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2 or 3 Things I Learned at NYFF Opening Night

by Anne Thompson
September 26, 2009 8:10 AM
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Thompson on Hollywood

During my 20s in Manhattan, I looked forward to the New York Film Festival every September, when there was a nip in the air; it brought the start of the fall season. Here's what I learned at the 47th NYFF opening night:

They still program well. The lineup looks as strong and varied as ever (crammed as usual with Cannes leftovers) under program director Richard Pena and his current film pickers--Jim Hoberman, Scott Foundas, Melissa Anderson and Dennis Lim. The fest runs from September 25th to October 11th.

They still commission fabulous posters. The Auteurs reports on this year's edition, below.

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The opening night movie doesn't always play to the stuffy arts patron crowd, some of whom are quite doddering. The dark relationship comedy Wild Grass reveals 87-year-old Alain Resnais in top form. The auteur behind Last Year at Marienbad, Night and Fog and Mon Oncle d'Amerique is exquisitely controlled here, from the film's exacting color palette to its teasing tone. Andre Dessollier plays a slightly addled older man who becomes obsessed with the owner of a lost wallet, who is a red-maned, mature aviatrix (Sabine Azema). His wife (Anne Consigny) goes along with her husband's bizarre lust for connection and fantasy, as does a bemused local policeman (Mathieu Almalric). Sitting in the orchestra at the elegantly revamped Alice Tully Hall, I soaked up this gorgeous deliriously wacky movie with utter pleasure. But it played a tad flat. Sony Pictures Classics picked it up out of Cannes. (Here's a photo gallery, and The Auteurs' David Hudson rounds up reaction.)

Thompson on Hollywood

They still throw a good party, although this year, instead of shelling out $150,000 in a depressed economy for the annual sprawling Tavern on the Green celebration for the New York film community, the Film Society of Lincoln Center under new executive director Mara Manus invited a smaller crowd to hang at Alice Tully in "dazzling dress." They didn't have to look like penguins. While there was a sea of black, many women wore short cocktail dresses and men left off their ties. Cynthia Swarz of 42 West happily sported a jean jacket and red sneakers.

They still pull the cream of the NY film community (although the younger crowd defected to an IFC party downtown). Miramax's Daniel Battsek sat in the Alice Tully front row, while old indie lion Robert Shaye looked a bit the worse for wear at the party. Director James Toback was just back from Chicago, where he and Mike Tyson taped back-to-back Oprah episodes to air in October and November. Tyson broke down and cried more than once, said Toback. That should help push the DVD of Toback's Tyson , which is a strong contender for an Oscar documentary nomination. Toback is writing a DeLorean biopic to direct, as well as something else called The Director, he said.

It was great to see my old boss, ex-Film Society exec director Joanne Koch, and her former lieutenant, design maven Wendy Keyes, who has directed a documentary about Milton Glaser. I also hung with MoMa's Rajendra Roy, who was recovering from Friday's intense Indie Summit of some 60 indie players held at the Museum's Founder's Room (more on that later; I'm still processing), as were Emerging Pictures' Ira Deutchman, Zeitgeist's Nancy Gerstman, Richard Lorber, Apparition's Jeanne Berney, Sony Pictures Classics' Tom Bernard and Michael Barker, Kodak's Anne Hubbell and Paladin's Mark Urman.

And the NYFF, at least, still loves film critics: Gavin Smith, Glenn Kenny, Dave Kehr, Owen Gleiberman, Lisa Schwarzbaum, David Ansen, Tony Scott, and David D'Arcy were on hand. Andrew O'Hehir confessed that at Salon, even erudite indie critics have to worry about traffic. Looks like we all do, these days.

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More: Festivals, Stuck In Love, NYFF, Critics

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