Updated

The 24 best movies on Amazon Prime Video right now

Amazon is focused on producing quality movies of its own, but you’ll also find plenty of classics. Here are some of the films you should look for.

Knives Out
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Amazon’s Prime Video has been surpassed by the sheer number of Netflix original movies, which seem to come out weekly. While Netflix has caught up in terms of quality, the service still concentrates more on mainstream entertainments. Amazon, on the other hand, is more focused on artful movies and risk-taking.

The streaming service is nurturing great directors: Leos Carax, Spike Lee, Gus Van Sant, Park Chan-wook, Richard Linklater, Steve McQueen, Jim Jarmusch, Todd Haynes, Lynne Ramsay, and more. Ditto for talent; actors like Joaquin Phoenix, Adam Driver, and Kate Beckinsale all appear in more than one Amazon Studios film. Additionally, Amazon’s library of catalog titles—several examples of which are on this last—is far more vast than Netflix’s, especially when it comes to titles made before 1980.

Here are our top picks:

Updated September 21, 2021 to add six additional recommendations in alphabetical order, starting with Attack the Block, and to rotate out some older picks. Jeff’s earlier recommendations follow, also in alphabetical order, starting with Annette.

Attack the Block

Attack the Block Optimum Releasing

Gang leader Moses (John Boyega, center) joins forces with a nurse and a pot dealer to ward off an alien invasion in Attack the Block.

After seemingly dozens of terrible alien-invasion movies, this fresh, smart, playful film came along, and has already become something of a cult classic. Attack the Block (2011) begins as nurse Sam (Jodie Whittaker) takes the wrong street on her way home and is mugged by a group of thugs, led by Moses (John Boyega, later cast as Finn in the Star Wars movies). Something strange falls from the sky, and thus begins an alien invasion. Sam finds herself joining forces with her former muggers, as well as a goofball pot dealer (Nick Frost), to try to defend their neighborhood.

This clever movie is really about flawed perceptions, not only in how the humans and aliens view each other, but also in how the different humans view each other. It was the directorial debut of English comedian Joe Cornish, and it was produced by filmmaker Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead); the two friends also co-wrote The Adventures of Tintin and Ant-Man.

The Fog

The Fog Shout! Factory

Something emerges from a ghostly fog during the 100th anniversary of the town of Antonio Bay in John Carpenter’s The Fog.

Following the immense success of his still-essential Halloween (1978)—and a stopover on TV for an Elvis movie—John Carpernter returned to widescreen horror with The Fog (1980), a movie reliant more on its clammy mood than on gore or slashings. When the fog comes into the long frame, Carpenter relishes the way it moves, rolling from back to front, toward the audience.

The movie opens with none other than John Houseman explaining the plot: exactly 100 years ago, a ship sunk off the coast of the town of Antonio Bay, and now a mysterious fog, containing mysterious and vengeful forces, envelops the town, causing death and mayhem. Adrienne Barbeau plays sexy radio DJ Stevie Wayne, whose son finds a plank from the death ship, and Hal Holbrook plays Father Malone, whose church may hold a key to the puzzle. Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins, Janet Leigh, and Nancy Loomis play townspeople who try to survive. Carpenter also composed the masterful, eerie soundtrack music.

Knives Out

Knives Out Lionsgate

Private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) needs the help of nurse Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas) to solve the murder of a bestselling novelist in Rian Johnson’s Knives Out.

Director Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) wrote the absolutely brilliant original screenplay for this playful, funny, and razor-sharp (no pun intended) murder-mystery with slashes of wry humor. The giant wheel of knives that seems to point toward people’s heads is the visual centerpiece of Knives Out (2019), but the film sustains a specific look and feel throughout, focusing on its airtight whodunit, as well as a string of brilliant performances by an amazing cast. 

That cast starts with Daniel Craig as legendary private detective Benoit Blanc, along with Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Katherine Langford, and Jaeden Martell playing spoiled, suspicious members of the wealthy Thrombey family (all savoring their spiky dialogue). Christopher Plummer plays patriarch Harlan, a best-selling novelist, and Lakeith Stanfield and Noah Segan are a detective and a cop, baffled by the strange case. Look for M. Emmet Walsh as a security guy, and listen for the voice of Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a TV movie.

