What to See at the New York Film Festival

Since 1963, the New York Film Festival has remained a quaintly stubborn institution tucked away in (now fully renovated!) Alice Tully Hall. Its mission from the very beginning, in the oft-sighed-over days when Richard Roud ran the show, was simple: screen roughly 25 features handpicked by a distinguished panel. Let’s be clear, these people do not give a hoot about Megan Fox, glitz or tabloid glamour; nor do they—unlike other festivals—award prizes. Getting in is reward itself! The festival is currently under way—it kicked off with last Friday’s opening-night presentation of Wild Grass (Les herbes folles), from 87-year-old Alain Resnais, about the ripple effect of a lost wallet, which leads to a romantic adventure. Zut alors! Here are a few more highlights and special events that will take place through the festival’s closing night, on Oct. 11.

Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire (10/3)

The buzz is reaching deafening levels on this film, which premiered last January at Sundance (where it won both the Grand Jury prize and Audience award) before winning the People’s Choice award earlier this month at the Toronto Film Festival. While apparently rather harrowing to watch—it follows the life of Clareece “Precious” Jones (Gabourey Sidibe), an overweight 16-year-old in late ’80s Harlem abused by both her mother and father—Precious is still being touted as a “spirit-affirming” experience. Mariah Carey plays a welfare worker, and if we’re to believe those in the know, Mo’Nique may have already sewn up an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Also noteworthy: Both Oprah and Tyler Perry are behind this one, so don’t expect the momentum to slow anytime soon. Director Lee Daniels will be giving a talk on Sunday, Oct. 4.

White Ribbon (10/7)

Michael Haneke may have freaked us out last year with his shot-for-shot remake of Funny Games, but this year he’s cruising into the NYFF after winning the Palme d’or at Cannes. This drama, shot in stark black and white and about fascism in a rural German village in the time leading up to the First World War, involves a schoolteacher (Christian Friedel) and one spooky student. Critics are already raving that this is his best work. On Thursday, Oct. 8, Mr. Haneke will sit down with 2008 New York Film Festival entrant Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler) for a talk about filmmaking and his (occasionally disturbing) worldview.

Antichrist (10/2)

Look out! Lars Von Trier—director of such uplifting fare as Dancer in the Dark and Dogville—is back … with a movie Rex Reed called “another barf job” and about which Roger Ebert claimed, “He goes all the way and takes no prisoners.” (Thumbs up, thumbs down?) Antichrist is a horror flick, starring Charlotte Gainsbourg as a mother in the throes of grief over the death of her child. Willem Dafoe, her husband, suggests a cabin in the woods for recovery and then … well, bad things happen. Not for the squeamish!

The Art of the Steal (10/6)

Don Argott’s The Art of the Steal is a documentary chronicling the struggle for control of Dr. Albert C. Barnes’ collection, established in 1922, of Modern and Post-Impressionist art valued at more than $25 billion (that’s right, billion). Since his death, in 1951, lawyers and politicians have been fighting over the foundation, which Barnes had expressly wished would never become a tourist attraction—and, interestingly, would never be in Philadelphia, a city he apparently hated. Money, power, politics, culture … and Philly-hating! What more could one ask for?

Broken Embraces (10/11)

The New York Film Festival has always had a nice relationship with director Pedro Almodóvar, so it’s rather fitting that his latest, Broken Embraces, was chosen as the closing-night selection for this year’s festival. Mr. Almodóvar’s longtime muse, Penélope Cruz, stars as a—hey!—muse to a blind screenwriter (Lluís Homar), in a film that teeters between comedy and noir. It seems as though we hear this with every Almodóvar film, but this has already been touted as the Spanish director’s best yet.

Views From the Avant-Garde (10/2-10/4)

Feeling like all these picks are just a little too mainstream? Check out the New York Film Festival’s 13th annual experimental-film showcase, which will include a weekend of totally bananas works, including a newly discovered first film by Norman Mailer (“an untitled experimental psychodrama made in 1947 in Brooklyn that was both shot and edited by the writer”) and a 3-D video called Chromatic Frenzy; the showcase will culminate in a “three-projector performance piece by Bruce McClure.” Don’t say we didn’t warn you.


What to See at the New York Film Festival