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For movie lovers, the end of summer also means the conclusion of mindless explosions, superhero adventures, and expensive CGI backed by little more than money-driven intentions. As the fall begins, so do the studios' desires to be in the Academy Awards race, and with that comes the endless stream of prestige dramas, starry biopics, and shameless Oscar hopefuls—many of which are about to have their NYC premieres.
The 53rd annual New York Film Festival kicks off this Friday, September 25, running through Sunday, October 11, and featuring a slew of Academy-targeting releases and internationally acclaimed filmmakers' latest efforts. The lineup opens with the world premiere of The Walk, veteran director-of-spectacle Robert Zemeckis' film about Philippe Petit (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who infamously walked across between Twin Towers on wires in 1974.
NYFF's other main attractions include Michael Moore’s new government-lambasting documentary Where to Invade Next; the world premiere of Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks' latest collaboration, Bridge of Spies; retrospective screenings of Akira Kurosawa's Ran and Brian De Palma's Blow Out; and the NYC unveiling of Steve Jobs, the thorn in Ashton Kutcher’s backside that stars Michael Fassbender as the late Apple mastermind.
And that’s just covering NYFF’s surface. Indeed, the festival is, per usual, jam-packed and daunting to navigate. That’s why we’re here to make planning your NYFF itinerary as easy as scanning a MetroCard to get to the fest’s Lincoln Center hub. Here are 10 New York Film Festival events that you shouldn’t miss.
To comb through NYFF's entire lineup and buy tickets, head over to the fest's official site after reading our preview.
Director: Todd Haynes
Stars: Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, Jake Lacy, Kyle Chandler, John Magaro, Cory Michael Smith, Carrie Brownstein
Showtimes: Friday, October 9, 6:00 p.m.; Saturday, October 10, 2:00 p.m.
Because awards voters generally have their heads in the clouds when it comes to his work, and because openly gay directors who make movies about women are rarely talked about in the same bated breath as the Spielbergs, Scorseses, and Scotts who tend to dominate present-day auteurist dialogues, Todd Haynes easily remains the most under-appreciated film genius of his generation.
I'm only half-kidding when I say that I fully expect my life to change when I finally—finally!—see Carol, in which Cate Blanchett (who is exhilaratingly, as of late, at the top of her craft) and Rooney Mara (who copped a Cannes Best Actress prize for this) play '50s-era lesbian lovers in this lush adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's titular romantic drama that marks Haynes' first big screen effort in eight years!
Two of our boldest and most brilliant screen actresses, joined by a bright supporting cast of consummate character actors. A superb team of designers and technicians, from D.P. Edward Lachman to costuming sorceress Sandy Powell, whose clothes don't just complement characters but create them. A deeply-felt story of queer longing, as adapted by the adventurous playwright Phyllis Nagy. These are all the kinds of inspired artists whose participation makes for an undeniable end-of-year must-see. But in the hands of one of our most challenging and inspired cinematic virtuosos, this instantly becomes the end-of-year must-see. If Carol is anything like a typical Haynes undertaking, it'll be impossible to remember what life was ever like without her. — Matthew Eng
Directors: Noah Baumbach, Jake Paltrow
Showtimes: Wednesday, September 30, 6:00 p.m.
Noah Baumbach and Brian De Palma are two of NYC’s most acclaimed filmmakers, yet they’re not easily connectable. Baumbach, for his part, makes charming female-driven comedies like Frances Ha and Mistress America, as well as slice-of-life dramedies like The Squid and the Whale; De Palma, on the other hand, is one of cinema’s all-time great provocateurs, contributing undeniable classics to the horror (Carrie), thriller (Blow Out), gangster (Scarface), crime (The Untouchables), and war (Casualties of War) movie genres. But, as they say, opposites attract, and along with third party, and fellow director, Jake Paltrow (Young Ones), they’ve been meeting for weekly dinners to discuss moviemaking for years now.
