The Best Movies on Amazon Prime Video Right Now

New films, and classics, just keep coming, but you don’t have to drill down to find the finest selections to stream. We’ll do the heavy lifting. You press play.

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As Netflix pours more of its resources into original content, Amazon Prime Video is picking up the slack, adding new movies for its subscribers each month. Its catalog has grown so impressive, in fact, that it’s a bit overwhelming — and at the same time, movies that are included with a Prime subscription regularly change status, becoming available only for rental or purchase. It’s a lot to sift through, so we’ve plucked out 100 of the absolute best movies included with a Prime subscription right now, to be updated as new information is made available.

Here are our lists of the best TV shows and movies on Netflix, and the best of both on Hulu and Disney+.

ImageFrom left, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Horst Buchholz, Yul Brynner, Brad Dexter, Robert Vaughn and Charles Bronson in the original 1960 film.
Credit...MGM

Six years after Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai,” John Sturges produced and directed this remake, relocating Kurasawa’s epic from feudal Japan to the American West. But the bones of the story remain the same: a village is terrorized by outside forces, and hires a small band of outlaws to help them fight back. Sturges’s marvelous ensemble cast includes some of the toughest guys in the movies — including Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn and Eli Wallach — along with Yul Brenner, elegant yet credible, as the leader of the guns-for-hire. Elmer Bernstein contributes the iconic score. (For more epic action, try “Master and Commander.”)

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Credit...Gaumont/British

This crisp, sophisticated whodunit was Alfred Hitchcock’s last film in his native Britain before he departed for Hollywood, and it is quintessentially Hitchcock: gorgeous leads, colorful supporting characters, sly wit, stylish camerawork, a dash of violence and a hint of sex. Thanks to the considerable chemistry between the intrepid amateur sleuths played by Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave, it’s easy to find its DNA in later Hitchcock classics like “North by Northwest” and “To Catch A Thief.” But “The Lady Vanishes” stands firmly on its own as a snappy and clever thriller; our critic called it “a brilliant melodrama.”

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Credit...Walter Thomson/Magnolia Pictures

Julie Delpy, who stars in Richard Linklater’s “Before” trilogy, created a chatty-couple series of her own with her 2007 treat “2 Days in Paris” and this delightful sequel. In “New York,” she crafts an opposites-attract story for Marion, a brash, neurotic Frenchwoman and Mingus, her Brooklynite boyfriend (well played by a slightly restrained Chris Rock). We then watch as their precariously balanced relationship implodes under the stress of a visit from Marion’s family. It’s both a romantic comedy and a comedy of manners; the relationship bends until it nearly breaks. Our critic praised its “great charm” and “considerable insight.”

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Credit...Kerry Brown/Sony Pictures Classics

This 2009 adaptation of the memoir by Lynn Barber was the breakthrough film for Carey Mulligan, who stars as a whip-smart but socially awkward teenage girl who becomes the object of the affections of a much older man (played, with a delicate mixture of warmth and sleaze, by Peter Sarsgaard). The intelligent screenplay by the novelist Nick Hornby and sensitive direction by Lone Scherfig are nuanced enough to acknowledge the thrill offered by such a relationship en route to the inevitable heartbreaks and disappointments. The supporting cast, including Alfred Molina, Emma Thompson, Olivia Williams, Rosamund Pike and Dominic Cooper, is first-rate. (Stay in a melancholy mood with “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” also streaming on Prime.)

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Credit...Frank Masi/Touchstone Pictures

The writer and director M. Night Shyamalan followed up the huge success of “The Sixth Sense” by reuniting Bruce Willis with his “Pulp Fiction” and “Die Hard With a Vengeance” co-star Samuel L. Jackson for this moody action drama. Its superhero elements unravel gradually but thrillingly, culminating in a big revelation that is genuinely shocking. Willis is terrific, finding layers and textures within his hero’s unshakable melancholy, while Jackson deftly crafts a character who tells us everything while revealing nothing.

