If there’s anything that Netflix has taught me, it’s that not all movies are created equal. In fact, most titles in the streaming realm are embarrassingly bad. Between low–budget horror flicks, weirdly offensive 2000s comedies and those 50 movies that everyone’s seen ten times, Netflix seems to believe that quantity can rectify quality. And with their monthly alternations, it feels like the site’s already–too–large supply of bad content is on the rise. There’s only so many things that The Unbreakable Schmidt and Narcos can save, ya know?
Which is why Amazon Prime Video, while not perfect, is a kind of saving grace for all your streaming needs. As a much smaller and more concise library, Prime feels like a well–deserved break from the cinematic dreck found in the pits of the Netflix library. And while Amazon may not have as many big titles, it doesn’t have as many small ones either—and that in itself is worth it. Prime has better (and newer) releases too, making it all–around better experience for casual viewing.
So for anyone who’s been around the Netflix ring a couple times, take five and check out a couple of these Amazon titles instead. And at a cost of $49, Amazon Prime is not only cheaper than a year of streaming Netflix ($95.88 a year for the cheapest plan), but offers you more quality movies and TV shows (Ed. note: Sex and the City AND The Sopranos.) and that crucial free two–day shipping.
The Truman Show
Truman Burbank lives in a literal bubble. From his bubble, he plays the unknowing star on America’s favorite 24–hour broadcast: his life. A sunnier and slightly less unsettling version of Black Mirror, The Truman Show is weirdly prescient for something released before reality TV and social media even existed. The comedy of the script offsets the drama in a way that makes this film accessible at every level and a good watch for basically anyone.
Okay, so Netflix has Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood, but Amazon has him as the far–less sociopathic Lester Burnham, who might be even better. As 42–year old ad exec amidst a mid–life crisis, Lester isn’t exactly the political dynamo that Frank Underwood is. Even still, American Beauty holds its own, using the outwardly–average lives of the Burnham family to take a satiric look at the American middle class. And hey, even if “subversive cultural criticism” isn’t your thing, the unrealistic–yet–relatable characters make it worth the watch anyway.
Love and Mercy
Love and Mercy, a musical biopic about Brian Wilson—the musical genius behind the Beach Boys—is good. So good, in fact, that I’m a little mad I didn’t know about it sooner. The film, which depicts Wilson’s career amidst the devolution of his mental health, feels like an intimate sort of psychological thriller. And yes, while the film may technically be about the Beach Boys, it delves so much deeper that it is even accessible to viewers like me, who didn’t know idea who Brian Wilson was and almost didn’t even realize that this incredibly engaging story was all true.
She’s All That
She’s All That may be the most quintessential 90s teen–movie of all time. Starring Freddie Prinze Jr. (as any worthy rom–com of the era should) and Rachel Leigh Cook, this modern adaptation of Pygmalion gets pretty much everything right. Though critics gripe over the film’s predictable plot line and corny one–liners, even the bad parts of this movie aren’t really that bad. The film itself is so classically feel–good, and the characters are so charming, that all of the scripts missteps just endear the viewer even more. Besides, if you’re criticizing a 90s teen rom–com that ends with a prom scene for its predictability, you’re missing the point.
If you’ve ever seen Jenny Slate as Mona Lisa on Parks and Rec, you already know how funny she is. If not, just know that Slate was only in ten of the show's 125 episodes and despite this, her character still stands out. The same can be said of her in Obvious Child, an unconventional romantic comedy about a woman’s one–night stand and her subsequent decision to get an abortion. It’s kind of like an older version of Juno (well, if that girl outside the clinic hadn’t told Juno about the fingernails). Softer and subtler than most comedies, it’s rare that a movie like this succeeds, so you should watch the few that do.
Based on the best–selling book of the same name, Room tells the story of an abducted woman and her son she had in captivity, Jack. At the age of five, Jack’s entire world exists within the confine of the one room in which he and his mother are trapped. But when the two finally manage to escape, Jack struggles to comprehend life on the outside room’s four walls. One thing should be made clear: while Room may be about an abduction, it’s neither a horror film nor a thriller (or anything like Law and Order: SVU). But even without the star power of Mariska Hargitay to move it along, Room is both captivating and worthwhile.
Dear White People
As polarizing as the title may seem, Dear White People and its politics actually holds a rare universality. The film’s characters and comedy are mostly positioned like allegories and “teaching moments” for white millennials, which actually serves its mainstream reception really well. Despite this, Dear White People doesn’t dilute its content at all, which allow its humor to maintain authenticity for people of color. Using “Winchester University,” a made–up Ivy League, the movie pointedly conveys all degrees of racism and several different facets of identity that come into play. Ultimately, what makes Dear White People a good watch is that it’s unapologetically honest; its universal wit and charm are merely a byproduct.
Good Will Hunting
Good Will Hunting is the story of a ground–up success story. The film itself is about Will Hunting (Matt Damon), a closet–genius who works as a janitor at MIT. When a Professor sees Will solving equations on a blackboard, he takes it upon himself to make something “good” of Will Hunting. Though redemption is a major theme in the film, the real success story is that of the screenwriters: Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. Written by Damon during his brief time as a student at Harvard, the script is most surprising in how much of it is the writer’s lived experience, second only to the fact that Matt Damon went to Harvard (and then dropped out junior year to be Matt Damon). Heart–warming and funny, the movie is just plainly good on all accounts.
Midnight in Paris
When Gil goes to Paris with his fiancée’s family, he falls in love with the nostalgia of the city. Fixating on the lives of all the great artists who had lived in Paris—which is basically every artist ever, by the way—he soon resolves that he should write a novel and move to the City of Lights full–time. Feeling wayward wandering around Paris, he suddenly finds himself in the middle of the Jazz Age. Midnight in Paris is wistful but clever, and self–aware in such a way that it feels reminiscent of many of the artists it plays tribute to.
Ex Machina infuses the typical sci–fi dose of eerie music and special effects with a far more human narrative. The AI in question, who goes by “Ava," is like a femme–fatal for the digital age. And while she is visibly a robot, her synthetic facial features are deliberately human: wide–eyed, innocent—she feels all too real. But she’s not, probably. Blurring the line between artificial and actual intelligence, the complexity of Ava makes this sci–fi compelling. And ultimately, it becomes clear that this robot movie is a little bit more about man than machine.
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