Though Netflix and Hulu certainly give it a run for its money, Amazon Prime is no joke when it comes to the TV shows and movies you love. Amazon knows that few of us stick to just one genre, and that’s why their selection of movies and TV shows is so great. The streaming platform is stacked with must-see comedy, drama, and horror films, so there’s something for everyone. No matter your preferred genre—rom-com, thriller, sci-fi, action, Oscar-winning films—Amazon Prime has something for you. Best Movies on Amazon Prime
Writer/Director: Ari Aster
Cast: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Will Poulter
There are few up-and-coming filmmakers out there who have delivered the technical mastery and emotional savagery that Ari Aster one-two punched with his first two films. First with Hereditary (see below) and now with Midsommar, his sun-drenched folk horror ode to classics like The Wickerman that sends the audience to gorgeous a summer solstice hellscape of grief, anxiety and codependence. Florence Pugh gives a knockout performance as a young woman dealing with an insurmountable tragedy when she journeys abroad with her checked-out boyfriend (Jack Reynor) and his friends and winds up smack in the middle of a terrifying pagan ritual. Gorgeously shot, scored, staged, etc., etc., Midsommar isn’t just a deviously elegant spin on a classic horror subgenre, it also packs a wicked sense of humor and pitch-black comedy.
Director/Writer: Scott Z. Burns
Cast: Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Jon Hamm, Michael C. Hall, Ted Levine, Corey Stoll, Maura Tierney, and Sarah Goldberg
The Report is an excellent procedural thriller in the vein of All the President’s Men. It marks the directorial debut of Contagion and Side Effects writer Scott Z. Burns and chronicles the Senate’s investigation into the CIA’s use of torture following the 9/11 attacks, with Adam Driver playing the staffer assigned to head up the investigation at the behest of Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening). This is a contained, sharp, and incisive thriller that doesn’t take detours to dig into the character’s personal life or a love story—it’s extremely matter-of-fact in simply following the path that led to the creation of the titular report, and it’s as engrossing as it is infuriating. The driver is spectacular. – Adam Chitwood
Director: Nisha Ganatra
Writer: Mindy Kaling
Cast: Mindy Kaling, Emma Thompson, Hugh Dancy, John Lithgow, Denis O’Hare, Reid Scott, and Amy Ryan
If you’re a fan of behind-the-scenes Hollywood stories and romcoms, you’ll probably like Late Night. The film follows a young woman (Mindy Kaling) who joins the all-male writing staff of a formerly famous but now in decline late night host, played by Emma Thompson. The idealistic young writer meets the cynicism of the host and her staff head-on, as they try to turn the show around while other obstacles arise. It’s sweet and fun and funny, but also surprisingly emotional as it reaches the end. Thompson delivers a terrific performance as a complex and powerful woman, and Kaling is charming as the naïve comedy newbie who idolizes her boss. – Adam Chitwood Best Movies on Amazon Prime
Writer/Director: James Cameron
Cast: Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, Lance Henricksen, Dick Miller, Bill Paxton
Part action, part sci-fi, part horror, part romance, and all excellent, The Terminator was the movie that introduced the world to what James Cameron was capable of as a filmmaker. Mixing up time travel and tech terror, unstoppable robots and impossible love affairs, The Terminator really has it all. Gritty and unrelenting, with extraordinary practical effects that often give the film a Grindhouse-adjacent flourish, it’s an all-timer for a reason. From Linda Hamilton‘s performance to Cameron’s extraordinary sense of tension-building shot composition, every element is in alignment to make for a breathless, occasionally terrifying action thriller from one of blockbuster cinema’s all-time greats.
Director: Sean Anders
Writers: Sean Anders, John Morris
Cast: Rose Byrne, Mark Wahlberg, Isabela Mercer, Gustavo Escobar, Octavia Spencer, Julianna Gamiz, Tig Notaro, Tom Segura
Without question, Rose Byrne is the unsung MVP of the last ten years in comedy movies. The actress’ early career cemented her image as a dramatic performer (and she still excels in those roles,) but ever since she stole the show in 2010’s Get Him to the Greek, she’s been absolutely crushing it in a string of comedies from Bridesmaids to Spy to the Neighbors films, constantly one-upping her better-known comedic counterparts along the way. With the surprisingly heartfelt comedy Instant Family Byrne got to combo the best of her comedic and dramatic skills alongside Mark Wahlberg in the story of a married couple who decide to foster, not one, but three children, including a no-bullshit teenager, played by Isabela Merced. Instant Family is refreshingly earnest and emotionally honest about the struggles and joys of foster parenting, delivering a moving emotional story without losing sight of the laughs.
Writer: Jessica Sharzer
Director: Paul Feig
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding, Andrew Rannells
Twisted thrillers don’t get more deliciously absurd and provocative than A Simple Favor, Paul Feig‘s stylish mystery about a lonely single mother (Anna Kendrick) who gets caught up in an increasingly wild predicament when she agrees to look after her friend’s son. Turns out the friend in question is a real wild card (Blake Lively in a redefining role) and when she goes missing, everything gets all kinds of fucked-up. Easily one of the most slept on films of 2018, A Simple Favor is a bonafide gripping thriller with some next-level insane reveals and fashion porn that would make Ocean’s 8 trembles. Batshit insane with a trio of killer lead performances, A Simple Favor will keep you guessing, but even better, it will keep you grinning from start to finish.
