In these strange times of self-isolation, when most of us are slumped up on the sofa in the same sweatpants we’ve had on for three days straight, we can all be a little extra grateful for streaming services.
UK cinemas have virtually all closed their doors – with some places fundamentally changing the way they release movies to the public – and film buffs are delving ever deeper into the back catalogues of Netflix and Amazon Prime Video to get their fix.
Pretty soon, film fans will have exhausted all the big hitters, and they’ll be after something a little different.
Think positively – this is the ideal time to experiment, mix things up and explore. That classic Korean film you’ve been meaning to get round to watching for months? Stick it on. That ten-part historical documentary series you’ve always felt too intimidated to start? Now’s the time. Film fans can still discover so much from their front rooms.
Start by choosing films you might otherwise ignore – from foreign cinema to esoteric comedies and strange horrors, these are the underrated gems on Amazon Prime Video and Netflix to try out during self-isolation.
Snowpiercer – Amazon Prime Video
This high-concept thriller helped announce Parasite director and Korean master Bong Joon-Ho to a bigger western audience. Snowpiercer follows a revolt onboard a train, which is carrying the last humans alive on earth in the aftermath of a second ice age. More from Bong Joon-Ho later.
The Big Sick – Amazon Prime Video
This alternate take on the classic rom-com tells the story of Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) and Emily (Zoe Kazan), who must learn to deal with adversity and cultural contrasts following Emily’s shock health diagnosis. It’s beautiful, funny, moving and well worth your time.
Good Time – Netflix
The Safdie Brothers’ anxiety-inducing Uncut Gems is one the most talked about films of the year – and quite rightly, it’s fantastic – but their previous film Good Time is just as compelling. Robert Pattinson gives one of the best performances of his career, playing a desperate conman in the aftermath of a botched heist.
The Ritual – Netflix
Horror films following inexperienced groups of travellers into the woods have become a sub-genre all of their own, but The Ritual is better than most. This supernatural horror is intelligently done and genuinely scary in places, with strong performances from the likes of Rafe Spall.
Filth – Amazon Prime Video
James McAvoy throws the kitchen sink at his performance as a troubled and misanthropic detective in this uniquely distressing and compelling drama, featuring all the guts and grime you’d expect from an Irvine Welsh adaptation.
Captain Fantastic – Netflix
This quirkier-than-a-Wes Anderson comedy drama centers around a family who have grown up in isolation, with father Ben (Viggo Mortensen) teaching how to live their lives away from capitalist society.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post – Netflix
Chloë Grace Moretz plays the titular role in this powerful drama. After she’s discovered kissing the prom queen, Moretz’s character is sent to the gay conversion camp called God’s Promise, where she rallies together with fellow “disciples” in the face of terrible adversity.
American Animals – Amazon Prime Video
This esoteric take on the heist movie centres around the real library robbery at Transylvania University, where a group of students attempted to steal a collection of rare books. The movie cuts from dramatisation to documentary footage, and is well worth exploring.
Private Life – Netflix
Private Life is one of the few Hollywood movies of recent times that tackles the subject of middle-aged couples trying to have children. It’s sensitive and quietly devastating, featuring the best Paul Giammatti performance in years and a great turn from Kathryn Hahn.
Okja – Netflix
We told you Boon Jong-Ho would be back. A genetically-enhanced super pig and a young girl form an unlikely and beautiful friendship in this gem, going head to head with a superfood conglomerate. This Netflix original was dismissed as vegan propaganda by some when it came out in 2017, but it’s so much more.
Blinded by the Light – Amazon Prime Video
A love letter to the songs of Bruce Springsteen, based on the memoirs of Sarfraz Manzoor and directed by Bend It Like Beckham’s Gurinder Chadha, this movie is a coming-of-age tale that will resonate with most viewers – fans of the Boss, or not.
Annihilation – Netflix
This brilliantly weird high-concept sci-fi is one of the best original Netflix movies yet, following cellular biology professor Natalie Portman as she ventures deeper into a mysterious zone called the Shimmer. Think heart of darkness with added aliens.
Ingrid Goes West – Netflix
Take a trip with Aubrey Plaza’s outsider Ingrid, as she travels to Venice Beach to infiltrate the Insta-fabulous life of her favourite influencer in this dark, oddball comedy.
Booksmart – Amazon Prime Video
Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut Booksmart is an inspired comedy and coming-of-age movie, and one of the funniest films of last year. Swots Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) head out for a night of partying, realising they’ve forgotten how to have fun during their high school studies.
Paris is Burning – Netflix
This groundbreaking documentary captures the spirit of the trailblazing ball culture of 80s New York, taking us into the lives of the African-American, Latino, gay and transgender communities who made it one of the most influential LGBTQ+ movements of the 20th century.
Blue Ruin – Netflix
Bloodthirsty revenge flick Blue Ruin is a slow-burning delight, and one that might easily go unnoticed on Netflix without an A-list cast to entice viewers. It’s a violent and visceral watch at times, but it’s also a compelling look at human endurance and the impacts of reopening old wounds.
The Two Popes – Netflix
Critics including the Standard’s Charlotte O’Sullivan tipped this two-hander drama for success at the Oscars a while back. It’s gone under the radar slightly since then, and might not have come out on top, but the performances from Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio respectively are electric.
Under the Skin – Amazon Prime Video
In Scarlett Johansson’s impressive, varied and sometimes controversial career, Under the Skin stands out as her strangest movie. Here she plays an alien life form who drives around Scotland in a van seducing men, only for them to meet terrifying, unexpected fates after visiting her apartment.
Atlantics – Netflix
This Cannes prize-winning debut from filmmaker Mati Diop tackles a challenging subject matter – the tragic deaths of migrants at sea – in a surprisingly life-affirming way, following a love story at the very edges of human capabilities.
Dolemite is my Name – Netflix
This Netflix drama is a real return to form for Eddie Murphy. Plenty of people were calling for him to be recognised during awards season for his performance as Rudy Ray Moore, the star of blaxploitation films in the 70s. A truly brilliant watch.
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape – Amazon Prime Video
This early 90s cult classic follows Johnny Depp’s young shop clerk in small town America, tasked with looking after his obese mother and mentally impaired younger brother. There’s also one of the first movie performances from Leonardo DiCaprio to look out for.
Blindspotting – Netflix
This uniquely styled comedy drama follows a man with just days left on his sentence, whose future is thrown in doubt after witnessing a police shooting. It’s much funnier and quirkier than it sounds, trust us.
Cube – Amazon Prime Video
More high-concept sci-fi, this time in the form of an independent Canadian movie from the 90s, where a group of friends find themselves trapped in a maze of cube-shaped rooms, all booby-trapped and not what they seem. It’s bonkers in the best way.
The Wife – Netflix
Glenn Close can count herself unlucky not to have picked up a long-awaited Oscar for her towering performance in this subtle drama, playing a woman who questions everything after her self-obsessed husband received the Nobel Prize.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya – Netflix
Netflix users are blessed with the Studio Ghibli back catalogue on demand. They’re all worth checking out, of course, but while the likes of My Neighbour Totoro get all the praise, 2013’s The Tale of Princess Kaguya features some of the studio’s most breathtaking animation and elegant storytelling, and is one of our top picks.