Well folks, the fall is upon us – traditionally, the season when distributors roll out their best movies (in the hope of snagging some of those all-important little statues), so as we saw last week, there’s reason to celebrate. But fall movie season also tends to start slowly, with a fair amount of duds and also-rans in the theaters in September. So if you’d like to dodge those (and if you jerks are going to keep not going to see Logan Lucky), or just prefer not to venture out into the world in general (and seriously, who can blame you), here’s the best of what’s hitting your subscription streaming services this month.
Pulp Fiction (available 9/1): Last month, Netflix performed the valuable public service of restoring Jackie Brown to its library; this month, it’s joined by Quentin Tarantino’s other best movie, and his most influential. Would it be gauche to mention that I just so happen to have written the official companion book to this movie? No? Too late!
Amores Perros (available 9/1): Before he was a two-time Oscar winning Best Director (and something of a cause celebre in critical circles), Alejandro González Iñárritu was just another scrappy would-be filmmaker, trying to make a breakthrough on a meager budget. He finally found worldwide success with this 2000 effort, a – hey, whaddaya know, a crime-based triptych. Told you Pulp Fiction was influential.
City of God (available 9/1): And if you’re in the mood for another pulse-quickening foreign crime picture, you can’t do better than this 2002 masterpiece from directors Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund, a kind of mini-GoodFellas set in the slums of Rio De Janero. It moves like a racecar and features one of modern cinema’s most chilling depictions of straight-up evil, but it’s also a beautiful, evocative movie, and an oddly hopeful one.
The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography (available 9/1): In one of those glorious Netflix leapfrogs that always seem like they must be an accident, this wonderful summer profile-doc from the great Errol Morris is already available for streaming. (We’re guessing it has something to do with that true crime series he has on the docket for them.) It’s a charming, affectionate portrait of a gifted and singular artist, and captures the filmmaker working with a looser, homier vibe.
The Squid and the Whale (available 9/1): In another case of stocking up the library in advance of a new release, Netflix is adding this 2005 Oscar nominee from writer/director Noah Baumbach, just a few weeks before they debut his much-anticipated new picture The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected). And the films don’t just share a creator; they’re both New York-set stories of dysfunctional families of artists, heavily emphasizing the dynamics between fathers, mothers, and sons. I look forward to reading your compare-and-contrast essays.
Gone Baby Gone (available 9/1): Quick, what do Ben Affleck and George Clooney have in common? Yes, they’re both traditionally handsome leading men who crossed over from acting to directing – but more importantly, neither multi-hyphenate has yet to direct a film with the ingenuity and energy of their first.
Jaws (available 9/1): It’s not just that Steven Spielberg’s straight-up perfect adventure story/modern blockbuster-birther is now streaming on Netflix – it’s that they’re streaming the entire franchise. So, yes, you can set aside a day and marvel at how a series can go from the heights of Jaws 1 to the jaw-dropping depths of Jaws: The Revenge.
George Harrison: Living in the Material World (available 9/15): When he was hired to craft an epic, two-part bio-doc for Bob Dylan, director Martin Scorsese made the prudent decision not to try and stuff in the entire life, ending the film around 1967. But when he tackled the life of “the quiet Beatle” a few years later, he went for broke – and added in the additional challenge of documenting the career of the Beatles, which is not exactly untilled cinematic soil. Yet Material World quells both concerns, covering Harrison’s entire rich life without stone-skipping, and managing to find new things to show and say about the Fab Four.
Carol (available 9/20): Look, I can’t come to your house, put it in your queue, and sit you down to watch it. But seriously, it’s never been easier to see a legitimately flawless motion picture.
Carrie (available 9/1): Nice of Prime (and Hulu, where it also debuts Friday) to let everybody get the jump on their October horror movie binges with the best Stephen King adaptation of all time, yes I said it, fight me.
