How many hours have we all lost the endless streaming scroll? Aiming for a little kick back, you end up perusing title after title, intent on finding just the right movie, ultimately unsure what to choose in the face of overwhelming options. Fret not, the Collider staff did all that scrolling for you, scanning through the catalogue in search of the best picks for an entertaining night in, and putting together a wide-ranging list of the best movies currently available for streaming on Amazon Prime. What’s more, we’ll be updating the list regularly with additional picks, so you won’t run out of viewing material any time soon. The list spans genres, decades, and ratings, so there should be a little something for everyone, but if you can’t find what you’re looking for below (and you’re a multi-platform streamer), be sure to check out our picks for the best tv shows and best movies on Netflix.
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 newest 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
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writer: Taylor Sheridan
Cast: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Donovan, Daniel Kaluuya, Victor Garber
Sicario is a potent, precise, and downright gorgeous crime thriller. It’s one of those great films where every technical element is firing on all cylinders. Working from a sinewy, pointed script by Taylor Sheridan the cast – led Benicio Del Toro, Emily Blunt and Josh Brolin — delivers exceptional performances all around, and Denis Villeneuve directs the hell out of the thing. Not to mention the impeccable cinematography and score by Roger Deakins and Jóhann Jóhannsson. Set at the border between Mexico and the U.S., where an escalating drug war fuels violent retribution, Sicario roots around in the anarchy behind the law and order, Sicario delivers powerful character drama and social commentary packed in exquisite display of elegant filmmaking. — Haleigh Foutch
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
Writer: Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Jon Favreau
The one that started it all, Jon Favreau‘s Iron Man officially launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe and now, after nearly ten years and the subsequent of an unprecedented, massive interconnected franchise, it still holds up as one of the studio’s best. Iron Man not only launched the MCU, it resurrected the career of Robert Downey Jr., who leads the film with such iconic vim and snarky wit that he’s become synonymous with the character in the years since. As Star, Downey gave a performance so commanding and charismatic that he would become the backbone for the cinematic Marvel-verse, and that performance is matched by playful and confident direction from Favreau, who always knows when to find the laugh, when to punch up the action, and how to keep it all emotionally tethered to Stark’s transformation amidst the high-flying spectacle. It’s the film that set the mold for a decade of superhero cinema to come, and it’s just as delightful today as it was when it first suited up. — Haleigh Foutch
Writer: Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney
Starring: Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali, Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, Alex Hibbert, Janelle Monae, Jharrel Jerome, Jaden Piner, Andre Holland
Moonlight is a delicate film that could’ve easily been overwrought, following a young black Miami boy into manhood as he continues to struggle to form his sexual identity. Three different actors play Chiron in specific times of his life: as a child, as a teen, and as an adult (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes). Each section of the triptych has a standout moment that speaks to the power understatement: two very different trips to the beach and a diner scene that washes us away.
