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As Netflix pours more of its resources into original content, Amazon Prime Video is picking up the slack, adding new movies for its subscribers each month. Its catalog has grown so impressive, in fact, that it’s a bit overwhelming — and at the same time, movies that are included with a Prime subscription regularly change status, becoming available only for rental or purchase. It’s a lot to sift through, so we’ve plucked out 100 of the absolute best movies included with a Prime subscription right now, to be updated as new information is made available.
Here are our lists of the best TV shows and movies on Netflix, and the best of both on Hulu and Disney+.
Dee Rees made her feature directorial debut with this heartfelt and thoughtful story about a Brooklyn teenager (the “incandescent” Adepero Oduye) named Alike, and her attempt to come out as a lesbian — fully aware of the resistance she will face from her controlling mother (Kim Wayans). Rees, who also wrote the screenplay, is well versed in the lives these characters live, the neighborhoods they inhabit and the lies they tell one another in order to coexist. But she also captures the seductiveness of the subcultures Alike begins to explore, and the alternative they present: the choice to live one’s truth, with no apologies. (If you like coming-of-age dramas, stream “Purple Rain.”)
So much of contemporary science fiction is merely action in sci-fi clothing that it’s refreshing to encounter a film that uses its big budget, name actors and special effects to imagine not how we would battle extraterrestrials, but how we would try to embrace and understand them. Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner star as a linguist and a mathematician who attempt to establish a common language with the inhabitants of an alien ship — all while an impatient world and trigger-happy military clamor for answers and bend to paranoia. Our critic admired how it works in a “more idealistic hopeful key than most movies in this genre.”
‘The Color Purple’ (1985)
Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey made their unforgettable feature film debuts (and each picked up an Oscar nomination) in Steven Spielberg’s tender and sensitive adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel. Goldberg stars as Celie, a poor Black woman in the rural South, forced to marry the vile man she only knows as “Mister” (played, with haunting force, by Danny Glover); Spielberg gives equal weight to the grimness of her life and her power to imagine something better. Our critic praised the picture’s “momentum, warmth and staying power.” (For more ensemble drama, add “Soul Food” to your queue.)
‘Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am’ (2019)
Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’s biographical documentary was released less than two months before the Nobel- and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist’s death, and it serves as a fitting tribute to her life and legacy. Drawing on interviews with not only Morrison but her famous friends and admirers (including Angela Davis, Fran Lebowitz and Oprah Winfrey), Greenfield-Sanders meticulously documents Morrison’s background, influences and all but immeasurable impact on literature and culture, resulting in both a respectful obituary and a spirited celebration.
‘Catherine Called Birdy’ (2022)
The “Girls” creator and star Lena Dunham is about the last person you’d imagine to direct a film adaptation of a young adult novel set in 13th-century England. (Perhaps that’s why she did it.) What she accomplishes is a minor miracle: a delightful film that inserts a modern comic sensibility into the past, without resorting to anachronism or satire. She gets a big assist from the star Bella Ramsey (“The Last of Us”), who brings the title character to vivid, playful life, involving us in her tribulations and frustrations, as her oft-drunken father (Andrew Scott, the “hot priest” of “Fleabag”) desperately attempts to marry her off. Our critic called it a “winning,” “headstrong comedy.”
‘Appropriate Behavior’ (2015)
Desiree Akhavan writes, directs and stars in this devastatingly funny, breathtakingly candid and unexpectedly sexy comedy-drama. She’s is a singular comic voice, and since she’s playing a variation on herself (a bisexual Brooklynite filmmaker and daughter of immigrants), the picture boasts an offhand candor and casual approach to ethnicity, class and identity that makes it distinctive even among the indie set. Our critic praised the picture’s “clever and unpredictable turns of phrase.”
