The 100 Best Movies on Amazon Prime (July 2021)
Sound of Metal
Photo: Courtesy of Amazon Studios
You really should be using your Amazon Prime subscription for more than just shipping discounts and Whole Foods sales. The people at Amazon have amassed a truly impressive library of films that can be accessed with your Prime account, and in many ways, it’s equal to and arguably even superior to
. But how do you know where to begin? As we have done with Netflix, allow us to present a regularly-updated guide to 100 movies to watch on
. A collection of classics, blockbusters, and under-the-radar flicks, you really should watch all 100. Get back to us after you do.
About a Boy
There’s been a bit of a reappraisal of Hugh Grant’s acting ability in the last few years with his great work in
A Very English Scandal
, but his career-best work may still be in this adaptation of the Nick Hornby novel about a man-child who learns how to grow up from his friendship with a kid. Minnie Driver is pretty delightful here too.
James Cameron’s 1989 sci-fi blockbuster is one of the most prominent films never to have been released on Blu-ray in the United States. This means that the best quality in which you could watch this film is probably right here on Amazon, at least until Disney gets their act together and gives this modern classic the HD treatment that it deserves.
Ace in the Hole
One of the best performances of Kirk Douglas’s career came in a 1951 noir that has earned its reputation as a classic in the six decades since its release. The amazing Billy Wilder broke through with his direction of this story of a disgraced reporter who will do whatever it takes to get his job back. A lot of movies are credited with being ahead of their time, but
Ace in the Hole
one undeniably was.
Spike Jonze directed this Oscar winner that gave Nicolas Cage two of his best characters as a writer and his fictional twin brother. Charlie Kaufman wrote the semi-biographical tale of a writer struggling to adapt a book by Susan Orlean, played here by Meryl Streep. Witty and sharp, the comedy co-stars Brian Cox, Tilda Swinton, Ron Livingston, and Chris Cooper, who won an Oscar for his work.
Tom Harper directed this film that just landed in theaters at the end of 2019 and was quickly shuffled off to Amazon. It’s a shame because this is a film that deserved more attention. It’s got cross-demographic appeal for kids and adults in its story of the first people to really break through the clouds in a hot air balloon.
The Theory of Everything
stars Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones reunite
and deliver in a well-made action film that uses a lot more practical effects and stunts than most modern flicks like this and the result is some tension for anyone with even a moderate fear of heights.
The African Queen
There aren’t enough undeniable classics on Amazon, so you should take the chance to watch the few that there are, even if just to fill in your personal viewing history with some movies made before 1980.
Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn
are simply perfect together in this adventure rom-com that should be listed in any film dictionary next to the words
Trivia: This is the only movie Bogart won an Oscar for.
A.I.: Artificial Intelligence
Modestly received when it was released in 2001, history has come to recognize that Steven Spielberg’s completion of a project once started by Stanley Kubrick is a brilliant film. Haley Joel Osment stars as David, an android child who learns about the meaning of life and human nature. It’s a gorgeous, ambitious piece of work that you should revisit if you haven’t seen it since it came out.
Michael Mann directed this 2001 biopic of one of the most important figures of the twentieth century, Muhammad Ali. Will Smith does possibly the best film work of his career as the legendary boxer, civil rights icon, and all-around role model, and Mann approaches the life of Ali with his own unique craftsmanship. This appears to be the original theatrical edition and not one of the alternate versions later released, FYI.
James Cameron redefined the expectations for a sequel when he took over the story of Ripley in this incredible follow-up to Ridley Scott’s genre-defining classic. Taking the horror set-up of the original film and turning it into more of an action movie, Cameron reshaped movie history, and started the debate over which film is better. The truth is they’re both pretty perfect.
The kind of serious thriller that American audiences didn’t know what to do with when it came out, this 2010 Anton Corbijn film had a critical following but failed at the box office. Based on the book
A Very Private Gentleman
, it stars George Clooney as a contract killer in hiding who has to flee across Europe after his cover is blown. It’s tense and very smart.