Director/Writer: Cameron Crowe
Cast: Patrick Fugit, Kate Hudson, Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jason Lee, and Anna Paquin
Quite simply one of the quintessential films of all time, Cameron Crowe’s masterpiece Almost Famous is a must-see full-stop. A profoundly human piece of work, Crowe’s love letter to youth, music, and passion is deeply felt and unforgettable. Loosely based on his own experiences as a young journalist for Rolling Stone, the film takes place in 1975 and follows 15-year-old William Miller as he travels the road with the hot new band Stillwater, taking in all the ups and downs that come with young love and burgeoning celebrity. The soundtrack is an all-timer, and Crowe’s characters leap off the screen in vivid color as he populates the film with fully drawn yet somehow otherworldly people. And in his brief screentime, Philip Seymour Hoffman makes a profound impression as the legendary Lester Bangs. Endlessly quotable, endlessly watchable, Almost Famous is terrific from start to finish. – Adam Chitwood
Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Writer/Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Cast: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Angela Bassett, Vanessa Kirby, Michelle Monaghan, Alec Baldwin, Lian Yang
Dollars for donuts, pound for pound, Mission: Impossible is the most consistent action franchise on the market right now, and what’s more, the most consistently raising the bar. As the first returning director in franchise history (and Cruise’s go-to guy,) Christopher McQuarrie has refined the M: I formula to its optimal performance, delivering two propulsive, thrilling and breathless installments with Rogue Nation and Fallout.
Fallout gives us the clearest portrait of Ethan Hunt, the man, yet, digging beneath the super-spy persona into the grit of what happens when he fails — how far does the “living manifestation of destiny” go to get the job done? McQuarrie answers with a genuinely stunning, staggering amount of set-pieces, elevated by Cruise’s famed commitment to getting the best stunt. With knockout supporting performances from returning players Rebecca Ferguson and Sean Harris, as well as newcomers Henry Cavill, Vanessa Kirby, and Angela Bassett (not to mention the best fight scene of the franchise in that brutal bathroom brawl — which arguably has one of the best scene buttons of all time,) Fallout is an exercise in excellence.
Writer/Director: Gaspar Noé
Cast: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Kiddy Smile, Claude-Emmanuelle Gajan-Maull, Giselle Palmer, Taylor Kastle, Thea Carla Schott, Sharleen Temple
A buckshot blast of paranoid, unhinged kinetic insanity, Gaspar Noé‘s Climax is the filmmaker’s most crowd-pleasing and accessible film, but this is the director of Irreversible and Enter the Void, so take that for what you will. Sofia Boutella stars as the lead dancer in an international dance troupe, who Jetes, fan kicks, and backbends down a nightmarish rabbit hole to hell when the punch bowl winds up spiked with drugs. The film’s first act is a euphoric display of athleticism and talent, featuring one dance sequence after the next, but once things get dark, they cascade into a grimy, grim clusterfuck in a hurry. This is some bravado filmmaking, bolstered by performers (most of them novice actors) who put it on the line for this brutal, hallucinogenic talent show.
Writer/Director: Steven Knight
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jason Clarke
Serenity is without a doubt one of the wildest movies of 2019. The trailers provide a glimpse of the plot, which is that weary fisherman Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey) has been roped into a scheme by his ex-wife Karen (Anne Hathaway) to murder her abusive husband Frank (Jason Clarke) in exchange for $10 million. But Serenity is so much weirder than this, and to say why would spoil the fun. You may see Serenity and absolutely hate it, but if you’re willing to go along for the crazy ride, you might end up having a blast. At the very least, writer-director Steven Knight has created one of the most unpredictable movies in years. – Matt Goldberg
A Quiet Place
Director: John Krasinski
Writers: Bryan Woods and Scott Beck
Cast: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe
John Krasinski has given us all a lot of laughs over the years, but with his creature feature A Quiet Place, the actor-director brings the thrills. Set in a world overrun by alien creatures who hunt by sound, A Quiet Place follows a family trying to survive in the silence…. oh, and the mother’s pregnant. Silent birth? That’s not a thing. Krasinski does a killer job building tension as the family catapults towards the inevitable arrival of the baby and the creatures close in on their home. I’ve rarely seen audiences so respectfully silent in a theater, clinging to the film’s quiet atmosphere, quietly munching on popcorn when the score kicked in. Its a damn impressive directorial feat from Krasinski, who pretty much writes a love letter to Steven Spielberg with his set-pieces and Amblin-Esque big heart, and it’s one of the best tales about the terrors of parenting in recent memory.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writer: John Michael Hayes
Cast: Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Jessie Royce Landis, John Hughs, Charles Vanel
Alfred Hitchcock‘s stunning caper embodies Old Hollywood glamour. Set in the ritzy locations of Cannes, To Catch a Thief stars Cary Grant as John “The Cat” Robie, a retired jewel thief who gets caught up in a new round of crimes when he takes the heat for a new string of robberies in the French Riviera. Looking to clear his name, he gets tangled up in a romantic escapade with a beautiful young socialite (played by the great Grace Kelly) that sends him zipping through the stunning locale on the hunt for the real criminal. Gorgeous, romantic, thrilling, and elegant to the bone, To Catch a Thief is one of the all-time great capers; an enchanting mystery bolstered by two of cinema’s most charming movie stars.
Writer/Director: Ari Aster
Cast: Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Millie Shapiro, Ann Dowd, Gabriel Byrne
Ari Aster makes a walloping directorial debut with Hereditary, an exquisitely crafted trip down a rabbit hole of terror and torment, wherein one family on the brink of self-destruction is torn apart by a supernatural menace. Following the death of her mother, Annie Graham (Toni Collette) and her family wander into an inescapable nightmare of grief and agony, where every choice and circumstance brings them closer to their inevitable doom. Shot with tremendous precision, as carefully constructed as one of Annie’s miniatures, Hereditary drags you into the nightmare alongside the Grahams and features some of the most stunning technical filmmaking of the year, bar none. That includes the most breath-taking performance of Collette’s career (which is really saying something), not to mention a score and sound design that would give you nightmares even if you weren’t watching the screen. But Hereditary will keep your eyes glued to the madness, watching a family walk into a trap they help build themselves. It’s an intense, physical experience that sticks with you ages after the credits roll.
