There are many reasons we like the New York Film Festival, held by the Film Society of Lincoln Center annually for the past 50 years, but among them is that, as most of our contributors are based in NYC, the whole thing is pretty much in our back garden. But even beyond that, it’s always been one of the most carefully curated festivals around with a line-up that cherry picks the best from Cannes, TIFF, Venice and elsewhere, and brings them all to the Big Apple.
And this year was no exception, with three big-name Hollywood premieres rubbing shoulders with the best that world cinema has to offer in 2012. And, uh, “The Paperboy.” Below, we’ve picked out five of our favorites from the festival this year, and you can find every film we reviewed during the festival over the last few weeks, along with links to all our interviews from the festival. Read on for more.
“Life of Pi”
None of the NYFF’s three big world premieres were total washouts — we found much to like in both centerpiece gala “Not Fade Away” and closing night film “Flight,” even if the films weren’t unmitigated successes, exactly. But opening night movie “Life of Pi” was much closer to a full-blown triumph — picking up mostly raves from the audience and landing right at the center of the Oscar conversation. Ang Lee‘s 3D adaptation of Yann Martel‘s beloved best-seller (which had previously thwarted the likes of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and M. Night Shyamalan), involving a 16-year-old boy’s fight for survival as he’s shipwrecked on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger was a big get for the festival, and it pretty much paid off in spades. Our review acknowledged that “the film is not without its problems, as superficial as they ultimately may be,” but it’s also a visual wonder, its 3D sitting alongside “Avatar” and “Hugo” as the best examples of the form so far. Not that it’s pure spectacle, either: we concluded that it was “deeply resonant and soulful,” and “a harrowing journey of survival, self-discovery and connection that both inspires and awes in equal measure.” You’ll be able to check it out for yourself on November 21st.
For a certain breed of cinephiles, the return of Leos Carax for his first full feature since “Pola X” thirteen years ago has been the cinematic event of the year. And even more so once they actually caught “Holy Motors,” the French filmmakers’ bonkers, brilliant, genre-hopping comeback picture, which sees him reteam with his most frequent collaborator, Denis Lavant. The “Beau Travail” star plays Monsieur Oscar, a man picked up by a limo in the morning, and who spends one Parisian day donning various personas and characters, from a monstrous horndog of a tramp to a harried father of an unpopular teen girl. Is it about the transience of life? What it’s like to be an actor? The process of filmmaking and creation itself? Carax isn’t letting on, and it’ll take more than one viewing to work it out for ourselves, but for a film as beautiful and strange as this one, that hardly feels like a chore. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea — some, including our review from Cannes, found the film to be something of a case of the emperor’s new clothes. But plenty of other Playlisters fell in love with at NYFF and elsewhere, and it’s certainly going to cause some furious debates for the rest of the year.
“Something in the Air”
Having delved into the politics of the 1970s with his epic “Carlos,” French filmmaker Olivier Assayas has returned to the same era with much more personal, autobiographical intentions for “Something in the Air,” which follows a group of unreasonably attractive French teens in the early 1970s who find their revolutionary ideals put to the test on every front, not least by their own love lives. Assayas (arguably one of the most talented directors working) is on typically great form, with a winningly loose feel to the film, and a brace of cracking set-pieces (the burning-house scene is one of the most indelible movie moments of the year). It’s an achingly personal piece of filmmaking from the director, more so than anything he’s done in quite some time, and as in “Carlos,” he continues to capture the era with verve and style, not least with a terrific soundtrack of folk and prog. It didn’t win over the hearts of every Playlister — our Venice reviewer liked the film a lot (and perhaps more in retrospect), but found some of Assayas’ young, non-pro cast a bit weak and their characters a touch underwritten. But for the most part, the NYFF crew agree that it’s a beautiful, vibrant and deeply felt picture. IFC Films will release it in the U.S. sometime in 2013.
Something we’ve noticed on our festival travels this year is that quite often, the highlights of the line-ups have been found not in the official competition sections but somewhere among the sidebars. In Venice, for instance, our favorites “Stories We Tell” and “A Hijacking” weren’t in competition. And while the New York Film Festival doesn’t have the same issue, it did showcase another good example: Pablo Larrain‘s “No,” which won the Director’s Fortnight at Cannes this year, and which most who saw the film suggested was superior to virtually every film that was in competition. The closing off of Larrain’s Chilean trilogy (preceded by “Tony Manero” and “Post-Mortem“), examining his home country under the rule of dictator General Pinochet, it’s a more accessible and optimistic film than we’ve seen from the filmmaker before now, with Gael García Bernal starring as an ad agency employee hired to help the referendum to rid the country of Pinochet. Told with a unique ’80s video aesthetic, our Cannes review said it was “superbly shot, full of human characters and depicting a galvanizing true story while also showing us the hearts and lives of the people on both sides of the vote.” We concluded by calling it “a masterwork,” and those who caught up with the film at NYFF pretty much concur. Look for it in theaters in 2013, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
Our Complete NYFF Reviews
“Life Of Pi” [A-]
“You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” [A-]
“Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries And Mentors Of Ricky Jay” [A-]
“Outrage Beyond” [A-]
“Casting By” [A-]
“Memories Look At Me” [B]
“Camille Rewinds” [B]
“The Bay” [B]
“Not Fade Away” [C+]
“Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out” [C]
“Our Children” [C-]
NYFF Interviews & Press Conferences
Nicole Kidman Tribute
Brian De Palma & Noah Baumbach
Abbas Kiarostami (“Like Someone In Love”)
Olivier Assayas (“Somethiing In The Air”)
Robert Zemeckis (“Flight”)
Ang Lee, Suraj Sharma, Yann Martel (“Life Of Pi”)
Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig & Mickey Sumner (“Frances Ha”)
Leos Carax (“Holy Motors”)
Christian Petzold (“Barbara”)
David Chase & Steve Van Zandt (“Not Fade Away”)
Lee Daniels (“The Paperboy”)
Rodney Ascher (“Room 237”)
Marina Zenovich (“Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out”)
Cristian Mungiu (“Beyond The Hills”)
Peter Strickland (“Berberian Sound Studio”)