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NYFF Preview: 12 Films To Watch From A Long Must-See Slate

NYFF Preview: 12 Films To Watch From A Long Must-See Slate

Generally speaking, the New York Film Festival is admirable because it doesn’t seem to prioritize bragging rights and all the other nonsense that festivals fight over each year. It does present some world premieres, but mostly, NYFF, held at the tail end of the fall film festival schedule, is content to program great movies from all over the world, skewing smarter, artier than some competitors. 

This year’s slate is no different, featuring tastefully curated picks that appeared earlier in the year at Cannes, Venice and Telluride, while including lots of surprises. You won’t find some of the other popular films that have debuted elsewhere at this year’s NYFF. Instead, the focus leans heavier on auteurs and filmmakers from all over the globe. NYFF has so many riches that there’s almost too many to spotlight fully, but here’s twelve picks that sound the most intriguing. And just this morning, Ridley Scott‘s “The Martian” which premiered in Toronto, was just announced as a sneak peak. The New York Film Festival runs from September 25th through October 11th.

Bridge Of Spies

Lets start with the world premieres —the biggest of all is one that NYFF is not trumpeting. Steven Spielberg’s Cold War thriller is not playing the prestigious opening night, nor closing night or centerpiece slots. A reteam with Tom Hanks (their first collaboration since 2004’s “The Terminal”), the movie centers on an American lawyer recruited by the CIA to help rescue a pilot detained in the Soviet Union. Surely full of pot-boiling intrigue, our bet is this is Spielberg less in awards-bait mode (hence the less flashy premiere slate) and more in sharp thriller form, but we’ll find out soon enough. The movie co-stars Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan and Alan Alda among many others.

The Walk
The festival’s opening night film comes from Robert Zemeckis, no stranger to NYFF because his last feature, “Flight” with Denzel Washington, also premiered there. Based on a true story, “The Walk” centers on the French high-wire artist Philippe Petit, who managed to tightrope walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on August 7, 1974. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon, James Badge Dale and Ben Schwartz, the film’s obstacle, at least in some circles, will be James Marsh’s phenomenal documentary on the same subject “Man on Wire” (it won the Oscar for Best Documentary in 2009). But Zemeckis likes to turn drama into spectacle, and will surely differentiate himself with a film shot and presented in 3D IMAX with plenty of vertiginous thrills.

Miles Ahead

Partially funded through IndieGoGo, this biopic about jazz giant Miles Davis has been a passion project for Don Cheadle  for a decade. He finally gets a chance in “Miles Ahead” a drama that he not only stars in, but makes his feature-length directorial debut with as well. Not a time-spanning documentary that covers Davis’ vast oeuvre (which is probably best considering that a movie could be made about every significant period as such), Cheadle’s movie centers on what is known as the “silent period”: the enigmatic years where Davis made no music and is fairly undocumented. Through 1975 and 1980 in a self-imposed retirement, Davis was in the thrall of drug addiction, but the movie also charts his return to music, the hatching of a plot with a Rolling Stone writer (Ewan McGregor) to win back control of his music, and relives the years he had with his great love Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi). Keith Stanfield co-stars.


When Paul Thomas Anderson (“Inherent Vice”) makes a film, the whole world pays strict attention, and cineastes froth at the mouth in anticipation. Perhaps this is why PTA shot “Junjun,” his first documentary, in secret and off the grid. What’s it about? Anderson is a devoted friend of frequent musical collaborator Jonny Greenwood, and “Jujun” is described as a “vivid and impressionistic” document of a recording session between the Radiohead guitarist and composer and 19 local musicians at Mehrangarh Fort above Jodhpur in northern India for an album by Shye Ben Tzur. Presumably, we should expect the unexpected and not a traditional doc, which is fine by us. “Junjun” also only runs 55 minutes so we’ll assume it’s a blast of musical energy.

De Palma

Known as the modern day Alfred HitchcockBrian De Palma’s career still can’t be contained by that affectionate description, as the meta movieness of his work really puts him into his own category. While De Palma is one of the greats  —his eclectic career includes “Dressed To Kill,” “Blow Out,” “Carrie,” “Scarface,” “The Untouchables” “Carlito’s Way” and the first “Mission: Impossible” film— what’s doubly intriguing about the documentary “De Palma” is it is made by filmmakers seemingly on the opposite spectrum: namely, talky indie moviemakers Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow (“Young Ones”). But that’s what makes it all so fascinating. Friends with De Palma for some years now, the younger filmmakers celebrate their elder with this portrait that should be a must-see for all cinephiles (you can read our review of “De Palma” from Venice earlier this fall and read our interview with De Palma, Baumbach and Paltrow from the same festival).