The Big Sick
Director: Michael Showalter
Writers: Emily Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani
Cast: Kumail Najiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff, Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant
Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon’s real-life love story serves as inspiration for the most delightful romantic comedy in years in The Big Sick. Directed by Michael Showalter from a script by Nanjiani and Gordon, the film stars Nanjiani as himself and Zoe Kazan as Emily in the stranger-than-fiction story of two people falling in love despite clashing cultures, family expectations, and a mysterious life-threatening illness.
The story follows a standup comic (Nanjiani) who falls for a woman who heckles him (Kazan) at a show. He tries to hide the relationship from his parents, who expect a strictly traditional arranged marriage to a Muslim woman, but their romance faces an even greater hurdle when she falls into an inexplicable coma and he bonds with her parents (who you can’t help but fall in love with thanks to the performances from Ray Romano and Holly Hunter). Bursting with heart and earnest good nature, The Big Sick is a witty and charming exploration of love, commitment, and family, and it’s a bonafide crowd-pleaser to boot.
Written and Directed by: S. Craig Zahler
Cast: Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Richard Jenkins, Matthew Fox, David Arquette, Evan Jonigkeit
S. Craig Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk didn’t get the love it deserved when it hit select theaters last year, but I highly recommend catching it now on Amazon Prime, especially if you’re into horror movies and Westerns. The movie stars Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox and Richard Jenkins as four men who head out into the Wild West to rescue two people who are taken captive by a group of cannibals. It’s an eerie slow burn that builds an overwhelming sense of dread before unleashing an especially savage display of violence and gore. In fact, there’s one scene from Bone Tomahawk that scored a spot on our Best Movie Kills of 2015 list and while it is insanely bloody and brutal, the movie earns the moment thanks to the stellar performances, character-driven narrative and all-consuming atmosphere. – Perri Nemiroff
Under the Silver Lake
Writer/Director: David Robert Mitchell
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Riley Keough, Topher Grace, Riki Lindhome, Callie Hernandez
Under the Silver Lake, much like its Southern California setting, is a big, sprawling thing filled with random pockets of bizarreness and twisted roads that ultimately lead nowhere. Director David Robert Mitchell‘s follow-up to It Follows is half the old-school noir tale, a half satire of a modern internet age obsessed with “solving” stories. At its center is Andrew Garfield, playing a 30-something named Sam who embarks on a strange odyssey to find a missing neighbor who he’s only met once (Riley Keough). The journey brings him to the weirdest side-quests and underground societies that L.A. has to offer, with Mitchell often flexing his horror muscles to turn the city into a place of murderers and monsters. It’s all very strange, and a lot of it doesn’t mean anything, per se, but that’s part of the beauty. Under the Silver Lake, it’s better to just let the current take you. — Vinnie Mancuso
Writer/Director: Greta Gerwig
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, Odeya Rush
I’m so glad this movie exists and that it functions as an announcement that Greta Gerwig is not only a major talent but also a talent that can go beyond herself. My fear going into Lady Bird is that the movie would be too autobiographical and Gerwig would have unintentionally created a parody of her mumblecore roles. Instead, she provided a film that was personal and specific. It’s a movie that relishes its lived-in relationships while never being exclusionary.
On my first viewing, I found the movie to be a very good example of the coming-of-age dramedy. Upon a repeat viewing, I see it as one of the best examples the genre has to offer. Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf are both amazing as they relish both the highs and lows of their mother-daughter relationship and watching Lady Bird’s rocky senior year, complete with all the honest missteps a teenager makes, turns Gerwig’s debut into an unforgettable feature. – Matt Goldberg
Director/Writer: Roman Polanski
Cast: Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon
Sometimes I feel a bit bad about not knowing any of my neighbors. But then I just push play on Rosemary’s Baby and suddenly, I’ve got absolutely no problem keeping to myself at my apartment complex! The 1968 horror classic stars Mia Farrow as Rosemary Woodhouse. The film opens with Rosemary moving into a new apartment with her husband, Guy (John Cassavetes) – something that should be a wonderful milestone for the young couple – but soon after settling in, Rosemary struggles through a challenging and deeply alarming pregnancy.
