100 great films streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime – UPDATED

Now updated: Your essential list of some of the deeper cuts available to watch now on Netflix UK and Amazon Prime.

Samuel Wigley
Updated:

Adelheid (1970)

Adelheid (1970)

This wintry gem from the director of medieval epic Marketa Lazarová is shot in jaundiced colours, as if the celluloid itself has been marinated in tea and mustard. It’s an engrossing drama steeped in post-war battle fatigue, in which a Czech soldier returns home after WWII to steward a drafty manor house formerly owned by a senior Nazi.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

All Is Well (2018)

All Is Well (2018)

Eva Trobisch’s feature debut is a masterclass in subtlety that exerts a fascinating grip. Picked up from festivals as a Netflix exclusive, All Is Well centres on a woman who is sexually assaulted by her new boss’s brother-in-law but attempts to continue with her life as if nothing happened. A provocative psychological study, Trobisch’s film might be a bit hidden by your algorithm but it rewards the search. 

Streaming on… Netflix

Amazing Grace (2018)

Here’s a slice of musical history that’s been tangled in legal cobwebs for decades: the previously unseen footage of Aretha Franklin recording her 1972 live gospel album Amazing Grace in front of an enraptured LA congregation. Comprising wall-to-wall music, as the soul star belts out roof-raising renditions of church favourites, Sydney Pollack’s grainy, vital document belatedly slots right alongside the likes of Monterey Pop (1968) and Wattstax (1973) as one of the essential concert films of its era.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Aquarius (2016)

Aquarius (2016)

Riding high in many best-of-2016 lists, this vibrantly shot Brazilian drama is about a woman determined to cling on to her beloved apartment in a block being aggressively sized up by developers. Sonia Braga is formidable in the lead.

Streaming on… Netflix

Atlantics (2019)

Mati Diop’s feature debut Atlantics was voted the seventh best film of 2019 in the annual Sight & Sound critics’ poll. It’s a sensual and allusive sideways glance at the migrant crisis, which riffs on Homer’s Odyssey and has some serious genre-bending surprises up its sleeve. Mame Bineta Sane plays Dakar’s modern-day Penelope, eagerly awaiting the return of her boyfriend, who has set out to sea in search of a brighter future.

Streaming on… Netflix

An Autumn Afternoon (1962)

An Autumn Afternoon (1962)

The final film by Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu, and one of the great last films by anyone. The set-up is his familiar staple: a widower encourages his daughter to marry, even though he knows that after the wedding he’ll be left all alone. Life’s inevitable changes have rarely been treated so calmly, yet seemed so sad. The perfect place to start exploring Ozu’s films.

Streaming on… BFI Player’s channel on Amazon Prime

Bait (2019)

Acclaimed by Mark Kermode as “one of the defining British films of the decade”, this grassroots sensation is a highly distinctive and very funny tale about a Cornish fisherman grappling with the impact of Airbnb-enabled tourism on his community and livelihood. Visually bold, even experimental, yet entirely immediate and relatable, it’s an inspiring example of a micro indie taking on a life of its own.

Streaming on… BFI Player’s channel on Amazon Prime

Birds of Passage (2018)

Birds of Passage is a decade-spanning crime saga with a completely fresh perspective. From the producer-director team behind the hallucinatory Amazonian odyssey Embrace of the Serpent (2015), Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra, it’s set amid the Wayúu tribe of northern Colombia and shows how malign criminal influences slowly take their toll on a traditional, tribal community. It’s as much of a treat for the senses as Embrace was, but this time in eye-popping colour.

Streaming on… Netflix

The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins (1970)

The Blues According to Lightnin’ Hopkins (1969)

Nothing else on this list is guaranteed to bring your living room to life like this 31-minute dose of 12-bar exuberance and southern-fried good humour. An intimate profile of Lightnin’ Hopkins, capturing the Texan bluesman performing at a succession of outdoor barbecues and black rodeos, it’s one of a number of Les Blank’s vital series of Deep South documentaries that can be found on Prime.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

The Bounty (1984)

The Bounty (1984)

The third cinematic treatment of the story of the mutiny on HMS Bounty in the late 18th century stars Anthony Hopkins as the tyannical Captain Bligh, Mel Gibson as lead mutineer Fletcher Christian and boasts early performances from Daniel Day-Lewis and Liam Neeson alongside a veteran turn from Laurence Olivier. It started out as a David Lean project, but Roger Donaldson did an honourable job of finally getting this handsome production on the water.

Streaming on… Netflix

Breakdown (1997)

Breakdown (1997)

In this no-let-up late-90s thriller, Kurt Russell plays the husband left frantically searching for his missing wife after their car breaks down in the American southwest and she accepts a lift to the nearest town from a passing trucker. Although it borrows a fair share of moves from the likes of Duel (1971), Deliverance (1972) and The Vanishing (1988), Jonathan Mostow’s yuppie nightmare delivers a fairly unbeatable thrill count across its taut 90 minutes.

