Tuesday, September 5, 2023

2023 Fall Film Preview Via the Lens of The New York Film Festival

Strange Way of Life (c) Sony Pictures Classics, Foe (c) Amazon Studios, 
Janet Planet (c) A24, Evil Does Not Exist (c) Neopa Fictive

Every year, I look at the line-up at the New York Film Festival, which runs from September 29 to October 15 to see what interesting and arty films are going to open this fall. Yes, this doesn’t include a lot of the blockbusters from major studios, but in solidarity with the striking SAG-AFTRA and WGA members, I really don’t want to promote those big studios films. Yes, there are some films mentioned below that will be released by studios like Netflix and subsidiaries of Disney, I want to celebrate the artistic visions of directors, actors, writers, and the crews of these films. 

The New York Film Festival is celebrating its 61st Year, and single tickets will go on sale on Tuesday, Sept 19. Passes are now available now at 61st New York Film Festival Passes & Tickets (filmlinc.org) All the synopsis for these films are from the Film at Lincoln Center website for the festival. 

I’ve broken my picks into three sections. The Marquee films have the biggest names and auteurs attached. The Buzziest films played other festivals to great acclaim. And, the Take a Chance films are ones that look interesting on paper and could be sleeper hits. The films are from the Main, Spotlight and Currents slates of films. 


The Marquee Names: 

Here are the films by directors you know that will probably be the hardest tickets to get this year. 


The Boy and the Heron (c) Studio Ghibli

The Boy and the Heron 
Director: Hayao Miyazaki 
Japan, 124 minutes 
Japanese with English subtitles 

While the Second World War rages, the teenage Mahito, haunted by his mother’s tragic death, is relocated from Tokyo to the serene rural home of his new stepmother; as he tries to adjust, this strange new world grows even stranger. The first film in a decade from Hayao Miyazaki is a ravishing, endlessly inventive fantasy that is destined to be ranked with the legendary animator’s finest, boldest works. 

Other Films: 

Evil Does Not Exist 
Director: Ryûsuke Hamaguchi 
Japan, 105 minutes 
Japanese with English subtitles 

In his potent and foreboding new film, Oscar-winning director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (Drive My Car) reconstitutes the boundaries of the ecopolitical thriller with the tale of a serene rural village that’s about to be disrupted by the construction of a glamping site for Tokyo tourists. 

Ferrari (Closing Night) 
Director: Michael Mann 
U.S., 130 minutes 

Michael Mann brings his astonishing command of technique and storytelling to bear on his thrilling new film, an emotional, elegantly crafted dramatization of the life of the legendary car manufacturer and entrepreneur Enzo Ferrari at a professional and personal fulcrum, starring Adam Driver and Penélope Cruz. 

Hit Man (c) AGC Studios

Hit Man 
Director: Richard Linklater 
U.S., 113 minutes 

Richard Linklater’s peppy sunlit neo-noir is a continually surprising delight. Glen Powell, in a wily and charismatic star turn, plays strait-laced philosophy professor Gary Johnson, who moonlights as an undercover hit man for the New Orleans Police Department, inhabiting different guises and personalities to catch hapless criminals hoping to bump off their enemies. Based on an improbable true story, with a few wild embellishments. 

Maestro (Spotlight Gala) 
Director: Bradley Cooper 
U.S., 129 minutes 

A tour de force for director and star Bradley Cooper, Maestro dramatizes the public and private lives of legendary musician Leonard Bernstein with sensitivity, visual ingenuity, and symphonic splendor, depicting the complicated yet devoted decades-spanning relationship between Leonard and his wife Felicia (Carey Mulligan). 

May December (c) Netflix

May December (Opening Night) 
Director: Todd Haynes 
U.S., 113 minutes 

Elizabeth (Natalie Portman), a popular television star, is ingratiating herself into the lives of Gracie (Julianne Moore), whom she’ll be playing on-screen, and her much younger husband, Joe (Charles Melton), to better understand the psychology and circumstances that more than 20 years ago made them notorious tabloid figures. From a sensational premise, the consummate film artist Todd Haynes (Safe, Carol) has constructed an American tale of astonishing richness and depth, which touches the pressure and pleasure points of a culture obsessed equally with celebrity and trauma. 

Poor Things 
Director:  Yorgos Lanthimos 
U.S./U.K./Ireland, 141 minutes 

In his boldest vision yet, iconoclast auteur Yorgos Lanthimos creates a punkish update of the Frankenstein story set in an alternate 19th century on the cusp of technological breakthrough, in which a peculiar, childlike woman named Bella (Emma Stone) embarks on a journey of self-actualization. 