There is so much questionable behavior on display in this one that it’s bound to leave your stomach in knots and your head spinning. The presence of supernatural evil in Rosemary’s Baby is mighty unsettling, but it’s the wicked human behavior that’s downright horrifying and is still something I can’t quite shake. Toxic ambition and extreme manipulation pervert some of the most comforting pillars in society – friendly neighbors, a happy marriage, religion, control over one’s body and then some, leaving poor Rosemary utterly helpless. The movie struck a major nerve when I first saw it years ago, and it only becomes more and more disturbing with repeat viewings, even 50 years after its initial release. – Perri Nemiroff
Brittany Runs a Marathon
Director/Writer: Paul Downs Colaizzo
Cast: Jillian Bell, Michaela Watkins, Utkarsh Abudkar, Lil Rel Howery, and Micah Stock
Brittany Runs a Marathon is not the movie you think it is, in the very best way. The film stars Jillian Bell as an overweight woman who sets out to train for and run the New York marathon as a way to get in shape, which she also believes will change her life for the better. Changes do come, but they’re a mix of positive and negative as Bell’s character learns the hard way that her issues are related to who she is as a person rather than how she looks on the outside. It’s a surprising, sweet, and frequently hilarious comedy with a dash of romance for good measure. But it’s also genuinely moving, and Bell gives a star-making performance that deftly navigates both comedic and dramatic territory. Brittany Runs a Marathon isn’t just one of the best comedies of 2019, it’s also one of the best films of the year full-stop. – Adam Chitwood
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Writer: David Kajganich
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Chloë Grace Moretz
Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino brings all his sensuality and artistry to 2018’s Suspiria. More of a sibling film to Dario Argento‘s iconic horror classic than an outright remake, Suspiria depicts its powerful magical darkness through the context of generational strife and fascist powerplay, embedding the supernatural in the psychological to extraordinary results. Suspiria is a phantasmagoria of violence, magic, and movement that feels pulled from the old ways of some unknown ritual. Art, dance, horror, and the human spirit come out to play in Guadagnino’s coven, conjuring the uncanny and a feeling of true witchcraft that’s as stirring and profound as it is occasionally terrifying. Give yourself to the dance, indeed, because Guadagnino’s film gives you no other choice.
Written and Directed by James Ward Byrkit
Cast: Nicholas Brendan, Emily Baldoni, Maury Sterling, Lorene Scafaria, Elizabeth Gracen, Hugo Armstrong, Alex Manugian, Lauren Maher
Shot over the course of five nights with an almost entirely improvised script, Coherence is a tremendous feature film debut from Gore Verbinski‘s frequent storyboard artist James Ward Byrkit, and one of the best original science fiction concepts in recent memory. Set at a dinner party reunion among old friends on the night of a rare astronomical event, tensions rise as the laws of science and the firmaments of reality bend and break over the course of one mind-bending night. Part sci-fi, part horror, the no-budget chamber piece succeeds not by banking on its fantastic concept, but seeing that concept to its completion through honest character arcs and the unsettling reality that there’s nothing more frightening than the way we perceive ourselves.
If you like your superpowered stories on the serious side, you should definitely give Fast Color a shot. Julia Hart’s movie takes place in a near-future dystopia where water is scarce and it hasn’t rained in eight years. In this picture, we see three generations of women who have the power to deconstruct and reconstruct matter, which becomes a potent symbol for trying to repair the broken bonds between them.
While serious superhero movies like Logan and The Dark Knight earn acclaim, Fast Color is equally worthy of recognition as it uses the mold of an indie family drama to explore initiate bonds that we feel may be broken beyond repair but just need work to heal. Anchored by three excellent performances from Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Lorraine Toussaint, and Saniyya Sidney, Fast Color is a movie that you shouldn’t let fly under your radar. – Matt Goldberg
You Were Never Really Here
Writer/Director: Lynn Ramsay
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Judith Roberts, Frank Pando, Alex Manette, Ekaterina Samsonov
It’s been seven long years since Lynne Ramsay‘s shattering We Need to Talk About Kevin, but the wait was worth it because her followup You Were Never Really Here is just as devastating with the filmmaker’s signature eye for stunning shots on full display. Joaquin Phoenix gives the performance of his career as Joe, a hulking force of learned violence with a stunning vein of sweetness and fragility runs right through him. Traumatized by his abusive father and his years at war, Joe unleashes his violence via his gig tracking down kidnapped young girls, but when one of his cases gets tangled in a conspiracy, Joe’s unbalanced life comes toppling down all around him. Gorgeously shot with moments of searing humanity, You Were Never Really Here isn’t the type of film that’s going to scoop up awards, but it’s unequivocally one of the best films of the year.
Stop Making Sense
Written and Directed by Jonathan Demme
Concert films are a rare type of art-form, one that has yielded only a handful of true masterworks. The Last Waltz and The Other Side of the Mirror would be two notable entries in the pantheon, but top prize easily goes to Jonathan Demme’s hypnotic Stop Making Sense, which documents a series of shows that David Byrne’s Talking Heads played in the 1980s. The film is as much about Byrne and the company’s physical, varied stage performances, which include props and tailored stage design, as it is about Demme’s astute knowledge of camera placement, framing, and editing, which turns three concerts into one impactful work of staggeringly inventive performance art. What really matters, however, is the music and Stop Making Sense captures one of the great art-rock acts of the 1980s in their prime, expanding the recorded versions of “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Medley),” “Take Me to the River,” and “Making Flippy Floppy” into titanic, anthemic dispatches from a country on the brink of total chaos. — Chris Cabin Best Movies on Amazon Prime
The Florida Project
Director: Sean Baker
Writers: Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Bria Vinate, Brooklyn Prince
After toping critics lists with his iPhone shot drama Tangerine, Sean Baker returned with another visually vibrant and emotionally immersive drama rooted in the culture and community of a singular place. For The Florida Project, Baker moved from the streets of Downtown Los Angeles to the fairy-tale colored discount motels on the fringes of the Disneyworld dreamland. Often exhausting and occasionally frustrating, the film isn’t for everyone, but the poignant emotional payoff is enough to reduce even the hardest-hearted to a blubbering mess. And lest we forget that Willem Dafoe delivers one of the best performances of his career, a lovely understated turn as a man trying to do the best he can in an impossible situation.