Streaming on… Netflix

Burden of Dreams (1982)

Burden of Dreams (1982)

Documentary filmmaker Les Blank was there in the jungle with Werner Herzog to capture his monumental efforts to film Fitzcarraldo, the story of one man’s mission to bring opera to the Amazon. Including Herzog’s infamous attempt to drag a ship over a hill, this is one of the definitive making-of movies.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

By the Time It Gets Dark (2016)

By the Time It Gets Dark (2016)

Thailand’s been the place to go for teasingly elliptical arthouse puzzle pieces in recent years. This dazzlingly inventive drama from Anocha Suwichakornpong sees a filmmaker travel to interview a former political activist for a new film project.

Streaming on… BFI Player’s channel on Amazon Prime

Cairo Station (1958)

Cairo Station (1958)

Netflix would be last place I’d look for films by Egyptian master Youssef Chahine, but in fact they’ve got 12 of them. The most famous is probably this 77-minute neorealism-infused melodrama. It’s evocatively set amid the bustle of the eponymous interchange, where a disabled newspaper peddler falls obsessively in love with a cold drinks vendor.

Streaming on… Netflix

Charade (1963)

Charade (1963)

One of the best Hitchcock films Hitchcock never made, this is a sparkling comedy-thriller in the North by Northwest mould featuring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. Directed by the late, great Stanley Donen (Singin’ in the Rain).

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Cold War (2018)

Cold War (2018)

So immaculately directed is this tale of lovers coming together in postwar Poland that Pawel Pawlikowski was nominated for best director by Oscar voters who, before Parasite came along, generally liked to keep foreign language cinema off in a category of its own. Like his previous film, Ida, Cold War is shot in tactile black and white that moodily accentuates every amorous gaze and wisp of cigarette smoke.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Confidential Report (1955)

Mr. Arkadin (1955)

Also known as Mr. Arkadin, Confidential Report stems from Orson Welles’s period of Hollywood exile in the 1950s, spent cobbling together projects across Europe with whatever finances he could grab. It’s a Citizen Kane-like story about a rich man who hires an ex-con to investigate the mysterious details of his own background. As ever with Welles, this is a mystery-thriller that pops with visual imagination and baroque compositions.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Days of Heaven (1978)

Days of Heaven (1978)

The second film from Terrence Malick, after Badlands, is a sublime pastoral tale set in the Texas Panhandle during the Great Depression. Richard Gere and Brooke Adams play farmhand lovers who get caught up in a triangle with landowner Sam Shepard. 

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Dil Se.. (1998)

Dil Se.. (1998)

If you want to witness one of the most gobsmacking moments in any modern musical, load up Netflix and skip to the 08:42 mark of this Bollywood political thriller. Shah Rukh Khan’s radio journalist is smitten with a mysterious woman he meets late at night on a lonely railway platform, but she disappears on to a train before he can find out anything about her. Then the needle drops on A.R. Rahman’s Sufi-infused banger ‘Chaiyya Chaiyya’ and we’re suddenly atop the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, winding through green hills as a host of dancers performs an astonishing traintop dance routine.

Streaming on… Netflix

Down with Love (2003)

Down with Love (2003)

Renée Zellweger. Ewan McGregor. The most underrated romcom of our millennium. Thank us later.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982)

The Draughtsman's Contract (1982)

Peter Greenaway’s 17th-century country-house murder mystery is teasing, erotic and irresistible. Anthony Higgins plays the draughtsman who agrees to draw up plans of a country estate in return for sexual favours from the owner’s wife but soon begins to discover odd clues around the grounds that point to murder. Michael Nyman reworked baroque favourites to create a classic film score.

Streaming on… BFI Player’s channel on Amazon Prime

Eden (2014)

Eden (2014)

Comfortably the best film about dance culture, Mia Hansen-Løve’s ode to the era of French touch charts one DJ’s travails at the heart of the scene, gracefully showing the reality of the passing years for an artist who never makes it as big as Daft Punk.

Streaming on… BFI Player’s channel on Amazon Prime

8 ½ (1963)

8½ (1963)

Beloved of film directors for the way it orchestrates the pell-mell of a filmmaker’s creative life – the decision-making, the doubts, the whole swarming shebang – this Federico Fellini masterpiece grew out of the creative doldrums that followed the sensational release of his La dolce vita in 1960. Marcello Mastroianni is cast in the role of Fellini’s filmmaker alter-ego Guido Anselmi, around whom a dizzying vision of life in the Italian film world orbits.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Faces Places (2017)

Faces Places (2017)

Credit: Agnès Varda (c) Cine Tamaris

The penultimate film from the so-called godmother of the French New Wave, Agnès Varda, who died this year, Faces Places sees her touring rural France in the company of artist J.R., creating large-scale portraits of the people they meet. Full of her creative zest, it’s the ideal entry point for Varda newbies.

Streaming on… Netflix

Falling Leaves (1912)

Falling Leaves (1912)

More than 100 years old, this 12-minute silent film makes for a surprising find on Netflix – you won’t find it by searching Falling Leaves but it’s part of the collection Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers. From the legendary Alice Guy-Blaché, Falling Leaves is about a young girl’s attempt to cure her ailing sister by preventing leaves falling from their garden tree.

