The 75 Best Movies on Amazon Prime (2017)

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rogue-nation.jpg 25. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Year: 2015
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Thrilling and suspenseful, Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation balances a glitzy, glamorous aesthetic with brash action, a frenetic pace and sheer excitement. The latest in the Tom Cruise-starring franchise sets its hooks quickly and hurtles you forward. The continually escalating mayhem propels the film past any of the otherwise glaring plot holes, and the action is chaotic enough to gloss over how ludicrous the plot actually is once you stop and think about what’s happening—which is of relatively little consequence. Almost ten years into the M:I franchise, this new installment is a welcome addition to the expert action-filmmaking canon.—Brent McKnight


stories-we-tell.jpg 24. Stories We Tell
Year: 2013
Director: Sarah Polley
With Stories We Tell, actress-turned-director Sarah Polley has proven herself a consummate filmmaker, transforming an incredible personal story into a playful and profound investigation into the nature of storytelling itself. The central mystery of her documentary—that the man she grew up believing to be her dad is not her biological father—is public knowledge and revealed in the film’s trailer. Yet Polley conceals and reveals information—starting with her relationships to her interview subjects—in such a way as to constantly surprise, even shock, her audience. The result is a film that entertains and delights viewers while elevating her investigation to art.—Annlee Ellingson


hoosiers.jpg 23. Hoosiers
Year: 1986
Director: David Anspaugh
The ultimate tribute to Indiana basketball is also a few other things: a morality play, a history, an honest reckoning of the pros and cons of small-town life. If you don’t get emotional while watching the pastoral opening credits, you’ve never lived there—and you’ve never lived.—Nick Marino


love-mercy.jpg 22. Love & Mercy
Year: 2015
Director: Bill Pohlad
There is a curious, oft times transcendent harmony to the dissonance at the heart of Love & Mercy. In taking a page from his subject’s life and music, director Bill Pohlad (best known for producing credits like 12 Years a Slave and Into the Wild) largely rejects sentimentality in chronicling a reluctant pop star who wants to craft something more than shiny, happy hooks. (In one scene, Wilson argues the Beach Boys’ true “surfer” cred with his bandmates, knowing better.) Sure, that’s kind of the story—at least on the surface—but his approach unearths the layers of Wilson’s genius and torment. Seemingly straightforward classics like “In My Room” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” take on new meaning as the extent of his struggles come into devastating focus. (Read the full review here.) —Amanda Schurr


mississippi-grind.jpg 21. Mississippi Grind
Year: 2015
Directors: Ryan Fleck, Anna Boden
At once an offbeat buddy flick and an homage to road movies of the 1970s, Mississippi Grind manages to wring an enormous amount of pathos from its good-time vibe and playful plotting. Ryan Reynolds is snugly cast as Curtis, a young, fast-talking, even-faster-smiling gambler who is seemingly bothered by absolutely nothing, ready with an anecdote for every situation. For his part, Ben Mendelsohn is just plain perfect as Gerry, the long-time, down-on-his-luck gambler whom Curtis befriends suspiciously quickly. When Gerry comes up with a harebrained scheme for the two to gamble their way down the Mississippi River toward a high-stakes game in New Orleans, you think you know where it’s all headed. But there are a good many surprises for both the characters and us along the way. And even if the story doesn’t grab you (which is unlikely), it’s worth the price of admission to see every emotion flicker across Mendelsohn’s magnificent hangdog face. His is the standout performance from the entire fest.—Michael Dunaway


traffic.jpg 20. Traffic
Year: 2000
Director: Steven Soderbergh 
Steven Soderbergh’s simulated documentary about modern drug culture twists and glides with a calculation as deep and complex as the cavernous topic it so effectively dissects. Ever the visionary, Soderbergh displays an objective, impartial eye (quite literally—he photographed the film as Peter Andrews), digging into his characters’ explosive trajectories as they reach their tragic and ambiguous ends, and leaving us with more questions than answers.—Sean Edgar