Unsurprisingly, since, you know, he's an icon, De Palma's personal anecdotes have dominated their conversations, so Baumbach and Paltrow decided to make a movie based around them. The result is De Palma, an enlightening and hugely entertaining documentary in which De Palma simply sits down and fires off memories and making-of insight into the camera as Baumbach and Paltrow walk through his filmography in chronological order. Fascinating tidbits, from Steven Spielberg’s involvement with Scarface to how Don Johnson almost played Elliot Ness in The Untouchables, are abound.
This one's a must for movie buffs, aspiring filmmakers, and trivia junkies. — Matt Barone
The Deeper They Bury: A Call from Herman Wallace
Directors: Angad Singh Bhalla, Ted Biggs
Panelists include: Harry Belafonte (actor, activist), Steven Hawkins (Amnesty International USA), Thenjiwe McHarris (US Human Rights Network), Frank Greene (prison architect)
Showtimes: Sunday, September 27, 2:00 p.m.
Like any great film festival, NYFF isn't solely about movies in the old-school sense. There’s also the Convergence program, where, similar to the Tribeca Film Festival’s Interactive section, progressive storytellers of all kinds get to showcase their forward-thinking, left-of-center works.
The highpoint of this year's Convergence lineup is The Deeper They Bury. Through animation and other techniques, filmmakers Angad Singh Bhalla and Ted Biggs will put users inside the mind and physical constraints of Herman Wallace, the Black Panther who spent 40+ years in solitary confinement inside Louisiana’s Angola penitentiary. The experience lasts 20 minutes, the same amount of time that's allotted for prison phone calls. Which is stroll in the figurative park compared to Wallace's 42 calendar-spans inside the box. Still, simulating a jail cell's six-by-nine-foot confines, The Deeper They Bury's claustrophobia will be visceral, to say the least.
There'll also be a panel in which Harry Belafonte will join present-day activists for a surely wide-ranging discussion. One of the major talking points will be Herman's House, Bhalla's original 2013 documentary about how Wallace designed his own dream home while locked up in Angola. — M.B.
Director: Don Cheadle
Stars: Don Cheadle, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Ewan McGregor, Michael Stuhlbarg, Keith Stanfield, Austin Lyon
Showtimes: Saturday, October 10, 6:00 p.m., 6:15 p.m., 9:00 p.m.
It’s been far too long since Don Cheadle's name has been in the awards season race—well, cinematically speaking. With his work on Showtime’s dark comedy series House of Lies, Cheadle's been a regular go-to guy for Emmy and Golden Globe voters, but he hasn’t made similar waves on the big screen since 2007’s underrated Talk to Me. He’s one of the most charismatic and versatile actors working today, and it’s about time he tackled a heavyweight film role again.
Enter Miles Ahead, Cheadle's long-discussed passion project that’s been selected as the NYFF’s closing night film. Written and directed by, as well as starring, Cheadle, it’s a Miles Davis biopic that, per the festival’s official site, is "one of the finest films ever made about the life of an artist." Since it's Cheadle, you want to believe the hyperbole.
Ewan McGregor co-stars a reporter who gets Davis to recount his career’s highlights and his personal life's darkest episodes during a sitdown in the 1970s; Emayatzy Corinealdi, the anchor in Ava DuVernay’s 2012 indie breakthrough film Middle of Nowhere, plays Davis’ lover Frances Taylor. — M.B.
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Stars: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Olivia Colman, John C. Reilly, Jessica Barden, Léa Seydoux, Michael Smiley, Ben Whishaw, Ariane Labed, Angeliki Papoulia, Ashley Jensen
Showtimes: Sunday, September 27, 6:00 p.m.; Monday, September 28, 9:00 p.m.