Incredibly controversial when it was released, Alan Parker’s 1987 thriller has aged very well thanks in large part to great performances from Mickey Rourke and Robert De Niro. Rourke plays Harry Angel, a private investigator who is hired to solve a disappearance that leads him to New Orleans at the behest of a devilish man named Louis Cypher (Get it!?!?). Explicitly sexual and violent, it’s the kind of movie for adults that truly doesn’t get made anymore.
It’s hard to believe that Billy Wilder’s masterpiece is over six decades old given that it’s a film that feels as timeless as ever. The template for so many movies to come,
is a daring dissection of toxicity in the story of an insurance clerk (Jack Lemmon) who lets his coworkers use his apartment to support their infidelity. It’s a perfect movie.
One of the Best Picture winners that seems to have faded from memory more quickly than others is on Amazon Prime now waiting for a reappraisal. It may not be as good as its multiple Oscars suggests, but it’s also probably more fun and cleverer than the subsequent backlash may have led you to believe. Both can be true.
Ash Is Purest White
Jia Zhangke is one of the world’s best filmmakers. If you can track down copies of the Chinese director’s
Still Life, A Touch of Sin
Mountains May Depart
, you really should do so. Until then, check out his latest work, an epic gangster flick with a mesmerizing performance from Jia’s wife, Zhao Tao. Like a lot of great crime movies, it becomes a commentary on the state of the country in which it’s set as much as anything else.
The Big Sick
It’s not common for a breakthrough comedy to be so acclaimed and popular that it actually becomes an Oscar nominee for Best Screenplay, but
The Big Sick
is not a typical comedy (and Holly Hunter was robbed of a nomination too, by the way).
and Emily V. Gordon loosely adapt their story, with Nanjiani starring alongside Zoe Kazan. It’s really as crowdpleasing as comedies get. You kind of have to be an asshole not to like it.
Bringing Out the Dead
’s most underrated films when it was released, the 1999 drama has built a new appreciation in the two decades since. Nicolas Cage does incredible work as an EMS worker on the graveyard shift in New York City —
an easy job. Existential and terrifying, this is a movie that people seem to still be discovering.
One of the best films of James L. Brooks’s career is this 1987 romantic dramedy that was so acclaimed that it was nominated for Best Picture and included a couple years ago in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. Holly Hunter, William Hurt, and Albert Brooks are fantastic in this smart movie about the people who bring viewers the news. Some of it is a little dated now, but the acting and writing will always be brilliant.
Burn After Reading
Joel and Ethan Coen followed their Best Picture winner
No Country For Old Men
with one of their most cynical and hysterical movies, a comedy of errors about some incredibly stupid people. Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand, George Clooney, Richard Jenkins, John Malkovich, and J.K. Simmons star in a movie that’s basically about, well, a bunch of total idiots. No one drops an f-bomb like John Malkovich.
Lee Chang-dong’s 2018 Cannes darling is one of the best Korean films of the last decade. Based loosely on a short story by Haruki Murakami, it stars Yoo Ah-in as an aimless young man who reunites with an old childhood friend, played by Jeon Jong-seo. When she brings home a mysterious young man named Ben (a transcendent Steven Yeun), things get weird.
This wonderful 1963 film is part romantic comedy and part Hitchockian mystery, courtesy of master director Stanley Donen and the blinding charisma of Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. A lot of movies try to be a little bit of everything but few in history have blended genres as diverse as screwball comedy and suspense thriller as seamlessly as this clever classic, which also has great supporting turns from Walter Matthau and James Coburn.
Children of the Corn
Stephen King has arguably never been more popular than in the era of blockbuster adaptations
It, Doctor Sleep
, and the
remake, but this is nothing new.
Hollywood has been adapting the work of the master of horror for decades
. Take, for example, this 1984 adaptation of a short story that King wrote over four decades ago. It may not be a great movie, but it’s becoming a cultural touchstone — every time there’s a creepy kid in a flick, audiences think of the little monsters that give this movie its name.
Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown. One of the best movies of the ‘70s, this Best Picture nominee (and Best Screenplay winner) tells the story of Jake Gittes, played unforgettably by Jack Nicholson, as he investigates an adulterer and finds something much more insidious under the surface of Los Angeles. It’s a must-see, as important as almost any film from its era.
One of the cool things about Amazon’s increased theatrical output is that they’re putting their films on Amazon Prime very quickly after playing at the multiplex or arthouse. Take this
2018 Oscar nominee from Pawel Pawlikowski
), a Polish drama about star-crossed lovers over decades after the end of World War II. It’s a luscious, emotional drama that demands your attention and rewards it.
The legendary Richard Attenborough directed Kevin Kline and Denzel Washington to two of the best performances of their careers in this 1987 drama about the conditions of apartheid in South Africa in the 1970s. Washington plays a Black activist named Steve Biko, who died trying to defend his people. It earned Denzel his first Oscar nomination of eight (and counting).
Jean-Pierre Jeunet directed this pitch-black comedy with his partner Marc Caro way back in 1991, before he would make a bigger splash with
. In an apartment building in France in the future, food is hard to come by, leading to the butcher on the first floor going to cannibalistic extremes to feed his tenants. Visually striking in a way that instantly announced Jeunet & Caro as artists that needed to be watched, it’s a tasty treat.
One of the best noirs ever made is just sitting there on Amazon Prime waiting for you to discover it. Based on the 1939 novel of the same name,
stars Tom Neal and Ann Savage and it just oozes style in the way it uses the classic genre structure of a man who keeps digging himself into a deeper and deeper hole. Considered a lesser B-movie for years, it has only recently been reappraised as a noir classic.
Alexander Payne’s best film is still his 1999 comedy that uses a student body election to comment on not just politics on a grander scale but human nature.
Reese Witherspoon stars as the unforgettable Tracy Flick
, the overachiever who basically drives her teacher, played by Matthew Broderick, totally insane. Scathing and hysterical,
is a movie that could come out unchanged two decades after its release.
The wonderful Julia Hart co-wrote and directed this very unusual superhero origin story that plays like the more character-driven answer to the blockbuster worlds of things like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The great
plays Ruth, a young woman who seems to have lost control over her life and the very unique nature of her being. As she’s being hunted by men in black, she finds her way home and back into the sphere of her mother and daughter. What unfolds is a story of empowerment, a truly female-driven narrative about generations of strength and an origin story for an unforgettable hero.
David Fincher’s adaptation of the book by Chuck Palahniuk has been so dissected and memed that it’s hard to take it seriously in 2021, but it’s worth the effort, especially given how much what it has to say about toxic masculinity remains so relevant. It’s also just a stunning technical exercise with Fincher playing with his visual style in ways he doesn’t really do anymore.
A Fish Called Wanda
Movies simply don’t get much funnier than this Oscar winner starring John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, and Michael Palin. The story of a jewel robbery gone very wrong, the barrister who gets involved, and the fish that gets caught in the middle is regularly included on any short list of the funniest movies ever made. You know how the Academy Awards never include any comedy performances? This one won an Oscar for Kevin Kline, who is simply impossible to deny.
The Fisher King
It’s been three decades since the release of Terry Gilliam’s masterful fantasy-drama about a shock jock DJ and the homeless man who changes his life. Jeff Bridges plays the DJ, whose life is shattered after inadvertently encouraging a mass shooting. When he meets Robin Williams’s character, he sees a chance at redemption for both of them. Smart, funny, and heartbreaking, it’s one of the best movies of the ‘90s.
Fist of Fury
Bruce Lee really landed on the international map with two Hong Kong films directed by Lo Wei, 1971’s
The Big Boss
and then this film the next year, a movie about a student who seeks to avenge the murder of his master. After some disappointment in the Hollywood system, Lee went back to Hong Kong and redefined martial arts cinema forever. This is an essential piece of work in the genre.
Jodie Foster stars in a 2005 thriller that plays like a loose and action-driven variation on Alfred Hitchcock’s
The Lady Vanishes
. Foster plays a widow who is returning from Berlin to America on a plane when her daughter literally disappears. While those around her even deny the existence of the girl, Foster gives her all to prove she’s not going insane.
