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Top Films to Watch For From the 51st New York Film Festival

Top Films to Watch For From the 51st New York Film Festival

The New York Film Festival, which ends today, was an
especially rich edition. Almost every film, in the main slate and the sidebars,
was tempting. And while the festival was heavy with mainstream directors, the
choices were anything but kneejerk. Some of the most familiar names took
exhilarating new turns.

Here are the top films to watch for and their trailers —  these five alone would make
the coming movie season irresistible. (One significant omission: I have not
seen Alexander Payne’s Nebraska yet,
but critics I trust have raved.)  



Spike Jonze’s sensibility is unmistakable in this witty off-kilter
story of a man (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls for his operating system (the voice
of Scarlett Johansson). But Jonze has never before been so touchingly honest, complex
or daring, as he turns the loopy premise into a genuine love story. Whatever
flash of intuition or knowledge led him to cast Phoenix is even more
astonishing. The actor known for his ferocity and wild-man presence is perfect
as the endearing, low-keyed hero. Thoughtful and affecting, Her brilliantly captures the sometimes
comforting, sometimes destructive way we think and feel about devices and humans
in our cyber-everything age. (Opens on Dec. 18)





If you think of Dickens as that syrupy Victorian who gave us
Tiny Tim, be prepared for a grown-up shock. Ralph Fiennes directs and stars in
the story of the middle-aged Dickens’  long, passionate,
guilt-ridden love affair with a young actress. Beautiful, eloquent and
intensely emotion — with moving performances from Fiennes, Felicity Jones as Dickens’
love, Nelly Ternan, and Joanna Scanlan his cruelly-used wife — this is already
one of my favorite films of the year. (Opens on Christmas Day)


Jim Jarmusch has made stylized films before, but never one as
stylish as this. An amazing pair of actors, Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, are
vampires in love, splitting their time between Tangiers and Detroit. At first this
wry romance seems exquisitely photographed but slight, yet it has a lingering
power and resonance, and has stayed with me much more strongly than I expected  — a reminder that Jarmusch films are often deeper and more layered than
their surface suggests. The photo above captures its sumptuous look better than this early trailer. (Tentatively opens spring 2014.)





Nothing in Steve McQueen’s former, rigorous work would have
prepared us for the fluid, gripping narrative in this fact-based drama about a
free black man who was kidnapped into slavery, but then he has never before had a truly first-rate screenplay like John Ridley’s. McQueen pitches the film perfectly.
We witness the brutality of slaves being whipped nearly to death, yet thanks to
Chiwetel Ejiofor’s thorough hold on our sympathies, in his amazing performance
as the enslaved free man, we never turn away. This is not the season’s most artistically inventive
film, but it may well be the most flawlessly accomplished. (Opens Oct. 18) 



Joel and Ethan Coen’s story of a struggling Greenwich
Village folk singer in the pre-Dylan 60’s is endlessly entertaining. Oscar
Isaac plays the title character, a self-absorbed musician, but the sly
comedy comes from the fact that Llewyn’s talent is passable, not great  (you expected the Coens to make him a
success?) Somehow the Coens and T-Bone Burnett have created a rich soundtrack in
a film about musicians who fail — including, in a delicious, too-small role, Justin Timberlake
as a singer/songwriter who is so much
less talented than Justin Timberlake. (Opens on Dec. 6)


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