Finding the best movies on Amazon Prime Video can be a hair-pulling experience when you consider the sheer glut of weird and (often) wonderful movie titles lurking in its cavernous 7,000-plus catalog. It truly is awe-inspiring once you get scrolling, with films spanning nearly 100 years and covering every conceivable genre. Well, consider us your hardhat and headlamp (are we laying this caving analogy on too thick?) as we explore the depths for you each week to find the best movies the streaming service has to offer. We update this post weekly, so check back often. For a full roundup of everything new to Amazon Prime Video this month, check out Rick Marshall’s list as well.
When I saw The Blair Witch Project in the theaters in 1999, one of my friends threw up in the aisle. Was there beer involved? Most definitely. But the queasiness had less to do with that than the jarring, shaky nature of the hand-held filming style that this found-footage indie horror was shot in. A sleeper hit made on a shoestring, The Blair Witch Project is, as far as the audience is concerned, a film put together with the recovered footage found in the woods of Maryland’s Black Hills a year after three student filmmakers, Heather, Michael, and Joshua, disappeared while making a documentary about the fabled Blair Witch. Its haunting scenes string together the mystery, and panic and dissent wriggle their way into the group as they get lost in the woods. Is there really a Blair Witch? Or are they their own worst nightmare?
In 1992, The Silence of the Lambs was it, the biggest movie of the year, sweeping all the major categories at the Academy Awards, including Best Actor, Actress, Director, Screenplay, and Picture, setting up jokes about fava beans and chianti till the end of time. Directed by Jonathan Demme and based on the chilling novel by Thomas Harris, The Silence of the Lambs shadows soon-to-be FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) as she is yanked from the academy to interview former psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Sir Anthony Hopkins), a convicted serial killer and cannibal who is locked up at a Baltimore hospital for the criminally insane. A trainee in the behavioral science unit, the FBI hopes Clarice can convince Lecter to help them find and capture Buffalo Bill, a serial killer on the loose who’s been abducting young women. But Lecter’s quid-pro-quo mind games with Clarice press the young agent to give up her innermost secrets in return.
Sure, actors like Brando, Denzel, Pacino, and Day-Lewis are thespians of the highest order, commanding audiences with nuclear-strength dramatic skill. It is known. But no one, I mean no one, plays dead like Terry Kiser. In this classic ’80s comedy, Larry (Andrew McCarthy) and Richard (Jonathan Silverman) are two corporate-climbing financial bros desperate to impress their boss, Bernie Lomax (Kiser). When Bernie invites them to his swanky Hamptons beach house for the weekend, the boys see it as their big chance. But things get, um, weird when Larry and Richard arrive to find Bernie dead, the apparent victim of a mob hit. In an attempt to not let Bernie’s rigor mortis stand in the way of their good time (and not be suspected of his killing), the guys throw a hat and sunglasses on the corpse in a hilariously-morbid marionette act to buy them some time to figure things out. To say that Kiser’s performance is stiff is an understatement, but in the best possible way.
Based on the popular 1955 novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr. Ripley is a chilling crime thriller about stolen identity that’s beautifully shot by director-screenwriter Anthony Minghella is some of the most beautiful and exotic places on earth, almost as if to balance out the evil being committed. Matt Damon is Tom Ripley, a New York City social climber who’s sent to Italy to retrieve Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law), the spoon-fed son of a wealthy shipping magnate who’s been dodging returning home to join the family business. But when Tom gets a taste of Dickie’s lavish lifestyle and beautiful friends (including Gwyneth Paltrow and Cate Blanchett), he devises a more sinister plot.
Ridley Scott’s epic Roman action drama was a powerhouse in 2000, raking in 12 Oscar noms and five wins, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Russell Crowe. A ripped Crowe stars as Maximus Decimus Meridius, the celebrated general of emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris), whose demented son, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), murders him to take the throne. Commodus orders the death of Maximus and his family, but Maximus escapes, however not in time to save his wife and son. Exiled and thought dead, Maximus is sold to slavers where he is forced to fight for his freedom as a gladiator, which eventually brings him back to Rome where he might get his chance to exact his revenge on Commodus.
You really can’t go wrong when the top-billed cast of the comedy you’re watching is Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, and David Koechner. In this sequel to 2004’s Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Ron (Ferrell) and his dimwitted news team are back in the spotlight after making a splash on New York’s first 24-hour news channel, GNN. But Ron’s got problems: His marriage to Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) is on the rocks after she, again, one-ups him for a prestigious anchor position on the nightly news, and his ego is so bruised he’s neglecting their son; he’s got stiff competition from the dashing Jack Lime (James Marsden); and he goes blind. All in a day’s work for Ron Burgundy.
Regina Hall (Nine Perfect Strangers, Insecure) stars in this social thriller/horror about an elite New England university that’s as old as the country itself and has just as many dark secrets. Hall plays Gail Bishop, the school’s new headmaster and the first Black person to hold the position. A Black student, Jasmine Moore (Zoe Renee), arrives as a freshman and is soon subjected to anonymous racist attacks that she is convinced are being done by an ancient presence from the school’s past — turns out the school was built on the site of some Salem-era witch trials. As Gail and Jasmine learn to navigate the school’s elite politics and privilege, they uncover the truth about the school and just how tied to its past it really is.
A film with one of the most compelling twists of all time, director Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects is the story of a group of hardened criminals, Hungarian mobsters, and a ghostly mastermind known as Keyser Soze, who may or may not exist. After a docked ship mysteriously explodes in San Pedro Bay killing 27 bad people, one of only two survivors, con artist Roger “Verbal” Kint (Kevin Spacey), recounts the entire story to U.S. Customs agent Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) in an LA police station. Told in flashbacks, Verbal’s story is tall, involves drugs and jewels, and includes his crew of five, including Keaton (Gabriel Byrne), McManus (Stephen Baldwin), Fenster (Benicio Del Toro), and Hockney (Kevin Pollak). “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist,” Verbal tells Kujan. But who is Keyser Soze? Is he the Devil? The Usual Suspects will have you asking the same questions.
Based on the true story of turn-of-the-century English artist Louis Wain, whose paintings and illustrations of cats depicted our feline friends with psychedelic colors and imagery that no one had ever seen in the early 1900s, prompting many to believe that Wain suffered from schizophrenia. Benedict Cumberbatch depicts the eccentric artist with power and control, but by his side as Wain descends slowly into madness is the equally-powerful Claire Foy (The Crown) as Wain’s wife Emily. It’s their deep love for one another that helps keep Wain above water during a dark time in Wain’s, and the country’s, life. “How you’ve managed to conjure images of such delight in such a dark time, I don’t know,” Wain’s boss (Toby Jones) at the Illustrated London News tells him. While not a critical darling, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain will definitely add some color to your movie night.
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