NYFF

Miles Teller and JK Simmons in Whiplash

The end of yet another film festival is behind us — does it feel like we’ve been fest-ing for weeks on end now? we have! — with the close of Gotham’s own New York Film Festival. As has become the festival’s standard, this year’s NYFF included a compelling mix of festival favorites, undiscovered gems and a few world premieres that have already upended the end-of-the-year cinematic landscape. The festival may be over, but we’ve got a feeling that these eleven films will continue to linger long after the curtains fall (and, hell, you can even see some of these right now in a theater near you, how’s that for service?). Are these the best films of NYFF? We certainly think so.

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Citizenfour

The strange thing is, you know that shirt. You know those glasses and the light stumble and the cut of his hair. You know his face, and you might even know the back of his head, reflected back at you, thanks to an artfully placed hotel mirror. What you don’t know is Edward Snowden, a not entirely blameless mistake that Laura Poitras’ incendiary Citizenfour, an intimate and informative look at the man behind the revelation of some of America’s most unsettling privacy policies (and the subject of so much of its ire). Poitras’ film provides unparalleled (and mostly unfettered) access to Snowden, as the whistleblower himself turned to Poitras before leaving the U.S. and sharing his knowledge (gathered from a stint in the intelligence world) with the world. Documentarian Poitras is uniquely well-suited for the material, and it’s not surprising that someone as canny and clever as Snowden would reach out to her for both assistance and publicity (Poitras frequently reads out emails from Snowden during the film’s early sections, and his understanding of her work and what she can accomplish with it is obvious). Snowden even advises Poitras to wrangle some assistance, specifically naming journalist Glenn Greenwald as a likely accomplice (Greenwald effectively “stars” in the film alongside Snowden and Poitras). Citizenfour is the final entry in Poitras’ trilogy about post-9/11 America (she writes as much during the film’s opening credits) and Poitras’ own experiences with government surveillance and watch lists make her as much a subject of the film as Snowden himself. In some ways, though, we […]

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Birdman

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman has plenty of gimmicks to drive it – there’s Michael Keaton playing the eponymous cinematic superhero (Keaton played Batman, you know), an energetic shooting style meant to approximate a continuous shot and that whole play-within-a-play thing (for Birdman, it’s a play-within-a-movie, but you get the point) – but despite a bevy of clever tricks, Birdman succeeds simply because of it has the basics down pat. Everything else is just icing (feathers?). Keaton stars as Riggan Thomson, a faded and fallen movie star who never quite bounced back from the superhero franchise from which Iñárritu’s feature derives its name – the film’s full title is actually Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), which is a mouthful, but which makes perfect sense by the film’s end – and who is desperate to recapture some former (or, really, some fresh) glory. Riggan has launched an ambitious project to get back into the limelight, a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” that he’s pulling triple duty on (adapting the script, directing and starring in the play). Mere days away from opening, things aren’t going so well, and they’re about to get worse, thanks to a heavy stage light that cracks a middling actor on the head, leaving Riggan and the production scrambling for a replacement, and Riggan believing that he caused the accident, just by force of will. Oh, yeah, that’s something the former movie star thinks he can do: move things with […]

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Inherent Vice

Over the weekend, the New York Film Festival took on a distinctly pungent scent, thanks to the world premiere of Paul Thomas Anderson‘s Inherent Vice, a star-studded adaptation of Thomas Pynchon‘s novel of the same name. Featuring Joaquin Phoenix as a weed-friendly detective — fine, he’s a stoner — the film is already garnering lots of attention for its shaggy vibe, its massive cast and a free-floating narrative that will likely appeal to both the Anderson faithful and viewers who approach the material with the edge taken off (if you know what we mean). But is that the key to unlocking the film’s charms? Over at Awards Daily, Sasha Stone caught on to the trend early, writing about the first round of tweets regarding the feature, issued immediately following its NYFF press screening on Saturday morning, mentioned its “stoner noir” vibe more than, well, just about anything else. But is Inherent Vice just a “stoner” movie — or, perhaps more appropriately, a movie that can most easily be classified as a “stoner” film above anything else? Let’s take it to the critics.

