at the beginning of each month, Amazon Prime Video doesn’t have a ton of new weekly releases.
But occasionally, an original or a flick from the vault comes knocking and deserves to be put on your radar. Below you’ll find a selection of highlights for this week, as well as CNET’s full list of best Amazon Prime Video Original movies.
What to watch this week (Dec. 20 to 26)
One big title hits Prime Video as we race toward Christmas.
- Who You Think I Am (2021) — French drama starring Juliette Binoche. Follows a 50-year-old divorced teacher who creates a fake Facebook profile of a 24-year-old woman.
- Being the Ricardos – Amazon Original Movie (2021) — Biographical drama written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, starring Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem. Follows the relationship between I Love Lucy stars Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
Best Amazon Prime Video Original films
Black Box (2020)
Amazon Prime Video
This impressive directorial debut from Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr. presses the same emotional buttons as a Black Mirror episode. It focuses on Nolan Wright (Mamoudou Athie), a man who survives a car crash, but now suffers from amnesia. After failing to pick up his 10-year-old daughter from school, he undertakes an experimental treatment that leads to chilling results. Part of a Blumhouse anthology, this sci-fi horror plays familiar cards, but will satisfy thanks to a focus on character and a twist to look forward to in the end.
Luca Guadagnino’s horror picture framed in a bleak, art house window won’t be for everyone, but for those who go down the rabbit hole of its prestigious Berlin dance school, you’re in for a twisted treat. Tilda Swinton is the majestic lead teacher, who mentors young ingenue Dakota Johnson. Be warned: The flexible dancers bring new contortions to body horror. It’s a long movie, at over two and a half hours, but if you’re into disturbing visuals and a touch of witchcraft, there are a couple of jaw-dropping scenes you’ll want to stick around for.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (2021)
Amazon Prime Video
This coming-of-age musical drama is based on the true story of teenage British schoolboy Jamie Campbell, who secretly dreams of becoming a drag queen. Peppered with songs from the stage musical’s original score, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie will lift you up with optimism, hitting all the right feel-good beats.
Guava Island (2019)
This tale comes from the minds of a stellar team, including Donald Glover, his brother Stephen Glover and Atlanta collaborator Hiro Murai. Donald Glover voices the free-spirited Deni Maroon, a musician who lives with Kofi, voiced by none other than Rihanna. Deni encounters various obstacles on his mission to hold a music festival for his island community, exploring big themes such as capitalism through the film’s short, 56-minute runtime. Note that Rihanna doesn’t sing, but overall this musical is just catchy and sweet enough to warrant a look.
The Electrical Life of Louis Wain (2021)
Benedict Cumberbatch stars in this biopic about English artist, inventor, entrepreneur and caretaker Louis Wain. Set at the end of the 19th century, it follows a man who, after taking in a stray kitten, creates surreal cat paintings that made him wold famous. They also seem to reflect his own declining sanity. A feel-good drama with a typically gripping central performance from Cumberbatch, this warm portrait is filled with whimsy, even if it’s a little uneven.
Small Axe (2020)
A sublime anthology that doesn’t drop the ball across its five films. Small Axe is a collection of distinct stories about the lives of West Indian immigrants in London from the ’60s to the ’80s. They’re all directed by Steve McQueen, who’s working at his exquisite best (when doesn’t he?), crafting stories such as courtroom drama Mangrove, based on the 1971 trial of the Mangrove Nine and starring Black Panther’s Letitia Wright. Take a seat and devour this massive achievement.
Sound of Metal (2019)
Sound of Metal scored a bunch of Oscar nominations, including best picture and best actor for the outstanding Riz Ahmed. (It won in two categories: best sound and best film editing.) He plays Ruben, a punk-metal drummer who unfortunately starts to lose his hearing. As well as struggling with a drug addiction, Ruben is forced to settle into his new life in the deaf community and to learn American Sign Language. The film’s stunning sound design immerses you in Ruben’s suspenseful story and the experiences of those around him.
Selah and the Spades (2019)
If you’re into the dark-things-happen-at-boarding-schools genre, then Selah and the Spades might be the subject to sign up for. A senior leads a faction called the Spades who sell drugs to other students. But Selah’s about to graduate, so must find the right candidate to carry on her legacy. Shot beautifully and guided by debut director Tayarisha Poe’s unique lens, this is a taste of even greater things to come.
Shia LaBeouf wrote the screenplay for this autobiographical movie about a child actor and his relationship with his father. We follow Otis, who’s traumatized after days on set accompanied by his father, a former rodeo clown. LaBeouf actually plays the character inspired by his father, giving Honey Boy even more psychological layers. This is fascinating, cinematic therapy from a singular perspective.