Fright Night Lights
Long before the NBC hit drama, Peter Berg adapted the Buzz Bissinger book about Texas football into a successful feature film with a hell of a cast. Anchored by Billy Bob Thornton as the coach, the film also includes work from future stars like Derek Luke, Lucas Black, and Garrett Hedlund, among others. It’s a smart, tense film that turns high school football in the heart of America into life and death.
Sebastián Lelio co-writes and directs this adaptation of his own 2013 film
that’s essentially the same film beat for beat with one major difference:
. The Oscar-winning legend plays the title role, a divorced woman with two adult children. There’s no high concept or strange hook here — just a beautiful character study with one of the best performances of 2019.
Guys and Dolls
The stage musical may be a little thin but it’s the cast that makes Joseph Mankiewicz’s 1955 Oscar nominee into such a timeless charmer. Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando were at the peak of their charm when they stepped into these roles. Sure, Brando’s singing is a little dodgy, but who cares? And Jean Simmons and Vivian Blaine are pretty fantastic too.
None of the streaming services have a truly deep selection of international cinema but Amazon Prime is better than most. Take for example Park Chan-wook’s
masterful period drama about betrayal, sex, and more betrayal
. It’s one of the most technically gorgeous films you could possibly watch tonight. Make sure the kids are in bed first though.
Paul Thomas Anderson
was a legendary writer-director came this excellent 1996 drama-noir also known as
. Philip Baker Hall plays a gambler who meets a young man played John C. Reilly and takes him under his wing. A few years later, they meet a woman named Clementine, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, and, well, things get complicated. PTA’s craftsmanship was top-notch right from the very beginning.
Christian Slater kinda does a Jack Nicholson impression and
is at the peak of her ’80s emo charm in this clever satire of high-school life. Ryder plays the high-school outcast and Slater plays the guy who teaches her that revenge is a dish best served with an attitude.
His Girl Friday
When people think of the most influential Hollywood comedies of all time, this 1940 Howard Hawks hit often makes the list. Watch it to see why. You’ll witness Cary Grant at his most charismatic as Walter Burns, an editor who is watching his best reporter and ex-wife walk out the door. He suggests they cover one last story, and Hollywood magic ensues. American movies don’t get much more
One of David Mamet’s best films is this 1991 drama featuring his muse, Joe Mantegna, giving arguably the best performance of his career (it’s this or another great Mamet flick,
House of Games
). Mantegna plays Bobby Gold, a detective on the trail of a killer played by Ving Rhames when the investigation starts to challenge not only his intellect but his faith. William H. Macy, another Mamet regular, is great here too.
Don Cheadle stars in this recounting of the Rwandan genocide of 1994, seen through the eyes of a hotelier caught up in the madness and forced to act. Paul Rusesabagina saved not only his family but hundreds of other refugees. Films like this can often feel exploitative, but Cheadle’s amazing work breaks through that and allows it to feel genuine and moving.
I Am Not Your Negro
The George Floyd case and other police-involved shootings brought viewers back to a stunning 2016 documentary that works from an unfinished manuscript by the brilliant James Baldwin. Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, it’s an exploration of racial issues in America that digs back through the civil rights leaders through Baldwin’s personal experiences and beyond.
I’m Your Woman
The brilliant Julia Hart co-wrote and directed this very different thriller, a crime movie told only from the POV of one character, the wife of a criminal. Rachel Brosnahan of
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
gives her best film performance to date as Jean, a woman who is forced to go on the run with her young child after her criminal husband goes missing. It’s a finely calibrated piece of work that reshapes an overdone genre in a way that makes it feel fresh again.
earned him raves, but his previous drama is arguably even stronger, and it too is now on Amazon Prime. Set in Poland in 1962, this mesmerizing film tells the story of a young woman on the verge of taking her vows to become a nun. Before she can do that, she wans to fill in some holes in her personal history, including exactly what happened when she was orphaned during World War II.