Priscilla (c) A24

Priscilla (Centerpiece) 
Director: Sofia Coppola 
U.S., 110 minutes 

Sofia Coppola, who in her remarkable filmography has so often returned to intimate portraits of women living complicated lives behind closed doors, has found a subject exquisitely tailored to her interests in Priscilla Presley, whose love affair and marriage to Elvis kept her in the public eye before she had truly experienced the world. 

Strange Way of Life 
Director: Pedro Almodóvar 
Spain, 31 minutes 

Almodóvar’s dazzling new short is an unexpected, hyper-male Western melodrama of vivid colors and explosive homoeroticism starring Ethan Hawke as a small-town sheriff who, after 25 years, rekindles a sexual relationship with a former lover, played by Pedro Pascal. 


The Buzziest Films: 

Here are the films that are getting a lot of buzz from other festivals that might be hot tickets 


All of Us Strangers (c) Searchlight Pictures

All of Us Strangers 
Director: Andrew Haigh 
U.K., 105 minutes 

British director Andrew Haigh, whose 2011 feature breakthrough Weekend is among the most widely beloved queer romances of the 21st century, has returned with an expertly modulated, emotionally overwhelming love story suspended in a metaphysical realm. In a quartet of superb performances, Andrew Scott, Paul Mescal, Jamie Bell, and Claire Foy pierce straight to the heart. 

Other Films: 

About Dry Grasses 
Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan 
Turkey, 197 minutes 

Turkish with English subtitles The latest deeply philosophical drama from Nuri Bilge Ceylan is a work of elegant, novelistic filmmaking set in a village nestled within the bleak landscape of the East Anatolia region in Turkey. Here, an art teacher named Samet (Deniz Celiloglu) is struggling through what he hopes to be his final year at an elementary school, complicated by a friendship with a charismatic new teacher (Cannes winner Merve Dizdar) and an accusation of impropriety with a student. 

Anatomy of a Fall (c) NEON

Anatomy of a Fall 
Director: Justine Triet 
France, 150 minutes 
French and English with English subtitles 

The winner of this year’s Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, Justine Triet’s drama about a famous novelist (played by Toni Erdmann’s Sandra Hüller) accused of killing her husband after his body has fallen from a high window at their home in the French Alps is a riveting procedural and a delicate inquiry into the impossibility of ultimate truth in people’s relationships. 

Fallen Leaves 
Director: Aki Kaurismaki 
Finland, 81 minutes 
Finnish with English subtitles 

This enchanting, Cannes Jury Prize–winning love story from Finnish virtuoso Aki Kaurismäki circles around two financially strapped Helsinkians, grocery clerk Ansa (Alma Pöysti) and construction laborer Holappa (Jussi Vatanen), who keep finding and losing one another in a world that seems to be falling apart. 

In Our Day (c) Cinema Guild

In Our Day 
Director: Hong Sangsoo 
South Korea, 83 minutes 
Korean with English subtitles 

For his 30th feature film, Hong Sangsoo has crafted a slippery yet captivating inquiry into the search for meaning, connection, and artistic satisfaction that alternates two seemingly unrelated stories concerning a disillusioned young actress and a middle-aged poet. 

Janet Planet 
Director: Annie Baker 
U.S., 113 minutes 

Set in 1991 in rural Western Massachusetts, the superb debut film from Pulitzer Prize –winning playwright Annie Baker is a work of surreal tranquility that follows young Lacy the summer before sixth grade, as she quietly observes her mother Janet and three enigmatic adults who drift in and out of their lives. 

Menus-Plaisirs Les Troisgros 
Director: Frederick Wiseman 
France/U.S., 240 minutes 
French with English subtitles 

Frederick Wiseman brings his camera into a three-star Michelin restaurant in rural central France—La Maison Troisgros, located in the Roanne commune in Loire—and the results are as expansive, delectable, and provocative as one would hope: a patient, kaleidoscopic documentary portrait of the demand for perfection. 

Occupied City 
Director: Steve McQueen 
U.K./Netherlands, 262 minutes 

Steve McQueen’s four-and-a-half-hour documentary is a mammoth confrontation with a shameful historical legacy that draws parallels to our contemporary world, recounting in prismatic fashion and with startling sobriety the realities of life in Amsterdam during World War II under the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, using newly shot images of the city’s forever haunted spaces. 

Perfect Days (c) Wenders Images

Perfect Days 
Director: Wim Wenders 
Japan/Germany, 124 minutes 
Japanese with English subtitles 

As in his finest movies, Wim Wenders (Paris, Texas, NYFF22) here locates the magnificence in the everyday, casting the incomparable Koji Yakusho as the taciturn, good-natured Hirayama, who goes about his solitary hours working as a public toilet cleaner in Tokyo. 

