After a quiet summer punctuated with a handful of culture-shaking hits (e.g. “Da 5 Bloods,” “The Old Guard”), Netflix is ramping up its original content as we roll into the fall. The result is the most unusual, diverse, and even controversial slate the streamer has rolled out all year. Charlie Kaufman’s mind-bending and extraordinary “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” has to be at the top of the list, but a handful of other must-see movies will be vying for your attention, from well-vetted festival standouts like “Cuties” (recently the target of an uninformed online smear campaign) to vital documentaries like Sophia Nahli Allison’s “Love Song for Latasha” (about the 15-year-old Black girl whose murder sparked the L.A. Riots), and unknown quantities like Antonio Campos’ star-studded Southern gothic “The Devil All the Time” and the Millie Bobby Brown detective comedy “Enola Holmes.” This month’s library titles include recent favorites like Paul Dano’s “Wildlife” and timeless masterpieces like — checks notes — “Not Another Teen Movie.” Seriously though, that thing is pure cinema.
Here are the seven best movies new to Netflix in September 2020.
7. “Anaconda” (1997)
Ah, the ’90s, a magical time when a Hollywood studio wouldn’t flinch at spending $45 million on a schlocky, vaguely Herzogian big B-movie about Owen Wilson, Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, and Eric Stoltz hunting massive computer-generated snakes along the Amazon River with a deranged Jon Voight — practicing for his speech at the 2016 RNC — as their Ahab-like guide. The decade was full of trashy multiplex gems like this, and their simple pleasures have never been easier to appreciate. But this one stands out for obvious reasons. Say what you will about related classics such as “Relic” and “Deep Rising,” but only Luis Llosa’s “Anaconda” features the iconic scene in which the Butterscotch Stallion turns to the camera and asks “is it just me, or does the jungle make you really horny?” Also (spoiler alert), it ends with Voight’s entire body getting swallowed whole by a shiny reptile the size of an 18-wheeler. Vive le cinema!
Available to stream September 1.
6. “Magic Mike” (2020)
First things first, the best and most important thing about “Magic Mike” is that “Magic Mike XXL” wouldn’t exist without it. That being said, the original is excellent enough on its own merits. A beefy good time that doubles as a post-recessionary study of greed, Soderbergh’s shirtless spectacular is such a deeply enjoyable movie because it never forgets that the heart is the strongest muscle in the human body.
…Okay, that’s not literally true, but it feels right. Likewise, it’s not literally true that Channing Tatum’s semi-autobiographical performance as an entrepreneurial male stripper is the height of all screen acting, but it feels right. Very right. He’s the eye of the storm in a movie that’s positively raining men. “Magic Mike” wants to be a bit more exuberant than Soderbergh’s antiseptic style allows for, and Cody Horn is too dull of a love interest for a movie in which every character is interesting enough to be a lead, but neither of those drawbacks are enough to hold this thing back from being a massive crowdpleaser. The law says a film about jacked Florida bros shouldn’t be this touching, but I think I see a lotta lawbreakers up in this house tonight.
Available to stream September 1.
5. “The Social Dilemma” (2020)
Perhaps the single most lucid, succinct, and terrifying analysis of social media ever created for mass consumption, Jeff Orlowski’s “The Social Dilemma” does for Facebook what his previous documentaries “Chasing Ice” and “Chasing Coral” did for climate change (that is, bringing compelling new insight to a familiar topic while also scaring the absolute shit out of you). Constructed from interviews with the very concerned people who designed these platforms, and laced with funny scripted segments that illustrate the effects of social media on a more life-sized scale, Orlowski’s well-argued documentary breaks down how a free-to-use business model has become an existential crisis for all civilization, and why logging off might be the only way to save us from ourselves.
While “The Social Dilemma” is relevant to every person on the planet, and should be legible enough to even the most technologically oblivious types (the Amish, the U.S. Senate, and so forth), its target demographic is very online types who think they understand the information age too well to be taken advantage of — zoomers, millennials, and screen junkies of any stripe who wouldn’t have the faintest interest in a finger-wagging documentary about how they should spend more time outside. The irony of this movie being released on Netflix is richer than some of its billionaire subjects, but the more people that watch this before the election, the better.
Available to stream September 9.
4. “Back to the Future” (1985)
Do kids today know “Back to the Future”? Robert Zemeckis’ trilogy-igniting temporal adventure is a Gen X favorite that’s still tightly sewn into the fabric of our pop culture, but does it hold up for audiences who aren’t so eager to hop into Doc Brown’s DeLorean, themselves?
That’s a rhetorical question, but it’ll be interesting to keep an eye on the Netflix Top 10 to see if we get a clear answer. Regardless, I’d argue that Zemeckis’ most iconic summer blockbuster doesn’t need to lean on nostalgia, which is fitting for a movie about the seductive danger of being stuck in the past. An immaculate piece of popcorn entertainment that’s tighter than a steel drum and pays off like a slot machine, “Back to the Future” is big Hollywood at its best. And while it might fall short of the spectacle that viewers have come to expect from studio blockbusters, it perfectly captures the transportive joy that we’ve been missing from the multiplex all summer.
Available to stream September 1.
3. “Not Another Teen Movie” (2001)
Arriving a few years ahead of the Early Aughts Spoof Boom (you all remember that, right?), the unfettered meta genius of “Not Another Teen Movie” has been largely subsumed into the wretched likes of “Epic Movie,” “Disaster Movie,” and the rest of the witless parodies that followed in its wake. In truth, it should be a felony to mention those wretched imitations in the same breath as Joel Gallen’s masterpiece, and I will gladly spend the rest of my life in jail if that’s what it takes to make this point. A self-reflexive send-up of “She’s All That,” “Bring it On,” “10 Things I Hate About You,” and every other high school comedy this side of “The Breakfast Club,” “Not Another Teen Movie” so thoroughly skewered its subject that Hollywood had to rethink the entire genre (for better or worse).
Get past the gross-out gags and a handful of offensive punchlines and you’ll be treated to the densest and most detailed satire of its kind since the likes of “The Naked Gun,” in addition to (what’s still) the funniest performance of Chris Evans’ career. But fair warning for the faint of heart: Watching “Not Another Teen Movie” means having to look at Janey Briggs for the better part of 90 minutes, and she can be a lot to stomach. As the great Jake Wyler once described the most abominable reject in his senior class: “She’s got paint on her overalls. What is that?!?” It’s disgusting, is what that is. But that’s the magic of this movie. By the time it’s over, you somehow believe that a swamp thing like her could actually become prom queen.
Available to stream September 1
2. “Wildlife” (2018)
Adapted from Richard Ford’s 1990 novel of the same name, Paul Dano’s directorial debut is a tender, gorgeous, and exquisitely understated drama about a family that loses its faith in itself. Set in an idyllic Montana town circa the early 1960s, and told from the perspective of a 14-year-old boy whose world is falling apart, “Wildlife” tells the all-American survival story of a rudderless man (Jake Gyllenhaal) leaving his distressed young wife (Carey Mulligan) to fend for herself. Working from the spare and beautifully observed script he co-wrote with Zoe Kazan — and directing with all the confidence you might expect from someone who’s spent the last two decades living the best film school imaginable — Dano crafts an unsparing drama that’s harsh and humane in equal measure. Mulligan is particularly brilliant; supported by a script that understands her character’s challenges and approaches them with rare empathy, her frayed performance resolves into a sad and immensely affecting portrait of reinvention.
Available to stream September 1
1. “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” (2020)
Jake (Jesse Plemons) and his nameless new girlfriend (Jessie Buckley) are driving through deep snow country so that he can introduce her to his parents. He’s excited about their potential lives together — she’s thinking of ending things. They’re clearly on different wavelengths, but the space between them will soon grow into a slipstream big enough to swallow time itself and smear the past and future into one long night of the soul with a fringe on top. Welcome to a breakup movie, Charlie Kaufman-style.
Adapted from Iain Reid’s novel of the same name, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is a surreal, erratic, and strangely moving experience that circles around a realization it can’t put into words. Then again, maybe every Kaufman film could be described that way. If “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” feels like both an act of self-parody for its director and also a radical departure from his previous work, that’s because it takes Kaufman’s usual fixations and turns them inside out. While this leaky snow globe of a drama is yet another bizarre and ruefully hilarious trip into the rift between people, it’s not — for the first time — about someone who’s trying to cross it. On the contrary, Kaufman is now telling a story about the rift itself. He’s tracing the invisible border where Jake ends and the Young Woman begins in the hope that he might be able to capture it on screen for even just a moment, like someone conducting a séance for all the dead space between us.
Watching Kaufman try makes for the most rewarding mindfuck of the year, from its off-kilter opening to its hilariously strange finale. Criminal as it is that “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” won’t have any sort of theatrical release, Netflix’s may be the only current studio that would pay for a movie that ends like this one. Godspeed to anyone who tries to predict what happens in those last 15 minutes.
Available to stream September 4.