Isolation survival guide: Underrated films on Amazon Prime Video

The current global situation has given the film industry a pretty uncertain future. The blanket closure of all cinemas here in the UK might see corporate heavyweights such as Odeon, Vue and Cineworld survive; but it’s looking increasingly bleak for independent venues. 

As soon as the pandemic lessens or subsides, it’ll be imperative for the film community to pull together and help these institutions keep their doors open. For now, the best thing to do is pledge loyalty by donating or purchasing memberships – something director Edgar Wright highlighted the importance of in a recent open letter for Empire Magazine. 

More positively, streaming services will see their best business ever over the next few months. As well as increasing the amount of content and decreasing video bitrates (to maximise the number of users able to stream at the same time), services are also introducing innovative extensions modelled for the current social climate. The most impressive of these is ‘Netflix Party’, a Chrome extension which allows you to watch Netflix with others without leaving your house.

An important rallying cry at the moment is the watchlist. From film publication lists to celebrity Instagram posts, they’re taking over the internet, which can only be a good thing. There seems no better way to get through the difficulty right now than curling up on the sofa with family or friends, scrolling until you settle on something to take your mind off what we’re going through. To help that second step, here’s a few selections on Amazon Prime Video that perhaps aren’t as celebrated as they should be…

ABOUT TIME (Richard Curtis, 2013)

Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams and Bill Nighy, this time travelling romance is Curtis’ best screenplay since Four Weddings and a Funeral and best directorial effort ever. The film is moving but tender, reliant on high concept but never tripping over this. It got unfairly middling reviews on release yet did well at the box office (and sits well with fans to this day). It’s a terrific piece of work, check it out.

THE SQUID AND THE WHALE (Noah Baumbach, 2005)

Sure, last year’s Marriage Story was good. There are two stronger cases for Baumbach’s best, though: Frances Ha and The Squid and the Whale. Like Marriage Story, the latter is semi-autobiographical and centres on children caught in the middle of a divorce. The story is told from their perspective, prompting a particularly great performance from Jesse Eisenberg during his independent film heyday (being its neurotic noughties poster boy). Like Frances Ha, this comedy is a tight eighty minutes – framework Baumbach’s sense of humour most lends itself to. 

BRAZIL (Terry Gilliam, 1985)

Gilliam’s magnum opus (sorry Monty Python and Twelve Monkeys) was only nominated for two academy awards four decades ago: “Best Original Screenplay” and “Best Art Direction.” It was criminally overlooked by other categories and didn’t even win these two. The film will likely prove to be Gilliam’s finest hour; it’s weird, wild, wacky, complete with healthy doses of Kafka and Orwell. Dystopia is rarely this funny.

MACBETH (Justin Kurzel, 2015)

Something else holding a mirror to the surrounding political chaos is this unsung Shakespeare adaptation. It stars Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, a trio (with Kurzel) that would reform for Assassin’s Creed a year later. Alongside Kenneth Branagh’s work and Michael Almereyda’s modernised Hamlet back in 2000, this Macbeth ranks highly on the list of cinematic takes on Shakespeare. It’s brutal, visceral, and completely unmissable. 

SILENCE (Martin Scorsese, 2016)

No Scorsese film is underrated, not really. But on the relative terms of how highly his films are valued compared to one another, fans really sell Silence short. A passion project twenty-five years in the making, the film continues in the vain of his works The Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun. Scorsese is more versatile than people give him credit for – yes, he’s the master of the crime film, but this is as much of a late career masterpiece as The Irishman

L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (Curtis Hanson, 1997)

Hanson’s revisionist noir classic may have been inundated with award nominations at its time of release, but it’s surprising how many people haven’t seen it. It’s hard to find anybody that hasn’t got around to De Palma’s Scarface or Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction; Hanson’s work is on par with these, but not quite in their popularity bracket for whatever reason. The performances from Kim Basinger, Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce are arguably career best.

THE REPORT (Scott Z. Burns, 2019)

Since Spotlight’s Academy Award win four years ago, the expose thriller has seen a bit of a comeback. Its pioneer – the late, great Alan J. Pakula – would be proud: the last three years have seen Steven Spielberg’s The Post, Todd Haynes’ Dark Waters, and The Report. Adam Driver is excellent as obsessive (real-life) Senate staffer Daniel J. Jones, a self-appointed whistle blower of the CIA’s post-9/11 Detention and Interrogation Program. Never has a close-up of a tower of paper had such symbolic power.

FANTASTIC MR. FOX (Wes Anderson, 2009)

This was Anderson’s first of two animated films, of nine features total (tenth The French Dispatch is due this summer). Moonrise Kingdom aside, the director’s animated efforts are possibly his strongest. This one is an adaptation of children’s literature icon Roald Dahl: a match made in heaven, who knew? As minimalist as debut Bottle Rocket, with individual frames as showstopping as the opening scene of The Darjeeling Limited, this is a pure slice of Anderson magic. It’s the perfect pick-me-up for right now, the kind of cinematic escape you just don’t want to return from.

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