I have possessed an Amazon Prime membership for the past several years. Next to the expedited shipping for items you order directly from them, being a Prime member entitles you to watch tons of great films, television shows, documentaries, and more absolutely free every month.
Every month Amazon adds new titles to their selection, and this month’s highlights include Martin Scorsese’s depraved epic of unrestrained greed and lust The Wolf of Wall Street, the groundbreaking David Lean masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia, the debut feature from the Oscar-winning director of The Grand Budapest Hotel, and the films that launched both the Star Trek and Death Wish franchises.
Note: These titles are free to watch for Amazon Prime members. If you’re not a member, prices will vary depending on if you rent or purchase the movie.
New To Amazon Instant Video April 2015: Top Picks
The Wolf of Wall Street — Jordan Belfort made millions of dollars and lived a lavish lifestyle by swindling suckers into buying stocks that were only valuable to the brokers selling them. He ran his company like a frat house fueled by sex, drugs, and more money than anyone had the mental capacity to spend responsibly. Filmmaking icon Martin Scorsese, screenwriter Terence Winter, and star/producer Leonard DiCaprio transform Belfort’s rise to power and fall from grace into a freewheeling three-hour masterpiece that threatens to bulldoze the boundaries of the MPAA’s R rating with intoxicating allure. The overwhelming vulgarity is like the drugs Belfort and his brokers imbibe to keep up their hedonistic lifestyles, but Scorsese and company refuse to portray them as people deserving of our sympathies even though they realize we will want to stay on this rollercoaster long after the ride is over.
The Zero Theorem — Since he is usually able to get half as many of the projects he initiates from script to screen as those he is forced to abandon for a myriad of reasons, whenever Terry Gilliam has a new movie coming out it’s a cause for celebration. His latest marks a return to the cerebral, satirical science-fiction of some of his best works — including Brazil and 12 Monkeys — and casts two-time Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz as a cog in the corporate machine who finds himself assigned to an impossible task that upends the world he knows. That’s all you need to know. David Thewlis, Tilda Swinton, Melanie Thierry, and Matt Damon co-star.
Joe — Speaking of returns to form, Nicolas Cage spends most of his career phoning in his performances in exchange for hefty paychecks to finance his eccentric lifestyle, so to see him as his absolute best in David Gordon Green‘s haunting drama really makes this one to check out. Cage is perfectly cast as a working class man’s man with a strong core of decency and a mean streak that has put more than a few individuals in a major hurt locker who forges a bond with a troubled youth (Tye Sheridan) seemingly destined to travel the same dark road unless changes are made. Adapted from the novel by Larry Brown, Green pulls no punches and refuses to shy from the violence that haunts the worlds of his main characters, and when sentimentality creeps in it feels justified.
The French Connection — Winner of five Academy Awards, the movie that redefined the genre of police drama and launched many a legendary career in the film industry — the main beneficiaries being director William Friedkin and stars Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider. Armed with a script based on the true story of two dogged New York narcotics detectives working the biggest case of their lives, Friedkin approached the material with unflinching authenticity and refuses to let a single false note invade the narrative. It all feels so real that it’s a wonder people weren’t killed during the film’s classic car chase. Hackman and Scheider are pure perfection as the dedicated cops who became the template for countless action heroes who carry badges and live as hard as they work. The propulsive jazz score is composed by the great Don Ellis, a favorite of our own Stoogeypedia.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture — I already wrote something about this troubled opening salvo of the U.S.S. Enterprise’s ongoing silver screen voyage almost a month ago and it bears repeating: “It’s a mess sometimes, but what a mess! The ensemble cast’s performances run the gamut from good to uncomfortably stiff, but the ambitions and emotions on display and some special effects that stand the test of time result in a viewing experience that the franchise never quite had the courage to attempt again. It’s a lot of fun to sit back and absorb the atmosphere and mystery and the hauntingly operatic score composed by Jerry Goldsmith carries us over the roughest patches in the narrative.” Robert Wise‘s flawed but entertaining sci-fi epic is essential viewing for fans of the genre who have grown tired of repetitive space battles and laser duels.
