]

Available Feb. 16

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10 / 83

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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11 / 83

Cold War

Cold War

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime
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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12 / 83

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]

Available Feb. 1

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13 / 83

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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14 / 83

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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15 / 83

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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16 / 83

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]

Available Feb. 1

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17 / 83

Dead Poets Society

Dead Poets Society

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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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18 / 83

The Departed

The Departed

Jack Nicholson and Matt Damon
Jack Nicholson and Matt Damon
Screenshot: The Departed

The Hong Kong action movie Infernal Affairs has the sort of hook that would fill an arena in the rock world: Two police-academy graduates work as moles on opposite sides of the law—one as an undercover cop in the mob, the other as a gangster infiltrating the police department. Shot through by his most propulsive storytelling since Goodfellas, Martin Scorsese’s remake, The Departed, orchestrates such a perfect balance between these mirroring characters that the film achieves a kind of musical symmetry. And in a Boston neighborhood where all the little Irish boys grow up to be cops or criminals, the parallels between them are unmistakable; as Jack Nicholson’s hard-nosed kingpin puts it, “When you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?” In Scorsese’s world, such dreadful ambiguities coarsen the soul. [Scott Tobias]

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19 / 83

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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20 / 83

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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21 / 83

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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22 / 83

Félicité

Félicité

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime
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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23 / 83

The Fits

The Fits

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime
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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24 / 83

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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25 / 83

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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26 / 83

The Handmaiden

The Handmaiden

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime
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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27 / 83

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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28 / 83

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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29 / 83

Herself

Herself

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

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

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30 / 83

Honey Boy

Honey Boy

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime
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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31 / 83

How To Train Your Dragon

How To Train Your Dragon

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime
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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32 / 83

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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33 / 83

I Am Not Your Negro

I Am Not Your Negro

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

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

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34 / 83

I Used To Be Darker

I Used To Be Darker

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime
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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35 / 83

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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36 / 83

Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime
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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37 / 83

The Insider

The Insider

Al Pacino
Al Pacino
Screenshot: The Insider

The Insider is a long, slow, meditative look at the way truth is sacrificed in the name of business, and it’s a better movie for possessing those qualities. Directed by Michael Mann, whose odd, stylized distance has rarely found a better vehicle, the film details the true story of the tumultuous relationship between a 60 Minutes producer (Al Pacino) and a former tobacco-company scientist (Russell Crowe) with potentially damaging confidential information. As the film opens, Crowe has been dismissed from a large Kentucky-based tobacco manufacturer for objecting to what he believes are dangerous practices conducted in the interest of profitability. Never painting things in simple black and white, Mann avoids moralizing, allowing the dilemmas of his characters to raise the issues he refuses to state explicitly: In the world of his film, Big Tobacco looms as an absolute evil—corporate greed boiled down to its naked, destructive essence—but how his characters respond to that evil is what matters. The Insider is about ethics, journalistic and otherwise, and Pacino and Crowe give smart performances that rise to the occasion of dealing with abstracts in a film more than worthy of their efforts. [Keith Phipps]

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38 / 83

The Interview

The Interview

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime
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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39 / 83

It’s A Disaster

It’s A Disaster

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime
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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40 / 83

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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41 / 83

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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42 / 83

Knives Out

Knives Out

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime
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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43 / 83

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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44 / 83

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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45 / 83

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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46 / 83

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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47 / 83

Long Strange Trip

Long Strange Trip

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime
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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48 / 83

The Longest Yard

The Longest Yard

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime
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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49 / 83

Love & Friendship

Love & Friendship

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime
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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50 / 83

The Love Witch

The Love Witch

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime
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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51 / 83

Manchester By The Sea

Manchester By The Sea

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime
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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52 / 83

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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53 / 83

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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54 / 83

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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55 / 83

Megamind

Megamind

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime
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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56 / 83

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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57 / 83

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]

Available Feb. 1

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58 / 83

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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59 / 83

