As the calendar turns from September to October, plenty of Netflix subscribers are on the hunt for something spooky. If that’s the case, The A.V. Club has plenty of horror movie recommendations for you; if you’re scrolling through the feed trying to find the best of what’s just been added, or a classic you’ve been meaning to watch before it leaves the library, we’ve got you covered there, too. A Leonardo DiCaprio triple feature, Spike Lee’s extraordinary biography of Malcolm X, and one of the smartest rom-coms of the past 20 years are among our top picks for streaming on Netflix in October 2021.
2 / 13
Catch Me If You Can
Catch Me If You Can
Steven Spielberg and Leonardo DiCaprio both know a little something about conquering the world at a young age, which may explain why Catch Me If You Can paints such a sympathetic and resonant portrait of its wunderkind protagonist, a wily real-life con-man who passed millions of dollars worth of worthless checks and successfully impersonated a doctor, FBI agent, and airline pilot, all before turning 21. Loosely based on the self-aggrandizing autobiography of Frank Abagnale Jr., Catch Me If You Can stars DiCaprio–as effectively cast here as he was miscast in Gangs Of New York–as its debonair antihero, the quick-witted, licentious son of prominent New York businessman Christopher Walken. Bored by school and eager for new challenges after his beloved father’s traumatic divorce, DiCaprio embarks on a series of increasingly complicated and lucrative criminal endeavors. Tom Hanks co-stars as DiCaprio’s friendly antagonist and father figure, a straitlaced, dry-witted federal agent who can’t help but feel sympathy for DiCaprio’s baby-faced grifter. [Noel Murray]
3 / 13
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
It may be his movie, but Ferris (Matthew Broderick) doesn’t do much coming of age in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. He’s the same smug, wisecracking, fourth-wall-breaking class clown at the end as he is at the beginning, his truant misadventures across the Windy City facilitating little in the way of character development. The real emotional growth spurts in John Hughes’ enduringly popular teen comedy are experienced by the exasperated loved ones caught in Ferris’ cool-kid orbit: uptight best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck), who finally gathers the fortitude to stand up to his domineering father, and overachieving older sister Jeanie (Jennifer Grey), who climactically pushes past her resentment over how easily her brother gets away with everything. While Ferris preaches about stopping to appreciate life, it’s only these two who make any real progress through it, achieving minor victories of self-improvement while he plays hooky and provides running commentary. [A.A. Dowd]
4 / 13
Ghost’s Sam Wheat (Patrick Swayze) is personable and sympathetic in this life and beyond—when the movie begins, he’s just a Demi Moore-loving banker who’s prepared to miss a morning racquetball session or whatever with his colleague and best friend Carl (Tony Goldwyn, providing an early glimpse of his future Fitz sleaziness) to stay up (and by that, I mean, sex up) with his wife Molly (Moore) around the old kiln. After Sam unwittingly stumbles upon Carl’s money laundering scheme, he’s killed by Willie (Rick Aviles) in a mugging meant to cover up the real motive for his murder. What does Sam do after being so rudely shuffled off this mortal coil? Does he become the Moaning Myrtle of his and Molly’s Manhattan loft? No, he continues to look after his wife, connecting with a psychic named Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg) to communicate with her and solve his murder. He also takes ghosts lessons from a moody poltergeist, does cool tricks with a penny, a bathroom mirror, and steam, and finally, exacts justice with no collateral damage. Sam is just as good a ghost as he was a man, so not even the most diligent of ghostbusters could bring themselves to interfere with his mission—certainly not me, anyway. [Danette Chavez]
5 / 13
The most important technology in Inception isn’t the largely unseen dream-invading machine that drives the plot, the numerous clocks Christopher Nolan focuses on lovingly, or even that infamous top. It’s something much older and more sacred: the labyrinth, particularly of the unsolvable, Borgesian sort, which reconfigures itself at every turn and reveals ever-expanding mazes within mazes. Designing one is Ariadne’s first challenge upon joining the team—an introduction that, once the film’s game-like mechanics are established, proves increasingly fitting as each character’s psyche is revealed to be a series of logical puzzles. The competing wills of a dying scion, the careful set-up that leaves DiCaprio’s Cobb framed, the layered deceits that make Cillian Murphy’s Robert Fischer comply with the team raiding his mind: Nolan literalizes these as three-dimensional space, staging them as crumbling modernist nowheres, secret air ducts infiltrating a snowbound fortress, a train barreling through a rainy city street. How strange and beautiful that all of these serpentine mechanisms reveal at last Nolan’s most personal film: a harrowing chess match between lovers, the final resolution of which makes that still-spinning top irrelevant. Cobb finds his way out of one maze, and stops wondering if he’s in another, which is about as idealistic a resolution as any restless creative mind could dream. [Clayton Purdom]
6 / 13
Based on a manuscript by Amanda Brown, the story of sunny sorority girl Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) and her surprise success at Harvard Law School immediately endeared itself to a generation of viewers. Legally Blonde grossed $141.8 million worldwide, launched Witherspoon as a full-blown movie star, and eventually spawned both a lackluster sequel and a charming Broadway musical adaptation. Legally Blonde is a cultural touchstone whose popularity has never really wavered. The movie reportedly compelled a bunch of real-life women to go to law school, and has definitely inspired any number of graduation speeches. A highly anticipated third installment is set to hit theaters in May 2022.
