The New York Film Festival kicks off later this week, sending us straight into the second half of a very busy fall festival season. In preparation for the festival, we’ve pinpointed its most exciting offerings, from never-before-seen narratives to insightful new documentaries, and plenty of previously-screened features looking to capitalize on strong word of mouth coming out of fellow tests like Venice, Telluride, and Toronto. In short, there’s plenty to experience in the coming weeks, so consider this your roadmap to the best of the fest.
Ahead, 13 essential titles — from buzzy world premieres to highlights from the 2017 circuit— that we can’t wait to see at this year’s New York Film Festival.
Documentaries about family members are always a dubious proposition. Some can also come across as overindulgent exercises, but others are masterworks of the genre (see: “Stories We Tell”). Given the subject and the filmmaker involved in “Arthur Miller: Writer,” we’re leaning toward something closer to the latter, with Rebecca Miller (“Maggie’s Plan”) telling the story of her father, the legendary American playwright. Weaving together a history of the man’s work and candid footage from the filmmaker’s impromptu home interviews, the filmmaker tells the life story of a literary figure who transcended his writing and became a witness to cultural history. -Steve Greene
Winsome, sweet, and often very funny, the second chapter of Aki Kaurismäki’s unofficial trilogy about port cities is a delightful story about the power of kindness that unfolds like a slightly more somber riff on 2011’s “Le Havre.” The Finnish auteur’s latest refugee story begins with a twentysomething Syrian man named Khaled (terrific newcomer Sherwan Haji), who escapes from Aleppo after burying most of his family and sneaks into Finland by stowing away in the cargo hold of a coal freighter. His path eventually crosses with Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen), a newly single restauranteur who could use a helping hand. Part Roy Andersson and part Frank Capra, “The Other Side of Hope” deepens the director’s recognition of how immigrants and refugees are victimized by their invisibility, and its timeliness is impossible to deny. -David Ehrlich
Don’t be fooled that his latest feature is a hyper-faithful adaptation of a half-illustrated children’s novel by “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” author Brian Selznick — “Wonderstruck” is nothing if not a Todd Haynes movie. And it’s an exquisite one, at that. Fresh off the greatest triumph of his career, the “Carol” director is still operating near the peak of his powers, returning to cinemas with an immaculately crafted fable about the ways in which people of all ages learn to break out of their bodies and connect with the world. Split between two time periods and shot to perfection by Haynes’ usual cinematographer Edward Lachman, this mesmerizing and open-hearted drama charts the parallel journeys of two deaf pre-teens — one in 1927, the other in 1977 — as they follow the treasure maps of their personal histories in search of a place where they might belong, a gap that they were born to close. Julianne Moore eventually factors into it, but we’d hate to reveal how. Trust us, you’re going to want to find out for yourself. -DE
We’ve been anticipating Greta Gerwig’s solo directorial debut for months now (it’s been almost a year since she completed her Saoirse Ronan-starring feature, good enough to prick up some ears around Sundance time), but when it arrived at Telluride one thing seemed instantly clear: It was worth the wait. Featuring Ronan as a teen-Gerwig substitute (while not a straight biopic of her younger years, like her protagonist, Gerwig was also a Catholic school student in Sacramento, yearning to break free), “Lady Bird” follows the eponymous teen as she struggles to get past her basic upbringing and spread her wings, mostly towards the bright lights and big city of New York. While it sounds like a standard coming-of-age film, Gerwig’s keen ear and eye for humor, heart, and honesty appears on full display, aided by Ronan turning in yet another stand-out performance. Talk about a dream team. -Kate Erbland
This year’s festival will close out with the world premiere of Woody Allen’s latest, which reportedly features an all-timer of a performance from Kate Winslet. In the Coney Island-set period piece follows Winslet’s Ginny, the disaffected wife of a carousel operator (Jim Belushi) who unexpectedly falls for a handsome young lifeguard (Justin Timberlake). Sounds complicated enough, but mix in Juno Temple as Belushi’s vivacious estranged daughter, who also sets her sights on Timberlake, and it sounds like an absolute recipe for destruction and drama. -KE
Author Didion’s nephew, actor-director-producer Griffin Dunne has been laboring on this portrait of his aunt for years. The film spans more than 50 years of essays, novels, screenplays, and criticism, as Didion chronicled America’s cultural and political tides, from the literati scene of New York in the 1950s and early ’60s to her home state of California, where she wrote “Slouching Toward Bethlehem” and “The White Album” and such film scripts as “The Panic in Needle Park.” Dunne unearths a trove of archival footage and interviews his aunt at length about the many people she met and interviewed as well as her late husband, writer John Gregory Dunne. She tells stories of partying with Janis Joplin, hanging out in a recording studio with Jim Morrison, and cooking dinner for one of Charles Manson’s women. Dunne also interviewed Harrison Ford and many other Didion friends who knew her from the literary and art worlds. -Anne Thompson