‘True Grit’ (2010)
The Coen Brothers “beautifully adapted” the 1969 John Wayne classic (and the Charles Portis novel that inspired it) in this, their first traditional western, and the genre proved a perfect fit for their grandiose characters, colloquial dialogue style and cockeyed worldview. Jeff Bridges is a hoot, situating his Marshal “Rooster” Cogburn as a hybrid of Wayne, the Dude from “The Big Lebowski” and your crotchety grandfather, but the show-stealer is the newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, an absolute firecracker as the young woman who hires him to track down her father’s killer. (Western fans will also enjoy “Open Range,” “El Dorado” and “One-Eyed Jacks.”)
‘Blazing Saddles’ (1974)
Mel Brooks concocted one of his rudest, brashest, funniest comedies with this Western spoof, in which railroad bosses try to clear out a tiny town by appointing a Black sheriff (Cleavon Little). Brooks and his team of ace comedy writers — including a young Richard Pryor — adopted an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach, throwing in broad slapstick, sophisticated social satire, cheerful vulgarity, witty wordplay and fourth-wall breaks. As a result, there’s something for everyone — and, most likely, something to offend everyone. Gene Wilder lends support as the hard-drinking, quick-drawing Waco Kid, but Madeline Kahn steals the show as vampy saloon performer Lili Von Shtupp. (For more wild comedy, try “Game Night” or “Fletch.”)
‘Thelma & Louise’ (1991)
Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis are dangerously good in this Ridley Scott road movie, which became the center of a national conversation for its unapologetic portrait of two outlaws. Sarandon and Davis play friends whose weekend getaway is derailed by an attempted assault; when they strike back, they find themselves on the run. Callie Khouri won an Oscar for her screenplay. “It reimagines the buddy film with such freshness and vigor that the genre seems positively new,” our critic wrote at the time.
‘Boyz N the Hood’ (1991)
John Singleton made a splashy feature directorial debut with this coming-of-age drama that adroitly mixes hope and despair. Cuba Gooding Jr. (in his breakthrough role) is Tre, a high school senior whose clearest paths are illustrated by his two oldest friends: good-natured, college-bound athlete Ricky (Morris Chestnut) and hard-as-nails gang-banger Doughboy (Ice Cube). Singleton’s sensitive screenplay mostly avoids outright didacticism, however, and his performers — especially Laurence Fishburne as Tre’s forceful father — are excellent. “He is saying something familiar with new dramatic force,” our critic wrote. (Singleton’s “Higher Learning” is also on Prime.)
‘Brokeback Mountain’ (2005)
Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway turn in career-high performances in Ang Lee’s adaptation of Annie Proulx’s short story of the same name about the 20-year romance between Ennis (Ledger) and Jack (Gyllenhaal), two rough-edged cowboys who first meet in 1963. The men are required, by the times and the expectations of those around them, to hide their love. The Oscar-winning screenplay by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana renders their passion, longing and loneliness with clarity and sensitivity; our critic called it a “moving and majestic film.” (For more Oscar winners, stream “Ordinary People” and “Lillies of the Field.”)
The saga of Rocky Balboa, the club fighter plucked from obscurity to fight the heavyweight champ, seemed to have ended with Sylvester Stallone’s 2006 back-to-basics effort “Rocky Balboa.” But nearly a decade later, the filmmaker Ryan Coogler cast a fresh eye on the saga, recasting Stallone’s Rocky as the mentor to Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), the son of Rock’s old rival-turned-friend Apollo Creed. What sounds like a desperate attempt to revive a failing franchise is instead a powerful story of legacy, loss and love, thanks to the energetic direction of Coogler (who would next helm “Black Panther”) and the sensitive performances of Jordan, an Oscar-nominated Stallone and Tessa Thompson, who plays Bianca. Our critic called it “a dandy piece of entertainment, soothingly old-fashioned and bracingly up-to-date.” (“Creed II” is also on Prime; sport film fans should also check out “Air.”)