Director: Chan-wook Park
Writers: Seo-kyeong Jeong and Chan-wook Park
Cast: Min-hee Kim, Tae-ri Kim, Jung-woo Ha, Jing-woo Jo
The Handmaiden is the most downright gorgeous erotic thriller ever made. Liberally inspired by Sarah Waters‘ British melodrama, Chan-wook Park
Claire Denis is one of the most exciting and consistently challenging genre-fluid filmmaking legends in the game. From the intimate silences of her debut film Chocolat to the grisly, primal excesses of her cannibal romance Trouble Every Day, and now, the perverse and painfully human expanse of space with this year’s High Life. To be sure, it is a bizarre and challenging film, which doesn’t reveal itself to you in comfortable doses, but when taken as a whole, High Life is a fascinating and provocative examination of our most base instincts; violence, sex, emotion, biology — all the messy, unpredictable ways we spasm towards intimacy. Robert Pattinson stars as Monty, a death row inmate sent to space on an experimental mission into a black hole on a spacecraft full of fellow inmates. As they careen toward their almost certain doom at an inexorably slow pace, we experience the spectrum of Monty’s life in haunting flashback and flash-forwards, full of beauty and grotesquerie and uncertainty every step of the way, showing you the fine grains of a portrait that only reveals its full grace and tragedy when the entire picture is revealed.
Best Movies on Amazon Prime
Writer/Director: S. Craig Zahler
Cast: Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, Don Johnson, Udo Kier
A word of advice: Don’t eat anything before diving into Brawl in Cell Block 99. Director S. Craig Zahler had already proved he was particularly adept at unflinching, bone-crunching violence with his Western Bone Tomahawk when he took his talents to jail for Cell Block 99. The result is a brutal, grimy prison tale featuring the best dramatic performance of Vince Vaughn‘s career as Bradley Thomas, a former drug mule who spirals into the darkest depths of a corrupt and endlessly violent prison system. Both hard to watch and hard to look away from, Brawl in Cell Block 99 literally drags itself across the glass and crushed skulls to arrive at a conclusion that’s, shockingly, kind’ve sweet. A journey well worth taking, even if you’re watching some of it through your fingers. — Vinnie Mancuso
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writers: James Greer and Jonathan Bertnstein
Cast: Claire Foy,Jau Pharoah, Joshua Leonard, Amy Irving, Juno Temple, Colin Woodell
Unsane is an up-close panic attack assault that uses the intimacy of an iPhone to tap into centuries of female oppression and transform it into the kind of psychological thriller that gets way too deep under your skin. Led by an unpredictable, exciting performance from The Crown breakout Claire Foy, Unsane follows a recently relocated survivor who starts to see her stalker everywhere she looks, and accidentally winds up committed to a mental institution against her will.
Steven Soderbergh and psychological horror are a natural fit, especially with the added element of experimentation that comes with shooting a whole damn film on a phone. The director mines the human history of female institutionalization and modern statistics of assault to underscore a very relatable and real terror of the way women’s’ bodies are controlled and exploited, but he makes it universal by also tapping into the primal fears of lost autonomy and doubting your own mind. Throw in a dose of commentary about the American mental health system and some truly bleak moments of violence and you’ve got the makings of an all-timer psychological horror. Unsane had a so-so reaction when it dropped in theaters in early 2018, but I have a feeling time is going to be very generous to this one. Best Movies on Amazon Prime
The Strangers: Prey at Night
Director: Johannes Roberts
Writers: Brian Bertino and Ben Ketai
Cast: Lewis Pullman, Bailee Madison, Christina Hendricks, Martin Henderson
Ok, so this is more for “best scene” than “best movie”. In full honesty, the first half of The Strangers: Prey at Night is a bit of a stilted drag, and not much of anything the characters do makes a whole lot of sense. But hoo boy, the second half of the movie is a wild bit of throwback fun, and the film’s highlight sequence is a five-minute fight scene in and around a neon-lit pool with “Total Eclipse of the Heart” full-on blasting in the background. It’s a great piece of pop-horror; colorful, fun and thrilling, and it’s the cherry on top of a final act that makes the first bits worth trudging through.
The Central Park Five
Directors: Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon
Writers: Ken Burns, Sarah Burns
If you’re looking to see a spike in your blood pressure, look no further than David McMahon, Ken and Sarah Burns’ sober-eyed account of how five African-American youths got bullied and cajoled into serving extended prison sentences for a brutal crime they had no part in. The story of the Central Park Five remains one of the biggest black eyes to be left on New York City, its government, and the NYPD, who are not short on damning incidents that have peppered their past and the current administration.
Burns relates to the story as a modern New Yorker, someone who lived through the ludicrous trial and the grotesque media circus that came along with it. The five scapegoats – Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Korey Wise – were thrown like raw meat to a city hungry for any semblance of justice, and Burns does not stop at condemning the likes of Donald Drumpf, Governor Mario Cuomo, and an unrepentant police department for brazenly supporting the conviction and asking for much harsher penalties. The time that was forcibly taken away from these men come for racist mentalities that, as Burns and co-directors ably unveil, even a seemingly liberal bastion like New York City is happy to support, if it means that we look like a civilization that cares about justice. —Chris Cabin
Director: Spike Lee
Writers: Kevin Wilmott and Spike Lee
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Angela Bassett, Teyonah Parris, John Cusack, Wesley Snipes, Jennifer Hudson, Dave Chappelle, Nick Cannon
With its distribution of Spike Lee’s latest masterwork, which he’s made several of, as it turns out, Amazon Studios put itself in stark contrast with most major studios and their indie leagues by revealing itself as willing and able to put out a truly radical and deeply political vision of America. Though the themes of Lee’s film are classical – race, religion, machismo, feminism, nationalism, etc. – but Lee’s take on Aristophanes’ “Lysistrata” in Chi-Raq is thoroughly modern in its moods, aesthetics, and narrative details, from the setting in the modern hip-hop world to the use of texts and worldwide video protests. It’s a bit of a mess at first glance, but there isn’t a single second of indifference or compromise in this tale of a no-sex protest against gun violence in the Windy City.
