Hidden Gems: The best films you (probably) haven’t seen on Amazon Prime Video UK
Matthew Turner | On 24, Dec 2022
What should I watch next on Amazon Prime Video? With the streaming service adding new titles all the time – keep up-to-date with latest releases here – it’s increasingly difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff. Fortunately, help is at hand, as there’s nothing we love more at VODzilla.co than throwing some great film recommendations your way. Here then, are the best hidden gems included with Amazon Prime – and, at the bottom, some hidden gems available on Amazon Freevee, Amazon’s free streaming catalogue that includes ads. (For more on Freevee and how it works, click here.)
Princess Cyd (2017)
Not released in UK cinemas, this gorgeous female coming-of-age drama is an utter joy from beginning to end. Written and directed by Stephen Cone, it centres on 16 year old Cyd (Jessie Pinnick), who comes to live with her aunt, Miranda (Rebecca Spence) in suburban Chicago for the summer, following an unspecified falling out with her widowed father. The details of their slowly forged relationship are exquisitely observed, with both women delivering performances that are complex, charming and consistently surprising. If you liked Lady Bird, you’ll fall madly in love with Princess Cyd. Seriously, don’t miss it – it’s quite possibly the best film you’ll see all year.
Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It (2020)
Picture The Hangover meets Deliverance with a lot more of the red stuff thrown in and that’s the basic starting point for this very funny Kazakhstan horror comedy. Fed up of being nagged by his highly pregnant wife (Asel Kaliyeva), Dastan (Daniar Alshinov) heads out on a fishing trip with his idiot mates, only for things to spiral rapidly out of control after encounters with a group of equally idiotic criminals and some crazy locals. Combining great characters and terrific comic timing, this gets the tricky horror/comedy balance exactly right, delivering both big laughs and perfectly pitched gore.
The Aeronauts (2019)
Inspired by true events and set in 1862, Tom Harper’s balloon-based period drama reunites The Theory of Everything stars Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. He plays real-life pioneering meteorologist James Glaisher, who’s aiming to advance human knowledge of the weather by flying as high as possible, while she plays fictional daredevil aeronaut Amelia Wren, who agrees to pilot the balloon for his experiment. However, their trip soon turns into a deadly fight for survival. With a gripping script, impressive special effects and a pair of terrific performances, this is charming and gripping in equal measure. Oh, and if you’re already afraid of heights, then approach with caution.
“Jesus freaks and candy asses, that’s what I’ve got for children!” So says James Coburn, in a truly terrifying performance that won him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar as abusive, alcoholic patriarch Glen Whitehouse. Nick Nolte plays Glen’s son, Wade, a small-town Sheriff who starts to unravel while investigating a suspicious hunting death. Directed by Paul Schrader, this is a gripping and extremely dark neo noir, enhanced by snowy exteriors as cold as its characters, with Nolte on career-best form – and yes, it still hurts that he lost Best Actor to Roberto Benigni that year.
Language Lessons (2021)
Co-written and directed by Natalie Morales (Dead to Me), Language Lessons explores the unexpected friendship that develops between Spanish teacher Cariño (Morales) and wealthy-by-marriage layabout Adam (co-writer Mark Duplass), after his husband signs him up for online classes without telling him. Brought closer together after a sudden tragedy, Adam and Cariño gradually learn more about each other as a series of revelations unfold. Criminally denied a theatrical release, this is a sensitively written and beautifully acted drama that’s surprising, charming and deeply moving in equal measure.
“Sometimes it’s OK to destroy things for fun.” Into the Badlands’ Sarah Bolger delivers a supremely creepy performance as the babysitter-from-hell in this unbearably suspenseful and properly chilling horror from music video director Michael Thelin. The script is perfectly paced, with Thelin slowly ratcheting up the tension as Bolger’s behaviour with her young charges (a trio of impressively naturalistic performances from Joshua Rush, Carly Adams and Thomas Bair) gets more and more unsettling. A word of advice: don’t get too attached to scene-stealing hamster Admiral Wobbles.
The Man From UNCLE (2015)
Guy Ritchie’s super-fun take on the 1960s spy series stars Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer as Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin, two super-suave secret agents from opposite sides of the Iron Curtain who are forced to work together to foil a Nazi plot, aided by Alicia Vikander’s German mechanic. The performances are delightful and Ritchie’s stylish direction is consistently inventive, resulting in some highly entertaining set-pieces. Heightened by a witty script, some superlative production design work and one of the decade’s best soundtracks, this is a pleasingly old-fashioned spy movie pastiche that’s better than any number of recent Bonds.