Myles Kane and Josh Koury’s “Voyeur” follows 84-year-old New Journalism exemplar Gay Talese as he reports his controversial portrait of Colorado motel owner, Gerald Foos, who for decades secretly watched his guests via an observation platform, observing them through attic ceiling vents. He kept detailed journals of all his guests’ activities, including sex. Talese asks ethical questions about what journalists owe their subjects, and how much they can trust them. Who’s the real voyeur, anyway? -AT
“Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck” director Brett Morgen delivers a stunning achievement by merging new interviews with animal advocate Jane Goodall with gorgeous archive footage of her early years in Africa as she was getting to know a tribe of chimpanzees. It’s a view of the young untrained pioneer whose precise, patient obseravtions changed the perception of chimpanzees forever. But it’s more: a romance. -AT
Amazon Studios / Wilson Webb
Is there any filmmaker more quietly profound than Richard Linklater? Utterly unpretentious yet consistently moving, his films manage the rare feat of touching the soul without hitting you over the head in the process. And since his track records with follow-ups is essentially flawless — in addition to the two “Before” sequels, “Everybody Wants Some!!” was more than worthy as well — there’s even more reason to be excited for “Last Flag Flying.” A sequel to “The Last Detail,” a highlight of the New Hollywood era, it stars Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, and Laurence Fishburne as three veterans who reunite for the funeral of Carell’s son. It has big shoes to fill (seriously, go watch “The Last Detail”), but few are more capable of stepping into them than Linklater. -Michael Nordine
A producer on many Jim Jarmusch films, including “Stranger Than Paradise,” Sara Driver made her feature debut in 1987 with “Sleepwalk,” which played an impressive double run at both Cannes and Sundance. For her first feature documentary she tackles the pre-fame years of legendary downtown art darling Jean-Michel Basquiat, bringing a fresh perspective to the elusive genius. She tells his story with archival footage and interviews with people who knew him personally, including Jarmusch, rapper Fab 5 Freddy, and graffiti artist Lee Quiñones. -Jude Dry
Lucrecia Martel is one of the most exciting and unique filmmakers working today, but because her output has been so infrequent — “Zama” is her first narrative feature in nine years — she is often left out of the conversation of great international auteurs. Based on Antonio Di Benedetto’s 1956 novel, “Zama” brings us to 18th century South America, where Don Diego de Zama (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) is stationed in Paraguay away from his wife and children. Tired of waiting to be transferred by the Spanish Crown, he grows frustrated and increasingly violent in his colonial surroundings. The film’s trailer hints that film will be a dark satire, lush period film and a complex character study of Zama’s paranoia-fueled descent, all mixed up into one, which is what is to be expected of the Argentinian director who has perfected walking a tightrope in terms of tone and genre in her not-always-easy to categorize body of work. Martel’s films always have something insightful and serious to say about society, but as Barry Jenkins has noted, in his appreciation of her work, the metaphor and message is never forced in her humorous and dramatically engaging films. -Chris O’Falt
Coming off his first English language film (“Louder Than Bombs”), director Joachim Trier returns to Europe to do what he does best — studying the complex emotional lives of young adults stumbling to find the footing as they step out of their cocoons (“Reprise” and “Oslo, August 31st”). “Thelma” brings an ambiguous supernatural element into play in a film that sits at the intersection of arthouse and genre. The cerebral and austere film captures the transition of Thelma (Eili Harboe) from living with religious, overly-protective parents to the liberated life of being a college student in Oslo. As Thelma slowly opens herself up to new experiences, specifically romantic feelings for new friend Anja (Okay Kaya), she starts to break into seizure-like tremors that can have a powerful and dangerous effect on the world around her. The film is dramatically engaging, while keeping the audience continually guessing about where the film is headed as it builds toward third act surprises. -CO
While filming the Sundance hit “Songs My Brothers Taught Me” on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Chloé Zhao became fascinated by a group of mixed race cowboys (known as Indian Cowboys or Lakota Cowboys) who grew up on the reservation. In particular, she got to know a saddle bronc rider and a horse trainer named Brady Jandreau, who suffered a massive brain injury during a rodeo competition. As Brady dealt with long term health effects, Zhao saw him struggle with an inability to live up to the cowboy image that defined him. To tell this uniquely American story of masculine identity, Zhao cast Jandreau and his real life family to play a fictionalized versions of themselves. Working with real life characters can be a risky proposition for a dramatic filmmaker, but Zhao won rave reviews (and a Sony Pictures Classics distribution deal) at Cannes with this poetic and metaphysical film. -CO
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