You are what you watch, and by that we mean that selecting films that show you something outside your comfort zone is a great way to educate and entertain yourself. The big screen might be a hard ask right now, but you can still bring cinema home.
As such, we've put in the time and sifted through Amazon Prime Video to pick out the best films you can stream without leaving home. These include critically acclaimed movies like 1917 and Parasite, indie gems Palm Springs and Compliance, and foreign language masterpieces including TK.
If you're only using your Amazon Prime membership to expedite a crate of loo roll to your house, you're missing out.
Best drama movies on Amazon Prime UK
The story of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, the 50-year-old who was detained at Guantanamo Bay for 14 years without being charged with a crime, is dramatised in this slow-burning movie featuring a breakthrough role from The Serpent's Tahar Rahim, as well as performances from Benedict Cumberbatch and Jodie Foster. While it might be the kind of hardboiled drama which isn't as successful at the Oscars these days, it's still a fascinating, and troublingly relevant, story.
Sound of Metal
What does deafness sound like? This is the complicated and moving question at the heart of this film about a drummer whose tinnitus causes him to suddenly lose his hearing; overnight cutting him off from both his music and his girlfriend. Riz Ahmed gives a career-best performance as the lead character, and there's also an excellent, Oscar-nominated appearance from Paul Raci, a journeyman actor who grew up the child of deaf adults. Sound of Metal is a reminder that deafness is not something that needs to be fixed, showing that listening to someone is about more than hearing them.
Call Me By Your Name
Director Luca Guadagnino transports you to the Italian countryside in this simmering love story about Elio (Timothée Chalamet), a teenager spending the summer with his parents, playing the piano and cycling around town by day and dancing with friends at night. When a graduate, Oliver (Armie Hammer), comes to assist his father in his work, a friendship between them blooms into something else under the scorching sun, with stolen glances over the dinner table and afternoons hiding from everyone else. The role which saw Chalamet become the youngest actor nominated at the Oscars in 80 years, Andre Aciman's beautiful novel becomes an unforgettable love story in this adaptation.
No, not the one about a war between liberal elites and rightwing nutters – instead this 2012 film sees Mads Mikkelsen play a schoolteacher whose world is rocked when a student of his claims she witnessed him engage in a lewd act. From danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg – the director of Another Round, for which Mikkelsen is currently nominated for an Oscar – this slow-burning drama is a compelling character study anchored by a performance from one of cinema's most versatile actors.
Short Term 12
Two years before Brie Larson took home the Oscar for her role in Room, the actress gave a commanding lead performance as a counsellor to at-risk teenagers at a group home in California in Short Term 12. Written and directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, the film is adapted from his short of the same name which followed one day in a care unit, based on his experience at a facility. The film shows how tensions rise amongst the teenagers and Larson's Grace begins to unravel as she is reminded of her own past. There's also a strong performance from LaKeith Stanfield in this multiple award winner.
The King of Comedy
Taxi Driver might be the Scorsese film which everyone recognised as tonal inspiration for Todd Phillips's Joker, but this is another of the revered director's movies starring DeNiro which Phillips (poorly!) imitated. In the 1982 film we follow Rupert Pupkin, a deluded failure who is convinced he is a celebrity hosting an imaginary talk show in his mother's basement. When his path crosses with a real talk show host, Pupkin becomes obsessed with the idea this will be his big break and stalks him. A Scorsese purist favourite and a truly deranged character study.
David Fincher's 2014 thriller, based on Gillian Flynn's best-selling novel of the same name, is both a visual feast for cinephiles and a gripping blockbuster that will suck you in. The story concerns the disappearance of Amy Dunne and how her husband Nick is blamed for the murder, in a film with brilliantly hairpin twists and turns, and two excellent performances from Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike.
I Care A Lot
Fyre Festival, Anna Delvey, the impossibility of cancelling a free trial – the age of the scammer is truly upon us, and this Rosamund Pike-fronted drama will scratch just that itch. The crime drama follows a woman who tricks elderly people into appointing her as their legal guardian before making off with their money. The enterprise comes unstuck when she targets a victim who has ties to a gangster, played by the wry Peter Dinklage. What appears a slick drama ends up making salient points about our obsession with wealth and hustling.