The most appealing ensemble of the year enacts a beautifully bizarre story from Greek cinema’s ingenious weirdo Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth), making his first English-language film. Set in not-so-distant dystopian future, a group of singletons (led by Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz) have 45 days to find a partner or else transform into beasts and be banished to the woods in this audacious fable of modern couplehood, layered with Lanthimos' gloriously outré embellishments.
This slyly unsettling tale (like an animal-centric, Hunger Games-ish take on Tinder) picked up a Jury Prize at Cannes this year and should be sure to make all of us take a long, hard look at the romantic state of our lives and the lives of others. Don't say we didn't warn you... — M.E.
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Showtimes: Thursday, October 8, 9:00 p.m
Last month, Christopher Nolan surprised cinephiles with the unveiling of a secret film: Quay, a short-form documentary about England’s animation masters the Quay brothers. Usually, a new Nolan film would be preceded by months, if not years, of pre-release hype, millions upon millions of dollars, and endless Internet conjecture, but not Quay. It was somewhat nondescript and entirely a passion endeavor for it's major A-list maker.
Next up on the shock-'em-with-something-little wave is Paul Thomas Anderson, arguably this generation’s greatest living American director. The Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood shotcaller caught everyone by surprise when the NYFF announced that it’s hosting the world premiere of Junun, a 54-minute documentary about PTA's early-2015 excursion into India alongside his frequent composer, and former Radiohead member, Jonny Greenwood. While there, Anderson filmed Greenwood’s collaborations with a multitude to the nation’s best musicians.
Consider it a sonically decadent companion piece to our recent article about PTA’s music video hustle. — M.B.
In Jackson Heights
Director: Frederick Wiseman
Documentary about the evolving and ethnically-diverse Queens neighborhood of Jackson Heights.
Showtimes: Sunday, October 4, 6:00 p.m.
Is Frederick Wiseman our greatest living documentarian? Quite possibly. He's at least our most prodigiously prolific and in the past two years alone, he has made the disparate worlds of high art (National Gallery) and collegiate bureaucracy (At Berkeley) into endlessly compelling and shockingly exciting environs. Wiseman’s acclaimed documentary style is highly specific: I don't think he even knows what a talking head is and his peerless, purposeful edits tell as much of a story as the scenes themselves. His films aren't historical or journalistic, but they have stayed dependably long in recent years, which undeniably takes a toll on one's posterior but is nonetheless richly merited because they unmistakably unravel at the speed of life.
This is why a three-hour-plus study of Queens' multiracial, multiethnic Jackson Heights neighborhood and its continued efforts at holding together in the looming face of intrusive gentrification is almost predictable Wiseman material, and beautifully so. A setting so diverse and a topic this loaded need the kind of patient and humane approach that Wiseman has been employing for decades to coax out his subjects’ deeper nuances and develop these worlds for an eager audience's inquiring eye.
I know that everything I've said about Wiseman and In Jackson Heights thus far isn't exactly likely to make the average moviegoer sprint to Lincoln Center to see it, especially not at a Festival that already includes the latest thrill-rides from Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis. I'm pretty sure that at first meeting, everyone has trouble envisioning a Wiseman doc as anything more than a chore, but that couldn't be farther from the truth. If this specific issue or this medium interest you even slightly then I cannot possibly recommend In Jackson Heights enough: it's documentary filmmaking at its most impeccably implicative, presented by a master who, bless him, shows no signs of ever slowing down—or, you know, speeding up. —M.E.
The Forbidden Room
Directors: Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson
Stars: Roy Dupuis, Clara Furey, Udo Kier, Louis Negin, Mathieu Amalric, Noel Burton, Gregory Hlady, Géraldine Chaplin
Showtimes: Monday, September 28, 9:00 p.m.; Tuesday, September 29, 8:30 p.m.
The industry insiders stuffed-shirt critics attending NYFF will be busy keeping tabs on the lineup’s films' Oscar chances and how the festival can make or break those chances. Everyone else, though, should chuck up deuces towards the Academy and treat themselves to a two-hour fever dream that'd leave Oscar voters thinking someone’s laced the ballots with LSD.
