40 Inspirational Movies to Watch on Amazon Prime

40 Inspirational Movies to Watch on Amazon Prime

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With so many movies marketed as “inspirational,” it’s important to note that inspiration can come from anywhere—while still trying to weed out the films that don’t really have much hope or motivation to offer. To make sure that you make the right decisions on what to stream or what to purchase or rent through Amazon, we’ve put together a list of lesser-known, high-quality films available through the service that should give you the boost you’re looking for. But again, remember that these inspiring films aren’t just feel-good fantasies; some can inspire empathy, others can leave you on a high from the creativity and passion they display. Either way, a healthy dose of inspiration is always good for your streaming rotation.

10. Shiva Baby (2021)

best

8.6

Country

Canada, United States, United States of America

Director

Emma Seligman, Female director

Actors

Ariel Eliaz, Cilda Shaur, Danny Deferrari, Deborah Offner

Moods

Funny, Grown-up Comedy, Inspiring

A young bisexual woman attends a shiva, caught between her parents and their expectations, her ex, and her sugar daddy. Rachel Sennott’s Danielle is yet to find her path in life and everyone is determined to remind her of that. Taking place almost entirely in real-time, the film’s sharp wit is contrasted with constant anxiety, complemented by Ariel Marx’s horror-like score, full of discordant pizzicato that sounds like every last bit of sanity snapping. 

It’s a sex-positive take on 20-something life, treating bisexuality as wholly unremarkable and passing no judgment on Danielle’s sugar daddy income. Its specificities about Jewish customs and traditions are non-exclusionary, while its social claustrophobia is achingly universal. It’s comforting in the way it portrays the social horrors we all face, the feeling that everyone but you has life figured out, and that – ultimately – those who matter will pull through, eventually. One of 2021’s best.

9. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)

best

8.8

Country

Japan, United States of America

Director

David Gelb

Actors

Daisuke Nakazama, David Gelb, Hachiro Mizutani, Harutaki Takahashi

Moods

Feel-Good, Inspiring

This surprising documentary follows Jiro, an 85 year old Japanese chef, his Michelin-starred restaurant in the Tokyo underground, and his eager sons. While ostensibly about sushi – and believe me, you’ll learn about sushi and see absolutely gorgeous images of the raw-fish creations – the film’s dramatic impetus is carried by the weight of tradition, the beauty of a labor of love, obsession, and the relationship between father and son. Truly a must-watch.

8. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (2021)

best

9.0

Country

United States of America

Director

Dean Fleischer-Camp

Actors

Andy Richter, Dean Fleischer-Camp, Isabella Rossellini, Jenny Slate

Moods

Dramatic, Easy, Emotional

There’s a lot of good to be found in the charming, poignant, and endlessly quotable Marcel the Shell With Shoes On. It follows a documentarian named Dean, who has as his subject the one-inch talking shell that is Marcel. Marcel looks after an empty house along with his grandma Connie, and together they run a delightfully intricate system subsisting on electric mixers, tennis balls, and the occasional human hair.

Despite his small size, Marcel unwittingly makes big observations about life and the world around him, often moving Dean (and this writer) close to tears. It’s a simple film with a grand message, with lots to say about the importance of participating in life as opposed to merely observing it. But ultimately this is a movie with a precocious talking shell at the heart of it all, so really, what’s not to like?

7. The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (2011)

best

9.0

Country

Sweden, United States of America

Director

Göran Olsson

Actors

Angela Davis, Bobby Seale, Erykah Badu, Harry Belafonte

Moods

Inspiring, Instructive, Mind-blowing

Between 1967-1975, a group of Swedish filmmakers traveled to America to document the Black Power movement. The resulting archival footage of Black activists and intellectuals, including Bobby Seale, Huey P. Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, and the amazing Angela Davis, was hidden in an archive until it was unearthed and woven together by Göran Olsson, a Swedish director. Angela Davis also supplies some contemporary voice commentary alongside many others, such as Erykah Badu, Harry Belafonte, and The Roots drummer and rap culture’s No. 1 record keeper Questlove, who also co-scored the film. This adds to the mixtape feel of the film as does the raw and unfiltered piecing together of the historic footage, giving the viewer an authentic impression of the movement and the struggles of the time. Being Swedish, the filmmakers dared to go where American mainstream TV might have never gone.

6. The Salt of the Earth (2014)

best

9.0

Country

Brazil, France, Italy

Director

Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, Wim Wenders

Actors

Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, Lélia Wanick Salgado, Sebastião Salgado, Wim Wenders

Moods

Inspiring, Instructive, Thrilling

Co-directed and narrated by legendary German director Wim Wenders in collaboration with Salgado’s son, Juliano, this unique film tells Sebastião Salgado’s life story from his childhood in Northern Brazil, his early career as an economist, and how he shifted towards photography to become a world-renowned photojournalist. Shot in stunning black and white by Juliano Salgado and Hugo Barbier, The Salt of the Earth is a mesmerizing exhibition of one man’s lifelong dedication to capture the suffering of humanity and of nature. Most famously, the nightmarish images of the teeming workers of Serra Pelada, a Brazilian mountain gold mine. While creating these images raises some ethical questions that Salgado was confronted with throughout his career, it is an utterly enthralling experience, upsetting at times in its frank display of war, death, and devastation. Ultimately, however, Salgado’s elegance and kindness pull us back in and what we see is truth, awareness, and beauty.