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Time Out of Mind

Late in Oren Moverman’s Time Out of Mind, an addled Richard Gere panhandles in the middle of a busy Manhattan street, shaking a cup and asking for change, occasionally attempting to engage with passerby, and being utterly ignored in the process. Moverman and Gere filmed this scene – and others like it – guerilla style, not shutting down streets or blocking off sets, simply sending Gere into the fray in costume and character. Few people noticed that the older homeless gentleman asking them for change was actually Richard Gere, and even those that gave him money scooted by without locking eyes with the man, too embarrassed or occupied or blind to see the desperate human being standing in front of them. That’s entirely the point of Moverman’s latest, which chronicles Gere’s George as he shambles and shuffles around New York City, scrapping by for yet another day and night. Homeless and jobless for many years, George has found a few tricks to keep himself alive and in relatively fine health, but when the film opens, his latest scam – squatting in the abandoned apartment of a woman he may or may not know – has come to an end. Narratively loose, the film follows George through an indeterminate number of days (or weeks, or months, it’s kept purposely vague) as he attempts to carve out even the most basic existence.

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71

War is different now. The lines between “battlefield” and “home front” have shrunk down exponentially, and “going to war” doesn’t always mean, well, actually having to go somewhere. Set during the decades-long “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, Yann Demange‘s brutal and ambitious ’71 distills war down to a microcosmic and very personal level, effectively illuminating a still-important piece of world history through one hell of a pulse-pounding adventure. Jack O’Connell stars in the film as young British solider Gary Hook, who is unexpectedly shipped off to Belfast to help combat and quell rising tensions from the Irish nationalists and republicans, regular people who have started taking their battles quite literally to the streets. Gary doesn’t really have much of a dog in this particular fight, but he also doesn’t a choice when his unit is deployed across the Irish Sea. Gary doesn’t appear to have many options, and we learn early on that he’s got a little brother who clearly loves him and counts on him (before Gary ships out, the two toss the ball around together before Gary takes the kiddo back to, what we can only assume, is a home for boys he used to live in, as well). At the mercy of his superiors and the system they’re all trapped inside, Gary goes to Belfast. It’s not so great there.

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Ben Affleck in Gone Girl

Doesn’t it feel like we just finished up covering the Toronto International Film Festival and Fantastic Fest? Well, it should, because we did, but that’s festival season for you, and now we’ve got a whole other festival (in a whole other city) to get to work on. This year’s New York Film Festival (the fifty-second!) kicks off later tonight with the world premiere of David Fincher‘s Gone Girl (side note: we cannot wait), followed by a hefty number of hyped and highly anticipated features. This year’s festival boasts a solid mix of festival favorites — Whiplash! Pasolini! – and some brand new stuff that’s yet to rock audiences — Inherent Vice! CitizenFour! – all combining into one hell of a fun slate that should quite easily send its attendees into Oscar time feeling quite prepared. Festival season is here, and here’s what we can’t wait to see at this year’s NYFF.

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The Wind Rises

Editor’s note: Kate’s review of The Wind Rises originally ran during last year’s NYFF, but we’re re-running it as the film opens today in limited release. It opens with a dream sequence – a young boy awakens one morning, only to scamper up to a child-sized plane waiting for him on his home’s rooftop. Taking the controls, he lifts off into the sky, and he soars over his village, the river, up into the clouds, where his dreams of aeronautical freedom literally take flight. For a master like Hayao Miyazaki, such a sequence doesn’t seem too insane – this could all be very real, at least in Miyazaki’s whimsical and often magical worlds – but for a film like The Wind Rises, it can only be what it is, just a dream. A highly fictionalized biography about aeronautical engineer (and creator of the Mitsubishi A5M and the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, one of the most advanced fighter planes, and the one that eventually became the choice of Japan’s “kamikaze” pilots) Jiro Horikoshi (voiced by Hideaki Anno), the film traces Jiro from his childhood up to his greatest professional achievements for Mitsubishi. The film has already been hailed as Miyazaki’s most mature work to date – and it should be, after all, The Wind Rises is concerned with highly adult themes, from artistic expression, personal tragedy, professional obsessions, all the way up to worldwide destruction. Told through Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli’s trademark hand-drawn animation, the film is visually moving and warm, even […]