‘Devil in a Blue Dress’ (1995)
Denzel Washington is terrific — smolderingly sexy, offhandedly funny, endlessly engaging — as Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins, a ’40s-era private detective, in this beautifully crafted adaptation of Walter Mosley’s novel, from the director Carl Franklin (“One False Move”). Yet even with that great performance at its center, Don Cheadle steals the show as “Mouse,” Rawlins’s troublemaking best friend; this was Cheadle’s breakthrough role, and he makes every scene crackle with energy and unpredictability. “Devil” was based on the first of 14 Rawlins novels (to date), and in a just world, we’d have seen Washington play him 13 more times. But at least we got this one.
‘Hot Fuzz’ (2007)
The director Edgar Wright and the actor Simon Pegg co-wrote the screenplay to this wickedly entertaining and strikingly stylized riff on hyperkinetic action movies. Pegg stars as a London cop whose effectiveness is making the rest of the force look bad, so he’s sent to a rural village to spin his wheels alongside a movie-obsessed goofball of a partner (Nick Frost). But this quaint little hamlet may not be so sleepy after all. Manohla Dargis praised the picture’s “fusillade of film-geek jokes and charming nonsense.” (Wright, Pegg and Frost’s other collaborations, “Shaun of the Dead” and “The World’s End,” are also on Prime.)
‘Mississippi Burning’ (1988)
This procedural drama inspired by the 1964 murders of the civil-rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner netted several Oscar nominations, including a best actor nod for Gene Hackman, Frances McDormand’s first nomination (for best supporting actress), and a best director nomination for Alan Parker. The filmmaker nails the insidiousness of small-town racism (and the violence it engenders), Hackman and McDormand are beautifully understated, and Willem Dafoe finds just the rote note for his no-nonsense FBI newbie. Our critic called it “first-rate.”
‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ (1946)
The director Frank Capra and the actor Jimmy Stewart took a marvelously simple premise — a suicidal man is given the opportunity to see what his world would have been like without him — and turned it into a holiday perennial. But “It’s a Wonderful Life” is too rich and complex to brand with a label as simple as “Christmas movie”; it is ultimately a story about overcoming darkness and finding light around you, a tricky transition achieved primarily through the peerless work of Stewart as a good man with big dreams who can’t walk away from the place where he’s needed most. Our critic called it a “quaint and engaging modern parable.” (For more Stewart, check out “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”)
‘Black Bear’ (2020)
When Aubrey Plaza arrived on the scene over a decade ago, her bone-dry wit, acerbic delivery and supporting turns in comic films and television suggested the second coming of Janeane Garofalo. But her electrifying dramatic work over the past few years suggests something closer to Gena Rowlands. In “Black Bear,” the scorching portrait of psychosexual one-upmanship begins as a love triangle, with Plaza as an actor-turned-filmmaker on a remote retreat with a married couple (Christopher Abbott and Sarah Gadon, both excellent). Over the course of a long night, the trio flirt, hint and accuse, rearranging and regrouping their allegiances. And then it goes somewhere else entirely, grippingly blurring the lines between life, art and their respective commentaries.
Tom Hanks won his first Academy Award — and kick-started a second career as a dramatic actor — with this “forceful, impassioned and moving” drama from the acclaimed director Jonathan Demme. It was among the first major motion pictures to address the AIDS crisis, and it does so cautiously, wrapping its story in the familiar and comfortable conventions of the courtroom drama. But Hanks is astonishing in the leading role, deploying his Everyman warmth and good humor to humanize a struggle many people had ignored, and Denzel Washington is brilliant as the bigoted peer whose journey to tolerance and understanding mirrored much of the audience’s. (Hanks won the Oscar again the following year for “Forrest Gump,” also on Prime.)
‘School Daze’ (1988)
This sophomore feature from Spike Lee is an ambitious, provocative, thoughtful and frequently funny musical-comedy, chronicling the comings and goings at a historically Black college (inspired by his own experiences as an undergraduate at Morehouse). Lee uses the insular setting to closely examine conflicts within the community, taking on colorism, class resentment and gender roles in both dialogue and song. Keep an eye out for early appearances by Laurence Fishburne, Tisha Campbell, Samuel L. Jackson, Giancarlo Esposito and more.
