’s 50th New York Film Festival Preview


For the tenth year in a row, is attending and covering the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s New York Film Festival, now celebrating its 50th Anniversary with what is likely to be the biggest festival in Film Society history. They’ve been building up to it by showing movies from the film festivals’ illustrious past over the last year and once again the festival is going to give New Yorkers a chance to see some of the season’s strongest foreign and art films as well as a couple of major releases.

This will be the last festival programmed by Richard Peña, who has been with the New York Film Festival for 25 years, literally half its life, so this year’s festival is a special one, not only due to the 50th anniversary celebration but also because it’s a transition year that will allow the festival to try some new things and hopefully find new and younger audiences. On a personal level, the New York Film Festival has given us a chance to catch up on movies we may have missed at Toronto as well as a number of foreign films that have already received accolades at other festivals such as Cannes and Venice.

Although much of the main slate has appeared at other festivals, the Film Society has scored a number of big name world premieres, and this year it has three studio movies that no one anywhere has seen yet, which we’ll be reviewing as soon as we get a chance.

The choice of Ang Lee’s Life of Pi (20th Century Fox – Nov. 21), based on Yann Martel’s bestselling novel, as the Opening Night Gala on September 28, has gotten a lot of tongues wagging. It’s literally taken a decade to get this movie made and it’s not a conventional Hollywood movie, being that it has no real name stars, which makes it a definite gamble. The fact that Fox is going the festival route with it, something they’ve not been prone to do with a few exceptions, certainly makes us think that this will be a movie people will be talking about for the next few months and well into awards season.

Robert Zemeckis’ return to live action with Flight (Paramount – Nov. 2) stars Denzel Washington as a commercial airline pilot who saves a plane full of people by landing it safely only to have his life put under scrutiny. It’s probably one of the more unconventional NYFF offerings for Closing Night Gala, only because it’s rare that a big movie with an A-level actor claims that spot. If nothing else, it’s a testament to Paramount’s confidence in the quality of their film to give it a prominent premiere at this year’s festival. It’s been ten years since we saw Denzel in the Oscar race, when he won for Training Day, and Zemeckis hasn’t been in the awards conversation even longer, not since 1994’s Forrest Gump won six Oscars including one for Zemeckis. Many are hoping that Flight will finally put Zemeckis back among the top filmmakers out there following his recent extended foray into animation.

We know next to nothing about David Chase’s feature film directorial debut Not Fade Away (Paramount Vantage – Dec. 21), this year’s Centerpiece World Premiere, but the writer/producer of HBO’s “The Sopranos” has apparently made a period musical comedy set in 1964 involving three friends from Jersey who form a rock band. It stars TV’s Brad Garrett and head Soprano James Gandolifini and we don’t even know who they play… that’s how secretive this movie is!

We’ve heard some extremely odd things about Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy (Millennium – Oct. 5), starring Nicole Kidman and Zac Efron, and we think maybe it will veer closer to Daniels’ Shadowboxer than his Oscar-nominated Precious, but we’re certainly curious enough to check it out even though it’s playing at the festival mere days before its theatrical release. Kidman will also be getting a very special gala tribute (as will the much-deserved Peña).

We’re still trying to get to see Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig’s Frances Ha, which we missed at Toronto, but we’ve heard great things about the second collaboration from the director and star of Greenberg, so fingers crossed we’ll see it soon.

Meanwhile, Bill Murray plays F.D.R. and Laura Linney plays his distant cousin and mistress Daisy in Notting Hill director Roger Michell’s Hyde Park on Hudson (Focus Features – Dec. 7), a movie that’s most interesting when it has FDR and wife Eleanor (played by Olivia Williams) interacting with the King and Queen of England, played by Samuel West and Olivia Colman. If you’ve seen The King’s Speech or Madonna’s W.E. then you may already know about said royals, and it’s surprising that a third actor can play King George without it being boring. We’ll have a full review hopefully soon, but this seems perfectly suited for the older Lincoln Center audience while probably offering very little to interest anyone under 50.

Director Sally Potter hasn’t had a new movie in a while, but she’s bringing her new movie Ginger and Rosa (A24) to the New York Film Festival. Like Not Fade Away and The Paperboy, it’s also set in the ‘60s, only this one is set in London and it deals with the friendship between two teen girls, one of which is played by Elle Fanning.

