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19 Reviews (And Counting) From the New York Film Festival

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire October 1, 2012 at 10:52AM

The 50th edition of the New York Film Festival opened on Friday with the world premiere of "Life of Pi," but Indiewire had already covered many of the films in the program at other festivals earlier this year. Here's a rundown of the 18 movies from this year's NYFF lineup we've reviewed so far; expect the list to grow as the festival continues through October 14.
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"Caesar Must Die."

The 50th edition of the New York Film Festival opened on Friday with the world premiere of "Life of Pi," but Indiewire had already covered many of the films in the program at other festivals earlier this year. Here's a rundown of the 18 movies from this year's NYFF lineup we've reviewed so far; expect the list to grow as the festival continues through October 14.

"Amour"

Few directors focus on dark, existentially dreadful scenarios with the consistency of the great Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke. Less consistent in terms of style than theme, in movies like "Funny Games," "Caché" and the Palme d'Or-winning "The White Ribbon," Haneke lingers in situations that find people trapped by circumstance and mystery. His latest, "Amour," is an incredibly focused and emotionally charged look at an elderly woman's gradual demise and her husband's attempts to cope with it. Although not exactly heartwarming, "Amour" has a more contained vision of human relationships than Haneke's previous films without sacrificing its bleak foundation. It's his most conventional movie about death, and the most poignant. Read more here. Criticwire grade: A-

"Beyond the Hills"

Romanian director Cristian Mungiu seemingly came out of nowhere in 2007 to snatch the Palme d'Or for his last feature, the tightly constructed abortion drama "4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days," a distinctly powerful work. With so much pressure on the filmmaker from this early stage, Mungiu faced an impossible task, as his less appealing follow-up clearly demonstrates. While technically impressive and occasionally quite provocative, Mungiu's latest feature-length effort, "Beyond the Hills," is at once more ambitious and flawed -- in other words, only 50 percent post-Palme slump. Read more here. Criticwire grade: B

"Caesar Must Die"

The prospect of criminals performing Shakespeare has been explored in conventional terms by the 2005 documentary "Shakespeare Behind Bars"; sibling directors Paolo and Vittorio Taviani's "Caesar Must Die" takes a far more provocative approach. Following a beautifully shot introductory sequence that captures the finale of the "Julius Caesar" production in glorious, dazzlingly colorful detail, "Caesar Must Die" flashes back to six months earlier, at which point the imagery shifts to expressive black-and-white, appropriately evoking the drab interiors. Read more here. Criticwire grade: B+

"First Cousin Once Removed"

Documentarian Alan Berliner is frequently the star of his movies, but his focus extends beyond his neuroses. Rather than the star of the show, he's a vessel for bigger ideas and evades the perils of self-indulgence that could result from putting himself in front of the camera. Read more here. Criticwire grade: A

"Frances Ha"

A slight and largely charming portrait of post-college woes, Noah Baumbach's deceptively simple "Frances Ha" is breezier than any of his previous ventures and indeed features considerably less ambition than his earlier work. However, that's hardly an indictment for a movie so eager to please and thoroughly in tune with the themes percolating throughout Baumbach's career. Shot in black-and-white video that lends this New York odyssey a scrappy feel, "Frances Ha" foregrounds a characteristically endearing Greta Gerwig performance defined by her usual onscreen combination of high energy wit and awkward self-effacement. Read more here. Criticwire grade: B+

"The Gatekeepers"

"The Gatekeepers," a startling exposé of Israeli intelligence agency Shin Bet, delivers an unequivocal indictment. The handful of former Shin Bet heads who deliver candid accounts of their reasoning for various destructive assaults in the constant horn-locking with their Palestinian neighbors initially come across as unsympathetic war-mongerers. However, director Dror Moreh allows the movie to exclusively unfold through their voices, humanizing them to the point where their logic and humanity fall into distinct categories. For every shocking justification of murder, there's another moment where they confess frustration and regret, resulting in a refreshingly even-handed portrait. Read more here. Criticwire grade: A-

"Ginger and Rosa"

The fundamental coming-of-age conflict facing the troubled teen played by Elle Fanning in Sally Potter's "Ginger and Rosa" may look familiar, but the director brings a raw energy to the material that deepens its possibilities. Set at the height of nuclear paranoia in early-'60s London, Potter's script has a lot to say about the progressive attitudes of its chosen era by cleverly analogizing them to the expanding horizons of a restless adolescent mind. A viscerally charged movie that foregrounds surface tensions and gripping performances, "Ginger and Rosa" is the filmmaker's most accessible and technically surefooted work to date. Read more here. Criticwire grade: A-

"Here and There"

The plot of "Here and There" is so slight it barely exists. But the first feature from director Antonio Mendez Esparza balances out that limitation with a richly layered mood that steadily accumulates emotion from one scene to the next. Esparza constructs a family drama with supreme restraint while fleshing out his characters to the point where their problems take root in a fully realized environment where socio-economic conditions pull them apart. It's incredibly uneventful and devastating all at once. Read more here. Criticwire grade: A-

"Holy Motors"

"Holy Motors" is balls-to-the-wall crazy, beautiful and unbelievably strange. Leos Carax has always been a bit nutty, but here he finally flies off the rails with supremely perplexing, occasionally miraculous, always memorable results. This is a movie about movies, life, death, the human condition, monkeys, music, chaos, suicide, whatever. It's something else. Read more here. Criticwire grade: A-

