10 Smart Movies to Watch on Amazon Prime

10 Smart Movies to Watch on Amazon Prime

June 3, 2024

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In the race to grow a streaming service and capture the broadest audience, it might seem like common sense to acquire easily consumable content that can be watched casually on autopilot. But every once in a while there are films that stand out from the usual offerings as being particularly thoughtfully made and with something substantial to say. On Amazon Prime, one of the biggest streaming services in the world, we’ve found these 10 smart, under-appreciated movies that can break the monotony of your viewing habits by providing some welcome food for thought or by articulating themselves in an intelligent way.

1. Gook (2017)

best

9.0

Country

United States of America

Director

Justin Chon

Actors

Ben Munoz, Curtiss Cook Jr., David So, Isaiah Jarel

Moods

Challenging, Character-driven, Emotional

Named after a slur for people of Asian descent, this 2017 film put Justin Chon on the map as a director. More than that, he also starred as the main lead in this raw and uncompromising period drama about Asian-Americans and the LA riots in 1992. Shot completely in black and white, it tells the story of Eli, a scrawny Korean-American, who runs his family shoe store with his brother, Daniel (David So), in several vignettes. They strike up an unlikely friendship with Kamilla (Simone Baker), a black kid from around the way, whose family is not happy with her hanging out with the two brothers. Amidst the ubiquitous violence in LA at the time, the Rodney King riots as well as a tragic shooting of a black teenager by a Korean convenience store owner, it shines the light on America’s intra-minority race relations and the more unseen stories behind them. A topic that has come back to haunt America in the 2020s. The film is fierce as it is funny, harsh as it is playful. Uplifting and unsettling.

2. 24 Hour Party People (2002)

best

8.5

Country

United Kingdom

Director

Michael Winterbottom

Actors

Andy Serkis, Chris Coghill, Christopher Eccleston, Daniel Lestuzzi

Moods

Character-driven, Dramatic, Funny

Here’s a biopic that focuses on capturing the feel of the era it depicts, rather than all the facts — and is all the better for it. 24 Hour Party People takes the same punk approach to storytelling as its subjects did to music, playfully throwing off the dull constraints that often make based-on-a-true-story movies feel like uninspired celluloid translations of a Wikipedia page. 

In the film’s opening scene, Steve Coogan’s Tony Wilson breaks the fourth wall to address us directly and semi-spoil the movie’s ending. But it doesn’t matter, because the ride is so fun: we’re taken on an immersive trip through the heyday of the Manchester music scene: the births of Joy Division, New Order, the Happy Mondays, and Wilson’s Factory Records label and legendary Hacienda nightclub, an incubator for acid house and rave culture. The era’s hedonism is brought to life by the movie’s frenetic editing, documentary-style cinematography, and strobe-heavy visuals. For all its onscreen anarchy, though, the movie remarkably never feels loose or self-indulgent. Its irreverence is grounded by the ironic filter of the meta filmmaking, which frequently breaks the fourth wall to draw attention to its own conceits. A refreshing rejection of biopic tropes, but also a thrilling transportation into and evocation of the Madchester era.

3. One Night in Miami (2020)

best

8.4

Country

United States of America

Director

Female director, Regina King

Actors

Aaron D. Alexander, Alan Wells, Aldis Hodge, Ashley LeConte Campbell

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Slice-of-Life, Smart

This stagelike historical drama is about a meeting between Malcolm X, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Muhammad Ali, the night Ali became world champion and announced he became Muslim.

And here is the thing: Malcolm X and Muhammed Ali have been portrayed many times in film, but never with this much nuance. Their relationship with each other is often frictional and their relationship to their faith is recognizable: they’re not always sure about it, and they take breaks.

Ali smuggles alcohol without Malcolm knowing, Malcolm is accused of being obsessed with celebrity (and later of colorism), Jim Brown is insecure about being an actor, and Sam Cooke wishes he wrote a Bob Dylan song.

4. Women Talking (2022)

best

8.3

Country

Canada, United States of America

Director

Female director, Sarah Polley

Actors

August Winter, Ben Whishaw, Caroline Gillis, Claire Foy

Moods

A-list actors, Discussion-sparking, Dramatic

Not much happens in Women Talking, but what it lacks in action it more than makes up for in message. As the wronged women of an insular Christian colony decide whether they should leave or stay in their community, valuable points on each side are raised and debated fiercely. Are the men at fault or is there a bigger problem at hand? Is it sacrilegious to refuse forgiveness? Will leaving really solve anything? 

The women of this ultraconservative and anti-modern community may not know how to read or write, but years of toiling away on land, family, and faith have made them wise beyond their years, which makes their discussion all the more captivating and powerful. Relevant themes, coupled with director Sarah Polley’s poetic shots and the cast’s all-around stellar performances, make Women Talking a uniquely compelling and timeless watch.