An acclaimed mangler of cinema's traditions and aesthetic conventions, filmmaker Guy Maddin has assembled his magnum opus with The Forbidden Room, a sensory assault co-directed by Evan Johnson. It looks and feels more like an madcap hallucination than a motion picture. Also, there are vampire bananas. (That's right, vampire bananas.)
It’d be futile to break down the plot here; watch the trailer above and see if you can formulate any kind of story from it. The Forbidden Room melds numerous storylines together into an unruly concoction of mesmerizing imagery, somewhat incoherent narratives, and an altogether eye-popping cinematic experience. The only award it’d ever have a chance of winning is Best Acid Trip That Doesn’t Require Acid. — M.B.
Director: Rebecca Miller
Stars: Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke, Julianne Moore, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, Travis Fimmel, Wallace Shawn
Showtimes: Sunday, October 4, 9:30 p.m.; Monday, October 5, 6:00 p.m.
As I've detailed elsewhere, Greta Gerwig easily ranks as one of contemporary American cinema’s most unique creative minds. That uniquely off-kilter comedic sensibility has invaluably deepened already-stellar indies from frequent collaborator Noah Baumbach, who has worked with Gerwig as both director and occasional co-writer on Greenberg, Frances Ha, and this past summer's Mistress America. As in those projects, Gerwig is front and center in her latest modern dramedy, Maggie's Plan, whose premise—young, baby-crazy Manhattanite forms a tempestuous love triangle with a straying married professor and his brilliant Danish wife—doesn’t sound too far removed from the Baumbach-Gerwigverse of young, brainy metropolitans and their peculiar, personal complications. But this isn’t actually Baumbach's or Gerwig’s material.
Maggie's Plan is instead the latest return effort from writer-director Rebecca Miller (The Ballad of Jack and Rose, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee), who has assembled a crackerjack team of actors (Ethan Hawke as the professor! Julianne Moore, typecast as a genius! Bill Hader as Gerwig’s ex, alongside Maya Rudolph as his wife!) to support Gerwig in a picture that’s already being praised as both a touching drama and a giddy screwball comedy with overtones of "vintage Woody Allen." It also marks a conspicuous step into slightly more dramatic terrain for Gerwig, who has blossomed into an endearing, Diane Keaton-ish comedienne for our current generation. I’m excited to see what Miller—an underrated actor's director whose indie dramas have plumbed subtle and surprising insights out of normal people and their often abnormal relationships—can draw out of Gerwig, who, like the best comic-skewing actors, can temper her performance to make even the funniest films into impossibly moving emotional experiences. At this point, I'd follow her anywhere. —M.E.
Director: John Crowley
Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domnhall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters, Brid Brennan
Showtimes: Wednesday, October 7, 9:00 p.m.; Thursday, October 8, 6:00 p.m.
What would the New York Film Festival be without a sentimental look at the city’s history? A much weaker event, since that'd mean that the 2015 edition would be sans Brooklyn, a film that's been collecting endless superlatives as it’s made the worldwide fest rounds in recent months. Based on author Colm Toíbín’s acclaimed novel, Boy A director John Crowley romantic coming-of-age drama stars Saoirse Ronan as a young Irish girl who leaves her home country in the 1950s, relocates in the titular borough, and falls in love with an Italian peer (Emory Cohen).
If that sounds like dozens of other movies you’ve seen and/or avoided before, keep in mind that Saoirse Ronan is one of her generation’s best actresses, and Brooklyn, per the early word, is the crown jewel of her career so far. As for Crowley, he should at least be confident in the fact that Brooklyn will be much better received than his last effort, this year's True Detective season’s universally reviled finale episode. Whereas nobody cried while watching Vince Vaughn trudge through that desert and combat against the heavy-handed writing, audiences will most likely grab the nearest Kleenex before Brooklyn concludes. — M.B.
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