Streaming on… Netflix

The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964)

The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964)

Fans of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator should cue up this earlier Roman epic, made at the very end of the era when such super-productions were affordable on life-size sets. Alec Guinness plays Emperor Marcus Aurelius among a star-studded cast also including Sophia Loren, Christopher Plummer, James Mason and Omar Sharif. As epic as they come.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Fire at Sea (2016)

Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea, 2016)

Winner of the Golden Bear at the 2016 Berlin Film Festival, this deeply humane documentary was shot on the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa during the migrant crisis. Director Gianfranco Rosi divides his attention between the refugees and the daily life of the native islanders.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Frozen River (2008)

Frozen River (2008)

This superb snowbound thriller transcended its low-budget origins to get Oscar nominations for best actress and best original screenplay. Directed by Courtney Hunt, it’s about a struggling mum who takes work driving illegal immigrants across from Canada into upstate New York.

Streaming on… BFI Player’s channel on Amazon Prime

The Goob (2014)

Guy Myhill’s feature debut charts a long, hot summer in the fields of Norfolk in the company of the eponymous Goob (Liam Walpole). He’s a gaunt, striking teenager, home from school for the holidays and looking for ways to while away the hours. The Goob perfectly captures the sense of summer days lasting lengthily into the evening, and of magic-hour parties when big skies stretch endlessly into nowhere. 

Streaming on… BFI Player’s channel on Amazon Prime

The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner (1974)

The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner (1974)

Many of Werner Herzog’s most famous fiction features are on Amazon Prime’s BFI Player channel (from Aguirre, Wrath of God to The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser), but don’t overlook this essential 45-minute doc about Walter Steiner – a carpenter who moonlights as one of the most celebrated ski jumpers of the time. In its study of a man who pursues excellence to dangerous extremes, it’s a top-table sports film.

Streaming on… BFI Player’s channel on Amazon Prime

The Green Ray (1986)

The Green Ray (1986)

The perfect summer holiday film. Eric Rohmer’s 80s classic is about a bored singleton attempting to make the most of holiday season. As she passes from countryside to mountains to seaside, she struggles to make any connections count – but Rohmer has some gentle magic in store for her, and a sublime final sequence.

Streaming on… BFI Player’s channel on Amazon Prime

The Guilty (2018)

Here’s an ingenious and claustrobically tense Danish thriller that takes place entirely in one room at a police station. Jakob Cedergren plays the Copenhagen cop demoted to phone work who takes an emergency call from a kidnapped woman and must race against the clock to save her – all without leaving his desk.

Streaming on… Netflix

The Hitch-Hiker (1953)

The Hitch-Hiker (1953)

Back when women didn’t really get to direct films in Hollywood, south Londoner actor-turned-director Ida Lupino made some there anyway. The suspenseful tale of two guys on a drive down to Baja California who are taken hostage in their car by an escaped murderer, The Hitch-Hiker is classic film noir that zips by in an hour and 10.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

The Home and the World (1984)

The Home and the World (1984)

You’ll need to search Prime under the original Bengali title, Ghare Baire, to find this one, but it’s there – and in beautiful HD. It’s one of the best later films by Satyajit Ray, although it stems from a script he wrote long before his epochal 1955 debut Pather Panchali. Based on the novel by Rabindranath Tagore, it’s a characteristically humane and moving love triangle drama tackling changing sexual politics in early 20th-century Bengal.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Homicide (1991)

Homicide (1991)

An usually contemplative, almost cosmic cop drama, Homicide stars Joe Mantegna as an NYPD detective who is assigned to investigate the murder of the elderly Jewish owner of a candy store. He unravels a shadowy world of antisemitic conspiracy, the discovery of which brings him closer to his own Jewish identity. One of David Mamet’s best.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

House on Haunted Hill (1959)

House on Haunted Hill (1958)

Halloween would be the perfect time to watch this one, but its campy scares will work on any dark night. Vincent Price stars as the eccentric millionaire who invites partygoers to his haunted mansion with the lure of a $10,000 prize if any of them can last the night. Schlockmeister William Castle piles on the chill factor.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Howards End (1992)

Howards End (1992)

Famed producer-director team Merchant Ivory are at their best in this immaculate Edwardian drama based on the E.M. Forster novel of the same title. Emma Thompson won the Oscar for best actress playing one of two liberally-minded sisters (alongside Helena Bonham Carter) whose interests clash up against Anthony Hopkins’ wealthy industrialist.