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Credit...Tri-Star Pictures

Tom Hanks won his first Academy Award — and kick-started a second career as a dramatic actor — with this “forceful, impassioned and moving” film from the acclaimed director Jonathan Demme. It was among the first major motion pictures to address the AIDS crisis, and it does so cautiously, wrapping its story in the familiar and comfortable conventions of a courtroom drama. Hanks is astonishing in the leading role, deploying warmth and good humor to humanize a struggle much of America had ignored, and Denzel Washington is brilliant as the bigoted peer whose journey to tolerance and understanding mirrored much of the audience’s. (For more Oscar-winning drama, check out “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”)

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Credit...Warner Brothers Entertainment and Paramount Pictures

Rather than produce yet another rumination on the mind of a killer, “Zodiac,” starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo, asks what it’s like to devote one’s life to acquiring knowledge that may, for all practical purposes, be unknowable. Set mostly in the ’60s and ’70s, it’s crafted in the style of movies from the era like “All the President’s Men” and “Klute” — dark and foreboding, muted yet explosive. Our critic Manohla Dargis raved, “Rarely has a film with so much blood on its hands seemed so insistently alive.” (Fans of the paranoid thrillers will also enjoy “The Parallax View”; mystery lovers should also check out “Knives Out.”)

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Credit...Universal Artists

In “The Black Stallion,” the producer Francis Ford Coppola and the director Carroll Ballard (“Fly Away Home”), expertly fuse the simplicity of Walter Farley’s 1941 children’s novel with the craftsmanship and sensitivity of its cinematic era. (Melissa Mathison, one of the film’s screenwriters, went on to write “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.”) Younger viewers will thrill to the story of a young, shipwrecked boy and the wild Arabian horse who becomes his best friend; older viewers will find themselves awe-struck by the gorgeous cinematography and the heart-tugging (and Oscar-nominated) supporting turn by Mickey Rooney.

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Credit...United Artists, via Everett Collection

The original 1956 “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (also on Prime), in which alien invaders implant themselves in humans and take their form, was widely seen as an allegory for the Red Scare. This “dazzling remake,” as our critic described it, found a home in health-obsessed San Francisco. The stakes are lower, but the remake has a self-aware sense of humor and a decent proportion of gross-outs and jump-scares, as well as an ending that’s just as creepy as it is in the original.

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Credit...Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive, via Getty Images

You can see the DNA of “Mad Men” — not to mention pretty much every other sophisticated romantic comedy of the modern era — in this uproariously funny and deeply melancholic movie from the director Billy Wilder. Jack Lemmon is pitch-perfect as an office drone whose bachelor apartment becomes the go-to hideaway for his corporate superiors, and Shirley MacLaine sparkles as the elevator operator who catches his fancy, and who has a secret or two of her own. Our critic called it “a gleeful, tender and even sentimental film.” (Lemmon also shines in “The Odd Couple” and Wilder’s “The Fortune Cookie.”)

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Credit...David James/20th Century Fox and Dreamworks

Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise joined forces for this gripping adaptation of the Philip K. Dick short story, envisioning a future in which police officers stop crimes before they happen. Then the chief of the unit (Cruise) is accused of a “pre-crime” himself. The premise is clever, mixing action-infused, post-“Matrix” sci-fi with a classic Hitchcockian “wrong man” conflict. The film also poses thoughtful questions about surveillance and profiling that have grown only more relevant since its release in 2002; our critic deemed it “magnificently creepy, a calculated bad dream that stays with you.” (If you like your sci-fi with a dose of action, try James Cameron’s “The Abyss.”)

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Credit...Columbia TriStar

This “breezy, busy” comedy-drama from the writer Nora Ephron is an adaptation of two books, one by Julie Powell, a blogger who attempted to work her way through all the recipes in Julia Child’s influential “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” and the other a memoir that Child wrote with Alex Prud’homme, which details the development of those recipes. The juxtaposition is ingenious, giving the viewer two funny — and mouthwatering — movies for the price of one, and the performances (particularly by Meryl Streep as Child, Amy Adams as Powell and Stanley Tucci as Child’s devoted husband, Paul) are first-rate.

