The 51st New York Film Festival is quickly coming to a close and it’s frankly taken us a little by surprise how fast its ended (this is also a way to say, damn, we’re still a little behind on some reviews). But it has been an excellent festival, so like Oli's more contemporaneous BFI London Film Festival diaries, I wanted to recap what I've seen so far. While there was no secret screening—director Kent Jones' dream of bringing Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf Of Wall Street" to the fest were squashed when Scorsese fell behind in his editing—this year's festival was still one of NYFF's best.
One of my personal highlights, and a film that was apparently under seen by most critics, was Sebastián Lelio's "Gloria," which we reviewed in Berlin at the top of the year. It features a tour de force performance by Paulina García, who is in literally every single scene. Selected by Chile to represent the country in the Best Foreign Language category at the Oscars, this moving, funny, very human film about a middle-aged woman and the obstacles that prevent a full and rich love life has a terrific shot at making the final five nominees. Even eschewing the conventions of three act arc is an increasingly rare bird on screen these days, let alone relying on a sole lead to carry the entire movie on her shoulders, but she's refreshingly well-adjusted for someone tasked with bearing such narrative responsibility. Undoubtedly an undersung highlight of the festival this year, and at the very least one has to love a film that can transform a song (a Spanish-language version of "Gloria,” sung by Umberto Tozzi) into a glorious ode so magnificent it's like you're hearing it for the very first time.
Also quite dazzling was Jim Jarmusch's vampire love story, "Only Lovers Left Alive." Reviews from Cannes (here's ours) were resoundingly positive, but I think I was slightly more taken and enchanted than Jessica was on the Croisette. A real sublime and essential work, "Only Lovers Left Alive" is one of Jarmusch's best works, and that's saying a lot for a filmmaker that has nary a clunker anywhere in his oeuvre. While Jarmusch mostly described it as a romance during the NYFF Q&A, that feels like only one facet of a layered film that says so much about culture and its erosion, idols, nostalgia, civilization's decline, and art. In many ways "Only Lovers Left Alive"—which pulls off being meditative and moody and still quite dryly hilarious—is a compendium of everything Jarmusch cares about. And his two terrific leads, Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston (fans who thought Michael Fassbender would have been better in the role, I believe you are wrong) in many ways act as warring voices for the filmmaker—two snobs, one lamenting the future and yearning for the past, the other a bit more hopeful for what the horizon may bring. And for a film that fetishizes and romanticizes the past, it's brilliant for Jarmusch to use the romantic nature of vampires as a catalyst to explore the movie's subconscious ideas. Coming to theaters next spring, this is a terrific, exquisite film that everyone needs to see. Oh, and that soundtrack by Jozef van Wissem and Jarmusch's rather excellent band Sqürl is rather stupendous.
Another favorite of mine that I think I also liked a bit better than Jessica did in Cannes was J.C Chandor’s existential survivalist drama, “All Is Lost” starring Robert Redford. I thought “Margin Call” was ok, but not exactly anything to write home about, but “All Is Lost” sees Chandor advance leaps and bounds from that film and he creates a boldly silent and austere film that’s deeply meditative and haunting. Redford barely speaks a word of dialogue in the entire film, he’s the only one on screen and as far as penetrating, memorable survival narratives in 2013, I’ll take this one over “Gravity” any day (I keep saying that, sorry Alfonso Cuaron, I like the movie, but it’s a thrill ride and nothing more). This one feels like deep masterclass filmmaking and reveals that Chandor is the real deal and a perennial 'one to watch'.
I didn’t dislike it as much as Oli did at BFI London, and I thought Bruce Dern was admirably restrained, but I didn’t really connect with Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska.” It felt very familiar and while deadpan humanist portraits is what Payne does, I would like to see him open up his wheelhouse a little bit.