talented-mr-ripley.jpg 19. The Talented Mr. Ripley
Year: 1999
Director: Anthony Minghella
Many doubted anyone could do justice to the Ripley novels on celluloid, but Anthony Minghella proved them wrong in spectacular fashion. Lushly photographed, exquisitely art-directed and impeccably timed (not a scene is a moment too long or too short), it intrigues and bewilders like Hitchcock’s best work. Career performances from Matt Damon and Jude Law, plus wonderful turns from Philip Seymour Hoffman and Cate Blanchett—and the last time Gwenyth Paltrow was bearable. A frightful—and frightfully overlooked—film.—Michael Dunaway


knight-of-cups.jpg 18. Knight of Cups
Year: 2016
Director: Terrence Malick 
Regardless of how successfully the film explores the once-elusive director’s recently obsessive, less universal themes like the banality of excess, Knight of Cups delivers on all things Terrence Malick. The cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki, who’s shot Malick’s last four projects and in February picked up his third Oscar, opulently embosses the sterile vacuum of high-living in L.A. One of the film’s most gratifying sequences has a dog underwater in a pool trying to retrieve an eerily elusive tennis ball—you half expect “Scarborough Fair” to queue up on the soundtrack. But what ultimately elevates Knight of Cups above Malick’s last film, To the Wonder, are the performances. Wonder was left too much in the hands of Ben Affleck, an actor not known for physical emoting. The ability to convey much while saying little is a rather crucial trait for any actor serving as the protagonist in a Malick film, as they remain largely silent in the present action while other players provide voiceovers explaining in teasing, arcane wisps the backstory and dilemma du jour. Bale, so quirky and masterful in films like The Fighter and The Big Short, has much greater carrying capacity (for lack of a better phrase) than Affleck, and he’s blessed with a talented supporting ensemble. (The cast list has everyone from Fabio to Antonio Banderas in it.) His Rick is far less appealing than Affleck’s homeboy, but Knight of Cups in turn carries infinitely greater wonderment. —Tom Meek


1ab.jpg 17. Chi-Raq
Year: 2015
Director: Spike Lee 
In 1989, Do the Right Thing felt like a revolution in filmmaking—and maybe even in society at large. In 2015, Lee has done it again. Chi-Raq is the most vital, the most urgent, the most—let’s just say it—important film of 2015. It’s more than just a modern retelling of Aristophanes’ classic Lysistrata (in which a group of women stop a war by going on a sex strike) in the modern day hood. It’s more than just a tour de force of rhymed couplets that shouldn’t work, but do. It’s more than just a heartbreaking tale of real people trying to make a sense out of the madness surrounding them. It’s more than just a blistering series of broadsides aimed straight at many of the political sacred cows in our culture. It’s a moment when, along with all the other criticisms offered, one of our most gifted filmmakers stands up in the middle of his own people and shouts (as his characters often do), “WAKE UP.” It’s a moment of staggering importance. Spike Lee has defiantly called Chi-Raq “a righteous movie.” It’s as good a description as any.—Michael Dunaway


punch-drunk-love.jpg 16. Punch-Drunk Love
Year: 2002
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson 
It may be hard to recall, but there was once a time when the world believed in Adam Sandler—and we have P.T. Anderson to thank for such a glimpse of hope. Compared to the scope of There Will Be Blood, or the melancholy of Boogie Nights, or the inexorable fascination at the heart of The Master, Punch-Drunk Love—a breath of fresh, Technicolor air after the weight of Magnolia—comes off like something of a lark for Anderson, setting the stage for the kind of incisive comic chops the director would later epitomize with Inherent Vice. But far from a bit of fluff or a reactionary stab at a larger audience, Punch-Drunk Love is what happens when a director with so much untapped potential just sort of throws shit at the wall to see what sticks. A simple love story between a squirmy milquetoast (Sandler) and the woman (Emily Watson) who yanks him from his stark blue shell, the film is part musical, part silent film and all surreal comedy. That this is Sandler’s best role is hardly up for debate; that this may be Jon Brion’s best soundtrack is something we can talk about later. That the rest of the film, which in any other director’s hands would be a total mess, feels so exquisitely felt is almost … magical. And that? That’s that, Mattress Man.—Dom Sinacola


