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NYFF 2018: 10 Films to Seek Out at This Year’s Festival, From a 14-Hour Argentinian Epic to a Puppy-Filled Cult Classic

From buzzy awards players to unexpected gems, this year's edition of the festival is packed with thrilling choices for every taste.

The New York Film Festival kicks off later this week, launching the second half of a very busy fall festival season. Each year, the New York gathering loads up on the some of the buzziest titles of an awards season in the making, but it also plays home to never-before-seen narratives and new documentaries that go beyond the usual fare. Alongside all those previously-screened features looking to capitalize on strong word-of-mouth coming out of fellow festivals Venice, Telluride, and Toronto — including “The Favourite,” “Roma,” and “If Beale Street Could Talk” — there are a variety of gems worth seeking out at this year’s festival.

Consider this your roadmap to the best of the festival. The 2018 New York Film Festival runs September 28 – October 14, and you check out the main slate right here. Ahead, 10 essential titles — from instant cult classics to highlights from the 2018 circuit and everything in between.

“Asako I & II”

Ryūsuke Hamaguchi’s acclaimed “Happy Hour” may have been something of a misnomer at 317 minutes long, but it was a catchier title than “Happy Five-Point-Two Hours.” In any case, “Asako I & II” appears to be a worthy follow-up (even if the endurance-minded will be sad to learn it’s only two hours long). About a woman who falls in love with two men who could pass for twins in appearance but not in behavior, the romantic drama is based on Tomoka Shibasaki’s 2010 novel and first premiered at Cannes. Hamaguchi doesn’t lack for ambition, and his movies aren’t widely distributed (if at all), so take the chance to see his latest while you still can. —MN

“Border”

border cannes

“Border”

At first, “Border” is the story of an ostracized woman named Tina (Eva Melander), who works at a remote Danish port where she sniffs out contraband, and long ago accepted that she was ostracized because of her unusual appearance. But this is not your average ugly duckling story. As the movie charts a path to her burgeoning self-confidence, it arrives at a sex scene so unexpected and ludicrous it instantly transforms the movie into a dark fairy tale. Melander herself delivers an extraordinary unconventional performance, at once pitiful and sensitive as she depicts the experiences of a creature waking up to her own body. Iranian-born director Ali Abbasi’s sophomore effort (following 2016’s “Shelley”), co-written by the author of the Swedish vampire novel “Let the Right One In,” builds out such an unusual premise that it risks devolving into quirky inanity, but Abbasi grounds the narrative in an emotional foundation even as it flies off the rails. The winner of the Un Certain Regard sidebar at Cannes and Sweden’s Oscar submission, “Border” is twisted, erotic monster movie you never knew you needed. —EK

“Diamantino”

"Diamantino"

“Diamantino”

You wouldn’t expect a film about a soccer player whose stardom is dependent on his ability to daydream of giant puppies to tackle hot-button political issues like Brexit, cloning, and the refugee crisis, but it’s likely you’ve never seen anything like Daniel Schmidt and Gabriel Abrantes’ “Diamantino.” The plot itself is deliciously ludicrous: After very dumb soccer player (Carloto Cotta) blows a World Cup game he decides to leave the sport and tackle the immigration issue, adopting Aisha (Cleo Tavares), who is actually a spy tasked with investigating his finances. There’s an energy, enthusiasm, and intelligence in this film that IndieWire’s Eric Kohn called an “instant cult classic” and the judges at Cannes called the Best Film at Critics Week. —CO

“La Flor”

“La Flor”

If you’ve got 14 hours to spare, you’ve also got no excuse not to see “La Flor.” Mariano Llinás’ decade-in-the-making follow-up to “Extraordinary Stories” is composed of six disparate parts that star the same four actresses but vary wildly in terms of plot and genre, touching on everything from a musical to a spy thriller. Oh, and none of them have endings. That’s sure to send most potential viewers running to the hills (or at least a different movie), but those to whom it appeals can either it in three parts or eight. If your schedule allows, go for the former — something this bold should be seen in as few sittings as possible. —MN

“Happy as Lazzaro”

“Happy as Lazzaro”

Netflix

Alice Rohrwacher’s dreamy, time-spanning third feature may have already debuted at Cannes earlier this year, but the film will enjoy a special kind of homecoming when it screens at this year’s NYFF. Two years ago, Rohrwacher served as the festival’s artist-in-residence (a newish honor previously held by other creators like Andrea Arnold, Athina Rachel Tsangari, and Lisandro Alonso), and while she originally arrived in NYC looking to write a script about the link between tomb robbers and the need to preserve classic art, her personal experience as a fish out of water inspired what would become “Happy as Lazzaro.” Consider that the most information you’ll need to dive into the film, which remains rooted in such practical concerns as “how do I fit in here?” alongside a narrative that happily jumps between time periods. It’s endlessly creative, but it’s also got the deeply personal spine that drives all of Rohrwacher’s work, just trussed up with a bit more of a sci-fi edge. —KE

