2015 New York Film Festival Highlights

Brian Sloan

The New York Film Festival has been a staple of NYC’s fall arts season since 1963. The 17-day fest features an international lineup with red carpet premieres of serious Oscar bait.

In recent years, the festival has expanded to include screenings of revivals and restorations, shorts programs (including a lineup of locally produced films), a growing documentary spotlight, an avant-garde sidebar and something called Convergence, a cutting-edge bill that explores interactive media. There are also free panels and presentations about the art and craft of filmmaking.

Among this year’s most anticipated films is an extraordinary New York story: Robert Zemeckis’ The Walk, based on the true-life tale of a French acrobat whose tightrope act between the World Trade Center towers captured the City’s (and the world’s) attention more than 40 years ago. Other notable screenings include Todd Haynes’ Cannes sensation Carol, director Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs and Michael Moore’s latest controversial documentary, Where To Invade Next. Read on for details about these films and some other highlights of this year’s festival.

The Walk (Dir. Robert Zemeckis)
The filmmaker who famously took audiences Back to the Future has a new movie that looks back at NYC’s real-life past. Set in 1974, it stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as French tightrope walker Philippe Petit, who snuck into the then-under-construction World Trade Center and crossed back and forth between the Twin Towers. Filmed in IMAX and featuring stunning digital recreations of the former Trade Center complex, this film will serve as an epic opening-night kickoff for the festival.

Bridge of Spies (Dir. Steven Spielberg)
Spielberg’s latest feature—the biggest of four world premieres scheduled for the festival this year—is set in Cold War Germany and revolves around the tense 1962 exchange of a downed American U-2 pilot for a Soviet agent. With Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance (who made a recent splash on Broadway playing dual roles in Twelfth Night) taking the leads in this espionage thriller, you can expect some remarkable performances.

Steve Jobs (Dir. Danny Boyle)
The director known for indie favorite Trainspotting and crowd-pleasing Oscar winner Slumdog Millionaire brings his signature nonlinear style to a film about the life of Apple’s legendary CEO. You can be sure that this will not be a standard biopic: the feature reportedly revolves around three separate momentous days in Jobs’ life, intercut for dramatic effect, with Michael Fassbender (12 Years A Slave) playing the computer guru.

In Jackson Heights (Dir. Frederick Wiseman)
Wiseman is a true master documentarian whose fly-on-the-wall portraits (High School and Boxing Gym among them) have intrigued and informed audiences worldwide for more than 50 years. For his 40th feature, Wiseman focuses his lens on one of NYC's most diverse neighborhoods, Jackson Heights. Touching on issues of economic change and gentrification, the doc looks at locals as varied as LGBT pride parade attendees and immigrants learning how to drive a taxi.

Brooklyn (Dir. John Crowley)
Another NYC-based story, Crowley’s film tells the tale of an Irish immigrant stuck between two worlds: her old homeland and her new borough. Set in the 1950s with a script by Nick Hornby (About a Boy), this UK production was a hit at Sundance and has already generated some serious Oscar buzz for its talented cast of relative newcomers. They're led by Saoirse Ronan, who delivered a memorable performance as the lobby boy’s love interest in last year’s acclaimed The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Carol (Dir. Todd Haynes)
Haynes' latest feature—making its American debut at the New York Film Festival—is about a young female shop clerk in NYC who has a dangerous affair with a married woman in the 1950s. The indie director is known for his attention to period detail and a screen style inspired by the Hollywood melodramas of Douglas Sirk. The film originally debuted in the spring at Cannes, where leads Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett drew rave reviews for their performances.

Miles Ahead (Dir. Don Cheadle)
Indie fave Don Cheadle plays the lead and takes on the challenge of his first directing gig in this ambitious biopic about the troubled life of jazz genius Miles Davis. Set in 1979, the fest's closing-night film is centered on Davis’ return to the spotlight when he was interviewed by a reporter (played by Ewan McGregor) for an article in Rolling Stone.

Experimenter (Dir. Michael Almereyda)
Stanley Milgram was a Yale social scientist whose famed 1961 “obedience study” showed how ordinary people would do shocking things when following orders. In Almereyda’s biopic, Peter Sarsgaard plays the brilliant and difficult scientist, with Winona Ryder—in a performance critics are hailing—as his loyal wife.

Arabian Nights: Volumes 1, 2 & 3 (Dir. Miguel Gomes)
The New York Film Festival is known for showcasing the best of world cinema. This year there's a lot of excitement about this three-part epic, clocking in at nearly 400 minutes. Gomes' reimagining of the Arabian Nights tales, set in contemporary Portugal, is an ambitious and sprawling series of three separate features filled with politics, love affairs and even some documentary interludes.

Where To Invade Next(Dir. Michael Moore)
Moore's latest provocative documentary is about what he calls the US military’s state of “infinite war.” Using his trademark humor—and maybe even some pranks, according to a description for the Toronto Film Festival (where it is having its world premiere)—the movie was shot on three continents in secret over the last six years. While not much more is known about this latest work, one thing is always sure with a Moore film: there will be some serious laughs to go along with material for a charged post-movie discussion.

Advance tickets for the New York Film Festival go on sale to the public September 13. For a complete schedule and other details, check out the official festival website at filmlinc.org.