In a Lonely Place
Nicholas Ray gave Humphrey Bogart one of the richest roles in his career in this 1950 noir based on the Dorothy B. Hughes novel of the same name. When it was released, this story of a screenwriter suspected of murder didn’t connect the same way that Bogart generally did at the time, but history has been very kind to it, and it’s now widely considered one of the best film noirs of all time.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
There’s a reason that this story of pod people has been remade pretty much for every generation. It taps into something timeless about the fear of distrusting our fellow man (and seems pretty ready for a 2020 update). The ‘70s version by Philip Kaufman is arguably the best, anchored by one of Donald Sutherland’s best performances and that creepy sense that the sense of community fostered by the late ‘60s was being dismantled from within.
It’s a Wonderful Life
Frank Capra’s classic often gets a ton of replay around the holidays, but it’s the kind of heartwarmer that works all year long. This is no mere Christmas movie but a story about the impact that one man can have on an entire community. It really defined the on-screen persona of Jimmy Stewart and has become a beloved film around the world, even in warm weather.
I have never once figured out how to rate a movie or TV show on Amazon prime so I find it alarming to see an entire… https://t.co/vAR1fQBxwf— Lana Neuman Fri Jun 18 00:18:13 +0000 2021
Ju-On: The Grudge
It’s hard to overstate what a juggernaut the
franchise has become over the last two decades. There are over a dozen films in this franchise and three American versions, including one earlier this year. There’s also a Netflix prequel series (that’s pretty good!). But this is still the tentpole of them all, the 2002 flick that really defined the style of these vicious ghost movies. It still works as well today as when it came out.
The Lady from Shanghai
Orson Welles may get more attention for unqualified masterpieces like
, but this has always been a fan favorite for people who love him, a stunning example of his incredible visual sense. This is a gorgeous noir starring Rita Hayworth and Everett Sloane based on the novel
If I Die Before I Wake
that was only modestly received in 1947 but has been recognized as a masterpiece over the decades since it was released.
The Lady Vanishes
When people consider the career of Alfred Hitchcock, this 1938 genre playground is too rarely mentioned. Part comedy, part thriller, part mystery, part romance,
The Lady Vanishes
stars Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave in the story of a tourist who believes that an elderly woman on the train has met violent ends when she disappears. As everyone around her tries to convince the woman that she just imagined the traveling companion, Hitchcock plays with perception and expectation in fascinating ways.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco
Amazon Prime has arguably the best mix of legitimate classics and recent hits like this 2019 Sundance darling from
director Joe Talbot
. It’s the story of a young man who hopes to reclaim his childhood home in a now-overpriced section of San Francisco. Lyrical and poignant, it also features a stunning supporting performance from Jonathan Majors, who is about to blow up in
Leave No Trace
One of the best films of 2018, Debra Granik’s return to filmmaking stars Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie and Ben Foster as a daughter and father who live
off the grid. His PTSD doesn’t allow him to live in traditional settings, but he can sense that his daughter is pulling away from him and ready to live in the society he has shunned.
Everything comes full circle in
as Steve James tells the life story of Roger Ebert in a way that only he could. Ebert helped bring James’
to the world with his praise for it and so it makes perfect sense that James would now tell his story, one that is even more poignant since his passing.
Do you think the people at Amazon have a sense of humor? Or is just a coincidence that they dropped a film about two people going crazy in a confined space together during the pandemic? Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe are fearless in
Robert Eggers’ black-and-white nightmare
about two people who learn that nothing is scarier than being trapped with someone unbearable.
Steven Soderbergh directs a searing performance by Terence Stamp in this 1999 thriller about a Brit who comes to California trying to find his missing daughter, and those who may be responsible for hurting her. Soderbergh rarely missteps and this is one of his most underrated films, a perfectly paced angry shout of a movie that matches its captivating leading man.
The Lost City of Z
One of the best films of
, this piece is set in 1980s West London at a killer house party. Micheal Ward and Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn star as two lovers who meet at the party in this gloriously joyful ode to youth and passion. A lot of
is really intense stuff, but this one will make you smile.
