As leaves change color and temperature cools down in September, the entertainment industry proceeds to heat up. Fall TV rolls out its new lineup, anticipated books are prepped for the Holiday rush, and Hollywood begins to feed Oscar buzz through adult-oriented fare. Fans simply wishing to maintain their binge watching habits at home, however, needn’t be concerned. Netflix has got plenty of stellar additions streaming this month, whether to fuel procrastination or to help transition into the Autumn season.
1. Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)
Upon being offered the job to adapt Peter Benchley’s novel Jaws, Steven Spielberg had one stipulation: that the titular shark not be seen for the first hour. It was an odd, unwavering request from the unproven director, but this sparing deployment of ‘Bruce’ (the onset nickname for the shark) is precisely why Jaws struck such a nerve in 1975—and continues to do so today. In focusing on the destruction and aftermath over the shark itself, Spielberg takes time to develop human characters (Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw) we relate to and care about. As such, many of the film’s quieter moments; the pantomime between Scheider and his son, Dreyfuss crushing his styrofoam cup, and Shaw’s Indianapolis speech, stand on equal footing with the bloody set pieces. Despite four decades of competition, the film remains the first, and in many ways, the quintessential summer blockbuster.
2. Babel (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2006)
Before winning back-to-back Oscars for Best Director, Alejandro González Iñárritu received his first nomination for this sprawling 2006 drama. Titled Babel, after the Bible story where God vindictively created different cultures, the film plays out on the global stages of Morocco, Mexico, Japan, and America. A lone rifle serves as a loose narrative thread, but it is merely an excuse for Iñárritu to explore the triumphs and tragedies we share as human beings. This exploration includes a vacationing couple (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett), a deaf teenager (Rinko Kikuchi), and an impulsive nanny (Adriana Barraza) who finds herself stranded at the border with two American children. Yet, as the final film in the director’s acclaimed ‘Death Trilogy’, Babel neither demonizes nor lionizes its characters. They are each given their reasons, and due to Iñárritu’s command of cinema, they all win our sympathy.
3. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Tim Burton, 2007)
While Johnny Depp’s career has been in a bit of a nosedive lately, this pitch black musical is a stunning reminder that he can dominate the screen in the right role. An adaptation of the stage play, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) reunites Oscar nominee Depp with Tim Burton; whose direction bleeds operatic flavors like revenge and tragedy. As a result, the filmmaker’s gothic sheen is elevated to a fever pitch, while Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter, and Sacha Baron Cohen fill the supporting cast with style. In translating the words of playwright Stephen Sondheim, Sweeney Todd is undoubtedly a feat of aesthetic—yet it is Depp that hogs the spotlight with the sharpness of a barber’s blade.
4. Man on Wire (James Marsh, 2008)
One must be mad to walk a high wire between the Twin Towers, but in the hands of Philippe Petit, the notion sounds downright magical. The daredevil performer is both the subject and the narrator of Man on Wire (2008), a documentary that details his 1974 stunt with the dazzle of a heist thriller. Director James Marsh paints Petit’s story with almost mythical brushstrokes, from his early days as a juggler to the assembly of his faithful crew. Petit furthers the myth himself through anecdotes and infectious energy, which are brought to life through recreations and a stunning array of photos and footage from the actual event. By the time Petit takes to the titular wire, the film’s account makes the viewer breathless with anxiety—we know the outcome, but the construction of this Oscar winner triumphs nonetheless.
5. Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg, 1998)
As the second Steven Spielberg addition this month, Saving Private Ryan (1998) is a far cry from the cozy fear of Jaws. Instead, the film plunges into a harrowing account of WWII, where young men are broken down—mentally and physically—on the battlefield. The plot is a frugal study in human value, as eight soldiers are assigned to rescue Pvt. Ryan (Matt Damon) under the pretense it will boost morale back home. They’re fully aware the mission isn’t conducive to survival, but the quiet, dutiful leadership of Capt. Miller (Tom Hanks) preserves hope; even amidst horrific combat. Spielberg and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski capture a powerful, violent simplicity that says more for the wartime experience than words ever could. Whether a man’s life is worth eight others is a quandary that goes unanswered, but as seen in the film’s heartbreaking finale, it’s the examination itself that Spielberg is interested in.
