Hidden Gems: The best films you (probably) haven’t seen on Amazon Prime Video UK
Matthew Turner | On 21, Mar 2021
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 Amazon Prime Video UK’s best hidden gems:
Warm Bodies (2013)
Based on the novel by Isaac Marion, this zombie romantic comedy stars Nicholas Hoult as R, a sentient zombie with feelings and an interior monologue who falls in love with human Julie (Teresa Palmer) 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 rom-com staples.
Big River Man (2009)
This extraordinary documentary follows the story of eccentric Slovenian Martin Strel, who has made it his life’s ambition to swim the world’s rivers in order to draw attention to world pollution. Having already swum the Danube, the Mississippi and the Yangtze, the film joins Martin as he prepares to swim the Amazon, all 4,000+ km of it. Incredibly, it takes almost 70 days, during which Martin essentially goes insane. Directed by John Maringouin, the film is packed with jaw-dropping scenes and the end result is downright Herzogian in its study of obsession and madness. A strange, moving and unforgettable film.
Never released theatrically in the UK, this delightful comedy deserves to be far more widely seen. Essentially a heist movie, it centres on a group of nerds (including Dan Fogler, Jay Baruchel and Kristen Bell) trying to break into George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch to steal a print of The Phantom Menace so their terminally ill friend can see it before he dies. The comic rapport between the cast is note-perfect and director Kyle Newman maintains both a cracking pace and an extremely high gag rate. It’s packed with hilarious cameos too.
The Intruder (1962)
William Shatner delivers a career-best performance in this brutal drama from Roger Corman that somehow seems just as relevant in 2019 as it did in 1962. Shatner plays Adam Cramer, a white-suited, smooth-talking “social reformer” who comes to a small Southern town on the eve of integration and begins stirring up racial hatred. Based on a novel by Charles Beaumont (who wrote the script and appears in a small role), The Intruder was shot on location in Missouri during the height of the civil rights movement, giving it a palpable authenticity. Dark, disturbing and all too familiar to modern audiences, this isn’t just a hidden gem, it’s an actual goddamn masterpiece. Also known as The Stranger / Shame / I Hate Your Guts!
Appropriate Behaviour (2014)
If you were a fan of HBO’s Girls, you should definitely check out this very funny New York indie debut from writer-director-star Desiree Akhavan. She plays Shirin, an Iranian-American hipster trying to get back into the NY dating scene after a split from her long-term girlfriend (Rebecca Henderson). The sharply observed script is warm-hearted, funny and quietly moving, while Akhavan proves a genuine talent, combining perfect comic timing with a mesmerising quality on screen that makes her somehow simultaneously achingly vulnerable, deadpan sarcastic, dorky-looking, and stunningly beautiful, often in the same scene.
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.
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.
Former Home and Away star Melissa George delivers a career-best performance in this delightfully twisty, surprisingly moving thriller from British writer-director Christopher Smith (Severance). She stars as Jess, a single mother who becomes trapped in a terrifying, yet oddly familiar 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. Cleverly blending elements of The Shining and Titanic, Triangle delivers some superb shocks, with moments and images that are genuinely haunting.
Man vs Snake: The Long and Twisted Tale of Nibbler (2015)
This likeable documentary from co-directors Tim Kinzy and Andy Seklir plays like a spiritual successor to 2007’s unmissable gaming rivalry doc The King of Kong. As a teenager, Tim McVey became the first person to score over a billion points on the arcade game Nibbler. Now, nearly 30 years later, he attempts to defend his record when challenged by cocky rival Dwayne Richard. Packed with colourful characters, the film is further enlivened by the use of animated flashbacks and it’s oddly reassuring to discover that The King of Kong’s Billy Mitchell is still as slimy as ever.
