The Best Movies To Watch On Netflix In August 2020

Watch “Nightcrawler” and “Project Power” this week.

“Nightcrawler” (2014)

Premise: In this neo-noir thriller, a man who can’t find typical employment turns to stealing materials to sell under the table. He “works” at night and happens upon a grisly car crash while driving around.

At the crash scene, the man notices that people with cameras have surrounded the wreckage. He learns this group gets paid to do so. These camera-people don’t need to be technically employed by a news outlet ― they just need to get the most compelling footage and turn it in the fastest. The down-on-his-luck man decides this should be his new career.

“Nightcrawler” earned an Academy Award nomination for best original screenplay.

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Setting: Nighttime Los Angeles in the early 2010s

Netflix descriptors: “Gritty” and “dark”

The opening shot of "Nightcrawler" on Netflix.
The opening shot of “Nightcrawler” on Netflix.

How it starts: A lighted blank billboard stands across an empty road. The silhouettes of mountains loom in the background. Ominous music plays. Other establishing shots contrast light and dark and depict a full moon over a rocky ridge.

Another shot reveals Los Angeles at night as seen from Griffith Observatory. More shots show empty roads lit by streetlights, nighttime infrastructure, construction sites and an occasional car on a highway. A train passes through the city as Gyllenhaal’s character tries to cut a fence.

Notable cast: Riz Ahmed, Jake Gyllenhaal, Bill Paxton and Rene Russo

Runtime: 1 hour, 57 minutes

Bonus: The YouTube series ”Lessons From the Screenplay” did a nearly 10-minute feature about how the movie makes the audience feel empathy for Gyllenhaal’s character despite his sociopathic actions. The video, which has over 1 million views on YouTube, has spoilers.

“Project Power” (Netflix Film: Debuted Friday)

Premise: In this superhero movie, a mysterious company decides to test its nascent drug on the population of New Orleans. The drug in its current form gives the taker five minutes of super abilities but has severe side effects. The drug wreaks havoc on the city as people start abusing the drug to commit crimes as the drug rapidly deteriorates their bodies.

Three heroes band together for varying reasons (their motivations end up being plot reveals) to dismantle the drug company before the company perfects the superpower formula.

Setting: New Orleans

Netflix descriptors: “Gritty” and “exciting”

The opening shot of "Project Power" on Netflix.
The opening shot of “Project Power” on Netflix.

How it starts: A cargo ship delivers shipping containers at a New Orleans dock while a woman in a suit jacket looks on pensively. Freight trucks take the shipment into the city. In a parking lot, a man in a fine overcoat pitches the product from the back of a truck to a group of drug dealers. He opens a case and removes a pill. He says the pill is called “Power.”

Notable cast: Dominique Fishback, Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Runtime: 1 hour, 51 minutes

Bonus: Cinemablend interviewed the three stars via webcam. By this point in the pandemic, you should be used to grainy interviews, but Gordon-Levitt’s space definitely could have used more lighting.

Netflix highlights from earlier in the month:

“Being John Malkovich” (1999)

Premise: In this fantastical dark comedy directed by Spike Jonze and written by Charlie Kaufman, a sad, unemployed puppeteer wants to make a radical change in his life. He stumbles upon the opportunity to do so when he finds a portal that allows people to enter the brain of actor John Malkovich.

The man obsesses over this experience and tells his friends, who exploit the portal in various ways. Malkovich increasingly loses control over his life and career as other people take turns playing him.

“Being John Malkovich” earned three Academy Award nominations: Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress (Catherine Keener) and Best Director (Spike Jonze).

Setting: Late-1990s New York City

Netflix descriptors: “Mind-bending” and “absurd”

The opening shot of "Being John Malkovich" on Netflix.
The opening shot of “Being John Malkovich” on Netflix.

How it starts: Minimal, dim lighting hits an empty stage and closed blue curtain. The string section of an offscreen orchestra plays over the murmurs of an unseen audience. The strings stop, and the crowd claps. The full orchestra (with percussion) starts up again, and the curtains open to reveal a marionette in a theatrical set.

The marionette is a man with a ponytail. After seeing his reflection in the mirror, the marionette man trashes the set.

Notable cast: John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener and John Malkovich

Runtime: 1 hour, 53 minutes

Bonus: Kaufman wrote and directed a forthcoming Netflix Film called “I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” which debuts Sept. 4. This likely motivated Netflix to add “Malkovich” and another Kaufman movie, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” this month. Here’s the trailer for the Netflix Film:

“A Knight’s Tale” (2001)

Premise: In this medieval adventure comedy, a man of non-noble birth wishes to become a knight and participate in the sport of jousting. The sport only allows nobles to compete, so the man must wait for a chance to trick the organizers into letting him join.

In his quest to become a knight, he befriends the writer Geoffrey Chaucer, who in real life wrote “The Canterbury Tales.” In this version, Chaucer is a young man who has accomplished little and can’t seem to keep out of gambling debt. The two work together, along with a small team of other strivers, to make something of themselves in their world of inequality.

Setting: Fourteenth-century Europe in the time of Geoffrey Chaucer

Netflix descriptors: “Witty,” “exciting” and “romantic”

The opening shot from "A Knight's Tale"
The opening shot from “A Knight’s Tale”

How it starts: Yellow, serifed text appears on a black screen. The text:

In medieval times a sport arose. Embraced by noble and peasant fans alike though only noble kings could compete. The sport was jousting.

It reads almost as if written by an AI bot, but at least the text conveys the movie’s backstory in a simple manner.

Notable cast: Mark Addy, Paul Bettany, Heath Ledger, Rufus Sewell and Alan Tudyk

Runtime: 2 hours, 12 minutes

Bonus: Here’s an interview with Heath Ledger from 2001 about his role in the film:

All the movies that have joined Netflix this month so far

Aug. 1

  • “A Knight’s Tale”
  • “Acts of Violence”
  • “An Education”
  • “Being John Malkovich”
  • “Death at a Funeral”
  • “Dennis the Menace”
  • “Elizabeth Harvest”
  • “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”
  • “Hardcore Henry”
  • “Jurassic Park”
  • “Jurassic Park III”
  • “Mad Max” (1979)
  • “Mr. Deeds”
  • “Nights in Rodanthe”
  • “Ocean’s Thirteen”
  • “Ocean’s Twelve”
  • “Operation Ouch: Special”
  • “Remember Me”
  • “Seabiscuit”
  • “The Addams Family” (1991)
  • “The Lost World: Jurassic Park”
  • “The NeverEnding Story”
  • “The NeverEnding Story 2: The Next Chapter”
  • “The Ugly Truth”
  • “What Keeps You Alive”

Aug. 2

  • “Almost Love”

Aug. 7

  • “Berlin, Berlin” (Netflix Film)
  • “Work It” (Netflix Film)

Aug. 8

  • “The Promise”
  • “We Summon the Darkness”

Aug. 10

  • “Nightcrawler”

Aug. 11

  • “Mr. Peabody & Sherman”

Aug. 12

  • “Scary Movie 5”

Aug. 13

  • “Safety Not Guaranteed”
  • “Une fille facile / An Easy Girl” (Netflix Film)

Aug. 14

  • “Fearless” (Netflix Film)
  • “Project Power” (Netflix Film)

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