Manchester by the Sea
Casey Affleck won an Oscar for his heartbreaking performance in Kenneth Lonergan’s drama about a broken man finally put back together when he’s forced to take care of his nephew. Lonergan’s film is an unforgettable character study, full of complex emotions and beats. And it has two scenes that are
almost guaranteed to make you cry
The Manchurian Candidate
Over four decades after the wildly influential original film, Jonathan Demme returned to the Richard Condon 1959 novel and delivered a movie that was widely underrated. Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Jon Voight, and Liev Schreiber star in the 2004 story of a sleeper agent, a film that played a lot differently in a scary post-9/11 world.
Letitia Wright (
) stars in one of the best films in
, a collection of works about life in West London in the ‘70s and ‘80s. This one is the true story of the Mangrove Nine, a group of people arrested after a protest march ended in violence in August 1970. It was one of the first major cases about systemic racism in the country.
Master and Commander
Russell Crowe stars in a brilliant period action film based on the novels by Patrick O’Brian that recreates warfare on the water arguably better than any other film. This really should have been the start of a franchise. Crowe plays Jack Aubrey, Captain in the Royal Navy, and Paul Bettany does his best film work as the ship’s surgeon. This was nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.
There’s still a weird belief that
is better at comedy than drama, even using the former to shade roles like that in
Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri
. However, Woody kills it when he goes deeply dramatic too as in this Oren Moverman drama about the men who tell loved ones that soldiers have died in combat. Ben Foster is incredible here too.
Amazon’s horror selection is a little lacking if you don’t have the Shudder add-on, but they do have exclusive streaming rights to
and A24’s excellent
, the story of a vacation gone horribly awry. Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor play a couple who go to Sweden for a festival. A comedy of cultures gives way to something much darker when the true purpose of the festival is revealed in a series of final scenes that you’ll never forget.
Satoshi Kon is one of the most important filmmakers who ever lived, and this is arguably his masterpiece. Released in 2001 and co-written by Kon too, it’s a drama that’s loosely based on the lives of Setsuko Hara and Hideko Takamine and features two filmmakers trying to pin down the life of a legendary actress. Kon uses animation to explore the image of the actress in cinema.
One of Steven Spielberg’s best modern movies is this adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story about a future in which crime can be predicted before it happens. Tom Cruise stars as a man who is convicted of a crime he has no intent of committing in a fantastic vision of a future in which the systems designed to stop crime have been corrupted. It’s timely and probably always will be.
The Neon Demon
No one makes movies quite like
Nicolas Winding Refn
. The director of
delivered one of his most unforgettable flicks in this horror film about the fashion industry, featuring a fearless performance by Elle Fanning. And Keanu Reeves is in it too!
Night Falls on Manhattan
Sidney Lumet is one of the top American filmmakers in history, starting his career with
12 Angry Men
and moving through modern classics like
Dog Day Afternoon
Prince of the City
. This 1996 crime drama is one of his most underrated, starring Andy Garcia as a New York District Attorney who is trying to confront corruption in the NYPD.
On the Waterfront
Elia Kazan’s complicated place in film history shouldn’t overshadow the incredible performances that anchor this 1954 drama, once considered one of the best films ever made. It undeniably features a top-tier performance from Marlon Brando, who won an Oscar, but he’s matched by Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger, and Eva Marie Saint.
One Night in Miami
Only Lovers Left Alive
How does one possibly begin to describe one of the most wonderfully odd films of the 2010s? Jim Jarmusch wrote and directed this story of apathetic vampires, creatures who have lived so long and seen so much that the world mostly leaves them apathetic. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are fantastic in the lead roles, and they’re matched by great supporting turns from Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin, Jeffrey Wright, and John Hurt.
The Parallax View
Alan J. Pakula directed this incredible thriller from 1974 that examines the power structures that rule the world in a way that feels oddly timely a half-century later. Warren Beatty does some of the best work of his career as a journalist who discovers a powerful organization known as the Parallax Corporation, who not only pull the strings but organize political assassinations. It’s a piece of work that’s still riveting today.
