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Hidden Gems: The best films you (probably) haven’t seen on Amazon Prime Video

Staff Writer

Reading time: 22 mins

Night of the Living Deb (2015)

Written and directed by Kyle Rankin, this light-hearted and fun zombie comedy stars Maria Thayer as Deb, a ditzy camerawoman who does a Walk of Shame after a one-night hook-up, only to stumble into a full-on zombie apocalypse on the streets of Portland. The witty, zombie-aware script is packed with great lines and there are some brilliant sight gags, while Thayer is a revelation as Deb, delivering an utterly charming, warm-hearted performance with terrific comic timing. On top of that, Rankin strikes the perfect balance between gore and humour and there’s fun support from the likes of Ray Wise (sleazing it up once again) and Chris Marquette (as the gung-ho brother of Deb’s initial hook-up). A welcome and worthy addition to the rom-zom-com genre.

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Cold Souls (2009)

Written and directed by Sophie Barthes, this delightful black comedy stars Paul Giamatti (playing himself) as a depressed actor who decides to put his soul into cold storage and quickly comes to regret it. Essentially, this is a Charlie Kaufman movie without Charlie Kaufman and Barthes gets the tone exactly right, playing down the fantasy elements and creating the perfect blend of absurd comedy, suspense and thought-provoking emotional drama. Giamatti, of course, is wonderful, clearly relishing the chance to poke fun at himself, while there’s strong support from Emily Watson (as Giamatti’s wife) and Dina Korzun as a soul-transporting mule charged with procuring the soul of an American actor for her gangster boss.

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Shattered Glass (2003)

Screenwriter Billy Ray’s directorial debut is this gripping psychological drama based on the true story of Steven Glass, a successful journalist who was discovered to have faked 27 stories for The New Republic magazine. Hayden Christensen reveals previously unsuspected talent as Glass, delivering an impressive physical performance (he does some excellent “eye acting”) and subtly shading his dialogue so that what initially looks like a cute quirk (his tendency to repeat certain phrases) begins to resemble borderline psychosis. In addition to a superb supporting cast that includes the likes of Peter Sarsgaard, Chloe Sevigny, Melanie Lynskey and Hank Azaria, this is cleverly structured, stylishly directed and nail-bitingly tense throughout. Bump it right to the top of your Amazon queue.

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Tomboy (2011)

The second film from French writer-director Celine Sciamma (Girlhood, Portrait of a Lady on Fire), this superb coming of age drama stars Zoé Héran as a tomboy-ish 10 year-old girl who allows her new friends to think she’s a boy when she moves into a new neighbourhood. Héran is terrific in the lead role and we root for her to succeed, even as we dread the moment she’ll be found out. A beautifully shot and sharply observed study of emerging female sexuality that’s by turns funny, thought-provoking, suspenseful and heart-breaking.

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12 and Holding (2005)

Directed by Michael Cuesta (who made L.I.E), this little-seen American indie drama follows three 12-year-old kids (Conor Donovan, Zoe Weizenbaum and Jesse Camacho) as they deal with the death of one of their friends. The performances are terrific – these are characters you really care about and Cuesta’s superb direction exploits that brilliantly, ensuring that there’s at least one hold-your breath-in-fear moment for each of them. The script is superb, walking a carefully balanced line between darkly funny and genuinely shocking, while the climax is nothing short of devastating. Also feaures Annabella Sciorra and Jeremy Renner.

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Sleeping Dogs Lie (2006)

Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, this jet-black comedy stars Melinda Page Hamilton as Amy, a woman whose decision to disclose a sordid incident in her past has a disastrous effect on her relationships with her family and fiancé (Bryce Johnson). Given Goldthwait’s background and the vomit-inducing nature of Amy’s secret – revealed in the opening scene – you could be forgiven for expecting a tasteless gross-out comedy, so it’s something of a pleasant surprise when the film turns out to be a genuinely sweet rom-com that’s frequently laugh-out-loud funny. Hamilton delivers a perfectly pitched comic performance and Goldthwait’s sharply observed script has more to say about contemporary relationships than any number of standard Hollywood rom-coms.