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Credit...Paramount Pictures/Photofest

Years before Netflix’s series adaptation of “The Queen’s Gambit” prompted a nationwide chess craze, the writer and director Steven Zaillian proved that the game could indeed be a thrilling and emotional spectator sport. He also tells the “absorbing story” of a prodigy: Joshua Waitzkin, who moves with ease from matches in Washington Square Park to national tournaments as his parents (Joe Mantegna and Joan Allen) try to keep his little feet on the ground. Based on the memoir by Waitzkin’s father, this powerful drama provides the surprises of an underdog sports movie, but it also tackles universal questions about parenting a talented child. (Fans of underdog sports stories will enjoy “Rudy,” also on Prime.)

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Credit...Orion Pictures

This acclaimed romance from the director Stephen Frears (“Dangerous Liaisons,” “The Grifters”), with a screenplay by Hanif Kureishi, plays as both a tender relationship tale and a piercing commentary on Thatcher-era London. The tensions in that period between the city’s residents provide both the conflict and warmth that fuel this story of a young British Pakistani man (Gordon Warnecke) who takes over his uncle’s launderette with the help of his friend and eventual lover (a young Daniel Day-Lewis). There’s a wonderful offhandedness about the central relationship — these protagonists are drawn together not by labels, but by mutual attraction and affection — resulting in what our critic called “a fascinating, eccentric, very personal movie.” (For more indie drama, try “Inside Llewyn Davis” and “Hard Eight.”)

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Credit...United Artists, via Everett Collection

Nicolas Cage won — and earned — the Academy Award for best actor for his wrenching portrayal of a failed screenwriter who goes to Sin City to drink himself to death. Elisabeth Shue was nominated for an Oscar for her turn as a prostitute who falls into something like love with him, and it speaks to the richness of their performances and the texture of Mike Figgis’s direction that such a melodramatic narrative, populated by well-worn stock characters, has such emotional immediacy. Our critic called the movie “passionate and furiously alive.” (For more heart-wrenching drama, stream “Hotel Rwanda” and “The Wrestler” on Prime.)

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Credit...20th Century Fox, via Associated Press

The director Ridley Scott and the actress Sigourney Weaver made their mainstream breakthroughs with this hit, which ingeniously fused two of the most durable genre standbys: the lost-in-space sci-fi thriller, and the haunted house horror chiller. Weaver is among the crew members of the commercial spaceship “Nostromo,” headed back home when a creature starts killing her colleagues. Jolting scares and skin-crawling moments ensue, to great effect. Our critic called it “an old-fashioned scare movie” and praised Scott’s “very stylish” direction.

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Credit...Universal Studios Home Entertainment

James Stewart stars as an antsy magazine photographer, wheelchair-bound while recovering from an on-the-job injury, whose nosy but harmless observation of his apartment-complex neighbors turns deadly in this “tense and exciting” nail-biter from the director Alfred Hitchcock. Grace Kelly is his high-society girlfriend who joins him in his amateur investigation of a possible murder. It’s a deliciously good mystery, and more besides; as in his best films, Hitchcock uses the genre story as clever cover for his explorations of voyeurism, sexual frustration and guilty impulses. (Hitchcock and Stewart’s “Vertigo” is also streaming on Prime.)

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Credit...United Artists

Robert De Niro won his second Academy Award for his fiercely physical and psychologically punishing performance in this searing adaptation of the autobiography of the middleweight champion Jake LaMotta. It’s a relentlessly downbeat piece of work, but the force of De Niro’s performance and the energy of Martin Scorsese’s direction are hard to overstate, or to forget. Our critic called it Scorsese’s “most ambitious film as well as his finest.” (For more Oscar-winning acting, add “Scent of a Woman,” “Patton,” and “The Last King of Scotland” to your watchlist.)