One movie we’ve heard lots of great things about out of Cannes and the recent Fantastic Fest (without really knowing what the movie’s about) is Leo Carax’s Holy Motors (Indomina – Oct. 17) which follows a man named Monsieur Oscar who drives around Paris. With unlikely co-stars like Eva Mendes and Australian pop star Kylie Minogue, it sounds a bit like David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, but we’re hoping it’s much better than that.

Olivier Assayas, one of our favorite French filmmakers, is back at the New York Film Festival, having wowed so many movie lovers with his serialized biopic Carlos a couple of years back, and he takes a left turn with Something in the Air, starring Clement Metayer as high school student Gilles who is pulled into political protests by those around him including his girlfriend (Lola Créton). I don’t remember Assayas having made any previous movies about young people, which makes this certainly an interesting addition to his eclectic filmography.

As in past years, there are a number of movies vying for an Oscar nomination in the foreign language category and already selected by Austria as their selection is
Michael Haneke’s Amour (Sony Pictures Classics – Dec. 19), which has a good chance of getting into the nominations with its tale of an elderly couple who are deeply affected when she starts suffering from dementia and he chooses to let her die at home rather than taking her to a hospital. The deeply affecting film has two great performances by veteran French actors Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, the latter whom we think could get into the Oscar race, although we were mixed on the handling of the material. You can read our review here.

Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín got Gael Garcia Bernal to star in his movie No, about the 1988 pseudo-election when Chile’s military dictator Augusto Pinochet decided to give the people of Chile a choice, so they could either vote “yes” to keep him for four more years or “no” to replace him. Each side of the campaign was given 15 minutes of television nightly to convince people of one side or the other and Bernal plays Rene Saavedra, the ad exec behind the “no” campaign, who is put in a position where he has to take on a role that may put him at odds with a government already known for executing and disappearing dissidents. It’s a fascinating film that blends drama with non-fiction, including some of the actual ads by both sides of the campaign, and we wouldn’t be at all surprised if this makes it into the Foreign Language race due to the parallels and contrasts with our own heated political election and how the media is used in campaigning.

The Romanian Oscar candidate is Beyond the Hills, the new film from director Cristian Mungiu, whose previous 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days was snubbed for an Oscar nomination a few years back, causing quite a bit of outrage among the critics who almost unanimously selected it their best foreign language film. This one involves the friendship between two long-time friends who are reunited at a remote monastery in the Romanian countryside where one of them has been living as a nun, making her friend question why she is so dedicated to the Orthodox priest who runs it. Even though the movie won two awards at Cannes, for the two lead actresses and Mungiu’s screenplay, it’s a very long movie (2 ½ hours) that makes it obvious Mungiu is trying to break away from Romanian cinema traditions, such as stationary cameras and long takes, but it’s a long movie that doesn’t pay off in the way that “4 Months” did and we don’t think the material will resonate with moviegoers in the same way.

Portugese filmmaker Miguel Gomes’ Tabu (Adopt Films – Dec. 26) is another movie that’s been doing the festival rounds, telling the tale of an elderly woman named Aurora living in present-day Lisbon who is hospitalized as she reflects back on an affair with her husband’s best friend fifty years earlier. We haven’t seen it yet but we already know that Portugal has gone with the box office hit Blood of My Blood from Joao Canijo instead.

Some people thought Denmark would go with Susanne Bier’s latest movie as their selection, since she won an Oscar for her country a couple years back, but instead they’ve picked Nikolaj Arcel’s A Royal Affair, which follows the love triangle between the deranged king of Denmark, his lovely queen and the court doctor, played by Mads Mikkelsen. We were kind of mixed on this when we saw it before Toronto and we’re not sure if anyone outside Denmark will care–we were quite bored–even though it does follow a similar costume drama formula that’s worked before.

One of the most prominent new additions to this year’s New York Film Festival is a number of sidebars including their very first foray into Midnight Movies with three programmed the festival’s opening weekend: Barry Levinson’s The Bay (Roadside Attractions – Nov. 2), Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio (IFC Films), and Takeshi Kitano’s Outrage Beyond, the sequel to his 2010 movie. You can read our interview with Levinson from Toronto here and our thoughts on Strickland’s movie here.

Other major events of note include a rare screening of Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate and a cast reunion for a screening of Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride on October 2.

Look for our reviews of some of the movies above in the coming weeks as the 50th New York Film Festival runs from September 28 to October 14.

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Weekend: Feb. 27, 2020, Mar. 1, 2020

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