Instead of having the big telegraphed scenes, Barry Jenkins favors secondary bits of dialogue to fill in the community’s narrative of funerals and prison sentences that are uttered like it’s just a natural progression. Instead of letting the great Mahershala Ali overtake the film with his beguiling presence as a neighborhood drug dealer who gives a safe space to Chiron, Jenkins lets us see the characters pain from his absence. And in the third act, Jenkins doesn’t give us an easy solution but instead we see two bodies that have carried the burden of self-denial for far too long. — Brian Formo
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Writers: Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou
Cast: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Lea Seydoux, John C. Reilly, Olivia Coleman, Ben Wishaw, Michael Smiley
Dogtooth helmer Yorgos Lanthimos makes his English-language debut with the heartbreaking, hilarious, and kind of hard-to-watch romantic drama, The Lobster. About as scathing as social satire gets, The Lobster tackles the idea of self-identity through mating rituals by setting it in the landscape of a dystopian society where every adult must find a true love to marry or they’re turned into the animal of their choice. It’s so surreal it could be silly, but Lanthimos plays it for tragic, keeping the humor pitch black and bone dry. Colin Farrell delivers some of the best work of his career as a man who heads to the matchmaking facility, opting to become a lobster should he fail to find a mate, and through him we experience the surreal but too-familiar rigors of courtship and propriety. But once he breaks out of the compound, the film truly finds it’s bleak little heart as he joins the renegade society of singles where romantic and sexual contact are strictly forbidden and violently punished. Naturally, it’s there that he meets the love of his life (Rachel Weisz). The Lobster is as enchanting as it is off-putting, a challenging and droll takedown of societal pressures and romantic fantasy that leaves behind sentimentality in favor of a poignant sting of truth. — Haleigh Foutch
Writer and Director: Alex Garland
Cast: Alicia Vikander, Domnhall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Sonoya Mizuno
Alex Garland’s directorial debut is a tremendous sci-fi trip that gives us everything we want out of the genre. It not only uses technology as a lens to better understand our identity and humanity, but it also has specificity. In this case, Ex Machina has a keen eye on gender roles and power dynamics between the sexes even if at least one of the sexes in this case happens to be a machine. Ex Machinawill keep you guessing from start to finish, and leave you trying to pick up your mind as the end credits roll. – Matt Goldberg
Directed/Written by: Roman Polanski
Starring: Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer, Charles Grodin
For me, Rosemary’s Baby is the best horror film of all time. It operates so highly on every level. A newlywed couple, Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and Guy (John Cassavetes) appear idyllic when we’re introduced to them as they shop for a new Manhattan apartment. But when there’s a lack in one person there becomes a lack in a relationship. Guy is a struggling actor and Rosemary tells everyone who’ll listen the two plays and commercials that he’s appeared in. This should sound like support, but to Guy it’s a reminder of his perceived failure. In their new apartment building they befriend some old kooks (Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer) down the hall.
In one hellish sequence, Rosemary drifts off to sleep on an bed on water, catches glimpses of Satan climbing atop her while Guy, the neighbors and other creeps watch the demon claw and thrust and not do not assist her as she cries. In the morning, she wakes up nude with claw marks all over her. Her husband says that he decided to impregnate her even though she was asleep because he was in the mood and they’d talked about it. So what if she was “drunk.” Rosemary later thinks that she was raped by the Devil and that Guy promised the Devil’s child to their Satanist neighbors to better his career.
Not only is the ceremony one of the most terrifying and transfixing sequences ever committed to film, it’s one of cinema’s biggest violations. There’s a violation of trust and body so profound in the ceremony, but it’s further insulted by Guy’s lax cover-up of “I wanted you right then.” The rest of the film shows Rosemary completely unable to have agency for any choice involving her body. Everything is decided by the elders and by the male doctors; even the one she trusts, Dr. Hill (Charles Grodin), who she chose on her own, hands her over to a different doctor because he thinks she’s unstable. Every man silences her and thinks she has no idea what is going on in her body. With many men still feeling fuzzy and woozy (like Rosemary on her drugged bed) about what actually constitutes consent and choice, Rosemary’s Baby is still one of the most terrifying and necessary films ever made. — Brian Formo
Writer/Director: Ryan Coogler
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Tony Bellow
In an era of spinoffs and sequels, Creed looked like one of the least necessary—as Rocky Balboa’s story had concluded decently with Rocky Balboa—but in this filmmaking climate, Ryan Coogler‘s film proved itself to be absolutely necessary. It helps that Coogler was the genesis for the project and brought it to the Italian Stallion (Sylvester Stallone) himself. The Fruitvale Station director was no hired hand—Creed was a passion project. And Coogler picks the boxing movie up off the mat and gives us exactly what we need: not another great white hope.
