By Jack Rico
With Venice, Telluride and the Toronto Film Festival behind us, it’s time to focus our attention to The New York Film Festival, North America’s second oldest film festival. It marks its 51st edition, from Sept. 27th to Oct. 13th, with 17 days of exciting world premieres, award winners from Cannes, Berlin and Venice, retrospective screenings, spotlights on emerging filmmakers, panels, and galas. Founded in 1963, this festival continues to introduce audiences to the most exciting, innovative and accomplished works of world cinema. I have outlined what I think are the best in class at the festival and money that will be well spent. You love cinema? Get ready to feel like you’re at the Oscars!
1) Captain Phillips
Director: Paul Greengrass
Cast: Tom Hanks
Why you should see it: This is the Opening Night world premiere of the movie. Venice, Telluride nor TIFF can boast about having this film. Paul Greengrass has crafted a thriller based on the true story of the seizure of the Maersk Alabama cargo ship in 2009 by four Somali pirates, with what is said to be a remarkable performance from Tom Hanks and four first-time actors, Barkhad Abdi, Faysal Ahmed, Barkhad Abdirahman and Mahet M. Ali. Word from Hollywood is that this film has the chops to be one of Oscar’s top 10 Best Pictures this year.
2) All is Lost
Director: J.C. Chandor
Cast: Robert Redford
Why you should see it: It’s been a while since this Robert Redford. He gives a near-wordless all-action performance as a lone sailor whose yacht sinks after a collision with a discarded shipping container in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Think Tom Hanks’ “Castaway” on a boat. Many are saying this could be the film that brings Redford back to the Oscar race.
3) Inside Llewyn Davis
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake
Why you should see it: Guatemalan actor, Oscar Isaac, is going to become one of the best actors in movies in the next 5 years. Joel and Ethan Coen know it and so should you. They give him the lead role, with Justin Timberlake occupying a small supporting role in this picaresque, panoramic and wryly funny story of a talented and terminally miserable folk musician is set in the New York film scene of the early 60s and features a terrific array of larger-than-life characters and a glorious score of folk standards. Many are saying it’s powerful and right out visceral.
4) The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Director: Ben Stiller
Cast: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott
Why you should see it: This could be Ben Stiller’s breakthrough from hack comedian to serious actor/filmmaker. He stars and directs this sweet, globe-trotting (but New York-based) comic fable, based on the Danny Kaye remake from 1947, about an up-to-the-minute everyman, co-starring Kristen Wiig as the woman of his dreams, Sean Penn as a legendary photographer and Shirley MacLaine as Walter’s mother. Think Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind meets director Spike Jonze.
Director: Spike Jonze
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson
Why you should see it: Speaking of Spike Jonze, his new magical, melancholy comedy of the near future, has lonely Joaquin Phoenix falling in love with his new all-purpose operating system (the voice of Scarlett Johansson), leading to romantic and existential complications. The plot is very refreshing, creative and Phoenix is magnetic… once again.
6) The Immigrant
Director: James Gray
Cast: Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Renner, Joaquin Phoenix
Why you should see it: James Gray is a huge fan of Joaquin Phoenix. He used him in 3 of his movies: The Yards, We Own The Night and Two Lovers (one of my favorite movies). In The Immigrant, Gray depicts a richly detailed period tragedy, set in a dusty, sepia-toned 1920s Manhattan, where a young Polish immigrant (Marion Cotillard) is caught in a dangerous battle of wills with a shady burlesque manager (Joaquin Phoenix). These two stars together should give critics something to talk about, but with Gray helming it, it should give the Oscars something to talk about.
Director: Alexander Payne
Cast: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb
Why you should see it: After being nominated for Best Director for The Descendants 2 years ago at the Oscars, Alexander Payne gives us another masterful film about a quiet old man (Bruce Dern) whose mild-mannered son (Will Forte) agrees to drive him from Montana to Nebraska to claim a non-existent prize. It offers shades from the comic to multiple hues of melancholy and regret, not to mention one of the best performances of the year from Dern.
8) Blue Is The Warmest Color
Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
Cast: Léa Seydoux, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Salim Kechiouche
Why you should see it: The sensation of this year’s Cannes Film Festival is an intimate – and sexually explicit – epic of emotional transformation, featuring two astonishing performances from Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux. Can Best Foreign film be its goal?
9) The Wind Rises
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Cast: Hideaki Anno, Mirai Shida, Jun Kunimura
Why you should see it: Arguably the best animation director in cinema history, the great Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki might have the winner of the Best Animated Feature at this upcoming Oscar ceremony. His new film, based on the life of Jiro Horikoshi, is a visionary cinematic poem about the fragility of humanity. The movie is based on the man who designed the Zero fighter, and has an elliptical historical narrative to boot. It’ll be hard to see a better animated movie this year.