Backlash has already started against Abdellatif Kechiche's Palme d’Or-winning "Blue Is The Warmest Color," but that’s kinda to be expected. I might not have been as taken with it as Jessica in Cannes—the sex scenes for one are so extreme they become almost comical—but I think it’s still a must-see film if only for Adèle Exarchopoulos’ tremendous performance. Yes, Lea Seydoux is good too, but make no mistake, this is Exarchopoulos' movie and she runs with it. It’s also nice to see a film that’s more than just a goodbye-to-first-love story. While that’s a big element of it—and one scene near the end is just heartbreaking —it’s a deeply engrossing portrait of one woman and all her experiences that spans at least five years or so (Kechiche recently said he’d be open to a sequel and he could have easily continued her story into the future if he wanted. He’s also hoping for a 40 minute-longer DVD cut which would make the movie closer to 4 hours).
For what it’s worth, I saw “12 Years A Slave” a long time ago and it hasn’t stuck with me as much as I’d hoped. It’s brutal and unflinching and features an awesome performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor, but aside from the wrenching feelings it gave me that wanted me to wish empathy on the entire world, that power has kind of dissipated from me. I must also say, I was a little bit distracted by how cameo-heavy it felt. Every scene has a name actor in it just coming on for a line or two, and I wasn’t in love with that.
What else? The Coen Brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis” was a typically excellent offering from the peculiar and exacting siblings. Perhaps most interesting about it how it tackles musical failure rather than success, a story we’ve seen far too often on screen. Led by a terrific Oscar Isaac, “Inside Llewyn Davis” is a melancholy, funny, and almost tragic portrait of a man who just can’t get out of his own way. It’s a superb film as you’ve likely already heard. Spike Jonze’s “Her” is an unconventional look at a conventional modern romance (sorta), but you hopefully already read that review this past weekend. James Gray's "The Immigrant" was even more mature and patient than expected, especially for a filmmaker that has made a name on thoughtful and contemplative morality tales, one exploring the ideas of forgiveness and redemption via terrible characters that are nearly beyond salvation.
So I guess if I had to rank my five favorites from the fest, they are, in no particular order: “All Is Lost,” “Only Lovers Left Alive,” “Gloria,” "Her” and “Captain Phillips,” but “Inside Llewyn Davis” would only be a hair outside that group.
Still to come, reviews of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s “Real” and hopefully, the 250 minute “Norte, The End of History” (that’s a bit of a beast). Below, all our coverage and reviews of all the films that screened at the 51st New York Film Festival that we saw (some of them seen in Cannes first).
“The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty” [C-]
Spike Jonze’s “Her” [A-]
“American Promise” [B]
“Alan Partridge” [C]
“All Is Lost” [B+]
“My Name Is Hmmm” [D+]
“Captain Phillips” [A]
“Le Week-End” [A-]
“About Time” [D]
“At Berkeley” [A]
Claire Denis’ “Bastards” [B-]
“Blue Is The Warmest Color” [A-]
“Burning Bush” [B+]
James Franco’s “Child Of God” [D]
“The Immigrant” [B+]
“Inside Llewyn Davis” [A]
“The Invisible Woman” [B-]
“Jimmy P: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian” [C]
“Like Father, Like Son” [A]
“Only Lovers Left Alive” [B+]
“A Stranger By The Lake” [B+]
“Stray Dogs” [B+]
“A Touch Of Sin” [C]
“The Wind Rises” [A-]
Press Conferences & Events
Spike Jonze, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara and Olivia Wilde discuss love in the technological age of “Her”
J.C Chandor and Robert Redford talk “All Is Lost”
Abdellatif Kechiche and Adèle Exarchopoulos discuss “Blue Is The Warmest Color”
Claire Denis talks about her controversial, “Bastards”
Joaquin Phoenix and Jame Gray talk “The Immigrant”
Ben Stiller and Kristen Wiig discuss “The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty”
Alexander Payne, Bruce Dern and Will Forte talk capturing the particular tone of “Nebraska”
Steve McQueen talks the challenges of “12 Years A Slave”
Cate Blanchett discusses her career and working with Terrence Malick & Woody Allen
The Coen Brothers talk “Inside Llewyn Davis”
Tom Hanks and Paul Greengrass discuss the harrowing ordeal of “Captain Phillips”