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Credit...Columbia Pictures

The director Elia Kazan (“A Streetcar Named Desire” ) and the star Marlon Brando teamed up for this hard-hitting drama of corruption and betrayal among the longshoreman working the docks of Hoboken, N.J. Brando won his first Academy Award for his tortured and sensitive turn as Terry Malloy, a dockworker torn between doing the smart thing and doing the right thing; Eva Marie Saint also won an Oscar for her work as the woman who could love him. Our critic called it “moviemaking of a rare and high order.” (For more ’50s drama, add “The Man with the Golden Arm” to your watch list.)

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Credit...DreamWorks Pictures

Aardman Animations, the British stop-motion studio behind the Oscar-winning Wallace and Gromit shorts, made its feature debut with this delightful cross between barnyard farce and prison escape caper, in which a headstrong hen enlists a cocky circus rooster to help her and her friends flee their henhouse before an evil farmer turns them into pies. Parents will enjoy this one as much as their kids do, as the directors Nick Park and Peter Lord inject doses of droll British wit and winking nods to classic adventure movies. Our critic called it “immensely satisfying, a divinely relaxed and confident film.”

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Credit...Warner Bros. and Dreamworks

Before he died, the director Stanley Kubrick worked on an idea for a futuristic film about robot children. He shared some of his concepts with friend and fellow filmmaker Steven Spielberg, who ended up taking the reins. The result is an unlikely combination that somehow works; Spielberg takes the Kubrick origin as permission to work in a darker key than usual, while his own gift for powerful emotional payoffs give the film a warmth it might have otherwise lacked. Our critic called it “the most disturbing, complex and intellectually challenging boy’s adventure story” of Spielberg’s career. (For more offbeat sci-fi, check out “High Life.”)

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This unapologetically dark comedy changed the high-school movie forever, from the heartfelt and ultimately sunny chronicles of John Hughes to something with a bit more bite. Winona Ryder is tart and charming as Veronica, a popular teen who has come to hate the clique she runs with. Then she meets J.D. (Christian Slater), a Jack Nicholson clone who suggests bumping off their less tolerable classmates. Nearly 30 years on, the sheer riskiness and take-no-prisoners attitude of this delightfully demented picture still shocks; our critic called it “as snappy and assured as it is mean-spirited.”

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Credit...Sony Pictures Classics

This unsettling thriller from the writer and director Jeff Nichols (“Midnight Special,” “Loving”) harnesses its dread and tension not from the impending apocalypse, but from the reliability of its harbinger; we’re never quite certain about the visions of the protagonist (Michael Shannon). He plays the role with grounded authority and wild-eyed abandon as he is consumed with the fear that something bad may happen to his wife (Jessica Chastain) and daughter (Tova Stewart). Chastain conveys the frustrations and fears of a woman who wants to follow her husband, but perhaps not this far. In The Times, A.O. Scott called it “a perfect allegory for a panicky time.” (David Fincher’s “Fight Club” offers another jittery interpretation of modern madness.)

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Credit...Film Rise

The filmmaker Desiree Akhavan co-wrote and directed this delicate, funny adaptation of Emily Danforth’s young adult novel, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Chloë Grace Moretz does some of her best work to date as Cameron, a gay teenager whose conservative guardians send her to an isolated “conversion therapy” center — where, instead of a “cure,” she finds the support and validation of like-minded peers. A.O. Scott wrote that it navigates “troubled culture-war waters with grace, humor and compassion.”

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Credit...Associated Press

This classic Western from the director Fred Zinnemann is best remembered for its innovative construction, in which a small-town marshal’s looming standoff with a revenge-seeking outlaw is dramatized in real time. The film was widely read as an allegory for the film industry blacklists of the era — the screenwriter Carl Foreman was deemed an “uncooperative witness” by the House Un-American Activities Committee. But “High Noon” also cleared an important path for the future of the Western, replacing the usual genre high jinks with thoughtful explorations of masculinity and violence; our critic called it “a Western of rare achievement.” (Classic Western fans will also enjoy “Shane and “Red River.”)

