Prime Originals

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By/March 22, 2021 4:25 pm EDT

As the world slowly but surely wakes from its year-long, pandemic-induced slumber, a return to something not entirely like normalcy can barely be glimpsed on the horizon. And for movie lovers, that means the distinct possibility of actually seeing movies once again on the big screen at the local multiplex. Thankfully, moviegoers still had a steady stream fresh cinematic content to devour in 2020 — even in the face of those long-term theater closures — as streaming platforms were largely unaffected by the pandemic, at least on the exhibition front.

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UPCOMING AMAZON PRIME ORIGINALS (2020-2023) - IMDb

And even with theaters re-opening in 2021, you can expect streamers to continue to pepper their platforms with films of all shapes and sized throughout. Though they're hardly set to tackle the same torrid release pace as many of their competitors, the folks at Amazon Prime Video will indeed continue to hold their own amongst the major streamers, having lined up an impressive slate of original films set to hit the platform throughout 2021. Some of those movies have already made their Prime Video premiere, by the way. And just in case they haven't yet made their way onto your cinematic radar, we're more than happy to help put them there. These are the best Amazon Prime original movies of 2021.

Herself is a harrowing and heartfelt family drama straight from the arthouse

Amazon Studios came charging out of the gates in 2021, releasing a film many are already calling one of 2021's best in the indie family drama Herself. Directed with clear-eyed reverie by Mama Mia! and The Iron Lady helmer Phyllida Lloyd, and featuring a revelatory performance form relative newcomer Clare Dunne, Herself tells the harrowing and heartfelt tale of young mother named Sandra, as she struggles to find some semblance of a normal life for her and her daughters. That struggle begins when Sandra finally reaches the end of her rope with her abusive husband Gary (Ian Lloyd Anderson) and tries to extricate herself and their daughters from his life. Complications arise when UK housing authorities refuse to help them find a new home. Unwilling to return to the man and the life she left behind, Sandra instead decides to build a house for them on her own, ultimately finding some much needed support from a few kind-hearted souls willing to help — even as government bureaucracy threatens to undermine her plans.

Equal parts gritty social drama and tender-hearted tale of a strong-willed woman boldly retaking control of her life, Herself is bolstered by a legitimately show-stopping turn from Dunne and a wickedly insightful screenplay that she also co-wrote. In turn, Herself will more than feed the low-budget hunger of the indie set, and is certain to satisfy anyone in search of an intensely personal, fist-pumping drama rife with emotional and social themes that simply could not be more relevant in today's society.

One Night in Miami proves Regina King has talent behind the camera

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Regina King has spent the past few decades becoming one of the most revered actors of her generation, earning raves for her work in critically adored flicks — like Boyz in the Hood, Jerry Maguire, and Ray — and major awards — an Oscar and an Emmy, respectively — for her turns in 2018's If Beale Street Could Talk and HBO's racially-charged 2019 superhero drama Watchmen. But even as prominent as King has become on screens big and small, she's also quietly spent the last decade or so making a name for herself behind the camera, and One Night in Miami more than proves King is ready to take her behind-the-camera talents to the big screen arena.

As for the film, it's not a historical drama in the traditional sense, instead pitting historical figures Malcom X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) on a fateful but fictional wild night in the titular city during the racially and politically turbulent 1960s. As mentioned, that fateful night never really happened, but King and company deliver One Night in Miami with such earnest righteousness and heart-on-its-sleeve sincerity that one cannot help but give over to the sheer possibility of these Civil Rights titans sharing drinks while pondering the uncertain fate of Black America.