Heat might not have been recognised at the Oscars of its day, but the 25 years since its release have seen Michael Mann's crime thriller cemented as the classic of the genre. Robert De Niro and Al Pacino are a formidable pair in this story of a detective trying to catch a seasoned criminal pulling his very last heist. Mann spent nine months shadowing an LAPD officer every Friday and Saturday night in the run up to Heat, responding to calls across the city to get a taste of what the crime there really looked like. The result is a film which exploits every hidden corner of the city in a relentless game of cat and mouse, with what we'd wager is the best telephone scene in cinema history.
Dallas Buyers Club
The role which cemented The McConaissance into the canon of pop-culture, Matthew McConaughey's Oscar-winning turn as Ron Woodroof remains his most electric performance to date. Woodroof was a rodeo cowboy who was diagnosed with HIV, and upon discovering a blocked drug which extended the life of aids sufferers, began a club in order to distribute it.
It is no understatement to say that Bong Joon Ho's satirical horror, and masterpiece of class warfare, is the best film of 2020. Winning the Korean auteur four Academy Awards, and in doing so becoming the first foreign-language film to win the 'Best Picture' Oscar, it's hard to overstate its impact. As well as being an important dissection of privilege and the precarious nature of modern life, it is also hugely entertaining for the farcical story, which just keeps ramping up. If you haven't yet seen it, it's best to go in uninformed, but the story follows two families living in South Korea – one rich, one poor – and slowly shows us the folks at the bottom invading the beautiful, sprawling home of their wealthy compatriots. Parasite is a film with such bite it leaves you feeling wounded for days.
Sam Mendes's war epic drops you into the brutal trenches of the first world war, with a claustrophobic style of shooting that has you begging to escape. The story follows two young British soldiers who are tasked with crossing enemy lines to deliver a message that will prevent the deaths of thousands of comrades. The all-star British cast includes names such as Benedict Cumberbatch, Richard Madden, Mark Strong, Colin Firth and Andrew Scott, and the film is shot by revered cinematographer Roger Deakins – the Oscar-winner behind Sicario and Blade Runner 2049 – who here conjures harrowing and breathtaking visuals.
One Night in Miami
A fictional account of a real night in history, One Night in Miami imagines the conversations which took place behind closed doors when Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown met in a hotel room after Ali's win against Sonny Liston in 1964. Adapted by Kemp Powers from his play of the same name, and directed by Regina King, the film creates a four-way verbal boxing match between the men as they discuss activism, art and politics and the burden on famous Black men to speak up against injustices. Powers's story taps into the lesser-known, more private aspects of these infamous men's personalities, tackling some of the myth and in doing so showing us more of the men behind them. A gorgeously shot and slow burning drama which draws an unfortunate line from the civil rights movement to our polarised present day.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
John Le Carré was the anti-Ian Fleming, an author whose spy stories revelled in the minutiae of espionage and the toll the job takes on those who chose to pursue it. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy might not be his best novel – that's The Spy Who Came in From the Cold – but this is arguably the best version of any of his books ever filmed, a slow-burning thriller that ratchets up the tension as retired spook George Smiley (Gary Oldman) hunts a mole at the top of British Intelligence.
Queen & Slim
A young couple's first date ends in an altercation with an Ohio police officer, causing them to flee the scene and later be dubbed the "Black Bonnie and Clyde" by a family member after they go on the run. When a video of the incident goes viral, the protagonists become symbols of the grief and pain people have suffered at the hands of the police. Both Get Out star Daniel Kaluuya, and his on-screen partner Jodie Turner-Smith, give remarkable performances in this story about police brutality and a divided America that is most devastating in its quietest moments. Released before the death of George Floyd at the hands of American police officers sparked protests around the world, Queen & Slim is a fictional story yet one which feels symbolic of all of the people whose names should not be forgotten.
