Fifty-two years young, the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s New York Film Festival kicks off on September 26 with the world premiere of David Fincher’s Gone Girl. Perhaps the most commercially minded film to open a festival that once seemed exclusively geared toward celebrating art-house auteurism, Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s bestseller, the story of a woman who goes missing and how her husband becomes the prime suspect in her possible murder, may very well prove, like the filmmaker’s The Social Network before it, that crowd-pleasing need not equal complacent. In fact, the forensic emphasis on detail that Fincher will no doubt bring to the story’s minefield of ever-unfolding secrets and red herrings may speak to the very essence of this ambitiously far-flung cultural event.
This year’s 31 main-slate titles—five less than last year’s record-setting 36—make for a diverse feast of cinephilia. And per usual, what’s been picked from the vine of Cannes, Venice, Locarno, and beyond suggests a statement of intent on the part of the festival’s esteemed selection committee (Kent Jones, Dennis Lim, Marian Masone, Gavin Smith, and Amy Taubin). Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Palm d’Or laureate, Winter Sleep, was a notable exclusion this year, as was another Cannes triumph, Xavier Dolan’s Mommy. It’s easy to see, then, the inclusion of documentarian provocateur Nick Broomfield’s Tales of the Grim Sleeper, an epic, if not in length, mediation on issues of class and race as they pertain to an American true-crime story, and another enfant terrible’s latest, Asia Argento’s Misunderstood, as correctives.
Among those returning to the festival are Olivier Assayas (Clouds of Sils Maria), Jean-Luc Godard (Goodbye to Language), Lisandro Alonso (Jauja), Hong Sang-soo (Hill of Freedom), Mike Leigh (Mr. Turner), Abel Ferrara (Pasolini), Abderrahmane Sissako (Timbuktu), David Cronenberg (Maps to the Stars), and Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (Two Days, One Night), as well as Alain Resnais, with the final work, Life of Riley, of his more-than-six-decade career. And among the budding auteurs, many of whom have figured as part of other Lincoln Center programs in past years, to make their NYFF premiere are Alex Ross Perry (Listen Up Philip), Matías Piñeiro (The Princess of France), Bertrand Bonello (Saint Laurent), Eugène Green (La Sapienza), and Martín Rejtman (Two Shots Fired).
Of late, the NYFF has become inextricably bound to the race for Oscar as a kind of last hurdle before the commencement of an increasingly arduous season of awards campaigning that flies in the face of the cinephile temperament. But unlike Toronto, where so-called awards gurus frequently tout films sight unseen, and often on the dime of studios with lavish and presumptuous Oscar ambitions, there’s always a sense at NYFF that the films most likely to factor into the Oscar race have been selected for more than just their mainstream appeal. Such as the closing-night selection, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman, whose biting Hollywood satire has already garnered kudos at Venice and Telluride, and Foxcatcher, a biographical drama about John E. du Pont and his killing of Olympic champion David Schultz that won Bennett Miller the Best Director prize at Cannes (Steve Carrel stars as du Pont and Channing Tatum as David’s brother, Olympic wrestling champ Mark Schultz).
Perhaps no film in this year’s lineup is as shrouded in secrecy and, given its pedigree, as eagerly anticipated as Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice (the festival’s centerpiece selection), adapted from the crime novel by Thomas Pynchon and featuring an all-star cast that includes Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, and Benicio del Toro. I await it, in spite of my ambivalence to the somber astringency that Anderson’s artistry has become increasingly prone to over the years, with the same bated breath that I wish no one would reserve for Damien Chazelle’s dubious Sundance champ Whiplash, an electrically cut and performed account of an unlikely student/mentor relationship that makes a not-so-tacit claim that bullying is sometimes a very good investment.
And as always, the festival is filled with numerous sidebars and special events that aren’t to be missed. In addition to the experimental-centered “Projections” section (formerly known as “Views from the Avant-Garde”), of special note is “Spotlight on Documentary,” a 15-film sidebar that includes new works by Martin Scorsese (The 50 Year Argument, co-directed by David Tedeschi), Albert Maysels (Isis), Joshua Oppenheimer (The Look of Silence, a follow-up to The Act of Killing), Ethan Hawke (Seymour: An Introduction), Frederick Wiseman (National Gallery), among others; screenings of new fictions by John Boorman, Arnaud Desplechin, and Bruno Dumont; and revival presentations of such works as The Color of Pomegranates, Hiroshima Mon Amour, The Man from Laramie, and Once Upon a Time in America.
Starting September 22, check back daily for a full review of each main-slate selection. The 52nd New York Film Festival will run from September 26 to October 12, 2013. For a complete schedule of films, screening times, and ticket information, please see the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s official site. Ed Gonzalez
• ’71 (Yann Demange)
• Beloved Sisters (Dominik Graf)
• Birdman (Alejandro González Iñárritu)
• The Blue Room (Mathieu Amalric)
• Citizenfour (Laura Poitras)
• Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas)
• Eden (Mia Hansen-Løve)
• Foxcatcher (Bennett Miller)
• Gone Girl (David Fincher)
• Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard)
• Heaven Knows What (Joshua and Ben Safdie)
• Hill of Freedom (Hong Sang-soo)
• Horse Money (Pedro Costa)
• Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson)
• Jauja (Lisandro Alonso)
• Life of Riley (Alain Resnais)
• Listen Up Philip (Alex Ross Perry)
• Maps to the Stars (David Cronenberg)
• Misunderstood (Asia Argento)
• Mr. Turner (Mike Lee)
• Pasolini (Abel Ferrara)
• The Princess of France (Matías Piñeiro)
• Saint Laurent (Bertrand Bonello)
• La Sapienza (Eugène Green)
• Tales of the Grim Sleeper (Nick Broomfield)
• Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako)
• Time Out of Mind (Oren Moverman)
• Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)
• Two Shots Fired (Martín Rejtman)
• Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)
• The Wonders (Alice Rohrwacher)