‘Silver Linings Playbook’ (2012)
Jennifer Lawrence won the Oscar for best actress for her spectacularly sassy and unapologetically haunted performance in David O. Russell’s (somewhat loose) adaptation of Matthew Quick’s novel. It’s a balancing act of seemingly contradictory tones and styles, slipping nimbly from serious mental-health drama to screwball comedy to romance thanks to the deceptive casualness of Russell’s approach and the skill of his cast — particularly Bradley Cooper as its unsteady protagonist and Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver (all also Oscar nominees) as his parents. Our critic called it “exuberant” and “a delight.” (The similarly emotionally complex “The Kids Are All Right” is also on Prime.)
‘The Apartment’ (1960)
You can see the DNA of “Mad Men” — not to mention pretty much every other sophisticated romantic comedy of the modern era — in this uproariously funny and deeply melancholic best picture winner from the writers Billy Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond. Jack Lemmon is pitch-perfect as an office drone whose bachelor apartment becomes the go-to hideaway for his corporate superiors, and thus a tool for climbing to their ranks; Shirley MacLaine sparkles as the elevator operator who catches his fancy, and who has a secret or two of her own. Our critic dubbed it “a gleeful, tender and even sentimental film.”
‘The Aviator’ (2004)
Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese’s second collaboration (after 2002’s “Gangs of New York”) was this uncommonly nuanced biopic of the notoriously reclusive and eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes. DiCaprio ages several decades as Hughes, who goes from the boy genius of a Texas tool company to a celebrated film producer, pilot and tycoon — all while fighting various mental maladies. Scorsese’s stylish direction vividly captures the 20th-century settings, while DiCaprio ably conveys both the brilliance and madness of the man. (Scorsese and DiCaprio’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” is also streaming on Prime.)
‘Three Days of the Condor’ (1975)
The scandals of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate, coupled with a general post-’60s distrust of authority and institution, led to a mini-boom of taut, paranoid conspiracy thrillers (“The Conversation,” “The Parallax View” and “Winter Kills” among them). One of the best is this spy scorcher from the director Sydney Pollack, inspired by the James Grady novel; Robert Redford stars as Joseph Turner, a mild-mannered researcher at a low-profile C.I.A. outpost in New York City, whose entire office is executed while he’s out to lunch. On the run, Turner must transform himself from an analyst into an agent and figure out who is trying to kill him (and why).
‘To Catch a Thief’ (1955)
This sun-drenched romp reunited the director Alfred Hitchcock with one of his favorite leading men, Cary Grant, as a retired cat burglar and Grace Kelly, the ultimate “Hitchcock Blonde,” as the wealthy woman Grant would love to romance or rob (or both). The two fall in love, and they trade witticisms, jabs and flirtations with aplomb against the beautiful backdrop of the South of France. Our critic wrote, “the script and the actors keep things popping, in a fast, slick, sophisticated vein.”
‘Band of Robbers’ (2016)
Few premises in modern cinema are more exhausting than the reimagining of classic characters in contemporary settings. But this goofy, endearing buddy movie from the writing and directing team of Aaron and Adam Nee, which gives us grown-up versions of Tom Sawyer (Adam Nee) and Huck Finn (Kyle Gallner) as modern-day, small-time criminals, has its own sprung rhythm and distinct comic voice. The filmmakers (who went on to make “The Lost City,” also on Prime) refuse to romanticize these literary favorites, instead casting them as likable screw-ups who, like their child iterations, get in way over their heads. A top-notch supporting cast — including Melissa Benoist, Hannibal Buress, Stephen Lang and Eric Christian Olsen — help keep things lively.