Following lovers from different backgrounds and temperaments, Pawel Pawlikowski’s historical drama is set in a ravaged, post-World War II Poland. Zula is an ambitious young singer faking a peasant identity, while Wiktor is a jazz musician holding auditions for a state-sponsored folk music ensemble. The politics are handled elegantly and the black-and-white visuals are precise and beautiful. For an 88-minute treat of a sumptuous, passionate, almost impossible love story, look no further than Cold War.
King Lear (2018)
King Lear is, of course, an adaptation of the Shakespeare play, but two powerful forces help this one stand out: Anthony Hopkins and Black Widow scene stealer Florence Pugh. Not to mention Emma Thompson! This adaptation is set in an alternative universe during the 21st century, where London is under strict military control. Lear is ready to divide his kingdom among his three daughters, but not all of them are accepting. If you’re OK with the Shakespearean dialogue, then simply sit back and marvel at Hopkins and a stacked ensemble cast, including Emily Watson, Jim Broadbent and Andrew Scott.
Pass Over (2018)
Before we jump into this Spike Lee film, note that it’s technically a recorded stage play. And yet somehow it captures cinematic magic, thanks in large part to the engaging performances from Jon Michael Hill and Julian Parker. They play two young men dreaming of the promised land from their fixed spot on the sidewalk. Educational, moving, funny and surprising, Pass Over will keep you on your toes more than you think.
Prepare for Amazon’s first big, prestigious movie to wallop you in the chest. A broken man who’s experienced terrible losses becomes the guardian of his teenage nephew. Lee Chandler’s story will hit you with punch after emotional punch, as will the immense performances from the likes of Michelle Williams. Another accomplishment from Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea is full-bodied, unforgettable storytelling.
In trademark Jim Jarmusch style, this low-key indie narrows in on the finer details of regular life with a distinct sense of humor. Spanning one week, Paterson follows a bus driver and poet named Paterson who listens to passengers talking, takes his dog for walks and stops for beers at his local bar. Adam Driver alone makes all that endlessly watchable. Dotted with the idiosyncratic characters living in a New Jersey town, Paterson offers a wise take on life, delving into personal setbacks and the new paths weaved around them.
The Mad Women’s Ball (2021)
Amazon Prime Video
Mélanie Laurent directs, co-writes and stars in this emotional French thriller set in the late 19th century. Laurent is Geneviève, a nurse who attempts to free Eugénie (Lou de Laâge), a woman committed to a mental asylum when her family learns she communicates with spirits. Carried by outstanding performances from its two leads, The Mad Women’s Ball poignantly sweeps the inequities of the era into its disturbing melodrama. An accomplished watch.
The Coen Brothers meet Wes Anderson in this black comedy thriller steered by two brilliant young female leads. Set in a snowy fishing town in Maine, Blow the Man Down follows sisters, played by Morgan Saylor and Sophie Lowe, who try to hide the body of a man after he attacked one of them and she fought back. While on their crime caper, they find themselves digging up the town matriarchs’ dark secrets, spinning this into a noir mystery. It’s as wonderful as it sounds.
A psychological thriller starring a pre-Joker Joaquin Phoenix? Yeah, more people need to watch You Were Never Really Here. Lynne Ramsay’s masterful take on a story about a hitman who’s hired to rescue a politician’s daughter from a human trafficking network, is stark, brutal and mercifully straight to the point, running at a taut 90 minutes. With Phoenix doing his brilliant committed actor thing, You Were Never Really Here is more than your average thriller.
Even if you’ve heard good things about The Handmaiden, nothing can prepare you for the insane twists this exquisite South Korean movie takes. Classed as an erotic psychological thriller, The Handmaiden contains explicit scenes you should probably avoid watching with parents around. It all kicks off with a con man wooing a Japanese heiress with the intention of committing her to an asylum once they’re married. But his pickpocket partner who poses as her maid strays from the plan. If you’ve been getting into South Korean films thanks to Parasite, this is a must watch.
The Map of Tiny Perfect Things (2021)
Following in the footsteps of Palm Springs, The Map of Tiny Perfect things is a rom-com exploring the lives of its protagonists through a time loop. Katheryn Newton and Kyle Allen star as Margaret and Mark, two teens repeating the same day over and over again. Their meet cute involves saving someone from being knocked into a pool by a beach ball. Charming and heartfelt, this is solid if not totally perfect viewing.