6. Top Gun (Tony Scott, 1986)
Long before he scaled Oprah Winfrey’s couch and preached scientology, Tom Cruise was just a young man who felt the need. “The need for speed,” as he famously put it, in the film that made him a cultural icon: Top Gun (1986). Released at the height of Reaganomics, the patriotic drama stars Cruise as Maverick, a hot shot pilot with raw talent and a stubborn attitude towards authority. His journey towards fixing these flaws is filled with Hollywood tropes; among which includes a love interest (Kelly McGillis), a rival (Val Kilmer), and a seasoned mentor (Tom Skerritt) guiding him. As a work of art, Gun is overflowing with goofy machismo, but Tony Scott’s MTV-esque direction keeps this slice of pop-cinema as enjoyable as the day it was released. In terms of 80s touchstones, few movies can compare.
7. Crash (Paul Haggis, 2004)
Another sprawling ensemble piece similar to Babel, Crash (2004) narrows the focus to Los Angeles in the aftermath of 9/11. Tensions are high, and racial prejudice afflicts the lives of those throughout the city; including a district attorney (Brendan Fraser) and his prejudiced wife (Sandra Bullock), a persecuted Persian store clerk (Shaun Toub), a cynical black thief (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), and a latino locksmith (Michael Peña). A self-described “passion project” for writer-director Paul Haggis, the film is shamelessly driven by ethical examination. Characters are pulled into situations that permanently affect them, while the lingering dread that links each narrative together lays the morality on thick. An occasionally heavy-handed viewing, this Best Picture Winner still has plenty to say regarding bigotry in the big city.
8. Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (Tim Skousen & Jeremy Coon, 2015)
Like most art forms, cinema can inspire fans to become participants themselves. Such was the case for Chris Strompolos, Jayson Lamb, and Eric Zala, who saw Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981 and were utterly blown away. The Missouri teenagers would spend the next seven years creating a shot-for-shot remake—a project that was ultimately left unfinished when the friends drifted apart. This is where Raiders!, aptly subtitled The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made, picks up. The documentary is a loving look at the remake, alternating between first person recollection and the modern day struggle of financing the final scene. Cameos from filmmaker Eli Roth and original Lost Ark star Jonathan Rhys-Davies lend to the fun, but it is ultimately the passion of the core trio that make this doc a pean to movie geeks everywhere.
9. Zootopia (Byron Howard, Rich Moore, and Jared Bush, 2016)
Earlier this year, Netflix signed a deal that made them the exclusive U.S. home outlet for new Disney movies, and September is kicking things off in style with the addition of Zootopia. Released in March, this light mystery revolves around Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), a bunny with big dreams and a newly minted police badge. Forced to team up with scheming fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), the duo spins through a case of missing animals, playful Chinatown (1974) references, and thinly veiled views on inequality and urban tension. The latter points are an especially risky move on the part of co-directors Byron Howard, Rich Moore, and Jared Bush, but the film’s fluid pace and thoughtful approach keep it from straying into preachy territory. Another animated success for Disney.
10. The Imitation Game (Morten Tyldum, 2014)
The story of Alan Turing is at once inspirational and tragic. A genius mathematician during WWII, Turing developed a system to crack Nazi naval codes that helped win the war. Less than a decade later, he was dead—the victim of suicide after being persecuted for his homosexuality. The Imitation Game (2014), based on the Turing biography by Andrew Hodges, does a marvelous job balancing these two events, as flashbacks and subplots build upon one another with concise purpose. Norwegian born Morten Tyldum directs with assurance, fusing paranoia and character for a mood that feels closer to a spy thriller than a stodgy biopic. Also key in this subversion from genre norms is the startling performance of Benedict Cumberbatch. Channeling Turing’s pompous air, outcast awkwardness, and wounded interior, the actor elevates The Imitation Game to rarified excellence, much like the man who inspired it.