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The Intruder (1962)

William Shatner delivers a career-best performance in this brutal drama from Roger Corman that somehow seems just as relevant in 2019 as it did in 1962. Shatner plays Adam Cramer, a white-suited, smooth-talking “social reformer” who comes to a small Southern town on the eve of integration and begins stirring up racial hatred. Based on a novel by Charles Beaumont (who wrote the script and appears in a small role), The Intruder was shot on location in Missouri during the height of the civil rights movement, giving it a palpable authenticity. Dark, disturbing and all too familiar to modern audiences, this isn’t just a hidden gem, it’s an actual goddamn masterpiece. Also known as The Stranger / Shame / I Hate Your Guts!

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La Famille Bélier (2014)

A crowd-pleasing hit in France, Eric Lartigau’s delightful feel-good comedy more or less disappeared on its release in the UK and is ripe for rediscovery. Louane Emera (a semi-finalist on France’s The Voice) won a Most Promising Actress Cesar for her portrayal of Paula, a teenager from a deaf family of farmers who discovers she has singing talent. The performances are utterly charming and the script is frequently laugh-out-loud funny (it’s surprisingly bawdy for family-friendly fare), while Lartigau proves a master of powerful emotional moments – just try getting through the scene where Paula figures out how to share her musical connection with her parents without reaching for les tissues.

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Youth in Revolt (2009)

Delightfully dark teen comedy based on the cult novel by C.D. Payne, starring Michael Cera as sex-obsessed teenager Nick Twisp, whose lust for the delectable Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday) quickly gets him into trouble after he creates a rebellious bad boy alter-ego named Francois (also Cera). Director Miguel Arteta (Chuck & Buck) faithfully captures the book’s blackly comic, occasionally nihilistic tone, there’s a superb supporting cast and Cera delivers two of his best performances as Nick / Francois.

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Before I Go to Sleep (2014)

Based on the debut novel by S.J. Watson, this is a gripping and enjoyable memory thriller in the Memento vein, with Nicole Kidman giving one of her best performances as Christine, a woman who wakes up each day with no recollection of who she is. After uncovering some disturbing information, she’s forced her to question everything around her, including her husband, Ben (Colin Firth), and shady psychiatrist Doctor Nasch (Mark Strong). Rowan Joffe’s direction is nicely atmospheric throughout and the twisty script keeps you guessing till the end.

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Appropriate Behaviour (2014)

If you were a fan of HBO’s Girls, you should definitely check out this very funny New York indie debut from writer-director-star Desiree Akhavan. She plays Shirin, an Iranian-American hipster trying to get back into the NY dating scene after a split from her long-term girlfriend (Rebecca Henderson). The sharply observed script is warm-hearted, funny and quietly moving, while Akhavan proves a genuine talent, combining perfect comic timing with a mesmerising quality on screen that makes her somehow simultaneously achingly vulnerable, deadpan sarcastic, dorky-looking, and stunningly beautiful, often in the same scene.

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Open Range (2003)

Largely overlooked on its UK theatrical release, this straight-shooting, traditional western is arguably one of Kevin Costner’s best films, both as director and actor. He plays Charley Waite, a guilt-ridden former Civil War soldier who’s forced to take up arms again when his friend and cattle crew boss (Robert Duvall) is threatened by a corrupt land baron (Michael Gambon). Beautifully shot and rich in both character and thematic detail, this is a thoroughly enjoyable horse opera that builds to a terrific final shoot-out.