A Place in the Sun
Amazon Prime added dozens of acknowledged classics in July 2020 and this is one of the standouts, George Stevens’s adaptation of the Theodore Dreiser novel
An American Tragedy
. It’s a great example of a masterful filmmaker catching stars at just the right time in their careers. Montgomery Clift,
, and Shelley Winters are phenomenal in a film that won six Oscars, including Best Director and Best Screenplay.
One of the best movies of the ‘80s has become more famous for the weight gain of its leading man, Robert DeNiro, arguably the best actor of that decade. He earned that title by being fearless in films, many of which were directed by his friend Martin Scorsese. His work as Jake La Motta remains career-defining for the superstar, and the fact that this lost the Oscar to
remains a talking point whenever anyone wants to talk about the Academy getting it wrong.
Late in his career, Akira Kurosawa delivered one of his most epic films in this adaptation of William Shakespeare’s
, blending that story with legends and history of Japan. The most expensive Japanese film ever made at the time, this 1985 war epic was a worldwide hit, bringing new viewers into the career of one of the best filmmakers of all time.
Is there a thriller that’s been more influential than this 1954 Alfred Hitchcock classic? Arguably not. It’s so perfectly simple and yet still so riveting in the way it unfolds. It’s the story of an injured man (James Stewart) who thinks he sees something murderous in the window across the courtyard. Hitchcock takes the confined structure of Cornell Woolrich’s short story and turns it into a taut, perfect genre exercise. It’s an all-timer.
One of the best films of 2019 is right there on Amazon for you to watch. Picked up
for a small fortune, Amazon quietly released it in major cities, but have done little to promote this sturdy, smart thriller about the torture report that revealed the extent our government went to cover up its behavior after 9/11.
Adam Driver, Annette Bening
, Tim Blake Nelson, Jon Hamm, Corey Stoll, and many more star in a film reminiscent in tone and accomplishment to
Road to Perdition
See, Tom Hanks doesn’t always play the nice guy! In Sam Mendes’ adaptation of the Max Allan Collins graphic novel, America’s dad plays a mob enforcer seeking revenge. What’s most memorable about this 2002 film is Mendes’ remarkable attention to period detail. It’s a gorgeous film just to live in for a couple hours. Don’t do this one on your phone.
M. Night Shyamalan followed the success of
The Sixth Sense
with one of the biggest hits of his career, the story of an average family man (Mel Gibson) who ends up the center of an alien invasion. Smart and thrilling, this is easily one of the best films of Shyamalan’s career, and one of the best genre pics of its era.
Sound of Metal
Darius Marder co-wrote and directed this phenomenal character study about
a heavy metal drummer (Riz Ahmed) who loses his hearing
. Dealing with the loss of one of his senses takes him to a community of deaf people, where he learns how to communicate and finds himself again. Touching and brilliantly directed, it also features one of the best performances of 2020 from Ahmed (and one that nearly matches him from Paul Raci).
The Squid and the Whale
Noah Baumbach’s personal 2005 drama dissects the impact of divorce on an average family and offers the suggestion that the flaws of parents will only be amplified in their children. Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, and Jesse Eisenberg all give excellent performances in a film that feels both specifically revealing and universal in its themes.
Stop Making Sense
This might be the best concert movie ever made. Jonathan Demme doesn’t just film a
performance, he makes a film that truly conveys how special they were as musicians and onstage. Opening up more with each song, this film becomes a joyous expression of creativity.
Billy Wilder’s 1950 dissection of Hollywood excess has become so iconic that most people probably feel like they’ve seen it even if they never actually have. William Holden plays the doomed Joe Gillis, but the film belongs to Gloria Swanson, who turned the faded star of Norma Desmond into an instant classic.
Jeff Nichols wrote and directed this film that features the best film work by his regular collaborator, Michael Shannon. The actor plays a young husband and father who starts to have visions of the end of the world that leads him to think he may be prophetic. An allegory for mental illness and acceptance, it’s a riveting drama with an unforgettable ending.
