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Top Films to Watch For From the 51st New York Film Festival

by Caryn James
October 13, 2013 12:02 AM
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The New York Film Festival, which ends today, was an especially rich edition. Almost every film, in the main slate and the sidebars, was tempting. And while the festival was heavy with mainstream directors, the choices were anything but kneejerk. Some of the most familiar names took exhilarating new turns.

Here are the top films to watch for and their trailers --  these five alone would make the coming movie season irresistible. (One significant omission: I have not seen Alexander Payne's Nebraska yet, but critics I trust have raved.)  


Spike Jonze's sensibility is unmistakable in this witty off-kilter story of a man (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls for his operating system (the voice of Scarlett Johansson). But Jonze has never before been so touchingly honest, complex or daring, as he turns the loopy premise into a genuine love story. Whatever flash of intuition or knowledge led him to cast Phoenix is even more astonishing. The actor known for his ferocity and wild-man presence is perfect as the endearing, low-keyed hero. Thoughtful and affecting, Her brilliantly captures the sometimes comforting, sometimes destructive way we think and feel about devices and humans in our cyber-everything age. (Opens on Dec. 18)



 If you think of Dickens as that syrupy Victorian who gave us Tiny Tim, be prepared for a grown-up shock. Ralph Fiennes directs and stars in the story of the middle-aged Dickens'  long, passionate, guilt-ridden love affair with a young actress. Beautiful, eloquent and intensely emotion -- with moving performances from Fiennes, Felicity Jones as Dickens' love, Nelly Ternan, and Joanna Scanlan his cruelly-used wife -- this is already one of my favorite films of the year. (Opens on Christmas Day)


Jim Jarmusch has made stylized films before, but never one as stylish as this. An amazing pair of actors, Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, are vampires in love, splitting their time between Tangiers and Detroit. At first this wry romance seems exquisitely photographed but slight, yet it has a lingering power and resonance, and has stayed with me much more strongly than I expected  -- a reminder that Jarmusch films are often deeper and more layered than their surface suggests. The photo above captures its sumptuous look better than this early trailer. (Tentatively opens spring 2014.)



 Nothing in Steve McQueen's former, rigorous work would have prepared us for the fluid, gripping narrative in this fact-based drama about a free black man who was kidnapped into slavery, but then he has never before had a truly first-rate screenplay like John Ridley's. McQueen pitches the film perfectly. We witness the brutality of slaves being whipped nearly to death, yet thanks to Chiwetel Ejiofor's thorough hold on our sympathies, in his amazing performance as the enslaved free man, we never turn away. This is not the season's most artistically inventive film, but it may well be the most flawlessly accomplished. (Opens Oct. 18) 


Joel and Ethan Coen's story of a struggling Greenwich Village folk singer in the pre-Dylan 60's is endlessly entertaining. Oscar Isaac plays the title character, a self-absorbed musician, but the sly comedy comes from the fact that Llewyn's talent is passable, not great  (you expected the Coens to make him a success?) Somehow the Coens and T-Bone Burnett have created a rich soundtrack in a film about musicians who fail -- including, in a delicious, too-small role, Justin Timberlake as a singer/songwriter who is so much less talented than Justin Timberlake. (Opens on Dec. 6)


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