Hidden Gems: The best films you (probably) haven’t seen on Amazon Prime Video UK
Matthew Turner | On 11, Jul 2020
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:
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 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.
Cold Souls (2009)
Written and directed by Sophie Barthes, this delightful black comedy stars Paul Giamatti (playing himself) as a depressed actor who decides to put his soul into cold storage and quickly comes to regret it. Essentially, this is a Charlie Kaufman movie without Charlie Kaufman and Barthes gets the tone exactly right, playing down the fantasy elements and creating the perfect blend of absurd comedy, suspense and thought-provoking emotional drama. Giamatti, of course, is wonderful, clearly relishing the chance to poke fun at himself, while there’s strong support from Emily Watson (as Giamatti’s wife) and Dina Korzun as a soul-transporting mule charged with procuring the soul of an American actor for her gangster boss.
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.
The second film from French writer-director Celine Sciamma (Girlhood, Portrait of a Lady on Fire), this superb coming of age drama stars Zoé Héran as a tomboy-ish 10 year-old girl who allows her new friends to think she’s a boy when she moves into a new neighbourhood. Héran is terrific in the lead role and we root for her to succeed, even as we dread the moment she’ll be found out. A beautifully shot and sharply observed study of emerging female sexuality that’s by turns funny, thought-provoking, suspenseful and heart-breaking.
Sleeping Dogs Lie (2006)
Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, this jet-black comedy stars Melinda Page Hamilton as Amy, a woman whose decision to disclose a sordid incident in her past has a disastrous effect on her relationships with her family and fiancé (Bryce Johnson). Given Goldthwait’s background and the vomit-inducing nature of Amy’s secret – revealed in the opening scene – you could be forgiven for expecting a tasteless gross-out comedy, so it’s something of a pleasant surprise when the film turns out to be a genuinely sweet rom-com that’s frequently laugh-out-loud funny. Hamilton delivers a perfectly pitched comic performance and Goldthwait’s sharply observed script has more to say about contemporary relationships than any number of standard Hollywood rom-coms.
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!
La Famille Bélier (2014)
A crowd-pleasing hit in France, Eric Lartigau’s delightful comedy more or less disappeared on its release in the UK and is ripe for rediscovery. Louane Emera (a semi-finalist on France’s The Voice) won a Most Promising Actress Cesar for her portrayal of Paula, a teenager from a deaf family of farmers who discovers she has singing talent. The performances are utterly charming and the script is frequently laugh-out-loud funny (it’s surprisingly bawdy for family-friendly fare), while Lartigau proves a master of powerful emotional moments – just try getting through the scene where Paula figures out how to share her musical connection with her parents without reaching for les tissues.
Youth in Revolt (2009)
Delightfully dark teen comedy based on the cult novel by C.D. Payne, starring Michael Cera as sex-obsessed teenager Nick Twisp, whose lust for the delectable Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday) quickly gets him into trouble after he creates a rebellious bad boy alter-ego named Francois (also Cera). Director Miguel Arteta (Chuck & Buck) faithfully captures the book’s blackly comic, occasionally nihilistic tone, there’s a superb supporting cast and Cera delivers two of his best performances as Nick / Francois.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
Guy Ritchie’s super-fun take on the 1960s spy series received an inexplicably lukewarm critical response on its theatrical release, but is ripe for reappraisal now that it’s hit VOD. Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer play Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin, two super-suave secret agents fromopposite 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.
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 time-bender 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, Timecrimes and Titanic (with a dash of Groundhog Day), 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 Secret of Marrowbone (2018)
Also known as Marrowbone, the directorial debut of Sergio G Sánchez (who wrote The Orphanage) is a nicely atmospheric mystery chiller with superb performances from its young leads. George MacKay stars as Jack, the eldest of four British children – including rising stars Mia Goth and Stranger Things’ Charlie Heaton – who flee their abusive father and travel to the remote seaside home of their dying mother. When she dies, they’re forced to keep her death a secret in order to remain together, but they become increasingly plagued by a sinister presence in the house. Sanchez pulls off some impressively creepy set-pieces (most notably a game of Risk) and there’s the added bonus of yet another great performance from Anya Taylor-Joy as Jack’s love interest.
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.
Based on a novel by Tony Burgess, this intriguingly weird horror flick stars Stephen McHattie as a radio DJ who gets 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.
Zero Charisma (2013)
Co-directed by Katie Graham and Andrew Matthews, this hugely enjoyable indie comedy stars Sam Eidson as a thirty-something nerd Scott Weidemeyer, whose omnipotent rule as the Games Master at his weekly table-top role-playing session is challenged when a new member (Garrett Graham) joins the group. Eidson is terrific in the lead (he’s like a cross between Napoleon Dynamite and the Simpson’s Comic Book Guy) and Matthews’ sharply observed script strikes the perfect balance between the audience laughing at his rage-related excesses (of which there are many) and finding a measure of sympathy and understanding for him. It’s also packed with great dialogue (the arguments are hilarious) and wonderful running gags. The supporting cast are superb too, particularly Brock England as Scott’s best friend Wayne – there’s a genius moment involving a spot that will have you howling with laughter.
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.
Last Passenger (2013)
A must-see for fans of train-based 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.
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.
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.
The Squid and the Whale (2005)
Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, this moving and hilarious drama is essentially a semi-autobiographical account of the divorce of Baumbach’s own parents, novelist Jonathan Baumbach and critic Georgia Brown. Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney play the author parents who begin divorce proceedings, with their two sons (Jesse Eisenberg as teenage Walt and Owen Kline – son of Kevin – as 12 year old Frank) quick to take sides. The performances are fantastic across the board and Baumbach’s deservedly Oscar-nominated script is packed with hilarious dialogue – Frank’s adventures in swearing are a particular comic highlight. Baumbach also pulls off a remarkable balancing act – it’s hard to think of any other film that can make you laugh so hard whilst also being so desperately, painfully sad. A wonderful film.
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.
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.