‘The Peanut Butter Falcon’ (2019)
The writing and directing duo of Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz created this gentle comedy-drama to showcase the talents of Zack Gottsagen, a young actor with Down syndrome, playing a character with the same condition. His is a journey of discovery and self-realization, a Huck Finn-style trip alongside a fisherman (Shia LaBeouf) with troubles of his own, rendered with charming humanity and picturesque beauty. The supporting cast is stuffed, but Dakota Johnson is the standout as the young man’s caretaker, and the fisherman’s potential romantic interest. Our critic praised the picture’s “relaxed and amiable vibe.” ((For more indie drama, check out “The Virgin Suicides.”)
‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’ (2008)
The actor turned screenwriter Jason Segel and his collaborator Nicholas Stoller first teamed up for this 2008 romantic comedy from the producer Judd Apatow. Segal is Peter, a sad-sack composer in a perpetual funk after his breakup with the title character (Kristen Bell), a famous TV actress. In an attempt to escape his depression, he takes a vacation to Hawaii — only to find Sarah at the same resort with her new beau (Russell Brand), a pretentious British pop star. Mila Kunis co-stars as the resort receptionist who presents a new opportunity for love; Bill Hader, Jonah Hill, Paul Rudd, and Jack McBrayer turn up in small but uproarious supporting roles. (For more comedy, stream “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka” and “Saved!”)
‘Moonrise Kingdom’ (2012)
Wes Anderson’s “wondrous storybook tale” involves a pair of young lovers (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) who attempt to run away from home together, and are followed by a motley search party that includes parents, police, social services and Boy Scout masters. This rowdy and vast ensemble piece could have easily slipped from Anderson’s control — particularly considering the strong onscreen personalities of its cast, which includes Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton. But his evocative script (written with Roman Coppola) finds a throughline that runs between all of these characters: the longing of love and the inevitability of disappointment. A sweet and inventive movie, with an abundance of honest laughs.
‘The Graduate’ (1967)
This wryly funny drama from Mike Nichols, adapted from the novel by Charles Webb, has become such an entrenched piece of popular culture (50-plus years later, you still don’t have to explain what “Mrs. Robinson” means), it is easy to lose track of what great entertainment it is. But it is: Using Dustin Hoffman as his marvelously witty vessel, Nichols dramatizes youthful ennui with a skill rarely seen in American cinema. The soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkel is as evocative as ever, and Anne Bancroft’s performance as Mrs. Robinson remains a marvel of empathy and complexity. Our critic called it “funny, outrageous, and touching.” (“New Hollywood” fans will also want to stream the similarly groundbreaking “Last Tango in Paris.”)
‘The Gospel According to André’ (2018)
When André Leon Talley died last year, accolades poured in from some of the most influential figures in the fashion world. Those not quite in the know couldn’t ask for a better summary of his life and achievements than this energetic and entertaining documentary from the director Kate Novack. Talley’s story is a fascinating one, of a child from the segregated South who used fashion magazines as a form of fantasy and escape, and went on to fill those pages with his distinctive words and inimitable style. The archival footage is delightful and the interviews with his contemporaries are insightful, but Talley’s own commentary is the real draw — he will always be trenchant, funny and fabulous. (Documentary fans will also enjoy “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.”)
‘The Pianist’ (2002)
Adrien Brody won the Oscar for best actor, and Roman Polanski (controversially) picked up a statue for best director for this searing adaptation of the 1946 memoir by the Holocaust survivor Władysław Szpilman. Brody stars as Szpilman, a popular Polish-Jewish pianist confined to the Warsaw ghetto, and forced later into hiding, by the Nazi invasion of Poland. Polanski, himself a Holocaust survivor, directs the scenes of Nazi terror with a lived-in immediacy that feels like cinematic therapy. But he finds notes of humanity and even hope in Szpilman’s story. Brody is marvelous, disappearing into the role’s pain and joy, while Thomas Kretschmann shines in the complicated role of an unlikely ally. (For more Oscar-friendly drama, try “12 Years a Slave,” “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” or “To Sir, With Love.”)