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Credit...Paramount Pictures

Winner of three Academy Awards — for best actress (Patricia Neal), best supporting actor (Melvyn Douglas) and for its black-and-white cinematography (by James Wong Howe) — this wide-screen tale of the contemporary West seems, in its opening scenes, like yet another story of a wild cowboy who cannot be tamed. But as played by Paul Newman (himself an Oscar nominee), Hud Bannon isn’t a hero; he’s a brutish, irresponsible lout, and “Hud” refuses to romanticize him. Instead, the director, Martin Ritt, sees Hud for what he is: a dinosaur who is just beginning to realize he’s on his way to extinction. (Newman is also excellent in Sydney Pollack’s “Absence of Malice.”)

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Credit...Roadside Attractions

The actor-turned-director Sarah Polley makes her documentary debut with this intensely personal story unraveling the truths and white lies of her family’s past. A former child actor, Polley documents a yearslong investigation, weaving together family photos, interviews with family and friends, narrated extracts from her father’s memoir and eerily convincing home movie recreations. It’s not a conventional documentary, and that’s a case of form following function: Her film is about the blurry lines between perception and reality, and this “affecting documentary tale” walks that line with intrigue and grace.

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Credit...Bob Marshak/Artisan Entertainment

Steven Soderbergh followed up the career revival of “Out of Sight” with another fusion of art-house experimentation and genre storytelling. He combines fractured timelines, stream-of-consciousness editing and even clips from an earlier, unrelated film to tell the tale of a revenge-seeking ex-con (Terence Stamp, in a career-best performance). In doing so, Soderbergh turns what could’ve been a “Death Wish” remake into a thoughtful, mournful, elegiac meditation — on family, on forgiveness, on the past in general and the ’60s in particular. (For more thoughtful action, try the 1972 cop drama “Across 110th Street.”)

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Credit...Paramount Pictures

The director Billy Wilder followed up the triumph of “Sunset Boulevard” with this similarly “sordid and cynical drama,” starring Kirk Douglas as a ruthless and amoral newspaper man who turns a minor story of a man trapped in a collapse into a nationwide media circus, all to bolster his own profile. “Ace in the Hole” was a critical and commercial failure at the time of its release, a reception that now seems an indication that Wilder was ahead of his time; the picture’s unflinching portrait of mass media (and of humanity in general) seems much more in tune with our contemporary mood.

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Credit...Patti Perret/Amazon Studios

The “one night” of the title of Regina King’s feature directorial debut is Feb. 25, 1964 — the night Muhammad Ali (then known as Cassius Clay) took down Sonny Liston for the world heavyweight championship. But the fight footage is brief, because King isn’t making a boxing movie; she’s making a film about Black identity, filled with conversations that are still being had, and questions that are still being asked. The four participants — Ali (Eli Goree), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) — are giants in their fields and are friends celebrating a victory. It’s a moving, powerful film, confrontational and thought-provoking. A.O. Scott called it “one of the most exciting movies I’ve seen in quite some time.” (Michael Mann’s “Ali” also examines several of these complicated relationships.)

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Credit...Amazon Studios

Riz Ahmed is devastatingly good as Ruben, a hard rock drummer whose entire life — his music, his relationship, his self-image — is upended by a sudden case of extreme hearing loss, in this wrenching drama from the writer and director Darius Marder. A former addict in danger of relapse, Ruben enters a school for the deaf, where he must confront not only his new condition, but the jitteriness that predates it. His sense of solitude, even with others, quickly transforms to self-consciousness, then self-doubt, then self-destruction, and “Sound of Metal” is ultimately less about finding a silver bullet cure than finding the stillness within oneself. Marder works in a quiet, observational style, skillfully avoiding every cliché he approaches, taking turns both satisfying and moving. Our critic praised the film’s “distinctive style.” (Martin Scorsese’s “Bringing Out the Dead,” also on Prime, is a similarly visceral experience.)