The mass incarceration of African Americans, the empty masculinity of the gangster lifestyle, the limits of faith and the church in political matters, and the heartlessness of capitalism are only a portion of the subjects on trial here, and neither Caucasians or African-Americans, men or women, young or old are spared from the director’s fiery outrage and skepticism. Stacked with great performances from the likes of Angela Bassett, Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Teyonah Parris, John Cusack, and Samuel L. Jackson, amongst others, Chi-Raq is one of the most generous, daring, and astoundingly wise films to be released thus far this decade, but its timeliness in relation to American in 2015 is simply astonishing. –Chris Cabin
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Writer: Refn, Mary Laws, Polly Stenham
Cast: Elle Fanning, Keanu Reeves, Abbey Lee, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Karl Glusman and Christina Hendricks
Nicholas Winding Refn certainly knows how to make a divisive movie. Like Only God Forgives before it, Refn’s Neon Demon was jeered at Cannes and met with the split response from critics and moviegoers alike. That’s not too surprising. It’s explicit and nebulous and seemingly dedicated to making the audience as uncomfortable as possible as often as possible. It’s also staggeringly beautiful, but leave it to Refn to make a shallow movie about the pitfalls of being shallow. Elle Fanning stars as Jesse, a manipulative underaged monster in the making who has “that thing” everyone wants, and she knows it. Rapidly climbing the ranks of the fashion industry, Jesse believes her own hype and goes full Narcissus, drawing the ire of three experienced industry pros who envy her youth, easy beauty, and immediate success. Along the way, shit gets truly crazy.
The Neon Demon‘s got beautiful women basking in blood, it’s got glorious Technicolor visions of cannibalism and self-worship, and it’s got just way too much necrophilia. All the same, it’s a stunning visual accomplishment and it never abandons character in favor of the shock, it embeds them in each other. The Neon Demon may not have a lot to say, but what it does, it says beautifully.
The Lost City of Z
Writer/Director: James Gray
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Tom Holland, Sienna Miller
James Gray often gets called a throwback director but The Lost City of Z is the furthest throw he’s lobbed into cinema’s great past. Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) is an undecorated military man who cannot receive advancement due to his “poor choice of relatives” but then captures the world’s attention when he ventures into the Amazon to find an ancient civilization that might pre-date the Western world. It spans more than two decades of his life and Gray uses that time economically. It never feels like Z is rushing past important touchstones and it even stops to show how World War I—a Western war, for we are not that much more evolved than the Amazonian “savages” that Fawcett is constantly defending to the British Empire—marks time as something that’s just as twisty and cruel as the Amazon River.
There are arrows, there’s dissection of familial bloodlines and their importance to both the Western world and the native tribes, there’s mist, there are a mumbly Robert Pattinson and an enunciation to the nosebleeds done by Hunnam. It’s impeccably and economically paced. The expansive story places it in the realm of the thoughtful and immense profiles of greatness that David Lean used to make. But don’t think that it isn’t modern. Gray is attuned to ideas that would’ve been revolutionary not only in 1905 but also throughout most of Hollywood’s history. It’s about a small batch of white men who believe that their society and Empire is built on false pride. And the pride of their societal order not only looks down on other cultures they enslave, but it also starts global wars and keeps women in service to their partner’s greatness—even at the expense of hiring an unqualified society man who they perceive can carry his weight simply due to his elevated rank. Gray might be making movies like he lived in the 1970s, but he’s also making them great—for modern times—by taking the time to enhance the meaning underneath the grand adventure. — Brian Formo
Director: John Fawcett
Writer: Karen Walton
Cast: Katharine Isabelle, Emily Perkins, Kris Lemche, Mimi Rogers, Jesse Moss
John Fawcett‘s spin on the werewolf mythos should be considered among the ranks of the modern monster classics, and easily one of the best werewolf movies, but outside horror circles it’s too often forgotten. A coming-of-age tale via lycanthropy, Ginger Snaps tells an intimate story about two death-obsessed, co-dependent sisters who are slowly torn apart when the older girl starts to change after a werewolf attack.
Ginger Snaps was one of the early adopters of the 21st-century trend to address female puberty by way of monstrous transformation (see also: Teeth, Wildling, Revenge, among many others), and it does so with great effect, but it’s also a downright well-made horror film. The effects are on point, the characters are relatable and sympathetic (even those like the high school mean girl, the local drug peddler, and the horny teenage boy are treated with a dose of empathy), and the actors all committed in their pulpy roles. Ginger Snaps puts a clever spin on a lot of themes — sexuality, sisterhood, loneliness, outsider pride and the desire to belong — and in doing so, it puts a fresh spin on one of horror’s most long-standing genres.
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Writer: Jim Jarmusch and Ron Padgett (original poetry)
Starring: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani, Rizwan Manji, Barry Shabaka Henley, Chasten Harmon, William Jackson Harper, Method Man, Kara Hayward, Jared Gilman
Jim Jarmusch’s 2016 film is certainly simple. Paterson follows a bus driver (Adam Driver) in Paterson, New Jersey for one week. He’s named after the town he lives in and we follow him as he eavesdrops on passengers, purchases a harlequin guitar for his girlfriend (Golshifteh Farahani), visits his local pub on his nightly walk with his bulldog and as he writes poetry at the beginning and middle of his shift. Of course, other things occur, but Paterson is powerful in its modesty and warm in the way it slows everything down to recite Paterson’s poetic works in progress.
