Abouna (2002)

Abouna (2002)

This second feature by Chadian filmmaker Mahamat-Saleh Haroun took the top spot in the Guardian’s recent rundown of the best African films. That’s a lot for any film to bear, but warmth and human insight emanate from this story of two young brothers who are abandoned by their father.

Streaming on… BFI Player’s channel on Amazon Prime


The Addiction (1995)

The Addiction (1995)

Abel Ferrara’s allegorical vampire film brings together Lili Taylor and Christopher Walken for a moody tale of philosophy, sin and addiction in modern New York. Shot in shadowy black and white, it sees Taylor’s NYU student developing a thirst for blood after being bitten during an assault.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime


Akira (1988)

Akira (1988)

One of the most celebrated of all Japanese anime movies, Akira is set in a dystopian ‘Neo-Tokyo’ in 2019 – the same year as Blade Runner. The Japanese capital has been rebuilt after a third world war, but corruption, terrorism and violence have led to martial law being declared. In the midst of chaos, a young biker with ESP stumbles upon a secret government experiment.

Streaming on… Netflix


All Hands on Deck (2020)

All Hands on Deck (2020)

French director Guillaume Brac is the new king of the summertime hangout movie. All Hands on Deck begins with a romantic dalliance in Paris, before Félix decides to spring a surprise visit on Alma while she’s holidaying in the south of France. Not a huge amount in the way of conflict or drama transpires, but Brac conveys a delicious, easygoing holiday atmosphere that feels ripe with possibility.

Streaming on… BFI Player’s channel on Amazon Prime


All Is Well (2018)

All Is Well (2018)

Picked up from festivals as a Netflix exclusive, Eva Trobisch’s engrossing feature debut 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, All Is Well might be a bit hidden by your algorithm but it rewards the search. 

Streaming on… Netflix


American Graffiti (1973)

American Graffiti (1973)

A bumper-to-bumper soundtrack of rock’n’roll classics props up George Lucas’s nostalgic vision of teenage life in small-town California in the early 1960s. The film thrills with its gleaming depiction of cars, cruising, diners and jukeboxes, its ensemble cast offering early roles to the likes of Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Cindy Williams and Harrison Ford. 

Streaming on… Netflix


An Angel at My Table (1990)

An Angel at My Table (1990)

Of this extraordinary biopic of the poet Janet Frame, an admiring Claire Denis said: “This film changed my life as a woman, not simply as a filmmaker. Nobody had made images of girls and landscapes that beautiful before, with such a vibrating intuition for life.” It’s on Netflix, along with Jane Campion’s later Palme d’Or winner The Piano (1993) and her new western, The Power of the Dog.

Streaming on… Netflix


Atlantics (2019)

Atlantics (2019)

Mati Diop’s long-form debut Atlantics was voted the seventh best film of 2019 in the annual Sight and Sound critics’ poll. It’s a sensual and allusive 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


Aurora (2010)

Aurora (2010)

Running a daunting three hours, this is a crime story told at the molasses-slow pace of ordinary life. We follow the director himself, Cristi Puiu, playing an obscurely disgruntled divorcé, on his meanderings around Bucharest, apparently with something violent or even murderous on his mind. Masterfully shot, it becomes grimly absorbing if you can adjust to its tempo.

Streaming on… Netflix


Babylon (1980)

Babylon (1980)

One of the key British films of the 1980s, Babylon is an evocative dive into soundsystem culture in Brixton in the early Thatcher years, following the beleaguered fortunes of a reggae DJ (Aswad’s Brinsley Forde) preparing for an upcoming competition. A great youth movie, and a landmark in depicting Black Britain on film.

Streaming on… Netflix


Bait (2019)

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


The Battle of Algiers (1966)

The Battle of Algiers (1966)

Gillo Pontecorvo’s electrifying classic of political cinema sees the Algerian struggle for independence from French colonial rule through the eyes of freedom fighter Ali (Brahim Hadjadj). With a driving score by Ennio Morricone, the film’s extraordinary sense of present-tense struggle and insurrection have fed into the DNA of the political thriller ever since.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime


The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Winning the 1946 Oscar for best picture, William Wyler’s drama took the temperature of the US at the time when American soldiers were returning after the Second World War and bumpily attempting to settle back into civilian life. At nearly three hours long, it was on the outer limits of duration for a standalone Hollywood film of the time, but its panorama of small-town America is so finely grained and emotionally affecting that it earns every minute. 