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)
Down With Love (2003)
Brilliantly directed by Peyton Reed (Ant-Man, Bring It On), this delightful comedy is a note-perfect pastiche of the brightly coloured 1960s battle-of-the-sexes comedies that Rock Hudson and Doris Day used to make. Renee Zellweger plays novelist Barbra Novak, who has written feminist best-seller Down With Love, encouraging women to stand up for themselves in the boardroom as well as in the bedroom. Sensing a challenge, chauvinistic star journalist Catcher Block (Ewan McGregor) bets his editor (David Hyde Pierce) that he can seduce Barbra and prove that she’s a traditional girl at heart. The two leads are clearly enjoying themselves (McGregor’s ‘cool cat’ walk is a scream) and there’s hilarious comic support from Hyde Pierce, who pretty much steals the entire film, especially in his scenes with Sarah Paulson. An unadulterated treat for film fans everywhere.
The sine qua non of the heart-warming, competition-based documentary genre, Jeffrey Blitz’s Oscar-nominated debut feature follows eight adorable children as they compete for the final round of the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee (a televised national institution in America). After getting to know the kids (the scenes with their families are both deeply moving and laugh-out-loud funny), the competition itself becomes extremely tense, with expert editing heightening the suspense as we wait to see how each of them will fare against 248 other competitors. In a word, U-N-M-I-S-S-A-B-L-E.
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.
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)
Mary & Max (2009)
Written and directed by Adam Elliot (who made the Oscar-winning short Harvie Krumpet), this Australian stop-motion animation is a treat from start to finish. Narrated by Barry Humphries, the story begins in 1970s Australia, when eight year old Mary (voiced by Bethany Whitmore, then Toni Collette) randomly picks a name out of a phone book and becomes pen-pals with Max (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a middle-aged, overweight New Yorker. The film then details their relationship as they write to each other over a period of 20 years. Combining wonderful stop-motion animation and a brilliantly written script, this is a superbly directed black comedy that’s simultaneously darkly funny, extremely sweet and incredibly moving. A joy.
“Sometimes, it’s okay 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 Kings of Summer (2013)
This delightful coming-of-ager from debut director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (Kong: Skull Island) plays like a modern day Stand By Me. Nick Robinson (Love, Simon), Gabriel Basso (The Big C) and Moises Arias star as three teenage boys who build a secret house in the middle of a forest and hide out there for the summer, away from their parents. Chris Galletta’s wonderful script perfectly captures both the thrill of the boys’ first taste of freedom and the agony of adolescent heartache, while delivering a powerful hit of childhood nostalgia. Vogt-Roberts gets terrific performances from his young cast and there’s great comic support from the likes of Nick Offerman and Alison Brie. A treat from start to finish and the very definition of a hidden gem. (Read our full review.)
Joy Ride (2001)
Also known as Roadkill – and, indeed, Road Kill – this hugely entertaining ‘psycho-killer in a massive truck’ thriller stands proudly alongside the two acknowledged classics of the genre, The Hitcher (1986) and Duel (1971). Paul Walker, Steve Zahn and Leelee Sobieski play a trio of road trippers who make the mistake of playing a prank over CB radio on a psychotic trucker with the handle ‘Rusty Nail’ (creepily voiced by an unbilled Ted Levine). Brilliantly directed by John Dahl (Red Rock West, The Last Seduction), this is a superb roller coaster ride that delivers on every level – thrills, suspense, shocks, great performances, a a frequently funny script and a genuinely scary villain. Buckle up.
The debut feature from writer-director Cate Shortland, this Australian coming-of-age drama stars Abbie Cornish as Heidi, a 16 year old runaway who has to fend for herself when she winds up in the snow resort town of Lake Jindabyne. Cornish is sensational in her first lead role, portraying Heidi with a complex mixture of childish innocence and a powerful, almost dangerous sexual confidence that belies her emotional naivety. In addition, the film is gorgeous to look at, thanks to Robert Humphreys’ striking cinematography, while Shortland’s direction emphasises the sensual nature of the material, with a lot of attention paid to smells, sounds and textures.
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, like 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.
A year after his Oscar-winning turn as the happy-go-lucky soldier in From Here to Eternity, Frank Sinatra played a psychotic, deeply repellent killer in this dark, twisted and little-seen film noir. Ol’ Blue Eyes plays John Baron, an assassin who takes a small town family hostage and uses their home as a vantage point from which to assassinate the President. After Kennedy’s assassination in 1962, Sinatra asked United Artists to withdraw the film from circulation, because there was a rumour it had inspired Lee Harvey Oswald. Whether that’s true or not, Suddenly is a chilling, tightly constructed thriller and Sinatra is astonishing in it. Incidentally, there are tons of old movies buried on Amazon Prime Video UK, if you’re prepared to dig deep enough – there are four different versions of this film alone, one of them in colour.
