A good friend asked if I could recommend a few good films that were available through the Amazon Prime Video program, so I started digging. Now they specifically asked about whether the movies are available for downloading, a cool feature of the Prime program that’s available for some, though not all, movies you can watch through Prime Video. Unfortunately, there’s no list of movies that meet this criterion on the site so it’s up to us members to do the research. Here are the films I’ve chosen, and for each one I’ll explain why I think it’s such a great movie. Please be aware that since Amazon changes what’s in its Prime library, some of these might not be available by the time you read this article. Sorry! For those that are, however, you can thank me after you’ve caught up with ’em all!
A Most Wanted Man (2014)
This is a dynamite spy thriller from writer John le Carré that revolves around the identity of a half-Chechen, half-Russian immigrant, laying claim to his father’s ill gotten fortune. Is he an oppressed victim or an extremist? It’s up to Günther Bachmann (a splendid Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his team to figure out. Pay close attention as the story twists through its cynical turns so you’ll fully appreciate the splendid last few minutes.
All is Lost (2013)
Robert Redford, stranded in a sailboat in the Indian Ocean. No dialog. No other actors. And yet this is a remarkably gripping and compelling story of man against the elements. Watching it is an interesting exercise in wondering when Redford will finally feel overwhelmed by his increasingly precarious situation and swear. The ending is perfect too, an ambiguous conclusion that you’ll undoubtedly interpret based on your own values and beliefs in mortality.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
Yes, there’s an uncomfortable, undoubtedly racist portrayal by Mickey Rooney as the Japanese neighbor Mr. Yunioshi, but cut director Blake Edwards some slack because the rest of the film is so light and airy, so delightful. The film is about airheaded socialite Holly Golightly (a just wonderful Audrey Hepburn) and her increasingly shallow and pointless life, as seen through the eyes of struggling writer Paul Varjak (George Peppard).
Dr. Strangelove (1964)
The full name of this dark, wry satire gives you a good sense of what it’s really about: Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. It’s simultaneously brilliantly funny and alarmingly cynical about the military mind and about the angst of the Cold War. Features one of the very best on-screen performances of Peter Sellers in three different roles, it’s also a showcase for for George C. Scott as the hilarious General “Buck” Turgidson and Slim Pickens in his most famous role as Major Kong. So worth watching!
Ex Machina (2015)
With daily news about voice activated artificial intelligence systems, autonomous cars and more, this film offers a smart, sexy and thoughtful exploration of what happens when people can create life-like, fully autonomous robots. Will the robots be self-aware? Will they know that they’re robots? And if so, how will they react? Featuring a breakthrough performance by Alicia Vikander and some amazing visual effects, this film will leave you talking about the story and ending long after the movie ends.
Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
This is a weird and compelling documentary about the street artist Banksy and how an eccentric French shop-keeper tries to find him to make a documentary about him, just to have Banksy turn the camera around and highlight its use as an instrument of propaganda. A glimpse of a completely different world, I found this quite fascinating.
Gosford Park (2001)
Perhaps one of the best films from director Robert Altman, this mystery has lots of humor and a breathtakingly good cast of actors. It’s set in 1932 England and plays out almost like a “how to host a murder” mysteries, with an eccentric cast of both “upstairs” and “downstairs” characters. Why are they all there? What’s their relationship to each other and to the murder victim? Is anything as it seems?
This is an extraordinary film by visionary director Christopher Nolan and is set in the future where water is so scarce that the Earth is turning into a global dust bowl and entire species of plants are dying. Cooper (a powerful Matthew McConaughey) is a former NASA astronaut in an era when space exploration is reviled as a waste of resources and “probably fictitious anyway” and is enlisted by the underground space agency that’s left to head up a mission through a distant wormhole to try and identify a sufficiently Earth-like planet that mankind can continue. And be warned: every time I watch it I can’t help weeping at the scene where Coop has to say goodby to his adored daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) before he travels off into the unknown.
Like All Is Lost, Locke is a one man tour-de-force of acting, this time by the splendid Tom Hardy. He plays Ivan Locke, a dedicated family man who receives a series of phone calls while driving from Northern England into London that point to ruin for his construction business and a complete collapse of his family life. It’s painful to watch and see how this ingeniously written script gradually peels away all the layers of Locke’s life and we’re voyeuristic witness to its collapse and, perhaps, reinvention.
Margin Call (2011)
Suspicious about banking and the financial industry and suspect that the people behind the 2008 financial meltdown and crisis in the United States got away with murder? Then you’ll enjoy this cynical thriller that follows junior trading company employees Bregman (Penn Badgley) and Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) as the financial footing of their company proves precarious and they have to help avoid a complete collapse. Not for the financially faint of heart.
The most wacky and entertaining film on my list, this is a retelling of the Dickens A Christmas Carol from the perspective of snarky, sarcastic Frank Cross (Bill Murray), a TV exec who just doesn’t have the Christmas spirit. That’s okay, with the help of the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, he learns the error of his ways in quite hilarious ways. One of Murray’s best comedies.
The Fifth Element (1997)
Before Bruce Willis become known for his role as Officer John McClane in the Die Hard series, he was goofy futuristic cab driver Korben Dallas in this weird and highly entertaining sci-fi adventure. Set in the future, it’s a comic book come to life with the evil Zorg leader (Gary Oldman) trying to find girl-from-the-future Leeloo (a wonderful Milla Jovovich) who might just know more about the mysterious fifth element that’s going to save humanity than it seems. If she can just figure out all the 23rd century slang… Directed by action film wizard Luc Besson.
The Graduate (1967)
One of the best films made about the collision between the question authority 60’s and the establishment, it follows disillusioned college grad Ben Braddock (a phenomenal Dustin Hoffman) as he gets enmeshed in an oh-so-modern love triangle between the older Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) and her lovely daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross). Lots of great dialog and some provocative scenes, along with a superb Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack. And plastics. The future is plastics.
The Host (2006)
This subtitled Korean horror film will instantly give you street cred with horror fans. It’s not only a glimpse into Korean daily life, but a surprisingly gripping horror film about a monster that lurks in the Han River that winds its way through Seoul. When the creature takes Hyuon-seo and disappears, it’s up to her father, grandfather and the rest of the family to rescue her, if she’s even still alive. Also stands as the first film I can recall where someone eats a bowl of instant ramen noodles.
The Professional (1994)
Also known as Leon: The Professional, this is a violent but gripping tale of a 12yo girl Mathilda (a breakout performance by Natalie Portman) whose family is murdered while she’s at the store. Her neighbor Leon (Jean Reno) takes her under his wing and when she realizes he’s a professional hitman, she badgers him into teaching her the trade so she can wreak revenge on the men who killed her loved ones. Directed by Luc Besson, it definitely earns its “R” rating.
The Secret of Kells (2009)
A breathtaking animated film unlike any you’ve seen, this follows the journey of a young boy in a medieval monastery whose life is turned upside down when a master illuminator shares an ancient book full of secret wisdom. Notable for its beautiful, haunting soundtrack by Bruno Coulais, it’s one of the few films on this list that is also younger viewer appropriate.