Say what you will of Amazon, but one thing they are committed to as a film distributor is giving their films a shot at theatrical success before they make a permanent home on Amazon Prime. That’s a rare thing in this age of streaming giants, and it makes Amazon stand out as one of the few streamers that seems to care about the future of theatrical exhibition and home video preservation. In light of that, we’ve decided to highlight a few of the best films their platform as to offer. These films are distributed by Amazon Studios, so you won’t have to worry about leaving Amazon Prime, and they are some of the best films to come out of the 2010s.
The Dressmaker (2016)
The Dressmaker is the kind of off-kilter revenge story that simultaneously excels at being hilarious, touching, and cathartic as all get out. Kate Winslet stars as Myrtle Dunnage, coming back to her small Australian town with the apparent goal of caring for her mentally unstable mother (Judy Davis). However, she’s really there to investigate the murder of a student that she supposedly perpetrated as a child, which resulted in her expulsion from the village. Now, as an adult, Myrtle infiltrates the absurdly insular social structure that she left behind, confronting bizarre remnants of her past, falling in love with a perpetually shirtless Hemsworth, and faffing about with a crossdressing Hugo Weaving. This is the rare film that casts a wide net for moods and tones and manages to capture all of them.
The Handmaiden (2016)
The Handmaiden is easily one of the best queer romances of the 2010s, and what’s fascinating about it is that the romance isn’t even the central narrative hook of the story. Adapted from Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith and transposed from Victorian England to Japan-occupied Korea, The Handmaiden finds Park Chan-wook – yes, director of Oldboy – in rare tender form, exploring the relationship between a thief and the heiress she aims to help another thief to seduce out of her inheritance. What unravels is an engrossing tale of seduction, double-crosses, family secrets, corrupt dynasties, and lesbian attraction that is filmed empathetically and without a lingering male gaze. For a film that lasts two and a half hours, it goes by extremely quickly, always engaging with some new twist or revelation about what you think you knew about the plot. This is easily one of the best films Amazon Prime has to offer.
I Am Not Your Negro (2017)
Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro is one of the most important documentaries of recent memory, and it’s premised upon such a simple concept that the execution is nothing short of remarkable. Adapted from the unfinished manuscript of civil rights activist James Baldwin’s Remember This House, Baldwin’s words are narrated by Samuel L. Jackson over archival footage of Black American history. The narration contains Baldwin’s personal reminiscences of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Medgar Evars, as well as his observations of America’s history of racism and the role that these men had in combating it. Somber and lyrical, this documentary is a necessary monument to the history of Black liberation.
The Big Sick (2017)
Even if you’re a fan of romantic comedies, you’ve never seen a movie quite like The Big Sick. Based on the actual relationship between married cowriters Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, The Big Sick follows Kumail (playing himself) as he attempts to navigate the cultural divide between his Pakistani family and Emily, the white woman he is secretly dating (played by Zoe Kazan). However, just as the secrecy breaks that relationship, Emily falls ill into a mysterious coma, and Kumail feels compelled to stay by her side and, in the process, gets to know her parents (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter). This sweet and unconventional love story explores the bonds of family and the transcendent power of love in a manner that is hilarious and heartwarming, making for one of the most unique romances ever put to film.
You Were Never Really Here (2018)
The pairing of a ruthless killer with a child in need of protection is not a new trope in the realms of cinema, but Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here puts an empathetic lens on the brutal trauma experienced by those hired to kill. Joaquin Phoenix plays Joe, a mercenary hired by a politician to find and rescue his daughter (Ekaterina Samsonov) from human traffickers. Though the film indulges in the no-frills violence of beating villains to death with a ballpeen hammer, the core of the narrative is in Joe’s attempts to live a quiet life with his elderly mother while remaining haunted by his traumatic history and the legacy of violence he has carried with him to the present. It’s a quietly powerful film with an incredible lead performance that asks just how much the abuse we suffered creates the person we are today.
When Luca Guadagnino, director of Call Me By Your Name, decides to remake one of the seminal works of 1970s giallo horror, you better listen up and listen good. Suspiria follows an American woman (Dakota Johnson) as she joins a prestigious Berlin dance academy, only to come to the gradual realization that the troupe is run by a coven of witches. Featuring dual performances by Tilda Swinton, layers of intrigue punctuated by brutal magical violence, and a final act that goes completely off the rails, Suspiria is a shockingly poignant meditation on the value of found family and the guilt borne from enabling those who would abuse their power to abuse others. And as an added bonus, you get some of the most creative and horrific dance choreography ever found in a horror film.
Brittany Runs a Marathon (2019)
If you’re somewhere around the age of thirty, Brittany Runs a Marathon is a film pointed directly at your sense of millennial ennui. The film starts with Brittany (Jillian Bell) facing stagnation in her life, unhealthy and without tangible goals for the future. With provocation from her doctor, she decides she needs to start exercising, running in her spare time and eventually putting the New York City Marathon in her sights as an ultimate accomplishment. In the process, Brittany develops real and lasting friendships, discovers a new sense of responsibility, and learns to embrace a love of herself that was depressingly absent before. Brittany Runs a Marathon is a touching story that’s all too relatable for those who are entering their second decade of adulthood but still feel adrift.
The Vast of Night (2020)
The Vast of Night is a film that’s such an impressive debut by director Andrew Patterson that it’s a marvel that it even exists at all. Set in 1950s New Mexico and deeply evocative of The Twilight Zone, The Vast of Night follows a switchboard operator (Sierra McCormick) and a DJ (Jake Horowitz) as they discover a mysterious radio frequency. The setting and aesthetic should make the ultimate origin of that frequency obvious, but the film is presented with such panache that it’s hard to get hung up on its predictability. The cinematography indulges in long sweeping shots and extensive, intimate monologues delivered by a great cast. The end result is a love letter to its genre that excels at the fundamentals of filmmaking on a tight budget.
Sound of Metal (2020)
Sound of Metal should not work as a film, since it seems like so many other Oscar-baiting films the preceded it by pushing forth an able-bodied actor to portray a disability. But Riz Ahmed’s performance as a musician who suddenly loses his hearing is not meant to be moving because of his character’s disability. Instead, it acts as a window into the deaf community, so that we come to learn that a lack of hearing is not an obstacle to overcome or correct. Rather, it’s incumbent upon the hearing world to accept and accommodate those without hearing. When a film focusing on disability frames a character’s desire to “cure” themselves as a tragedy, you know that film is on the right track.
One Night in Miami... (2020)
Stage plays rarely have an easy time making the transition to the screen, but Regina King somehow made it look easy with her adaptation of Kemp Powers’s One Night in Miami. Chronicling the fictionalized 1964 meeting of Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke in a hotel room, the film focuses on the intersections of these Black men in their activism and self-interest, breaking down the legend of their figures as you come to realize the gap between their public personas and their private conflicts. It’s mostly just a movie where four men talk to one another, but the conversations are so riveting, the implications so staggering, that it’s impossible to not be riveted.
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