Update, 1/9/23: Our picks Bound, The Conversation, Raging Bull, The Terminator, and The Usual Suspects all left Prime Video, so we’ve replaced them with five fresh recommendations.
Just as timely and incisive now as it was in 1999, Alexander Payne’s Election is a razor-sharp satire of political opportunism, in the context of a high school student council election. Reese Witherspoon gives one of her best performances as perky teenage social climber Tracy Flick, and she’s perfectly balanced by Matthew Broderick as the sad-sack middle-aged teacher who decides that she’s his nemesis.
Payne and co-writer Jim Taylor (working from Tom Perrotta’s novel) craft witty, hilarious dialogue while keeping the story grounded in genuine character interactions.
Cult classic Heathers is one of the best comedies on Amazon Prime. This dark satire takes on the teen movies of its era (the 1980s), bringing a violent edge to the story of an upstanding young woman falling in love with a rebellious bad boy. Veronica (Winona Ryder) and J.D. (Christian Slater) take their crusade against the vapid popular students at their high school to deadly extremes, while the movie retains a sense of the absurd. The filmmakers mix whip-smart dialogue with cutting commentary on conformity.
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Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell star as bickering newspaper reporters (and ex-spouses) in Howard Hawks’ classic comedy His Girl Friday. Hawks swaps the gender of one of the main characters of the popular play The Front Page, turning the story into a comedy about remarriage as well as a farce. The rapid-fire dialogue is filled with clever put-downs and wordplay, and Grant and Russell continually one-up each other as their characters pursue the biggest story of their careers (and also fall in love again).
The winner of multiple 1967 Oscars including Best Picture, In the Heat of the Night is a social-issue drama that remains vital and powerful. Sidney Poitier stars as Philadelphia police detective Virgil Tibbs, who finds himself stuck in a small Mississippi town while waiting for a train.
Local police chief Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger) reluctantly enlists Virgil’s help to solve a murder, and tensions in the town run high over race and class prejudices. The movie challenges those prejudices without ever losing sight of its unique characters or its suspenseful, satisfying mystery.
Paul Thomas Anderson pays tribute to California’s San Fernando Valley in the lovingly nostalgic romance Licorice Pizza. Set in 1973, it stars Cooper Hoffman as a scrappy teenage entrepreneur who falls for a slightly older woman played by musician Alana Haim.
Both of them are somewhat immature, figuring out their lives and their places in Los Angeles’ sprawling, Hollywood-adjacent suburbs. Anderson captures the swooning, often foolish experience of young love alongside the changing social climate in a period of transition for the city and the country.
Peter Jackson’s entire The Lord of the Rings trilogy is an amazing cinematic achievement, but opening installment The Fellowship of the Ring sets the tone and opens up the world of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth. It’s the beginning of the epic quest for the hobbit Frodo (Elijah Wood) and his friends to destroy the magical One Ring and defeat the evil Dark Lord Sauron.
Jackson creates a fully realized fantasy setting, often using old-school practical effects to bring to life creatures like dwarfs, elves, and orcs. He captures sweeping vistas and grand battles along with tender interactions among beloved characters.
One of Amazon’s best original movies, Love & Friendship is a delightful Jane Austen adaptation from filmmaker Whit Stillman. Based on Austen’s early novel Lady Susan, the movie stars Kate Beckinsale as a ruthless, sharp-tongued social climber with witty rejoinders for everyone she meets. Love & Friendship adds a nasty edge to Austen’s typical romantic narrative while still satisfyingly pairing off all the main characters in suitable marriages.
The zombie genre wouldn’t even exist without George A. Romero’s landmark 1968 horror movie Night of the Living Dead. Romero pioneered most of the key elements of zombie movies with his creepy, low-budget film about the dead rising from the grave, hungry for human flesh.
Taking place mostly within an abandoned house where characters hide from the growing undead hordes, Night of the Living Dead creates indelible scares on minimal resources. It’s one of the most influential movies of all time (in any genre).
Director Robert Eggers (The Witch) is known for his extreme attention to period detail, and he brings that same meticulous sense to The Northman. It’s a visceral action movie set among Vikings in the ninth century, inspired by a story so old that it was the source material for William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Alexander Skarsgard plays a warrior out for revenge, with Nicole Kidman as his long-lost mother and Anya Taylor-Joy as his witchy ally. Eggers stages brutal battles with impeccably recreated sets, costumes, and weaponry, immersing the audience in a far-off time and place.
Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief is more lighthearted than many of the master of suspense’s thrillers, but it’s no less engrossing. Cary Grant plays an expert jewel thief whose retirement is threatened by an impostor robbing wealthy tourists on the French Riviera.
Determined to clear his name, the burglar, known as “the Cat,” decides to catch the real thief. Along the way, he falls in love with a wealthy heiress played by Grace Kelly. It’s a stylish caper that benefits from the stars’ playful chemistry and Hitchcock’s mastery of the camera.
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