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 Nov. 19, 2020.

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2 / 52

Big Fish

Big Fish

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Photo: Big Fish

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

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3 / 52

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 / 52

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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5 / 52

Brawl In Cell Block 99 

Brawl In Cell Block 99 

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Photo: RLJE Films

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

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6 / 52

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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7 / 52

Cold War

Cold War

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Photo: Cold War

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

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8 / 52

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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9 / 52

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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10 / 52

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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11 / 52

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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12 / 52

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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13 / 52

Félicité

Félicité

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Photo: Strand Releasing

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

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14 / 52

The Fits

The Fits

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Photo: Oscilloscope Laboratories

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

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15 / 52

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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16 / 52

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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17 / 52

The Handmaiden

The Handmaiden

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Photo: Magnolia

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

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18 / 52

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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19 / 52

Honey Boy

Honey Boy

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Photo: Amazon Studios

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

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20 / 52

How To Train Your Dragon

How To Train Your Dragon

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Image: How To Train Your Dragon

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

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21 / 52

I Am Not Your Negro

I Am Not Your Negro

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Photo: Magnolia Pictures

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

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22 / 52

I Used To Be Darker

I Used To Be Darker

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Photo: I Used To Be Darker

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

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23 / 52

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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24 / 52

Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis

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Photo: Inside Llewyn Davis

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

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25 / 52

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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26 / 52

It’s A Disaster

It’s A Disaster

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Photo: It’s A Disaster

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

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27 / 52

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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28 / 52

Knives Out

Knives Out

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Photo: Lionsgate

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

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29 / 52

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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30 / 52

Long Strange Trip

Long Strange Trip

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Photo: Amazon Prime Video

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

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Love & Friendship

Love & Friendship

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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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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Manchester By The Sea

Manchester By The Sea

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Photo: Roadside Attractions

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

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Margin Call

Margin Call

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

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

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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45 / 52

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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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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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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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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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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We Need To Talk About Kevin

We Need To Talk About Kevin

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

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

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You Were Never Really Here

You Were Never Really Here

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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