The Dead Zone — One of the earliest and best examples of Hollywood’s never-ending love affair with the screen-ready novels of Stephen King, David Cronenberg‘s adaptation of King’s 1979 psychological thriller is a gripping yarn as lonely and bleak as its wintry New England setting. Christopher Walken‘s performance as a schoolteacher whose brush with death gives him psychic powers that turn out to be more of a curse than a blessing is one of the celebrated actor’s finest hours, and he’s matched by a stellar turn from Martin Sheen as a devious presidential candidate with apocalyptic ambitions whose fate becomes irreversibly intertwined with that of our conflicted hero.
Death Wish — It was bound to happen sometime. Twenty-five years after starting his acting career, longtime action film supporting player Charles Bronson was finally crowned a movie star with the first film in the franchise that would make him an icon around the world. While some of the sequels surpassed it in terms of outrageous violence and unintentional humor, the Michael Winner-directed original remains the best of the series and it gave Bronson a chance to stretch his acting muscles as well as kick some heavy duty ass. His performance as a liberal architect pushed to vigilante justice after the idyllic life he has cultivated is brutally destroyed is one of his best, and Winner’s sparse, effective staging of the action sequences still manages to impress more than four decades later. Look out for brief appearances from Jeff Goldblum, Denzel Washington, and Christopher Guest. I’m not kidding around, folks.
Bottle Rocket — In the years since his little-seen 1996 directorial debut, Wes Anderson has developed an unmistakable filmmaking style that can be spoofed, but never imitated. That style is not much in evidence in his first film, but his gifts for whimsical, yet grounded humor and creating memorable characters we can’t help but love in spite of their flaws definitely are. Owen and Luke Wilson broke through early in their acting careers as friends who decide to leave behind their humdrum existences for a life of crime that doesn’t result in exactly what they expected. Anderson’s debut is quirky without being insufferable (a trap many indie comedies have fallen into willingly) and warmly optimistic about his characters. James Caan naturally shines in his brief screen time as an eccentric master thief who takes our heroes under his wing.
Snatch — After his first two films – Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, and this — Guy Ritchie‘s filmography has been a mixed bag of sorts. The international success of Quentin Tarantino’s verbose crime dramas with crazy cool soundtracks empowered the enterprising Ritchie to try his hand at reinventing the British gangster movie genre with style, irreverent humor, and graphic violence. Then he married Madonna, and now he’s turning classic literary heroes into blockbuster properties. Richie’s second film is my personal favorite of his work, boasting a plot that ensnares over a dozen major and minor characters and takes some twists by turns both hilarious and harrowing. Jason Statham‘s cynical boxing promoter gets mixed up with local mobsters and a crafty gypsy grifter played by Brad Pitt with an incomprehensible Irish accent and a mean punch. There’s also a valuable diamond, a dog, and Benicio Del Toro. That’s just for starters.
Lawrence of Arabia — The late David Lean made several notable epic motion pictures in his time, but his 1962 treatment of the life and accomplishments of T.E. Lawrence — the British army officer and archaeologist who played a key role in helping Arab forces battle for independence from the ruling Ottoman Turks in the early 20th century — remains his crowning cinematic achievement. The same goes for star Peter O’Toole, whose performance as Lawrence was ignored by the Academy but has since become one of the greatest and most influential in the history of cinema. This is the rarest of films, an expansive historical adventure that doesn’t require to be seen on the biggest of screens…it demands it. But if you choose to watch it at home or at work, streaming it on Amazon will suffice.
That wraps up my choices for the best movies to watch this month on Amazon Instant Video. Having a Prime membership is one of the best investments that someone who is rarely away from their laptop for long like myself can make. I highly recommend getting one. Come back next month for more recommendations.