Next Day Air

Next Day Air

Omari Hardwick
Omari Hardwick
Screenshot: Next Day Air

Donald Faison wanders through Next Day Air in a stoned haze as the unlikeliest of catalysts. The baby-faced Scrubs veteran plays a fuckup so incompetent that he can barely hold on to a job where his mom is his boss. Even his smoke-buddy Mos Def has the initiative to steal from his employers and customers, but Faison’s ambitions begin and end with toking as much weed as possible without losing his job. Faison sets Next Day Air’s plot in motion when he accidentally delivers a package containing a small fortune in cocaine to a trio of stick-up kids with more balls than brains: Wood Harris, Mike Epps, and a sleepy thug who spends so much time on the couch dozing that he’s become part of the furniture. Scenting a big payday, these small-timers decide to immediately sell the coke to Epps’ cousin, a paranoid mid-level dealer looking to make one last score before leaving the business for good. But the intended recipient of the package isn’t about to let Faison’s screw-up go unpunished, nor is the hotheaded Hispanic kingpin whose drug shipment has mysteriously gone missing. A very pleasant surprise, Next Day Air is the rare crime comedy that does justice to both sides of the equation. [Nathan Rabin]

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60 / 83

One Child Nation

One Child Nation

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime
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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61 / 83

One Night In Miami...

One Night In Miami...

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

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

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62 / 83

Only The Young

Only The Young

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime
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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63 / 83

Peterloo

Peterloo

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime
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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64 / 83

Raging Bull

Raging Bull

Robert De Niro
Robert De Niro
Screenshot: Raging Bull

Raging Bull is a stunner. Robert De Niro gives the best performance of his career as Jake LaMotta, a ferocious, displaced boxer who’s perpetually uncomfortable in his own ballooning skin. Once again, Scorsese lets the hero’s disastrous relationships with women drag the movie down a bit, but the real center of Raging Bull is the relationship between De Niro and Joe Pesci, playing LaMotta’s put-upon brother. The two actors work off each other like veteran vaudevillians. Good-natured needling slips easily into outright hostility, while overheard conversations and muffled music bleed through the walls of Bronx tenement apartments and row houses, preventing the characters from having a quiet moment to collect their thoughts. The brutally kinetic fight scenes anchor Raging Bull, and Scorsese shoots each a little differently, tailoring the fight choreography to the moment. In fact, the whole movie is a series of indelible moments, adding up to an elliptical statement about the empty redemption of man at his most animalistic. [Noel Murray]

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65 / 83

The Report

The Report

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime
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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66 / 83

Ronin

Ronin

Robert De Niro
Robert De Niro
Screenshot: Ronin

Whether it’s laying out its ambush-and-heist schemes or racing through French city streets at breakneck speeds, Ronin expects viewers to keep up. John Frankenheimer’s film makes the groan-worthy mistake of explaining the significance of its title twice—first in a textual introduction, and later via an expository conversation between two characters. Yet in all other respects, the movie is a work of no-nonsense proficiency, moving at a fleet pace that allows the audience to revel in the sights and sounds of freelance ex-military professionals and criminals adeptly concocting and executing elaborate smash-and-grab plans. The heists initially involve Irish beauty Natascha McElhone conspiring (on behalf of boss Jonathan Pryce) to steal a briefcase from a moving caravan in Nice. To accomplish this endeavor, they enlist the help of an international team that includes reliable Jean Reno, skittish Sean Bean, calculating Stellan Skarsgård, and calm, composed Robert De Niro. [Nick Schager]

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67 / 83

Signs

Signs

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

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

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68 / 83

A Simple Favor

A Simple Favor

A Simple Favor
A Simple Favor
Photo: Lionsgate

Gallons of ink have been spilled on Paul Feig’s female-focused approach to comedy, so why isn’t one of the year’s best vehicles for women getting more press? Starring Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively in a twisted tale of suburban intrigue, A Simple Favor pioneers the subgenre of mommy-blog noir. But while it lives in the mundane realm of play dates and PTA meetings, the film also recognizes that, while they might spend a lot of time with kids, its characters (and target audience!) are still intelligent adults with sophisticated tastes, from dry gin martinis to designer menswear. [Katie Rife]

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69 / 83

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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70 / 83

Southside With You

Southside With You

Tika Sumpter and Parker Sawyers
Tika Sumpter and Parker Sawyers
Photo: Roadside Attractions

Chicago, 1989. A warm August day. In the shadow of Altgeld Gardens, in a church on the South Side, a lanky, charismatic, 28-year-old lawyer addresses a small group of community organizers. His name is Barack Obama, and from the minute Parker Sawyers, the actor playing him, drops his first “listen,” we believe the illusion—the feeling that we’ve managed, somehow, to fall backward in time to witness an early speech, a miniature “yes we can” pep talk from the man who will be president. And yet for as much as he evokes the famous figure he’s portraying, Sawyers doesn’t approach the speech like a preemptive State Of The Union address. His Obama, still two decades from the Oval, is a young man first, a future leader second. All he wants at the moment is to inspire some local activists. Oh, and maybe also to impress someone specific in the audience: a smart and very serious co-worker named Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter), who he’s persuaded to spend the day with him. If Southside With You has a big hook, it’s the smallness of its scope. This is no Great Man biopic, no origin story of the most powerful politician in the world. Instead, the first feature from writer-director Richard Tanne is sweetly speculative historical fiction—a date movie with some very recognizable lovebirds. [A.A. Dowd]