Streaming on… Amazon Prime


Bombay (1995)

Bombay (1995)

An interfaith romance set against the backdrop of the Bombay (now Mumbai) riots of late 1992, this Tamil-language classic sees director Mani Ratnam pull off his unusual trick of balancing real-world politics with sweeping big-screen melodrama. Set to stunning music by A.R. Rahman, it proved so controversial on release that Ratnam’s house was targeted with bombs by extremists. 

Streaming on… Netflix


Boyz n the Hood (1991)

Boyz n the Hood (1991)

A bruising coming-of-age drama set in Inglewood, LA, Boyz n the Hood proved one hell of a calling card for its 24-year-old director John Singleton, who became the youngest person and the first African American ever to be nominated for the best director Oscar. A formidable cast includes Ice Cube, Laurence Fishburne and breakthrough performances from Angela Bassett and Cuba Gooding Jr.

Streaming on… Netflix


A Bucket of Blood (1959)

A Bucket of Blood (1959)

A café worker becomes an art sensation after hitting upon a macabre sculpting technique in this classic B-movie horror from legendary producer-director Roger Corman. At 66 minutes, this is a shining example of economic genre filmmaking. Its broad satire of the West Coast beatnik world makes for fabulous entertainment.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime


Cairo Station (1958)

Cairo Station (1958)

Netflix would be the last place you’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


Celia (1989)

Celia (1989)

Ann Turner’s haunting debut film centres on an impressionable young girl growing up in 1950s suburban Melbourne. It’s the era of the red scare, and the fear of communism and a government cull on the rabbit population are twin terrors that affect her young mind.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime


Chronicle of a Disappearance (1996)

Chronicle of a Disappearance (1996)

Elia Suleiman emerged as the major Palestinian director of his generation with this quizzical, gently comic, but finally piercing look at Palestinian life in the West Bank. There’s no storyline exactly; rather Suleiman sets up scenes like mini anecdotes or sketches – a style close to Jacques Tati. Suleiman’s second feature, Divine Intervention (2002), can also be found on Netflix.

Streaming on… Netflix


La ciénaga (2001)

La ciénaga (2001)

Lucrecia Martel has only made four features in 20 years, but they’ve earned her a place at the top table of international arthouse cinema. It all began with this phenomenal debut, a humid family drama that has all the tightly compressed atmospherics of a good short story. The setting is a fading country estate in north-western Argentina, where the frictions and foibles of a bourgeois family are laid bare.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime


City of Gold (1957)

City of Gold (1957)

For a transportive slice of history told in 20 minutes try this Canadian documentary, which won the Palme d’Or for best short film at Cannes in 1957. The city in question is Dawson City in the Yukon Territory, a focal point for the Klondike Gold Rush. Using zooms to bring antique photos to life (in a manner that would later inspire Ken Burns), this evocative journey into the past makes the perfect companion piece to Bill Morrison’s recent feature Dawson City: Frozen Time (2016). 

Streaming on… Amazon Prime


The Colour of Pomegranates (1969)

The Colour of Pomegranates (1969)

This poetic and stylised account of the life of the 19th-century Armenian poet Sayat-Nova is really like nothing else out there. Martin Scorsese described watching it as “opening a door and walking into another dimension, where time has stopped and beauty has been unleashed”.

Streaming on… BFI Player’s channel on Amazon Prime


Crash (1996)

Crash (1996)

Before there was Titane, there was Crash. David Cronenberg’s scandalous 1996 film is an adaptation of the J.G. Ballard novel about a subculture of people getting their sexual kicks from car accidents. It’s one of the Canadian auteur’s most lethal and dazzling provocations.

Streaming on… BFI Player’s channel on Amazon Prime


The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961)

The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961)

The end is nigh: nuclear activity has tipped the Earth off its axis and sent it hurtling towards the sun. Not just one of the best end-of-the-world films, this brilliant British sci-fi disaster movie doubles as a great newspaper film – our heroes being the reporters from a Fleet Street rag.

