Highlights From the 41st New York Film Festival, Part 2

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After two and a half weeks taking over Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, the 41st New York Film Festival wrapped up this weekend with 21 Grams, the second film from Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Amores perros). With a talented cast including Naomi Watts, Sean Penn and Benicio Del Toro, the intriguing drama tells the story of three people touched by death and linked by circumstance. Clearly, the best was saved for last, as one can expect 21 Grams to receive quite a bit of Oscar attention for its unique storytelling style and some of the most incredible performances of the year.

In 1986, Canadian filmmaker Denys Arcand received critical acclaim and a foreign language Oscar nomination for his character study, The Decline of the American Empire. 17 years later, Arcand revisits the characters in Les Invasions Barbares (The Barbarian Invasions), a touching character study about people and how they’re affected by the world around them. As one of the original friends lies at death’s door, his son decides to reunite his original group of friends for one last party. Already a huge hit in Canada, the film’s intelligent script is beautifully brought to life with top-notch performances by Remy Girard and the rest of the cast. It should find similar appeal in the States for fans of Pedro Almodovar’s award-winning Talk to Her.

Hong Kong legend, Johnny To, creator of influential classics such as The Heroic Trio and Fulltime Killer, brought his latest film PTU to the festival. Short for “police tactical unit”, the drama uses similar storytelling techniques as American police dramas like “Law and Order” and “The Shield” to show a night in the life of a corrupt police force as they try to recover the lost gun of an inept sergeant, played by character actor Lam Suet.

Who is Rodney Bingenheimer and why is he considered the Andy Warhol of the West coast? A staple on the L.A. music scene since the sixties, this popular and quirky hipster was responsible for introducing many big rock acts, from Bowie to Coldplay, to American audiences while a D.J. at KROQ. With appearances by famous stars like Bowie, Cher, and Brian Wilson, the documentary Mayor of the Sunset Strip, directed by George Hickenlooper (Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse Now) takes a look at Bingenheimer’s amazing and sometimes tragic life.

With a running time over six hours, Marco Tullio Giordana’s La meglio gioventu (The Best of Youth), was originally conceptualized as a television mini-series before getting a theatrical release in the director’s native Italy. The film covers forty years of social and political change in Italy as seen through the eyes of an Italian family, and it features an amazing cast of new talent. It received recognition at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and has been picked up by Miramax for U.S. distribution, although it’s unsure how the movie will be shown in theatres without being split up.

Many of the festival’s full-length features have been paired with short films by new talent from around the world. The most intriguing short film has to be Destino, a collaboration between Walt Disney and Salvador Dali begun 57 years ago and then shelved, before being resurrected and completed when discovered during the making of Fantasia 2000. It is simply one of the most beautiful animated shorts of recent years, easily standing the test of time from when it was first conceptualized. The British short, Little Clumps of Hair by Jim Hosking, shows the reaction of a group of friends, out for a fun night at the pub, when they discover that one of them has an alarming secret. From Head to Toe, a French short film by Pascal Lahmani, is about a fierce cooking competition set in war-torn France during the Nazi take-over, where the women involved offer their own form of resistance. The strange Dutch short, I Sprout by Esther Rots, was about a woman rediscovering a troubling memory from her childhood. Like Twenty Impossibles is a short film set in Israel about a film crew stopped by an Israeli army patrol with dire consequences. Â…and Twins! Martin Bell and Mary Ellen Mark’s comical and sometimes touching documentary about identical twins was assembled from interviews taken at the 2002 Twins Day Festival in Ohio.

As always, many of the films shown at the festival will get some added attention for their participation, and one can look for one or more of them to be recognized when Hollywood hands out awards at the end of the year.

New York Film Festival Report, Part 1

The Barbarian Invasions opens in New York and L.A. on November 21st and expands wider on December 19th
21 Grams opens in New York and L.A. on November 21st with expansions on November 26th and December 26th.
No release dates for The Mayor of the Sunset Strip (distributed by First Look Media), The Best of Youth (distributed by Miramax) or PTU (no distributor).

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