‘Top Gun: Maverick’ (2022)
Tom Cruise’s long-awaited sequel to his 1986 smash was a shockingly successful attempt to have it both ways. The filmmakers updated its events and characters for contemporary audiences, but it’s not an outright subversion, either. “Maverick” checks the boxes of the original — there’s thrilling action, sunglasses and leather jackets aplenty, and Cruise at his coolest — and its audience-pleasing conclusion feels like an honest-to-God throwback. (Miles Teller also shines in “Whiplash.”)
‘Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs’ (2009)
Flint Lockwood (energetically voiced by Bill Hader) creates a satellite that can turn water into food, transforming his forgotten fishing island into a tourist hot spot. But when the portions start to mutate into oversized superfoods, Flint has to find the courage to finish what he started. Anna Farris, James Caan, Mr. T and Bruce Campbell are the standouts in the voice cast, and while the little ones will love the images of hot dogs and spaghetti falling from the sky, there’s also a lesson to learn about being yourself and doing what’s right. Our critic called it “a single serving of inspired lunacy.” (For more family-friendly fare, check out “The Wiz” and “The Secret of Roan Inish.”)
‘The Magnificent Seven’ (1960)
Six years after Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai,” John Sturges produced and directed this remake, relocating Kurosawa’s epic from feudal Japan to the American West. But the bones of the story remain the same: a village is terrorized by outside forces, and hires a small band of outlaws to help them fight back. Sturges’s marvelous ensemble cast includes some of the toughest guys in the movies — including Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn and Eli Wallach — along with Yul Brynner, elegant yet credible, as the leader of the guns-for-hire. Elmer Bernstein contributes the iconic score.
‘The Villainess’ (2017)
The opening sequence of this South Korean action movie is such a stunner — a breathless, ultraviolent eight-minute one-killer-takes-on-an-army set piece — that you wonder how the director Jung Byung-gil can possibly top it. Improbably, the hyperkinetic climax, a bone-cracking sequence on a speeding city bus, does just that. But “The Villainess” offers more than empty thrills. Though best explained to Western audiences as a gender-flipped “John Wick,” the narrative that plays out between those memorable book ends has a potent emotional core and a complex dual timeline structure, explaining exactly how Sook-hee (Kim Ok-bin), the ruthless killing machine at the story’s center, became who (and what) she is. (For more female-fronted thrills, stream “Blue Steel.”)
Few expected James Cameron’s dramatization (and fictionalization) of the 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic to become a nearly unmatched commercial success and Academy Award winner (for best picture and best director, among others); most of its prerelease publicity concerned its over-budget and over-schedule production. But in retrospect, we should have known — it was the kind of something-for-everyone entertainment that recalled blockbusters of the past, deftly combining historical drama, wide-screen adventure and heartfelt romance. And its stars, Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, became one of the great onscreen pairings of the 1990s. Our critic called it “a huge, thrilling three-and-a-quarter-hour experience.” (For more Oscar-winning drama, try “Ray” and “Henry V.”)
Gene Hackman stars as Norman Dale, the Indiana high school basketball coach with a checkered past in this sleeper from David Anspaugh — an underdog sports story with the expected early setbacks and dramatic victories. What makes it special is Hackman, crafting the kind of performance that reveals nothing while also seeming to hide nothing; it’s only as we spend more time with the character that he reveals the goodness under his gruff exterior — and the darkness beyond that. Our critic called it “a small film, and a very admirable one.” (For more low-key ’80s drama, try “Tender Mercies.”)
‘You Were Never Really Here’ (2018)
The broad plot outlines — a traumatized vet, working as a killer-for-hire, gets in over his head in the criminal underworld — make this adaptation of Jonathan Ames’s book sound like a million throwaway B-movies. But the director and screenwriter is Lynne Ramsay, and she’s not interested in making a conventional thriller; hers is more like a commentary on them, less interested in visceral action beats than their preparation and aftermath. She abstracts the violence, skipping the visual clichés and focusing on the details a lesser filmmaker wouldn’t even see. Joaquin Phoenix is mesmerizing in the leading role, internalizing his rage and pain until control is no longer an option; “there is something powerful in his agony,” our critic noted. (For more of Phoenix, check out “The Immigrant” and “The Sisters Brothers.”)