Streaming on… BFI Player’s channel on Amazon Prime


The Death of Mr Lazarescu (2005)

The Death of Mr Lazarescu (2005)

Although the prospect of seeing an ailing man shunted from pillar to post in Bucharest’s hospital system might not sound like a thrilling one, this masterpiece of the Romanian New Wave is as gripping as it is profoundly moving. Did we mention it was two and a half hours? Don’t worry. Take a chance…

Streaming on… Netflix


Deja Vu (2006)

Deja Vu (2006)

Tony Scott’s high-concept thriller sees Denzel Washington employing time-warping technology to examine events leading up to a terrorist attack on a New Orleans ferry during Mardi Gras. It got a mixed reception on release in 2006 but has since gathered up significant critical steam.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime


Dil Se.. (1998)

Dil Se.. (1998)

If you want to witness one of the most gobsmacking moments in modern musicals, 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 perform an astonishing train-top dance routine.

Streaming on… Netflix


The Disciple (2020)

The Disciple (2020)

Mumbai-born director Chaitanya Tamhane made a name for himself with his 2014 legal drama Court. His second feature enters the world of Indian classical music. The Disciple centres on a vocalist who has followed his father into a music career, devoting himself to practise and the noble tradition of his craft. Only thing is, he starts to get a niggling sense that he’s falling short. His perfectionism may not be perfect enough. And if it’s not, should he continue? 

Streaming on… Netflix


Dodsworth (1936)

Dodsworth (1936)

Part of a haul of the back catalogue of old-time producer Samuel Goldwyn that can be found on Amazon Prime, Dodsworth is pedigree old-time Hollywood entertainment: smart, witty and even penetrating in its view of marriage. Walter Huston plays the midwestern businessman who retires and sells up but finds his relationship with his wife being tested during a lengthy trip to Europe. 

Streaming on… Amazon Prime


8 ½ (1963)

8 ½ (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 organising of chaos – 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, around whom a dizzying vision of life in the Italian film world orbits.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime


Falling Leaves (1914)

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 Father (2020)

The Father (2020)
© Lionsgate UK

Winning him both Oscars and BAFTAs as best actor (again), The Father sees Anthony Hopkins playing a man with progressing dementia whose constant state of confusion is made disorientingly relatable for the viewer by the way the fractured drama plays out from his unreliable perspective. It’s a brutally effective and affecting study in mental disintegration.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime


Festen (1998)

Festen (1998)

Among the first digitally shot feature films, Festen was one of the opening salvos of Denmark’s Dogme 95 movement, which espoused pared back production methods. Even a quarter of a century later, it’s still a film best watched through your hands, as a grown-up son uses a huge family gathering to reveal a horrific secret about his father.

Streaming on… BFI Player’s channel on Amazon Prime


The Firemen’s Ball (1967)

The Firemen's Ball (1967)

Before emigrating to Hollywood to make Oscar juggernauts One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and Amadeus (1984), Milos Forman was one of the leading lights of the 1960s Czech New Wave. The Fireman’s Ball is a short, pithy comedy set during the annual ball of a small-town fire department, into which Forman smuggles a satire of the corrupted communist system.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime

 


The Flavour of Green Tea over Rice (1952)

The Flavour of Green Tea over Rice (1952)

Yasujiro Ozu’s exquisite marital drama centres on a wife who has grown dissatisfied with her salaryman husband and his homely, unglamorous ways: his preference for third-class rail travel and unsophisticated taste for pouring tea over his rice. All of the pleasures of this great Japanese director’s unique style are here in spades.

Streaming on… BFI Player’s channel on Amazon Prime


Friends with Money (2006)

Friends with Money (2006)

Perpetually underrated, writer-director Nicole Holofcener has a CV full of wryly observed studies of the trappings of middle age, parenthood and female friendship. Netflix also offers her 2018 film The Land of Steady Habits, but she’s closer to her best in this comic ensemble drama from 2006. Jennifer Aniston plays a cash-strapped waitress whose friends – Catherine Keener, Frances McDormand and Joan Cusack – are all now considerably richer than she is.

Streaming on… Netflix


Gosford Park (2001)

Gosford Park (2001)

The film that spawned Downton Abbey, this upstairs-downstairs country-house murder mystery proves a great fit for the masterful juggling of a large ensemble cast that American director Robert Altman is so renowned for. Maggie Smith, Richard E. Grant and Helen Mirren are among the guests arriving for a fateful weekend.

