There’s a little something for everyone in this month’s selection of titles leaving Netflix in the United States, including indie dramedies, family features and crime pictures, as well as the best of the recent James Bond flicks. Check out these 12 titles before they disappear. (Dates reflect the final day a title is available.)
‘Nightcrawler’ (Aug. 9)
The screenwriter Dan Gilroy made his directorial debut with this disturbing 2014 thriller. Inspired by the work of Weegee, the influential photographer of New York City street scenes of the 1940s, Gilroy penned the story of a contemporary news videographer (played to chilling perfection by Jake Gyllenhaal) whose pursuit of grisly crime scene footage takes him into morally dubious territory. Rene Russo is in top form as a news director who doesn’t quite realize how dangerous her employee is, while Gyllenhaal does some of his finest acting, unnervingly personifying the slippery slope from ambitious go-getter to out-and-out sociopath.
‘Safety Not Guaranteed’ (Aug. 12)
Before they were tapped to reboot the “Jurassic Park” franchise, the director Colin Trevorrow and the screenwriter Derek Connolly crafted a much smaller-scale fusion of science fiction and human drama. Aubrey Plaza stars as a young journalism intern who responds to a classified listing for a time-traveling partner, figuring the delusional man behind the ad (Mark Duplass) could make for an entertaining profile. But her cynicism slowly dissolves in the face of his earnestness — and her observations of the strange activities that are fueling his paranoia. The filmmakers find just the right tonal mixture of character comedy, low-rent sci-fi and genuine warmth, while Plaza and Duplass create unexpectedly convincing chemistry.
‘The Founder’ (Aug. 20)
Michael Keaton is phenomenal in this biographical portrait of the McDonald’s mastermind Ray Kroc, using his trademark quicksilver wit and endless charisma at the service of a character who is slowly and counterintuitively revealed to be a bit of a snake. His Kroc is a rather desperate hustler, envisioning himself as a Horatio Alger protagonist just one step away from his big break, which he finally finds in the efficient, assembly-line burger stand of brothers Maurice and Richard McDonald (John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman, both excellent). But his dreams for the chain are bigger than its creators’, a bump in the typical rise-to-success narrative, which creates fascinating and fruitful thematic tension.
‘Casino Royale’ (Aug. 30)
The James Bond franchise had hit a bumpy stretch in the mid-2000s, as audiences turned away from the increasingly silly shenanigans of adventures like “Die Another Day” for the grittier superspy stylings of the “Bourne” movies. So the Bond producers brought back the director Martin Campbell — who had previously rescued the series from obsolescence with the 1995 jump-start “Goldeneye” — to reboot Bond with an origin story. Daniel Craig made his first appearance in the role, complementing the character’s signature debonair charisma and offhand wit with genuine danger and darkness, while Eva Green impresses as the woman who made Bond do what he seldom would again: fall in love.
‘Stranger Than Fiction’ (Aug. 30)
Will Ferrell revealed he was capable of more than dumb-guy slapstick with his leading role in this clever comedy-drama from the director Marc Forster (“Monster’s Ball”). Emma Thompson stars as a superstar novelist who finds herself struggling to complete her latest tome; it seems her protagonist (played with naïve, wistful charm by Ferrell) has, somehow, become aware of his fictional status and of the death his creator has planned for him. It’s an ingenious premise, but it’s no mere intellectual exercise. The screenwriter Zach Helm explores the rich emotional implications of the scenario, forging an unlikely but affecting relationship between Ferrell and a marvelous Maggie Gyllenhaal.
‘Chinatown’ (Aug. 31)
The neo-noir films of the 1970s, and particularly the era’s plethora of private eye movies, took advantage of the temperature of the times; in a decade where distrust of authority and institutions were at an all-time high, it’s not surprising the unshakable moral ethos of the dedicated detective were again in vogue. Few films reanimated the golden age of noir as expertly as Roman Polanski’s 1974 best picture nominee, which also took full advantage of the shifts in tolerance of adult subject matter to include the kinds of plot twists earlier films could only hint at. That tension, coupled with the beauty of John A. Alonzo’s cinematography and the stellar performances of Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and John Huston, resulted in one of the finest films of the decade.
