September marks the start of awards season, and it’s no secret that Netflix is itching to crash Hollywood’s most exclusive party (and maybe even leave with a few golden souvenirs at the end of the night). And it seems like this is the year the streaming giant is going to make that happen, as the company has finally started to meet Hollywood in the middle and play the game by the industry’s rules — at least when it suits them. One strategy the company has learned from the more traditional movie studios: Hold all of your best stuff until after Labor Day, and then drown people in quality until New Year’s Eve.
Not only has Netflix been the talk of the Telluride and Venice film festivals, with Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” being hailed as a dazzling masterpiece, the slate of movies debuting on the service in September is an embarrassment of riches. Ranging from culture-shifting blockbusters like “Black Panther,” to beloved ’90s masterpieces like “Groundhog Day” and “Unforgiven” (look for them in the “classics” section), and — most importantly — an influx of Netflix Originals that will be streaming on the site only a few short days after their festival debuts, this month’s lineup offers more than enough to keep you busy until this year’s contenders finally hit theaters.
Netflix is adding so many noteworthy films that our list of highlights couldn’t even make room for exciting uploads like “Scarface,” “The Emperor’s New Groove,” and a bevy of unseen imports that include “A Taiwanese Tale of Two Cities” and “La Catedral del Mar,” or the next high school hit in the making, “Sierra Burgess Is a Loser.”
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Here are the seven best movies new to Netflix in September. Click here for the full slate.
7. “Hold the Dark” (2018)
“Blue Ruin” and “Green Room” director Jeremy Saulnier re-teams with favorite writer (and frequent star) Macon Blair for a decidedly less colorful thriller set in the bleakest corner of Alaska. The fun begins when a young boy is snatched up and devoured by wolves, and — judging by the extraordinary tension of Saulnier’s previous work — it’s safe to assume that things only go downhill after the boy’s mother (Riley Keough) invites a nature writer (Jeffrey Wright) to come and hunt down the murderous pack.
Co-starring Alexander Skarsgård as the kid’s dad, James Badge Dale as the local sheriff, and a deep cast of Native American actors, “Hold the Dark” promises to deliver the same heart-in-your-throat breathlessness of Saulnier’s earlier films, but on a much, much bigger canvas. The film is premiering at TIFF before screening at Fantastic Fest, but it will be streaming for all to see by the end of the month. Available to stream September 28.
6. “Black Panther” (2018)
“Black Panther” was always going to be a landmark moment for reasons of representation, but writer-director Ryan Coogler doesn’t leave it at that. An unabashed and mega-budgeted work of Afro-futurism, this multiplex entertainment leverages an imagined reality to broadly reflect upon the actual reality of the black experience(s).
In making something that so lucidly allows one group of people to see themselves on screen, Coogler has created the first Marvel movie that feels like it takes place in the real world — the first Marvel movie that flows with a genuine sense of culture and identity, memory and musicality. It’s the first one that doesn’t merely reckon with power and subjugation in the abstract, but also gives those ideas actual weight by grafting them onto specific bodies and confronting the historical ways in which they’ve shaped our universe. Also, the music rules, the cast has already laid the groundwork for a whole generation of new black stars, and Michael B. Jordan is the best superhero villain since Doc Ock in “Spider-Man 2.” Not too shabby for the 18th film in a franchise. Available to stream on September 4.
5. “The Witch” (2015)
Robert Eggers’ astonishingly confident New-England Folktale is not fucking around. And, just to make sure you know that right from the start, one of its first scenes finds a demonic hag — the skin on her back painted with the light of a full moon — stealing a baby from the Puritan family that’s been exiled to the fringe of her woodland domain and crushing the child into bits with a pestle and mortar.
There are any number of reasons why “The Witch” is such a giddily perverse experience (the director’s Kubrickian rigor and his fetish for period details not least among them), but the film is ultimately such a startling sight to behold because of Eggers’ straight-faced commitment to the bit. He leans into the fears and fascinations of 17th Century life and he leans into them hard, and that unflinching approach makes it possible for modern-day viewers to believe in the power of the devil, and the goat that might serve as his messenger. Tie it together with a go-for-broke finale, throw in a star-making Anya Taylor-Joy performance into the mix, and you’ve got a new American classic that trembles with the echoes of the first horrors visited upon this country. Available to stream on September 17.
