Hidden Gems: The best films you (probably) haven’t seen on Amazon Prime Video
Updated 08-04-19 | 05:40 AM | Staff Reporter
Reading time: 20 mins
What should I watch next on Amazon Prime Video? With the streaming service adding new titles all the time – keep up-to-date with latest releases here – it’s increasingly difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff. Fortunately, help is at hand, as there’s nothing we love more at Video on Demand Magazine than throwing some great film recommendations your way. Here then, are Amazon Prime Video best hidden gems:
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.
Mr. Brooks (2007)
Kevin Costner playing a serial killer is reason enough to see this terrific cat-and-mouse thriller. He plays Earl Brooks, a successful businessman and family man who’s secretly a serial killer, with an evil alter ego (William Hurt) that only Earl can see or hear. Costner is great fun as Brooks (he should definitely play more psychopaths) and there’s strong support from Demi Moore as a tenacious detective. On top of that, director Bruce A. Evans orchestrates some nail-bitingly suspenseful sequences and handles the violence extremely well – it’s effective and brutal without being glamorised or over-the-top. In short, this is pure trash, but thoroughly enjoyable trash, of the kind they just don’t seem to make anymore.
Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)
“There’s no sense in nonsense, not when the heat’s hot!” So says Darius (Aubrey Plaza), a grumpy magazine intern who finds her worldview softening when she’s sent to interview a man (Mark Duplass) who has placed a classified ad looking for a companion for time travel. Brilliantly written and superbly directed, this is a genuinely hilarious and unexpectedly moving comedy with a star-making turn from Plaza and a terrific supporting turn from New Girl’s Jake Johnson.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Fish Tank (2009)
This beautifully written British drama from director Andrea Arnold (Red Road) stars then-newcomer Katie Jarvis (currently playing Hayley Slater on EastEnders) as Mia, an angry young teenager whose life changes when her flighty mother (Kierston Wareing) brings home a new, charismatic boyfriend (Michael Fassbender as Connor), who may or may not be a wrong ‘un. Jarvis is sensational as Mia (aside from her knock-out performance, she has some great dance moves) and there’s terrific support from Fassbender, while Arnold’s stunning direction ensures that the story is by turns heart-in-your-mouth suspenseful, laugh-out-loud funny and deeply moving. An extraordinary, unmissable film.
Directed by Ed Harris (who also co-wrote the script), this offbeat western centres on gunslingers Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch (Harris and Viggo Mortensen), who are hired to protect a town from vicious rancher Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons) in 1882 New Mexico. At the same time, the relationship between the two men becomes threatened when they both fall for piano player Alison French (Renee Zellweger). Harris and Mortensen make a terrific onscreen duo and the script is consistently intriguing, refusing to serve up the usual clichés and opting for something more interesting instead. Harris directs with a sure hand, expertly building tension throughout. A little-seen gem.
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.
“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.
Co-writers Alice Lowe and Steve Oram star as a new couple whose caravanning holiday takes a decidedly murderous turn in this almost painfully British comedy-horror from director Ben Wheatley that plays like a psychotic version of Mike Leigh’s Nuts in May. Delivered with broad Birmingham accents (an inspired touch), the dialogue is packed with laugh-out-loud funny lines and Wheatley’s assured direction strikes the perfect balance between character humour and brief but effective moments of shocking gore. Perhaps the weirdest touch is that, amid all the horror, the film actually serves as a surprisingly effective tourism incentive – you’ll definitely want to check out the Keswick Pencil Museum and the Tramway Village.
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.
A Date for Mad Mary (2016)
Criminally denied a UK theatrical release, this delightful Irish comedy-drama deserves to be much more widely seen. Adapted from a play by Yasmine Akram, the film stars Seána Kerslake as Mary, an ex-con who returns to her home town to discover that her best friend (Charleigh Bailey) is getting married. In need of a plus one, Mary embarks on a series of terrible dates and sparks an unexpected connection with aspiring singer Jess (Tara Lee). Debut director Darren Thornton has a great sense of comic timing and creates a bittersweet tone that feels realistic and relatable, while Kerslake is simply terrific in the lead role.
Land of Mine (2015)
Based on true events, this Oscar nominated WWII thriller stars Roland Moller (Skyscraper) as a Danish army sergeant who’s put in charge of supervising a group of German POWs (most of them teenagers) as they painstakingly remove some 45,000 landmines from a remote stretch of Danish beach. Written and directed by Martin Zandvliet, the film cranks up the built-in tension to unbearable levels, while wringing powerful emotion from the sensitive, sharply observed performances. Similarly, the complex and cleverly structured script does intriguing things with ideas of sympathy, while cinematographer Camilla Hjelm Knudsen makes the beach locations look especially stunning in the crisp sunlight.