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Alan Patridge

Editor’s note: Kate’s review of Alan Partridge originally ran during last year’s NYFF, but we’re re-running it as the film opens today in limited release. For the small subset of cinephiles who have long hungered for a major motion picture that places Steve Coogan’s moronic broadcasting character Alan Partridge into a situation resembling the Brendan Fraser-starring 1994 comedy Airheads, Alan Partridge is so perfectly tailor-made for their desires that it’s actually somewhat frightening. (It also doesn’t seem like an actual possibility, but clearly someone thought this was a good idea, or else the film wouldn’t even have been made.) Coogan has played Partridge for over twenty years now, with the character first appearing on the radio program On the Hour in 1991, and then serving as the centerpiece of his news broadcasting spoof show, The Day Today, which aired on the BBC for one brief seven-episode season back in 1994. Since then, Partridge’s dim bulb reportage has taken him from radio to television and back again, with Coogan’s portrayal of the criminally boring and weirdly entertaining disc jockey and television presenter continuing to be one of his most enduring and reliable comedic creations. Of course it’s about time he got taken hostage.

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Her

Editor’s note: Our review of Spike Jonze’s brilliant Her originally ran during last year’s NYFF, but we’re re-posting it now as the film opens tomorrow in wide release. A lonely man meets an unattainable woman, falls head over heels in love, and is forced to grow through the trials of their romance – it’s a story as old as time, but director Spike Jonze gives it a fresh, timely update with his Her, imagining said unattainable woman as, well, not even really a woman, but a highly intelligent computer operating system. Modern love is complicated. The twist of Her, however, is that Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix, just plain heartbreaking here) and Samantha’s (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) relationship is prone to the same troubles and anxieties as any other romantic bond (all-human or not), and its plot is moved along by very recognizable twists in their road to (maybe) happily ever after. Sure, Her is about a guy who essentially falls in love with an ever-evolving piece of artificial intelligence meant to help sort his email and keep track of his calendar, but it’s also a deeply relatable love story about falling in love with anyone (or anything).

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Ben Stiller in a still from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

*Editor’s note: Our review of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty originally ran during this year’s NYFF, but we’re re-posting it now as the film opens wide on Christmas Day.* The joke of Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is an old one – far older than both the James Thurber short story that inspired it and the 1947 Danny Kaye-starring film of the same name – centering on a man so prone to daydreaming that he has ceased to live his life inside the “real world.” It’s hard to blame Walter (Stiller), however, because the real world hasn’t been especially kind to him for a long time. It hasn’t been particularly cruel, either, but Walter has long suppressed his dreams of something more (and of being someone more), and his more creative and individual instincts come out to play in the vivid (and overly effects-laden) daydreams that Walter periodically lapses into (so frequently, in fact, that those closest to him just refer to it as Walter “zoning out” and that’s all there is to it). The regular life issues that Walter faces are hard enough – a dead dad, an aging mother (Shirley MacLaine), a wacky sister (Kathryn Hahn), a job in a changing industry, a hopeless crush on a clueless co-worker (Kristen Wiig, who isn’t given nearly enough to work with to make the romantic element of the film stick) – so it’s understandable that he would slip into fantasy when things get rough. But Walter’s […]

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The Invisible Woman

*Editor’s note: Our review of The Invisible Woman originally ran during this year’s NYFF, but we’re re-posting it now as the film opens Christmas day in limited theatrical release.* It’s best to assume that when Ralph Fiennes took on the story of Charles Dickens (Fiennes) and his teen lover Ellen “Nelly” Ternan (Felicity Jones) for his The Invisible Woman, he didn’t intend for the film’s big takeaway to be that the beloved British author was basically a big jerk, at least when it came to matters of the heart. And yet, that’s the unexpected result of the apparently fact-based tale, a “romance” devoid of emotion that fails to capture any of the spirit or intelligence of Dickens’ own works. While the film has some very compelling source material, including a book by Claire Tomalin and a script from Abi Morgan (who penned the wonderful Shame and the laughably bad The Iron Lady), it ultimately falls spectacularly flat. Cold, emotionless, and strangely paced, the film thankfully features breathtaking cinematography and one hell of a supporting performance by the real invisible woman in Dickens’ life – his own wife. But this is meant to be a film about a life-changing romance, and it simply doesn’t deliver on that front, no matter how many times Jones wanders a beach with a haunted expression on her face or Fiennes acts out in a horrible way simply because he’s a man in love.