love-friendship.jpg 15. Love & Friendship
Director: Whit Stillman
The title of Whit Stillman’s latest comedy may be Love & Friendship, but while both are certainly present in the film, other, more negative qualities also abound: deception, manipulation, even outright hatred. Underneath its elegant period-picture surface—most obviously evident in Benjamin Esdraffo’s Baroque-style orchestral score and Louise Matthew’s ornate art direction—lies a darker vision of humanity that gives the film more of an ironic kick than one might have anticipated from the outset. Still, the humor in Love & Friendship is hardly of the misanthropic sort. As always with Stillman, his view of the foibles of the bourgeois is unsparing yet ultimately empathetic. Which means that, even as Stillman works his way toward a happy ending of sorts, the film leaves a slightly bitter aftertaste—which is probably as it should be. Such honesty has always been a hallmark of Stillman’s cinema, and even if Love & Friendship feels like more of a confection than his other films, that frankness, thankfully, still remains.—Kenji Fujishima


thelma-louise-210.jpg 14. Thelma & Louise
Year: 1991
Director: Ridley Scott 
Don’t call it a chick flick; it’s the ride-or-die movie to end all ride-or-die movies. Ridley Scott directed Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis in the critically acclaimed story about two friends on the road and on the run. In search of adventure they discovered crime, love and that all-too-real freedom that comes at a great cost. With knockout performances from an entire cast (which included Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, and baby boy Brad Pitt), Thelma & Louise is that brilliant pop-culture cult-classic that simply cannot be imitated.—Shannon M. Houston


untouchables.jpg 13. The Untouchables
Year: 1987
Director: Brian De Palma
Al Capone and Eliot Ness—the quintessential gangster and the original G-Man—lock horns during Prohibition in one of the greatest American cop movies ever made. The all-star cast is great, but it’s Sean Connery as Ness’s sidekick, Jim Malone, who elevates this film from standard shoot-em-up to high drama. Director Brian DePalma juxtaposes the stylized and slick with the violent and vulgar, and the contrast serves to heighten our awareness of each. The costumes are rich, the dialogue is a pulp-writer’s dream, and the fact that Capone is brought down by the office nerd makes everyone feel great.—Joan Radell


the-lobster.jpg 12. The Lobster
Year: 2016
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’s follow-up to international break-out Dogtooth ditches that film’s knotted familial pathology, but refuses to be any less insular. Instead, it expands, even bloats, Dogtooth’s logic as far as it’ll stretch. I know: That doesn’t make much sense, but stay with me—which is exactly how Lanthimos and co-writer Efthymis Filippou (who also co-wrote, unsurprisingly, Chevalier, listed above) assume the audience will approach The Lobster, starting with the familiar, inviting visage of Colin Farell, gone full dad-bod for a role that is debatably the actor’s best example for his still unheralded genius. With a remarkable dearth of charm, Farrell inhabits David, a man who, upon learning that his wife has cheated on him and so must end their relationship, is legally required to check-in to a hotel where he has 45 days to find a new mate, lest he be transformed into an animal of his choosing. David easily settles upon the titular namesake, the lobster, which he explains he picks because of their seemingly-immortal lifespans, the creatures like human ears growing and growing without end until their supposed deaths. At the hotel, David tries his best to warm to a beautifully soul-less woman, but the depths to which she subjects his resolve eventually encourages him to plan an escape, through which he matriculates into an off-the-grid conglomerate of single folk, led by Léa Seydoux. There, of course, against all rules he falls in love with another outsider (Rachel Weisz). The world of The Lobster isn’t a dystopian future, more like a sort of mundane, suburban Everywhere in an allegorical alternate universe. Regardless, Lanthimos and Filippou find no pleasure in explaining the foundations of their film, busier building an absurd edifice over which they can drape the tension and anxieties of modern coupledom. In that sense, The Lobster is an oddly feminist film, obsessed with time and how much pressure that puts on people, especially women, to root down and find someone, no matter the cost. If you’ve ever had a conversation with a significant other concerned about the increasing dangers of becoming pregnant in one’s late 30s, then The Lobster—and its ambiguous but no less arresting final shot—will strike uncomfortably close to the home you’re told you should have by now.—Dominic Sinacola


