As with all of the major streaming services, Amazon Prime has its pros and cons. Among the pros are the TV library and access to new movies. Digging into the film catalog shows that Amazon still has a ways to go, but there are still enough movies available to make it a strong, dynamic movie night. To wit:
Jake Gyllenhaal has always been a good actor, but he spent a long stretch of the 2000s playing mediocre characters in forgettable movies. He mixed in enough strong work (Brokeback Mountain, Jarhead) to make you wish he picked better movies consistently. Then he did, and now he exclusively makes must-see films. This mind-bender from Canadian director Denis Villeneuve has Gyllenhaal playing two roles—and it's intent on unsettling you. Whether you like the movie or not, both it and Gyllenhaal’s performances will stick with you.
2) Under the Skin
Similar to Gyllenhaal, Scarlett Johansson is one of our current best. In Under the Skin she is an alien who stalks, seduces, and… does something to men she picks up in Scotland. The movie is full of indelible imagery, and a story that provokes as much as it disturbs.
3) Mad Max
Way back when Mel Gibson hadn’t alienated the world, George Miller made his name with this action assault. If you loved Mad Max: Fury Road, definitely make time to revisit the beginning and bask in the low-budget madness.
4) Ex Machina
Writer-director Alex Garland is one of the best sci-fi minds going in film. He favors heady stories that creep you out and his debut behind the camera is no different. Aside from launching the most popular film GIF of 2015 (Oscar Isaac's red-light soaked dance number), Ex Machina established Garland as a directorial force.
5) Sin City
Ah, the last legitimately great movie Robert Rodriguez made before going on an unfortunate run of movies nobody was interested in. (Planet Terror was fine.) In adapting Frank Miller’s graphic novel Rodriguez found the perfect outlet. It allowed him his technical indulgences (the use of green screen is particularly noteworthy) and the anthology approach helped focus his shortening attention span. The result was revolutionary at the time and is still the gold standard a decade later.
6) Talladega Nights
Ricky Bobby is every bit the equal of the more quoted and memed Ron Burgundy. Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly are a comedy duo we should be thanking the gods for—we’re so unworthy of their greatness. People mistakenly think this movie rips on NASCAR, but it’s much friendlier in its ribbing and it’s funnier because it aims for silliness over anything else.
This documentary tells a story we all know about and have unfortunately heard many variations on before. Amy Winehouse’s career is tragic all the way and the movie is hard to watch, but it’s important. It’s too easy to blame drug addicts for their own problems, but what this movie does so well is ask the question of what do you do when the people who are supposed to love you the most are complicit in your downfall?
8) Black Hawk Down
I tend to think Ridley Scott is overrated, or at least his post-Blade Runner movies are. But Black Hack Down is one of his more underrated films, coming out in the shadow of Gladiator. This is just a war story that is very well made. It does a great job throwing the audience into the middle of the action and is relentless. It’s muscular, potent filmmaking from a guy who has gotten out of shape.
9) Hard Candy
This is a two-hander featuring Patrick Wilson and a pre-Juno Ellen Page about an internet predator getting more than he bargained for. The bulk of the movie takes place in one location and takes great pleasure in making the audience squirm. It goes to some dark places, so this is a recommendation for adventurous viewers.
10) Little Giants
Outside of people susceptible to nostalgia, Little Giants is hardly a great movie, but it’s a fun one and worth considering if you want something light. The story of the scrappy, Rick Moranis-led misfits is so earnest that it’s impossible to not smile the whole time you’re watching. If you don’t get excited for the Annexation of Puerto Rico, you may be dead inside.
Few experiences are more joyous than watching a smart sci-fi thriller that actually holds up and doesn’t collapse under the weight of its contrivances as it reaches the third act. Coherence takes a simple high concept (parallel realities) and runs with it, turning it around and around, keeping its characters (and its audience) intrigued and confused but never fully disoriented, all the way to a fulfilling ending that doesn’t cheat.