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71 / 83

Spaceballs

Spaceballs

Spaceballs
Spaceballs
Screenshot:

Spaceballs wasn’t one of Brooks’ great successes, but it’s endured in the shadow of Star Wars as a lone “official” parody version. In retrospect, its comic deconstruction of the most successful movies of all time looks more respectful than Lucas’ own prequels, which ultimately seemed to understand less about the appeal (and pitfalls) of their source material. Certainly, George Lucas had good intentions when he tried to redo his own greatest hits, but as Spaceballs teaches us, good is often very, very dumb. [Adam Nayman]

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72 / 83

Spanglish

Spanglish

Paz Vega and Tea Leoni
Paz Vega and Tea Leoni
Screenshot: Spanglish

Set in Los Angeles, a city where nearly half the population is Hispanic, James L. Brooks’ pleasing dramedy Spanglish grapples with meaty issues that face many people who cross national borders, including the difficulties of finding work, overcoming the language barrier, and assimilating to a new culture. But really, it’s about a dilemma specific to rich Hollywood types: What to do about the help? When a full-time housekeeper/nanny enters the picture, it becomes impossible for employer or employee to think about the arrangement as merely a job, because their lives become entangled in ways that go beyond business. Consequently, the master-servant dynamic can grow increasingly awkward and unsustainable, since there’s more at stake for everyone than merely keeping the house in order. Brooks is known for genteel, intelligent entertainments like Broadcast News, Terms Of Endearment, and As Good As It Gets, and he isn’t the man for seething ethnic tension, but he handles these issues with characteristic sensitivity and good humor. [Scott Tobias]

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73 / 83

Suspiria

Suspiria

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime
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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74 / 83

Star Trek Beyond

Star Trek Beyond

Star Trek Beyond
Star Trek Beyond
Photo: Paramount Pictures

Given the general dreariness of Star Trek Into Darkness, and the fact that J.J. Abrams was handing the reins over to director Justin Lin, there was little reason to expect much from the third film in this rebooted series. But co-screenwriters Simon Pegg and Doug Jung delivered a refreshing reminder of how fun and inspiring a Star Trek movie can be by telling a simple planet-hopping/supervillain-thwarting adventure story, anchored by plenty of scenes where the crew of the Enterprise gets to talk and joke and bicker. Add in sweet homages to the franchise’s past and overt paeans to hopefulness and teamwork, and this was far and away the most satisfying of 2016’s summer blockbusters: a ray of rainbow-colored light cutting through an oft-gray year. [Noel Murray]

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75 / 83

Thank You For Smoking

Thank You For Smoking

Aaron Eckhart
Aaron Eckhart
Screenshot: Thank You For Smoking

The concept of journalistic balance is premised on the notion that there are two sides to every story, but what happens when one of those sides is wrong? For tobacco lobbyist Aaron Eckhart, the deliciously fatuous hero of Thank You For Smoking, that’s never an issue: “The beauty of argument,” he says with a grin, “is that if you argue correctly, you’re never wrong.” Ideally cast as a smug operator not unlike his character from In The Company Of Men, Eckhart proudly declares himself the face of cigarettes, spinning away on behalf of a lobbying group bankrolled by Big Tobacco. Along with drinking buddies Maria Bello and David Koechner—who represent the alcohol and firearms lobby, respectively—Eckhart styles himself as a “Merchant Of Death” (together, they’re “the M.O.D. Squad”), but public contempt ricochets off him. With the industry facing heavy losses in court rulings and a decline in its core users, Eckhart hatches a plan to boost sales by putting cigarettes into Hollywood movies. Over his ex-wife’s objections, Eckhart takes his impressionable son (Cameron Bright) out to Los Angeles to see what dad does for a living. Meanwhile, a Washington reporter (Katie Holmes) tries to profile Eckhart for a major newspaper, but the two quickly find ways to compromise the story. [Scott Tobias]