5. The Big Sick (2017)

best

8.2

Country

United States of America

Director

Michael Showalter

Actors

Adeel Akhtar, Aidy Bryant, Alison Cimmet, Andrew Pang

Moods

Easy, Feel-Good, Funny

A revelation of a movie, both in filmmaking and commercial success. While little-known abroad, it has made more than $42 million in US Box Office revenue out of a tiny $5 million budget. Kumail Nanjiani, stand-up comedian and star of the show Silicon Valley, tells his own story of romance with his now-wife Emily V. Gordon (who co-wrote the movie). Because it is based on a true story, and because it is the product of the love of both its writers and stars, this movie is incredibly heartfelt. It is also timely, addressing heavy themes such as identity, immigration, and family relationships. Not to mention it is absolutely hilarious. And it’s produced by Judd Apatow. Trust me and go watch it.

6. Rohan at the Louvre (2023)

best

8.2

Country

Japan

Director

Kazutaka Watanabe

Actors

Fumino Kimura, Issey Takahashi, Katia Tchenko, Kayoko Shiraishi

Moods

Challenging, Discussion-sparking, Intense

As an adaptation of a story written to commemorate the Louvre’s comics-focused exhibit, Rohan at the Louvre expands the short story into a riveting, nearly two-hour supernatural mystery film that contemplates Japanese art in context with the world. The original story is a spin-off of the popular manga Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, so this film adaptation may shock fans expecting the same plot points and the vibrant, colorful style of the manga. However, the shadow-heavy cinematography, alongside Issey Takahashi’s performance, casts the eeriness needed to make this story work on film. It’s a change that fits a story all about art as a depiction of pain and desire, severing the self from the past, and escapism through stories.

7. Ne le Dis à Personne (Tell No One) (2006)

best

8.1

Country

France, United Kingdom

Director

Guillaume Canet

Actors

Alexandra Mercouroff, André Dussollier, Anne Marivin, Brigitte Catillon

Moods

Intense, Smart, Thrilling

Francois Cluzet, who you may remember from The Intouchable, plays a man whose wife is killed and is accused of murdering her. To make matters even more confusing, signs that his wife is actually still alive surface. This well thought out thriller is at all times the furthest thing from boring and has, among other great components, well crafted chase scenes as the protagonist looks for 8 years of unanswered questions.

8. A Most Wanted Man (2014)

best

8.0

Country

Germany, UK, United Kingdom

Director

Anton Corbijn

Actors

Bernhard Schütz, Corinna Kropiunig, Daniel Brühl, Derya Alabora

Moods

Smart, Suspenseful, Thrilling

Based on the book by John Le Carre, this slow-burning thriller tells the story of a half-Chechen, half-Russian immigrant suspected of terrorism, who is suddenly spotted in a big German city trying to get his hands on money that was left to him. Gunter (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) is the head of an international counter-terrorism unit created after 9/11 to spot threats like these early on. Whether this man is a terrorist or not, what he is doing in Germany, how he fits in the grand scheme of things, and whether Gunter will succeed in his efforts – all of these are questions you will be begging to find answers for. Witty, supremely acted, and with a very provocative story line, A Most Wanted Man is perfect if you’re in the mood for a sharp thriller.

9. American Fiction (2023)

best

8.0

Country

United States of America

Director

Cord Jefferson

Actors

Adam Brody, Alexander Pobutsky, Bates Wilder, Celeste Oliva

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Easy, Lighthearted

On the one hand, American Fiction is a razor-sharp satire that pokes fun at the hypocrisy of the literary and entertainment industry. It’s only when Monk (Wright), a genius but esoteric writer, decides to pander and give in to what publishers have come to expect from Black authors (that is: trauma porn) that he is finally celebrated for his work. But on the other hand, the film is also a tender family drama. Monk sells out, as it were, partly because he’s fascinated by the stupidity of decision-makers and supposed intellectuals, but mostly because he needs to pay for his ailing mother’s care. His relationship with his siblings and deceased father likewise informs much of his character, and they complicate what could’ve been just an intellectual approach to a social issue. This is an educational and entertaining film, yes, one that looks at the complex intersection between identity, craft, and profit. But it’s also an empathetic film, told with a big heart and a surprisingly light touch.

10. Argentina, 1985 (2022)

7.9

Country

Argentina, United Kingdom, United States of America

Director

Santiago Mitre

Actors

Agustín Rittano, Alejandra Flechner, Alejo Garcia Pintos, Antonia Bengoechea

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Dramatic, Smart

Argentina, 1985 is a legal drama about how a prosecutor and his young team were able to mount evidence—despite all threats and odds—against the officials behind a brutal military dictatorship. The public trial is supposedly the first of its kind in Latin America, a marker of true democracy that made a hero out of Julio Strassera and Moreno Ocampo, who both led the case.

Despite the presence of very serious themes, there are moments of lighthearted humor here that work to stress the film’s underlying message of goodwill and perseverance. Argentina, 1985 competed at major festivals this 2022, and it’s Argentina’s official entry at the 2023 Academy Awards.

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