Streaming on… Netflix

The Hunt (2012)

The Hunt (Jagten)

Gripping moral drama from Festen director Thomas Vinterberg, starring Mads Mikkelsen as the kindergarten teacher who is ostracised by his community after being accused of sexual assault.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Images (1972)

Images (1972)

A folk horror movie by Robert Altman? Yes, it’s real. In the middle of a period spent banging out such New Hollywood classics as McCabe & Mrs Miller and The Long Goodbye, the maverick director decamped to Ireland to make this bucolic riff on psychodramas like Repulsion and Persona. Susannah York stars as the children’s author beset by hallucinations during her rural retreat.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Immoral Tales (1973)

Immoral Tales (1973)

Walerian Borowczyk’s transgressive anthology tells four separate stories of sexual taboo-breaking over the centuries. This involves dropping in on such historical figures as Lucrezia Borgia, as she indulges her incestuous lust, and Elizabeth Báthory, as she slaughters local virgins in order to bathe in their blood. This is one of those 1970s titles perched precariously on the borderlines between arthouse and pornography, but that’s visually as remarkable as anything by Pasolini.

Streaming on… BFI Player’s channel on Amazon Prime

Infernal Affairs (2002)

Infernal Affairs (2002)

Nearly 20 years on, this Hong Kong police story looks like a modern classic of the crime genre. Tony Leung stars as the cop who goes undercover to infiltrate a triad gang, while Andy Lau is the mob man playing the same trick in reverse. Martin Scorsese was so impressed that he remade Infernal Affairs as The Departed (2006), winning a best picture Oscar in the process.

Streaming on… Netflix

Kaili Blues (2015)

Kaili Blues (2016)

This is a film worth taking a chance on. Bi Gan’s trance-like debut layers timeframes as a doctor in southwestern China journeys to his hometown in search of his nephew. Its centrepiece is an extraordinary 40-minute shot that will drop your jaw.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Kicking and Screaming (1995)

Kicking and Screaming (1995)

From Frances Ha to While We’re Young, Noah Baumbach has cornered the market in neurotic hipster movies. Here’s where it all started, his 1995 debut film, revolving around the relationships of a bunch of aimless college friends grappling with their next steps.

Streaming on… Netflix

Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)

Credit: © 1989 Eiko Kadono - Nibariki - GN

Continuing his magical run of animated features for Studio Ghibli, Kiki’s Delivery Service is one of Hayao Miyazaki’s most enchanting offerings. It’s set in an imaginary old-world European city by the sea, where Kiki moves with her cat Jiji for a compulsory year of life experience as part of her training to become a witch.

Streaming on… Netflix

The Lady without Camelias (1953)

The Lady without Camelias (1953)

Made a full decade before Fellini’s 8½, this is Antonioni’s own movie about movie-making, a kind of Star Is Born story in which Lucia Bosè’s young starlet becomes an overnight sensation but soon finds herself stuck working in sexy melodramas and in a tepid marriage to her director. Antonioni maps out a hectic, behind-the-scenes world in long, flowing camera movements that evoke the industry in fascinating detail.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Let There Be Light (1946)

Let There Be Light (1946)

In between such classics as The Maltese Falcon and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, director John Huston was among a number of high-profile Hollywood directors who were drafted in to make documentary films for the US military during the Second World War. This blunt and moving film details soldiers returning with post-traumatic stress disorder and was a key inspiration for Paul Thomas Anderson when making The Master.

Streaming on… Netflix

Listen Up Philip (2014)

Listen Up Philip (2014)

If you find Wes Anderson too twee and Noah (Frances Ha) Baumbach too hipster-y, try Alex Ross Perry’s films. But prep yourself for an astringency like black coffee. They’re set in a similar New York milieu, but they don’t set your teeth on edge so much as make your lips curl. Listen Up Philip was his breakthrough film, starring Jason Schwartzman as a caustic writer who strikes up a relationship with his novelist hero (Jonathan Pryce).

Streaming on… BFI Player’s channel on Amazon Prime

Little Big Man (1970)

Little Big Man (1970)

Between them Dustin Hoffman and director Arthur Penn had kicked off the New Hollywood era in 1967 with The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde respectively. They came together in 1970 for this epic revisionist western. Told in flashback by the heavily made-up Hoffmann as a 121-year old veteran of the Indian wars, it’s a picaresque adventure with plenty of colourful turns. Imagine a kind of Barry Lyndon of the plains.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

The Long Day Closes (1992)

The Long Day Closes (1992)

Terence Davies’ lyrical memoir of growing up in postwar Liverpool is one of his finest films, in which 11-year-old Bud escapes from the mundane reality of 50s Britain by revelling in his trips to the local picture palace.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Mademoiselle Chambon (2009)

Mademoiselle Chambon (2009)

Lovers of subtle, sophisticated French drama should make sure they’ve seen this delicate, should-they-shouldn’t-they tale of marital infidelity between builder Vincent Lindon and his son’s schoolteacher. Comparisons with Brief Encounter are all but inevitable, but Stéphane Brizé’s film lives up to them.

Streaming on… BFI Player’s channel on Amazon Prime

Married to the Mob (1988)

Married to the Mob (1988)

The late Jonathan Demme is near his best with this lively, vibrantly coloured mobster comedy. Michelle Pfeiffer stars as the wife of knocked-off mafioso Frank ‘The Cucumber’ de Marco (Alec Baldwin), who gets entangled with mafia and FBI agents alike when she tries to start a new life. As ever with 80s Demme, the soundtrack slays: here we’ve got New Order, Brian Eno, Tom Tom Club, Debbie Harry and The Feelies.

