"Life of Pi."
"Life of Pi."

The complete lineup of the 50th New York Film Festival (with descriptions provided by the festival):

AMOUR (2012) 127min
Director: Michael Haneke
Country: Austria/France/Germany
The universally acclaimed winner of the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, AMOUR is arguably Michael Haneke’s crowning achievement to date, a portrait of a couple dealing with the ravages of old age that is as compassionate as it is merciless. The great veteran French actors Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva are staggering as Georges and Anne, long-married music teachers living out their final years surrounded by the comforts of books and music in their warm Paris apartment. After Anne suffers a stroke, Georges attends to her with firmness shot through with love. The underlying unease, as well as some abrupt surprises, are hardly unexpected from Haneke, who challenges the viewer to confront the experience of his characters as directly as he does. But he rewards the effort with a film that is all the more moving for its complete avoidance of sentimentality. An unquestionable masterpiece. A Sony Pictures Classics release.

Director: Yeşim Ustaoğlu
Country: Turkey/France/Germany
The title refers as much to the film’s main location—a tiny Turkish town comprised of no more than a few houses and a large motorway rest stop where the locals work impossibly long hours—as it does to adolescence, the way station where the child transforms into an adult. What seems at first like a piece of low-key realism comes into dramatic focus when an adolescent girl begins an obsessive sexual relationship with a middle-aged trucker, fueling the fury of the teen-aged boy who hoped to marry her. Yesim Ustaoglu, whose debut feature JOURNEY TO THE SUN is one of the treasures of the New Turkish cinema, is not only a visual poet of her country’s harshly beautiful landscapes; she also depicts with great empathy and uncompromising honesty the heart’s desires and the body’s needs.  
BARBARA (2012) 105min
Director: Christian Petzold
Country: Germany
Set in 1980, Christian Petzold’s latest masterfully controlled, absorbing work centers around a doctor—played by the incomparable Nina Hoss, in her fifth film with the director—exiled to a small town from East Berlin as punishment for applying for an exit visa from the GDR. Planning to flee for Denmark with her boyfriend, Barbara remains icy and withdrawn around her colleagues, particularly with the lead physician (the excellent Ronald Zehrfeld), who is hiding a secret of his own. With her patients, however, the guarded doctor is kind, warm, and protective, even risking her own safety for one of her charges. This subtle, perfectly calibrated Cold War thriller expertly details the costs of telling and withholding the truth. Winner of the SIlver Bear for Best Director at this year’s Berlin Film Festival. An Adopt Films Release.

BEYOND THE HILLS (După dealuri) (2012) 150min
Director: Cristian Mungiu
Country: Romania
This harrowing, visually stunning new film from director Cristian Mungiu (4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS) unfolds in and around a remote monastery where pious young women toil dutifully under the ever-watchful eye of an austere priest known as Papa (the excellent Valeriu Andriuta). As the film opens, Alina (Cristina Flutur) arrives to visit her friend Voichita (Cosmina Stratan), one of the nuns in training. As children, the two women lived together in an orphanage where the tough, short-tempered Alina served as a protector for her more delicate friend. Now, Alina wants Voichita to leave her cloistered life and return with her to Germany, but as the fateful hour draws near, Voichita seems disinclined to go, and so Alina stays on for a while, which is when the real trouble begins. Inspired by a case of alleged demonic possession that occurred in Romania’s Moldova region in 2005, BEYOND THE HILLS is not a supernatural film but rather an all too believable portrait of dogma at odds with personal liberty in a society still emerging from the shadow of Communism. For their remarkable lead performances, screen newcomers Flutur and Stratan shared the Best Actress prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where Mungiu also received the Best Screenplay award. A Sundance Selects release.

BWAKAW (2012) 110min
Director: Jun Robles Lana
Country: Philippines
BWAKAW is the film you hope for at any festival, a work by an unknown director that comes out of nowhere to captivate and enthrall with its emotional truth, high humor and sage assessment of the human condition. Filipino cinema great Eddie Garcia gives a career-capping performance as Rene, a 70-plus single gent in a quiet provincial town who, having alienated almost everyone with his caustic comments, is resigned to seeing out his days alone, save for the company of his loyal canine companion (whose name gives the movie its title). Rene has his secrets but is disinclined to share them until he befriends a brawny tricycle taxi driver. Employing frequent outrageous humor, director Jun Robles Lana elegantly captures the quality of everyday life in this backwater while crafting a superior character study of a man who has allowed most of life to pass him by until an emotional jolt emboldens him to go where he's never dared venture before.

"Caesar Must Die"
"Caesar Must Die"
CAESAR MUST DIE (Cesare deve morire) (2012) 76min
Directors: Paolo and Vittorio Taviani
Country: Italy
Paolo and Vittorio Taviani (Padre Padrone, The Night of the Shooting Stars) triumphantly reasserted their eminence among modern Italian directors by winning the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlin Film Festival with CAESAR MUST DIE. The sight of inmates putting on a play in prison is not entirely new, but beginning with the brilliant opening scenes of convicts with wildly differing accents and backgrounds auditioning for the immortal roles of Brutus, Anthony, Cassius and, most impressively and menacingly, the title character in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, this approach resonates in ways that both Pirandello and Brecht would have appreciated. The play’s director must not only help guide these amateurs in their performances, but is also forced to police real-life rivalries and rages that threaten to derail the production before it can ever be seen. Vital, provocative and entirely engaging, CAESAR marks a wonderful late-career triumph for this still-formidable brother act. An Adopt Films release.

CAMILLE REWINDS (Camille redouble) (2012) 110min
Director: Noémie Lvovsky
Country: France
Noémie Lvovsky’s ebullient twist on the comedy of remarriage transposes Frances Ford Coppola’s PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED to present day France, which means that when the titular Camille—who’s in the throes of  divorcing her husband of 25 years—passes out drunk, she wakes up as a high school senior in the mid-1980s (leg warmers, “Walking on Sunshine” on the turntable, and no cell phones in sight.) Lvovsky is hilarious and touchingly vulnerable as Camille. Hard as she tries to avoid the classmate (Samir Guesmi) who she knows will become her first love, her husband, and the father of her daughter, and who will ditch her after she turns 40, she nevertheless winds up in his arms. Her double take, just before their lips meet for a first kiss the second time around, is indescribably delicious. In the tiny role of a watchmaker who may have set Camille’s time travel in motion, New Wave icon Jean-Pierre Léaud is perfect.

THE DEAD MAN AND BEING HAPPY (El muerto y ser feliz) (2012) 94min
Director: Javier Rebello
Country: Spain/Argentina
For his third feature, the gifted Spanish director Javier Rebollo (WOMAN WITHOUT PIANO) has decamped to Argentina and created a literate, screwball road movie that Borges surely would have loved. The “dead man” of the title is Santos (veteran Spanish screen star José Sacristán), a cancer-stricken hired killer who flees his Buenos Aires hospital bed and sets off on one last assignment. It is a journey that takes him through an interior Argentina rarely glimpsed in movies, from the Cordoba resort town of La Cumbrecita (with its disproportionate—and disconcerting—population of elderly Germans) to the northern province of Santiago del Estero. Along the way, Santos finds himself joined by Alejandra (the wonderful Roxana Blanco), an attractive middle-aged woman who impulsively jumps into his vintage Ford Falcon at a gas station and soon thwarts him from his intended path. At one point, our curious couple stops off at a decrepit beach town described by one of the film’s dueling voice-over narrators as “a strange mix of paradise and apocalypse”—which, as it happens, also perfectly sums up Rebollo’s playful and unexpectedly moving reverie on love, death and the open highway.