August has a well-earned reputation as the month when Hollywood ritualistically dumps all of its most shameful offerings into multiplexes, airing out the stink so they can start fresh with their Oscar hopefuls after Labor Day. Judging by Netflix’s latest batch of new arrivals, that tradition isn’t going to stop in the streaming era. Don’t get us wrong: The monolithic service is adding some great new movies over the next few weeks, and the ever-increasing influx of Netflix Originals means that we’re likely in store for a few exciting wild cards (we’re especially excited for Susan Johnson’s “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before”).
Nevertheless, this month’s crop is a strange grab bag of stuff that runs the gamut from an under-appreciated comic book movie, to a curiously unexamined Scorsese epic, to — um — one-third of the 21st century’s greatest fantasy trilogy. Still, it’s August, and we’ll take any excuse we can get to stay inside and wait out the dog days.
Here are the seven best movies coming to Netflix in August 2018:
7. “Dreamcatcher” (2003)
One of the most inexplicable films ever made — if a bit too unapologetically ridiculous to qualify as one of the worst — Lawrence Kasdan’s “Dreamcatcher” is the kind of bad movie that you’ll be glad to have on Netflix, if only so you can show it to your friends (or spring it on your enemies) at a moment’s notice. What a brave new world we live in where you can download video of Jason Lee being violated by an extraterrestrial “ass weasel” and carry it with you in your pocket wherever you go, no additional purchase necessary.
So, “Dreamcatcher.” Do you remember when “It” and “Dark Tower” came out last year, and there were a bunch of articles about how people had learned to be wary of Stephen King adaptations? All of those articles were about “Dreamcatcher.” Not only “Dreamcatcher,” of course, but… they could have been. The movie is that bad. And the book — which King wrote on Oxycontin after his 1999 car accident — isn’t any better. It’s basically just a delirious jumble of the author’s most familiar tropes, but one that’s tainted by a strange focus on buttholes.
It’s the same old story: Childhood friends from a small Maine town bond together with the help of a mentally handicapped kid who turns out to be an alien warrior, and will eventually need their help to save the planet from a hostile race of parasitic invaders. At least the film version gives us Damian Lewis as a possessed space monster, which is mostly amusing because of the similarities between his performance here and his portrayal of a hedge fund manager on “Billions.” Available to stream on August 1.
6. “Constantine” (2005)
Somebody should write a book about the bronze age of superhero movies, unpacking how feral and unruly the genre was (or was at least allowed to be) before “Iron Man” cracked the code in 2008. It was a magical time: Hollywood had sensed the potential of comic book properties, but hadn’t yet figured out how to harness it. Half the fun of sitting down for the likes of “Spawn” and “Hellboy” was the feeling that anything could happen next, that the film industry was fumbling around in the dark and liable to bump into all sorts of strangeness along the way.
“Constantine,” which put director Francis Lawrence on the path towards “I Am Legend” and “The Hunger Games,” captures that fleeting moment when superhero movies were right on the cusp of awakening to their full power. More than anything else from the then-nascent genre, the noir-tinged saga of exorcist John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) bridges the gap between now and then — it strives for the wit and world-building that defines the MCU, but it’s also unafraid to reckon with dark forces like Satan and Shia LaBeouf.
Tilda Swinton plays a genocidal angel who despises humanity, and she refuses to water things down for the multiplex crowd. Peter Stormare goes full Stormare as a demon named Lucifer Morningstar. The action swings between heaven and hell with a sacrilegious fervor. “Constantine” has always been something of a mess, but given the relative safety of recent superhero movies, that same messiness has become one of its greatest charms. Available to stream on August 1.
5. “Batman Begins” (2005)
Perhaps the true genesis of modern superhero movies (if only for how its gray-toned grit inspired Marvel to balance things out with a shinier, happier, more plastic cinematic universe of their own), “Batman Begins” didn’t leave many clues that it was the start of something huge, but it very clearly established how a realist like Christopher Nolan might survive in a world full of spandex. Far removed from the garish cartoon grime that Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher brought to their Batman films, Nolan’s approach was characteristically hyper-literal to the extreme, taking the Caped Crusader at face value and conceiving an origin story that defines the man by the mask he chooses to wear.
It turns out that the director of “Memento” (and the future director of “Inception”) was a natural fit for a genre in which the characters regularly communicate by just shouting psychological diagnoses at each other. Out of context, it’s hard to tell if Liam Neeson is playing Batman’s nemesis or his therapist. Example dialogue: “What you really fear is inside yourself. You fear your own power. You fear your anger, the drive to do great or terrible things.” Meanwhile, Rachel Dawes is less of a love interest for Bruce Wayne than she is the sentient self-help book next door. “Deep down you may still be that same great kid you used to be. But it’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.”