Michael B. Jordan is Apollo Creed’s son, Adonis, who is following his deceased father’s boxing two-steps; his father’s friend, Balboa (Stallone), trains Adonis both in and out of the ring. Although it is refreshing to see a modern black character being built with the type of lore that’s almost never used on characters who are under-represented at multiplexes, Creed lacks speeches and soapboxes. It favors hard work and it recognizes the silent, awed communication that hard work elicits. Creedmight hit many of the same story pinpoints as the original Rocky, but Rocky had a very different classical energy. Creed is both light as a feather (an early bout is magnificently filmed in one single take, with precise, gliding movement from cinematographer Maryse Alberti) and stiff as a board (Jordan and Stallone are a perfect match of stubborn—yet respectful—men). — Brian Formo
An American Werewolf in London
Considered by many to be one of the best horror films in cinematic history now that its cult status has been firmly cemented, Landis’ dark horror-comedy An American Werewolf in London has set itself apart from all other werewolf films that came before it and have come since. Notable for the make-up special effects work of Rick Baker, for which the film won the inaugural Oscar for Outstanding Achievement in Make-Up, the visceral, bone-crunching werewolf transformation will haunt your dreams for years. If that doesn’t get you, then perhaps the slowly decaying forms of the living dead victims of the werewolf will.
Not content to churn out a simple monster movie, Landis chose instead to focus on the grief over losing a friend, the guilt at committing murder, and the maddening need to reconcile with those who are dead. It’s not just David’s curse that plagues him throughout this film, it’s the literal embodiment of those other negative emotions that follow him, pleading with him to end his own life before he adds more victims due to the curse’s effects. As is the case in other Landis’ works, there are laughs to be found, but boy are they dark. And delightfully so. – Dave Trumbore
What We Do in the Shadows
Writers and Directors: Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi
Cast: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh, Ben Fransham
Finally, someone breathes new life into the vampire genre! What We Do in the Shadows is a mockumentary about four vampire flatmates and it takes an absolutely delightful approach to exploring creature clichés in a deadpan, reality show-like manner. Viago (Taika Waititi), Vlad (Jemaine Clement), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) and Petyr (Ben Fransham) all turned during different time periods, which leads to some brilliant spins on familiar issues like doing the dishes, getting into nightclubs, adapting to new technology and so much more. The only unfortunate thing about What We Do in the Shadows is that it clocks in at a mere 86 minutes. Between the winning jokes and the wildly charming friendships between the characters, I’d happily watch a whole series about their antics. — Perri Nemiroff
The One I Love
Director: Charlie McDowell
Writer: Justin Lader
Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Mark Duplass, Ted Danson
If your husband or wife were duplicated, would you be able to tell your original apart? Would you fall in love with the new version that doesn’t carry the same baggage of hurt that comes with any long relationship? That’s the simple conceit behind The One I Love, a sci-fi mumblecore starring Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass as a struggling couple who receives a weekend getaway to a cottage from their therapist. Their therapist swears by the relaxation treatment, but did not warn them that the house duplicates each person in an attempt to show why they fell in love in the first place, but it further complicates this particular relationship because neither couple argues with the duplicate like they do with their real human counterpart. Thus jealousy and sexual curiosity sinks in.
Moss and Duplass give great performances in the most chamber of chamber plays, but be warned, if you watch this as a couple, you’re going to have a very interesting conversation afterward. — Brian Formo
Stories We Tell
Writer/Director: Sarah Polley
If you are interested in the craft of storytelling I highly suggest you see Stories We Tell. If you prefer dinner parties to dance clubs, I highly suggest you see Stories We Tell. If you’ve ever heard someone tell a story that you’ve heard them tell before, but been disappointed that they left something out, I suggest you see Stories We Tell.
Simply put, Sarah Polley set out to make a film about her family. She uncovered a secret and recreated it. Ultimately, what she’s done with this documentary, however, is dissect both how and why we tell stories. It’s joyful, but it’s also heartbreaking. There is one person in her film who holds the story so close to his heart that, in a way, it’s replaced his heart. There are people at a dinner party who’ve heard a story so many times they can start to tell it themselves; others might have to be excused from the table from exhaustion. Stories We Tell beautifully reconstructs that feeling, while also aching to set the table for one more guest. — Brian Formo
Everybody Wants Some!!