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Anvil: The Story of Anvil (2009)

By turns laugh-out-loud funny and genuinely moving, this wonderful rock-doc from former Anvil roadie Sacha Gervasi plays like a real-life version of Spinal Tap. It follows Canadian metal “demigods” Anvil, who had a brief taste of fame in the 1980s, before fading into obscurity. However, the band (best friends Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow and the coincidentally-named Robb Reiner) are still going and the film tags along as they embark on a disastrous European tour, record their 13th album and head to Tokyo to play a metal festival. At times, this is so Tap-like it’s almost painful to watch, but the friendship between the two men (coupled with their obvious love of the music) is enormously touching and it’s impossible to come away without a huge smile on your face.

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Triangle (2009)

Former Home and Away star Melissa George delivers a career-best performance in this delightfully twisty, surprisingly moving time-bender from British writer-director Christopher Smith (Severance). She stars as Jess, a single mother who becomes trapped in a terrifying, yet oddly familiar cycle of violence when she and her friends (including a pre-fame Liam Hemsworth) are rescued by a seemingly deserted ocean liner after their boat capsizes. Cleverly blending elements of The Shining, Timecrimes and Titanic (with a dash of Groundhog Day), Triangle delivers some superb shocks, with moments and images that are genuinely haunting.

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Man vs Snake: The Long and Twisted Tale of Nibbler (2015)

This likeable documentary from co-directors Tim Kinzy and Andy Seklir plays like a spiritual successor to 2007’s unmissable gaming rivalry doc The King of Kong. As a teenager, Tim McVey became the first person to score over a billion points on the arcade game Nibbler. Now, nearly 30 years later, he attempts to defend his record when challenged by cocky rival Dwayne Richard. Packed with colourful characters, the film is further enlivened by the use of animated flashbacks and it’s oddly reassuring to discover that The King of Kong’s Billy Mitchell is still as slimy as ever.

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The Innkeepers (2012)

Written and directed by Ti West (House of the Devil), this hugely entertaining “ghost story for the minimum wage” (as an early tag-line described it) stars Sara Paxton and Pat Healy as a pair of 20-something slackers on a late-shift at a closing-down hotel that may or may not be haunted. Rather than opt for cheap shocks and jump scares, West’s expertly paced script delivers something genuinely moving that really gets under your skin. It also benefits from a strong sense of location, witty dialogue, great characters and a terrific central performance from Sara Paxton.

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Down With Love (2003)

Brilliantly directed by Peyton Reed (Ant-Man, Bring It On), this delightful comedy is a note-perfect pastiche of the brightly coloured 1960s battle-of-the-sexes comedies that Rock Hudson and Doris Day used to make. Renee Zellweger plays novelist Barbra Novak, who has written feminist best-seller Down With Love, encouraging women to stand up for themselves in the boardroom as well as in the bedroom. Sensing a challenge, chauvinistic star journalist Catcher Block (Ewan McGregor) bets his editor (David Hyde Pierce) that he can seduce Barbra and prove that she’s a traditional girl at heart. The two leads are clearly enjoying themselves (McGregor’s ‘cool cat’ walk is a scream) and there’s hilarious comic support from Hyde Pierce, who pretty much steals the entire film, especially in his scenes with Sarah Paulson. An unadulterated treat for film fans everywhere.

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A Royal Night Out (2015)

A perfect companion piece to Netflix’s The Crown, this effortlessly charming British comedy stars Sarah Gadon and Bel Powley as teen princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, who are desperate to escape Buckingham Palace and join the celebrations on VE day, 1945. After giving their chaperones the slip, the pair get separated during their night on the town, so Elizabeth teams up with an attractive airman (Jack Reynor) to help her track down her flighty sister. Creating a strong sense of time and place, director Julian Jerrold maintains an entertainingly lively tone throughout, while Gadon and Powley make an immensely likeable double act.

