Watching an indie movie about jazz drumming might not sound like the most riveting way to spend an evening, but trust us: Whiplash is no ordinary movie about jazz drumming.
Miles Teller plays a music college student determined to become one of the skin-bashing greats. The only problem? He’s never good enough to impress his insanely demanding band conductor, played in Oscar-winning form by J. K. Simmons. Simmons’ monster of an instructor dominates the film right through to the unforgettable final reel. We doubt you’ve ever seen a music movie with so much blood, sweat and tears.
This is Football (S1)
From a Liverpool supporters’ club in Rwanda to a profile of the greatest living 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 Big Lebowski
Does anyone not like the Coen brothers? Maybe there’s a woman somewhere in Minnesota who refuses to watch their films because Joel didn’t ask her to the prom in 1971. Maybe there’s a man somewhere in Cheshire who’s never seen any of them because Ethan looks like the bloke who ran over his dog. But the rest of us are all on board, right?
1996’s Fargo was the breakthrough movie that made their reputation for somehow managing to be funny, warm, dark and grotesque all at the same time. The Big Lebowski came along two years later and it’s every bit as watchable, with John Goodman and Jeff Bridges in a rambling, daft story of money, revenge, kidnapping, “soiled” rugs and bowling.
Christopher Nolan’s recreation of the British and French armies’ evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940 is an audiovisual masterpiece, richly served with moments of both quiet grandeur and epic spectacle.
With comparatively little dialogue, few CGI effects and an enemy that’s never directly seen, Nolan conjures up the hopelessness of the surrounded British Expeditionary Force, trapped between the sea and the German army and prey to horrifying attacks from the air, and the heroism of soldiers, sailors, pilots and civilians caught up in a desperate situation. Hans Zimmer’s score, meanwhile, remains a masterclass in understated power.
The Boys (S1)
What if superheroes were real? And also real jerks? That’s the premise behind this excellent comic book adaptation from the makers of Preacher (also back on Amazon for its final season), in which a bunch of superstar costumed crusaders are owned and controlled by Vought, a ruthless corporation that keeps their bad behaviour – which ranges from voyeurism, alcoholism and drug abuse to outright murderous psychopathy – under wraps to keep the money rolling in.
When one super-powered outrage leaves a young man bereaved and bent on revenge, he joins a group of like-minded vigilantes with the aim of bringing down Vought once and for all. Effortlessly blending humour, action and drama, The Boys manages to be Amazon’s best original series in ages.
Freaks and Geeks (S1)
Before directors Judd Apatow and Paul Feig hit the big screen with the likes of Knocked Up, The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Bridesmaids, they created a little TV series based on Feig’s own adolescence in early 1980s Michigan. Dubbed Freaks and Geeks (most of its main characters fall into one or both of these categories), it lasted only one 18-episode season, a fact that’s still hard to fathom given how fantastic it is.
Perhaps viewers just weren’t ready for a well-written, intelligent and entirely honest portrayal of the highs and lows of high school. Even so, it kickstarted a bunch of major Hollywood careers (James Franco, Jason Segel and Seth Rogen being the obvious examples) and is regarded as a cult classic almost 20 years later. All the episodes are now streaming on Amazon Prime, so why not go back to school?
True Grit (2010)
The Coen brothers’ adaptation of Charles Portis’ classic Western novel has the dubious honour of being the film nominated for the most Oscars without walking off with a single one – and watching it a few years on from its release, it’s clear that the Academy made a mistake (not with the nominations, but with the… not winning thing). This is a truly outstanding modern day Western, an exploration of how courage and heroism (aka “true grit”) comes in many forms, as well as being thrilling and funny in equal measure.
Jeff Bridges impresses as gruff alcoholic marshal Rooster Cogburn, tasked with hunting down an on-the-run murderer, but it’s young Hailee Steinfeld as his spirited 14-year-old employer whose performance arguably steals the show.
Hustle & Flow
From its title and marketing, you’d be forgiven for thinking Hustle & Flow might be a low-budget extended rap promo – but in truth it’s a brilliantly compelling dive into the world of Southern hip hop, a gritty and moving Oscar-nominated inner city drama about music, crime and the American Dream starring Terrence Howard as a low level Memphis pimp and drug dealer struggling to change his life. A warts and all look at early noughties black America that rightfully won an Oscar for Best Song.
The second of the Simon Pegg/Nick Frost/Edgar Wright “Cornetto Trilogy”, Hot Fuzz takes on the action blockbuster genre in the same way as Shaun of the Dead took on zombie movies – by making them into a comedy movie packed to the gills with the genre’s tropes and traits. Not only is Hot Fuzz – in which Pegg’s superhero police officer is shipped off to a sleepy rural village for making the rest of the Met look bad in comparison – hilarious, it’s also a brilliantly edited and warm homage to the likes of Point Break, Lethal Weapon and Bad Boys, albeit a very English one.
Zero Dark Thirty
Sometimes the truth really does live up to the fiction; the hunt for Osama Bin Laden was the stuff of Tom Clancy thrillers, with its stealth helicopters, SEAL team raids and tense situation rooms. For the majority of Zero Dark Thirty, though, director Kathryn Bigelow shifts the focus on to the CIA officers chasing down leads, conducting “enhanced interrogations” and working contacts in the world’s most protracted game of cat and mouse. Wisely, Bin Laden himself is kept off-screen throughout, as elusive a presence to us as he is to the analysts.
Instead, the heart of the film is Jessica Chastain’s steely CIA officer Maya, a composite of the real-life agents who worked to track down Al-Qaeda’s figurehead; her Terminator-like intensity would seem almost implausible were it not for the fact that she’s based on real people. Sadly, the film’s forced to unceremoniously sideline her for its denouement, a blow-by-blow account of Seal Team Six’s attack on Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan that’s fraught with tension – despite the fact that the outcome isn’t in doubt.
The film also strays into controversial territory in its assertion that actionable intelligence was gained through the euphemistically-described “enhanced interrogations” – though it depicts them with unflinching, documentary-style realism, and doesn’t shy away from their lasting effects on both interrogators and captives.