Writer/Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Blake Jenner, Glen Powell, Zoey Deutch, Wyatt Russell, Tyler Hoechlin, J. Quinton Johnson, Juston Street
The “spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused” tag that was used to promote Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! isn’t a ruse. Confused concerned a day-in-the-life of 1970s high schoolers and the routine acceptance of the roles of being next year’s top dog (seniors) and bottom dog (freshmen). There were keg runs, embarrassments, flirtations and philosophizing. It’s one of the best and most attuned teenage films of all time and an early spotter of the talents of Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, Parker Posey and Adam Goldberg. Some!! takes place in college in the 80s, within the first weekend of life in the house of a Texas university baseball team; there are freshmen and transfers coming in, seniors taking control, lots of parties (all within different youth subcultures), embarrassments, flirtations, and philosophizing.
Counter to a Dazed rehash, Some!! is a little too on the nose with the male gaze of the camera lens as the guys go out to prowl for sex, ogling backsides and cleavage in a parade of faceless moments (it takes an uncomfortable amount of time before a young woman that they’re attempting to bed has any meaningful dialogue). The characters also meld a little too quickly (although it’s fun, no one would get into a car with a bunch of strangers and have a perfectly synchronized rap of Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message”). But around the point when our main freshman (Blake Jenner) starts to pursue a cute freshman he saw moving in (Zoey Deutch), the film gloriously achieves that Dazed groove. Jenner’s attempt to shed jock status to impress a theater girl forces the rest of the house to deliver their own unique creeds of what makes them different from the group they’re in. Once these discussions start entering the parties, practice fields and parking lots, Jenner, Wyatt Russell, Glen Powell, Tyler Hoechlin and Deutch all get magnificent calling card moments for their future Hollywood ascension—a la the Confused alums before them—and Linklater is able to comfortably convey his “Message” of uniqueness. When the players are not in perfect unison—like they are at the beginning of the film—Some!! becomes spiritual indeed. — Brian Formo
10 Cloverfield Lane
Director and Writer: Dan Trachtenberg
Cast: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr.
When Dan Trachtenberg‘s tightly-wound chamber piece thriller adopted the name 10 Cloverfield Lane, it picked up a heavy burden of expectation in addition to the profile boost. Except for the nutty and slightly left-field third act reveal, 10 Cloverfield Lane is restrained chamber piece and a stomach-knotting exercise in tension and paranoia. Following Mary Elizabeth Winstead‘s Michelle after she’s “rescued” by an imposing and off-kilter man (John Goodman) who claims they have to remain underground in his bunker due to a widespread chemical attack, 10 Cloverfield Lane delivers pure popcorn entertainment as Michelle attempts to suss out the truth and make it out of the bunker alive. Michelle is a fabulous female hero cut from Ripley cloth, she’s not showy or sassy or a pastiche of a “tough chick” tropes; she’s composed and calculating, and surprisingly vulnerable for how much ass she kicks. But if Winstead delivers a fantastic performance, Goodman is outrageously good as her captor and/or savior, both terrifying and achingly human, handily stealing the show in what might be his best role yet. — Haleigh Foutch
Love and Friendship
Writer and 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 a comedic class navigation of America’s colonizers. One of Britain’s cheekiest and most rebellious melodrama scribes, Jane Austen, fits him like 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
Swiss Army Man