‘Election’ (Aug. 31)
Reese Witherspoon turned what could have been a one-dimensional caricature into one of the most iconic performances of her era in this whip-smart satire of small-town life, political ambition and middle-age malaise from the co-writer and director Alexander Payne (“Sideways”). Witherspoon stars as Tracy Flick, a zealous high school student whose election to class president seems a foregone conclusion until the student government supervisor (Matthew Broderick) decides the front-runner could use a little competition. Broderick’s casting is a masterstroke, allowing the viewer to reimagine Ferris Bueller as a feckless school administrator, while Payne and his co-writer, Jim Taylor (adapting the novel by Tom Perrotta), nimbly weave a tale that plays both as small-scale drama and big-picture allegory.
‘The Girl Next Door’ (Aug. 31)
The brief, “American Pie”-prompted return of the teen sex comedy was coming to an end by the time this entry from Luke Greenfield hit theaters, to middling box office and missed reviews, in 2004. But it found an enthusiastic audience on home video and streaming services, drawn less to its ludicrous plot — in which a high school senior falls for his sexy new neighbor only to discover she’s hiding from a past in adult films — than to the genuine sweetness at its center. Elisha Cuthbert and Emile Hirsch convey a bond that goes beyond mere physical chemistry; their characters seem genuinely to like and care about each other, and the strength of that bond gives the film an unexpected emotional spine.
‘Hot Rod’ (Aug. 31)
The Lonely Island comedy trio — composed of Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone — made the leap from viral videos to the big screen with this 2007 comedy. Samberg stars as Rod Kimble, who fancies himself as the second coming of Evel Knievel but is closer to the victims on “America’s Funniest Home Videos”; the movie chronicles his attempts to become a big-deal daredevil, primarily as a means of taunting his toxic stepfather (a game Ian McShane). The semi-surrealist approach of the Lonely Islanders puts this one a cut above the typical dimwitted ’00s comedy, as does the supporting cast, which also includes Sissy Spacek, Isla Fisher, Danny McBride and Bill Hader.
‘Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events’ (Aug. 31)
Over the course of three seasons, Netflix turned Daniel Handler’s series of children’s novels into one of their most entertaining series, a blackly comic tale of villainy and perseverance. But the Snicket novels had been adapted once before, in this 2004 film from the director Brad Silberling (“Casper”), with Jim Carrey as the dastardly Count Olaf. Neither version detracts from the other; the film and the series work in concert, creating a similarly stylized world with a correspondingly delicious sense of dark humor.
‘The Muppets’ (Aug. 31)
The Muppet movie franchise was in a pretty sorry state when it was brought back to joyful life in this 2011 feature from the director James Bobin and the screenwriters Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller (who got the gig when their previous film, the decidedly adult-oriented romantic comedy “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” included an uproarious puppet musical sequence). Segel also stars as a likable small-town guy whose visit to Hollywood with his fiancé (Amy Adams) and decidedly Muppet-like little brother results in an emergency reunion of the long-disbanded “Muppet Show” gang. Bobin, Segel and Stoller put together all the right pieces — winking humor, catchy tunes, a parade of cheerful guest stars — to create the best Muppet movie in decades.
‘Road to Perdition’ (Aug. 31)
Tom Hanks found a rare opportunity to explore his darker side in this 2002 adaptation of the graphic novel by Max Allan Collins (itself inspired by the classic manga “Lone Wolf and Cub”). Hanks stars as Michael Sullivan Sr., a Depression-era enforcer for the Irish Mob who must flee his Illinois home with his 12-year-old son when he crosses the erratic son (Daniel Craig) of his longtime boss and father figure (an Oscar-nominated Paul Newman, in one of his final roles). The director Sam Mendes re-teams with his “American Beauty” cinematographer Conrad L. Hall to create a picture that’s both gorgeous and melancholy, pushing past the surface pleasures of its period genre setting with timeless themes of family, morality and mortality.