Here’s the thing about Election, you need to watch it at least twice, preferably several years apart. How you feel about the sad-sack high school teacher played by Matthew Broderick, the ambitious overachiever student played by Reese Witherspoon, and their escalating feud—it might change depending on how old you are. But even if you find out you are always Team Broderick or always Team Witherspoon, it’s worth re-watching just for the laughs, which in classic Alexander Payne style, stem from familiar humiliation and recognizable human folly. Also, this is Chris Kline’s finest hour and you must witness it if you’ve ever made fun of his career.
13) The Mist
I hope nobody’s spoiled the end because one of the pleasures of this Stephen King adaptation is getting the wind knocked out of you by its climax. Even if you know how it ends, there’s still so much more to enjoy: a strong leading man in Thomas Jane, the craziest nutjob Marcia Gay Harden has played, to the overall creepiness of the setup. Here an entire town is overcome by a mysterious, impenetrable mist, and a group of survivors trapped inside a convenience store make poor decisions. The claustrophobic setting is the perfect stage to watch humanity crumble.
Could this be the best time-travel story ever? Forget about how convoluted the franchise’s mythology became with each successive entry, the original Terminator is so elegant in its core concept, so economically executed, its punches land harder than in any of the sequels.
15) Silence of the Lambs
Before Hannibal Lecter suffered from over-exposure (and then redeemed him with a cool, artsy TV show), he blew everyone’s minds when Anthony Hopkins first donned the mask and straight jacket. What gets lost among the first layer of Silence of the Lambs chatter, however, is how deftly it explores the constant challenge of being a woman in a man’s world. Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) not only has to deal with condescension and mind games from the psychopaths she’s after but also from her FBI colleagues. Once Lecter-mania washes away, Clarice’s struggles remain as the real reason to keep coming back to the most successful adaptation of Thomas Harris’s work so far.
There’s an easy sell when it comes to watching Gremlins: It provides a nice build-up to the sheer insanity of Gremlins 2, its memorably meta sequel. Even if it was an only child, however, this Christmas tale of a cute furry creature and the horrific monsters it spawns would be worth experiencing because, through all the jump-scares and the silly comedy, this movie has heart—far more than the movie that came after.
17) Robocop (2014)
OK, settle down, lower your expectations. This isn’t Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop and, no, that movie didn’t need a remake. But if you were going to remake it, you could do a lot worse. It’s also not a carbon copy of Verhoeven’s story, which means there are some surprises to be had, some new beats to go through. At the very least, I guarantee it’s better than the actual Robocop sequels.
18) Mission: Impossible
It’s hard not to love the M:I franchise (even with the ludicrous John Woo contribution) and it’s easy to make the argument that, save for No. 2, each movie in the series has gotten better. Much like with the Terminator films, however, the original (reboot) is nearest and dearest for its bold decisions and swashbuckling action.
19) When Harry Met Sally
What might be the ultimate Meg Ryan romantic comedy will provide you with dozens of witty quotes, hours of laughter, and casually force a self-examination of your relationships that might get a little uncomfortable. Ryan faking an orgasm at a packed restaurant is a high point in American comedy, but it’s the little things that really get you—the late night talks while watching Casablanca, the mutual friends that fall in love, the vignettes of couples narrating how they met. And, of course, the sweetest New Year’s Eve speech in film history.
Every now and then, a filmmaker crafts a movie that will forever make you a fan of his work, willing to watch anything they put out, trailer unseen, reviews ignored, for as long as they have a career. Jean-Pierre Jeunet could make terrible films for the rest of his life (he hasn’t) and it wouldn’t matter because his playfully fantastical portrayal of Paris and Amélie, the passionate young woman determined to fix her friends’ lives, is a pitch-perfect delight. Audrey Tautou is so charming, you’ll fall in love with her every time, and you won’t mind coming back to the real world after a couple of hours, because you’ll do so with the biggest smile.