Streaming on… Netflix

Masquerade (1988)

Masquerade (1988)

Really, who can resist a dose of polo-shirted neo-noir set in the Hamptons? An orphaned millionairess. A yachting captain with a shady past. Rob Lowe, Meg Tilly and Kim Cattrall. We can’t pretend this is capital-G great, but Sign. Us. Up.

Streaming on… Netflix

Mean Streets (1973)

Mean Streets (1973)

The film that made a star of Robert De Niro and announced Martin Scorsese as a director to be reckoned with. Mean Streets is the blue-collar, street-level answer to the more aristocratic gangster saga of The Godfather, with De Niro and Harvey Keitel playing two Italian-American friends who are drawn into a life of petty crime on the lower rungs of the mob. 

Streaming on… Netflix

Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Teaming Jon Voight’s male prostitute Joe Buck and Dustin Hoffman’s ailing conman Rizzo, Midnight Cowboy comes on like a cinematic Velvet Underground record in its immersion in a seamy nocturnal underside of New York life. It won best picture and best director at the 1970 Oscars. Seen today, it looks like a model for the likes of My Own Private Idaho (1991) and the Safdie brothers’ Heaven Knows What (2014).

Streaming on… Netflix

My Name Is Joe (1998)

My Name Is Joe (1998)

There’s a smattering of 1990s Ken Loach films on Prime. My Name Is Joe (like a precursor to I, Daniel Blake, he could have called it I, Joe) features a typically fierce turn from Peter Mullan as the recovering alcoholic who begins a relationship with a health visitor. The Cannes Film Festival named Mullan best actor in 1998.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Nashville (1975)

Karen Black filming Nashville (1975)

As dense and satisfying as a thick novel, Robert Altman’s grand opus set around the Grand Ole Opry in America’s country music capital serves up 24 different characters. Star performers, wannabes, politicians, walk-on movie stars – they’re all part of Altman’s kaleidoscopic tapestry. One of the great films of the 1970s.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

New Rose Hotel (1998)

New Rose Hotel (1998)

As so often in Abel Ferrara’s cinema, watching New Rose Hotel feels like brushing up against something dangerous. Based on a William Gibson novel, it’s an erotic cyberpunk drama of shifting, sheeny textures. Christopher Walken and Willem Dafoe play corporate extraction specialists who arrive at the eponymous hotel to try to lure a scientific genius to a rival company.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Night Moves (2013)

Night Moves (2013)

Kelly Reichardt is known for her quiet, miniaturist dramas set in the Pacific Northwest, but with this Jesse Eisenberg-starring eco-drama she came close to making an out-and-out thriller. Eisenberg is the radical environmentalist embarked on a plot to blow up a dam, and Night Moves follows the planning, execution and aftermath in Reichardt’s typically acute observational style.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Only You (2018)

A quite brilliant British debut feature here, from Harry Wootliff. Laia Costa and Josh O’Connor star as a young couple with a decade age gap who meet and fall passionately in love, only for their relationship to put through an emotional wringer when they struggle to conceive a child. Only You is delicate, bruisingly immediate and exceptionally moving.

Streaming on… Netflix

Orphée (1950)

Orphée (1950)

Set within the café-centred bohemian Paris of the postwar period, a time when a tortured poet could still earn fame and a modest fortune, Jean Cocteau’s classic fantasy features the lion-like actor Jean Marais as the beatnik wordsmith who must descend into the underworld in search of his deceased lover.

Streaming on… BFI Player’s channel on Amazon Prime

The Other Side of the Wind (2018)

The Other Side of the Wind (1970/2018)

Orson Welles fans assumed they’d never see this long unfinished project from the early 70s. Yet it finally saw the light of day in 2018, in a version that’s been polished off as closely as possible to Welles’s wishes and released on Netflix. More than worth the wait, it’s a dizzyingly kaleidoscopic film about filmmaking, with John Huston playing an ageing, cigar-chomping director at the centre of a maelstrom of acolytes, critics and hangers-on.

Streaming on… Netflix

Paris Is Burning (1990)

Paris Is Burning (1990)

Jennie Livingstone’s record of the 1980s drag scene in New York has received bucket loads of acclaim (and no small amount of controversy) since its first release. Livingstone was fresh out of film school when she first encountered the voguing and ball culture then popular among the city’s LGBTQ community, gaining access to vividly document the looks, moves, people and poses of an irrepressible NYC subculture.

Streaming on… Netflix

Paris Is Us (2019)

Elisabeth Vogler’s debut began as a Kickstarter project before the ultimate backer swept in: Netflix. Doffing its hat to latter-day Terrence Malick, and shot in a similarly euphoric, out-in-the-streets style, it’s a boldly envisioned teen relationship drama filmed against the backdrop of real-life events in Paris in the era of ‘Je suis Charlie’ and the Bataclan massacre. 

