Hidden Gems: The best films you (probably) haven’t seen on Amazon Prime Video UK
Matthew Turner | On 18, Jun 2023
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.
Dead In A Week (or Your Money Back) (2018)
The debut feature from writer-director Tom Edmunds, this hilarious British black comedy stars Aneurin Barnard as a suicidal writer who hires an ageing hitman (Tom Wilkinson) to do the job for him, and then changes his mind when he meets an editor (Freya Mavor) who wants to publish his book. This is a cut above the usual hitman comedy fare, thanks to Edmunds finding a delightfully unique tone and a script that takes its subject seriously, while still pulling off a high hit rate of very funny gags, both verbal and visual. It’s also surprisingly moving and the performances are a delight too, particularly Marion Bailey, who steals every scene as the hitman’s wife.
Female Agents (2008)
Loosely based on the true story of Lise Villameur, this exciting wartime thriller depicts how five Resistance Agents (including Sophie Marceau and Julie Depardieu) ensured the success of the Normandy Landings. Director Jean-Paul Salomé orchestrates several terrific set-pieces (including an extremely tense metro shoot-out) and the film looks terrific throughout, with great costumes, strong set design work and superb cinematography. The performances are the icing on an already delicious cake, with Marceau delivering an ice-cool turn in the lead, Depardieu nabbing all the best lines and Moritz Bleibtreu deftly avoiding the usual stereotypes in his role as a Nazi counter-intelligence officer. A thoroughly enjoyable action-adventure, with a soupçon of sauce thrown in for good measure.
The Ones Below (2015)
The debut feature from writer-director David Farr, this superbly acted British psychological thriller stars Clémence Poésy and Stephen Campbell Moore as an expectant couple who strike up a friendship with their new downstairs neighbours (Laura Birn and David Morrissey) who are also expecting a baby, only to be plunged into paranoia and suspicion after an incident drives the couples apart. Seemingly taking notes from Polanski, Farr’s direction is impressive throughout, cranking up the tension and exploiting both parental and suburban anxiety in a highly effective manner, right up until the deeply chilling finale.
Catherine Called Birdy (2022)
A somewhat unexpected left turn from writer-director Lena Dunham (Girls), this utterly charming medieval comedy is adapted from the 1994 children’s novel by Karen Cushman. Set in 1290, it stars Bella Ramsey as 14-year-old Lady Catherine, who’s desperate to avoid being married off to a wealthy suitor and sets about putting off her would-be husbands by any means necessary. Dunham is firing on all cylinders here and she gets everything right, from her delightful comic cast (including Andrew Scott and Billie Piper as Catherine’s parents) to a wonderfully witty script that delivers a constant stream of laugh-out-loud funny gags and a pitch-perfect tone. The film also hits all the required coming-of-age notes (it would make a good companion piece to Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret) and Dunham injects inspired tiny touches that give the film a modern sensibility, such as the way Catherine’s diary scribblings are depicted on screen. A treat from start to finish, this is guaranteed to put a big smile on your face.
Mr Brooks (2007)
Kevin Costner playing a serial killer is reason enough to see this terrific cat-and-mouse thriller. He plays Earl Brooks, a successful businessman and family man who’s secretly a serial killer, with an evil alter ego (William Hurt) that only Earl can see or hear. Costner is great fun as Brooks (he should definitely play more psychopaths) and there’s strong support from Demi Moore as a tenacious detective. On top of that, director Bruce A Evans orchestrates some nail-bitingly suspenseful sequences and handles the violence extremely well – it’s effective and brutal without being glamorised or over-the-top. In short, this is pure trash, but thoroughly enjoyable trash, of the kind they just don’t seem to make anymore.
The Edge of Seventeen (2016)
Rapidly approaching future teen classic status, this heartfelt comedy marks a brilliant debut for writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig (Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret). Hailee Steinfeld stars as Nadine, an anxiety-ridden high school outsider, whose life is plunged into chaos when her BFF, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), starts dating her older brother, Darian (Blake Jenner). The witty script skilfully subverts expectations, cleverly playing on echoes of previous troubled teen movies, while Steinfeld is an utter joy as Nadine, finding deep sympathy for the character even when we disapprove of her behaviour. Moving, laugh-out-loud funny and packed with great scenes and dialogue, this is a treat from start to finish.
La Moustache (2005)
This terrific French oddity is the textbook definition of a hidden gem. Vincent Lindon puts his perpetual hangdog expression to magnificent use as a man who casually shaves off the moustache he’s worn for 15 years, only to become infuriated when his wife (Emmanuelle Devos) doesn’t notice. Furthermore, when he confronts her, she says, “What are you talking about? You’ve never had a moustache.” From that bizarre and intriguing premise, the film gets stranger and stranger, with director Emmanuel Carrère’s direction keeping you constantly guessing as to what’s going on. Part black comedy, part suspense thriller, part domestic drama and part existential mystery, this is a cult classic waiting to find its audience.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Night of the Living Deb (Freevee)
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 (Freevee)
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.
The Innkeepers (Freevee)
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)