Writers and Directors: Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Paul Dano, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Not for the easily offended, Swiss Army Man is about as weird and grotesque as a film could be while delivering a genuinely touching emotional story about mortality, the will to live, and the insanity of isolation. You’ve probably heard of Swiss Army Man as “the farting corpse movie”, which is a crass, if not inaccurate, description of the insane comedy. Paul Dano stars as a man stranded on an island, ready to end his own life, when a besuited corpse washes up on the shore and reinvigorates his will to live. It also becomes his best friend in an increasingly bizarre series events wherein his farts and erections guide the way back to humanity. As the corpse in question, Daniel Radcliffe has an impossible task and he is extraordinary, and surprisingly emotional as the dead man learning about life and love from a man who has given up on both. Written and directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, aka The Daniels, Swiss Army Man has heart and guts and gas and boners, taking on the down and dirty parts of the human experience we tend to gloss over. It’s super fucking weird and definitely not for everyone, but it’s also singular, deeply brave and unflinchingly honest. — Haleigh Foutch
The Blackcoat’s Daughter
Writer/Director: Oz Perkins
Cast: Kiernan Shipka, Lucy Boynton, Emma Roberts, James Remar, Lauren Holly
Like too many good horror films, The Blackcoat’s Daughter (previously titled February) sat on the shelf for a few years before it finally reached audiences so you may already be familiar with director Oz Perkins from last year’s ambiance-fueled haunted house chiller I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, despite the fact that The Blackcoat’s Daughter is technically his directorial debut. Perkins shows that same skill for hypnotic dread in his first film, an enigmatic occult drama that conjures a spellbinding, nightmarish thrall of Satanic menace. Amidst the creepy slow-burn and punctuating moments of violence, there’s a melancholy undercurrent of loneliness and remorse that pays off big in the film’s blistering final moments. The Blackcoat’s Daughter is cryptic and methodically paced, but each moment of subdued action preserves inertia for when that final blow arrives, and when it does, though it may not be entirely surprising, it is a searing blow straight to the solar plexus that leaves you reeling. The film’s evasiveness demands patience, but there are moments of brilliance that scratch at the subconscious with a wicked edge, leaving a raw and hollow feeling long after the film has ended.
No Country for Old Men
No Country for Old Men might be the only time in the last decade that the Oscars got it halfway right. It’s simply moronic to expect such a wealthy body to actually give the Best Picture award to the most imaginative and audacious American film of the year. What can be expected is that they award the best American movie made under the unsaid rules of modern filmmaking, which usually involves praising former American films and styles in one way or another. In the case of No Country for Old Men, the Coen Brothers ingeniously conflate the Western with the modern borderland noir and though its politics were both familiar and safe, the movie fumes with effective moodiness. The Coens adapted the story of a no-luck welder (Josh Brolin) who goes on the run with a suitcase full of lost drug money with a demonic hitman (Javier Bardem) on his heels, nearly word for word, from Cormac McCarthy’s crackerjack crime novel and its fidelity is both impressive and problematic. While the directors make great use of McCarthy’s deadpan tone, his lingo, and the death-ridden Southern setting, there’s a narrative tightness to the movie that is at once effective in holding up tension and suffocating in that there’s no moment that feels uncalculated, wandering, or curious. And yet, it’s impossible to ignore how powerful and entertaining the movie is in the moment, how domineering Bardem’s very appearance becomes and how rich each word that Tommy Lee Jones says sounds as the film goes on. The film hits like a sock in the jaw: there’s no ignoring its force and it certainly leaves an impression, but its substance is dubious at best. – Chris Cabin
Director/Writer: Pier Paolo Pasolini
Starring: Franco Citti, Franca Pasut, Silvana Corsini, Paolo Guidi, Adriana Asti
Are you a big Federico Fellini fan? What if Nights if Cabiria was told from a deadbeat pimp’s point of view? That’s Accattone. It has the pretty Italian sights and the nice slice-of-life pace but the dire straits are more dire and the women who work the night face a bleaker darkness. Pier Paolo Pasolini—the first film from the man who’d go on to make Salo—is kind of the anti-Fellini. There’s no levity in the Italian slums here. Accatone is closer to an atheist Los Olvidados than any “La Dolce Vita.”