In the 20 years since its release, people tend to talk about Legally Blonde in one of two ways: as frothy, featherlight fun or an underappreciated feminist masterpiece. It’s either Animal House for girls or Norma Rae in pink. But while the former makes it sound trivial and the latter makes it sound didactically moralistic, it’s the way that Legally Blonde’s form and message intersect that really make it something special. Legally Blonde isn’t just a revolutionary feminist text of early ’00s cinema; it’s also one of the savviest, best-paced comedies of its era. [Caroline Siede]
7 / 13
[Spike] Lee and Ernest Dickerson had talked about making an epic film version of The Autobiography Of Malcolm X from the time they were students at NYU, and when Lee heard that Warner Bros. had a Malcolm X project in development, he waged a campaign in the media, insisting that only a Black director could do the subject justice. Warner relented, but kept Lee on a tight budget, forcing the director to scramble to secure the funds to shoot Malcolm X’s pilgrimage to Mecca, and to get the time he and his editor Barry Alexander Brown needed to give the film its proper shape and pace. The result is a movie that covers the controversial Nation Of Islam leader from boyhood to his assassination, a movie that flawlessly combines the look and feel of the David Lean-style biopic with Warner gangster pictures and MGM musicals. Malcolm X also gives Denzel Washington his best role, allowing him to convey the oratorical fire that swayed millions, while still depicting Brother Malcolm as a man, with weaknesses and fears as well as strengths. Even aside from its content, Malcolm X is a powerhouse piece of cinema, serving as a culmination of everything Lee had done up to that point.
8 / 13
Observe And Report
Observe And Report
Whether [Jody] Hill intended Observe And Report as a meta-commentary on indie quirk or a curdled example of same isn’t clear, but it’s astonishing to consider that a comedy this dark, with a hero this deranged, was released to more than 2,700 screens across America. Audiences expecting another Paul Blart: Mall Cop, with plump funnyman Seth Rogen in the Kevin James role, instead got a suburban reworking of Taxi Driver, with Rogen as God’s lonely man. Like Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle, Ronnie channels his alienation and thwarted desire into the delusional belief that he is a man of destiny, someone who will finally stand up and wipe all the scum off the street. Only here, the street is the Forest Ridge Mall, the scum is a middle-aged flasher and a few skate punks, and the joke is the club-fisted justice of a bipolar security guard off his meds. In the end, his “hero” status, like Bickle’s, is entirely ironic. [Scott Tobias]
9 / 13
The funniest moments of Adam McKay’s films with Will Ferrell are in the downtime between absurdist set pieces, when Ferrell’s allowed to riff on something so mundane, you can practically smell the money burning. In this regard, he has no better scene partner than John C. Reilly, who perfectly matches him, improvised inanity for inanity. And there’s no better showcase for their flights of nonsense than this 2008 film about two 40-going-on-12-year-olds forced to live with each other when their parents get married, only to become allies in a war against adulthood. As Ferrell and Reilly karate fight, record dumb rap songs, teabag drum sets, and generally act like swaggering idiots for 90-plus minutes, the film similarly just sort of dicks around with almost zero pretense to growth or narrative. But that leaves—to paraphrase one of the film’s many quotable lines—so much more room for activities, with a cast stacked with people clearly enjoying themselves (including Richard Jenkins, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, and Rob Riggle) firing off enough nested jokes to make Step Brothers endlessly rewatchable—and as inexplicably magical as the fucking Catalina wine mixer. [Sean O’Neal]
10 / 13
When a movie makes billions worldwide or wins an Oscar for Best Picture, skepticism usually follows; when a movie does both, a backlash is giant-iceberg inevitable. But as unfashionable as it became in some circles when Titanic won the hearts of young women, the elderly, and the ocean, James Cameron’s romantic treatment of the doomed ocean liner remains a towering achievement, especially in the oft-disreputable field of disaster cinema. The writer-director’s canny talent for structure does wonders applied to a story where everyone knows the ending—and he marshals his vast budgetary resources with such showman confidence that a simple shot of a man hitting the doomed ship’s propeller as he plummets to the icy water has become strangely influential. A spectacular big-screen experience, the movie packs an emotional wallop, not just because of its details (the old couple embracing in bed as the water rushes around) and its charismatic performances (from Leonardo DiCaprio and especially Kate Winslet) but also because of the way Cameron shows Winslet’s (and Gloria Stuart’s) Rose pushing her way into the 20th century while keeping a passionate short-term love affair alive in her memory. [Jesse Hassenger]
11 / 13
Tommy Boy (available 10/1)
Tommy Boy (available 10/1)
Chris Farley’s run as a big-screen leading man was cut tragically short, but it began on the best possible foot: Tommy Boy, in which Farley stars as the maladjusted scion of an auto-parts empire, taking to the road in a last ditch effort to save the family business alongside the snarky Abbott to his Bad Boys of Saturday Night Live Costello, David Spade. It’s endlessly quotable (“Holy schnikes!”) and, along with the first Wayne’s World, more or less responsible for Rob Lowe’s second act as a comedic ringer
12 / 13
[David] Fincher’s hypnotic masterpiece is an almost perversely straightforward police procedural that meticulously tracks the endless hunt for the Bay Area’s Zodiac killer, a spotlight-hungry sicko who taunted the police and shamelessly manipulated a compliant press. It’s an obsessive film about obsession that sucks audiences into its tortured antiheroes’ quest by evoking a rich aura of dread and paranoia. Zodiac’s greatness lies in illustrating how a rash of irrational murders can get under the skin and infect the collective psyche of an entire city, seemingly altering its molecular structure and creating an atmosphere heavy with the threat of violence.
13 / 13