Documentarian Garrett Bradley followed the story of Sibil Fox Richardson for years as the woman sought to get her husband Rob released from prison, where he was serving a six-decade sentence for bank robbery. Bradley’s approach is both deeply empathetic and visually striking — the film unfolds in gorgeous black and white. You won’t soon forget one of the best documentaries of 2020.
The Towering Inferno
Disaster movies rule. Back in the ‘70s, a producer named Irwin Allen had a wonderful habit of shelling out suitcases of cash to get together as many stars as possible and then make their lives hell. One of his best star-studded disaster flicks is this 1974 flick starring Paul Newman and Steve McQueen. It’s a wonderful B-movie with an A-list cast.
The wonderful Steve Buscemi wrote, directed, and starred in this 1996 drama about a cast of characters at an average watering hole. Hanging out at the titular bar, Buscemi’s gift with character and nuance shows through in every scene, and reportedly influenced David Chase’s
and Buscemi’s eventual directing of that show and later supporting role.
A sharp spoof of Hollywood blockbusters, Ben Stiller’s hit comedy has become divisive over the years in terms of how comedy has changed since its release. Yes, some of it hits differently now, but there’s no denying the fearless performances that carry it, including Stiller, Jack Black, and, most of all, Robert Downey Jr., doing anything to get the laugh.
The Truman Show
Peter Weir directed Jim Carrey to one of the strongest performances of his career in this 1998 dramedy that now seems far ahead of its time in the way it foretold people living lives online. Carrey plays Truman Burbank, a man who has grown up on a TV show but has no idea that his entire life has been watched by millions. Ed Harris and Laura Linney are also just phenomenal in this modern classic.
M. Night Shyamalan’s best film remains the story of an unexpected hero, a man who gets into a car crash and discovers that he may not be like most ordinary men. Bruce Willis is great in the lead role, his stoicism balanced by a fun performance from Samuel L. Jackson as his worldly opposite. Follow it up with the sequel
Under the Silver Lake
A24 had no idea what to do with
David Robert Mitchell’s followup to
, holding it for almost a year after its Cannes premiere and then barely releasing it at all. The lack of exposure may explain how it’s snuck its way on to Amazon Prime already, but this film is already developing a loyal following. It’s one of those movies that everyone will tell you they always loved in about a decade.
One of the greatest twists of all time made Bryan Singer’s 1995 noir into a worldwide smash, winning star Kevin Spacey an Oscar for his work. Sadly, Singer and Spacey’s choices have made the film hit differently than it did a quarter-century ago, but it’s still a taut, tight piece of work. Watch it for Benicio del Toro, Gabriel Byrne, and Chris McQuarrie’s great script and ignore the other two guys.
The Vast of Night
One of the best small-movie success stories of the last few years, this gem premiered at Slamdance, Sundance’s little cousin up the mountain in Park City, in 2019. After a small drive-in run, it’s already on Prime, where you can appreciate
this lo-fi take on aliens
in the heartland of America. Smart, funny, and daring, this is one of the best movies of 2020.
A common choice for the best film of all time, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 masterpiece works on multiple levels at the same time. On the surface, it’s a brilliant thriller about a detective (James Stewart) who becomes obsessed with a woman (Kim Novak) he’s been hired to follow, but it also reflects Hitch’s own life and career in the way it plays with perspective and image. It’s quite simply one of the best films ever made.
Darren Aronofsky directed Mickey Rourke to the best film acting work of his career in this 2008 drama about an over-the-hill wrestler who continues to fight, both in the ring and outside of it. Even though his body is failing him, the title character keeps pushing to regain some of the fame he had in the ‘80s, while also trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter, played by Evan Rachel Wood. A fantastic drama that earned Rourke an Oscar nomination (he should have won).
You Were Never Really Here
David Fincher’s masterpiece is more about the impact of crime than crime itself. The fact that he made a sprawling epic about an unsolved murder is daring enough, but what’s most remarkable is how much this movie becomes less and less about figuring out the identity of the Zodiac Killer and more about the impact of obsession. It’s one of the best films of the ‘00s.