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The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

Destined for future teen classic status, this heartfelt comedy marks a brilliant debut for writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig. Hailee Steinfeld stars as Nadine, an anxiety-ridden high school outsider whose life is plunged into chaos when her BFF Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) starts dating her older brother, Darian (Blake Jenner). The witty script skilfully subverts expectations, cleverly playing on echoes of previous troubled teen movies (e.g. Ghost World, The Diary of a Teenage Girl), while Steinfeld is an utter joy as Nadine, finding deep sympathy for the character even when we disapprove of her behaviour. Moving, laugh-out-loud funny and packed with great scenes and dialogue, this is a treat from start to finish.

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The Secret of Marrowbone (2018)

Also known as Marrowbone, the directorial debut of Sergio G Sánchez (who wrote The Orphanage) is a nicely atmospheric mystery chiller with superb performances from its young leads. George MacKay stars as Jack, the eldest of four British children – including rising stars Mia Goth and Stranger Things’ Charlie Heaton – who flee their abusive father and travel to the remote seaside home of their dying mother. When she dies, they’re forced to keep her death a secret in order to remain together, but they become increasingly plagued by a sinister presence in the house. Sanchez pulls off some impressively creepy set-pieces (most notably a game of Risk) and there’s the added bonus of yet another great performance from Anya Taylor-Joy as Jack’s love interest.

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Clown (2014)

This disturbing and creepy horror flick is decidedly not for the coulrophobic. Directed by Jon Watts (Spider-Man: Homecoming), it stars Andy Powers as a loving husband and father who dons a clown suit for his son’s birthday party, only to find that it’s cursed and won’t come off. Watts’ control of the tone is assured and the consistently surprising script goes to some extremely dark places, delivering a subtle metaphor about abuse and dark desires in the process. Also with: Peter Stormare, as the clown suit’s original owner, delivering a perfectly pitched performance that allows him to get away with lines like, “Jack, we’re going to have to kill your daddy…”

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Side Effects - video on-demand

Side Effects (2013)

This deliciously dark and twisted thriller from Steven Soderbergh is one of those films where the less you know about it going in, the better. Suffice it to say that Jude Law delivers one of his best performances to date as a psychiatrist investigating the connection between a new anti-depressant and a violent crime committed by one of his patients (a jaw-droppingly brilliant Rooney Mara). Soderbergh’s control of the material throughout is masterful, transforming what could have been a routine, trashy thriller into something genuinely exciting and unpredictable. A fabulously slinky Catherine Zeta-Jones (as Mara’s former doctor) is the icing on an already delicious cake.

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Pontypool (2008)

Based on a novel by Tony Burgess, this intriguingly weird horror flick stars Stephen McHattie as a radio DJ who gets besieged in his church basement radio station when a zombie virus that’s apparently transmitted via the English language spreads throughout small town Pontypool, Ontario. It’s always a pleasure to see a great character actor given a terrific lead role and McHattie is on superb form here, anchoring the film with a riveting central performance. Director Bruce McDonald makes the most of his bizarre premise, blending surrealism, suspense, zombie horror and witty wordplay while still ticking the essential gore boxes. An original, offbeat treat – don’t miss the genuinely bonkers post-credits scene.

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Project Nim (2011)

Director James Marsh’s hugely entertaining follow-up to Man on Wire tells the fascinating story of Nim, a chimpanzee who’s raised as human by a succession of different carers, after moustachioed Columbia professor Herb Terrace theorises that a chimp raised with a human family might be able to learn sign language. Blending dramatic reconstruction, some astonishing archive footage and remarkably candid interviews with all the main players, this is by turns laugh-out-loud funny, shocking, terrifying, thought-provoking and ultimately deeply moving, with a frankly jaw-dropping collection of twists and turns and some intriguing points to make about both animal and human behaviour.

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What We Do In The Shadows (2014)

Co-directed by Flight of the Conchords collaborators Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, this hilarious mock-doc centres on a group of bickering vampires (primarily Clement, Waititi and Jonathon Brugh) sharing a flat in modern day New Zealand. Made with obvious affection for the vampire genre, this is packed with quotable lines and brilliant sight gags, ensuring big laughs in every scene. Wonderful.