5. The Farewell (2019)

best

9.1

Country

China, United States of America, USA China

Director

Female director, Lulu Wang

Actors

Aoi Mizuhara, Awkwafina, Chen Han, Diana Lin

Moods

Depressing, Emotional, Inspiring

Many things clash in this beautifully layered, semi-autobiographical film of American director Lulu Wang: cultures, morals, and emotions. The result is a type of comedy that is complex and bittersweet⁠—and based on a true lie: this is the story of a Chinese grandma whose family won’t tell her that she is fatally ill. Instead, they organize a fake wedding in China, where everyone gets together to bid a farewell to the unwitting matriarch (played by Zhao Shuzhen). The fake wedding is, in fact, a premature funeral for a person unaware that she is going to die. Played by rapper and comedian Awkwafina, Billi, a New-York-based Chinese-American with a complicated relationship to China, embodies the cultural and moral question at the heart of this story: is it right or wrong not tell grandma? It is thanks to Wang’s deft writing and Awkwafina’s outstanding performance that The Farewell homes in on answers without ever being melodramatic. Warm, honest, and beautiful.

4. Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton (2017)

best

9.2

Country

Canada, United States of America

Director

Chris Smith

Actors

Andy Dick, Andy Kaufman, Bob Zmuda, Carol Kane

Moods

Dark, Discussion-sparking, Emotional

After his first serious role in The Truman Show in 1998, Jim Carrey got a shot at playing his idol, the late comedian and performance artist Andy Kaufmann, in Man on the Moon in 1999. When he got the role, a role of a lifetime, Carrey decided to honor Kaufmann’s legacy by transforming into him (and his alter ego Tony Clifton) and, in true method-acting fashion, never to leave character. Jim & Andy is the result of 100 hours of behind-the-scenes footage shot at the Man on the Moon set, which was withheld for 20 years over fears of Universal Studios that people would think Carrey was an a**hole. While Carrey was a complete and utter imposition to the film’s director, Miloš Forman, and everybody else on set, including Danny DeVito, his transformation (or obsession) was a unique, transformative experience for Carrey, who had been sick of fame and acting before he took on this gig. Whether you buy into this view or see it as a vanity piece of a complete maniac, this is one of the most unique and insane documentaries on Netflix. A mind-blowing portrayal of a complex mind.

3. Captain Fantastic (2016)

best

9.5

Country

United States of America

Director

Matt Ross

Actors

Alan Humphrey, Ann Dowd, Annalise Basso, Charlie Shotwell

Moods

Feel-Good, Inspiring, Thought-provoking

Former activists Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) and his wife Leslie drop out from modern consumerist society to raise their six children in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest. They teach them how to raise and kill their own food, to survive in nature through boot-camp-like workouts, and homeschool them in literature, music, and left-wing philosophy. Instead of Christmas, they celebrate Noam Chomsky’s birthday. Then, one day, this unusual family life is shaken by a phone call and they are forced to leave their life of adventure to reintegrate into American life.

Directed by Matt Ross, who also brought you Good Night, and Good Luck, the film offers a poignant look at alternative living, the effects of modern technology, and the nature of good parenting. Viggo Mortensen is indeed fantastic as the grizzled father and was rightly nominated for a Golden Globe and the Academy Award for Best Actor. George MacKay and the entire cast of “children” also deliver terrific performances. As emotionally raw and thought-provoking as it is funny, Captain Fantastic will have the viewer decide if Ben Cash is the best father in the world or the worst.

2. Searching for Sugar Man (2012)

best

9.5

Country

Finland, South Africa, Sweden

Director

Malik Bendjelloul

Actors

Clarence Avant, Craig Bartholomew Strydom, Dan DiMaggio, Dennis Coffey

Moods

Emotional, Inspiring, Suspenseful

American folk singer Sixto Diaz Rodriguez recorded two albums in Detroit in the 1970s, which he played live across the city, but never to critical acclaim or commercial success. Disappointed, he soon quit his musical career, bought a run-down house in the Motor City, and lived a simple life working in construction. So far, this sounds like the biography of many musicians that never quite made it, talented or otherwise.

However, a strange thing happened. By the mid-1970s, his albums were getting significant airplay in countries like Australia, Zimbabwe, and Apartheid-era South Africa, where he was soon considered a musical voice on par with the Beatles. While living a reclusive life in Detroit, Michigan, he unwittingly became a star on the other side of the globe. This engaged and visually appealing documentary by the late Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul tells his story and spells out a fascinating footnote of global music history.

1. Short Term 12 (2013)

best

9.9

Country

United States of America

Director

Destin Cretton, Destin Daniel Cretton

Actors

Alex Calloway, Angelina Assereto, Brie Larson, Diana Maria Riva

Moods

Challenging, Depressing, Inspiring

Understated in budget but lavished with praise, this semi-autobiographical drama by Daniel Destin Cretton flings its audience into the chaotic lives and personal crises of at-risk youths and the passionate social workers that aid them. In his first feature film, the young director draws the viewers into the storm of events and the emotional ups-and-downs of social work in America, going from uplifting to depressing and back – and every emotion in-between.

Set in the real-life and eponymous group home Short Term 12, devoted but troubled foster-care worker Grace is played by Brie Larson, whose shining performance in her first leading role was lauded by critics. Fans will also recognize the supporting actors Lakeith Stanfield and Rami Malek, who broke out in this movie. Short Term 12 is now considered one of the most important movies of 2013 – some say of the decade – owing to its immaculate writing, intimate camerawork, and gripping performances.

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