The best films on Amazon Prime Video
Not all Stephen King adaptations involve scary clowns, psychotic superfans and Jack Nicholson chasing his family around with an axe. This one – based on the King novella ‘Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption’ – is an altogether gentler affair, though as a prison drama, it’s not without its share of tough stuff. It was a word-of-mouth sensation in the ‘90s, and it’s now an Amazon Prime dependable too.
Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, the real-life couple who penned this film, give us a Pakistani-American culture-shock romance that isn’t awash with clichés. We meet Emily (Zoe Kazan plays Gordon’s on-screen surrogate) and Kumail (Nanjiani plays a version of himself) just before Emily falls into a coma. Suddenly for Kumail, there’s heartache, hospitals and parents to deal with.
Funny, sad, sweet and beautifully acted, Sofia Coppola’s tale of two lost souls is just about a perfect movie. Bill Murray plays ageing movie star who meets the wife of a hotshot director (Scarlett Johansson) in a hotel bar in Tokyo and forms a fleeting friendship.
Accepting the old adage about comedy being tragedy plus time, it still feels about half a century too soon to be mining the savage tyranny of Stalinism for gags. But writer-director Armando Iannucci (‘In the Loop’) has managed it – and then some – pulling off the most essential British comedy since ‘Four Lions’ in the process. Like Orwell on helium, this reimagining of Stalin’s demise and the subsequent ideological gymnastics of his scheming acolytes is daring, quick-fire and appallingly funny.
Writer-director Ari Aster's debut film taps into the horrors of family trauma and combines it with the terror of the supernatural. Toni Collette gives the performance of her career as a grief-stricken mother, whose crazed quest for answers build and builds until the film’s gasp-worthy climax. Honestly, it’ll leave you gagged.
David Fincher’s cult classic stars Edward Norton as an unfulfilled, disenfranchised and emasculated automobile recall specialist who, with the help of his new friend Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), starts an illicit street fighting club and an anarchist group might be a film about Gen X’s anxieties. But is it about rejecting rampant consumerism, or is it, as the screenwriter Jim Uhls has it, actually a romcom?
Benedict Cumberbatch lends his chiseled cheekbones to the real-life story of Bletchley Park code-breaker Alan Turing. The talented mathematician worked tirelessly to break the Enigma during WWII, but there’s more to this movie than maths and victory rolls. It’s Turing’s secret, and his tragic fate, that leaves a lasting impression.
‘The King’s Speech’ picked up four Oscars for its moving depiction of the unlikely friendship between the future King George VI and his speech therapist Lionel Logue, hired to cure the royal stutter. As his brother abdicates the throne, George tries to overcome his speech impediment before his first live radio broadcast.
Lynne Ramsay’s brilliant thriller may yet evolve from cult fave into fully fledged classic. Like the film it’s been compared with – ‘Taxi Driver’ – it casts a potent spell, with Joaquin Phoenix to the fore as its PTSD-stricken veteran. It's so good it came out on top of our best films of 2018.
Lenny Abrahamson’s powerful adaptation of Emma Donoghue's novel is the sort of film that unfolds slowly. Both Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay, who play mother and son Joy and Jack, are breathtaking, and their story of abduction, captivity and escape plays out with sensitivity.
Set in 1950s New York, this is a swooningly gorgeous romance from auteur Todd Haynes (‘Velvet Goldmine’, ‘I’m Not There‘). Cate Blanchett is Carol, a wealthy wife and mother who falls in love with a 19-year-old aspiring photographer (Rooney Mara). Everything about ‘Carol’ is exquisite.
This cosy film follows a book group hastily invented by friends who have been caught after curfew by Nazi soldiers. Soon this fictitious society is meeting for real – and burying secrets in its midst. Five years on, Lily James’s novelist gets a letter from one of the group, who’s found her name inscribed in one of their books. Heading to the island, she discovers that her penpal is a dashing farmer (Michiel Huisman) and that the group is hiding some painful wartime memories.
With Margot Robbie explaining financial instruments from a hot tub and Anthony Bourdain chopping up fish to explain subprime mortgages, ‘The Big Short’ strains to make banking fun. A quality cast (Ryan Gosling, Jeremy Strong, Steve Carell) embody the money-grabbing Wall Street sharks who made hay when the credit crunch unfolded. Then the headiness gives way to horror. Greed is good? Not here, it ain’t.
We knew the moment we clapped eyes on Moses, the young anti-hero of this ferocious Brixton-set alien-invasion comedy, that the young actor who played him meant serious business. Now John Boyega is the hero in ‘Star Wars’ – but there’ll always be a place in our hearts for this witty sci-fi romp.
Masterfully addressing the American racial divide – past and present – director Raoul Peck’s six-years-in-the-making documentary, ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ – inspired by 30 pages from the writer and intellectual James Baldwin’s unfinished final book, ‘Remember This House’ – explores the black experience in America and thrums with a sense of history repeating itself.