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Three years after reinventing the crime movie with “Bonnie and Clyde,” the director Arthur Penn worked similar magic on the Western, adapting Thomas Berger’s novel about a very old man (Dustin Hoffman) who tells the tale of his exploits in the Old West, where he was raised by Native Americans. The film’s attitudes toward Indigenous people were boldly progressive at the time of its release, in 1970, coming as it did during a period when most westerns still teemed with racist images of “merciless Indian savages,” in the words of the Declaration of Independence. Our critic called it a “tough testament to the contrariness of the American experience.”

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Credit...Columbia Pictures

Orson Welles attempted to repair his flailing film career (and his marriage to Rita Hayworth, whom he cast as a femme fatale) in this moody and visually striking film noir. Welles portrays a crewman hired to sail Hayworth and her husband’s yacht, and finds himself drawn into a wicked web of deception, sex and murder. As was often the case with his later works, “Shanghai” suffered from extensive studio interference and reshoots. But even in its expurgated form, this is an expert potboiler, and its oft-imitated house-of-mirrors climax is as gripping as ever. Our critic called it “at once fluid and discordant,” and “filled with virtuoso set pieces.” (For more classic noir, stream “The Killing” and “The Naked Kiss.”)

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Credit...Hugh Brown/Cinecom International Films

When Jonathan Demme’s performance film of the Talking Heads opened in 1984, our critic wrote, “’Stop Making Sense’ owes very little to the rock filmmaking formulas of the past. It may well help inspire those of the future.” She couldn’t have been more right. Demme was rewriting the rules with this innovative hybrid of documentary and concert movie, taking his cues from the group’s kinetic energy and cross-pollination of styles. The filmmaker creates an immersive experience that captures both the thrill of being in that crowd, and the high of playing for them.

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Credit...Parrish Lewis/Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions

Spike Lee adapts and updates Aristophanes’ “Lysistrata” to the streets of contemporary Chicago in this wildly funny, vividly theatrical mash-up of gangland drama, musical comedy and surrealist fantasy. Teyonah Parris shines as the determined young woman who leads a sex strike to stop the city’s violence, while Samuel L. Jackson struts and rhymes as “Dolmedes,” the picture’s one-man Greek chorus. His Dolemite-style interludes push the premise to its bawdy extremes, but Lee isn’t just playing for laughs. He’s swinging for the fences, and the result, according to Manohla Dargis, “entertains, engages and, at times, enrages.” (Lee’s earlier “School Daze” and “The Original Kings of Comedy” are also on Prime.)

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Credit...Photofest

The ’50s gangster movie gets a snazzy musical makeover in this 1955 film adaptation of the Broadway hit, itself based on the colorful New York characters of Damon Runyon’s fiction. Joseph L. Mankiewicz (“All About Eve”) directs with energy and pizazz, coaxing cheerful, engaged performances out of Frank Sinatra, Jean Simmons, Vivian Blaine and that most unlikely of crooners, Marlon Brando. Our critic called it “as tinny and tawny and terrific as any hot-cha musical film you’ll ever see.”
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Credit...Paramount Pictures

Reese Witherspoon is a marvel as Tracey Flick, the high-school overachiever who gets under the skin of her teacher (Matthew Broderick), with disastrous results, in this “deft dark comedy” from the director Alexander Payne (“Sideways”). Payne slyly uses a high school election as a stand-in for larger political concerns, without letting the analogy overwhelm the narrative; at heart, it’s the story of a deeply unsatisfied Good Guy who finds out exactly how bad he is. Broderick cleverly subverts his Ferris Bueller persona, and Chris Klein is uproariously funny as the cheerfully clueless popular jock, but this is Witherspoon’s show: Her Tracey is a dizzyingly complicated creation, both mildly insufferable and deeply sympathetic. (Fans of this whip-smart comedy may also enjoy Noah Baumbach’s “Kicking and Screaming.”)

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Credit...Film Arcade

This “meticulously acted” serio-comic drama was the feature filmmaking debut of Joey Soloway (credited as Jill Soloway), the creator of “Transparent” and “I Love Dick.” Kathryn Hahn is astonishing in the leading role, clearly conveying her dissatisfied housewife’s longings and nerves but keeping her intentions enigmatic, and Juno Temple is electrifying as a young woman who’s learned how to use her sexuality as a weapon without fully considering the carnage left in its wake. Their byplay is vibrant, and it gets messy in fascinating ways; this is a sly, smart sex comedy that plumbs unexpected depths of sadness and despair.