“Arabian Nights: Volume 1, 2 And 3”

Portuguese filmmaker Miguel Gomes dazzled many critics with 2012’s “Tabu” his black-and-white F. W. Murnau-esque poetic, dreamy, two part homage; one is about a dying elderly woman looking back on her life during the Portuguese Colonial War in Africa, and the other is about a passionate love affair. For his ambitious follow-up, Gomes has made “Arabian Nights,” a three film magnum opus running over six hours: “Volume 1: The Restless One,” “Volume 2: The Desolate One” and “Volume 3: The Enchanted One.” By all accounts, including our review from Cannes, Gomes’ triptych is nothing short of an enthralling and eccentric masterpiece (Part 2 is already Portugal’s Oscar entry for the Best Foreign Language Film). Just the sheer audacity makes it a fascinating experience worth checking out.

Steve Jobs

The centerpiece film of the New York Film Festival, “Steve Jobs” has already screened at Telluride, but that was obviously for a privileged few. In New York, thousands more will be able to witness Aaron Sorkin’s vibrant, rat-a-tat sideways biopic that looks at the Apple impresario’s life via three crucial product launches. It’s a Sorkin film through and through, with fleet-footed dialogue and a crisp rhythm, but master propulsionist Danny Boyle gives the movie just that extra little layer of kinetic quality without imposing his normally ultra-vivid visual style on the film. It’s a perfect marriage of two sensibilities, and there’s a stellar cast in Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Katherine Waterston, Michael Stuhlbarg and Jeff Daniels. The entire picture has a symphonic, sonorous quality that tracks fatherhood and the terrible cost of genius (read our review from Telluride).

The Forbidden Room

In a testament to how good Guy Maddin’s latest film, co-directed with Evan Johnson, is, it’s played in Berlin, Sundance, Toronto and now the New York Film Festival. While it could be described as a kind of greatest hits effort from Maddin —he of shooting-inside-a-snow-globe aesthetic, mixed with the ghosts of 1920s silent films and German expressionism and the cracked spirit of Grand Guignol melodrama— it’s perhaps better framed as a superb culmination of all the archaic wonders and notions that constantly consume this fantastic Canadian filmmaker, sometimes dubbed the Great White David Lynch. Describing the plot of “The Forbidden Room” is a bit of a fool’s errand, but all you need to know is that it’s a deliciously surreal and febrile treat that will keep your brain blurred and then sated for a long while after (read our review from Berlin).

The Lobster

The subgenre “GreekWeird Wave” has been singlehandedly launched by filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos. He galvanized international cinema with 2009’s Un Certain Regard big prize winner “Dogtooth,” which mined bizarre subject matter in both disturbing and comical forms. The world quickly took notice and his latest “The Lobster” is a star-studded affair featuring Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Léa Seydoux, John C. Reilly and Ben Whishaw. But name brand actors haven’t dulled Lanthimos’ edge: his latest is just as odd, centering on a weird dystopian near future in which single people are obliged to find a romantic partner or face being transformed into animals. Raves came out of Cannes earlier this year (read our review), and so that clearly seals the deal for us.

My Golden Days

A loose prequel to 1996’s “My Sex Life… or How I Got into an Argument,” which boosted the careers of actors Mathieu Amalric and the filmmaker Arnaud Desplechin (“Kings and Queen,” “A Christmas Tale”), “My Golden Days” essentially looks at the teenage years of the same characters, but doesn’t concern itself with too much direct continuity (Amalric briefly shows up in the intro). “This is a rich and literary film, full of warmth and life and sadness and humor, loving all its characters without necessarily showing them to be good people,” our review from Cannes wrote earlier this year. The film was very well-received at the festival —a playful coming-of-age tale about love, loss, and growing up described as one of Desplechin’s best? Yeah, we’re sold.

Microbe & Gasoline

It’s been interesting over the recent years to witness Michel Gondry deconstruct the clichéd box he might have forced himself into. Once seen as a whimsical fabulist, Gondry has shown his versatility in recent years, with social documentaries (“The We And The I”), affectionate documentary portraits (“The Thorn In The Heart”), and blockbuster action films (“The Green Hornet”), with the themes of community and camaraderie always at the fore (“Be Kind Rewind”). While not all of these left turns have been successful, they show a filmmaker willing to march to the beat of his own idiosyncratic drum. His latest, “Microbe and Gasoline” is a handmade SFX comedy centered on two teenage friends in high school who embark on a road trip across France in a vehicle they built themselves. Featuring no major stars, the film has its chimerical qualities, sounding and looking like a much more visually restrained effort.

