Highlights From the 41st New York Film Festival

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On October 3rd, the 41st Annual New York Film Festival kicked off at Lincoln Centre in New York City’s Upper West Side. In the last few years, many movies that received their U.S. premieres at the festival have gone onto receive Oscar nominations, including Pedro Almodovar’s Talk to Her, About Schmidt starring Jack Nicholson, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. Some of this years’ films will have the rest of the nation talking over the months leading up to Oscar season.

The 41st New York Film Festival was launched with Clint Eastwood’s powerful drama, Mystic River, featuring an impressive cast that includes Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon and Tim Robbins. The highly acclaimed film takes a look at the relationship between three friends, brought back together after many years when tragedy strikes. Between its rave reviews and strong viewer ratings, the movie is likely a shoe-in for Oscar attention this year, particularly for the performance by Sean Penn.

Gus Van Sant’s latest film, Elephant, arrived in New York fresh off the heels of winning the Palm D’or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. It’s a powerful look at high school violence through the eyes of two outcast students who stage a Columbine-like assault on their classmates. The film is sublime at times and shocking at others.

Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor, stars of 2001’s Moulin Rouge, each had controversial offerings making their U.S. debuts at this year’s festival. Kidman starred in Dogville the latest film from Danish director Lars Von Trier (Dancer in the Dark), a fable-like look at small-town America and the advent of terrorism. Kidman plays a stranger who comes to a small remote town while on the run from the mob and the law. At first, the town takes her into their care, but things soon turn ugly. Dogville is meant as the first film in Von Trier’s trilogy about America.

Ewan McGregor starred with Tilda Swinton in Young Adam, an adaptation of the cult novel by 50s’ beat poet Alexander Trocchi. Set in Scotland, McGregor plays a young writer who takes a job on a barge after the accidental death of his girlfriend, but there, he end up having a torrid affair with the captain’s wife. Beautifully filmed by David McKenzie, much of the buzz for the film has come from the amount of nudity and the explicit sex scenes that drive the film. Both movies are scheduled for release in the States sometime next year.

Another impressive highlight of the festival was the digitally restored and remastered version of The Kids Are Alright, Jeff Stein’s 1979 documentary on The Who, released to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the influential band’s first recording session. It premiered with a groundbreaking new quintuple split-screen concert film called Quintrophenia!.

As always, a number of foreign films premiered at this year’s festival with both full-length films and shorts from all over the world. The Moroccan film, A Thousand Months, about a special boy whose father is in prison, had its U.S. premiere at the festival after gaining attention at Cannes this year. The Flower of Evil, the fiftieth film from noted French director Claude Chabrol, tells the strange but charming tale of a dysfunctional family and how their secrets come out of the closet when the woman of the house runs for public office. The Austrian submission in the Academy Awards’ foreign language category, Barbara Albert’s Free Radicals, is an interesting series of non-sequiturs about the people whose lives revolve around the sole survivor of an airplane crash.

The festival’s centerpiece Errol Morris’ documentary, The Fog of War, received a lot of attention for its riveting look at Robert S. McNamara, a WWII military strategist who was Secretary of Defense during the late 60s’, and he was held largely responsible for America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Over thirty years later, the movie takes a candid look at his life through interviews and footage. Due to the current political climate in the country, The Fog of War is likely to be considered one of the most important documentaries since Michael Moore’s Academy Award winning Bowling for Columbine.

Mystic River opened in select cities last Wednesday and expands nationwide this coming Wednesday, October 15th.
Elephant opens in New York and Los Angeles on October 24th with a wider expansion on November 7th.
The Flower of Evil opened in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, October 10th.
Dogville and Young Adam open in 2004.
The Fog of War is released on December 26th.