drops a bunch of movies at the beginning of each month, though it doesn’t have a ton of new weekly releases after that.
Below, you’ll find this week’s highlights and then CNET’s full list of best Prime Video original movies.
What’s new this week (Sept. 19-25)
Here are the highlights.
- Heatwave (2022): Thriller. A woman’s life takes a turn when she realizes she’s fallen for her boss’ wife.
- Firestarter (2022): Adaptation of a Stephen King novel. A young girl has the power to set things on fire with her mind.
- Memory (2022): Action movie starring Liam Neeson. After he refuses to complete a job for a dangerous criminal organization, an assassin-for-hire finds that he’s become a target.
Best Amazon Prime Video original films
At time of writing, these films all score around 70 or higher on Metacritic.
One Child Nation is a fascinating and moving documentary about China’s decades-long one-child policy. It utilizes interviews to reveal the consequences of the policy, which ended in 2016. It won the grand jury prize in the US documentary category at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.
Mother, activist and entrepreneur Fox Rich is at the center of this Oscar-nominated documentary that explores the impact of incarceration on a family. Early in the film, we learn that Fox’s husband, Robert, has been in prison for 20 years for a robbery he and Fox committed in a moment of desperation in 1997. Home videos and present-day footage are weaved together to convey the passage of time over two decades. It’s a visually stunning film with powerful messages about the American criminal justice system.
Do you love Lucy? How about insightful, nostalgic documentaries? If so, you’ll need to engage with this Amy Poehler-directed examination into the lives of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. The feel-good doc draws on home movies and audio provided by Ball and Arnaz’s daughter, Lucie Arnaz, and charts everything that led up to the pair’s iconic run in the ’50s sitcom I Love Lucy. When you’ve wrapped up, a fictional film about the stars, “Being the Ricardos,” is also on Prime Video.
My Name Is Pauli Murray (2021)
This 90-minute documentary provides vital context into the life of Pauli Murray, a gender nonconforming lawyer, poet and civil rights activist who was ahead of her time yet remains overlooked by history. Murray advocated for race and gender equality, and her ideas would later influence Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Thurgood Marshall. Directed by Betsy West and Julie Cohen (RGB, Julia), this thorough and thought-provoking film presents Murray’s many accomplishments and indelible impact.
In 2011, three years after he retired from the NFL, former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason was diagnosed with the nervous system disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. This emotional film documents Gleason’s battle with ALS. Told in large part through videos he recorded himself, Gleason’s story involves his loving wife, Michel, and his newborn son, Rivers. It’s an eye-opening look at how devastating ALS can be. If you have a Prime Video subscription, Gleason is a must-see.
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.
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.
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.
At the start of this comedy-thriller, we learn that college seniors and best friends Kunle and Sean plan to become the first Black men to complete a “legendary tour,” a feat that involves fraternity party-hopping on an epic scale. But when the students find a young white woman passed out on the floor in their home, the night spirals into something else entirely. The film, which mixes comedy and social commentary, is at times tense and harrowing. A significant part is the bond between Kunle and Sean, played by an excellent RJ Cyler and Donald Elise Watkins.
You Were Never Really Here (2017)
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.
Amazon Prime Video
The Mad Women’s Ball (2021)
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.
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 Lost City of Z (2016)
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.
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.
Brittany Runs a Marathon (2019)
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Manchester by the Sea (2016)
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.
Screenshot by CNET
Ben Stiller stars in this comedy-drama as Brad, a 47-year-old man who’s plagued by thoughts of comparison and self-doubt. He has a cozy life with a nonprofit job, a loving wife (Jenna Fischer) and a talented son who’s gearing up to attend college (Austin Abrams), but he still compares himself to old friends who wound up in glitzy and lucrative professions. This introspective film is deeply interesting, and Stiller perfectly embodies the unflattering, often cringey role of a protagonist obsessed with paths not taken.
Screenshot by CNET
Adapted from a young adult novel by Brian Selznick (who also wrote The Invention of Hugo Cabret), this film shifts between bold color and black and white to tell a story about two children who are living in different time periods but going about similar journeys. One is newly orphaned Ben, who, after losing his mother (Michelle Williams), seeks out his missing father in 1977. The other is Rose, who’s tracking down a silent film star (Julianne Moore) 50 years earlier. Separated by time, their paths intersect in New York City. Coming from director Todd Haynes, this family-friendly film packs in adventure and childlike wonder.
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.
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.
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.
One Night in Miami (2020)
If you still haven’t seen One Night in Miami, this is a sign to clear your schedule. The Oscar-nominated drama offers a fictionalized take on a real-life meeting that took place between Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, Muhammad Ali and Jim Brown in 1964. Each of its four lead actors shine, and when they eventually convene for the film’s titular night, their imagined conversations and debate feel real. A lively and thought-provoking film that’s strengthened by scenes between Leslie Odom Jr. and Kingsley Ben-Adir.
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.
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.
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