Streaming on… Netflix


Gregory’s Girl (1980)

Gregory’s Girl (1980)

Is this the greatest romantic comedy ever made in Britain? It’s certainly a contender. Bill Forsyth’s effervescent charmer sees gangly teen John Gordon Sinclair fall hard for football wiz Dee Hepburn at a secondary school in Cumbernauld. 

Streaming on… Amazon Prime


Happy Old Year (2019)

Happy Old Year (2019)

The ultimate film for disciples of Marie Kondo’s tidying ethos, Happy Old Year centres on a Thai woman moving back to Bangkok from abroad and, aspiring to minimalism, attempting to radically declutter her apartment. But the effort to be ‘out with the old’ puts her on a collision course with her past, as the belongings of her ex-boyfriend dredge up emotional memories. Possessions aren’t so easily parted with.

Streaming on… Netflix


Here Is Your Life (1966)

Here Is Your Life (1966)

Several of Ingmar Bergman’s favourite actors, including Max von Sydow, Gunnar Björnstrand and Allan Edwall, feature in this gorgeously shot rites-of-passage epic set in rural Sweden in the 1910s. Its Swedish director, Jan Troell, would go on to make the two-part pioneer saga The Emigrants/The New Land (1971/72), one of the only foreign language films ever to be nominated for the Oscar for best picture.

Streaming on… Netflix


A Hero (2021)

A Hero (2021)

A Hero is one of director Asghar Farhadi’s tense moral-conundrum thrillers, unravelling like an Iranian cousin to the Safdie brothers’ Uncut Gems (2019). It follows the fortunes of a would-be self-starter who’s ended up in prison because he was unable to repay his debtor. The universe seems to offer him a leg up, however, when on temporary leave he comes into possession of a handbag full of gold. But what he does with it opens up an ethical can of worms…

Streaming on… Amazon Prime


His House (2020)

His House (2020)

The hoary old haunted house subgenre got a fresh lick of paint in this petrifying and politically resonant debut feature from British writer-director Remi Weekes. His House sees a refugee couple from South Sudan given asylum in Britain and taking up gloomy slum housing on the outskirts of London. Strange occurrences and nightmarish visions haunt their attempts to start a new life.

Streaming on… Netflix


The House of the Devil (2009)

The House of the Devil (2009)

Retro textures in horror films are the last refuge of a scoundrel, but they work irresistibly in this 1980s-set chiller from Ti West, which plays on that era’s ‘satanic panic’. The House of the Devil sees a college student unadvisedly accepting a mysterious babysitting job at a remote mansion.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime


House on Haunted Hill (1959)

House on Haunted Hill (1959)

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


I Am Not a Witch (2013)

I Am Not a Witch (2017)

The striking directorial debut of Welsh-Zambian filmmaker Rungano Nyoni, I Am Not a Witch is the fresh, disturbing and often deadpan funny tale of how superstition and officialdom conspire to send a young girl to live in a camp for believed witches.

Streaming on… Netflix


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 (1971) and The Long Goodbye (1973), 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


Kansas City Confidential (1952)

Kansas City Confidential (1952)

Phil Karlson’s name crops up as director on some of the punchiest film noirs of the 1950s. This one borrows something from The Asphalt Jungle (1950) in its story of the fallout from a heist – in this case an armoured car robbery that sends its perpetrators into hiding in Mexico. As each of them wore masks, their identity is a secret even from each other…

Streaming on… Amazon Prime


The Land (1969)

The Land (1969)

One of the jewels in Netflix’s terrific selection of films by Egyptian director Youssef Chahine, The Land is his richly detailed adaptation of a novel by Abdel Rahman al-Sharqawi that pits a community of rural peasants against their greedy landlord in a dispute over irrigation rights. This isn’t a chippy story of underdogs coming together so much as an exploration of how tensions and competing priorities within a group can undermine collective action. Stunningly shot in the Nile valley, it remains one of the landmarks of Egyptian cinema.