“Non-Fiction”

“Non-Fiction”

Olivier Assayas’ latest may not be in the running to be France’s Oscar submission for this year, but the Juliette Binoche-starring comedy can still revel in its ongoing ability to delight festival audiences. The film debuted earlier this season at Venice, with a stopover at TIFF, but seems poised to find its true home at NYFF, which has long played home to the filmmaker’s often very different features. The French filmmaker previously brought his “Personal Shopper” to the the annual event, but NYFF has also happily screened his “Clouds of Sils Maria” and “Summer Hours,” and the amusing “Non-Fiction” should only deepen the NYFF love for the auteur. A timeless comedy with modern concerns, the delightful movie has plenty on its mind, but it delivers it an undeniably fun package. As IndieWire’s David Ehrlich wrote in his Venice review of the film, “Assayas has pivoted in a bold new direction: He uses the anxieties of the present to articulate the language that’s dragging us into the future. In other words, this is unapologetically a movie about the permanence of a Tweet. An inextricably French romp about the frustrations of trying to leave your mark on — or not be swept to sea by — a culture where photos disappear as soon as you’ve seen them, the most vicious murders are executed on message boards, and your mistress hasn’t seen a single Ingmar Bergman film.” In short: it’s worth putting your phone away for this one.  —KE

“Ray & Liz”

For years, photographer and visual artist Richard Billingham’s work has derived an autobiographical depth from the quasi-gothic photographs of his parents, a dysfunctional pair who raised their son in ’60s-era British poverty. For his mesmerizing debut, Billingham translates that project into a cinematic tapestry of dark, emotional storytelling with a series of vignettes. The movie tracks Billingham’s alcoholic father (Patrick Romer) and foul-mouthed, chain-smoking mother (Deirdre Kelly) as they endure a series of hardships and poor choices that tear the family apart. Billingham’s movie becomes a fascinating collection of memories in moving image form, some more unsettling than others, all in service of a poetic look at what it means to grow up in squalor and spend a lifetime reeling from it. While at times disturbing, “Ray & Liz” is also frequently beautiful, proving that even difficult moments can take on a profound lyrical depth with time. This one deserves the theatrical experience as much as NYFF’s big-ticket items. —EK

“Sorry Angel”

sorry angel

“Sorry Angel”

Cannes

Fresh off a successful Cannes premiere, Christophe Honoré’s latest is a gay romance set in early ’90s Paris, at the tail end of the AIDS crisis. The film follows an intergenerational dalliance between the middle-aged and HIV-positive writer Jacques (Pierre Deladonchamps) and aspiring filmmaker and student Arthur (Vincent Lacoste). Their 17-year age difference may not look like much (Deladonchamps, who broke out in 2013’s “Stranger By the Lake,” has obvious charms), but in walking conversations, the two men discover how 17 years of early adulthood can alter one’s perspective on love, art, and life. The premise sounds a bit like Andrew Haigh’s “Weekend,” with its period setting adding the gravitas of queer history’s darkest chapter, which was so artfully rendered last year in Robin Campillo’s epic “BPM (Beats Per Minute).” If Honoré can honor those films in any way, “Sorry Angel” will surely be a welcome addition to the queer film canon. —JD

“Spring Night, Summer Night”

“Spring Night, Summer Night”

Courtesy of byNWR

Fifty years after its originally planned debut, J.L. Anderson’s Appalachian romance gets its much-deserved NYFF premiere. Slated for the 1968 festival, the film was “unceremoniously bumped” (that’s how it’s described in the official festival catalogue) to make space for John Cassavetes’s “Faces.” The film was crudely recut to play to the exploitation market (under the title “Miss Jessica Is Pregnant”), but the newly restored version (scanned from a pristine 35mm negative by Nicolas Winding Refn’s byNWR) brings the film back to its handcrafted glory. Shot in coal-mining country with first time performers, the film captures the essence and poetry of rural small-town living in a way we almost never see from Hollywood. —CO

“The Times of Bill Cunningham”

Every New Yorker worth their weight in bagels can boast at least one Bill Cunningham sighting. Cunningham was always cruising the streets of Manhattan on his bicycle, camera slung around his neck; a quick flash of his royal blue French work jacket was all the clue you needed to turn your head and catch a glimpse of that famous toothy grin. The original fashion street photographer, the world outside of New York learned of Cunningham from the 2010 documentary “Bill Cunningham New York” to universal acclaim. Though he was around to enjoy his silver screen debut, Cunningham passed away in 2016 at the age of 87, which inspired filmmaker Mark Bozek to begin making “The Times of Bill Cunningham.” Narrated by another New York fashion icon, Sarah Jessica Parker, the new film relies on a 1994 interview with Cunningham, as well as previously unseen photographs from before his long-running stint at The New York Times. A world premiere, it’s hard to think of a better place to debut a new Bill Cunningham documentary than at the New York Film Festival, and there is certainly enough interest in the subject to merit a second feature film. —JD

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