The Zone of Interest 
Director: Jonathan Glazer 
U.K./U.S./Poland, 105 minutes 
German and Polish with English subtitles 

In his chilling, oblique study of evil, British director Jonathan Glazer (Under the Skin) situates the viewer at the center of frighteningly familiar banality: the domestic routine of a Nazi Commandant, his wife, and their kids, while death and violence occur against those imprisoned in Auschwitz over the wall from their idyllic house. Winner of the Grand Prix at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival.   

Take a Chance on These Films 

The rest of the slate have some very interesting and intriguing films that may be worth a shot 


Ryuichi Sakamoto | Opus 
Director: Neo Sora 
Japan, 102 minutes 
Japanese with English subtitles 

As a final gift to Ryuichi Sakamoto’s legions of fans, filmmaker Neo Sora (Sakamoto’s son) has constructed a gorgeous elegy starring Sakamoto himself in one of his final performances, an intimate, melancholy, and achingly beautiful one-man show recorded in December 2022 at NHK Studio in Tokyo. 

Other Films 

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos 
Greece, 30 minutes 

In Yorgos Lanthimos’s (The Favourite, NYFF56; Poor Things, NYFF61) entrancing black-and-white silent film, Emma Stone gives a mesmerizing performance as a young widow who, along with her late husband (Damien Bonnard), embarks on a singularly unclassifiable journey through sex, death, and resurrection. This 35mm screening will feature live accompaniment by an ensemble of musicians and a choir and be followed by a conversation with Lanthimos. 

La Chimera (c) Filmcoopi

La Chimera 
Director: Alice Rohrwacher 
Italy, 135 minutes 
Italian with English subtitles 

With her customarily bewitching mixture of earthiness and magical realism, Alice Rohrwacher (Happy as Lazzaro) conjures a marvelous entertainment starring Josh O’Connor as a ne’er-do well Englishman, handsomely rumpled and recently out of prison, who returns to a rural town in central Italy where he hesitantly reconnects with a ragtag group of tombaroli (tomb raiders). 

Director: Lisandro Alonso 
Argentina/France/Portugal, 146 minutes 
English, Portuguese, and Lakota with English subtitles 

The protean Argentinean director Lisandro Alonso (La Libertad, Jauja) continues to shapeshift, delight, and challenge with his marvelous and immersive new film, which takes the viewer on an unexpected journey through three stories set in wildly different terrain, each of them reflecting lives haunted by the specter of colonialist violence, featuring Viggo Mortensen and Chiara Mastroianni. 

Director: Garth Davis 
Australia, 110 minutes 

In this superbly rendered, sensationally acted science-fiction drama set in 2065, a married midwestern couple (Saoirse Ronan and Paul Mescal) are given the chance to transcend their climate-change-destroyed world. Building to a devastating climax, director Garth Davis (Lion) expertly interrogates essential questions of our time about environmental apocalypse and the rise of artificial intelligence in this New York Film Festival World Premiere 

Last Summer (c) Pyramide Distribution 

Last Summer 
Director: Catherine Breillat 
France, 104 minutes 
French with English subtitles 

Catherine Breillat proves that she is not through toying with viewers’ comfort levels with her incendiary new drama starring Léa Drucker as Anne, a middle-aged lawyer who inexplicably finds herself sexually drawn to her husband’s estranged 17-year-old son Théo. 

A Prince (c) Andolfi

A Prince 
Director: Pierre Creton 
France, 82 minutes 
French with English subtitles 

In the alternately blissful and forbidding French countryside, an enveloping, cross-generational saga unfolds among a young gardening apprentice and the three men training him, all of whom become instrumental in both his professional tutelage and sexual coming-of-age. 

The Shadowless Tower 
Director: Zhang Lu 
China, 144 minutes 
Mandarin with English subtitles 

Set in contemporary Beijing, Zhang Lu’s elegiac film about middle age—its confusions and complications, as well as its beauty and grace—follows the compelling, distinctly human rhythms of Gu Wentong (Xin Baiqing), an aging divorcé who has abandoned his love of poetry writing to become a food critic and whose connection with a young photographer opens the possibility of reconciliation to his past. 

The Taste of Thing (c) Carole Bethuel

The Taste of Things 
Director: Trân Anh Hùng 
France, 145 minutes 
French with English subtitles 

Destined to be remembered as one of the great films about the meaning, texture, and experience of food, this sumptuous, exceptionally well-crafted work of epicurean cinema, set in late 19th-century France, stars Juliette Binoche and Benoît Magimel as Eugénie, a cook, and Dodin, the gourmet chef she has been working with for 20 years.

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