With this year's New York Film Festival marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of Manhattan's premiere assemblage of world-class cinema, the event's selection committee has put together a program befitting a semicentennial. Upping the number of main slate titles from last year's trim 27 to a more generous 33, the programmers have managed to snag four world premieres, an unprecedentedly high number for a festival known more for culling the best of the year's films from Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Sundance, and any number of lesser fests than for debuting its own slate of movies.
Not to worry though. All the big prize winners from the high-profile European festivals are here, from Michael Haneke's Palme d'Or winner Amour to the other big triumph at Cannes, Christian Mungiu's twice-awarded Beyond the Hills, to top Berlin prizewinner Caesar Must Die. But along with these much feted films, as well as the latest entries from esteemed filmmakers and NYFF alums like Brian De Palma, Olivier Assayas, and Abbas Kiarostami, New York audiences will have first crack at seeing some more high-profile films, including the opening-night selection, Ang Lee's adaptation of Yann Martel's best-selling novel, Life of Pi, Sopranos mastermind David Chase's big-screen debut, Not Fade Away, and the closing-night film, Robert Zemeckis's timely Denzel Washington vehicle, Flight.
But as always, alongside the marquee selections, the committee has programmed a diverse selection of under-the-radar films. Ranging geographically from Turkey to the Philippines and including first-time filmmakers as well as veterans, the main slate offers such intriguing items as Rama Buhrstein's Fill the Void, a fictional look inside Israel's Hassidic community, Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Vérénal Paravel's widely celebrated Leviathan, an observational documentary consideration of the commercial fishing industry, and Kinshasha Kids, Marc-Henri Wajnberg's Congoloese-set fiction/documentary/musical hybrid. Also of note: Leos Carax's divisive Holy Motors, the director's first feature in over a decade; Hyde Park on Hudson, featuring Bill Murray in an unexpected turn as Franklin Roosevelt; and Night Across the Street, the final film from cinema legend Raúl Ruiz.
In addition to the main slate, this year's fest is filled with sidebars and special screenings, including a new restoration of Lawrence of Arabia. And as always, the event's Views from the Avant-Garde serves up the latest offerings from such essential experimental filmmakers as Nathaniel Dorsky, James Benning, and, this year, Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
Beginning September 17, please check back daily for a full review of each main-slate film, among others. The 50th New York Film Festival will run from September 28 to October 14, 2012. 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