The Vast of Night is a curious indie sci-fi flick from debut director Andrew Patterson that plays with narrative in clever ways. Long, sweeping shots carry us after two young radio workers who investigate an audio frequency they think could be traced to aliens. The distinctive 1950s New Mexico setting, and characters delivering monologues with the smooth intonations of those on radio, all build an eerie atmosphere with satisfying payoff.
Uncle Frank (2020)
Need more Paul Bettany in your life? Of course you do, especially since WandaVision is done and dusted. Try Uncle Frank, a road flick set in the ’70s about a gay man and his relationship with his family, including niece and college student Beth (Sophia Lillis from the It movies and I Am Not Okay With This). The pair drive across America to attend a funeral, Frank grappling with whether to let his partner Wally (Peter Macdissi) come along. A comedy with sharp edges, Uncle Frank ultimately leaves you on an assuringly positive note.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020)
Amazon Prime Video
Nearly 15 years after Kazakh journalist and TV personality Borat first graced our big screens, he’s back playing pranks on unsuspecting Americans while delivering some incredibly incisive cultural commentary. In Borat 2, or Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, Borat’s on a trip to the US to offer his daughter Tutar (played by a revelatory Maria Bakalova) to Vice President Mike Pence during the 2020 presidential election — and the COVID-19 pandemic. Prepare to cringe at the doubled-down political incorrectness before succumbing to the outrageous laughs.
Get Duked! (2019)
A teen comedy-horror-thriller with a dash of social commentary. What a combo! Get Duked! follows three slacker students, one nerd and their mundane teacher as they head to the Scottish Highlands to attempt to win an award involving navigating the area using just a paper map. Everything becomes a little more thrilling when the four teens end up fending for themselves against murderous hunter the Duke, played by the brilliant Eddie Izzard. The whole young ensemble is fantastic, playing with a tight script crackling with banter. Boy Scouts meets Attack the Block, Get Duked! is chaos walking, cussing and eating questionable local flora.
An enjoyable comedy, yes, but Brittany Runs a Marathon also hits close to home, focusing on the things we’re all obsessed with: food, body image and exercise. Brittany, played by the effortlessly relatable Jillian Bell, receives strong advice from her doctor to lose weight and cut the hard-partying lifestyle. She starts running, taking all the tough steps toward the life-changing finish line. Watch it from your couch, then be inspired to head outside for a jog.
Written by and starring Mindy Kaling, Late Night follows an acclaimed news show host whose ratings are on the decline. She hires a female, Indian-American writer to shake up her white-male writer’s room. Never preachy, while making an argument for transforming Emma Thompson into a real-life talk show host, Late Night is lively comedy with hints of The Devil Wears Prada. That alone should be a solid reason to watch it.
Sylvie’s Love (2020)
While Sylvie’s Love is, at its core, an old-fashioned love story, its dewy romance is remarkably refreshing: a period drama centered on Black people that isn’t dominated by issues of race and bigotry. Set in an aesthetically enchanting ’60s New York City, it follows Sylvie and Robert, who have a chance to reconnect after a summer romance five years earlier. Both work in music, and the film’s soundtrack, featuring Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson and more, helps transport you to this glowing place.
The Big Sick introduced the world to Kumail Nanjiani, who co-wrote the movie based on his real-life romance with partner Emily V. Gordon. After the pair go on a few promising dates, Emily inexplicably falls ill and must be placed in an induced coma. While Kumail gets to know her worried parents at the hospital, his own Pakistani family keeps arranging dates for him with other women. Not only ripe for cultural comedy setups, The Big Sick is also a down-to-earth and heartfelt story of an interracial couple.
I’m Your Woman (2020)
Not your usual crime thriller, I’m Your Woman follows the perspective of a mobster’s wife, played by The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s Rachel Brosnahan. A betrayal forces Jean to go on the run with a newborn baby and a bodyguard, her husband’s former associate Cal (Arinzé Kene). The ’70s-set neo-noir circles around themes like racial tensions, privilege and survival. It moves along at a surprisingly steady pace, giving you time to absorb the powerful psychological impact of Jean’s new situation.
Based on the life of British adventurer Percy Fawcett, The Lost City of Z drops you into the Amazon rainforest on the search for an ancient lost city. If that setup for adventure isn’t enticing enough, the movie stars Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson and Tom Holland… with a mustache. A beautiful, grandiose film put together with great care, The Lost City of Z might move slower than you think, but that only enhances its fascinating psychological layers.
Movies coming in 2021 and 2022 from Netflix, Marvel, HBO and more
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