4. “The Land of Steady Habits” (2018)
The release of a new film by Nicole Holofcener should be treated like a holiday. Maybe not like one of the big holidays, when the stock market shuts down and the internet slows to a crawl, but like one of those low-key holidays you always forget about until you see other people observing it in public, reaffirming their faith in something more sacred than the tedium of daily life. A new film from Nicole Holofcener should basically be Ash Wednesday, is what I’m saying. And now that her latest is being distributed by Netflix (after its world premiere at TIFF), anyone with an internet collection is welcome to join the celebration.
The first film Holofcener has directed since the enduringly poignant “Enough Said” in 2013 (she also wrote this fall’s awards-tipped “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”), “The Land of Steady Habits” appears to be another small, shrewd, and incisive character study in the same vein as “Please Give” and “Lovely and Amazing.” There’s just one big difference: Unlike virtually all of Holofcener’s previous features, this one is about a man.
And not just any man, but Ben Mendelssohn, the feral Australian playing against type as a newly retired — and newly separated — Connecticut man who’s trying to build a new life for himself out of the things he can’t find at Bed, Bath & Beyond. Based on the Ted Thompson book of the same name, and co-starring a murder’s row of great actresses (including Edie Falco, Connie Britton, and Elizabeth Marvel), Holofcener’s latest is poised to bring a massive new audience to one of indie cinema’s most consistent, under-appreciated, and consistently under-appreciated voices. Available to stream on September 14.
3. “Unforgiven” (1992)
Perhaps the best and most enduringly resonant film that Clint Eastwood has ever directed, “Unforgiven” is ripe for discovery at a time when our culture is in open confrontation with its most basic values, and vulnerable to those who seek to revise the myths through which those values have been consecrated. As described by Mark Greenbaum in a 2012 IndieWire article about the film’s misunderstood villain, Eastwood’s final Western “offers a stirring rebuke to the genre he has done more to popularize than perhaps any actor or director, laying bare the senseless, ugly violence of the Wild West and its depictions.”
In the span of two hours, “Unforgiven” distills Eastwood’s legend, conflates it with the genre he leveraged to make it possible, and then tests the validity of both with a degree of self-consciousness that often seems impossible from such iconic stars. “Unforgiven” is still the best Western of the last 30 years, and now is the perfect opportunity to (re)discover why. Available to stream on September 1.
2. “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” (2010)
Decades from now, after civilization has collapsed and we’re all living in subterranean caves to keep safe from the horrors of global warming and/or dragons, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” will be one of the movies people cite to define North American pop cinema of the early 21st century (a surprisingly frequent topic of conversation in post-apocalyptic caves). Edgar Wright’s frenetic, heartfelt, and relentlessly clever graphic novel adaptation will be right up there with the likes of “The Social Network,” “There Will Be Blood,” and “The Tree of Life.”
Even after the floods wipe most of the planet’s major cities off the map and video games are something we can only play in our dreams, millennials will still be communicating via isolated “Scott Pilgrim” quotes. “Bread makes you fat!?” we’ll shout at each other, desperately trying to repress the pain of subsisting on nothing but the petrified Slim Jims we nabbed from a 7-11 during a recent expedition to the surface. Many lives were lost. But we will remember their names, just as we will remember how “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” brilliantly skewered a generation of stunted man-children who tried to game the girls they liked, only to end up playing themselves. Available to stream on September 16.
1. “Groundhog Day” (1993)
An essential movie for anyone who likes a dollop of spiritual crisis with their comedy, Harold Ramis’ “Groundhog Day” has not only become one of the most beloved movies of the ’90s, but — perhaps even more impressively — it’s held up against the entire sub-genre of movies that it inspired. Bill Murray may not have been the first guy ever stuck in a vicious time loop (shoutout to the dude from “La Jetée!”), but without cynical weatherman Phil Connors it’s hard to imagine that Hollywood would have felt emboldened to make “Before I Fall,” or “Edge of Tomorrow,” or “Happy Death Day,” or that movie where the kid has to keep repeating the same day until he stops prematurely ejaculating. And what a tragedy that would be. Anyway, now that “Groundhog Day” is streaming on Netflix, you can watch it over and over and over and over and over (and over) again, like there’s no tomorrow. Available to stream September 1.