I’ve written before about my particular love for mysteries and suspense films.
When done well, they tease the mind and quicken the pulse. In a world bursting with distractions, you suddenly find yourself totally focused, hooked, transported.
A great mystery or “suspenser” must have a script distinguished by excellent plotting and pacing. This is a subtle, tricky art, and many titles out there don’t quite hit the mark. Those that do should be treasured.
While Netflix delivers many original series and some features that meet this lofty standard, I give highest marks to Amazon for the quality and breadth of movies available in this genre. In addition, if you’re a member of Amazon Prime like me, you can stream many of them for free.
I’ve listed a dozen of my particular favorites below. Pounce!
He Walked by Night (1948)
When a creepy, baby-faced thief (Richard Basehart) kills a cop during a job, the L.A. Police Department initiates a massive manhunt. Anthony Mann’s tingling noir has a documentary feel, with great location shots of 1940’s Los Angeles.
The Counterfeit Traitor (1962)
Vastly underrated espionage drama features William Holden as a Swedish oil and gas executive during World War 2 who does business with Nazi Germany, but is really working for the Allies to uncover secrets behind enemy lines.
The Conversation (1974)
Gene Hackman is a colorless surveillance man recording a couple as they stroll in a crowded public space. He soon becomes convinced they are in mortal danger, and gets involved. Moody, brilliant thriller from Francis Coppola.
Escape from Alcatraz (1979)
Clint Eastwood stars as Frank Morris, the only inmate ever to get away from the island fortress of Alcatraz. The planning and execution of this ingenious, daring escape is riveting, and Patrick McGoohan is superb as a cold, brutal warden.
The Untouchables (1987)
Brian de Palma’s wildly entertaining ride depicts how Al Capone (Robert de Niro) was brought down by special agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) in the waning days of Prohibition. Sean Connery steals it as an incorruptible Irish cop.
The Last Seduction (1994)
John Dahl’s juicy noir homage concerns Bridget (Linda Fiorentino), a smoldering beauty who fleeces men. Peter Berg is Mike, a small-town sucker who protects her when her former hubby (Bill Pullman) comes looking for money she stole.
Sexy sizzler about gorgeous lesbian housepainter Corky (Gina Gershon) who gets together in more ways than one with sultry gangster’s moll Violet (Jennifer Tilly). Together they plot to steal a wad of stolen loot from Violet’s boyfriend (Joe Pantoliano).
Solid remake of an equally fine psychological thriller from Norway stars Al Pacino as a troubled L.A cop sent to Alaska to track a murder suspect (Robin Williams). His inability to sleep due to Alaska’s northern lights only adds to the tension.
Memories of Murder (2003)
Outstanding, fact-based whodunit follows a team of detectives as they work to nab a serial rapist in rural Korea. At first the small town cops target the wrong man, but soon a big city detective sets them straight. Will they get their man?
David Fincher’s gritty entry recreates 1970’s San Francisco when the Zodiac Killer was on the loose. Jake Gyllenhaal is an editorial cartoonist drawn into the case, befriending a dogged investigator (Mark Ruffalo) and a crime reporter (Robert Downey, Jr.).
A federal agent (Ryan Philippe) investigates charges of sexual deviance against a Russian intelligence expert (Chris Cooper), but finds no proof. But the truth is even worse. Twisty puzzler fires on all cylinders, with Cooper outstanding.
The Double Hour (2009)
Mind-bending Italian mystery tracks the romance between a security guard and a chambermaid. One night, he takes her to the remote estate he’s protecting while a robbery is happening, and tragedy strikes. But is everything really as it seems?