Director Marjane Satrapi’s delightfully insane dark comedy The Voices follows a mild-mannered man who not only has lengthy conversations with his dog and cat, but also has a tendency to murder the people around him after some urging from said companions. Reynolds masterfully walks the tightrope between pitiful and abhorrent, as the film is presented almost entirely from his character’s warped point of view. Reynolds is at once sweet, hilarious, terrifying, loathsome, and helpless, and on top of terrifically bringing the central character to life, he also provides the voices for his aw-shucks dog and mischievous cat. Released only last year, The Voices seems destined to find a cult following in the years to come, at which point hopefully Reynolds’ outstanding work will finally get its due. – Adam Chitwood
Directed by: Francis Ford CoppolaWritten by: John Milius, Michael Herr, and Francis Ford Coppola
Starring: Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, Marlon Brando, Dennis Hopper, Frederic Forrest, Laurence FishburneIn groups, men respond to the masculinity they see in others. Once isolated, they’re more likely to process their own actions within groups. And in Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola’s detached Vietnam War opus, these men go mad when they’re alone.
We’re introduced to Captain Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) while he’s on leave from the war. He beats up his hotel room and cries in bed about what he’d seen, what he’d done. Recomposed, he’s tasked to kill Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) who’s deemed, by the army, to have gone mad. Apocalypse Now is a fantastic movie with lots of themes. Most prominent is that men have difficulty acknowledging internal problems (in units, in minds). They treat everything like war: find the problem and kill it. It’s telling that whenever Willard, Kurtz or Chef (Frederic Forrest) move away from the other men in their unit, they lose control of all of their emotions. — Brian Formo
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
The Girl with All the Gifts
Director: Colm McCarthy
Screenwriter: Mike Carey
Cast: Sennia Nanua, Gemma Arterton, Glenn Close, Dominique Tipper, Paddy Considine
A lot of you probably won’t have heard of The Girl with All the Gifts, and that’s a damn shame. McCarthy’s clever update on the stale zombie narrative was quietly dumped in America despite heaps of positive festival reviews and a solid UK opening, but it’s well worth seeking out. Based on Mike Carey‘s hit YA novel, from a screenplay he penned himself, the film takes place in an apocalyptic dystopia where the world has been ravaged by mold-covered zombies called “Hungries”. We pick up with the survivors of a military camp, where they’re searching for a cure by experimenting on different, trickier kind of monster — human/hungry hybrid children who look, think, and act like your average school kids… until they catch the scent of live flesh and the monster comes out. When one of the test subjects, a precocious young girl Melanie (Nanua, who is phenomenal in her feature debut), demonstrates an aptitude for self-control, she’s thrust into an uneasy alliance with her beloved teacher (Arterton) and a team of soldiers as they venture beyond the confines of the camp and discover a new world, no longer dictated by human rule. A potent blend of horror with sci-fi just enough philosophical musing to elevate it beyond a campy romp, The Girl with All the Gifts is the perfect zombie film for the post-Walking Dead age. — Haleigh Foutch
Writer and Director: Robert Eggers
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw
Directorial debuts don’t get much better than what Robert Eggers pulled off with The Witch, an immersive, atmospheric exercise in the existential dread of the fanatically devout. Eggers never caters to the lowest common denominator. Instead, he demands that you sit up and pay attention — and he makes sure you damn well do by mashing up some baby remains with a mortar and pestle, on screen, right out of the gate. Admittedly, the ye olde language can be a bit of a challenge, but once you adjust, Eggers sucks you in with a holistic vision of historical terrors and the lurid attraction of a sinister life, well lived. After all, what is the point of being pure if you get nothing but pain for it? The Witch is alternately languid and bursting at the seams with kinetic frenzy, and that keeps you ever on your toes and the devil’s pernicious presence spreads through a rigidly puritan family, unhindered by their devotion. Eggers vision is matched by the talent of his cast, especially the career-making turns from the young leads Anya Taylor-Joy and Harvey Scrimshaw, making for the rare horror film that doesn’t just shock and scare, but burrows into your mind and sits there to rot. Would you like to live deliciously? Well you see, the thing is, I’m afraid I might. — Haleigh Foutch
The Talented Mr. Ripley
Director/Writer: Anthony Minghella
Cast: Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Cate Blanchett, Jack Davenport, James Rebhorn
The Talented Mr. Ripley is Matt Damon‘s show and it’s truly one of his greatest performances as Patricia Highsmith‘s most famous character, murderous con-man Tom Ripley. But the Italian seaside vistas and supporting cast double punch of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Cate Blanchett make this one of the most easily re-watchable movies of the modern era.