With a perfect synergy from a meditative drone and the calm demeanor from Driver, Paterson is able to convey the very difficult task of an artist’s thought process as everything becomes still and elongated as he writes his thoughts on a pad of paper. It might not sound thrilling, but it’s a warm cup of tea and Jarmusch playfully dips the bag while stirring in tea. As a portrait of a relationship of would-be famous artists—he who follows a strict routine and she who changes her artistic pursuit on a whim—Jarmusch does not take a stance that one is better, just that simply doing is the best. The result is simply lovely and true. — Brian Formo
Writers/Directors: Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer
Cast: Alexandra Essoe, Amanda Fuller, Noah Segan
Starry Eyes starts out as your classic Hollywood tale before it decides to get seven different shades of fucked up. Sarah Walker (Alexandra Essoe) works days as a fast-food waitress while moonlighting as an aspiring actor who hears “we’ll be in touch” too often from casting directors with nothing to show for it. But after a strange audition with a producer who asks her to recreate a very real mental breakdown, Sarah finds her life—and her body—breaking down in horrific, violent ways. A harrowing demonic horror story anchored by dynamite, balls-to-the-wall performance from Essoe, Starry Eyes is also, strangely enough, a perfect encapsulation of the life of a struggling artist in the City of Angels, where sometimes you have to sell your soul to the devil to achieve your dreams. — Vinnie Mancuso
Writer/Director: Neil Marshall
Cast: Kevin McKidd, Sean Pertwee, Emma Cleasby, Liam Cunningham, Darren Morfitt
Director Neill Marshall is best known for his work on Game of Thrones for pulse-pounding episodes like Blackwater and The Watchers on the Wall and the upcoming Hellboy reboot, but the filmmaker got his start as a horror director and his werewolf drama Dog Soldiers is one hell of an action-packed bloodbath. Easily one of the best werewolf movies ever made (though admittedly there are surprisingly few good ones), Dog Soldiers unites a cast of kickass UK actors as a squad of soldiers on a training mission in the Scottish Highlands who stumble upon a family of vicious werewolves and wind up in a fight for their lives. Rich with just the right amount of character drama, and a whole lot of spectacularly bloody set-pieces, Dog Soldiers is the perfect pick for the next night you want to pump up the adrenaline.
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Writer: Howard Sackler
Cast: Frank Silvera, Kenneth Harp, Paul Mazursky, Virginia Leith, Stephen Coit
Stanley Kubrick famously wanted to destroy every copy of his first film, Fear and Desire. It makes sense that he’d want to because it’s nowhere near as accomplished as The Killing or Paths of Glory. But thank heavens the perfectionist auteur and one of the undeniable greatest directors of all time never had his way. Fear and Desire is an average film that has some stunning moments and it’s absolutely integral viewing for any cinephile to see the first seedlings Kubrick dropped. The story involves a few WWII soldiers who get caught behind enemy lines and start to go mad from fear of everyone who lives on that side and desire for an enemy woman.
There are some fantastic shots here; the camera falling with a body or pushing through the leaves. Sure this is far below what we expect from Kubrick but his fear of man, woman, and violent conflict are all on display here. It’s he who’s the magician, for once he was a fishy filmmaker who became one of the most obsessive and important filmmakers of all time. So obsessed one of his obsessions was ridding the world of something that wasn’t perfection. There are far worse ways to spend 62 minutes of your time. This is time well spent for any cinephile. — Brian Formo
The Greasy Strangler
Director: Jim Hosking
Writer: Toby Shepherd and Jim Hosking
Cast: Elizabeth De Razzo, Sky Elobar, Michael St. Michaels
The Greasy Strangler is a blast, and I’m no bullshit artist. The feature film debut from Jim Hosking has incited a lot of pearl-clutching and gasps of horror since it debuted at Sundance earlier this year, and it’s easy enough to see why — it’s absurd, unapologetic, and indecent by just about every conventional standard, but the beauty of The Greasy Strangler is the fact that it doesn’t care about conventional standards at all. Forget about photoshopping, and narrative guidebooks, and all the little safety boxes that have to be checked off when a film tries to be a four-quadrant picture. The Greasy Strangler feels like Grindhouse incarnate, a midnight movie sprung from the very soul of midnight movies to make you cringe and guffaw and quote one-liners you’ll probably never be able to get out of your head.
Director: Chad Hartigan
Writers: Chad Hartigan, Tara Everhart
Cast: Paul Eenhoorn, Richmond Arquette, Demetrius Grosse, and Tom Plunkett
The idea of prisoner rehabilitation and reentry has received much overdue attention in recent years, and few films have approached the subject with the sensitivity, humor, and intelligence of Chad Hartigan’s micro-masterpiece. The title character, played with ample charm and wisdom by Paul Eenhoorn, was once a local rock & roll star, as well as a priest, but his calling is now in helping former inmates get reacquainted with life on the outside. The character alone is a wildly clever yet gentle consideration of how the empathy preached by religion is often found in more meaningful, useful ways in the selfless work of federal and state institutions, but the film’s central ideas come to fruitful life when he meets his latest charge, Travis (Richmond Arquette).