The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse A24

Lighthouse keeper Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) breaks in a new trainee, Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson), as strange things begin to happen in Robert Eggers’s The Lighthouse.

Robert Eggers (The Witch) directs this highly unsettling, disturbing—and yet unforgettable—horror film in sinister black-and-white and in a constricting square-shaped frame. Set somewhere in the 1890s, The Lighthouse (2019) is so vivid that it feels as if Eggers might have time-traveled with his camera. Robert Pattinson plays Ephraim Winslow, a man with a shadowy past who reports for work as an assistant lighthouse keeper. His new boss is Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe, in a ferocious performance), an old sea-poem reciting salt.

While working the unforgiving job, Ephraim finds that he cannot access the top-floor beacon, which Thomas keeps locked for some reason. Ephraim experiences bad omens and nightmarish visions of tentacles and a mermaid (Valeriia Karaman, the only other person seen in the movie). At night, the men drink and descend into madness while a storm wind bashes against the sea-salt bleached house.

Ran

Ran The Criterion Collection

Warlord Hidetora Ichimonji (Tatsuya Nakadai) attempts to divide up his kingdom among his children, with tragic results in Akira Kurosawa’s Ran.

Many years after his celebrated samurai films, the septuagenarian Akira Kurosawa directed this awesome, moving, full-color epic, which is loosely based on Shakespeare’s King Lear. (His earlier 1957 film Throne of Blood had been based on Macbeth.) Performed in an acting style inspired by Noh Theater, the story involves a warlord who wishes to divide his kingdom between his three sons (rather than daughters, as in the play), but rather than a peaceful transition of power, we get betrayal and murder. The story proves the Japanese proverb that a single arrow may be broken easily, but three arrows together may not.

Kurosawa’s 160-minute Ran (1985) has a beautiful, powerful sense of movement with in the frame, and utilizes very close-ups or cuts within scenes. For an imported movie, it was a decent-sized hit in America (in Japan it was considered a disappointment), and it went on to earn four Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Director. It won only for Best Costume Design.

The Way Back

The Way Back Newmarket Films

Escaping from a Siberian prison during WWII, Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Colin Farrell, Gustaf Skarsgård, Saoirse Ronan, and Alexandru Potocean, must then survive the wilderness in Peter Weir’s The Way Back.

The acclaimed Australian director Peter Weir (Picnic at Hanging Rock, Dead Poets Society, The Truman Show, etc.) made this excellent wartime suspenser, The Way Back (2010), focused more on old-fashioned rousing adventure than on realism. A band of soldiers (Jim Sturgess, Colin Farrell, Ed Harris, etc.) escape from a Siberian prison camp and must survive the freezing, snowy woods, even after thwarting the angry guards. Making their way toward the Mongolian border, they discover that they now must likewise survive the baking, brutal flatlands of Mongolia and Tibet.

Saoirse Ronan co-stars as another refugee that the soldiers reluctantly take along. The usual prison movie/survival movie stuff is here (starvation, sickness, etc.), but Weir keeps it watchable with his professional swiftness and confident tone. The cast is great, but Farrell is a standout with his character Valka, a dodgy, but spirited misfit.

The following film recommendations are Jeff’s picks from earlier in September and late August, also presented in alphabetical order, starting with Annette.

Annette

annette Amazon Studios

Acclaimed French director Leos Carax (The Lovers on the Bridge, Holy Motors) brings us this strange, beautiful, and devastating musical, entirely written by the cult band Sparks. Even if you know the works of those artists, Annette (2021) is still like nothing you might expect. A comedian, Henry (Adam Driver), whose shows are more like angry rants, falls in love with an opera singer, Ann (Marion Cotillard). Henry talks about his audiences in terms of “killing them,” while Ann likes to think she’s “saving” hers. They marry and have a child, Annette, who is embodied by a series of creepily beautiful marionettes.

ama

There’s a murder or two, and it’s discovered that baby Annette can sing, beautifully, when exposed to moonlight, so Henry decides to take her on the road and show her off to the world. What could go wrong? The songs are (perhaps purposely?) a bit repetitive and not terribly catchy (at least not right away), but the movie has so many moments of gorgeousness and heartbreak, that adventurous streamers will find it worth a look.

 
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