Golden anniversary approaching, the New York Film Festival maintains a singular position. Because its curated rather than competitive, the annual Lincoln Center bash is a yearly bulletin on the state of world film cultureheavy on festival winners and critical favorites. The NYFF programmers order à la carte from abroad and bring it back home, garnished with a few crowd-pleasing treats for its board and the local media.
The quality varies from year to year, but the 2011 edition is solid. Building on a strong Cannes, which premiered 11 of the NYFFs 27 Main Slate selections, the festivals selection committee (Richard Peña, Scott Foundas, Dennis Lim, Todd McCarthy, and Voice critic Melissa Anderson) has created a mix of the hyped and the obscure, the familiar and the new, the tough and the tender, a soupçon of fluff and no less than three movies (Abel Ferraras 4:44: Last Day on Earth, Lars von Triers Melancholia, and Béla Tarrs The Turin Horse) visualizing the end of the world.
Although impossible to equal the news value of last years opening night, the world premiere of The Social Network, this NYFF has a number of star-enriched, commercially viable, name-brand tent poles. Roman Polanskis Carnage (adapted from Yasmina Rezas Tony-winning God of Carnage) kicks off the fest Friday night with the directors first NYFF inclusion, if not appearance, since Knife in the Water, 47 festivals ago. Michelle Williamss Monroe turn, My Week With Marilyn, the first feature by British TV director Simon Curtis and a world premiere, is the designated centerpiece, while Alexander Paynes George Clooney vehicle, The Descendants, closes the festival October 16.
Two more movies are flagged as galas: The Skin I Live In by Pedro Almodóvar, whose biannual presence at Lincoln Center is pretty much a given, and, from a director who has never been so honored, David Cronenbergs A Dangerous Methoda deeply fascinating Freudian love story for the Jung at heart. Its alsoalong with the doomsday trio, Gerardo Naranjos terrific Miss Bala, and Nuri Bilge Ceylans magisterial Once Upon a Time in Anatoliaone of the festivals standout standouts.
Nothing this year from East Asia (a retro for the Japanese B-movie factory Nikkatsu aside), but there are two excellent entries each from Israel (The Footnote by Joseph Cedar and Policeman by Nadav Lapid) and Iran (This Is Not a Film by Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb and A Separation by Asghar Farhadi). The two Israeli films evoke the nations fierce insularity from very different perspectives while, each in its way, the Iranian films are legal thrillers.
Bean-counters will further note the Main Slate is evenly split between vets and rookies. Polanski aside, the 13 returnees include Almodóvar, Ceylan, the Dardenne brothers (back to neo-neorealist form with The Kid With a Bike), Ferrara, Aki Kaurismäki (the mordant heart-warmer Le Havre), Steve McQueen (the much-hyped Shame), Naranjo, Panahi, Payne, Martin Scorsese (with a documentary portrait of George Harrison), Tarr, von Trier, and Wim Wenders (the Main Slates other doc and first 3-D picture, Pina). (Majorly snubbed: Aleksandr Sokurov, whose typically eccentric version of Faust won the Golden Lion in Venice.) Along with Cronenberg are a dozen first-timers: Cedar, Curtis, Sean Durkin (making his debut by evoking the Manson family in Martha Marcy May Marlene), Farhadi, Mia Hansen-Løve (Goodbye First Love), Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist, likely the NYFFs biggest crowd-pleaser), Ulrich Köhle (Sleeping Sickness), Lapid, Julia Loktev (The Loneliest Planet), Santiago Mitre (The Student), Ruben Östlund (Play), and Alice Rohrwacher (Corpo Celeste, a/k/a Heavenly Body, a slyly understated verité-style comedy in which a 13-year-old girl confounds the Catholic Church).
What to see. Twenty-one of the Main Slate films already have distribution, and nine of theseThe Artist, Carnage, A Dangerous Method, The Descendants, Le Havre, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Melancholia, Pina, and A Separationare scheduled to open in New York before years end. (Shame is likely to join them, if only for an Oscar-qualifying run, and George Harrison: Living in the Material World will be telecast on HBO the day after its festival screening.) Here, then, in alphabetical order, are five to line up for. Two still lack passports as of this writing; the other three are gutsy festival films for which the cognoscenti (you know who you are) wont want to wait.
The Loneliest Planet
Julia Loktevs follow-up to her brilliant exercise in terror, Day Night Day Night, is an equally unsettling experiential experiment in directing the audience. Led by a native guide, a frisky pair of backpackerssensationally embodied by Gael García Bernal and Israeli actress Hani Furstenbergventure into the ruggedly beautiful Caucasian outback. It might also be the land of allegory. Like Day Night Day Night, which tracked 24 hours in the life of a would-be suicide bomber, The Loneliest Planet has a two-part structure, the hinge being an enigmatic threat and an all-too-human response. No distributor, showing October 1 and 4.
Once Upon A Time In Anatolia
Turkeys finest filmmaker, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, has made his finest movie to date. Ceylan seems to have taken a long, profitable look at two recent Romanian moviesAurora and Police, Adjectivebefore making this bravura meditation on the inscrutable cosmos. Runner-up to The Tree of Life at Cannes, Once Upon a Times bleakly comic, superbly crafted, highly rigorous epistemological treatment of a police investigation conducted in the dark emptiness of the Anatolian night confirms its makers international status. The movie runs 157 minutes and is showing but once, October 8.
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