What to See at the New York Film Festival

Brian Sloan

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At the core of this year’s New York Film Festival, which takes place September 30 to October 16 at Lincoln Center, is a slate of 25 feature films that spreads across the cinematic landscape: intense dramas, screwball comedies, even an animated ode to high school. It all kicks off with Ava DuVernay’s highly anticipated opening-night documentary, The 13th, which looks at the current state of the American prison system. Ang Lee’s latest, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, shot in hyperreal 4K-resolution at 120 frames-per-second, will have its world premiere in a specially outfitted theater at AMC Lincoln Square. The festival closes with New York City native James Gray’s The Lost City of Z, an epic adventure that tracks a British explorer, played by Charlie Hunnam, lost in the Amazon.

Other NYFF programs embrace new technologies, non-narrative experimental work and films of the past. The Convergence sidebar will showcase “augmented reality” and a video called Late Shift, in which the audience chooses the main character’s adventure. Projections screens 44 avant-garde films—mainly shorts—from around the world; Retrospective surveys the history of French cinema; and Revivals offers restored prints of Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo’s controversial The Battle of Algiers and Barbara Koppel’s doc about a violent miner’s strike, Harlan County USA.

Below are some highlights of the festival’s primary lineup. For a full schedule, visit filmlinc.org

20th Century Women (Dir. Mike Mills) 
Set in Santa Barbara, Calfornia, in 1979, this film about modern motherhood stars Annette Bening as the central character in a Left Coast bohemian house filled with artists and rebels. Oscar buzz is already surrounding Bening’s performance; the film features a strong supporting cast, including Billy Crudup and Greta Gerwig.

Elle (Dir. Paul Verhoeven)
After a 10-year absence from feature-length film, Paul Verhoeven (Showgirls, Starship Troopers) returns to directing with this French-language effort about a woman of a certain age, played by Isabelle Huppert, and her unconventional reaction to a sexual assault. Like all of this controversial director’s films, his latest is certain to cause debate.

Elle. Courtesy, Guy Ferrandis and Song Picture Classics

Julieta (Dir. Pedro Almodóvar)
The Spanish director’s 20th (!) feature may be a bit of a comedown from I’m So Excited!, his high-flying 2013 campfest. But in this intimate and ambitious drama set over the course of 30 years, Almodóvar creates an epic of emotional intensity that examines the life of a woman in Madrid and the daughter who abandoned her. It’s an adaptation of three short stories from Canadian author Alice Munro.

Moonlight (Dir. Barry Jenkins)
This three-part feature follows an African-American gay man born into a crime-ridden area of Miami as he makes his way from childhood to adulthood. The film, Barry Jenkins’ sophomore feature, has an impressive ensemble cast of new talents like Trevante Rhodes as the young lead along with André Holland, Naomie Harris and pop-star-cum-fashion-plate Janelle Monáe, making her big-screen debut. 

My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea (Dir. Dash Shaw)
Dash Shaw is a well-known graphic novelist (Bottomless Belly Button) who made a splash at Sundance with his trippy short, Seraph. This dreamlike animated movie with an unusual title marks his feature film debut. The story concerns a group of high school outsiders, voiced by Lena Dunham, Maya Rudolph and John Cameron Mitchell.   

Paterson (Dir. Jim Jarmusch)
Star Wars’ Adam Driver gives his cross-shaped light saber a rest for this much more down-to-earth role. In New York–based filmmaker Jim Jarmusch’s latest, Driver plays a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey, who, in his spare time, writes poetry inspired by the small wonders of the world that he sees all around him. 

Paterson. Photo: Mary Cybulski

Personal Shopper (Dir. Olivier Assayas)
Kristen Stewart, who rose to fame in the Twilight franchise, continues to grow as an actress with this starring role in a psychological thriller from famed French auteur Olivier Assayas (Irma Vep). She plays a fashion assistant who, coping with the death of her twin, becomes obsessed with the supernatural, seeking signs of her other half from the other side.

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Son of Joseph (Dir. Eugene Green)
NYC-born filmmaker Eugene Green is an expat making French films with a sly sense of humor. His latest, a modern-day riff on biblical themes and the nativity narrative, looks to be an unlikely crowd-pleaser. The film follows a young teen who lives with his mother, Marie (get it?), as he searches for his real father. His quest leads to some farcical situations, including an inventive chase sequence through Paris.

Staying Vertical (Dir. Alain Guiraudie)
In 2013, French filmmaker Alain Guiraudie’s extremely explicit thriller Stranger by the Lake stunned audiences at Cannes and the New York Film Festival, where it had its American premiere. His new film reportedly pushes the sexual envelope even further with his tale of a blocked filmmaker who takes to the countryside for inspiration and gets involved in some seriously shocking affairs. 


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