Monday, October 13, 2014

New York Film Festival 2014


Now in its 52nd year, the New York Film Festival has become the premier event for cinephiles in New York City.  The programming in this non-competitive film festival ranges from documentaries to retrospectives, convergence screenings, various talks and special events, and of course, the main slate.  In recent years, the NYFF main slate has been a useful device to foreshadow awards season nominees. The U.S. premiere of 12 YEARS A SLAVE was held during last year's fest, as well as high-profile screenings of other eventual Oscar nominees.

But enough about prior years. While I was only able to attend six screenings this year, they included some of the most anticipated films of 2014-15, and I am still trying to process some of them. Here they are:

David Fincher and the cast of Gone Girl
1. GONE GIRL (David Fincher, 2014)
I think the last thing you need to read is another opinion of Gone Girl, so I will keep it short. As soon as this film was over, I knew it would be a crowd pleaser. The film smartly brings the audience (particularly those who have not read the book) deeper and deeper into the story of Nick and Amy Dunne's marriage, only to betray trust by revealing a major plot twist. I particularly loved Rosamund Pike (Amy Dunne) and Carrie Coon (Margo Dunne) in this movie. I thought some scenes were beautifully executed, but I felt major moments that could have drawn empathy were lacking, which in turn made me emotionally detach myself during the second half.



2. THE LOOK OF SILENCE (Joshua Oppenheimer, 2014)
This follow-up to THE ACT OF KILLING (which was nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary last year) is just as profound. Oppenheimer continues his expos√© of the 1965 genocide in Indonesia, where an estimated 500,000 people were accused of participating in the Communist party, and consequently, slaughtered.  The best way to describe the current situation in Indonesia is used in the film: imagine (as terrible as it may be) that WWII had ended differently, and Nazis were still in power in Germany. Families of those murdered in concentration camps are not only living side by side with Nazi officials; they must take orders from them. That's what life is like for many people in Indonesia. If you see nothing else this year, I urge you to see this film.



3. INHERENT VICE (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2014)
I was beyond excited to see one of the most anticipated films of this year by one of the most respected American filmmakers in cinema today.  Now that I've seen it, I'm 100% certain that I need to see it again. There are a few things I can say for sure: Inherent Vice has a stellar soundtrack, I laughed audibly many times, and the cast is as fantastic as we all imagined they would be. This is PTA's THE BIG LEBOWSKI; a missing person case being solved by a stoner who comes across ridiculous characters along the way. What I can't make sense of is the plot, but after a while, I stopped trying to and just enjoyed the ride.



4. THIS IS SPINAL TAP (Rob Reiner, 1984)
I attended the 30th anniversary screening of This is Spinal Tap for two major reasons: I never saw it on the big screen, and it is in my favorite film historian's (TCM host Robert Osborne) top 5 list, so I love to revisit it whenever I get a chance. Like with any cult classic, watching it in a theater with other fans is one of the most enjoyable things you can do. Everyone anticipates certain scenes and/or lines. Also, Christopher Guest was there for a Q&A and he was incredibly hilarious.


Olivier Assayas, Juliette Binoche, and NYFF Director Kent Jones
5. CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA (Olivier Assayas, 2014)
This is a beautiful exploration of age and time, particularly through the eyes of an actress, which is compelling since we all know the film industry notoriously mistreats (read: discards) older women. The stage is a bit more forgiving, which is what Juliette Binoche's character deals with in this movie. Binoche is as fantastic as she has ever been, and the backdrop of Sils Maria, Switzerland is stunning. While Maria enders (Binoche) struggles with a new role she takes on, there are also underlying tensions with her personal assistant (Kristen Stewart), many of which seem to be commenting on real-life situations surrounding the actors themselves.



Foxcatcher's Bennett Miller, Steve Carrell, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave, Sienna Miller, Anthony Michael Hall, and producer Jon Kilik
6. FOXCATCHER (Bennett Miller, 2014)
This will very likely lead to an Academy Award for Steve Carrell. Based on the true story of Olympic wrestlers Dave Shultz (played by Mark Ruffalo) and his brother Mark (Channing Tatum), Carrell plays John du Pont, the infamous multi-millionaire who sponsors the Shultzes in hopes of winning an Olympic gold medal. It has all the awards season turn-ons: comedic actor in a dramatic role, physical transformation of said actor, chilling story that is based on actual events, and casting of a veteran/legend (in this case, Vanessa Redgrave). I did not love the score, but the film is well performed. Be warned: you will be depressed after watching this.

Overall, there wasn't one film I disliked, and the great people at The Film Society of Lincoln Center always do a fantastic job putting everything together. A major regret was not being able to go to BIRDMAN or any of the Joseph L. Mankiewicz retrospective screenings due to schedule conflicts. I would have loved to see ALL ABOUT EVE on the big screen, but I'd say I still had a sweet time at this year's NYFF.


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