24 Hour Party People
Michael Winterbottom's film manages to conjure the full madness of Factory Record's semi-mythic journey from grotty punk club night to the very heart of everything that mattered in youth culture in a way no mass of BBC4 talking heads ever could. Steve Coogan plays prime mover Tony Wilson, who narrates the whole trajectory, while a ludicrously strong ensemble, including John Simm, Shirley Henderson, Paddy Considine and Andy Serkis, bring life to the gigantic characters around the label. In a meta twist, real Hacienda and Factory figures like Dave Haslam, Dave Pickering, Howard Devoto and Tony Wilson himself pop up too. "I'm being postmodern," Coogan's Wilson explains, "before it was fashionable."
A Man Called Ove
Based on Fredrik Backman's 2012 book of the same name, this Swedish film is about a grumpy, lonely named Ove (Rolf Lassgård) who spends his days telling off his neighbours. It takes the energy of the young to bring him back to life, as a young family move in next door to him and a friendship begins when they accidentally flatten his mailbox. Wry and heart-warming without being mawkish, A Man Called Ove is uplifting but still wonderfully dour.
A fascinating, terrifying true crime thriller about how a hoax caller convinced a manager at a fast food chain to interrogate one of her employees following a theft. This dramatisation of the story, from Mare of Easttown director Craig Zobel, looks at the alarming ways in which we submit to authority and how this overrides our instincts, even when what we are being told to do seems to make no sense. It also features a brilliant performances from Dreama Walker as the compliant employee and Ann Dowd as a Karen-before-her-time manager.
A Bigger Splash
Luca Guadagnino, the director behind Call Me By Your Name, here recounts another stylish summer in Italy. This time the story focuses on a musician (Tilda Swinton) who receives an unexpected visit from an ex (Ralph Fiennes) and his seductive daughter (Dakota Johnson) while on holiday with her boyfriend (Matthias Schoenaerts). Alluring and intense, Guadagnino creates a melting pot of emotion which burns under the Sicilian sun.
Emad and Rana are a young couple living in Tehran, Iran, who are forced to move out of their apartment, and the history of their new building by chance brings a violent encounter to their doorstep which threatens to undo them. The recipient of two awards at Cannes Film Festival and an Academy Award, The Salesman simmers with a tension that always feels about to boil over.
The Imitation Game
The story of how mathematician Alan Turing saved the country with a code-breaking computer during the darkest hours of World War II is a chapter in British history that is sadly unknown to so many. Benedict Cumberbatch is excellent as Turing in this 2014 retelling of his work at Bletchley Park, with a strong ensemble cast that includes Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode.
Desiree Akhavan directs and stars in this indie drama about an Iranian-American living in Brooklyn who is struggling to come to terms with breaking up with her girlfriend and keeping her bisexuality hidden from her family. Like New York hipster dramas Tiny Furniture and Frances Ha, Appropriate Behaviour mixes heart and humour effortlessly while painting a modern picture of sexuality.
Manchester by the Sea
Sometimes there are no happy endings and life keeps trudging on even after a tragedy that feels as though it should end the world. This is what Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is faced with after being named guardian to his teenage nephew, Patrick, and forced to return to his hometown and confront his past. Michelle Williams give a sublime performance as Lee's ex-wife Randi and Lucas Hedges is also brilliant as the awkward but endearing Patrick.
Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara play two women who meet at the counter of a department store in Fifties Manhattan, their tryst sparking a forbidden romance which they cannot resist. Directed by Todd Haynes and adapted from Patricia Highsmith's novel The Price of Salt, Carol is visually stunning and meters out its drama slowly. Both leads give measured yet moving performances and manage to conjure a love story which asks questions about sin and sexuality while revelling in the female gaze.
Jennifer Lopez may have never got her Academy Award nomination for Lorene Scafaria's excellent 2019 film, but this strobe-lit dive into the strip clubs and shopping mall excesses of pre-crash New York City shines without a gold statue. Based on a New York Magazine article about strippers who drugged and robbed their clients when they stopped spending, Hustlers is a slick, funny and compelling look at bending the rules when the system is broken.