Damon’s Ripley is an assumed identity because he likes the company of Jude Law, a high class Brit who mistakes him for a former classmate. In one of the most perfectly performed scenes, Tom (Damon) and Freddie (Hoffman) are on a boat, invited by young and rich playthings Dickie (Law) and Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow). Freddie is aware that Tommy doesn’t belong in their pre-determined company: there’s a class and private education barrier. But instead of outright admonishing him in a villainous manner, Freddie waits for a moment that’s personally embarrassing and private between just the two of them. He catches Tom looking at Dickie and Marge removing each other’s swimming bottoms below deck. The smugness of Freddie in that scene is deplorable, but Tom isn’t defensible, either. “How’s the peeping, Tommy?” Before Freddie shows up, we feel why Tom is drawn to Dickie. But with Freddie by his side, dancing with a friendly familiarity, Dickie begins to lose some of his luster and appeal. Once that crew of folks begins to show their ugly side, Blanchett swoops in as someone new to con and the alternate identity highs and supporting character acting circles begin anew! — Brian Formo
The Naked Kiss
Director/Writer: Samuel FullerCast: Constance Towers, Anthony Eisley, Michael Dante, Virginia Grey, Patsy Kelly, Marie Devereux“Tell me where is the blue bird of happiness found?” For the viewer, it’s found at the beginning of this revisionist film noir where a bald Constance Towers beats the camera that represents the POV of her no-good pimp. The Naked Kiss truly has one of the best openings in the history of cinema and the rest of the film can’t really match that punch, but it still packs a mighty wallop as Samuel Fuller neuters the hooker with a heart of gold noir trope that kept women on the sidelines and only showed that they could change through the love of a man. Towers change is all her own. She even nurses sick children and helps young women avoid becoming prostitutes but still has a secret too naughty for 60s suburban America to grapple with.
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
Sleepy Hollow is style over substance, but that’s easy enough to forgive when the style is so damn good. Adapted from Washington Irving‘s classic tale of the murderous headless horseman tormenting the titular town of Sleepy Hollow, Burton reframes the story of the legendary apparition through his gothic lens and it’s a match made in heaven. Burton amps up the violence a bit, making for moments of gruesome horror in the midst of the eerie mystery, especially when it comes to Christopher Walken‘s performance as the Hessian Horseman behind the apparition. His shocks of white hair and razor-sharp teeth make for an unforgettable, haunting image. Johnny Depp also delivers an excellent turn as the neurotic, science-minded Ichabod Crane with all the supporting players that fill out the town around him fulfilling their roles dutifully. The result is a film that feels like the spirit of a foggy Halloween night translated into cinema. — Haleigh Foutch
Writer/Director: Bryan Bertino
Cast: Zoe Kazan, Ella Ballentine, Scott Speedman, Aaron Douglas, Christine Edabi
It’s likely inevitable that director Bryan Bertino’s work will forever be associated with his smash-hit directorial debut The Strangers, a dread-inducing first time effort that set the bar high for the young filmmaker. But where 2014’s Mockingbirdfolded under its own narrative weight, Bertino’s most recent effort The Monstertriumphs in its pared down approach to the monster movie. Starring Zoe Kazan (in a career best performance) as Kathy, an inattentive and alcoholic mother to the fragile Lizzy (Ella Ballentine), The Monster wastes little time before setting up its central thrill – broken down on a country road in the middle of the night, Kathy and Lizzy quickly find themselves in the fight of their lives against a sticky black creature that resides in the woods just beyond the edge of the road. A lean and singularly focused monster movie with shades of the matriarchal horror of The Babadook and Lyle, The Monster is skillful proof of Bertino’s impressive talent. — Aubrey Page
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. –Haleigh Foutch
Writer and Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Cast: Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Amy Hargreaves
Blue Ruin is a simple, direct, and unwavering revenge film from writer/director Jeremy Saulnier
Blood and Lace
Director: Philip Gilbert
Written by: Gil Lasky
Starring: Melody Patterson, Gloria Grahame, Len Lesser, Milton Selzer, Vic Tayback, Terri Messina, Ronald Taft
Seven years prior to Halloween, here’s your first home invasion killer POV during a murder. The hammer murder of a prostitute at the beginning sends her teenage daughter (Melody Patterson) to an oppressive orphanage run by the sadistic Gloria Grahame (all of the great 40s divas eventually made their way to cheap horrors at the twilight of their career) who lives off the state contract given for each orphan and works the children extra hard or punishes them even harder. Every man in Blood and Lace is oozing filth as they all try to get their hands on the new teen who talks a big talk about her experience with love. That includes Uncle Leo (Len Lesser) from Seinfeld, and leads to a few sick plot twists, and Oscar-winner Grahame pays pittance for her personal life that excommunicated her from Hollywood—for sleeping with/marrying her teenaged stepson—in a grindhouse movie that would embrace that ickiness.