‘The Gold Rush’ (1925)
One of the great Charles Chaplin’s finest films — “indeed, one of the screen’s most lovable classics,” per our critic — is this delightful story of prospectors and dreamers during the Klondike Gold Rush of the late 1890s. Chaplin, in his customary bowler hat and ill-fitting suit, sticks out like a sore thumb among the roughnecks, which provides much of the picture’s humor; more is borne out of the desperate hunger he experiences when the going gets rough, resulting in such iconic sequences as the eating of his own shoe. Few filmmakers mixed pathos and laughs as adroitly as Chaplin, and this is one of his most successful cinematic stews.
‘The Cheap Detective’ (1978)
Columbo wasn’t the only famous detective brought to life by the one and only Peter Falk; he also brought back Humphrey Bogart (albeit as the private eye Lou Peckinpaugh) in this “funny, affectionate” spoof of Bogart’s classics “Casablanca,” “The Maltese Falcon,” “The Big Sleep,” and any number of others. Neil Simon penned the script, but this is a far cry from the character-driven, relationship-heavy likes of “The Odd Couple” or “Barefoot in the Park,” veering closer to the rapid-fire farce of Simon’s “Your Show of Shows” collaborator Mel Brooks. But he does it well, Falk is admirably game, and the talented supporting players (including Eileen Brennan, Stockard Channing, Dom DeLuise, Madeline Kahn, Ann-Margret, Marsha Mason and Paul Williams) do their jobs with pizzaz. (Brennan and Kahn reunited for the similarly silly “Clue”; for a slightly more serious mystery, stream “Dead Again.”)
‘Train to Busan’ (2016)
This white-knuckle zombie-apocalypse thriller from the South Korean director Yeon Sang-ho, set onboard train hurtling toward possible safety, is a fantastic entry in the “relentless action in a confined space” subgenre (recalling “Snowpiercer,” “The Raid,” “Dredd” and the granddaddy of them all, “Die Hard”). The set pieces are energetic, the makeup effects are convincing, and the storytelling is ruthless. (Don’t get too attached to anyone.) But it’s not all blood and bluster; there’s a patient, deliberate setup before the orgy of gore and mayhem, leading to a surprising outpouring of emotion at the story’s conclusion. Our critic deemed it “often chaotic but never disorienting,” and praised its “spirited set pieces.” (Action fans will also enjoy “True Lies” and “El Mariachi.”)
‘The Night of the Hunter’ (1955)
The esteemed character actor Charles Laughton made his one and only trip behind the camera for this haunting small-town thriller, which melds the conventions of film noir and Hitchcock-style suspense with a healthy taste of Southern Gothic. Robert Mitchum crafts a chilling, unforgettable performance as a mysterious stranger who romances a widowed mother (a superb Shelley Winters) whose children seem to be the only ones capable of seeing the evil within him. Our critic called it “clever and exceptionally effective.” (Fans of vintage genre films will also enjoy “The Killing,” “The Naked Kiss” and “The Bird With the Crystal Plumage.”)
‘Licorice Pizza’ (2021)
The writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson picked up nominations for best director, best original screenplay and best picture for this richly textured, quietly bittersweet and frequently funny story of growing up in the San Fernando Valley in the 1970s. The actor Cooper Hoffman is charismatic and charming as a young would-be entrepreneur; the musician Alana Haim, in a star-making performance of astonishing depth, is the perpetually out-of-reach object of his affections. It’s the kind of movie that sneaks up on you with its warmth and insight. Manohla Dargis called it “a shaggy, fitfully brilliant romp.” (Fans of character-driven indie fare should also check out “Zebrahead” or “Panic.”)
