Amazon isn’t about to let Netflix have all the fun (and funds) when it comes to making superb original television series and films – and it’s already given its Prime subscribers some award-winning stuff to stream.
While Amazon’s in-house production library isn’t as extensive as Netflix’s, there’s still piles of great material to get your teeth into, from glossy crime shows to affecting dramas to sweeping period epics.
And what’s more, a good amount of it is available in 4K Ultra HD and/or HDR at no extra cost – perfect if you want to see what your flashy new 4K TV can do.
The visuals of Amazon’s first animated original series are startlingly realistic, because they use the rotoscoping technique: seemingly hand-drawn images “traced” over live actors. It’s perfect for relaying the slightly unreal life of protagonist Alma, a young woman whose monotonous, directionless routine is shattered by a near-death experience that allows her to see and speak to her late father – who is seemingly urging her to uncover the mystery of his death.
Shia LeBeouf wrote the screenplay to this affecting drama, a fictionalised retelling of his early life as a child TV actor and his subsequent breakdown as a slightly older movie actor. He also stars, essentially, as his own father – an alcoholic former rodeo clown who now works as his son’s on-set chaperone. If this all sounds a touch self-regarding, it’s easily forgiven when watching the film. Well-acted and thought-provoking all round, it serves as a compelling fable about finding peace, confronting the past and moving forward.
All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur (S1)
Amazon’s filmmakers couldn’t have dreamed up a more dramatic backdrop for their fly-on-the-wall documentary series about Tottenham’s 2019/20 season. Not only was beloved coach Mauricio Pochettino sacked a few games in, he was swiftly replaced by José Mourinho – the “Special One” proving to be great value in front of the camera. Oh, and then coronavirus arrived in the UK, sticking one heck of a spanner in Spurs chairman Daniel Levy’s plans for filling up the club’s state of the art new stadium. With unprecedented access to a club perennially knocking on greatness’s door, this is an involved, entertaining and eye-opening look at the day to day life of a Premiership team.
Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm
Kazakhstan’s favourite son returns. Sacha Baron-Cohen is once more poking fun at Americans, this time in the midst of a tumultuous Trump presidency and spiralling COVID-19 pandemic. While Baron-Cohen’s civilian targets often seem a touch undeserving (many are possibly being polite and accommodating to what they see as an eccentric foreigner, rather than outright agreeing with the bigoted sentiments Borat comes out with) it’s still hard to feel sorry for any of the subjects. As with the original movie, Baron-Cohen’s hidden camera setups delivering giant levels of cringe plenty of laughs (yes, the guilty chuckles count too).
This may not be scorching satire – it simply reinforces what most right-minded viewers think about bigots, sexists, gun nuts and Republicans, but Borat’s latest batch of antics are undoubtedly entertaining.
Truth Seekers (S1)
Simon Pegg and Nick Frost both created and star in this Amazon Original series – the pair’s first television reunion since Spaced ended almost two decades ago. Truth Seekers is a spooky sitcom that follows a team of enthusiastic but decidedly amateur paranormal investigators. When they stumble upon a shadowy supernatural conspiracy, the crew must bring all their skills and gadgets to bear to avert disaster.
The Vast of Night
A telephone switchboard operator notices a mysterious sound on her headset, sparking off a series of creepy revelations in this gem of a retro sci-fi movie from rookie director Andrew Patterson.
From its late 1950s small town America setting to its sound design and music, The Vast of Night gleefully channels classic mystery shows like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Twin Peaks and The X-Files, not to mention films like Super 8 and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but its snappy dialogue and stylish camerawork make it stand out on its own. The plot is simple, the cast small and unknown, but Patterson wrings the most out of his tiny budget.
This is Football (S1)
From a Liverpool supporters’ club helping to heal rifts opened by Rwanda's civil war to a profile of the world's greatest ever player, Amazon’s original documentary series is a love letter to the beautiful game told through six hour-long films.
An exploration of the football phenomenon and its power to transcend sport, This is Football’s stories will appeal to those who’ve never kicked a ball in their lives as well as die hard fans. Live many Amazon-made series, it’s also available in 4K with HDR for those with compatible TVs.
The Boys (S1)
What if superheroes were not only real, but as full of fears, doubt and crushing character flaws as the rest of us? That’s the premise behind this superb comic book adaptation from the producers of Preacher, in which a bunch of world famous costumed crusaders are owned and controlled by Vought, a ruthless corporation that keeps their bad behaviour – which ranges from voyeurism and drug abuse to outright murderous psychopathy – under wraps to keep the cashflow moving.
When one super-powered outrage leaves a young man bereaved and hellbent on revenge, he joins a group of like-minded vigilantes with the aim of bringing Vought down once and for all. Effortlessly blending humour, action and drama, The Boys manages to be Amazon’s best original series in ages.
Good Omens (S1)
Lovers of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s cult fantasy novel have for years been crossing fingers, toes and other body parts in the hopes that one day, somebody would take a chance on a screen adaptation of Good Omens – and that somebody turned out to be Amazon. The result is this glitzy, star-studded six-part miniseries.
Set in modern day England, it focusses on a demon and an angel (the very watchable David Tennant and Michael Sheen) whose eons-old friendship faces obliteration (along with the rest of the world) as the Antichrist comes of age and Armageddon looms. With the supporting cast including Jon Hamm, Frances McDormand, Miranda Richardson and Michael McKean, and Amazon's deep pockets providing the necessary budget to really bring the novel to life, the fanboys and girls’ waiting has not been in vain.
The Expanse (S1-4)
Game of Thrones with spaceships? That’s a lazy and reductive way to describe The Expanse, but also pretty accurate: it has a massive cast of characters, many of whom are shaded with more grey than an army of raccoons; its story is based around conflict and scheming as various factions vie for power while potentially ignoring a much greater existential threat; and it’s packed with graphic sex, violence and language. Hell yeah!
Set in a period when humanity has conquered the solar system and a war between Earth and Mars seems to be looming, The Expanse is a thoroughly enjoyable sci-fi space opera in a largely believable representation of the future. It was set to be prematurely cancelled by original maker SyFy after three seasons, but Amazon not only acquired full rights to broadcast the show but has already made a fourth season – great news for the millions of fans already addicted to its twisty plot lines.
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot
Gus Van Sant’s well-crafted biopic stars a memorable Joaquin Phoenix as John Callahan, an alcoholic who embarks on one bender too many, resulting in a devastating car crash. Paralysed, plunged into a deep depression, and still boozing, Callahan eventually finds solace in friends, art and the twelve-step programme.
Phoenix is typically excellent as the often-unlikeable Callahan, and there’s also superb support from Jonah Hill and Rooney Mara. A funny, thought-provoking and inspiring tale about conquering your worst impulses and “choosing life” – which very little of the sentimental cheesiness that often creeps into such films.
The world isn’t short of wry, quirky comedy drama series delving into the crushing ennui of modern life (!) – but Amazon has taken the time to furnish us with another one. Luckily, it’s a delightful surprise.
Starring Maya Rudolf and Fred Armisen as a married couple struggling to cope with an encroaching middle-aged itch, Forever fools you into thinking it’s a certain type of show before unexpectedly transforming into another. Funny, smart and touching, it’s one of Amazon’s best recently original series.