Streaming on… Netflix

Peepli Live (2010)

 Peepli (Live) (2010)

When an Indian farmer gets wise to a government payout for families of farmers who commit suicide, he creates a media frenzy by threatening to do just that. It seems he’s worth more dead than alive. This biting satire has its roots in real headlines, highlighting a fast-moving modern India where rural lives are being left behind.

Streaming on… Netflix

The Player (1992)

The Player (1992)

With its parade of cameos (Bruce Willis, Susan Sarandon, Cher, Julia Roberts, Harry Belafonte… the list goes on and on), Robert Altman’s dazzling satire of modern Hollywood in the era of corporate takeovers and 25-word pitches rewards endless rewatches, if only to make sure you’ve caught them all.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Princess Mononoke (1997)

Princess Mononoke (1997)

Set in the medieval Muromachi period, Studio Ghibli classic Princess Mononoke is Hayao Miyazaki’s sublimely rendered tale of a clash between firearm-wielding humans and the creatures of the surrounding forests. The adventure begins as young Prince Ashitaka is afflicted with a deadly curse after he’s wounded fending off a forest demon.

Streaming on… Netflix

Private Life (2018)

Tamara Jenkins’ funny-sad indie drama was one of the quieter triumphs of 2018 in film: an expertly observed and wrenchingly moving character study starring Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti as a middle-aged New Yorker couple who are desperately trying to have a baby. 

Streaming on… Netflix

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)

Better known for his cynical comedies and film noirs, later on in his career director Billy Wilder also made the single best Sherlock Holmes film of all. Robert Stephens is Holmes, with Colin Blakely his Dr Watson, in an absorbing mystery plot that takes in monks, dwarfs, the Loch Ness monster and Queen Victoria herself. Miklos Rosza’s sumptuous score brings to proceedings a warmth and romanticism that’s missing from Wilder’s more celebrated fare.

Streaming on… Netflix

Pulse (2001)

Pulse (2001)

A landmark of J-horror, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse did for computers what Ringu (1998) did for the humble videotape. That is, make them a thing of abject terror. In two parallel stories, young Tokyo-ites begin to see terrifying images through their computer monitors. Ghostly black stains appear on walls in dingy apartments, and doors sealed with red tape mysteriously crop up around the city. While delivering more than its share of jolts and creepiness, Pulse is also suffused with melancholy, as it maps out the apartness of people in a world of advancing technology.

Streaming on… BFI Player’s channel on Amazon Prime

Pyaasa (1957)

Guru Dutt in Pyaasa (1957)

The most famous release by actor, director and general iconoclast Guru Dutt, Pyaasa is a glory of Bollywood’s golden age. If you’re new to classic Bollywood, this may even be the perfect place to dive in. Its tale of a poet struggling to make his name in post-independence India is relayed through intoxicating black-and-white cinematography and almost hypnotically catchy songs, building to a back-from-the-dead finale that will have you up in your seat.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Radio Days (1987)

Radio Days (1987)

Woody Allen’s nostalgic tribute to the heyday of the wireless, set in Queens, NYC in the 1930s, is one of his most innovative and delightful films. Joe is the young boy growing up in a Jewish-American family in Rockaway Beach, where the rhythms of life keep time with the golden age of radio serials and the big-band sounds of Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman.

Streaming on… Netflix

Repulsion (1965)

The first of Roman Polanski’s loosely grouped ‘apartment trilogy’ features Catherine Deneuve as a man-fearing woman who is tormented by visions and anxieties when she’s left alone in a west London flat while her friend is away. A classic of swinging 60s British cinema.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Roma (2018)

Roma (2018)

From Gravity and Children of Men director Alfonso Cuarón, Roma is his Oscar-winning memoir of his childhood in 70s Mexico, shot in black-and-white, pinprick-sharp digital images that are glorious to behold. Netflix’s most widely acclaimed ‘exclusive’, it’s worth getting a bigger telly for.

Streaming on… Netflix

The Salesman (2016)

The Salesman (2016)

Not Asghar Farhadi’s best film – that would surely still be A Separation – but The Salesman is still a gripping demonstration of his unique ability to spin moral quandaries out of everyday situations. A husband and wife’s relationships starts to fray after they move into a new apartment and the wife is attacked by an intruder.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

She’s Gotta Have It (1986)

She's Gotta Have It (1986)

Spike Lee’s breakthrough film was shot in 12 days for the princely sum of $175k but put him squarely on the map as one of America’s brightest new independent filmmakers. Tracy Camilla Johns stars as Nola Darling, a Brooklynite with three different love affairs ongoing, but who refuses to commit to any of them.

Streaming on… Netflix

The Shooting (1966)

The Shooting (1966)

All you need to make a western is some horses and a patch of desert. Made back to back with Ride in the Whirlwind in Utah canyon country (and for small beans), The Shooting is a brilliantly spare cowboy film that evolves into almost Beckettian parable. Warren Oates and a young Jack Nicholson star. 