Early in Garrett Bradley’s extraordinary documentary (a coproduction of The New York Times), someone asks Fox Rich about her husband, and she replies, “He’s, uh, out of town now.” Technically, it’s true; he’s in Angola prison, for a 1997 bank robbery, serving a 60-year sentence without the possibility of parole. Rich has spent years fighting for her husband’s release — and against mass incarceration — and Bradley interweaves her crusade with years of home video footage, contrasting the possibilities of those early videos and the realities of today. But Rich never gives up hope, and this “substantive and stunning” film suggests that even in the grimmest of circumstances, that spirit can pay dividends.
‘The Northman’ (2022)
Robert Eggers, the director of “The Witch” and “The Lighthouse,” goes big — very big — with this epic Viking adventure, based on the Scandinavian legend of Amleth. Alexander Skarsgard stars in the title role, a young prince who is ousted from his kingdom when his uncle (Claes Bang) kills his father (Ethan Hawke). He grows into a young man and fierce warrior, vowing to avenge his father and save his mother (Nicole Kidman). Eggers stages the medieval action with thrilling gusto.
August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play about an African American family’s struggles in 1950s Pittsburgh was first performed on Broadway in 1987; after Denzel Washington starred in its 2010 revival, he retained much of the original cast for this film adaptation. As a director, Washington does little to expand upon the play; he seems well aware that the film is carried by the lyricism of the words and the power of the performances, particularly his nuanced portrayal of the bitter Troy Maxson and Viola Davis’s heart-rending turn as his wife, Rose. (Washington fans can also stream “Man on Fire” on Prime.)
‘California Split’ (1974)
The director Robert Altman teamed up with his frequent collaborator Elliott Gould, and paired him up with George Segal, for this “fascinating, vivid” snapshot of two lovable losers. Gould and Segal play a pair of Los Angeles gamblers, floating from card table to racetrack to casino, in constant search of that one big score. Such a payday presents itself at the end of their journey, but Altman is too unconventional a filmmaker to put much stock in that destination. He’s more interested in the journey, and his film is propelled by the rowdy hum of those rooms and the colorful personalities of the people who inhabit them. (“Downhill Racer” and “Husbands” work a similarly shaggy vibe.)
Pawel Pawlikowski’s Oscar winner looks and sounds like an unapproachable foreign prestige picture, a grim post-Holocaust story in an austere style with moody (and gorgeous) black-and-white photography. And it is indeed a vivid historical drama and an evocative road movie. But its real subject is the bond between two very different women, young Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) and her aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza) — a cold relationship that slowly thaws during this forceful and resonant trip through their shared history. It’s an emotional story about coming to terms with family secrets, containing, our critic wrote, “a cosmos of guilt, violence and pain.” (Pawlikowski’s “Cold War” is also on Prime.)
‘Afternoon Delight’ (2013)
This “meticulously acted” serio-comic drama was the feature filmmaking debut of Joey Soloway, the creator of “Transparent” and “I Love Dick.” Kathryn Hahn is astonishing in the leading role, clearly conveying her dissatisfied housewife’s longings and nerves but keeping her intentions enigmatic, and Juno Temple is electrifying as a young woman who’s learned how to use her sexuality as a weapon without fully considering the carnage left in its wake. Their byplay is vibrant, and it gets messy in fascinating ways; this is a sly, smart sex comedy that plumbs unexpected depths of sadness and despair. (Indie comedy-drama fans should also check out “But I’m a Cheerleader” and “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.”)
‘The Handmaiden’ (2016)
The South Korean master Park Chan-wook (“Oldboy”) takes the stylistic trappings of a period romance and gooses them with scorching eroticism and one of the most ingenious con-artist plots this side of “The Sting.” Working from the Sarah Waters novel “Fingersmith,” Park begins with the story of a young woman who, as part of a seemingly straightforward swindle, goes to work as a Japanese heiress’s handmaiden, occasionally pausing the plot to slyly reveal new information, reframing what we’ve seen and where we think he might go next. Our critic saw it as an “amusingly slippery entertainment.” (Thriller fans should also check out “Bound.”)