16 years on from Ocean’s Eleven, Steven Soderbergh came out of retirement to direct Logan Lucky, another ensemble cast heist movie – but one that’s worlds apart from the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas.
Set in rural West Virginia and starring Channing Tatum and Adam Driver as working class brothers planning to rob the nearby speedway, it’s a more human take on the genre – and all the better for it. Instead of trotting out the usual good ol’ boy country stereotypes, Logan Lucky gently subverts them, and does so without feeling glib or sentimental. It’s also a fast-moving blast, full of twists and turns and memorable characters – including safe-cracker convict Joe Bang, played by a bleach-blond Daniel Craig looking a million miles away from Bond.
Manchester by the Sea
If you’re looking for a chucklesome barrel of laughs, we’d suggest you steer well clear of this brilliantly written, impeccably acted but unrelentingly heavy drama, in which sullen, reclusive handyman Lee (Casey Affleck in Oscar-winning form) is called back to his long-abandoned hometown by a death in the family.
Faced with new responsibilities and torn between duty and personal comfort, Lee is forced to confront a past tragedy and its effect on him. If Manchester by the Sea sounds serious and weighty, it is – but it’s also packed with affecting and amusing human moments that make it far more than your average Oscar-baiting gloom-fest.
It was always going to be a tough ask, adapting Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s iconic comic book series into a TV show, but the makers of Preacher have made an impressive job of it.
The show isn’t afraid to go its own way, building up the backgrounds of beloved characters like Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy and setting up themes and adversaries that will doubtless come to fruition in later seasons, rather than plunge straight into the books’ storyline. The jury may be still out on whether this approach will pay off, but the first season’s style, humour and (often incredibly violent) drama suggest it could go on to attain cult status of its own.
Mr. Robot (S1-4)
An office drone by day, Elliott Alderson (played brilliantly by Rami Malek) is also a morphine-dependent keyboard vigilante who hacks the lives of everyone he meets. That is until he’s lured in by Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) to join the hacktivist group ‘F Society’, whose grand plan is to cancel world debt by attacking ubiquitous conglomerate E Corp (or Evil Corp, as Elliott calls it).
Cue a trip down a rabbit hole that twists through Lynchian dream sequences, episode-long musings about the hackability of human minds, and a mounting sense of paranoia that leaves you suspicious of everything down to Elliott’s malfunctioning radiator.
That Mr. Robot resists Hollywood’s ‘Computers for dummies’ approach to the Internet is just one of the reasons why it’s great. The others are that it’s stylishly shot, unpredictable and offers a new take on cyberpunk, while wearing its influences (The Matrix, Fight Club and American Psycho) as proudly as the badge on its title character’s shirt.
Seasons 1, 2, 3 and 4 are all available for binge-watching right now.
For those who prefer their movies dark and stylish, this action-thriller-comedy mashup from Brit director Ben Wheatley features an all-star cast who spend most of its running time shooting at each other in a dilapidated factory when an arms deal goes horribly awry.
It might not seem like the most fertile ground for laughs, but there’s an absurdist quality to Free Fire’s depiction of gunfights that’s really something – and it’s likely far more close to real-life than 99 percent of Hollywood shoot ‘em ups.
Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa
Norfolk’s most famous broadcasting son arrives on the silver screen in typical style – singing along to Roachford’s “Cuddly Toy” whilst driving to work at his digital radio station – in a comedy movie rich with all the awkwardness, pathos and lack of self-awareness you’d expect from Alan Partridge.
Alpha Papa might not win over non-fans, but anyone who’s adored Steve Coogan’s past work will get a huge kick out of seeing how Partridge works on a bigger-than-normal budget. Hint: pretty well.
The X-Files (S1-10)
The new series of The X-Files, which the producers sadly declined to call The Older Mulder Folders, has now arrived on Prime - so you can now watch every single episode of this beloved paranormal investigation drama.
This will take a while - over 150 hours, in fact - but you'll meet some old friends: the stretchy, yellow-eyed cannibal Eugene Tooms, the frighteningly intense Luther Lee Boggs (played by guest star Brad Dourif), That Guy Who Wouldn't Be Allowed to Smoke In All Those Public Places These Days, and - most memorable of all - Scully's wardrobe of enormous coats.
Red Oaks (S1-3)
A hidden gem in Amazon’s catalogue, Red Oaks’ unremarkable premise belies a nuanced show that blends humour and pathos with surprising aplomb.
Set in '80s New York suburbia, the show (now running to three full seasons) follows the bumbling but tumultuous life of David Myers. From the aloof love interest to parental turmoil at home, all the classic teen drama tropes are covered, with just enough of a twist to sustain your intrigue.
What really elevates this show above the many others that riff off a similar tune is its riotous roster of characters. Sleazy yet feckless tennis coach Nash alone is worth the price of admission.
The Man in the High Castle (S1-4)
What if the Allies had lost the Second World War, and America was currently ruled by Germany in its eastern half and Japan in its western half? Well, you can find out in this big budget Amazon Prime original series, a thriller which zips around a 1960s North America that’s more “Ja wohl!” than “Aw shucks!”.
Dealing with underground resistance groups, various plots and an alternative Cold War (waged between Imperial Japan and the German Reich, now the world’s only superpowers), it’s the kind of series that’ll appeal to history buffs, sci-fi fans and anyone who’s into high concept, high budget television.
The Americans (S1-6)
1980s nostalgia-fests in film and TV often neglect to mention one thing: the Cold War was still well underway, meaning hundreds of millions of innocents all over the world were mere minutes away from potential nuclear annihilation.
And it’s this climate of fear, mutual distrust and competing ideologies that The Americans recreates so well, as it follows the trials and tribulations of two Soviet sleeper agents embedded in US suburbia – who happen to be a married couple. To their friends, neighbours, even their children, they are regular apple pie-loving yanks, but when duty calls they’re planting bugs, photographing secret documents and assassinating double agents for the Russkies.
Oh, and the marriage we mentioned? It’s no more than a sham, a professional union of convenience to aid their cover… or is it? The complex, strained and evolving relationship between our leads is one of the series’ most powerful aspects, and make The Americans more than just espionage thriller material.