Streaming on… Netflix


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


Love & Friendship (2016)

Love & Friendship (2016)

Who’d have expected a Jane Austen adaptation to end up as one of the funniest films of the 2010s? Whit Stillman fans, maybe. Kate Beckinsale and Chloë Sevigny star in this peerless matchmaking comedy derived from Austen’s posthumously published novel Lady Susan.

Streaming on… Netflix


Mädchen in Uniform (1931)

Mädchen in Uniform (1931)

An early classic of lesbian cinema, Leontine Sagan’s classic 1931 film Mädchen in Uniform is set in an all-girl’s boarding school, where a new student comes under the iron rule of the disciplinarian headteacher while developing a crush on her kindly governess. With an all-female cast and a deeply humanistic rather than prurient or sensational treatment of homosexuality, Mädchen in Uniform feels startlingly modern and daring. 

Streaming on… BFI Player’s channel on Amazon Prime


Morvern Callar (2002)

Morvern Callar (2002)

This second feature from Lynne Ramsay starts in a wintry Scottish port, where Samantha Morton’s eponymous supermarket worker awakens – amid the benign flash of Christmas lights – to find her boyfriend dead in the bed next to her. He’s left a mixtape, a suicide note and an unpublished manuscript. It’s the latter that holds the key to Morvern’s sunnier future in Spain.

Streaming on… Netflix


The Naked Kiss (1964)

The Naked Kiss (1964)

The staccato opening shots of Sam Fuller’s The Naked Kiss have the camera too close for comfort as a wigged woman frantically beats an assailant with her handbag. The bag swings unnervingly towards us, and the camera staggers to keep the action in frame. The ensuing tale centres on a sex worker turning over first a new leaf and then some dark secrets in small-town America. It’s classic Fuller: a vision of the American underbelly that his camera serves up in headline typeface.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime


The Nightingale (2018)

The Nightingale (2018)

Australian writer-director Jennifer Kent won plaudits aplenty for her debut, the 2014 horror film The Babadook, but her follow-up is even better. It’s more genuinely horrific, though it’s not a horror film but an unusually visceral period film set in an early 19th-century penal colony in Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania). Aisling Franciosi plays the young Irish convict who enlists the help of an Aboriginal tracker to pursue the British soldier who committed horrific crimes against her and her family.

Streaming on… Netflix


Night Tide (1961)

Night Tide (1961)

In this off-Hollywood oddity, Dennis Hopper plays a sailor who falls in love with a woman from a carnival attraction who may or may not be a real mermaid. The setting is Santa Monica, and the dreamy mood is part Roger Corman exploitation flick and part Jean Cocteau fantasy but with a somnambulistic quality that’s steeped in the occult underground cinema of Maya Deren and Kenneth Anger.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime


Open Range (2003)

Open Range (2003)

This third (and so far final) film from Kevin Costner as director stars Costner and Robert Duvall as two cattlemen on the open range in Montana, whose ‘free ranging’ raises the ire of a local land baron. There’s real beauty and dynamism to Costner’s direction here – Open Range is amiable but muscular, and stunningly shot. 

Streaming on… Amazon Prime


The Other Side of the Wind (2018)

The Other Side of the Wind (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. 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


The Outlaw and His Wife (1918)

The Outlaw and His Wife (1918)

This luminous Swedish silent film from pioneer Victor Sjöström is derived from the legend of an 18th-century Icelandic outlaw called Eyvind of the Hills. It uses the crags, waterfalls and outcrops of northern Sweden as an elemental backdrop for a very early example of the lovers-on-the-run format.

Streaming on… Netflix


Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951)

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951)

A marvel of Technicolor, Pandora and the Flying Dutchman feels a bit like the long-lost Powell and Pressburger masterpiece you’ve never seen. It’s set amid a community of expats and bohemians on the Costa Brava in the 1930s – a scene that revolves around Ava Gardner’s singer and socialite Pandora. Her beauty entrances an enigmatic Dutch sea captain (James Mason).

Streaming on… Amazon Prime


Parasite (2019)

Parasite (2019)

An international sensation upon release, culminating with its historic Oscar for best picture (the first non-English language film to win it), Parasite is Bong Joon Ho’s peerless class-divide thriller about a Korean family who inveigle their way into service in a luxury home. Twists, surprises and biting satire are all part of the ride.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime


Paris Is Us (2018)

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


The Parson’s Widow (1920)

The Parson's Widow (1920)

Although Danish director Carl Dreyer is more readily associated with the deadly serious drama of his masterpieces The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) and Ordet (1955), this early gem shows up his comic chops. It may be more than a century old now, but The Parson’s Widow serves plenty of chuckles in its story of a young graduate’s first faltering steps as the new parson in a remote Norwegian village.