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About Time

Romantic comedy fans have long been starving for satisfying genre fare to hit the box office, all the Valentine’s Days and New Year’s Eves and Arbor Days (surely, the next one, right?) notwithstanding, and it’s long seemed as if the When Harry Met Sally and You’ve Got Mail glory days (we loved Nora Ephron, what can we say?) were far gone. Yet, with Love Actually writer and director Richard Curtis finally returning to the sort of films he excels at crafting, it’s perhaps a bit early to consider the entire genre dead. Maybe it’s just sleeping. Curtis’ About Time certainly comes with an enviable pedigree (any film that features Curtis directing Bill Nighy is cause to celebrate), but it’s the film’s charming cast and cleverly tangled plot conceit that keeps it ticking right along. About Time centers on hapless young Tim (Domhnall Gleeson, who is utterly adorable in every frame of the film), a sweet guy who has never been very lucky in love. Tim’s been lucky elsewhere, however, as he had an exceedingly idyllic childhood in the arms of his “sturdy” mother Mary (Lindsay Duncan), deeply bookish dad (Nighy), heartbreakingly sweet Uncle Desmond (Richard Cordery), and whimsical sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson) and he’s soon to embark on an exciting (well, somewhat) legal career in London. Before all that, however, he’s got some time to kill at his family home, and it’s only after one of his family’s rip-roaring New Year’s Eve parties that dear old dad shares an […]

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her trailer

With Saturday night’s closing night premiere of Spike Jonze‘s very stirring Her, this year’s New York Film Festival (in its fifty-first outing) came to a rousing, romantic close. The end of the weeks-long festival also signaled the steady conclusion of the year’s big guns festivals in general (and thank goodness for that, we’re still not quite recovered from the joys of Toronto), finally allowing us time to consider and appreciate some of the truly wonderful stuff we’ve been treated to over the past few months. Of course, that also means we’re also able to consider the films that made up NYFF, including the program’s finest performances and special attributes. After attending screenings for nearly a month, there was plenty to review, but most of our best of honors came quickly – there were plenty of winners at NYFF, but there were also plenty of very clear winners. After the break, relive the glories of this year’s NYFF, complete with evaluations of best films, performances, food, cats, and hair, because we’re nothing if not totally professional.

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Tom Hanks

Editor’s note: Kate’s review of Captain Phillips originally ran during this year’s NYFF, but we’re re-running it now as the film opens in theatrical release today. Side note, it’s the best film currently playing in wide release. Go see it. Early on in Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips, the eponymous Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) reads an email advisory from Maersk, the multinational business conglomerate that owns his vessel, that includes detailed information about incidents of high seas piracy in the exact area his Maersk Alabama happens to be sailing through on its way to Kenya. Phillips is already aware of the risks, and he’s taken precautions – later that day, he’ll even request his crew perform a series of safety drills – but all the warnings in the world won’t change his fate, and they certainly won’t remove the audience’s knowledge of what is coming. Based on the true story of the Maersk Alabama hijacking and the real Captain Phillips’ book on the subject, “A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea,” Greengrass’ film is tasked with delivering a moderately fictionalized portrayal of a highly publicized event, and the final product is a wonderfully tension-filled and surprisingly even-handed version of events. Hanks excels in the leading role, effectively portraying an everyman trapped in extraordinary circumstances, and Greengrass’ action-savvy direction pairs perfectly with both his story and his lead actor.