5-best-so-far-2015-Ex-Machina.jpg 11. Ex Machina
Year: 2015
Director: Alex Garland
While popular science-fiction films have taught us that, no matter what we do, robots that become self-aware will eventually rise up and kill us, recent advances in artificial intelligence in the real world have confirmed something much seedier about the human imperative: that if given the technology to design thinking, feeling robots, we will always try to have sex with them. Always. Alex Garland’s beautifully haunting film seems to want to bridge that gap. Taking cues from obvious predecessors like 2001: A Space Odyssey and AI—some will even compare it to HerEx Machina stands solidly on its own as a highly stylized and mesmerizing film, never overly dependent on CGI, and instead built upon the ample talents of a small cast.—Jonah Flicker


selma.jpg 10. Selma
Year: 2014
Director: Ava DuVernay
The right movie for the moment, or the right moment for Ava DuVernay’s new movie? Either way, Selma will be read by many in context with 2014’s slew of civil rights outrages and race-fueled atrocities, but even in a post-racial world, this film has punch. DuVernay has no stomach for bland hero-worship in her biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. (here portrayed in an inspired, and inspiring, turn by a never-better David Oyelowo), and instead invests her narrative in a specific time during the Civil Rights Movement. Her focus – the 1965 march for voting rights – gives her movie a sense of purpose, toward which it marches with impressive discipline. Come for contemporary importance, stay for the earnest, impassioned filmmaking.—Andy Crump


inside-llewyn.jpg 9. Inside Llewyn Davis
Year: 2013
Directors: Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
 Inside Llewyn Davis is not the first time that the Coen brothers have portrayed a period of distinctly American music, but beyond that the film holds little in common with the elephant in the room, O Brother, Where Art Thou?. While music plays a crucial role in their latest work—in fact entire scenes are devoted to the performance of songs—for the Coens the point seems to be less about the music per se and more about documenting a particular moment in American history and specifically American themes. Whether it’s small-town murder, drug violence along the southern border, CIA paranoia, and now early ’60s folk music, the Coens have been masters of casting, plot and atmosphere. Inside Llewyn Davis continues their winning streak.—Jonah Flicker


last_waltz_DVD.jpg 8. The Last Waltz
Year: 1978
Director: Martin Scorcese
Martin Scorsese’s painstaking attention to detail—particularly in the editing booth here, alongside Jan Roblee and Yeu-Bun Yee—secures this film’s place among the best rock documentaries ever made. A tapestry of American music is interwoven with the farewell concert by roots outfit The Band—who most famously backed Bob Dylan in the 1960s—who invite viewers onstage for an all-star jam with an astonishing lineup of guest players: Dylan himself; Eric Clapton; Muddy Waters; Joni Mitchell; Neil Young; Dr. John; Ringo Starr … for starters. The backstories are rich, the drug use is infamous, the friendships are complicated, but the music remains the thread that binds them all together. Scorsese’s portrait stays true to that, even if, after 16 years on the road, it’s painfully clear these guys need to “take a load off” like whoa.—Amanda Schurr


iron-man.jpg 7. Iron Man
Year: 2008
Director: Jon Favreau 
There are plenty of important moments in the development of the superhero film (all of them covered on this list, we hope), but the first Iron Man film boasts a few: It’s the first entry in Phase 1 of the MCU, and thus the easy-to-define dawn of the Marvel Age. But more interestingly, it showed that an actor could so overshadow the hero he portrays that he supplants that character, and it be a good. Before Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, Iron Man was a great suit of armor with a pretty boring alter ego. Stark’s personal story arcs involved heart trouble, alcohol abuse and intellectual property disputes. Downey Jr. brought the quips and the irreverence, and made Tony Stark on film much more fascinating than he had ever been in the comics. And comic book fan and neophyte alike loved the result. On a more basic level, the casting of Downey Jr. represented what would be a triumphant trio of casting moves—Downey Jr., Evans’ Captain America, and Hemsworth’s Thor—that would set the tone for the entire MCU. While Evans and Hemsworth are their respective characters, Tony Stark is Robert Downey Jr. As for the film itself, Iron Man had what all the initial MCU brand launches have had thus far: a first-time-on-film freshness as an invigorating expression of the core character that had 40+ years under its belt yet not one good film to show for it. Add the increasing ability of CGI to handle the “super” of it all, and it’s pretty easy to overlook some of the film’s weaker plot points (e.g., the rushed “Wait, how does Jeff Bridges know how to operate that armor?” ending). As a result, even as we’re raging through an already strong Phase 3, the debut of the Downey Jr. show still ranks among the MCU’s most solid efforts.—Michael Burgin