Long-time Steven Soderbergh screenwriter Scott Z Burns makes his directing debut in the compelling true story of Senate staffer Daniel J Jones, the man who forensically compiled a report into CIA Detention and Interrogation Program, a scheme which saw the brutal torture of suspects in the wake of 9/11. Adam Driver is excellent as Jones, a character who makes the case for speaking truth to power even at extreme personal cost.
Martin Scorsese leaves the gangster genre briefly for this 2016 adaptation of the 1966 novel of the same name by Shūsaku Endō. In it two Jesuit priests, Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garrupe (Adam Driver), travel to japan during the 1640s in search of an older mentor named Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson). Though it was a film which polarised viewers at the time, Silence is a nerve-wracking, intense and at time almost entirely still film which demands your attention.
The fable of how the McDonald's golden arches became as ubiquitous as Church crosses is a tale which feels as American as they come. Michael Keaton plays Ray Kroc, a struggling salesman who gets a taste of pure joy via a burger in California, deciding on tasting it to turn it into the biggest restaurant business in the world.
Chronicling a boy's descent into meth addiction and the repeated relapses that follow, Beautiful Boy is told through the eyes of David (Steve Carell), a father who watches his son, Nic (Timothée Chalamet) gradually be consumed by the drug. A role in which Chalamet cements his status as one of the most exciting actors of the moment after his Oscar-nominated performance in Call Me By Your Name.
Based on Emma Donoghue's harrowing novel of the same name, Brie Larson plays a kidnapped mother who is held captive in a tiny room with her young son Jack. The film does justice to the book by showing the perspective of Jack in this strange world, one where his friend is a lamp and the stranger that comes into 'room' is hidden away from him. A difficult but enormously powerful watch.
Mark Ruffalo stars in this drama about Rob Bilott, a corporate attorney who took on an environmental suit against the DuPoint chemical company when a farmer came to him with evidence his livestock were being poisoned by the town's water supply. What follows is an astonishing tale about a villainous corporation who knowingly poisoned people and went out of their way to cover it up, including threatening the man trying to reveal the truth.
The first rule of Fight Club is you don't talk about Fight Club.
Adapted from an episode of the podcast This American Life, Crown Heights looks at the flaws in the criminal justice system through the story of incarcerated Colin Warner. Warner was wrongfully charged with murder after being arrested in Brooklyn and served 20 years for a crime he did not commit. The film focuses on Carl King, Warner's best friend who battles to clear his name and prove his innocence, giving the prison drama format a new angle by showing the people left behind on the outside.
David Fincher's 1995 movie, featuring a particularly good performance from Brad Pitt (maybe you've heard of him?) is an edge of your seat tale that has stood the test of time, hitting all of the dramatic beats that a thriller should. The gleefully dark plot follows two detectives (Pitt and Morgan Freeman) who investigate a string of murders in which the victims are killed in gruesomely creative forms, each linked to one of the seven sins. It also features the best cardboard box scene in cinematic history, not that we imagine there's much competition for that particular trophy.
Who would have thought a film about drumming would offer such a pure rush of adrenaline? In the hands of La La Land director Damian Chazelle, the story of young student Andrew (Miles Teller) at prestigious New York music school Shaffer Conservatory, and his sociopathic teacher (a never-better J.K Simmons, who took home an Oscar for the role), is a heart-racing battle of wills which barely lets you catch your breath. Teller and Simmons's tug of war holds the film together, showing that in the world of ultra competitive music, hatred and respect aren't so far apart.
Kate Hudson as groupie Penny Lane in Almost Famous remains in the pantheon of cool film characters who have survived throughout the ages, winning her an Oscar for best supporting actress back in 2000. If you somehow haven't watched it 21 years later, the film follows 15-year-old William Miller who accompanies the rock band Stillwater on tour for an article in Rolling Stone. Based on director Cameron Crowe's own experience of writing for the magazine in his teenage years, the coming of age story retreads the time in which he lost his virginity, fell in love, and realised his idols were only human. There's also (isn't there always?) a fantastic Frances McDormand performance as William's perfectly uncool mother, who we see shouting from the car for him to not do drugs and dressing down rockstars without a second thought. We stan.
