True, the festival doesn’t have as many industry insiders roaming the streets of New York trying to sell and buy films, but that’s because the festival is not about getting distribution as much as giving the discerning film audiences of New York an early look at some of the fall and spring’s best films. It’s about quality over quantity, with the film selection being more focused on 25 movies, compared to the potluck of hundreds of movies at the larger festivals.
If this isn’t the best New York Film Festival ever, then you’re really far too picky and probably should stop trying to be happy. After all, this year, the festival has snagged the latest offerings from Park Chan-Wook, Michael Winterbottom, Lars Von Trier, Steven Soderbergh and Neil Jordan, all prolific and highly respected directors. Sure, most of these films were already shown at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month, but you can’t compare Toronto’s multiplexes with Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall or even the Walter Reade Theatre.
The festival kicks off on Friday, September 23 with only the second film directed by Soderbergh’s production partner George Clooney, Good Night, and Good Luck.. The black and white film stars David Straithairn as television newscaster Edward Murrow, who took on Senator Joseph McCarthy during the ’50s, when the senator was on a witch hunt to find Communist sympathizers in America. Clooney co-stars as Murrow’s manager Fred Friendly, and the ensemble cast includes Robert Downey Jr., Patricia Clarkson and Frank Langella. It’s an amazing snapshot of the times, mixing live action with archival films from the era.
Clooney’s production partner Steven Soderbergh will debut his latest independent drama Bubble (screening September 25 and 26), a murder mystery shot on digital video in Ohio, featuring non-professional actors. It’s a very different film from Ocean’s 11 and Traffic, that’s for sure, and it delves somewhat into territory laid down by Gus Van Sant or Lars Von Trier.
Speaking of murder mysteries, documentary filmmaker Bennett Miller’s dramatic feature Capote (screening September 27 and 28) is already receiving tons of buzz for actor Philip Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal of the eclectic fiction author Truman Capote, as he befriends the real-life perpetrators of the murders that formed the basis for his most famous novel, “In Cold Blood.”
Lars Von Trier brought Dogville, the first part of his “American trilogy,” to the festival two years ago, and he’s back with its follow-up Manderlay (screening September 30 and October 1). Bryce Dallas Howard replaces Nicole Kidman as Grace, who travels with her father down to the Deep South and finds a mansion where slavery still exists 70 years after it was abolished. Expect more anti-American rhetoric from Denmark’s most eclectic filmmaker.
Neil Jordan’s latest film, Breakfast on Pluto is this year’s Festival Centerpiece (screening October 1 and 2). Based on the novel by Patrick McCabe, who wrote The Butcher Boy which Jordan adapted in 1997, the drama covers common ground as Jordan’s best known film, The Crying Game, which played at the festival in 1992. Cillian (Red Eye) Murphy plays transvestite Patrick “Kitten” Braden, who gets caught up in the Irish revolution as s/he tries to find his/her mother; Liam Neeson plays the Catholic priest who sired him/her.
Michael Winterbottom reunites with his 24-Hour Party People star Steven Coogan for Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (screening October 7 and 8), a movie about the problematic filming of an adaptation of Laurence Sterne’s difficult 18th Century novel “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy” featuring Gillian Anderson, Shirley Henderson and Jeremy Northam.
Noah Baumbach’s third film, The Squid and the Whale (screening September 26 and 28), stars Roger Dodger‘s Jesse Eisenberg as a Brooklyn teenager caught up in a bitter separation between his two writing parents, played by Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney, putting him into a rather strange joint custody situation. Things get worse when a classmate, played by Anna Paquin, moves in with his father. The film harks back to Wes Anderson’ s The Royal Tenenbaums, and it shouldn’t be too big a surprise that Baumbach co-wrote The Life Aquatic with Anderson, who also produced this lower budget film.
The festival has often premiered films that go directly to cable or DVD, giving audiences a chance to see them on the big screen first. This year is no exception, as Michael Negroponte’s Methadonia (screening September 24) will show at the festival before its HBO debut on October 6. The documentary is a video essay following the clients of a methadone clinic.
In Part 2, we’ll look at some of the festival’s many foreign films. If you’re in the New York area from September 23 through October 9, you can still get select tickets to festival screenings. And for those who can’t get to the festival or can’t get tickets: