The 7 Best Movies New to Netflix in October 2020

Radha Blank's "The 40-Year-Old Version" and Kirsten Johnson's "Dick Johnson Is Dead" lead an eclectic month of Netflix Originals.
The 7 Best Movies New to Netflix in October 2020
"The Trial of the Chicago 7"

The downside of making a movie for Netflix is that it may never play in theaters, and could very well be swallowed into the streaming platform’s bottomless content pit while millions of people speed-binge the latest season of “Selling Sunset” (that Christine has got to be stopped). The upside of making a movie for Netflix is, of course, that the worst pandemic in 100 years won’t stop it from being released. While more traditional studios have shunted the rest of their 2020 lineup off to next year, Netflix is going full-steam ahead with a robust lineup of Original fare. The streamer’s October lineup alone runs the gamut from Oscar bait like “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” to vital new indies like Radha Blank’s Sundance standout “The 40-Year-Old Version,” Kirsten Johnson’s mirthfully inventive “Dick Johnson Is Dead,” Ben Wheatley’s riff on “Rebecca,” a documentary about David Attenborough, and — last but also most — Adam Sandler’s first epic of the post-“Gems” era, “Hubie Halloween.” He plays Hubie.

Other Netflix highlights this month include seasonal treasures like “ParaNorman,” back-in-the-news masterpieces like “Fargo,” and an evergreen love story about a girl flung out of space.

Here are the seven best movies new to Neflix this October.

7. “Hubie Halloween” (Steve Brill, 2020)

When it comes to our monthly list of the best movies new to Netflix, the word “best” is used a lot more loosely than it is elsewhere on this site. Sometimes a “best” movie new to Netflix is simply a beloved feature that the streamer is adding to its library. And sometimes — this time, for instance — a “best” movie new to Netflix is designated less for its quality than it is for how much we need it, something like it, or the promise of it to come.

Such is the case with the exquisitely titled “Hubie Halloween,” Adam Sandler’s first Netflix Original since “Uncut Gems” reminded critics like me how much we love seeing that guy on screen (and, dare I say it, even made us wonder if we were too hard on the likes of “Sandy Wexler” and “The Do-Over”). Have we seen “Hubie Halloween?” We have not. Does Sandler’s latest collaboration with “Little Nicky” auteur Steve Brill deserve to be on a list alongside films by the Coen brothers, Todd Haynes, and Kirsten Johnson? Only God can decide. Am I genuinely excited to put my existential despair on pause for a couple of hours and watch Sandler play a sky-is-falling busybody who has to convince the townsfolk of Salem that actual monsters are on the loose? The hype is real. The cinema lives. The Oscar campaign for June Squibb as Hubie’s mom starts here.

Available to stream October 9.

6. “The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Aaron Sorkin, 2020)

Aaron Sorkin’s Oscar-bound “The Trial of the Chicago 7” has already gone through a cycle of hype and backlash in the few days since it was first sent to critics (we’re going a little stir-crazy, okay?), with the initial rash of rave reviews cooled by some latecomers who’ve argued that the movie feels more like a cheap parody of history than an honest distillation of it. Eric Kohn’s even-tempered review tells both sides of the story, with a special emphasis on a certain supporting performance:

Nothing epitomized late ’60s iconoclasm like the trial of the Chicago Seven, a high-profile courtroom showdown between vindictive government forces and the righteous men who opposed its corruption. The nearly five-month proceedings were so loaded with histrionic grandstanding they practically anticipated the movie Aaron Sorkin would make five decades later. “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is exactly as advertised — a giant, giddy burst of earnest theatricality, loaded with a formidable ensemble that chews on every inch of the scenery, that overall makes a passionate case for the resilience of its formula more than using it as an excuse.

Of course, Sorkin practically rejuvenated that formula by writing the fiery confrontations of “A Few Good Men” almost 30 years ago, and here directs his own blunt, energetic screenplay with the convictions of a storyteller fully committed to the tropes at hand. It works well enough in part because the trial lends itself to such artifice: When the government charged an eclectic blend of stoned rebels and non-violent anti-war protesters with inciting riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the resulting charade bordered on performance art. So of course the ultimate actor-as-performance-artist, Sacha Baron Cohen, steals the show and transforms an otherwise stagey period piece into something far more compelling.

Available to stream October 16.

5. “The 40-Year-Old Version” (Radha Blank, 2020)

A Sundance favorite to everyone who saw it — and a film sure to stand out from the glut of other features that are being released this month — Radha Blank’s autobiographical directorial debut starts with a wink towards Judd Apatow before immediately finding a raw comic voice all its own. It’s a voice that Blank has been honing for a while now, and “The 40-Year-Old Version” lays out a shrewd and entertaining look back at how she did it. According to IndieWire’s Eric Kohn, the film “touches on the legitimate anxieties of the Black woman at its center while poking fun at them at the same time… this smart and crowd-pleasing debut negotiates that tricky balance, with a scrappy riff on real-world frustrations about the impact of race and age on the storytelling process.”

More from Kohn’s Sundance review: “Shot throughout New York with gorgeous black-and-white photography (by ‘Clemency’ cinematographer Eric Branco), ‘The 40-Year-Old Version’ always feels close to the ground, with Blank’s uneven path to writing a new play — and finding unexpected catharsis in hip hop — taking a series of entertaining twists. At 129 minutes, the lighthearted format risks growing stale, and certainly could have shaved off some perfunctory scenes. But Blank is so adroit at populating her story with shrewd observations and her own infectious personality that even its loose structure vibes with the nature of the movie, which maintains the rascally energy of an early Spike Lee joint while channeling a fresh new voice.”

Available to stream October 9.

4. “ParaNorman” (Chris Butler & Sam Fell, 2012)

No animated movie says Halloween quite like “Paranorman” — not even “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” which sings about it on its way to celebrating another holiday altogether. Here’s what IndieWire’s Zack Sharf had to say about the Laika movie that confirmed the Portland-based stop-motion studio as an American treasure that should be protected at all costs:

“Sam Fell and Chris Butler’s stop-motion fantasy horror film centers around a young boy who can communicate with ghosts as he tries to save his Massachusetts town from being destroyed by a 300-year-old witch. For all the wacky supernatural hijinks that unfold over the film’s runtime, ‘ParaNorman’ is most concerned with a reconciliation between the past and present. That an animated family movie even attempts to make sense of America’s lingering guilt for the murder of those charged with witchcraft makes ‘ParaNorman’ a rare gift. ‘ParaNorman’ rightfully earned an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature and proved that Laika could rival Pixar in terms of narrative and emotional originality.”

Available to stream October 1.

3. “Dick Johnson Is Dead” (Kirsten Johnson, 2020)

It’s hard to fathom how non-fiction stalwart Kirsten Johnson found a way to make a film that feels even more personal than her ultra-absorbing “Cameraperson” (which she stitched together from the leftover footage she had from decades of film shoots), but “Dick Johnson Is Dead” would be hard to fathom under any circumstances. A playful, bittersweet elegy for a man who’s still with us, Johnson’s poignant and mordantly hilarious new documentary finds her trying to make peace with her father’s imminent death… by staging elaborate visions of how the frail old man could die. “That concept could easily devolve into a navel-gazing exercise,” IndieWire’s Eric Kohn wrote in his rave review from Sundance, “but Johnson enacts a touching and funny meditation on embracing life and fearing death at the same time.” It’s one of the best movies of the year — don’t miss it.

Available to stream October 2.

2. “Fargo” (Ethan & Joel Coen, 1996)

Sometimes the films that Netflix adds to its lineup seem truly random. And sometimes — if you squint at the tea leaves — you can find some rhyme and reason behind the roster changes in a given month. Whoever is responsible for bringing “Fargo” back onto the service this October deserves a donut, because there’s never been a better time to revisit the wry black comedy that cemented the Coen brothers as an American institution, inspired one of the best shows on television, and led John Kasich on a quixotic and also bone-dumb quest to ban it from Blockbuster. Not only is the fourth season of “Fargo” just warming up on FX (Jessie Buckley is the Nurse Ratched this country needs), but the “Nomadland” hype train has fully left the station after the movie won the Golden Lion at Venice, and there’s no better way to feed the excitement for Frances McDormand’s latest performance than by revisiting one of her greatest. Of course, “Fargo” will always hold up just fine on its own, even in spite of one of the great movie goofs of all time (if Marge Gunderson is such a great cop, how does she not even realize she’s married to the Zodiac killer?).

Available to stream October 1.

1. “Carol” (Todd Haynes, 2015)

The script that Phyllis Nagy adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s “Carol” (née “The Price of Salt”) is flawless to the point of somehow improving on the source material, and Todd Haynes found a way to transmute the final lines of the book into a dialogue-less moment that says a million words, but who could forget that final paragraph?

“Carol raised her hand slowly and brushed her hair back, once on either side, and Therese smiled because the gesture was Carol, and it was Carol she loved and would always love. Oh, in a different way now because she was a different person, and it was like meeting Carol all over again, but it was still Carol and no one else. It would be Carol, in a thousand cities, a thousand houses, in foreign lands where they would go together, in heaven and in hell. It would be ‘Carol’ at the top of IndieWire’s Best Movies New to Netflix list every month that it was re-added to the streaming platform, even though that happens like three times a year and the company should really use some of that ‘Extraction’ money to just lease the rights on a semi-permanent basis at this point. Therese walked towards her.”

Takes my breath away every time.

Available to stream October 20.

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