Nolan lives for this stuff; he stumbled upon a genre where the characters are actually supposed to be stiff and didactic, a genre where “subtlety” is a bat suit without nipples. “Batman Begins” is the work of a director who’s coming into his own right when his talents are needed most. The action is weak, Nolan would need a mulligan on the Katie Holmes casting, and the film’s blunt examination of fear is surface-level at best, but the sheer force of its moral fervor established that he had tapped into something real. Available to stream on August 1.
4. “The Informant!” (2009)
Here’s what IndieWire’s Chris O’Falt had to say about “The Informant!,” which — in a ridiculous testament to its director’s body of work — placed 18th on our ranked list of Steven Soderbergh movies.
No filmmaker was better-equipped to capture the institutional failures of our economic collapse in 2007-08, as Soderbergh has always been pre-occupied by the alienating relationship between our economic systems and his characters. In this madcap tale of whistleblower Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon), there are no heroes; the satire focuses on American self-interests that stretch beyond the agri-industry powerhouse that Whitcare exposes. A never-better Damon perfectly captures the jittery and off-center character, who undermines the entire investigation he initiated with his constantly-changing stories and the revelation that he made out like a bandit himself. An unusual, but entertaining film that’s glazed with a great Marvin Hamlisch score and peppered with comedians playing “serious” roles, this is a crowdpleaser for an audience that’s willing to give itself over to its offbeat rhythms and humor.
Available to stream on August 1.
3. “The Aviator” (2004)
“Show me all the blueprints. Show me all the blueprints. Show me all the blueprints. Show me all the blueprints.”
Like so much of Martin Scorsese’s later work, “The Aviator” is always ripe for another look. An awkward but technically astonishing biopic of Howard Hughes, the film may not boast the accolades of “The Departed,” or bristle with the wild ferocity of “The Wolf of Wall Street,” or even be destined for the same cult status that critics have since bestowed on “Shutter Island,” but let’s not pretend that its pleasures are limited to Cate Blanchett’s (immaculate) Katherine Hepburn imitation.
Before John Logan’s script ties itself into knots trying to dramatize Hughes’ OCD (blowing an engine like the XF-11 reconnaissance jet that almost kills its billionaire pilot), “The Aviator” offers an overzealous portrait of a 20th century man who tried to will his way into the future. Better as a glittery tribute to the golden age of Hollywood than it is as an industrial riff on the fall of Icarus, Scorsese’s high-flying epic soars when it threads the needle between Hughes’ desire to soar above the world, and his obsession with trying to spin it forward. Available to stream on August 1.
2. “No Country for Old Men” (2007)
A terse neo-noir that’s told with the urgency of a wounded animal and shaded with the existential dread that most Americans have now come to know on a first-name basis, “No Country for Old Men” isn’t just one of the best (and most accessible) movies the Coen brothers have ever made, it’s also one of the darkest. Faithfully adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same name, this severe cat-and-mouse thriller takes a simple premise — an unstoppable killing machine hunts the beefy Texas Brolin who’s run off with the money from a drug buy gone wrong — and distills it down to its most basic essence, mining an almost Bressonian purity from its grindhouse premise.
The result is a breathless chase movie that resolves into a discomfortingly clear-eyed lament for the darkness that’s always creeping over the horizon. Were you thrown by Tommy Lee Jones’ closing monologue back in 2007? Watch it again, you might be surprised how much sense it makes to you now. Available to stream on August 1.
1. “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” (2001)
Huge news for anyone who doesn’t have basic cable, and therefore may not have been watching the “Lord of the Rings” movies on a constant loop for the last 17 years: “The Fellowship of the Ring” is finally coming to Netflix! Why the other two chapters of Peter Jackson’s trilogy aren’t streaming along with it is something of a mystery, but everyone knows this is the best of the three.
For one thing: no Ents. For another: Everyone is still alive, and they’re all together! But what’s most impressive about “Fellowship” is how beautifully it manages to breathe life into Middle Earth and its myriad denizens. “The Two Towers” and “The Return of the King” are only so effective because of the emotional foundation that Jackson establishes here. In a series of strong and subtly bold choices, his film manages to liberate its legendary characters from our collective imagination. It reanimates them with the spirit of a great adventure, endows them with the urgency of a home worth saving, and chases them with deathless Nazgûl. After getting those things right, everything else just falls into place. Available to stream on August 1.