The Assassin

Taiwanese film director, screenwriter and producer Hou Hsiao-Hsien had been trying to mount his epic wuxia film “The Assassin” for years (his last feature film was released in 2008). The irony is that this 9th century martial arts film set during the Tang Dynasty-period in Chinese history apparently barely features any fighting. But more importantly, it’s apparently masterful. Reception from Cannes earlier this year was radiant (many assumed it would win the top prize) and while the picture, featuring Hou regulars Shu Qi, Chang Chen, Zhou Yun and Satoshi Tsumabuki, did not win the Palme d’Or, the filmmaker did win the Best Director prize and Taiwan has already made the picture its official Oscar pick. Our review from Cannes described the film as an “epic visual poem” and said the picture was “the literal embodiment of the rewards, for the film and for the viewer, of patience and held breath.”

Other Must-Watch Films
This preview is just the tip of the iceberg. Other highlights include Todd Haynes’ “Carol” starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, which we’ve been discussing since it debuted at Cannes (read our review here). As you’ve heard from Berlin and Telluride, the harrowing holocaust film “Son of Saul” is also a breathtaking masterwork, so you should go out of your way to discover this amazing new Hungarian filmmaker László Nemes, who has made one of the most astonishing debut films ever. You’ve also likely heard of “Brookyln” by now, which was ecstatically received at every film festival its hit including Sundance, Telluride and Toronto (read our review). It might have been a typical Nicholas Sparks-ian weepie in the wrong hands, but thanks to the exquisitely crafted hand of director John Crowley (“Boy A,” recent episodes of “True Detective”) and a sublime performance by Saoirse Ronan, “Brooklyn” is a deeply poignant and moving drama about the true meaning of home and the longing we feel for the formative days that shaped our lives. It’s stupendous.

Philippe Garrel’s “In The Shadow of Women” looks like a striking look at infidelity, and Rebecca Miller‘s Baumbach-esque relationship comedy “Maggie’s Plan” was well-received in Toronto which is exciting because her work is vastly underrated. There’s tons of good picks that already screened at Cannes and elsewhere, including Nanni Moretti‘s “Mia Madre” with John Turturro, Michael Moore‘s “Where To Invade Next” and new films by Jia Zhangke, Chantal Akerman, Hong Sangsoo, Corneliu Porumboiu, Michael Almereyda, Kiyoshi Kurosawa and more.

Don’t Forget: Docs, Revivals & Special Presentations

Laurie Anderson’s essay “Heart of A Dog,” and “Bring Me the Head of Tim Horton,” a cine-essay by Guy Maddin and Evan and Galen Johnson (2/3rds of the teams responsible for “The Forbidden Room”), both sound like must-sees for the adventurous cinephile unconcerned with lack of narrative. Brazilian filmmaker Walter Salles did a 180 after “On The Road” and instead made a documentary about Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke. Titled “Jia Zhangke, A Guy from Fenyang,” this sounds like a pretty fascinating experiment. And Stig Björkman’s “Ingrid Bergman – In Her Own Words” also sounds like an intriguing portrait of a screen legend. Laura Poitras, the filmmaker behind “Citizenfour,” is also presenting “Field of Vision: New Episodic Nonfiction,” a selection of short-form episodic works, including installments of an episodic, short-form series called “Asylum” where Poitras shadows Julian Assange. Interesting revivals include Ousmane Sembene’s “Black Girl,” King Hu’s Taiwanese wuxia film “A Touch Of Zen,” De Palma’s “Blow Out,” Akria Kurosawa‘s “Ran” and many more.

Totally, Absolutely Free For You & Me

Don’t forget that NYFF has a section that’s free to the public too. It’s all vintage programming, but hey, it’s great stuff. Martin Scorsese’s “The King Of Comedy” is maybe one of his most underrated dark comic works, and Bob Fosse’s “All That Jazz” is a kinetic masterpiece that must be seen on the big screen. Eliz Kazan‘s “Wild River,” starring a terrific performance by Montgomery Clift in vivid CinemaScope, is screening as well. Full free schedule including films by John Ford and Stanley Donen can be found here.

 The New York Film Festival runs September 25 through October 11.

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