Warm Bodies (2013)
Based on the novel by Isaac Marion, this zombie romantic comedy (or rom-zom-com) stars Nicholas Hoult as R, a sentient zombie with feelings and an interior monologue who falls in love with human Julie (Teresa Palmer, looking more than ever like a blonde Kristen Stewart) after he saves her from a zombie attack. However, there are a couple of problems: first, he’s just eaten her boyfriend (Dave Franco), and second, her militaristic father (John Malkovich) is intent on wiping out the remaining zombie population. Hoult and Palmer have great chemistry, (especially considering he’s a zombie) and writer-director Jonathan Levine’s inventive and funny script has a lot of fun putting a zombie-themed spin on the usual romcom staples.
Writer-director Jamie Patterson’s moving drama is one of the best British films of the last five years. Set in Brighton, it centres on the May-December friendship that blossoms between 80 year old drag queen Jackie (veteran British actor Derren Nesbitt) and new-to-the-scene 21 year-old Faith (Rizzle Kicks’ Jordan Stephens), a bond that intensifies when Jackie is diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Patterson’s warm and funny script continually finds new takes on otherwise familiar scenes and his sensitive direction gets the tone exactly right, nimbly side-stepping mawkish sentimentality at every turn. Richly rewarding, full of heart, hope and humanity, and anchored by a pair of note-perfect performances.
Co-directed by Éric Summer and Éric Warin, this French-Canadian animation (known as Leap! on its US release) is surprisingly charming, despite its slightly rocky start. Set in the 1880s, it centres on Felicie (voiced by Elle Fanning), an orphan girl who flees rural Brittany for Paris, where she passes herself off as her bullying rival and gains a place as a student at the Paris Opera Ballet. The story hits all the expected notes, but it’s enhanced considerably by some gorgeously detailed production design (making strong visual use of an under-construction Paris), likeable characters and lively animation that pays close attention to authentic ballet moves.
Night of the Living Deb (2015)
Written and directed by Kyle Rankin, this light-hearted and fun zombie comedy stars Maria Thayer as Deb, a ditzy news camerawoman who does a Walk of Shame after a one-night hook-up, only to stumble into a full-on zombie apocalypse on the streets of Portland. The witty, zombie-aware script is packed with great lines and there are some brilliant sight gags, while Thayer is a revelation as Deb, delivering an utterly charming, warm-hearted performance with terrific comic timing. On top of that, Rankin strikes the perfect balance between gore and humour and there’s fun support from the likes of Ray Wise (sleazing it up once again) and Chris Marquette (as the gung ho brother of Deb’s initial hook-up). A welcome and worthy addition to the rom-zom-com genre.
Shattered Glass (2003)
Screenwriter Billy Ray’s directorial debut is this gripping psychological drama based on the true story of Steven Glass, a successful journalist who was discovered to have faked 27 stories for The New Republic magazine. Hayden Christensen reveals previously unsuspected talent as Glass, delivering an impressive physical performance (he does some excellent “eye acting”) and subtly shading his dialogue so that what initially looks like a cute quirk (his tendency to repeat certain phrases) begins to resemble borderline psychosis. In addition to a superb supporting cast that includes the likes of Peter Sarsgaard, Chloe Sevigny, Melanie Lynskey and Hank Azaria, this is cleverly structured, stylishly directed and nail-bitingly tense throughout. Bump it right to the top of your Amazon queue.
Writer-director Scott Graham adapted his short of the same name for this intense and powerfully emotional coming-of-age drama. Chloe Pirrie stars as Shell, a 17-year-old girl who runs a remote petrol station in the Scottish highlands with her father, Pete (Joseph Mawle). Aside from a few regular customers (including a brilliantly cast Michael Smiley), Shell has almost no contact with the outside world, and her close-knit, mutually dependent relationship with Pete becomes increasingly disturbing as the film goes on. Graham directs with commendable restraint, allowing the audience to fill in certain gaps for themselves, and he coaxes terrific performances from both Mawle (in a strikingly physical turn) and then-newcomer Pirrie. The icing on the cake is Yoliswa Gärtig’s striking cinematography, which makes strong use of the remote locations – although the garage doesn’t actually exist, so don’t go looking for it.
While You Were Sleeping
Sandra Bullock graduated to leading roles with this utterly charming romcom, having previously attracted attention with her supporting turn in Speed. She plays Lucy, a hopelessly romantic Chicago transit worker who’s mistaken for the fiancée of handsome coma victim Peter (Peter Gallagher) after saving his life. Embraced by Peter’s quirky family, Lucy maintains the deception, only to find herself falling for his suspicious older brother (Bill Pullman). A plot that contrived really shouldn’t work, but it absolutely does, thanks to a witty script, Jon Turtletaub’s assured direction and sensational chemistry between Bullock and Pullman.