The Map of Tiny Perfect Things is a time-looping treat for the YA set

With sparkly-skinned vamps and post-apocalyptic romances too numerous to count dotting the landscape over the past decade, the legacy of young adult fiction on the big screen is a spotty one at best. Conversely, the legacy of time-looping narratives is far more impressive, delivering some of cinema's most genuinely intriguing sci-fi narratives over the years (see:Groundhog Day, and Palm Springs). One could also argue those films executed the concept so flawlessly it cannot be improved upon — even with a heaping dose of good, old-fashioned teen angst. Yet here we are, with The Map of Tiny Perfect Things giving the genre the YA treatment, and conjuring the time-looping teen romance to end them all. Actually, The Map of Tiny PerfectThings may be the only time-looping teen romance ever produced, but with any luck it'll be heralded as the end-all of the genre because it's really quite good, which is genuinely surprising as the audience for such dew-eyed fare should be incredibly limited.

And, while the film will no-doubt find forever fans in hormonal adolescents obsessed with falling for that special someone sans the shackles of the space-time continuum, adults will likely also find much to love in this sharply-scripted, vividly realized tale of a young man (Kyle Allen) and woman (Kathryn Newton) falling head over heals while stuck re-living the same day. And rest assured, even as cookie-cutter as that synopsis might sound, The Map of Tiny Perfect Things boasts a couple of twists that'll keep even the most studied of time-looping cinephile on their toes.

Bliss finds Owen Wilson and Salma Hayek searching for a perfect world

It seems like eons ago, but nary a decade has passed since Mike Cahill became the toast of indie cinema for his 2011 Sundance hit, Another Earth. But the ensuing decade has been a relatively quite one for Cahill, who's only managed to deliver one feature in that time, 2014's fascinating but deeply flawed sci-fi thriller I, Origins. While the talented director has kept himself busy with small screen work, fans of Another Earth have anxiously awaited a followup worthy of that impressive debut.

Unfortunately, Bliss doesn't quite live up to Cahill's stunning debut either, but it's a distinct step in the right direction no matter the film's current Rotten Tomatoes score. Understand, we're not here claiming Bliss is an unheralded sci-fi masterwork worthy of mention among the likes or 2001: A Space Odyssey. It isn't. And the film indeed suffers many of the same problems as I, Origins, meaning its ambitions are so far removed from its low-budget grasp the film can't possibly live up to them.

And make no mistake, Bliss is ambitious as all hell, telling the story a regular guy (Owen Wilson) who comes to believe the real world is a computer simulation after his entire life falls to pieces. Equal parts psychological thriller, heartfelt romance, and full-tilt sci-fi brain game, Cahill is mostly guilty here of trying to pack too many big ideas into an often frustratingly small-scaled film. But if you give Bliss a legitimate chance, you might find it'll tickle your intellect as much as your heartstrings — even if it is sort of a mess.

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Coming 2 America is the Eddie Murphy sequel we didn't know we wanted

For all the '80s kids out there, Eddie Murphy is essentially the gold standard of comedy, with the funnyman dominating the decade via a string of hit films, stand-up specials, and his legendary stint on NBC's long-running sketch comedy series Saturday Night Live. But even after becoming the king of '80s comedy, it's safe to assume Murphy surprised even himself with the blockbuster success of his maniacally funny 1988 romantic comedy Coming to America. And even as the first Coming to America essentially presents as an expanded SNL sketch, Murphy and company mine the simple setup of African Prince Akeem (Murphy) and his faithful ally Semmi (Arsenio Hall) looking for love in New York City for comic gold, delivering a riotous, laugh-a-minute movie with brains and heart to burn.

Prime Originals 2021

Set three decades after the original, Coming 2 America finds Akeem (now King), and Semmi returning to their old Queens, New York haunts, this time in search of the son Akeem never knew he had. And while the new film (helmed by Hustle & Flow mastermind Craig Brewer) perhaps winks a little too often in the direction of the iconic original, Coming 2 America packs just as much heart and just as many laughs; the ageless Murphy and Hall falling back into buddy comedy step to deliver another hearty round of crass, fish-out-of-water laughs. Thankfully, they step back into make-up to portray their various Coming to America alter egos too, 'cause this flick just wouldn't have felt right if Mr. Randy Watson didn't make an appearance.