Is this movie great? Nope; but for cheap thrills and grindhouse fans, it’s certainly fun. It straddles 60s exploitation of yore and future 70s horror nasties. You wouldn’t want to be the final girl in this sick scenario. — Brian Formo
This Is Martin Bonner
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
Directed/Written by: Brian De Palma
Starring: John Travolta, Nancy Allen, Dennis Franz, John Lithgow
Conspiracies hit the part of the mind that can easily lead to bombastic thought; so it makes sense that one of the best conspiracy films ever comes form one of our most bombastic directors: Brian De Palma. In Blow Out, De Palma’s patented camera tricks serve a purpose larger than an aesthetic cool: they spin. Just like the owl looking for prey, and just like anyone’s head will do once they start putting together pieces to corruption.
Jack Terry (John Travolta) used to work for the Philadelphia police department, but a wire he placed on an undercover policeman ended up burning the man when he began sweating, and the man lost his life. Now Jack’s a sound technician for an exploitation film company. One night when he’s out collecting sound samples on a bridge he records a tire blowing out, and a car crash into the water. He saves the girl (Nancy Allen) but in the hospital, government officials tell him there was no girl.
After listening to the tape ad nauseam, Jack tries to convince her to come forward with him: because this wasn’t an accident, it was an assassination of a political figure. She doesn’t see what the big deal is, the whole system is corrupt anyway, there’s nothing they can do to change it. But Jack is determined that his technological prowess can expose corruption.
De Palma takes the circumstantial witness of a murder in 1960s arthouse favorite Blow-Up (in that film a possible murder is caught in the corner of a fashion photographer’s photo reel) and blows it out from the individual guilt of one person to an entire nation that’s become so shaped by complacency, and cheap thrills, that everything is for sale. — Brian Formo
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
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 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.
Directors: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead
Writer: Justin Benson
Cast: Lou Taylor Pucci, Nadia Hilker
Did you miss Spring when it got a limited theatrical release back in March 2015? You probably did considering the movie didn’t even crack $50,000 at the domestic office, but that’s one of the best parts about the rise of platforms like Amazon Prime. What perhaps never came to a theater near you is now very accessible! This romance horror film stars Lou Taylor Pucci as Evan. After a string of unfortunate events, he decides to travel to Italy on a whim and that’s where he meets and falls for Louise (Nadia Hilker). While it may seem like Evan’s luck is changing, Louise is hiding a little something from him that could be a major deal-breaker. Spring benefits from some serious shock value, but it’s so well earned and well woven into Evan and Louise’s relationship that the “horror” of Spring is far more chilling and moving than you might expect. — Perri Nemiroff
Fear and Desire
Writer: Howard SacklerCast: Frank Silvera, Kenneth Harp, Paul Mazursky, Virginia Leith, Stephen CoitStanley 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.