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Mary & Max (2009)

Written and directed by Adam Elliot (who made the Oscar-winning short Harvie Krumpet), this Australian stop-motion animation is a treat from start to finish. Narrated by Barry Humphries, the story begins in 1970s Australia, when eight year old Mary (voiced by Bethany Whitmore, then Toni Collette) randomly picks a name out of a phone book and becomes pen-pals with Max (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a middle-aged, overweight New Yorker. The film then details their relationship as they write to each other over a period of 20 years. Combining wonderful stop-motion animation and a brilliantly written script, this is a superbly directed black comedy that’s simultaneously darkly funny, extremely sweet and incredibly moving. A joy.

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Emelie (2016)

“Sometimes, it’s okay to destroy things for fun.” Into the Badlands’ Sarah Bolger delivers a supremely creepy performance as the babysitter-from-hell in this unbearably suspenseful and properly chilling horror from music video director Michael Thelin. The script is perfectly paced, with Thelin slowly ratcheting up the tension as Bolger’s behaviour with her young charges (a trio of impressively naturalistic performances from Joshua Rush, Carly Adams and Thomas Bair) gets more and more unsettling. A word of advice: don’t get too attached to scene-stealing hamster Admiral Wobbles.

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The Kings of Summer (2013)

This delightful coming-of-ager from debut director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (Kong: Skull Island) plays like a modern day Stand By Me. Nick Robinson (Love, Simon), Gabriel Basso (The Big C) and Moises Arias star as three teenage boys who build a secret house in the middle of a forest and hide out there for the summer, away from their parents. Chris Galletta’s wonderful script perfectly captures both the thrill of the boys’ first taste of freedom and the agony of adolescent heartache, while delivering a powerful hit of childhood nostalgia. Vogt-Roberts gets terrific performances from his young cast and there’s great comic support from the likes of Nick Offerman and Alison Brie. A treat from start to finish and the very definition of a hidden gem.

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Paterson (2016)

Or, if you’re feeling flippant, Adam Driver: Bus Driver. Jim Jarmusch’s utterly charming and perfectly constructed indie drama stars Driver as Paterson, a bus driver who lives in Paterson, New Jersey with his scatty wife Laura (Iranian star Golshifteh Farahani) and their scowling English bulldog, Marvin. The film follows a week in Paterson’s life as he goes about his regular routine, quietly absorbing his surroundings and writing poetry about everyday life. Driver is wonderful as Paterson, investing the character with a compellingly soulful quality, and the film’s considerable pleasures are bound up in the ways that he connects to the world around him. This is, quite simply, a masterpiece.

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Joy Ride (2001)

Also known as Roadkill – and, indeed, Road Kill – this hugely entertaining ‘psycho-killer in a massive truck’ thriller stands proudly alongside the two acknowledged classics of the genre, The Hitcher (1986) and Duel (1971). Paul Walker, Steve Zahn and Leelee Sobieski play a trio of road trippers who make the mistake of playing a prank over CB radio on a psychotic trucker with the handle ‘Rusty Nail’ (creepily voiced by an unbilled Ted Levine). Brilliantly directed by John Dahl (Red Rock West, The Last Seduction), this is a superb roller coaster ride that delivers on every level – thrills, suspense, shocks, great performances, a a frequently funny script and a genuinely scary villain. Buckle up.

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Young Adult - Netflix UK review

Young Adult (2011)

If there were any justice in the world, Charlize Theron would have received an Oscar nomination for her jaw-dropping performance in this criminally overlooked black comedy that reunites Juno scriptwriter Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman. Theron plays Mavis, a messed-up teen fiction novelist who returns to her home town with the intention of winning back her happily married high-school sweetheart (Patrick Wilson). With its surprisingly dark comedy firmly rooted in the characters, the film has a lot of fun subverting standard rom-com tropes and remains refreshingly unpredictable throughout.

