This Friday, headlined by the premiere of David Fincher‘s much-buzzed about “Gone Girl,” the 52nd New York Film Festival kicks off. Already the subject of a great deal of chatter for securing two of the most high profile fall releases —Fincher’s film and Paul Thomas Anderson‘s “Inherent Vice,” which will unspool this Thursday (literally speaking, it’s the only movie on the slate that will be projected on film as opposed to digitally)— NYFF 52 is already a must-attend event for the area’s cinephiles, boasting a selection of new titles to whet the appetite of even the most diligent festival goer. However, by this time of year, the hive mind that is The Playlist has already seen a sizable number of the films that will be screened, so we’re here to enthusiastically recommend a few already-reviewed films, as well as to chatter about those we haven’t seen but are looking forward to.
13 Great NYFF Films We’ve Already Seen
Of the many titles we’ve seen and reviewed, every regular and semi-regular reader will not be surprised to hear us sing the praises of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Birdman,” and urge you to see it as soon as you can. While the film will open in limited release just a week after its NYFF bow, you may well be wanting a second viewing by then —our Venice Film Festival review, which calls Inarritu’s film “phenomenal” is here. Also in Venice, we were stunned all over again by Joshua Oppenheimer’s follow-up to “The Act of Killing” titled “The Look of Silence” —it was a deserved Jury Prize winner there and screens at NYFF on Tuesday 30th. And further on the documentary trip, Frederick Wiseman’s “heady, nourishing” Cannes film “National Gallery,” Nick Broomfield‘s serial killer doc and heart-rending Telluride title “Tales of the Grim Sleeper,” and “Debra Granik’s “remarkable” LAFF winner “Stray Dog” are other non-fiction titles that shouldn’t be missed.
Speaking of Cannes, NYFF attendees will also have their first chance to see several of our very favorite films from that festival including Bennett Miller’s elegiac, “enormous” “Foxcatcher,” starring an unrecognizable Steve Carell (Miller will also take part in a HBO Director’s Dialogue about the film); the Dardenne Brothers’ “unfeasibly gripping” Belgian foreign language Oscar hopeful “Two Days One Night,” starring Marion Cotillard; Mike Leigh’s “compassionate but sharp” period biopic “Mr Turner” featuring Timothy Spall in Cannes Best Actor-winning form; the “deliciously entertaining” “Maps to the Stars” from David Cronenberg, which won Cannes Best Actress for Julianne Moore; and Abderrahmane Sissako’s “powerful, persuasive” “Timbuktu.”
Casting even further back in our collective memory to the Berlinale in February, we also heartily recommend Yann Demange’s “unbearably tense” Northern Ireland-set “‘71” which is another stellar showcase for Jack O’Connell, star of December’s Oscar hopeful “Unbroken.” And our final two picks of the films we’ve already seen in the NYFF lineup come from all the way back in January at Sundance: Alex Ross Perry’s “terrific” “Listen Up Philip” starring Jason Schwartzman and Elisabeth Moss, and Damien Chazelle’s “richly different” “Whiplash” with Miles Teller and JK Simmons. Both feel very suited to NYFF specifically, not just in being very strong indies, but in being so very, well, New York in setting and outlook.
Those 13 titles are known quantities, at least to some of us, and prove the richness and depth of the 52nd New York Film Festival’s lineup —we are genuinely jealous of anyone whose next fortnight’s moviegoing will be spent discovering a selection of the above. But how about the films we haven’t yet seen and don’t know a lot about? Here are 7 of those we’re really looking forward to.
7 Films We Haven’t Seen Yet
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, and starring Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro, Katherine Waterston, Owen Wilson, Eric Roberts, Maya Rudolph, Jena Malone and others, based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon.
Synopsis: In Los Angeles in 1970, drug-fueled detective Larry “Doc” Sportello investigates the disappearance of a former girlfriend.
To be honest, we can’t be sure how much of our enthusiasm for Anderson’s Pynchon adaptation is at this stage born of a deep, deep longing to be able to stop writing about how much we’re anticipating it —it’s a film that has featured on seemingly every list we’ve written since January. And then we pinch ourselves and remember: this is one of the preeminent American filmmakers (we’d call him “visionary” if that weren’t such a pompous word) taking on a novel by one of the preeminent American writers, starring a terrifically eclectic cast and finding Anderson working in what is apparently a whole new register. A loosey-goosey, off the wall, lunatic vibe that’s variously been described as “weird,” “gonzo” and “absolute fucking chaos” by its stars, of all the potential Oscar contenders that haven’t yet screened, “Inherent Vice” has to be the most enticingly unquantifiable, even now, mere days before it premieres. With PTA also in town to give a talk “On Cinema” as part of the Festival, and with the news that ‘Vice’ won’t open until December 12th in limited and January 9th wide, expect tickets for this one to be as plentiful as gold dust.