Not only does the film act as a vibrant testament to the societal good that is done by personal dedication to a job that is often thankless – especially when it’s governmental – it’s entire focus of the film is on the struggle of forgiveness, the work that must go into overcoming guilt of past actions and being at some sort of peace with the world. That Hartigan, and co-scripter Tara Everhart, also see the regular failure of forgiveness, and never suggest that either Bonner or Travis is altruistic in their positive endeavors, renders This is Martin Bonner that rare, melancholic film about the tremendous joy that friendship and understanding can bring, and the near-overwhelming level of work and effort that goes into sustaining just such connections. — Chris Cabin
Love and Friendship
Writer/Director: Whit Stillman
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Xavier Samuel, Tom Bennett, Chloë Sevigny, Emma Greenwell, Morfydd Clark
Whit Stillman’s delightful comedic career has included a few pointed critiques of East Coast private school privilege (from Metropolitan through Damsels in Distress). Which makes him the perfect fit for taking on comedic class navigation of America’s colonizers. One of Britain’s cheekiest and most rebellious melodrama scribes, Jane Austen, fits him like a glove. Austen’s Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) is our guide through the houses of many 18th century estates. Lady Susan is a widow and property-less, but she means to not only keep her stature but to continue to rise in society. She requests quarters at her distrustful sister-in-law’s (Emma Greenwell). And from there she sets up a chessboard that includes a new-money suitor (Tom Bennett) for her daughter (Morfydd Clark), an American confidant (Chloë Sevigny) who’ll cover for her when she meets up with a married man (payment in gossip, of course), and attempts to win over her former brother-in-law (Xavier Samuel) to keep her in the family’s good graces (and guest room).
There’s a labyrinth of characters in Love & Friendship, and Stillman helps us keep track of them through posed portraits. It takes the first third of the film to set up all the characters, but once they’re all placed, it’s dizzying fun. Bennett is a hoot as the oaf with a heart of gold, who’s new to gold, and thus the type of conversation that old money wants to echo in their quarters. And Beckinsale properly keeps the audience at arm’s length as she’s consistently putting on a new affront and gives no sense of self, besides achieving her status desire. While such a distant character might make another film impenetrable, Stillman’s supporting cast is so delightful that it makes Susan’s manipulation of her status (and them) more lighthearted and fun. — Brian Formo
Writer/Director: Christopher Smith
Cast: Melissa George, Liam Hemsworth, Joshua McIvor, Michael Dorman Rachael Carpani, Henry Nixon, Emma Lung
After putting a delightfully cheeky spin on the backwoods slasher genre with his 2006 films Severance, writer-director Christopher Smith got even more creative with his next film, the time loop mind-bender Triangle. Centered on Melissa George‘s Jess, a woman with an undisclosed source of agony behind her surface-level calm, Triangle sees a group of friends on a yachting trip through the Bermuda Triangle, where they escape to a passing ocean liner in the midst of a terrible storm. Once aboard, they find that the massive ship is abandoned, and what’s worse, they’re being stalked by a hooded murderous figure who appears to be the only other inhabitant on the vessel.
It’s difficult to talk about Triangle without giving away its many clever twists and turns, but a vicious time loop repeatedly thrusts the group into the nightmare scenario where Jess emerges at the heart of a mystery that might just hold the key to their escape. Smith makes the most of his twisty concept with an intricately designed narrative of overlapping timelines, and a number of striking and creative that showcase the horror of being stuck in a hellish time loop.
Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills
Directors: Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky
The mack daddy of all true crime documentaries, with only Errol Morris’ chilling, enveloping The Thin Blue Line battling for its otherwise undisputed title. At 150 minutes, the film plunges us deep in the horrifying case of the West Memphis Three – Jessie Misskelley, Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin – who were unfairly tried and convicted for the murders of three young boys in Arkansas’ Robin Hood Hills. Not only do directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky cover the case itself, but also the emotional aftermath on the families of the dead and the accused, and the local community, following the slayings, catching the corruptive nature of violent retribution and vengeance on the justice system with startling clarity. There was so much information pouring from the story that the directors would go onto direct two other films, and that’s not even counting the Peter Jackson-produced alternative film, West of Memphis, and Atom Egoyan’s unpleasant narrative take on the happenings, Devil’s Knot. But the original remains the gold standard, one of the most haunting visions of the human compulsion to find a simplistic, stereotypical narrative trajectory even in far more complex life situations, to the point where they are willing to send three young innocent men to prison for life, or even the electric chair. — Chris Cabin
Writer/Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy
Who knew a single plate of spaghetti could be so damn distressing? The Lobster and Dogtooth director Yorgos Lanthimos has made a career of helming perversely punishing, psychologically upsetting films, and in that regard, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is his most accomplished nerve-wrecker yet. Cynical as it is singular, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a tale of crime and punishment that harnesses the capricious cruelty of the old golds in order to turn the failings of man into a horrific show of penance when a venerated surgeon (Colin Farrell) takes a young man (Barry Keoghan) under his mentorship and finds himself in a hellscape of emotional and existential retribution. It’s unflinchingly awkward and brutal, and it’s the kind of psychological horror that worms into your brain and settles in for long after the film’s initial blows have worn off.
Inside Llewyn Davis
Directors/Writers: Joel and Ethan Coen
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, Adam Driver, Garrett Hedlund, John Goodman, and F. Murray Abraham
Inside Llewyn Davis is a masterpiece and, by my estimate, one of the best films the Coen Brothers have ever made. The film is set in 1961 Greenwich Village, just as the folk scene is evolving, and chronicles the struggles of undoubtedly talented but “uncommercial” musician Llewyn Davis. Oscar Isaac gives a stirring, dimensional performance as the titular character, and the film at heart is really a story about depression, unhappiness, and coming to terms with one’s place in one’s life. It also features a phenomenal soundtrack, curated by T. Bone Burnett—the same man responsible for the Coen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. If you haven’t seen this underrated gem, get on it. – Adam Chitwood
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