Streaming on… Netflix


Passion Fish (1992)

Passion Fish (1992)

Like a benign, southern-fried cousin of Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (1966), this comic John Sayles drama also revolves around an actress’s relationship with her nurse during a period of waterside recuperation. Mary McDonnell is wonderful as the daytime soap star who is paralysed after a road accident. In a home on the bayou, she struggles to adjust to her new existence but finds a soulful connection with her carer (Alfre Woodard).

Streaming on… Amazon Prime


Pather Panchali (1955)

Pather Panchali (1955)

Heralding a new realism in Indian film, Pather Panchali was a seismic debut for its young director Satyajit Ray and the first in what became known as his Apu trilogy. A coming-of-age story focused on a boy growing up in rural Bengal, its view of childhood is lyrical, wise and humane.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime


Pompeii (2014)

Pompeii (2014)

Ending with a staggering 40-minute eruption sequence, Paul W.S. Anderson’s ancient-world disaster movie is a delirious pleasure. Essentially transposing the plot of Titanic (1997) to the town of Pompeii in the run up to the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79 AD, it pushes together a Roman governor’s daughter (Emily Browning) and a Celtic slave (Kit Harington) for a fateful romance across class lines.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime


Private Life (2018)

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


Quo Vadis, Aida? (2020)

Quo Vadis, Aida? (2020)

Jasmila Žbanić’s Oscar-nominated drama is a harrowingly vivid depiction of war-torn Bosnia in the mid 1990s and the events leading to the Srebrenica massacre. Our eyes on the ground are those of a mother, teacher and UN translator (Jasna Đuričić).

Streaming on… Netflix


Raging Bull (1980)

Raging Bull (1980)

More than 40 years on, this boxing biopic still looks like a champ: a monochrome marvel with one foot in Italian neorealism, the other in John Cassavetes’ scalding domestic dramas. The cast assembled many of Marty’s nearest and dearest – Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Scorsese’s dad Charles – and look out for John Turturro making his uncredited screen debut as ‘man at table’.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime


The Red House (1947)

The Red House (1947)

– “There’s something out in those woods. Something tells me we won’t find out what it is until I find the red house.”
– “What are we going to do with it when we find it?”
– “Bust it open, I guess, and let some light in. Maybe it’ll shake the creeps out of a lot of things.”

Such dialogue may sound like it’s from a lost episode of Twin Peaks, but it’s actually from this dreamlike Hollywood drama. By the late 40s, all types of latent strangeness were seeping into Hollywood film from the American subconscious, and The Red House is a kind of looking-glass fairytale with unspoken-of horror at its heart.

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


Rose Plays Julie (2019)

Rose Plays Julie (2019)

Rose Plays Julie is a provocative, questioning, enigmatic thriller about a woman’s attempts to discover the truth about the parents who gave her up for adoption as a child. First stalking her mum online, then channelling a series of guises to confront them in turn, Rose’s attempts to get to grips with the circumstances of her conception play out as a cool, disquieting mystery.

Streaming on… BFI Player’s channel on Amazon Prime


Sabotage (1936)

Sabotage (1936)

The action of Sabotage centres on an east London cinema, beginning with an electricity blackout and evolving as Mrs Verloc (Sylvia Sidney) slowly comes to the realisation that her husband, the cinema owner, is a terrorist agent. It forms part of that golden run of thrillers that Hitchcock made his name with in Britain, also including The 39 Steps (1935) and The Lady Vanishes (1938).

Streaming on… Amazon Prime


She Dies Tomorrow (2020)

She Dies Tomorrow (2020)

In this very 2020 contagion drama (actually finished before the pandemic), a young woman becomes convinced she’s due to die the following day. And when she tells her friend, the friend in turn becomes virally contaminated with a conviction of predetermined death. And she passes it on too. Director Amy Seimetz plays this spreading doom not for scares but for a kind of existential panic: it’s absurd, unsettling and morbidly funny in equal measure. 