Best comedy movies on Amazon Prime UK
A great food movie does more than make your mouth water, and here each dish we see lovingly put together also helps to tell the story. Directed by and starring Jon Favreau (the genius behind the screenplay for Swingers), Chef tells the story of a bored restaurant cook churning out the same things each night in a high end restaurant. After a viral altercation with a food critic he throws in the towel in and hits the road in a taco truck with his son, a journey that of course provides all the feels along the way. There are some truly memorable food preparation scenes – a glistening spaghetti with olive oil and garlic, the perfect cuban sandwich – but there's also amusing commentary on how tired restaurants dining out on former glory have been pushed out by the boom of Instagram.
Does any genre capture the repetitive mundanity of the pandemic better than the time-loop movie? This millennial update on Groundhog Day manages to be much more than that by using the format as a mechanism for both comedy and darkness. The romantic comedy follows a couple who end up trapped at someone else's wedding and struggle to free themselves from the saccharine speeches and bad dancing, much as they try. Forced to relive the same events over and over again, they realise they must face their past in order to move into the future.
For decades the stag do was the go-to template for a story of raucous excess and regrettable partying, while hen parties were seen as tame affairs which ended with a nice girly chat. In this extremely funny dive into the duties and obligations of female friends when they are anointed as bridesmaids, we see the laughable and performative rituals which women submit to with much hidden ire. The story follows Annie (Kristen Wiig) who is contending with insufferable roommates and a dead-end job when her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) announces she is getting married. The subsequent carousel of parties and trips to celebrate the nuptials sees Annie competing with Lillian's new best friend in a tale of envy which has surprisingly moving thoughts on how we grow apart from the people we love.
The Big Sick
Arguably one of the great romantic comedies of the last decade, this Academy Award-nominated film is based on the real-life romance between Pakistani-born comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his partner Emily, played in the film by Zoe Kazan. Balancing laugh-out-loud moments and sucker-punch moments of sadness as Emily's health deteriorates, The Big Sick is a story that stays with you.
How To Build a Girl
Caitlin Moran's childhood in Wolverhampton and early years as a music journalist in London are relived in this adaptation of her 2014 novel of the same name. Ladybird and Booksmart's Beanie Feldstein offers up another brilliant female coming-of-age story, this time as lead Johanna Morrigan, a teenage recluse from a large, mad family who wants to escape the Midlands and forge a path as a rock critic, despite knowing nothing about the genre. Feldstein's accent might be a little off the mark, but the story here is moving and entertaining nonetheless.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Almost 15 years after terrorising America, Kazakh television presenter Borat Sagdiyev is back to do it all over again. His 2020 update finds him returning to America in the run up to the Presidential election, and having to don disguises thanks to how recognisable he has become around the world. Again, Borat stages outrageous provocations and stunts in a shockumentary which exposes the anti-semitism, racism and misogyny rife across America, as well as showing the sad reluctance of anyone to step in. Of course, we knew all this already, but it's still a worthwhile reminder of how far things have slipped.
Guy Ritchie is back being extremely Guy Ritchie in this crime caper which is heavy on guns and f-bombs. Told in flashbacks over the course of a very long dinner, with twist and turns a plenty, the story is about super rich weed dealer Mickey Pearson (an extremely cool Matthew McConaughey) whose moves to get out the game spark gang warfare. Special mention goes to Hugh Grant who, like McConaughey is now in the renaissance of his career, and plays a brilliantly slippery and unpleasant villain.
Best horror movies on Amazon Prime UK
Let the Right One In
Part science fiction, part romance, part horror, this beautiful story of a bullied boy who finds love and revenge through a girl he meets is hard to place firmly in any genre. The film follows 12-year-old Oskar, withdrawn from the world in the suburbs with his parents until Eli and her mysterious past draw him out of the shadows. From Tomas Alfredson, the Swedish director of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and adapted from John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel of the same name, Let the Right One In takes you on a journey which grows ever-darker.