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

The Silence (1998)

The Silence (1998)

Kids on a quest is a popular theme in Iranian cinema. Something as everyday as buying a goldfish or transporting a plane of glass can take on mythic dimensions. Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s The Silence is full of this kind of casual magic, where the sounds and music that distract a young blind boy from his task hit us with a kind of ultra-vivid synaesthesia. Take a chance on it.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Southern Comfort (1981)

Southern Comfort (1981)

Walter Hill’s Deliverance-style, bayou-set thriller zeroes in on a platoon of national guardsmen on weekend manoeuvres through Louisiana swampland. After an unthinking act of violence makes them the prey of some vengeful Cajun woodsmen, macho jostling for supremacy gives way to a lethal game of cat and mouse.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

A Special Day (1977)

A Special Day (1977)

This brief-encounter tale from Ettore Scola is set on the historic day in 1938 when Mussolini welcomed Hitler to Rome. Shot in sepia-like colour, the action brings together two neighbours – strangers who are left alone in an apartment block after the rest of its residents flock to the rally. A deglamourised Sophia Loren is the housewife, while Marcello Mastroianni is the gay radio broadcaster who’s due to be deported for his anti-fascist sympathies. Scola charts their meeting of minds in gorgeous tracking shots, achieving a density of feeling that’s reminiscent of a good short story.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Stations of the Cross (2014)

In 14 rigorously controlled and coolly observed episodes, each named after the stations on Christ’s path to crucifixion, Dietrich Brüggemann’s Berlin-prize-winning film charts the intense religious devotion of a 14-year-old schoolgirl, her homelife with her traditionalist Catholic parents and her increasing belief in her own sacrificial destiny. Stations of the Cross is undeniably cold to the touch, but with an affecting performance from young Lea van Acken to keep you rapt.

Streaming on… BFI Player’s channel on Amazon Prime

The Stranger (1946)

The Stranger (1946)

Netflix is pretty barren when it comes to vintage Hollywood, but it does have this early Orson Welles film. His first dip into film noir territory, The Stranger is the story of a Nazi war criminal trying to evade detection in a cosy Connecticut town after the war. Welles himself is the villain, Edward G. Robinson the government man tasked with sniffing him out.

Streaming on… Netflix

Sudden Fear (1952)

Sudden Fear (1952)

In this rivettingly implausible film noir, Joan Crawford is the hotshot Broadway playwright who rejects Jack Palance’s actor for a role in her new play, only to fall in love with him when she bumps into him again onboard a cross-country train. But is he everything he seems? 

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Suddenly (1954)

Suddenly (1954)

Unravelling over a tight 75 minutes, here’s a neat little thriller about an attempt to assassinate the president as he passes through the sleepy fictional town of Suddenly, California. Coming at the height of his crooning fame, it was quite the gamble for Frank Sinatra to play the part of the would-be assassin. He was so perturbed by later rumours that Lee Harvey Oswald had watched this film prior to killing JFK that he asked for Suddenly to be withdrawn from circulation.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Sunday’s Illness (2018)

Sunday’s Illness (2018)

That’s a really off-putting title for what in fact is an utterly engrossing drama, told with some of the same intoxicating polish as some of Pedro Almodóvar’s later films. Exclusive to Netflix after they grabbed it straight out of the Berlin Film Festival, it kicks off when a wealthy society woman is suddenly confronted with a figure she hasn’t seen in 30 years: the daughter she abandoned. 

Streaming on… Netflix

Support the Girls (2018)

Andrew Bujalski’s Support the Girls sets us down in a Texan ‘breastaurant’ of the Hooters variety, detailing the camaraderie and everyday tribulations of Double Whammies manager Regina Hall and her team of waitresses, including Haley Lu Richardson. Support the Girls has lots to say about gender and race in the modern workplace, and worker exploitation, but it’s also a warmly humanist and frequently hilarious film, building to one of the most cathartic final scenes in recent memory.

Streaming on… Netflix

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1977)

Among the handful of kung fu offerings on Netflix, the most iconic is surely The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, a landmark release from the legendary Shaw Brothers stable that made a star of Gordon Liu. Liu plays the novitiate at a sacred monastery who must learn martial arts by working his way through 35 chambers of fiendish challenges.

Streaming on… Netflix

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974)

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974)

From the director who later brought you The Deer Hunter, Michael Cimino, comes this amiable couple-on-the-run movie teaming Clint Eastwood as an infamous bank robber and Jeff Bridges as the young punk he takes under his wing for his daring latest heist. 

Streaming on… Netflix

A Time for Dying (1969)

A Time for Dying (1969)

Just the kind of low-budget western that was still being turned out of the studio system’s ageing corners at the end of the 1960s — the scene mythologised in Quentin Tarantino’s Once upon a Time in Hollywood — Budd Boetticher’s final film is a sunset western that’s full of elegiac, old-timer melancholy. Yet its acid critique on the roles dished out to women in the old west also marks it as strikingly modern. A real find on Prime.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Time Share (2018)

Time Share (2018)

This nifty holiday-from-hell mystery from Mexico premiered at Sundance 2018 before being picked up and then buried/made available to the biggest audience on Earth via Netflix. It begins when a couple arrive at a luxury resort only to find a boisterous family have also been booked into their apartment – the first of a number of infuriating infractions that lead to the revelation that the resort isn’t everything it seems.

