What to See at the 2019 New York Film Festival

Brian Sloan

The New York Film Festival is a perennial highlight of the City’s fall cultural calendar. This year’s edition presents a diverse lineup of 29 films in the main slate, representing the best in world cinema along with premieres of potential awards-season contenders. Many screenings are followed by Q&As or panel discussions that feature a film’s director and even some of the stars.

This year’s festival opens on September 27 with a bang as Martin Scorsese returns to the mob genre with The Irishman, starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. Joaquin Phoenix plays the title role in Joker, Todd Phillips’ dark take on the Batman villain, which makes its New York premiere October 2. The centerpiece selection is festival regular Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, premiering October 4, which is already getting raves for the performances of Adam Driver and Scarlett Johanssen as a Brooklyn couple going through a divorce. The main slate finishes up October 11 with the same borough in Motherless Brooklyn, based on the Jonathan Lethem novel, which stars Bruce Willis and Ed Norton (who also directs).

In addition to the main slate, there’s the festival’s ever-growing set of sidebars. You’ll find revivals of movie classics with new digital restorations (Williams Wyler’s Dodsworth); a Retrospective series honoring the world’s best cinematographers (Néstor Almendros’ work in Days of Heaven); timely nonfiction films in the Spotlight on Documentary section (transgender surgery at NYC’s Mount Sinai in Born to Be); experimental and interactive digital works (a walk-through adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven in an Upper East Side townhouse); and four programs of short films from around the world.

Below we’ve picked out a few of our faves from this year’s lineup. For a complete schedule of films and special events, visit filmlinc.org.

63 Up. Courtesy, ITV

63 Up (dir. Michael Apted)
The ninth installment in British director Michael Apted’s series of septennial docs on real-life Britons finds the subjects grappling with issues of death and disillusionment against the backdrop of the UK wrestling with Brexit.

The Booksellers. Courtesy, NYFF

The Booksellers (dir. D. W. Young)
This new documentary examines the City’s book world, from venerable stores like the Strand and Argosy to the Park Avenue Armory’s annual Antiquarian Book Fair. The film, whose executive producer is Parker Posey, offers an engrossing deep-dive into a uniquely New York subculture struggling to survive in the digital age.

First Cow. Courtesy, NYFF

First Cow (dir. Kelly Reichardt)
Indie director Reichardt (Old Joy) is known for her intimate, slice-of-life takes on distinctly American topics. Her latest feature, set in the Pacific Northwest of the early 1800s, follows an unusual friendship that develops between a cook and a Chinese immigrant when they start their own baked-goods business.

Liberté. Courtesy, NYFF

Liberté(dir. Albert Serra)
Deep in the forest of 18th-century France, a group of men and women gather for a night of erotic games and forbidden pleasures. This provocative exploration of desire comes from Catalan filmmaker Albert Serra (The Death of Louis XIV) and is definitely for mature audiences.


Pain and Glory. Courtesy, NYFF

Pain and Glory (dir. Pedro Almodóvar)
The famed Spanish auteur is back with his most personal feature, starring one of his original discoveries. Antonio Banderas won Best Actor at this year’s Cannes Film Festival for his role as a famous Spanish filmmaker (natch) struggling with his health and reckoning with his past successes.

Parasite. Courtesy, NYFF

Parasite (dir. Bong Joon-ho)
South Korean director Bong Joon-ho, known for his fantastical sensibility (Snowpiercer, Okja), comes down to earth with this compelling and intense take on class warfare. The winner of this year’s Palme d’Or at Cannes, his latest feature follows the wild plot of a seemingly ordinary middle-class family that seeks to infiltrate a successful entrepreneur’s world.

Saturday Fiction. Courtesy, Ying Films

Saturday Fiction (dir. Lou Ye)
Gong Li (Raise the Red Lantern) is riveting in this intense spy drama set in Japanese-occupied Shanghai during World War II. The throwback thriller, shot in black and white, centers around the questions of Li’s character—an actress and double agent who may be trying to assist the Allied war effort.

Varda by Agnès (dir. Agnès Varda)
This year’s New York Film Festival is dedicated to the memory of French auteur Varda, whose oeuvre of fictional features and documentaries cemented her place in the cinematic universe. This posthumous release, a doc compiled from interviews and archival footage, was first screened in Berlin just before Varda’s death earlier this year.