Amazon has always been a weird entry into the video streaming market. On the one hand, virtually all of their best content is locked behind the double pay wall of “channels” that you need to subscribe to in addition to your Amazon Prime membership. On the other however, Amazon Prime is such an amazing service in its own right that any content streaming that they offer through it is pure gravy. So while it may not be worth it to buy into the premium channels that they offer, it absolutely is worth buying into the base package of Amazon Prime (or to simply make use of what streaming you get as a bonus with your Amazon Prime Subscription).
Understandable, this means that the basic Amazon Video service comes up somewhat short when compared to their more streaming-centric competition, like Netflix or Hulu, and they hardly have time for the deep dives into more niche content like CrunchyRoll and Shudder. But what they do have is shockingly robust, covering enough varied ground that anybody with access to it will certainly find something worth checking out in their content library.
10 . No Tears for the Dead (2014)
Lately, many movie-goers have been lamenting the lack of the kind of old-school, hard-edged, character-driven action movies that defined much of director John Woo’s early Hong Kong work: movies like The Killer (1989) and Hard Boiled (1992) that seemed designed from the ground up to do nothing more or less than kick a considerable amount of ass. But if you know where to look, you can still find movies like that the entire world over. Case in point is No Tears for the Dead, a 2014 South Korean action film about a remorseful hitman with some serious (and justified) reservations about his final assassination. It’s a exciting, rapid-fire shootout movie that is exactly the kind of movie that so many action junkies have been clamoring for for years.
9 . Mystic River (2003)
Although his film output has recently been overshadowed by his short-sighted political stunts (like holding an uncomfortably long conversation with an empty chair at the Republican National Convention like Grandpa having a “senior moment” on national television), director Clint Eastwood is undoubtedly one of the greatest directors working in the industry today: combining noir-like flourishes against cold and decidedly dark stories of human depravity and failure. Although not his best film in that regard, Mystic River is an honestly realized drama about a set of boyhood friends struggling for meaning when one of their daughters is senselessly murdered. The intersecting lives of these now-estranged friends – a cop, a criminal and a troubled family man who never quire recovered from his childhood abuse – make for some of the most commanding drama that we’ve seen in the past few decades.
8 . Winter’s Bone (2010)
It’s not hard to see why Jennifer Lawrence has quickly reason to be the actress of the 21st century. She is an immeasurably talented woman who is capable of giving some of the most riveting and memorable performances in the industry when given the opportunity to. This has never been clearer than it was in Winter’s Bone, the occasion of her first Best Actress Oscar nomination, where she plays an impoverished girl from the Ozarks racing against time to track down her missing father, whose bail money will be rescinded if he does not appear in court when he is supposed to. It is an absorbing film and Lawrence gives a performance for the ages that absolutely carries it from its opening credits to its closing ones.
7 . Opera (1987)
One of the greatest surprises I came across while perusing the Amazon movie catalog was just how many foreign titles that they had. Especially given their seemingly smaller number of offerings relative to other streaming services, I assumed that they would simply focus on the greatest-hits that would please the most people: extremely modern and incredibly American fare that would at least be assured to draw a crowd for their peripheral platform. And yet we get aster-works like Opera, writer-director Dario Argento’s darkly inventive take on the classic Phantom of the Opera story. Fans of the horror genre – and especially the slasher sub-genre within it – will doubtless find an unsung classic in this 1980s psycho-stalker thriller.
6 . The Handmaiden (2016)
Speaking of out-of-left-field oddities that I never would have expected to see on as wide-reaching a platform as Amazon, The Handmaiden is not simply one of the best movies to come out in recent years (in this case, from Oldboy director Park Can-wook’s native South Korea), but one of the most off-putting to decidedly mainstream audiences. It’s a complexly written, meticulously directed, stunningly shot and memorably acted psycho-sexual thriller about the lengths that two women will go to get exactly what they want. While not necessarily for every movie-goer, for those who are willing to look past or revel in its typically off-putting subject matter, it is a film unlike anything you are likely to have seen.
5 . Deep Red (1975)
When discussing Shudder, I mentioned that Tenebrae (1982), despite its many, many great qualities, wasn’t my favorite film from famed giallo director Dario Argento. As it turns out, however, Amazon does. This inventively graphic murder mystery combines the very best aspects not just of Argento’s celebrated filmography, but of its entire genre as a whole. It has graphic kills, mind-boggling mysteries and one of the greatest scores ever set to a movie. Everybody from Hitchcock fans to lovers of American Slashers will find a fascinating example of mid-century Italian filmmaking in this genre entry.
4 . Moonlight (2016)
Deservedly named the best movie of 2016, Moonlight is a commanding drama in the Richard Linklater camp of movies: telling nothing less than the sum total of a single life, spanning the decades between childhood and adulthood. All three of its leads, playing the same character across three different periods of his life, give absolutely transcendent performances: creating a much greater narrative whole than the sum of its seemingly mundane parts. Not only that, but it gave not merely a voice, but an entirely global stage to director Barry Jenkins, who is fast living up to his reputation as one of America’s most preeminent filmmakers.
3 . There Will Be Blood (2007)
I’ll admit it. I didn’t “get” There Will Be Blood when I first saw it. I just sat around awaiting the promised violence of the title, only to get a brief snippet of it at the very end, with a scant couple drops shed in the name of greed. And yet, despite this initial disappointment, the movie stuck with me, rattling around in my brain, before I gave it another shot a few weeks later. The difference was Night and Day. Nothing about the movie had changed, of course, merely my perception (and expectations) for it. A timeless tale of greed and self-destruction – something akin to a fiery, Neo Western take on Citizen Kane (1941) – we watch as a man becomes consumed by his insatiable greed, eventually destroying everything (other than his empty wealth) that is dear to him. If, like me, it didn’t win you over on the first go-around, give it another chance. It’s the sinking sort of film that you might not even realize you love before it strikes you all at once.
2 . Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
I’m always shocked when this movie isn’t available in more places online. It’s one of the great American films of the 20th century, the start of a monstrously popular blockbuster franchise, directed by one of the country’s unquestioned masters of direction and dreamt up by the same visionary that gave us Star Wars, it seems like the kind of film that should be an evergreen feature on any streaming service that can make even the most tangential claims to it. And yet Raiders of the Lost Ark rarely ever gets the kind of online distribution that you would expect it to. It has a top-of-his-game Harrison Ford in the lead, top-of-his-game Steven Spielberg behind the camera and a top-of-his-game John Williams blasting into your ears from the soundtrack. It is an infectiously fun film that goes by at such a breezy clip that the credits are rolling before you’ve realized what’s happened.
1 . Nightcrawler (2014)
I will never understand why this movie didn’t make more of a splash than it did when it hit the scene four years ago. Not merely my favorite film of this century (although it is certainly also that), it features the definitive performance of the year, in which the under-appreciated Jake Gyllenhaal plays a sociopathic video journalist working the night scene in order to get the gripping new footage shown the next morning. More compelling than most dramas and more frightening than most horror movies, it is a masterwork of the medium, and one that I desperately hopes gets re-appraised in the years to come.