Streaming on… Netflix


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 it 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


Shirley (2020)

Shirley (2020)

Elisabeth Moss plays writer Shirley Jackson, best known for The Haunting of Hill House. She’s stuck on her new novel, but her creative juices begin to flow again after a newlywed couple come to stay at her and her husband’s Vermont home. So begins a tempestuous dynamic in which the couple’s youthful naivety is chewed up by the aggressively sharp and spiky Jackson and her intellectually imperious other half (Michael Stuhlbarg). 

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 a Beckettian parable. Warren Oates and a young Jack Nicholson star. 

Streaming on… Amazon Prime


Sir Arne’s Treasure (1919)

Sir Arne's Treasure (1919)

A silent classic from Swedish director Mauritz Stiller, shot amid landscapes piled high with snow. The setting is the Swedish coast some time in the 1500s, its plot a fateful drama about a Scottish plunderer who murders a family in order to steal their treasure chest. In later life, the crime catches up with him when he unknowingly falls in love with the family’s only surviving daughter.

Streaming on… Netflix


Sound of Metal (2019)

Sound of Metal (2019)

In Sound of Metal, Riz Ahmed is the drumming half of a noise duo who suddenly loses his hearing. The film follows him into the resulting tailspin, as he tries to make sense of what’s happening to him and adjust to his new circumstances. Fiercely unsentimental, Darius Marder’s film makes exceptional use of sound to simulate Ahmed’s alienating aural experience. It’s a portrait of a man in freefall, delivered by Ahmed with a restless intensity that burns up the screen.

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


Story of a Love Affair (1950)

Story of a Love Affair (Cronaca di un amore, 1950)

A poignant loss to coronavirus, veteran Milanese actress Lucia Bosè had two of her most memorable turns in early Michelangelo Antonioni movies. Story of a Love Affair is his noirish debut feature about a jealous industrialist hiring an agency to investigate his beautiful wife’s past.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime


Stranger by the Lake (2013)

Stranger by the Lake (2013)

Somebody is knocking off the habitués of a lakeside cruising ground in this gripping erotic thriller from French director Alain Guiraudie. Winner of the Queer Palm at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, its action unfolds amid a sense of real danger and sexual longing.

Streaming on… BFI Player’s channel on Amazon Prime


Sully (2016)

Sully (2016)

Sully belongs to a fascinating late cycle of films in which Clint Eastwood has probed the nature of real-life (American) heroism. It stars that paragon of American virtue and decency Tom Hanks as Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, the US Airways pilot who made headlines in 2009 when he was able to land a passenger plane with failing engines on the Hudson River. 

Streaming on… Amazon Prime and Netflix


A Sun (2019)

A Sun (2019)

Acclaimed by Sight and Sound as “one of the most impressive films of recent times” and compared to Edward Yang’s great family dramas A Brighter Summer Day (1991) and Yi Yi (2000), this exquisite Taiwanese story about a family coping with unexpected tragedy went straight to Netflix in the UK so hasn’t had the attention it deserves. 

Streaming on… Netflix


Sunday’s Illness (2018)

Sunday’s Illness (2018)

That’s a really off-putting title for what in fact is an 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


Sunset Song (2015)

Sunset Song (2015)

Agyness Deyn stars as the daughter of an Aberdeenshire farmer in the early 1900s in Terence Davies’ luminous adaptation of a 1932 novel by Lewis Grassic Gibbon. A pastoral tale that harks back to the silent films of F.W. Murnau, Sunset Song’s sombre themes include domestic abuse, suicide and the incoming carnage of the First World War. Yet Davies offers some sublime grace notes along the way.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime


Time (2020)

Time (2020)

Near the top of many lists of the best films of 2020, Garrett Bradley’s poignant documentary follows New Orleans mum Sibil Fox Richardson as she campaigns for the release of her husband, who is serving an outsized 60-year sentence for bank robbery. Combining home movies with new footage, all rendered in black and white, Time is documentary as blues, capturing the sad toll this judicial decision has taken on the life of a family across the decades. 

Streaming on… Amazon Prime


Time and Tide (2000)

Time and Tide (2000)

A late bloom from the golden age of Hong Kong action cinema, Time and Tide was Tsui Hark’s homecoming movie after a spell in Hollywood working with the likes of Jean-Claude Van Damme. One stunningly conceived action set-piece follows another in the breathless story of a bodyguard getting caught up in a deadly clash with South American mercenaries.