Directed by David Fincher, starring Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Scoot McNairy, Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit, and based on the novel by Gillian Flynn (hard “g” apparently).
Synopsis: With his wife’s disappearance becoming the focus of an intense media circus, a man sees the spotlight turned on him when it’s suspected that he may be involved.
The first reviews for “Gone Girl” have already broken, and have only increased our anticipation for Fincher’s latest film, as they appear to range from “very positive” to “white-hot rave.” Beyond that, however, we’re sticking our fingers in our ears and la-la-laa-ing in an attempt to go in as cold as possible (not that cold, considering a few of us have read the book and we’re all Fincher fans, but you know what we mean). We have some reservations about the source material, and how much depth Fincher’s sleek, smooth, stylized approach can possible lend to what is essentially a potboiler, especially in the wake of the somewhat disappointing “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” but in any case we’re expecting something glossily entertaining. We’re at the very least glad that Rosamund Pike, after a string of thankless female love interest or second-banana roles which have not done her talents justice, seems to be getting a chance at proper stardom with this role, and like him or loathe him, Ben Affleck is perfectly cast as the attractive but helplessly smarmy husband.
Directed by Laura Poitras
Synopsis: A documentary about the events immediately leading up to and following Edward Snowden’s decision to blow the whistle on the NSA’s surveillance program, as told by one of its insiders.
A filmmaker, producer and 2012 MacArthur fellow, Poitras was one of the three journalists initially contacted by Edward Snowden to receive the NSA documents he decided to leak to the press. This makes her uniquely positioned to explore this fascinating ongoing story, which has done no less than make recent history —one whose ramifications are only just beginning to be felt and will likely echo through coming decades. Most enticingly, the NYFF blurb suggests that Poitras has done a terrific job with storytelling aspects of what could be a very dry, procedural film, so that the documentary actually unfurls like a “real-time thriller.” Snowden’s whistleblowing and subsequent exile status is one of the most controversial and widely misunderstood and/or willfully misrepresented news stories of our time, and anything that goes some way to sorting out myth from fact is welcome. If Poitras brings anything like the fascinating form of her feature doc debut “Flag Wars” or Oscar-nominated “My Country, My Country” to this film, it could very well be both topical and epochal in capturing one of the defining stories of our time.
“Heaven Knows What“
Directed by Josh and Bennie Safdie, starring Caleb Landry Jones and Arielle Holmes
Synopsis: A story of love and marginalization between two wannabe heavy metal rockers who are also heroin addicts, and whose kickabout life on the streets in New York City is lived fix-to-fix.
Having premiered quietly enough in the Horizons sidebar at the Venice Film Festival, this apparently authentic but lyrical look at the New York City junkie milieu went on to pick up good notices there and at its North American bow at TIFF. Having missed it at both those fests, we hope to catch up with it here —while its premise feels curiously old hat, apparently the sibling directors have stepped up their game, and the cast, outside of Caleb Landry Jones largely composed of non-professional actors or first-timers, is by all accounts extremely strong. And Jones, from “X-Men: First Class” “Antiviral,” and “Byzantium,” is a face we’ve been seeing alot recently in films that have just ever so slightly missed the mark, or in roles so small that he’s been lost in an ensemble, so we’re rooting for him to get a proper opportunity to show off his acting chops here.
“Seymour: An Introduction“
Directed by Ethan Hawke
Synopsis: A warmhearted documentary portrait of a warmhearted man, concerning concert pianist Seymour Bernstein and his lifelong devotion to his art, who retired at 50 only to be coaxed back by Hawke himself for a one-off intimate show, captured here.
No one could accuse the suddenly ubiquitous Hawke of slacking off. The actor/producer/screenwriter/novelist/director not only has one of the biggest bonafide indie hits of the year under his belt with Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood,” but also brought two films, (“Cymbeline” and Andrew Niccol‘s “Good Kill,” to Venice, and showed one, “Predestination,” at SXSW. Somehow he found time to make his feature directing debut with this charming-looking documentary about an artistic and musical inspiration. The film played Telluride and TIFF to good reviews and looks to be an affectionate and well-crafted exploration of the artistic process, and the power and price of performance, suggesting a deep-knit confluence of the interests between director and subject.
Directed by Claire Denis
Synopsis: A 30-minute experimental short detailing the relationship of a mixed-race couple through dialogue.