The Dark Half (available 9/1): The combination of It’s high-profile last week and the recent passing of the great George A. Romero makes this an ideal moment to revisit the filmmaker’s 1993 adaptation of King’s meditation on persona, writing, and alter ego (inspired by his writings under the pseudonym Richard Bachmann). Not necessarily one of the great films from either artist, but also better than its also-ran reputation. (Also streaming on Hulu)
Computer Chess (available 9/1): Andrew Bujalski is one of indie film’s most unapologetic weirdos, and I still love the fact that he made this dry comedy, set at an early ‘80s computer convention, look like it was filmed at that time, too – clumsily and faux- amateurishly shot on ugly, black-and-white videotape. Most audiences won’t know what the hell to make of it, but then again, Bujalski has seldom cared about most audiences.
Wedding Crashers (available 9/1): A valuable reminder that once upon a time, you could plug Vince Vaughn into your loosey-goosey comedy, and just let him rip.
An American Werewolf in London (available 9/1): A valuable reminder that once upon a time, John Landis was responsible for good things. (Also streaming on Hulu.)
The Lost City of Z (available 9/15): Amazon co-financed the latest from film buff fave James Gray, a Herzogian journey into the Amazon that’s blessed with some incredible images and terrific supporting turns by Robert Pattinson, Tom Holland, and Sienna Miller (lead Charlie Hunnam, y’know, not so much).
The Addams Family / Addams Family Values (available 9/1): Barry Sonnenfeld’s 1991 and 1993 comedy double-header disprove two common assumptions at once: they’re genuinely funny movies based on a TV comedy series, and the second movie is funnier than the first. If we’re being honest, the Thanksgiving pageant sequence alone is funnier than most movies in their entirety.
Last Chance Harvey (available 9/1): The aforementioned Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) features Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson as the heads of the family, so I’d like to think that if it’s not a secret sequel to The Squid and the Whale, it’s an alt-universe riff on this charming, low-key 2008 romantic comedy.
Outbreak (available 9/1): Hoffman also fronts this 1995 viral-disaster picture, made during an odd period in the mid-‘90s where he apparently decided to snatch up some of those aging-man-of-action roles his contemporaries Al Pacino and Robert De Niro were settling into. It’s a decent B-movie with an ace supporting cast (Morgan Freeman, Rene Russo, Kevin Spacey, and Donald Sutherland all turn up), though it’s nowhere near as fun to watch at home as it was in the theater – particularly the visceral scene of the virus spreading between coughing patrons at a multiplex.
The Silence of the Lambs (available 9/1): Oh, like you need reasons to watch this one.
The Magnificent Seven (available 9/9): Antoine Fuqua’s remake of John Sturges’s Western remake of The Seven Samurai was met with mostly lukewarm reviews when it hit theaters about a year ago, to which I point out that it’s Denzel Washington as a cowboy, and politely ask what the hell else you’d like a motion picture to provide.
This Is Spinal Tap / Following / Cronos / Eraserhead / The Duelists / Hunger / Sweetie / Blood Simple / Mala Noche / Poison / Stony Island (available 9/1): FilmStruck’s big showcase this month is its “First Films” collection, featuring the debut features of (respectively) Rob Reiner, Christopher Nolan, Guillermo del Toro, David Lynch, Ridley Scott, Steve McQueen, Jane Campion, The Coen Brothers, Poison, and Andrew Davis. I recommend viewing them all, one right after another, and then staring into the dark afterwards, thinking about your first movie, that shot-on-VHS Tarantino rip-off that you can’t even bear to watch any more oh wow this got too personal.
Bottle Rocket (available 9/1): Not included in the “First Films” collection, but Wes Anderson’s debut film is also streaming this month (and this month only) on FilmStruck, and it’s still a hoot, a wry and knowing criminal comedy with some very big laughs and wonderful early performances by Luke and Owen Wilson. Its limited budget didn’t really allow Anderson to do the kind of world-creation he tends to specialize in, so it remains an anomaly in his filmography – an Anderson film that walks among us.
