The Best Movies on Amazon Prime Right Now
[Last updated January 3]
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.
RELATED: The Best Movies on Netflix Right Now
The Big Sick
Director: Michael Showalter
Writers: Emily Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani
Cast: Kumail Najiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff, Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant
Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon’s real-life love story serves as inspiration for the most delightful romantic comedy in years in The Big Sick. Directed by Michael Showalter from a script by Nanjiani and Gordon, the film stars Nanjiani as himself and Zoe Kazan as Emily in the stranger-than-fiction story of two people falling in love despite clashing cultures, family expectations, and a mysterious life-threatening illness.
The story follows a standup comic (Nanjiani) who falls for a woman who heckles him (Kazan) at a show. He tries to hide the relationship from his parents, who expect a strictly traditional arranged marriage to a Muslim woman, but their romance faces an even greater hurdle when she falls into an inexplicable coma and he bonds with her parents (who you can’t help but fall in love with thanks to the performances from Ray Romano and Holly Hunter). Bursting with heart and earnest good nature, The Big Sick is a witty and charming exploration of love, commitment and family, and it’s a bonafide crowd-pleaser to boot. — Haleigh Foutch
It Comes at Night
Writer/Director: Trey Edward Shults
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo, Christopher Abbott, Riley Keough, Kelvin Harrison Jr.
It’s a shame that a misleading marketing campaign soured moviegoers on this one because if you came waiting for some monster that literally comes at night, you’re in for a disappointment. Trey Edward Shults’ Krisha followup is a psychological art house horror flick that demands patience from its audience in a slow-burn tale of two families fighting to maintain a semblance of safety and sanity in a world where social order has collapsed. Fueled by nerve-rattling tension and a simmering sense of impending doom, It Comes at Night is a flavor of existential dread that isn’t for all tastes, but if you’ve got the disposition, it’s a beautifully shot pensive tale of mortality and trauma that will leave you with plenty to mull over long after the credits role. — Haleigh Foutch
Writer/Director: Dan Gilroy
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton
A deliciously wicked mix of Network and Taxi Driver, Dan Gilroy’s feature directorial debut was a shot of adrenaline to the fall 2014 movie season and it’s destined to age well over time. Jake Gyllenhaal is unforgettable as an ambitious sociopath who takes up a job as a stringer—a freelance cameraman who captures footage of wrecks, arrests, etc. and sells it to local news stations for their morning coverage. Cinematographer Robert Elswit captures Los Angeles like we’ve never seen it before, and Gilroy covers the arc of Gyllenhaal’s Louis Bloom with an intensity and curiosity that almost makes you like the guy. Dark, biting, and dare I say kind of thrilling? Nightcrawler is one of the best films of the past decade. – Adam Chitwood
The Lost City of Z
Writer/Director: James Gray
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Tom Holland, Sienna Miller
James Gray often gets called a throwback director but The Lost City of Z is the furthest throw he’s lobbed into cinema’s great past. Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) is an undecorated military man who cannot receive advancement due to his “poor choice of relatives” but then captures the world’s attention when he ventures into the Amazon to find an ancient civilization that might pre-date the Western world. It spans more than two decades of his life and Gray uses that time economically. It never feels like Z is rushing past important touchstones and it even stops to show how World War I—a Western war, for we are not that much more evolved than the Amazonian “savages” that Fawcett is constantly defending to the British Empire—marks time as something that’s just as twisty and cruel as the Amazon River.
There are arrows, there’s dissection of familial bloodlines and their importance to both the Western world and the native tribes, there’s mist, there’s a mumbly Robert Pattinson and an enunciation to the nosebleeds done by Hunnam. It’s impeccably and economically paced. The expansive story places it in the realm of the thoughtful and immense profiles of greatness that David Lean used to make. But don’t think that it isn’t modern. Gray is attuned to ideas that would’ve been revolutionary not only in 1905 but also throughout most of Hollywood’s history. It’s about a small batch of white men who believe that their society and Empire is built on false pride. And the pride of their societal order not only looks down on other cultures they enslave, but it also starts global wars and keeps women in service to their partner’s greatness—even at the expense of hiring an unqualified society man who they perceive can carry his weight simply due to his elevated rank. Gray might be making movies like he lived in the 1970s, but he’s also making them great—for modern times—by taking the time to enhance the meaning underneath the grand adventure. — Brian Formo
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. Creed might 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
Director: Jon Favreau
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
Director: Barry Jenkins
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: 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
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
Fear and Desire
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: 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
The Neon Demon
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Writer: Refn, Mary Laws, Polly Stenham
Cast: Elle Fanning, Keanu Reeves, Abbey Lee, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Karl Glusman and Christina Hendricks
Nicholas Winding Refn certainly knows how to make a divisive movie. Like Only God Forgives before it, Refn’s Neon Demon was jeered at Cannes and met with split response from critics and moviegoers alike. That’s not too surprising. It’s explicit and nebulous, and seemingly dedicated to make the audience as uncomfortable as possible as often as possible. It’s also staggeringly beautiful, but leave it to Refn to make a shallow movie about the pitfalls of being shallow. Elle Fanning stars as Jesse, a manipulative underaged monster in the making who has “that thing” everyone wants, and she knows it. Rapidly climbing the ranks of the fashion industry, Jesse believes her own hype and goes full Narcissus, drawing the ire of three experienced industry pros who envy her youth, easy beauty, and immediate success. Along the way, shit gets truly crazy. The Neon Demon‘s got beautiful women basking in blood, it’s got glorious Technicolor visions of cannibalism and self-worship, and it’s got just way too much necrophilia. All the same, it’s a stunning visual accomplishment and it never abandons character in favor of the shock, it embeds them in each other. The Neon Demon may not have a lot to say, but what it does, it says beautifully. — Haleigh Foutch
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 Naked Kiss
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
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
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
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 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.
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: 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
Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills
Directors: Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky
The mack daddy of all true crime documentaries, with only Errol Morris’ chilling, enveloping The Thin Blue Line battling for its otherwise undisputed title. At 150 minutes, the film plunges us deep in the horrifying case of the West Memphis Three – Jessie Misskelley, Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin – who were unfairly tried and convicted for the murders of three young boys in Arkansas’ Robin Hood Hills. Not only do directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky cover the case itself, but also the emotional aftermath on the families of the dead and the accused, and the local community, following the slayings, catching the corruptive nature of violent retribution and vengeance on the justice system with startling clarity. There was so much information pouring from the story that the directors would go onto direct two other films, and that’s not even counting the Peter Jackson-produced alternative film, West of Memphis, and Atom Egoyan’s unpleasant narrative take on the happenings, Devil’s Knot. But the original remains the gold standard, one of the most haunting visions of the human compulsion to find a simplistic, stereotypical narrative trajectory even in far more complex life situations, to the point where they are willing to send three young innocent men to prison for life, or even the electric chair. — Chris Cabin
Writer/Director: 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 Mockingbird folded under its own narrative weight, Bertino’s most recent effort The Monster triumphs 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
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
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.
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