good-will-hunting.jpg 6. Good Will Hunting
Year: 1997
Director: Gus Van Sant 
The story of a genius janitor capable of solving the world’s most difficult mathematical problems, Will is both exasperating and loveable as the Boston boy reluctant to live up to his true potential. Robbin Williams takes the oft-clichéd mentor paradigm and turns it into a wholly original character as Damon’s therapist Sean. But what’s special about this film is the way Gus Van Sant captures the existential angst and, ultimately, the frustrated striving of a brilliant boy form the wrong side of the tracks. Matt Damon and Ben Afleck star in their own breakthrough roles as best friends closer than even blood brothers. Though the movie touches on heart-wrenching topics like childhood abuse and heartbreak, the sarcastic humor and witty banter are just as memorable. Effortlessly charming and never overwrought.—Amy Libby


steamboat-bill-jr.jpg 5. Steamboat Bill, Jr.
Director: Buster Keaton and Charles Reisner
Year: 1928
Steamboat Bill, Jr.’s climactic cyclone sequence—which is at once great action and great comedy—would on its own earn the film a place on this list. The iconic shot of a house’s facade falling on Keaton is only one of many great moments in the free-flowing, hard-blowing sequence. But the film also showcases some of Keaton’s best intimate acting, including a scene in which his father tries to find him a more manly hat, and a painfully hilarious attempt to pantomime of a jailbreak plan.—Jeremy Mathews


Reservoir-Dogs.jpg 4. Reservoir Dogs
Year: 1992
Director: Quentin Tarantino
 Reservoir Dogs’ debut at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival launched not only the career of one Quentin Tarantino but an American indie genre unto itself characterized by extreme violence, profane dialogue, nonlinear storytelling and a curated soundtrack. Many have tried, but none of his imitators has achieved the visual and aural poetry at work in Tarantino’s oeuvre, particularly his magnum opus Pulp Fiction, upon whose release in 1994 newly minted fans went back to discover the aftermath of Mr. Blonde, Mr. Blue, Mr. Brown, Mr. Orange, Mr. Pink and Mr. White’s botched diamond heist (but not the heist itself). This is where it all began.—Annlee Ellingson


No Country_Cover.jpg 3. No Country For Old Men
Year: 2007
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
What is it about the Coen Brothers’ inconsolable No Country for Old Men that still chills the blood, even under the South Texas sun? No doubt its inscrutability plays a role: Is it a Western, a noir or a morality play? And the Academy Award-winning performance by Javier Bardem disturbs because he himself remains a mystery: Is Anton Chigurh a merciless hitman or the Angel of Death? The story of a drug deal gone wrong soon reveals its true theme: the futility of being good and just in the face of abject evil. But the Coens also meditate on the faltering of the physical body. “Age’ll flatten a man,” Tommy Lee Jones’ Sherrif Bell esteems, and for this Texan, the evocation of my childhood landscape—right down to the tiniest detail—means that the specter of Chigurh will haunt not only the end of my life but stomp through its earliest remembrances as well.—Andy Beta


raiders-of-the-lost-ark.jpg 2. Raiders of the Lost Ark
Year: 1981
Director: Steven Spielberg 
A near-perfect distillation of the excitement and fun of the radio and pulp serials of yesteryear, Raiders of the Lost Ark established Harrison Ford’s wookie-free leading man credentials once and for all (with an assist from Blade Runner). The film also raises the question: Has anyone had a more impressive, more industry-transformative five-year run than Spielberg & Lucas did from 1977-1982?—Michael Burgin


pulp-fiction.jpg 1. Pulp Fiction
Year: 1994
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Still Quentin Tarantino’s greatest accomplishment, Pulp Fiction rehashes a handful of other great gangster movies to form a modern masterpiece. In a full-circle plot of crossings and complications, the smart elick of a movie takes us on an ultra-violent and ultra-funny ride with John Travolta at his best and Samuel L. Jackson dropping F-bombs like no one else.—David Roark

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