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Abuse of Weakness

In 2004, French director Catherine Breillat (Romance, Fat Girl, The Last Mistress) suffered a massive stroke that left one side of her body paralyzed. In 2007, she met a con man that would eventually bilk her out of over 700,000 Euros. In 2009, she wrote a book about the experience. In 2012, con can Christopher Rocancourt was convicted of the crime and sent to prison. In 2013, she made a movie about it. Understanding that the story of Abuse of Weakness (or “abus de faiblesse,” a French legal term that perfectly describes the film at hand) is actually Breillat’s story isn’t essential to either the film’s power or strength, but it sure helps clarify some things (a few of which haven’t been clarified in Breillat’s own life). Isabelle Huppert stars as bawdy, whipsmart Maud, the film’s version of Breillat, who also happens to be a French director with a signature style (at one point, her work is compared to porn). Within the film’s opening seconds, Maud is in the throes of a stroke, all while tucked into the seeming safety of her own sleigh bed. It’s evident almost immediately that Huppert is about to embark on a true full body performance, and the actress delivers in spades – her body contortions, facial expressions, and lack of mobility are never less than entirely believable, and the result is a terrifyingly uncomfortable film that never lets up on either its audience or its leading lady.

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Le Week-End

It’s not that Nick and Meg Burrows are looking for an easy fix (though, returning to the site of their honeymoon for a romantic weekend away may indicate that’s very much the case), but that the long-married (and apparently long-suffering) couple are looking for anything to mix up their stale marriage. Paris sounds like as good a place as any, and why not go for a nostalgia-fueled romp in a city that, even without personal baggage, comes complete with all the romance one could ever wish to find? Though it’s clear from the start of Roger Michell’s Le Week-End that there are bigger problems afoot in the union of Nick (Jim Broadbent) and Meg (Lindsay Duncan) than general annoyances may indicate, the trick of the film is to navigate the sort of issues that come with being married for thirty years without coming across as shrill or overwrought. Most of the time, Michell and his two very talented stars are able to do that, and Le Week-End switches between comfortable humor and biting revelations with ease, all bolstered by the charm and beauty of Paris. And yet Hanif Kureishi’s script doesn’t put as much faith in the trio as it should, loading down the film’s final third with wacky supporting characters and over-the-top confessions.

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Tom Hanks

Film festival season is off and running, what with TIFF wowing the international crowds with all its surefire award season contenders and Fantastic Fest blowing a hole a mile wide in the great Texas sky of genre flicks, and before we can even catch our breath (or rest our tired, tired eyes), the New York Film Festival is ready to blast us with still more wonderful films. We’re tired, but we’re also excited. Film festival feelings are complicated. NYFF kicks off later this week with the highly anticipated premiere of Captain Phillips. For the next two weeks, Gotham will be inundated with a murderer’s row of big time films – from buzzy titles from Cannes and TIFF to premieres of fresh new features, all the way up to some of the biggest (and yet to be seen!) films of the awards season. With plenty of films we’ve been wanting to see for months (and, in some cases, years) now, NYFF is looking pretty swanky this year, and we can’t wait to dive right in. Until then, here are ten films we’re most looking forward to seeing (and we think you’ll agree).

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For anyone who has been clamoring for Robert Zemeckis‘s return to live-action, Flight should appease those fans of the director who haven’t embraced his recent motion-capture adventures. This isn’t exactly a triumphant comeback, but with Flight he mostly knows what buttons to push in order to please. It’s a true testament to Denzel Washington‘s performance that the blunt drama doesn’t fall on its face. Washington has major obstacles to overcome in making the character of Whip Whitaker as empathetic as he is. From frame one, Zemeckis and screenwriter John Gatins unflatteringly show us who this guy is: a bad father, an alcoholic, a coke addict. There is nothing to admire about him, not even his surface level charms, which are best showcased in scenes between Washington and John Goodman.

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Rachel McAdams in Passion

The past decade hasn’t been too kind to Brian De Palma. The director’s past few films have been his most divisive and critically lashed efforts of his career. With disappointments like The Black Dahlia and Mission to Mars, it’s easy to see why that is. After a five year absence, De Palma is returning to the big screen with Passion, an “erotic” thriller starring Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace that’s a remake of the recent French film Love Crime. The film is set to premiere  at the Venice Film Festival, which will then be followed up with screenings at both TIFF and the New York Film Festival. Check out the film’s first trailer to see Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace having…a good time, shall we say:

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