"Hyde Park on Hudson"

Bill Murray is a man of many talents who has lately struggled to find the right outlet for them. The latest example, "Hyde Park on Hudson," finds Murray in a tame, mannered costume drama delivering his best FDR impression. The actor's pathos and deadpan skills are buried in the material, which also suffers from a continuous lack of inspiration. It's high-minded entertainment with low ambition. Read more here. Criticwire grade: C+

"The Last Time I Saw Macao"

A provocative cinematic poem in the tradition of the late Chris Marker, "The Last Time I Saw Macao" valiantly attempts to dissect an entire metropolitan history. Perhaps because it aims so big, not every fragment connects, but Portuguese co-directors Joao Pedro Rodrigues and Joao Rui Guerra da Mata unload an intriguing collection of attitudes, themes and memories based around a largely effective combination of nostalgia and colonialist regret. Read more here. Criticwire grade: B+

"Leviathan"

There are moments in "Leviathan" so breathtaking that it's easy to forget they're also familiar. Documentarians Vérena Paravel and Lucien Castain-Taylor follow a pair of fishing vessels off the coast of Massachusetts from nearly every imaginable angle as well as a few impossible ones: Captured on small digital cameras fixed to fishermen helmets, tossed beneath the waves and strewn across the deck among the dead-eyed haul, the barrage of visuals populating "Leviathan" contain a routinely dissociative effect. The dialogue is sparse and distant, drowned out by hulking machinery, wind and water. The movie could take place on another planet; instead, it peers at this one from a jarring and entirely fresh point of view. Read more hereCriticwire grade: A

"Life of Pi"

Yann Martel's bestselling 2001 novel "Life of Pi" followed the young Indian survivor of a shipwreck stuck on a lifeboat with a tiger -- the kind of high concept scenario both easy to comprehend and difficult to envision in movie terms. Much of the story, narrated by its spiritually minded protagonist, contains prolonged philosophical discussions and remains tethered to an extremely minimalist setting. That Ang Lee has managed to turn the limitations of his source material into his adaptation's greatest strength makes "Life of Pi" a significant achievement for the filmmaker in spite of blatant problems with structure, dialogue and other surface issues. "Life of Pi" succeeds in its most audacious moments and struggles whenever it returns to familiar ground. Read more here. Criticwire grade: B

"Like Someone in Love"

There's a lot of driving and talking in "Like Someone in Love," Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami's latest production made outside of his native country, but beyond that is anyone's guess. Following last year's Tuscany-set "Certified Copy," the new movie finds the director in the vastly different turf of Tokyo with an all-Japanese cast. For Kiarostami buffs, that imbues the material with a disorienting quality, but it still manages to settle into a familiar Kiarostami enigma. Even far away from home, Kiarostami is still Kiarostami. Read more here. Criticwire grade: B+

"No"

With his last two features, "Tony Manero" and "Post Mortem," Chilean director Pablo Larraín quickly established himself as the preeminent chronicler of his country's lingering demons from its years of oppression under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. For his third and most accomplished work, "No," Larraín has traded the allegorical track for the real thing, delivering a lively, mesmerizing drama about a national call to action during the 1988 referendum on Pinochet's presidency. With a full-bodied turn by Gael Garcia Bernal as its anchor, "No" broadens Larraín's range by replicating historical events in engrossing detail.  Read more here. Criticwire grade: A

"The Paperboy"

Lee Daniels' "The Paperboy" is a rare case of serious commitment to outright silliness. The director's follow-up to "Precious" takes the mold of an investigative period piece set amid racial tensions in late-'60s Florida, but Daniels fries the dramatic content with a blazingly absurd grindhouse style as extreme as the humidity bearing down on his characters. It's possible to enjoy aspects of "The Paperboy" if you assume a certain self-awareness behind the campier bits, but even then, the movie drowns in an overwhelming barrage of excess. Read more here. Criticwire grade: D+

"Passion"

Since the earliest stages of Brian De Palma's career, his thrillers have constantly walked a line between self-parody and earnest pastiche. "Passion," a reworking of the late Alain Corneau's final film "Love Crimes," reassuringly falls into this camp, signaling a return to form for the director despite its many flaws. Much more than a simple revamp of existing material, "Passion" is a veritable De Palma remix, at once a classy suspense movie and an unquestionably silly affair. Regardless of its glaring flaws, "Passion" is reassuringly old school. Read more here. Criticwire grade: B

"Tabu"

Miguel Gomes ("Our Beloved Month of August") has made a decisively cinematic work, tapping into classic film traditions while subverting them with consistent narrative invention. Read more here. Criticwire grade: A-

"You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet"

The 90-year-old Alain Resnais leaves plenty of room for his dynamic ensemble cast to act circles around the material while Resnais directs circles around them. It's little more than a stylistically intriguing exercise, but Resnais works out better than most. Read more here. Criticwire grade: B

This article is related to: You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet, Tabu, Passion, The Paperboy, Like Someone In Love, Life of Pi, Leviathan, The Last Time I Saw Macao, Hyde Park on Hudson, Holy Motors , Ginger and Rosa, Amour