This thoroughly enjoyable comedy stars Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt as a mother-daughter team of con artists, dedicated to fleecing rich suitors out of millions of dollars in divorce settlements. Their latest prospect is Gene Hackman’s emphysemic tobacco baron, but their plan is complicated by the arrival of a former victim (Ray Liotta). Director David Mirkin maintains a constant stream of very funny gags and gets terrific comic performances from his entire cast. Weaver and Hewitt make a winning comedy duo, while Ray Liotta is genuinely hilarious and has a number of bizarre, off-the-wall scenes – the bit where he shoots his gun into the water in excitement over seeing some fish is both laugh-out-loud funny and oddly touching. Also fabulous: Weaver belting out a show-stopping, Russian-accented version of Back in the USSR.
A Good Woman Is Hard To Find (2019)
Directed by Abner Pastoll (Road Games), this cracking little thriller stars Sarah Bolger (Emelie) as a recently widowed mother of two who’s forced to hide some drugs that have been stolen from a sinister local gangster (Edward Hogg). Bolger delivers a stunning performance that’s utterly compelling to watch, ranging from heart-in-mouth vulnerability to steely determination, while Ronan Blaney’s well rounded script does a terrific job of fusing kitchen sink drama and crime story. Similarly, Pastoll’s control of the tone is impressive throughout, balancing suspense and horror with jet-black humour and orchestrating an atmosphere of mounting dread.
Black Rock (2013)
This terrific survival thriller stars Kate Bosworth, Lake Bell and Katie Aselton (who also directs) as three childhood friends whose planned reunion weekend on a deserted island takes a horrific turn after they encounter three ex-soldiers and things get out of hand. Tightly scripted by Mark Duplass (Aselton’s husband – she gets a story credit) and superbly acted, the film delivers exciting action sequences and nail-biting tension, while cleverly upending audience expectations. In addition, Aselton keeps things moving at a cracking pace and has a great eye for a striking image – the final shot is particularly memorable.
Documentarian Babara Kopple makes a foray into fiction with this engaging and frequently tense teen drama that plays like Catherine Hardwicke’s Thirteen, only with money. Anne Hathaway plays Allison, an LA rich girl from the wealthy Pacific Palisades suburb who gets into trouble when she attempts to befriend an East LA gang leader (Freddy Rodriguez). The film is worth seeing for Hathaway’s full-on performance alone – it feels like she took the role purely to torpedo her squeaky clean image after the Princess Diaries movies and she does that brilliantly within the first five minutes alone. Also, kudos to whoever cast Laura San Giacomo in a cameo as Hathaway’s mother, because the resemblance is nothing short of uncanny.
Open Range (2003)
Largely overlooked on its UK theatrical release, this straight-shooting, traditional western is arguably one of Kevin Costner’s best films, both as director and actor. He plays Charley Waite, a guilt-ridden former Civil War soldier who’s forced to take up arms again when his friend and cattle crew boss (Robert Duvall) is threatened by a corrupt land baron (Michael Gambon). Beautifully shot and rich in both character and thematic detail, this is a thoroughly enjoyable horse opera that builds to a terrific final shoot-out.
The Daughter (2015)
Acclaimed theatre director Simon Stone transposes Ibsen’s play The Wild Duck to modern-day Australia in this powerfully emotional drama that will leave you gasping for breath. When U.S.-based Christian (Paul Schneider) returns to his home town for the wedding of his estranged father (Geoffrey Rush), he uncovers a devastating secret that leads to a chain of horrific consequences for the family of his former best friend (Ewen Leslie). The performances are uniformly terrific (particularly newcomer Odessa Young as the daughter of the title) and Stone’s control of the material is masterful throughout, cranking up the tension to near-unbearable levels before unleashing a devastating emotional onslaught.
The Innkeepers (2012)
Written and directed by Ti West (House of the Devil), this hugely entertaining “ghost story for the minimum wage” (as an early tag-line described it) stars Sara Paxton and Pat Healy as a pair of 20-something slackers on a late-shift at a closing-down hotel that may or may not be haunted. Rather than opt for cheap shocks and jump scares, West’s expertly paced script delivers something genuinely moving that really gets under your skin. It also benefits from a strong sense of location, witty dialogue, great characters and a terrific central performance from Sara Paxton. (Read our full review)
High Life (2009)
Loosely based on a two-act play, this 80s-set crime comedy stars Timothy Olyphant as a hopeless ex-con junkie who recruits three other mostly ex-con junkies (Stephen Eric McIntyre, Joe Anderson and a scene-stealing Rossif Sutherland) for a heist. However, they’re all such screw-ups that nothing goes quite according to plan. Director Gary Yates serves up a high volume of laugh-out-loud gags, both visual and verbal, while the sharply written script takes the film in several delightfully unexpected directions. Criminally underseen, this deserves a place alongside blackly comic heist movies such as The Ladykillers (an acknowledged influence) and Palookaville.