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76 / 83

There’s Something About Mary

There’s Something About Mary

Ben Stiller
Ben Stiller
Screenshot: There’s Something About Mary

There’s Something About Mary opens with a high-school loser (Ben Stiller) being asked to the prom by dreamy Cameron Diaz after he comes to the aid of her retarded brother. He is unable to realize his dream date because of, in the first in a series of disgusting gags, an unfortunate zipper accident. When the detective (Matt Dillon) he hires to find her 13 years later also falls for her, hilarity ensues. The Farrellys deliver visual and spoken gags at a relentless pace; no subject is taboo in its quest to make the audience laugh and cringe at the same time. Just when you’ve recovered from one scene, another jumps off the screen, without any sense of condescension in the the jokes’ delivery. There’s Something About Mary feels as if the writers, directors, and actors are all enjoying themselves as much as the audience is, and the casting is nearly perfect. Stiller is immensely likable as a pleasant but unfortunate everyman who only wants to find love; Dillon displays a comic panache only hinted at in Singles; and Diaz is the ideal straight woman, unfazed by the buffoonery that surrounds her existence. There’s Something About Mary is one of the funniest movies of its era, but you may need to shower afterwards.

Available Feb. 1

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77 / 83

Train To Busan

Train To Busan

Train To Busan
Train To Busan
Screenshot:

South Korea’s Yeon Sang-ho found a fresh take on the zombie-breakout flick by narrowing and elongating its shape; he constrains most of the action to a single high-speed rail, challenging a band of human survivors to safely pass from car to car. Yeon clearly establishes the rules governing his flesh-eaters early on and works within them well (one clever set piece involving a climb through the luggage racks will leave one’s nails in shreds), though his humans don’t have that same thought-through quality. (Pregnant woman and dutiful husband? Check. Workaholic dad and precocious young daughter? Check. Tragic teenage lovers? Check.) But a zombie movie content not to aspire to any loftier subtextual readings needs little more than a skilled choreographer of action, and there’s plenty of evidence that this film had one in Yeon. Ooh, do “demons in a submarine” next! [Charles Bramesco]

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78 / 83

Warrior

Warrior

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

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

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79 / 83

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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80 / 83

Wonder Boys

Wonder Boys

Michael Douglas
Michael Douglas
Screenshot: Wonder Boys

Michael Douglas stars as a once-successful novelist and professor of creative writing whose life, frequently lived through a pot-clouded haze, reaches a crisis point over the course of the school’s annual weekend-long writers conference. His wife has left him, his married lover/chancellor (Frances McDormand) has just revealed her pregnancy, a student to whom he rents a room (Katie Holmes) seems interested in intensifying the student/teacher bond, and his editor (Robert Downey Jr.) is in town to check on the progress of a long-promised, long-delayed magnum opus. For Douglas, whose life seems to attract chaos, this might pass as business as usual were it not for the presence of a talented, enigmatic, possibly disturbed student (Tobey Maguire, especially good in a role that diverges from his past few characters) who, through a series of mishaps, entwines his life with Douglas’. An actor’s dream, Curtis Hanson’s leisurely but stylish direction allows his cast to deliver convincing, fleshed-out performances. The film both deserves and needs them; its situations often seem familiar—a midlife crisis, some business that wouldn’t be out of place in a second-rate screwball comedy—but its generous approach makes everything seem fresh. The decision to film on location in Pittsburgh gives Wonder Boys a foundation that can’t be faked, one suited to a film that brings to its implausible string of comic coincidences the ache of the real. [Keith Phipps]

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81 / 83

You Were Never Really Here

You Were Never Really Here

Illustration for article titled The best movies on Amazon Prime
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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82 / 83

Young Adult

Young Adult

Charlize Theron
Charlize Theron
Screenshot: Young Adult

Characters reminisce about the ’90s, wear Pixies T-shirts, and maintain collections of hand-painted action figures in Young Adult, all in line with what viewers might expect from a film that reunites Juno’s writer and director, Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman. What’s different this time around? They’re on the sidelines, gazing with bewilderment, dislike, and/or awe at their heroine, played by Charlize Theron as the type of girl who once upon a time walked all over them. Though her character’s high-school glory days are almost two decades behind her, she’s dredged them up with an unstable determination that attests to the years of disappointment that followed them. It’s an empathetic but bravely brittle portrait of an aging queen bee that showcases a nuanced performance from Theron as a woman too used to being admired to admit how lonely and desperate she’s become. [Alison Willmore]

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83 / 83