Streaming on… Netflix

To Catch a Thief (1955)

To Catch a Thief (1954)

One of Hitchcock’s glossiest, most seductive entertainments, To Catch a Thief stars Cary Grant as John Robie, a retired cat burglar who falls for the charms of Riviera socialite Francie (Grace Kelly), while a spate of robberies along the coast finds Robie fighting to clear his name. This is a Hitchcock movie, so there’s no shortage of suspense, but the film is more notable for its sunny, relaxed tempo and its naughty suggestiveness, as when Kelly offers Grant “a leg or a breast” during the classic picnicking scene.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

Toni Erdmann (2016)

Toni Erdmann (2016)

There was much mirth in 2016 when one of the best films of the year turned out to be a German comedy. People had forgotten that German émigrés made some of Hollywood’s most beloved laugh-fests. To be fair, though, Toni Erdmann is surprising on nearly all other fronts: a tale of father-daughter bonding that goes to some jaw-droppingly unexpected places.

Streaming… Amazon Prime

Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1977)

Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1977)

In this humdinger of the race-against-the-clock-to-prevent-nuclear-armageddon subgenre, Burt Lancaster plays the renegade USAF general who takes control of a missile silo in Montana and threatens to start World War III unless the president (Charles Durning) reveals the contents of a secret Vietnam war document. Robert Aldrich’s film is formidably taut and tense, while offering a prickly take on American patriotism.

Streaming on… BFI Player’s channel on Amazon Prime

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010)

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Remember His Past Lives (2010)

Winner of the Cannes Palme d’Or in 2010 and still one of the standout films of the decade. Watching this mesmeric marvel from Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul is like entering a steam room of mindfulness, complete with fornicating catfish, red-eyed wraiths and a hallucinatory sense of lives and time frames overlapping in a kind of Buddhist moebius strip.

Streaming on… BFI Player’s channel on Amazon Prime

Uncut Gems (2019)

From Daddy Longlegs (2009) to Good Time (2017), the films of the Safdie brothers aren’t so much thrillers as cinematic anxiety attacks, setting us into orbit with characters whose lives are walking maelstroms of disorder. With Uncut Gems they’ve outdone themselves. Adam Sandler plays the gambling-addicted Manhattan jewellery dealer who sells a rare black opal to NBA superstar Kevin Garnett (playing himself) only to steamroll deep into headache country by placing a big bet with borrowings against the future sale.

Streaming on… Netflix

Under the Shadow (2016)

Under the Shadow (2016)

Imaginatively creepy and jump-inducing horror from British-Iranian director Babak Anvari. Under the Shadow is set in early 80s Tehran, during the Iran-Iraq war, when a young girl becomes convinced that malevolent supernatural forces are at work in her family’s apartment block.

Streaming on… Netflix

Under the Volcano (1984)

Under the Volcano (1984)

Malcolm Lowry’s mezcal-marinated masterpiece of 1947, a modernist Mexican Ulysees, was assumed to be unfilmable until legendary old-time Hollywood director John Huston gave it a terrific stab in this 1984 adaptation. A Panama-hatted Albert Finney stars as the alcoholic former British consul losing his grip as the town of Quauhnahuac is subsumed with its annual Day of the Dead celebrations.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

The Wailing (2016)

The Wailing (2016)

Sprawling to two and a half hours, this police procedural is epically involving, bonkers and scary. It’s set in a rural Korean village, where a detective investigates a mysterious illness that seems to lead to murderous outbreaks. Things only get stranger, and when the police begin to look out of their depth a shaman is brought in to try to exorcise whatever dark forces are taking over.

Streaming on… Netflix

Wake in Fright (1971)

Wake in Fright (1971)

Made right at the dawn of the 70s renaissance in Australian film that later brought us Picnic at Hanging Rock and Mad Max, Wake in Fright is among that era’s meanest and most brilliant pleasures. It’s about a middle-class schoolteacher who is forced to accept a new post in an outback town, leading to a walkabout of nightmarish proportions when his urban ways clash with the hard-bitten locals.

Streaming on… BFI Player’s channel on Amazon Prime

Werewolf (2016)

Werewolf (2016)

Ashley McKenzie’s first feature made The New Yorker’s best of the year list but never came out in the UK, so it’s a pleasure to find it streaming. Beautifully compressed at a mere 79 minutes, it’s a captivating study of two young heroin addicts trying to get by on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. A terrific debut.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

The Woman in the Window (1944)

The Woman in the Window (1944)

Few directors have more A-grade film noirs to their name than Fritz Lang, and The Woman in the Window is one of his best. Edward G. Robinson stars as the lovelorn professor who gets mixed up in murder after falling for Joan Bennett’s alluring femme fatale.

Streaming on… Netflix

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