Addicted to Fresno (2015)
Perennial scene-stealers Judy Greer and Natasha Lyonne deliver a pair of pitch-perfect comic performances in this deliciously dark black comedy from director Jamie Babbit. They play a couple of sisters (Greer a sex addict with no impulse control, Lyonne a lonely lesbian) whose lives quickly spiral out of control when Greer’s character accidentally kills a man. After disposing of the body, the pair are blackmailed by their their pet cemetery-owning accomplices (Allison Tolman and Fred Armisen) and come up with a series of increasingly bonkers money-making ploys. The script crackles with great lines and Babbit keeps tight control of the tone, allowing him to pull off some surprisingly risqué gags. Worth seeing for Lyonne’s Cousin It impersonation alone.
Searching for Sugar Man (2012)
Directed by Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul (who tragically died in 2014), this entertaining and powerfully emotional documentary tells a gripping story and unearths an astonishing musical find. It centres on a pair of South African music fans who set out to find out what happened to their musical idol, 1970s American singer-songwriter Rodriguez, following persistent rumours of his death. Part mystery story and part joyous celebration, this is a superbly structured and genuinely uplifting tale that taps into a couple of compelling musical myths.
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.
Before I Go to Sleep (2014)
Based on the debut novel by SJ Watson, this is a gripping and enjoyable memory thriller in the Memento vein, with Nicole Kidman giving one of her best performances as Christine, a woman who wakes up each day with no recollection of who she is. After uncovering some disturbing information, she’s forced her to question everything around her, including her husband Ben (Colin Firth) and shady psychiatrist, Doctor Nasch (Mark Strong). Rowan Joffe’s direction is nicely atmospheric throughout and the twisty script keeps you guessing till the end.
Cheap Thrills (2013)
E.L. 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 Black Balloon (2008)
The debut feature from writer-director Elissa Down (Feel the Beat), this hugely enjoyable coming-of-age drama is set in a perpetually sunny Australian suburb and stars Rhys Wakefield as Thomas, a blonde teenager who’s beginning to resent his highly autistic older brother Charlie (Luke Ford), especially now that he’s dealing with his first crush (Australian supermodel Gemma Ward as Jackie). Loosely based on Down’s own experiences of growing up with an autistic brother, the film is distinguished by its commendably cliché-busting script and a boldly physical performance from Ford. The quirky supporting characters are memorable too, especially Erik Thomson (who takes advice from stuffed animals) and the always-excellent Toni Collette.
A Man Called Ove (2015)
Based on the best-selling novel by Fredrik Backman, this Oscar-nominated Swedish comedy-drama stars Rolf Lassgard as Ove (pronounced Ooh-vuh), a cantankerous old git whose comically disastrous suicide attempts are continually interrupted by his perpetually upbeat Persian new neighbour (Bahar Pars), with whom he forms a reluctant friendship. Directed by Hannes Holm (who also adapted the script), the film is warm-hearted and frequently laugh-out-loud funny (there are some sublime running gags), anchored by a performance from Lassgard, who does impressive work with Ove’s inevitable thawing. Incidentally, if you like this, you should definitely check out fellow Backman-penned Swedish old man hit The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared.
Be warned: this disturbing and creepy horror flick is decidedly not for the coulrophobic. Directed by Jon Watts (Spider-Man: Homecoming), it stars Andy Powers as a loving husband and father who dons a clown suit for his son’s birthday party, only to find that it’s cursed and won’t come off. Watts’ control of the tone is assured and the consistently surprising script goes to some extremely dark places, delivering a subtle metaphor about abuse and dark desires in the process. Peter Stormare, as the clown suit’s original owner, delivers a perfectly pitched performance that allows him to get away with lines including “Jack, we’re going to have to kill your daddy…”