Your Name (2016)
Body-swap comedy meets sci-fi romance in this utterly charming anime from writer-director Makoto Shinkai. The plot centres on two Japanese teenagers – small-town high-school girl Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi) and Tokyo boy Taki (Ryûnosuke Kamiki) – who find themselves inexplicably waking up in each other’s bodies several times a week. After finding inventive ways to communicate, the pair begin an unconventional romance, but their happiness is threatened by an imminent disaster. Shinkai’s skilful genre blending pays off beautifully, with a touching and inventive story that’s consistently surprising, deeply moving and frequently very funny. It’s also beautifully animated, with a level of detail that takes your breath away. (Note: Both the subtitled and dubbed versions are available.)
Eagle vs Shark (2007)
The debut feature from New Zealand director Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok), this hilarious and oddly touching rom-com stars Loren Horsley and a pre-Flight of the Conchords Jemaine Clement as Lily and Jarrod, a pair of social misfits who begin a relationship after she gate-crashes his ‘come as your favourite animal’ party (hence the title). Soon she’s accompanying him to his hometown in order to witness his long-planned revenge over his high-school nemesis. Horsley and Clement make for terrific, offbeat leads (their deadpan delivery is a treat) and the witty script is full of great scenes and delightful sight gags. A spiritual sibling to Napoleon Dynamite, which, coincidentally, was in production at the same time.
Train to Busan (2016)
Zombies on a train! That’s all you need to know about this hugely entertaining Korean horror movie from director Sang-ho Yeon. The film delivers a tasty blend of thrills, gore, humour and emotion, as a workaholic father (Song Yoo) and his adorable young daughter (Kim Su-an) attempt to survive a zombie outbreak on a high-speed train from Seoul to Busan. The cast of potential zombie victims are extremely engaging and Sang-ho maintains a strong sense of pace, particularly with regard to the way the virus spreads throughout the train. He also includes a distinctive and entertaining ‘zombie pile-up’ effect, with zombies exploding through breaking windows or tripping over each other as they rush to eat their victims.
A Man Called Ove (2015)
Based on the best-selling novel by Fredrik Backman, this Oscar nominated Swedish comedy-drama stars Rolf Lassgard as Ove (pronounced Ooh-vuh), a cantankerous old git whose comically disastrous suicide attempts are continually interrupted by his perpetually upbeat Persian new neighbour (Bahar Pars), with whom he forms a reluctant friendship. Directed by Hannes Holm (who also adapted the script), the film is both warm-hearted and frequently laugh-out-loud funny (there are some sublime running gags), anchored by a note-perfect performance from Lassgard, who does impressive work with Ove’s inevitable thawing. Incidentally, if you like this, you should definitely check out fellow Backman-penned Swedish old man hit The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared (also available).
My Life as a Courgette (2016)
Directed by Claude Barras, this utterly charming, Oscar-nominated stop-motion feature centres on blue-haired 9 year-old Courgette, who’s placed in a children’s home after the accidental death of his alcoholic mother. Presenting its moving coming-of-age story from a child’s point of view, the sensitive, warm-hearted and frequently funny script (by French filmmaker Celina Sciamma) explores its difficult themes in perceptive fashion, while the gorgeous, brightly coloured animation and appealing character designs (all large heads and expressive ping-pong ball eyes) have the comforting feel of a classic children’s book or TV show. (Note: Only the English language dub is available.)
The Loved Ones (2009)
Written and directed by Sean Byrne, this deliriously deranged Australian horror flick (think “Day-Glo torture porn”) has a cult following among genre fans, despite failing to receive a UK theatrical release. Twilight’s Xavier Samuel stars as Brent, a high schooler who makes the mistake of turning down an invitation from plain fellow student Lola (Robin McLeavy) to attend the school prom. In revenge, she gets her doting dad (John Brumpton) to kidnap him and sets about creating her own prom night at home, complete with power tool torture and various nasty things with knives. Shot through with jet-black humour and wince-inducing gore, this is simultaneously terrifying and laugh-out-loud funny. McLeavy’s Lola is a villain for the ages.
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.
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.
This cracking sci-fi thriller stars Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley as two scientists who get more than they bargained for when their genetic splicing experiments create a female human / animal DNA hybrid (Delphine Chaneac). The pair take turns looking after her, but as she becomes a rebellious and sexually curious teenager, the bond she develops with her ‘parents’ quickly becomes dangerous. Director Vincenzo Natali maintains an impressively controlled tone throughout, with the film moving from shocks to scares to black comedy to deep sadness, often within the space of a single scene. The script is excellent, exploring several intriguing themes and piling on the allegories at a dizzying rate, while still functioning as a genuinely inventive and completely unpredictable thriller.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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