10) About Time
Director: Richard Curtis
Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy
Why you should see it: Do you like time traveling with a touch of hilarious romantic comedy? Richard Curtis gives us a perfect vehicle for the comic talents of Bill Nighy, Rachel McAdams, Lindsay Duncan, and emerging star Domhnall Gleeson that should have you laughing and then crying ladies, so get those tissues ready.
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Cast: Takeru Satô, Haruka Ayase, Keisuke Horibe
Why you should see it: Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s first feature since 2008’s Tokyo Sonata, his most romantic movie yet, is a truly romantic sci-fi fable about a man that must visit and navigate the dangers of his comatose wife’s subconscious mind in order to coax her back to consciousness.
12) American Promise
Director: Joe Brewster, Michèle Stephenson
Why you should see it: Brooklyn filmmakers Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson follow their son Idris and his friend Seun from their enrollment in the Dalton School (one of the most prestigious private high schools in America) as children through their high school graduations in this devastating, years-in-the-making documentary. It is an eye opening look at race and class in this country.
13) Strangers by the Lake
Director: Alain Guiraudie
Cast: Pierre Deladonchamps, Christophe Paou, Patrick d’Assumçao
Why you should see it: Much has been written about Alain Guiraudie’s truly graphic nature of the presentation of gay sex in this film and rightly so, but that aspect falls by the wayside as the film zeros in on an unnerving look at the pull that gay cruising subculture has on a man even after witnessing a murder.
14) The Invisible Woman
Director: Ralph Fiennes
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Felicity Jones, Michelle Fairley
Why you should see it: Ralph Fiennes directs and stars as Charles Dickens – that right there is enough to get me in the theater. In this adaptation of Claire Tomalin’s revelatory 1992 biography, which brought the upright Victorian author’s secret 13-year affair with a young actress to light, Fiennes attempts at creating cinematic art. Will it astound you or stultify you?
15) Jimmy P: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian
Director: Arnaud Desplechin
Cast: Benicio Del Toro, Mathieu Amalric, Gina McKee
Why you should see it: Oscar award winner Benicio Del Toro stars in Arnaud Desplechin’s intelligent and moving depiction of a successful “Talking Cure”. The encounters between patient (Benecio del Toro) and therapist (Mathieu Amalric) are electric with discovery.
16) The Last of the Unjust
Director: Claude Lanzmann
Why you should see it: This documentary makes its U.S Premiere which will cause you to reconsider your understanding of Adolph Eichmann and of Benjamin Murmelstein, the last Jewish elder of Thereisenstadt and the film’s central figure.
17) Cosmonauts (New York Premiere)
Why you should see it: If you has to see one movie at the NYFF, this would be it. As I have been told, this is perhaps the most singular experience you will have at the festival. Part of a vast storyworld including web content, music, and social media, this sci-fi tale follows the Soviet explorers racing to beat the U.S. to space. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. Go see this!
18) Age of Innocence (Revival)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, Winona Ryder
Why you should see it: This is the world premiere of the restored feature of Age of Innocence 20 years later. This stunning adaptation of Edith Wharton’s novel seems like one of Scorsese’s greatest. Ms. Wharton’s 1925 novel about a secret passion within the social universe of Old New York struck many writers and fans as an odd departure for Martin Scorsese. When it was released in 1993, The Age of Innocence was greeted with equal amounts of admiration and puzzlement. As visually expressive as it is emotionally fine-tuned, the movie is a magnificent lament for lost time. With an extraordinary cast led by Daniel Day-Lewis as Newland and Michelle Pfeiffer as Ellen. Grover Crisp and his team at Sony have now given Scorsese’s film the long-awaited restoration it deserves.
20) The Dog (Motion Portraits)
Director: Allison Berg, François Keraudren
Why you should see it: Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren’s portrait of the motor-mouthed, completely uncorked John Wojtowicz, whose 1972 botched robbery of a Brooklyn bank was dramatized in Dog Day Afternoon is hilarious, hair-raising, and giddily profane. Apparently, the man and the real story actually surpasses the film in every way possible.
20) Who is Dayani Crystal? (Motion Portraits)
Director: Marc Silver
Why you should see it: Immigration is now on everyone’s mind, from the halls of Congress to the deserts of Texas and Arizona. Director Marc Silver and Mexican actor/producer/director Gael Garcia Bernal have devised a startling hybrid documentary that looks at the issue from the most basic human vantage point. Silver follows a team of forensic anthropologists from the Arizona Medical Examiner’s office as they analyze the remains of a migrant found in the desert. The only identification mark is a tattoo that reads “Dayani Cristal.” Silver cuts between the anthropologists as they slowly and painstakingly piece together the man’s identity; and Bernal as a migrant on the arduous journey by train and on foot through Latin America and all the way to the southern US border and the possibility of a new life. Measured, meditative and scrupulously constructed, alternately sobering and enlightening, Who Is Dayani Cristal? describes a possible, terrible fate experienced by scores of Mexicans every year. A must see for anyone who has experienced or knows anyone who has gone through this arduous and life threatening experience.