The In-Laws (available 9/1): Criterion (and, by extension, FilmStruck) tends to get a mostly-unfair rap for only getting behind super-snooty serious film snob stuff, so it’s fun to see their seal of approval on a wild, goofy buddy comedy like this one, featuring the perfectly-matched Alan Arkin and Peter Falk as a mild-mannered dentist and the CIA agent who’s about to marry his daughter.
Tabloid (available 9/22): Errol Morris again, this time with the stranger-than-fiction story of Joyce McKinney, perpetrator of the “Mormon sex-in-chains case,” which became a tabloid sensation in the UK in the late 1970s. Morris doesn’t scrimp on the dirty details, but they’re also not what he’s there for; this is ultimately a character study of a sick yet fascinating woman, and the odd story she put herself in the middle of.
The Hit (available 9/22): Before he was the director of respectable fare like Dangerous Liaisons, The Queen, and Philomena, Stephen Frears helmed this down-and-dirty road/crime movie, in which a pair of British hitmen (John Hurt and a very young Tim Roth) are dispatched to Spain to off a gangster-turned-snitch (Terence Stamp). You just can’t go wrong with a cast like that, and Frears cranks up the tension and atmosphere around them with a confidence that barely hints at his relative-newcomer status.
Affliction (available 9/1): Paul Schrader’s most austere and modest movie may also be his best. Adapting Russell Banks’s novel, the Taxi Driver screenwriter coaxes career-best performances out of Nick Nolte and James Coburn, turning the story of a small-town murder investigation into a chilling portrayal of the tolls of emotional abuse.
The Fog (available 9/9) / Escape from New York (available 9/10): MUBI spotlights “John Carpenter’s ‘80s” with this double-bill of genre classics from the master: his Halloween follow-up, the spooky 1980 town-going-down tale The Fog (fun for horror buffs: it features both Jamie Lee Curtis and mom Janet Leigh), and the following year’s sci-fi/action smash Escape From New York, in which Kurt Russell hang-glides into Manhattan, which has become “the one, maximum-security prison for the entire country,” to rescue the president. They’re both goofy, stylish blasts.
You Only Live Once (available 9/24): Fritz Lang’s second American film was this 1937 Henry Fonda / Sylvia Sidney vehicle, which was both an early film noir and one of the prototypes for the “criminal lovers on the run” stories that came to full flourish three decades later with Bonnie and Clyde.
El Futuro Perfecto (available 9/29): This Argentinian drama, which won the Best First Feature Prize last year at Lacarno, is a documentary/fiction hybrid about a young Chinese immigrant trying to make her way in Buenos Aires. It opens at New York City’s Metrograph theater on the 15th before making its way to MUBI at the end of the month.
The Weight of Water (available 9/1): I have no idea how this one landed on Shudder – it’s a mystery thriller at most – but who am I to complain when it’s easier for an all-but-forgotten Kathryn Bigelow/Sarah Polley collaboration to get seen?
Compliance (available 9/11): Also a bit of a stretch, at least in terms of what we think of as a horror genre flick. That said, this dramatization of a real string of fast-food phone pranks gone awry is pretty terrifying, speaking as it does to the ways in which human nature bends blindly for dubious authoritarians. So it’s sorta timely too…
Mother (available 9/25): If the bonkers brilliance of Okja has you jonesing for more of director Bong Joon-ho’s work, Shudder has you covered; this 2009 drama (not to be confused with the new Darren Aronofsky movie – or, for that matter, the 1996 Albert Brooks movie) is the stark and occasionally harrowing story of a murder, a frame-up, and a mother’s quest for justice.
The Sacrament (available 9/25): Ti West’s early features were consciously styled like the slow-burn horror thrillers of the ‘70s and early ‘80s, so it was a bit of a surprise when he made this “found-footage” flick in 2014. But there was a throwback element nonetheless: the narrative was based (and occasionally even directly quotes) the horror at Jonestown, and he savvily uses our knowledge of that event, and its outcome, to invest even the lightest, most innocuous scenes here with real menace.