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The great British writer/director Joanna Hogg tells a story of youthful exuberance, romantic recklessness, and unchecked addiction in early ’80s London. Her heroine is Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne, flawless), an idealistic film student who finds herself pulled, time and again, into the orbit of Anthony (Tom Burke), whose roguish charm covers a considerable number of concerning flaws. Tilda Swinton (Byrne’s real-life mother) co-stars as Julie’s concerned mum. Hogg’s film is quiet yet revelatory, trusting its audience with these characters’ secrets — and trusting us enough to fill in their blanks. A.O. Scott raves, “This is one of the saddest movies you can imagine, and it’s an absolute joy to watch.” (Swinton is also first-rate in the oddball vampire hangout movie “Only Lovers Left Alive.”)

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Credit...RKO Radio Pictures

The director Frank Capra and the actor Jimmy Stewart took a marvelously simple premise — a suicidal man is given the opportunity to see what his world would have been like without him — and turned it into a holiday perennial. But “It’s a Wonderful Life” is too rich and complex to brand with a label as simple as “Christmas movie”; it is ultimately a story about overcoming darkness and finding light around you, a tricky transition achieved primarily through the peerless work of Stewart as a good man with big dreams who can’t walk away from the place where he’s needed most. Our critic said it was a “quaint and engaging modern parable.” (Classic movie lovers can also stream “A Place in the Sun” on Prime.)

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Credit...Amazon Studios

Early in Garrett Bradley’s extraordinary documentary (a coproduction of The New York Times), someone asks Fox Rich about her husband, and she replies, “He’s, uh, out of town now.” Technically, it’s true; he’s in Angola prison, for a 1997 bank robbery, serving a 60-year sentence without the possibility of parole, probation or suspension of sentence. Fox Rich has spent years fighting for her husband’s release — and against mass incarceration — and Bradley interweaves her crusade with years of grainy home video footage, moving back and forth from past to present, contrasting the possibilities of those early videos and the acceptance, even resignation, of today. But Fox Rich never gives up hope, and this “substantive and stunning” film suggests that even in the grimmest of circumstances, that never-say-die spirit can pay dividends.

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Billi (Awkwafina), a Chinese immigrant who grew up to be a starving artist in New York City, returns to her homeland to help perpetrate a family hoax in this charming and beguiling comedy/drama from the writer-director Lulu Wang. The reason for the homecoming is her grandmother, known as Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen), who has only months to live, but doesn’t know it. The family hastily arranges a premature wedding as a chance to say goodbye, resulting in misunderstandings, realizations and reconciliations. A.O. Scott praised the film’s “loose, anecdotal structure” and “tone that balances candor and tact.”(Fans of character-driven indie fare should also check out “Raising Victor Vargas” and “Leave No Trace.”)


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Credit...Amazon Studios — Magnolia Pictures

The South Korean master Park Chan-wook (“Oldboy”) takes the stylistic trappings of a period romance and gooses them with scorching eroticism and one of the most ingenious con-artist plots this side of “The Sting.” Working from the Sarah Waters novel “Fingersmith,” Park begins with the story of a young woman who, as part of a seemingly straightforward swindle, goes to work as a Japanese heiress’s handmaiden, occasionally pausing the plot to slyly reveal new information, reframing what we’ve seen and where we think he might go next. Manohla Dargis saw it as an “amusingly slippery entertainment.” (If you like your period movies with a light touch, you may also enjoy “Marie Antoinette.”)


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Asghar Farhadi writes and directs this lucid and contemplative morality play, in which a married couple must grapple with the fallout of an assault on the wife in their home, particularly when the husband’s desire for vengeance surpasses her own. Farhadi’s brilliance at capturing the complexities of his native Iran’s culture is as astonishing as ever — particularly when coupled with insights into victimhood, justice, poverty and intimacy that know no borders. A.O. Scott praised the picture’s “rich and resonant ideas.” (Cinephiles may also enjoy “Cold War and “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.”)