Streaming on… Netflix


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


Uncut Gems (2019)

Uncut Gems (2019)

The Safdie brothers don’t make thrillers so much 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 into a big headache 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


Vagabond (1985)

Vagabond (1985)

Among Agnès Varda’s very finest films, Vagabond opens with its protagonist found dead in a ditch. From here Varda’s film flashes back to colour in the final days of young Mona (a performance of elemental force from Sandrine Bonnaire), a Parisian who drifted away from the city in favour of a life of roaming, seasonal work and no responsibility. Varda takes a pseudo-documentary approach, interviewing those who knew Mona in order to piece together the circumstances of her end.

Streaming on… BFI Player’s channel on Amazon Prime


The Voyeurs (2021)

The Voyeurs (2021)

The Voyeurs is a curtain-twitching mystery in the grand tradition of Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954), with the retro flavour of a 90s erotic thriller updated to the social media age. A young couple moves into a spacious Montreal apartment and begins to spy on a couple in the block opposite. At first, they’re titillated by their neighbours’ sexual antics, but things inevitably take a darker turn, with director Michael Mohan offering up plenty of witty moments and narrative surprises that help you ride along with the increasing silliness. 

Streaming on… Amazon Prime


The Wailing (2016)

The Wailing (2016)

Sprawling to 2 ½ 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… Amazon Prime


The Watermelon Woman (1996)

The Watermelon Woman (1996)

Forget Clerks (1994), the best 90s film set around a video store is this inspired romcom, the debut feature by Cheryl Dunye. It’s smart, self-reflexive yet never less than easygoing, even as it pulls off a narrative sleight of hand worthy of Paul Auster or Orson Welles’ F for Fake (1973). Dunye plays the store assistant who moonlights as a documentary filmmaker, putting together a film about the ‘mammy’ stereotype incarnated by Black actresses during the Hollywood golden age. 

Streaming on… BFI Player’s channel on Amazon Prime


Le Week-end (2013)

Le Week-end (2013)

Perhaps the finest film by British director Roger Michell, who died last year, Le Week-end features Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan as an ageing married couple who embark on a weekend to Paris in order to relive their honeymoon. A warmly observed portrait of a comfy, lived-in relationship in need of a shake-up, it also offers a fine supporting role for Jeff Goldblum.

Streaming on… Netflix


Whisper of the Heart (1995)

Whisper of the Heart (1995)

Among Studio Ghibli’s most delightful films, Whisper of the Heart is sadly the only film directed by Miyazaki protégé Yoshifumi Kondo before his death aged 47 in 1998. Based on a Miyazaki script, it contains that perfect balance of enchantment and the everyday that characterises many of Ghibli’s finest. Its heroine is a budding writer who one day realises that each of her library books has previously been checked out by the same person: the mysterious ‘Seiji Amasawa’.

Streaming on… Netflix


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… Amazon Prime


Wonderstruck (2017)

Wonderstruck (2017)

Adapted from his own novel by Brian Selznick (who also wrote Scorsese’s Hugo), Wonderstruck tells the stories of two questing children living half a century apart. Unexpectedly whimsical for a Todd Haynes film, it left some critics scratching their heads. Yet it’s a stirring, frequently enchanting creation.

Streaming on… Amazon Prime


Wuthering Heights (2011)

Wuthering Heights (2011)

Andrea Arnold’s unconventional adaptation of Emily Brontë’s novel blows away the cobwebs of the period movie, leaving only the ferocious extremes of the emotion between Cathy and Heathcliff and the wind-blown desolation of the setting on the Yorkshire moors. Shot by master cinematographer Robbie Ryan, this is the period movie as elemental howl.

Streaming on… Netflix

 


Zama (2017)

Zama (2017)

Lucrecia Martel’s fourth feature is a period film like no other. It’s set in a South American colony in the late 18th century, where an officer of the Spanish crown waits in purgatory for a transfer that never comes. Heat, isolation and professional uncertainty have rarely been so cinematically portrayed.

Streaming on… BFI Player’s channel on Amazon Prime


Originally published: 29 January 2022