This mature and moving US indie starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams captures the tug of war between the excitement of new love and the misery of its slow, painful death.
One of the best movies about the War on Terror, Kathryn Bigelow’s ‘The Hurt Locker’ is smart and a brilliant white-knuckle action movie. The film is set in Baghdad during the Iraq conflict, with scriptwriter Mark Boal basing the story on his time as a journalist embedded with a bomb disposal squad – portrayed in the film as a suicidally brave band led by a gung-ho sergeant (Jeremy Renner).
This timely journo procedural thriller about how the Washington Post published the Pentagon Papers in 1971 might not sound like thrill-a-minute stuff (unless you’ve got a thing for flatplanning), but the quality of writing by and the talent of Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep makes it a truly zinging drama.
Not the movie the notorious ice-skating flameout Tonya Harding probably deserves – but happily (for us) the one she’s gotten – ‘I, Tonya’ is a dazzlingly complex and exuberant treatment of a disgraced figure.
A girl on the cusp of adolescence is inducted into a threatening fantasy world where she discovers her own power. It’s a familiar story well suited to the dreamlike parallel reality of cinema: Alice, Wendy and Dorothy all embarked on similar journeys. ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ is another version of the tale, but an unusual one in that it isn’t suitable for children. Not only is it violent, but its lessons – in the inadequacy of fantasy as a countermeasure to repression – might have sensitive youngsters chucking in the towel.
All you really have to know about this surprising and emotive music doc is that you should see it. Anyone who enjoyed, say, ‘The Buena Vista Social Club’ or ‘Anvil: The Story of Anvil’, will surely go for this too. It tells the unlikely story of Sixto Rodriguez, a gifted but way-under-the-radar Detroit-based Hispanic singer-songwriter, and, like those other films, it enshrines a deeply moving idea that, in our cynical, superficial world, an authentic spirit will somehow, somewhere find its way to listeners’ hearts.
If you’ve forgotten the agony and sheer hormone-soaked awfulness of being 16 years old, watch this teen comedy starring Hailee Steinfeld. She plays awkward Nadine, whose sarky put-downs and sharp edges mask a broken heart. Her dad died a few years ago and now her only friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), has just started dating Nadine’s popular older brother (Blake Jenner). Her response is mean-girl fury. Steinfeld has the knack of being able to play Nadine at peak asshole with huge sympathy, as she slowly learns that nobody’s got the secret to being happy – everyone feels alone and empty.
A film that feels harsher, funnier and more horribly timely with each passing year, Chris Morris’s savage satire about a troupe of hapless, pratfalling Islamic terrorists out to bomb the London marathon shouldn’t be half as funny as it is. Rubber dinghy rapids, bro!
Buy, rent or watch 'Four Lions'
Ben Wheatley’s dreamlike, disturbing drama takes the British gangster movie to bits, then fits it back together in all kinds of weird, unsettling ways. Neil Maskell and Michael Smiley play bickering contract killers whose bid for a big score leads them into all kinds of creepy, inexplicable places.
Chillier than a winter’s morning, this story of love, lust and religion is full of deep brewing forces that tear against each other against the rigid backdrop of a greyish North London. It essentially a three-hander, with Rachel McAdams, Rachel Weisz and Alessandro Nivola all understatedly mesmerising in an unshowy story of Orthodox Jewish traditions that grips throughout.
Oscar Isaac struggles to crack the New York folk music scene – and track down the Gorfein’s cat – in this beautifully obtuse and really quite sad Coen brothers comedy-drama. It’s loosely inspired by real-life folkster Dave Van Ronk and paints a melancholy picture of counter-cultural dysfunction. It’s all well and good penning anthems of intergenerational discontent and protest, it seems to say, but sometimes you just need a good winter coat.
American director and playwright Kenneth Lonergan's film isn't about rebounding as much as coping. That’s what makes it so dark and courageous; it says that, for some people, there won’t be any moving on from grief. Moveover, Casey Affleck burns the screen in the early scenes, building up a portrait of a solitary existence. It's a film of almost unbearable honesty.
However cynical a pose you try to maintain, Paddington Bear will find the chinks in your armour. Voiced with perfect innocence by Ben Whishaw and gorgeously animated by Framestore, this profoundly likeable bear consistently toes the line of maximum charm without slipping into schmaltz. Miraculously, that’s also as true of this sequel as it was of his first big-screen outing, as the film goes bigger and darker without losing focus on the small acts of kindness that make its ursine hero great.
John Le Carré is a big fan of this film adaptation of his classic spy thriller, calling it ‘edgier’ and ‘sexier’ than the classic BBC series. Gary Oldman stars as the spy boss George Smiley, hauled out of retirement to investigate a mole inside MI6. The plot cast is stupendous – in no particular order of greatness – John Hurt, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Jones, Ciarán Hinds and Simon McBurney.
Buy, rent or watch 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy'
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