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Last Passenger (2013)

A must-see for fans of train-based thrillers, this is a pleasingly old-fashioned, nail-bitingly tense British picture that makes a virtue of its low budget. Set a few days before Christmas, the film stars Dougray Scott and Kara Tointon as two passengers who meet on a late-night commuter train headed for Tunbridge Wells. However, their meet-cute bantering comes to a sudden halt when their train hurtles through its supposed final destination and shows no sign of stopping. Scott and Tointon are both superb (the chemistry between them is surprisingly strong), while director Omid Nooshin maintains a suitably breakneck pace throughout, expertly building suspense and tension until the nail-biting finale.

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The Two Faces of January (2014)

Writer-director Hossein Amini’s terrific adaptation of a lesser-known Patricia Highsmith thriller stars Oscar Isaac as Rydal, a small-time hustler who falls in with a shady businessman Chester (Viggo Mortensen) and his glamorous wife Collette (Kirsten Dunst) while working as a tour guide in Greece in the 1960s. When Chester accidentally kills a private detective, Rydal helps him dispose of the body and flees the scene with the couple, binding his fate to theirs. With a trio of complex performances and a satisfyingly dark script, this is an engaging, slow-burning and beautifully shot thriller that’s well worth a watch, particularly if you’re a fan of The Talented Mr Ripley.

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Boy (2010)

Taika Waititi’s second film as director is this charming coming-of-age comedy-drama about an 11 year-old New Zealand boy (James Rolleston, recently seen all grown up in The Breaker Upperers) who finds that his just-out-of-jail father (Waititi) doesn’t quite live up to the mythologised image he’d built up around him in his absence. This is a treat from start to finish with likeable characters and a script that’s both hilarious and genuinely moving. It’s also brilliantly directed and edited, and Waititi fills the film with lovely little details, like the fact that Boy’s sisters are named Dallas and Dynasty, or the running joke of ’80s TV-obsessed Waititi entering a car Dukes of Hazzard-style.

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Suddenly (1954)

A year after his Oscar-winning turn as the happy-go-lucky soldier in From Here to Eternity, Frank Sinatra played a psychotic, deeply repellent killer in this dark, twisted and little-seen film noir. Ol’ Blue Eyes plays John Baron, an assassin who takes a small town family hostage and uses their home as a vantage point from which to assassinate the President. After Kennedy’s assassination in 1962, Sinatra asked United Artists to withdraw the film from circulation, because there was a rumour it had inspired Lee Harvey Oswald. Whether that’s true or not, Suddenly is a chilling, tightly constructed thriller and Sinatra is astonishing in it. Incidentally, there are tons of old movies buried on Amazon Prime Video UK, if you’re prepared to dig deep enough – there are four different versions of this film alone, one of them in colour.

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Addicted to Fresno (2015)

Perennial scene-stealers Judy Greer and Natasha Lyonne deliver a pair of pitch-perfect comic performances in this deliciously dark black comedy from director Jamie Babbit. They play a couple of sisters (Greer a sex addict with no impulse control, Lyonne a lonely lesbian) whose lives quickly spiral out of control when Greer’s character accidentally kills a man. After disposing of the body, the pair are blackmailed by their their pet cemetery-owning accomplices (Allison Tolman and Fred Armisen) and come up with a series of increasingly bonkers money-making ploys. The script crackles with great lines and Babbit keeps tight control of the tone, allowing him to pull off some surprisingly risqué gags. Worth seeing for Lyonne’s Cousin It impersonation alone.

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Searching for Sugar Man (2012)

Directed by Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul (who tragically died in 2014), this entertaining and powerfully emotional documentary tells a gripping story and unearths an astonishing musical find. It centres on a pair of South African music fans who set out to find their musical idol, 1970s American singer-songwriter Rodriguez, in part to dispel persistent rumours of his death. What follows is a series of delightful twists and turns. Part mystery story and part joyous celebration, this is a superbly structured and genuinely uplifting tale that taps into a couple of compelling musical myths.

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