Best documentaries on Amazon Prime UK
The Four Year Plan
This documentary is a time capsule in a couple of ways. For one thing, Queens Park Rangers' attempts to launch themselves into the riches of the Premier League back in 2007 now seem to belong to a far less giddily inflated era. (The big masterplan is to spend £250,000 on Gavin Mahon? Look out, Europe!) For another, the advent of the glossy brand-polishing exercises for Manchester City, Juventus, Leeds United and other clubs means The Four Year Plan now stands as the last of the great fly-on-the-wall docs, a British mini-industry which brought us mud-splattered gems like Premier Passions, Chester City: An American Dream and Orient: Club For a Fiver. The Four Year Plan has that blend of wild-eyed ambition and thundering incompetence which made those docs so gripping.
Searching for Sugar Man
This excellent 2012 documentary tells the curious story of Seventies musician Rodriguez, who was discovered in a Detroit bar by two producers and went on to record an album they believed would cement his career forevermore. In the film two obsessive fans track down the musician who faded into obscurity, and was rumoured to have died, unearthing the truth of what really happened. The film soundtrack, featuring his original music, is well worth putting on too.
Asif Kapadia, the director behind hard-hitting and acclaimed documentaries about Amy Winehouse and Ayrton Senna, here turns his attention to the footballing legend Diego Maradona and tries to untangle the man who became more than a myth. Made before Maradona's death, Kapadia gets access to the man himself, though he is typically evasive and contrarian. What is more interesting is hearing from his coaches and family members and understanding how a boy from a shantytown on the outskirts of Buenos Aires went on to become the greatest footballer ever. The story has it all: shady mobsters, a secret love child, a godlike figure who fell from grace and the “Goal of the Century”, at least according to FIFA.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
The level of craft that goes into making some of the world's best sushi becomes almost ASMR porn in this charming documentary about Jiro, the 94-year-old owner of a three-Michelin star restaurant in a Tokyo subway station. Telling the story of the pressure his two sons face in trying to live up to his name and continue the family business, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a moving family portrait which unpacks the customs of cooking in Japan.
This love story tells of the two decade battle of mother Fox Rich to free her husband from Louisiana State Penitentiary, where he is serving a 60-year prison sentence for a robbery they both committed in the early Nineties in an act of desperation. Garrett Bradley's beautifully shot black and white documentary shows Fox attempting to survive while raising for her six sons, the film's title a nod to the sentence Rob G. Rich must serve, as well as representing the passage of time which his wife is condemned to suffer without him. Time is a reminder of the people behind bars, and a condemnation of the brutal prison industry.
A true crime documentary that works backwards, The Dissident begins with the murder that shook the world in the story of how Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated while inside an embassy in 2018. From the director of Oscar-winning Icarus, the story then tracks back to show how the group of people responsible knew they would get away with it, a belief which has been proved tragically correct.
2021 brought us a new mini-series version of the storied designer, but this 2019 documentary offers a less Ryan Murphy, more forensic look at the life of Roy Halston Frowick. Threading together rare archival footage as well as interviews with the friends and family members who knew him best to paint a portrait of the man who upended the fashion scene, it transports you to Seventies New York in the process.
Super Size Me
When Morgan Spurlock's fast food jeremiad was released back in 2004, it revealed the pushy practises deployed by McDonald's to shift ever-increasing quantities of junk food on people, putting their health at serious risk. The Sundance-winning documentary sees Spurlock spend a month chowing down solely on food from the golden arches, watching as he rapidly gains weight, struggles with his energy levels and other, more worrying, side effects. The clean eating and wellness movements might have swept in in the time since Super Size Me, but the reliance on quick and affordable food has only grown as wealth inequality has spiralled. As such, this exposé on the food many people have no choice but to eat is still sadly relevant today.
Part of a rarefied group of stars who are identifiable by just their first name, the legend of Whitney Houston is demystified in this powerful 2018 documentary about her life. The film comes from director Kevin McDonald, who won an Oscar for his doc about the 1972 murder of 11 Israeli athletes, One Day in September, and here McDonald expertly uses interviews and archival footage to show a different side to Whitney. Contrasting the media portrayal of the singer with the troubles she faced in private, Whitney follows in the footsteps of documentaries like Amy in rewriting the public perception of the figures people think they know.
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