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New York Film Festival 2010: Preview

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New York Film Festival 2010: Preview

Friend (eyes lighting up): Yeah, now you’re talking!

Now, Eastwood deserves credit—he is a talented auteur making personal art-house films on commercial budgets, at a time when most studio films look assembled by ships of fools. But Eastwood’s Hereafter—a Matt Damon-starring ghost story whose trailers suggest to be a deeply felt, emotionally sincere, bombastic mess—is the last film showing in the festival this year (October 10), and if you restrict yourself to it, then you’ll cheat yourself of all the wonders beforehand.

Many potential audience members might though. As of yesterday afternoon, the following main slate shows had sold out:

The Social Network, the festival’s Opening Night film (September 24), the story of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s invention and subsequent lawsuit, as told by director David Fincher and West Wing writer Aaron Sorkin.
The Tempest, a Shakespeare adaptation starring Helen Mirren and directed by Julie Taymor, who also helmed the epic, potentially disastrous Spider-Man musical that’s coming to Broadway.
LennonNYC, a documentary about John Lennon’s New York years.

These films have in common name-brand recognition, and all deal with subjects immediately recognizable to midtown Manhattan. By contrast, tickets were still available for the following films, along with more than 20 others:

Aurora, a three-hour Romanian murder story, in which writer-director Cristi Puiu (The Death of Mr. Lazarescu) also plays the working-class lead.
Carlos, Olivier Assayas’s (Summer Hours) 319-minute docudrama about the ’70s terrorist Carlos the Jackal.
Certified Copy, a relationship study-cum-art investigation from Abbas Kiarostami (Close-Up).
Film Socialisme, Jean-Luc Godard’s new video/film/cinema piece, which somehow includes both Alain Badiou and Patti Smith.
Mysteries of Lisbon, Raúl Ruiz’s 272-minute, multi-narrative literary adaptation.
The Strange Case of Angelica, Manoel de Oliveira’s tale of a dead bride returning to life.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, the Palme D’Or-winner at Cannes this year, in which director Apichatpong Weerasethakul recounts his uncle’s reincarnations, with time for glowing monkeys and talking catfish.

To put this contrast in further perspective: Ruiz is the greatest Chilean filmmaker. De Oliveira is the best Portuguese. Apichatpong is the best Thai. Assayas comes second among current French filmmakers only to Claire Denis. Puiu is probably the best of the Romanian New Wave. Kiarostami is probably the single most important filmmaker of the past 20 years. Godard is probably the most important of the past 50. And chances are that, if you live outside of New York, you won’t catch one of these movies in a theater. So even if The Social Network proves a game-changing masterpiece (after all, Fincher made Zodiac, the last legitimately great studio film), it’s still worth resenting the attention that a movie opening nationwide on October 1 is going to draw away from the beauties still begging for distribution.

You could disagree, and claim that a few pop selections help people notice the small stuff. Hopefully. A box office employee said that festival tickets were selling well, without elaborating. This year’s festival attendance will probably be better than last year’s, where despite a few hits (Wild Grass, The White Ribbon) several shows still left empty Alice Tully Hall seats. The deaths of French New Wave icons and NYFF staples Éric Rohmer and Claude Chabrol this past year make it tempting to spout all sorts of mushy melancholy about the end of the heroic age of moviegoing—a notion Paul Brunick blissfully dispels in the most recent issue of Film Comment—but last year’s sometimes-anemia was likelier due to the financial meltdown than to audience apathy. (As a side note, a festival entry, the documentary Inside Job, explores the crash in depth.) New York is the most cinephilic city in America; to flip the song, if you can’t make it here, then you can’t make it anywhere. For many films, the festival is their best showcase—and, FYI, directors usually attend.

It’s a lineup that offers many choices, so that tracing a common theme seems silly: a German action movie (The Robber), a South Korean comedy (Oki’s Movie), an American indie (Meek’s Cutoff), a horror buff’s double-feature (Joe Dante’s 3D trip The Hole and the Spanish-language version of Bela Lugosi’s Dracula), an avant-garde smorgasbord (Straub, anyone?), and a 12-film retrospective highlighting Masohiro Shinoda, one of a small group of ’60s Japanese filmmakers to combine raw emotional savagery with precise, stunningly framed black-and-white CinemaScope. A second-guesser might grouse that the greatest documentary filmmaker, Frederick Wiseman, is showing his new movie Boxing Gym as a sidebar event rather than in the main slate, but so much else is happening that it’s difficult to mind for long. For 17 days, film geeks live in public. Whatever problems we have with the festival, we are ultimately deeply grateful.

The 48th New York Film festival runs from September 24 to October 10. For a complete schedule, including ticketing information, click here.