The first billed film in this double is Arnaud Desplechin‘s “The Forest,” a French-language version of the play of the same name by Russian playwright and Chekhov near-contemporary Alexander Ostrovsky. But we were pretty disappointed by Desplechin’s last film “Jimmy P” which played Cannes in 2013, and filmed plays (this was a project for a TV show called “Theatre” for French channel Arte) aren’t typically our bag. So we’ll be far more curious to check out the supporting feature, simply because we’re intrigued by anything the great Claire Denis might cook up, no matter how esoteric. This short reportedly has an experimentalist bent, and is presumably coupled to Desplechin’s feature because they both have theatrical associations —the text of “Voila L’Enchainement,” which is delivered by actors against a plain backdrop, is written by playwright Christine Angot. Denis’ 2013 Cannes film “Bastards” was certainly controversial and marked a slight left turn from the director, but even if we did not admire it as much as many of her other works (and indeed as much as many other Cannes commentators that year), we’re always eager to witness her highly individual brain at work, and until the next Denis feature comes along, this will have to be our stopgap.
Directed by Albert Maysles
Synopsis: A living testament to the timelessness of personal style, this documentary follows 93 year-old designer Iris Apfel as she arranges a touring exhibition of her work, horse trades with salesmen, bickers with her husband and proffers fashion advice to young aspirants.
Dipping further into NYFF’s exceptionally strong “Spotlight on Documentary” selection, Maysles, a true luminary of the documentary form, returns with this portrait of 93-year-old fashionista and interior design icon Iris Apfel and her 100 -year-old husband, both still going strong and in fact rejuvenated by renewed recent interest in Iris’ jewelry designs. The eccentricity and endearing resilience of his subjects somehow recall a less tragedy-tinged version of Maysles’ iconic “Grey Gardens” and anyone who is a fan of the director’s beautifully shot humanist portraits should find a great deal to enjoy here.
Aside from these titles, a few others caught our eye including the intriguing-sounding Argentinian film “Two Shots Fired,” which assays the tricky subgenre of the suicide comedy; another documentary, “Merchants of Doubt” which deals with climate change deniers; Alain Resnais‘ “Life of Riley,” a film whose festival screenings have eluded us so far but we hear positive things about, while Pedro Costa won Best Director at Locarno for “Horse Money” which also plays here. His latest poetic meditation on the lives and thwarted dreams of Portugal’s Cape Verdean immigrant population may not find him many new fans, but devotees of his slow rhythms and quasi-metaphysical concerns will no doubt be looking forward to this, and for those so inclined Costa is also participating one of the Festival’s HBO Director’s Dialogues.
And The Rest
So those are the ones we strongly recommend seeking out, though there’s a host more being shown that we’ve already reviewed : Olivier Assayas‘ “Clouds of Sils Maria” probably being the highest profile, though we were not nearly as enamored of it as some. Similarly Abel Ferrara’s “Pasolini“; Jean-Luc Godard‘s “Goodbye to Language 3D“; Mathieu Amalric‘s “The Blue Room“; Lisandro Alonso‘s “Jauja” with Viggo Mortensen; Mia Hansen-Love‘s “Eden“; Asia Argento‘s “Misunderstood“; Bertrand Bonello‘s “Saint Laurent“; Hong Sang-Soo‘s “Hill of Freedom“; Alice Rohrwacher’s “The Wonders“; Martin Scorsese‘s New York Review of Books doc “The 50 Year Argument“; Bruno Dumont‘s “Li’l Quinquin” and Oren Moverman‘s “Time out of Mind” all just missed the cut, some, like that last one, by a very narrow margin. You can click on any title to visit the full review.
And finally, on the foot of a brief discussion we had during our most recent podcast, NYFF boasts a truly mouthwatering selection of reissues, classics and restorations, of which Rob Reiner‘s “This is Spinal Tap,” the sumptuous restoration of Joseph L Mankiewicz‘s “Guys and Dolls,” the true-blue genius that is Mankiewicz’s “All About Eve,” Sergey Parajanov‘s stunning “The Color of Pomegranates,” Alain Resnais‘ masterpiece “Hiroshima Mon Amour,” 1983 doc “Burroughs: the Movie,” neglected Powell & Pressburger title “The Tales of Hoffman” and Anthony Mann‘s “The Man from Laramie” are most likely to tempt us away from whatever it is we’re supposed to be seeing instead.
Let us know what you’re looking forward to most —surely we’ve missed some treasure buried in a sidebar somewhere? Sound off below.