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Credit...Paramount Pictures

Humphrey Bogart won his first and only Oscar for his role as the gin-soaked roughneck at the helm of the titular vessel; this was also his only on-screen pairing with his fellow icon Katharine Hepburn. Most of what happens is predictable, from the outcome of the dangerous mission to the eventual attraction of the opposites at the story’s center, but the actors and John Huston’s direction keep the viewer engaged and entertained. Our critic praised the picture’s “rollicking fun and gentle humor.” (Huston’s gut-wrenching “Fat City” is also streaming on Prime, as is Bogart’s “In a Lonely Place.”)

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Credit...Alison Cohen Rosa/Amazon Studios

The broad plot outlines — a traumatized vet, working as a killer-for-hire, gets in over his head in the criminal underworld — make this adaptation of Jonathan Ames’s novella sound like a million throwaway B-movies. But the director and screenwriter is Lynne Ramsay, and she’s not interested in making a conventional thriller; hers is more like a commentary on them, less interested in visceral action beats than their preparation and aftermath. She abstracts the violence, skipping the visual clichés and focusing on the details another filmmaker wouldn’t even see. Joaquin Phoenix is mesmerizing in the leading role (“there is something powerful in his agony,” A.O. Scott noted), internalizing his rage and pain until control is no longer an option. (For more mind-bending drama, queue up “Midsommar” or “The Man Who Fell to Earth.”)

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Credit...Sarah Shatz/Amazon Studios — Lionsgate

Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani based their first screenplay on their own, unconventional love story — a courtship that was paused, then oddly amplified by an unexpected illness and a medically induced coma. This isn’t typical rom-com fodder, but it’s written and played with such honesty and heart that it somehow lands. Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan (standing in for Gordon) generate easy, lived-in chemistry and a rooting interest in the relationship, while a second-act appearance by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano as her parents creates a prickly tension that gives way to hard-won affection. Our critic deemed it “a joyous, generous-hearted romantic comedy.” (If you like your comedies with a dash of heartfelt drama, we also recommend “The Fisher King” and “Harold and Maude.”)

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Credit...Paramount Pictures

This sun-drenched romp reunited the director Alfred Hitchcock with one of his favorite leading men, Cary Grant, and with Grace Kelly, the ultimate “Hitchcock Blonde.” The sparks are nuclear-grade as the two fall in love, and they trade witticisms, jabs and flirtations with aplomb against the beautiful backdrop of the South of France. Our critic wrote, “the script and the actors keep things popping, in a fast, slick, sophisticated vein.”(Grant also sparkles in “The Bishop’s Wife” and “Charade.”)


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Credit...Columbia Pictures

Directed by Howard Hawks, this 1940 film wasn’t the first cinematic adaptation of the popular play “The Front Page,” but it cooked up a twist the 1931 version hadn’t: What if Hildy Johnson, the superstar reporter whom the ruthless editor Walter Burns will keep on his staff at any cost, wasn’t his drinking buddy but his ex-wife? It’s a movie that talks fast and moves faster, and the passage of nearly 80 years hasn’t slowed it down a bit. Our critic called it “a bold-faced reprint of what was once — and still remains — the maddest newspaper comedy of our times.” (Classic movie lovers won’t want to miss “Roman Holiday” and “The Quiet Man,” also streaming on Prime.)

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Credit...Paramount Pictures

Billy Wilder’s poison-penned love letter to Hollywood is often remembered more as a series of moments (particularly its closing line) than for its overwhelming whole: a sometimes tragic, sometimes comic, always riveting story about a faded silent movie queen (an unforgettable Gloria Swanson) and the opportunistic young man who tries to take advantage of her (a prickly William Holden). Our critic wrote that it “quickly casts a spell over an audience and holds it enthralled to a shattering climax.” (If you love classics, add “Funny Girl” to your watch list.)

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