If the New York Film Festival's commitment to bringing the cream of the past year's fest-circuit crop to Gotham for its inaugural Manhattan showing is what makes it the most hotly anticipated East Coast film event of the year, than this edition's selections confirm the NYFF curators' ability to gather together both heavily buzzed-about titles and lesser gems in one trim 27-film main slate. Drawing from the European big three (Cannes, Venice, and Berlin), as well as from less celebrated festivals, the 49th incarnation of the Film Society of Lincoln Center's signature showcase features virtually every title the savvy, stay-at-home New York cinephile has been hearing raves about since The Turin Horse brought down the house at Berlinale this past February.
Béla Tarr's film is indeed among those films ticketed for New York this year, as are such seemingly universally admired items as blacklisted Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi's reflexive whatsit This Is Not a Film (which was reportedly smuggled out of the country in a cake en route to Cannes) and Abel Ferrara's 4:44 Last Day on Earth, the filmmaker's first New York-shot fictional feature in over a decade and the subject of countless huzzahs at the recent Venice fest. The lineup is rounded out by such festival regulars as the Dardenne brothers (The Kid on a Bike), Lars von Trier and Pedro Almodóvar (Melancholia and The Skin I Live In, respectively), but, as always, the fest is open to showcasing new and/or unrecognized talent. To that end, the curators have programmed a first feature, Sean Durkin's promising Martha Marcy May Marlene, and invited several filmmakers to the fest for the first time, among them the Israeli director Joseph Cedar (Cannes-winner Footnote), the Russian American Julia Loktev (The Loneliest Planet), and "Berlin school" stalwart Ulrich Köhler (Sleeping Sickness).
Of course, the NYFF is as much about the big-ticket item as it is about the esoteric international favorite and the festival routinely selects for its gala screenings films with a slightly wider art-house appeal, many of which go on to garner Oscar nominations. (Such are the practical dictates of film programming that a balance between the commercial and the artistic must always be struck.) This year's offerings are no different, giving us, in addition to the aforementioned Almodóvar, the latest from a rejuvenated Roman Polanski (Carnage), David Cronenberg (A Dangerous Method), and Alexander Payne (The Descendants), as well as Simon Curtis's My Week with Marilyn, whose chief interest is sure to be Michelle Williams's unlikely turn as Ms. Monroe.
The fest lineup is rounded out by a veritable deluge of special screenings, including a 37-film sidebar celebrating the centennial of the legendary Japanese studio, Nikkatsu. Also of keen interest will be a newly "completed" version of Nicholas Ray's endlessly reworked, late-career oddity We Can't Go Home Again, a documentary program featuring Frederick Wiseman's most recent film, Crazy Horse, the celebrated three-part German film Dreileben, and a particularly rich Views from the Avant-Garde slate, highlighted by James Bennings's latest offering, Twenty Cigarettes, and a program of new material from Ernie Gehr.
Beginning September 24, please check back daily for a full review of each main-slate film, among others. The 49th New York Film Festival will run from September 30 to October 16, 2011. For a complete schedule of films, screening times, and ticket information, please see the Film Society of Lincoln Center's official site. And for our coverage of the festival at The House Next Door, please click here. Andrew Schenker