Animal Factory (2000)
Steve Buscemi’s second film as director (following the excellent Trees Lounge) is this gritty and oddly moving prison drama, adapted from fellow Reservoir Dog Eddie Bunker’s semi-autobiographical novel about his time inside. Edward Furlong stars as a privileged 21 year old who receives a harsh prison sentence for minor drug trafficking and is taken under the wing of Willem Dafoe’s prison fixer. The script perfectly captures both the complex intricacies and the shocking brutality of prison society – you’ll never look at a toothbrush the same way again – and Buscemi draws terrific performances from his superb cast, with Dafoe, in particular, on career best form. Great score too.
What We Do In The Shadows (2014)
Co-directed by Flight of the Conchords collaborators Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, this hilarious mock-doc centres on a group of bickering vampires (primarily Clement, Waititi and Jonathon Brugh) sharing a flat in modern day New Zealand. Made with obvious affection for the vampire genre, this is packed with quotable lines and brilliant sight gags, ensuring big laughs in every scene. Wonderful. (Read our full review)
Blow The Man Down (2020)
Never released in UK cinemas, this nautical noir from writing-directing duo Danielle Krudy and Bridget Savage Cole stars Sophie Lowe and Morgan Saylor as a pair of sisters who return to their home town of Maine’s Easter Cove after the death of their mother. Before you can say “Fargo”, the siblings find themselves with a body to dispose of, which attracts the attention of fearsome brothel-running matriarch, Enid (character actress Margo Martindale). Sharply written and darkly funny, the film is full of great twists and turns, as well as a number of delightful touches, such as a sea shanty soundtrack and the local fishermen who act as a sort of Greek chorus.
Strongly reminiscent of Shane Carruth’s Primer, this smartly scripted indie mind-bender marks an impressive and promising debut for writer-director James Ward Byrkit. The plot involves a group of dinner-partying friends (including former Buffy star Nicholas Brendon) who experience strange goings-on after some comet activity, though to say any more would be to spoil the delightfully weird surprises of this thoroughly enjoyable slice of stripped-down sci-fi.
Black Panther’s Chadwick Boseman stars as NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall in this satisfyingly old-fashioned period courtroom drama that’s based on a true story but set 12 years before Marshall’s landmark victory in the Brown vs Board of Education case. When he takes on a client (Sterling K Brown) accused of rape and murder, the judge (James Cromwell) disallows Marshall from speaking in court, so he’s forced to rely on his Jewish co-counsel (Josh Gad) to argue on his behalf. Boseman’s off-the-scale charisma is palpable throughout and he has engaging chemistry with Gad, while the script (co-written by veteran civil rights lawyer Michael Koskoff) delivers all the traditional pleasures associated with the courtroom drama, alongside some resonant points about bigotry and female sexuality.
Taika Waititi’s second film as director is this charming coming-of-age comedy-drama about an 11 year-old New Zealand boy (James Rolleston, recently seen all grown up in The Breaker Upperers) who finds that his just-out-of-jail father (Waititi) doesn’t quite live up to the mythologised image he’d built up around him in his absence. This is a treat from start to finish with likeable characters and a script that’s both hilarious and genuinely moving. It’s also brilliantly directed and edited, and Waititi fills the film with lovely little details, such as the fact that Boy’s sisters are named Dallas and Dynasty or the running joke of 80s TV-obsessed Waititi entering a car Dukes of Hazzard-style.
Cheap Thrills (Freevee)
EL Katz’s deliciously twisted thriller-slash-horror stars Pat Healy and Ethan Embry as Craig and Vince, a pair of down-on-their-luck buddies who get caught up in an escalating spiral of dares for money when they meet mysterious couple Colin and Violet (David Koechner and Sara Paxton). All four leads are terrific and the gripping, provocative script strikes the perfect balance between jet-black humour and wince-inducing horror. Similarly, Katz’s direction is superb, ratcheting up the tension to unbearable levels and ensuring that the audience never knows just where the film will go next. An instant cult film.
The Devil and Daniel Johnston (Freevee)
Directed by Jeff Feuerzeig, this fascinating documentary explores the life of Daniel Johnston, a cult figure in the US thanks to his cartoonish artwork and his own unique brand of folk music. Mixing archive footage and to-camera interviews, Feuerzeig charts Johnston’s childhood obsessions, his rollercoaster career path and his difficult personal relationships with girlfriends, his best buddy and his manager. It’s especially candid about Johnston’s battles with mental illness, with powerfully emotional results. By turns riveting, inspirational, laugh-out-loud funny and utterly heart-breaking, this is an unmissable doc – although, be warned, you will also find yourself singing Casper the Friendly Ghost for the rest of the day.
The One I Love (Freevee)
Director Charlie McDowell’s impressive feature debut is a sharply observed, cleverly written relationship drama with a Twilight Zone twist. On the advice of their therapist (Ted Danson), troubled couple Ethan and Sophie (Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss) attend a secluded retreat and stay in separate guest houses in the hopes of saving their marriage, but events soon take a bizarre turn. Moss and Duplass have striking chemistry and deliver complex, multi-layered performances, while the thought-provoking script blends mystery and emotion to memorable effect.
Slow West (Freevee)
Set in 1880s Colorado, this stylish western stars Kodi Smit-McPhee as a naïve Scottish teenager who receives protection from a skilled frontiersman (Michael Fassbender) as he searches for the woman he loves (Caren Pistorius), unaware that there’s a price on her head that his companion intends to collect. Scottish musician John Maclean directs with an obvious love of the genre and the film is packed with memorable scenes, culminating in one of the best climactic shoot-outs in recent memory. All that, plus Michael Fassbender wearing the hell out of a cowboy hat.
Former Home and Away star Melissa George delivers a career-best performance in this delightfully twisty horror from British writer-director Christopher Smith (Severance). She stars as Jess, a single mother who becomes trapped in a cycle of violence when she and her friends (including a pre-fame Liam Hemsworth) are rescued by a seemingly deserted ocean liner after their boat capsizes. Triangle delivers some superb shocks, with moments and images that are genuinely haunting. It’s also surprisingly moving.
A Good Woman Is Hard to Find (Freevee)
Directed by Abner Pastoll (Road Games), this cracking little thriller stars Sarah Bolger (Emelie) as a recently widowed mother of two who’s forced to hide some drugs that have been stolen from a sinister local gangster (Edward Hogg). Bolger ranges from heart-in-mouth vulnerability to steely determination, while Ronan Blaney’s well-rounded script does a terrific job of fusing both kitchen sink drama and crime story. Similarly, Pastoll’s control of the tone is impressive throughout, balancing suspense and horror with jet-black humour and orchestrating a powerful atmosphere of mounting dread.
Last Passenger (Freevee)
A must-see for fans of train-set thrillers, this is a pleasingly old-fashioned, nail-bitingly tense British picture that makes a virtue of its low budget. Set a few days before Christmas, the film stars Dougray Scott and Kara Tointon as two passengers who meet on a late-night commuter train headed for Tunbridge Wells. However, their meet-cute bantering comes to a sudden halt when their train hurtles through its supposed final destination and shows no sign of stopping. Scott and Tointon are both superb – the chemistry between them is surprisingly strong – while director Omid Nooshin maintains a suitably breakneck pace throughout, expertly building suspense and tension until the nail-biting finale.
This cracking sci-fi thriller stars Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley as two scientists who get more than they bargained for when their genetic splicing experiments create a female human/animal DNA hybrid (Delphine Chaneac). The pair take turns looking after her, but as she becomes a rebellious and sexually curious teenager the bond she develops with her “parents” quickly becomes dangerous. Director Vincenzo Natali maintains an impressively controlled tone throughout, with the film moving from shocks to scares to black comedy to deep sadness, often within the space of a single scene. Similarly, the script is excellent, exploring several intriguing themes and piling on the allegories at a dizzying rate, while still functioning as a genuinely inventive and completely unpredictable thriller.
Based on a novel by Tony Burgess, this intriguingly weird horror flick stars Stephen McHattie as a radio DJ who is besieged in his church basement radio station when a zombie virus that’s apparently transmitted via the English language spreads throughout small town Pontypool, Ontario. It’s always a pleasure to see a great character actor given a terrific lead role and McHattie is on superb form here, anchoring the film with a riveting central performance. Director Bruce McDonald makes the most of his bizarre premise, blending surrealism, suspense, zombie horror and witty wordplay while still ticking the essential gore boxes. An original, offbeat treat – don’t miss the genuinely bonkers post-credits scene.