For the last two weeks, the Film Society of Lincoln Center has been hosting to this year’s New York Film Festival—and it has been an absolute pleasure to attend. In our upcoming interview with director Claire Denis—whose new filmBastards premiered last week—she spoke about the festival, saying, “It’s a place where you have time to think about the film you just finished. You’re not under the pressure of publicity or competition. It’s an open space with people I like and people I like to meet, and so it makes me a better filmmaker.”
And for their 51st annual festival, NYFF unveiled some of the most acclaimed features of the coming few months and year—from the best of international cinema to the features that have been on the tip of everyone’s tongue for months. Alongside their incredible line-up of new films—from Spike Jonze’s Her and Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive to Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin and Hirokazu Koreeda’s Like Father, Like Son—NYFF also is currently also hosting an expansive Jean-Luc Godard retrospective. So after the past few weeks of watching wonderful films from the Walter Reade theater, here are our ten favorite of this year’s NYFF (that we were able to catch), in no particular order.
Only Lovers Left Alive
Jim Jarmusch’s absolutely delicious and cool baby cool tale of bloodsucking, undead love. A playful and nocturnal examination of modernity’s foibles through the RayBan covered eyes of those who’ve lived through its beauty and its horror. Scored to perfection and directed with the touch of a man who knows how to make a story feel like a jazz riff, the film is as if the Nick Cave scene in Wings of Desire made friend’s with Mick Jagger in Performance to create your new favorite onscreen romance from Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston.
James Gray’s very own McCabe & Mrs. Miller that begins with familiarity but divulges into a trying look at the lengths one goes to for survival, the madness of love, and forgiveness as a means of salvation. Shot with a Vilmos Zsigmond-esque glow, the film has a painful allure that proves a wonderful showcase for its cast.
Spike Jonze’s strange and frightening portrait of modern love that shows the dichotomy and tension between the comforting affection of fantastical, easy love over the struggles of real human connection. While at times sharply funny, beautifully moving, and very smart, the film felt like it could never fully commit to its own ethos, leaving the most profound moments unrealized or turned into comedy. But all the while, it was a brilliantly acted case study of emotion and visually a pleasure to take in without ever really cutting the skin.
A Touch of Sin
Jia Zhangke’s forceful tetraptych drama that explodes with violence yet allows its own moments for reflection. A portrait of modern China that explores the fine line between man and beast and the pleasure and satisfaction that can be derived from that brutality.
12 Years a Slave
Steve McQueen’s fearless and unflinching masterpiece whose absolute brutality is matched by its adamant exposure to what makes us human and the evils we’re capable of. The film truly showcases the work of a man who harbors an uncompromising vision and an incredible ability to pull performances from the marrow of his actors.
Tsai Ming-liang’s bleak urban endurance test whose silence allowed for reflection but conjured up only slight emotion in the absence of movement. The removed spacial silence eminded me of Stephen Shore’s Oregon billboard, except it’s raining and devoured by someone’s incisors.
Like Father, Like Son
Hirokazu Koreeda’s emotional drama that forces us to question our own internal set of values and those that have given us life. It’s a delicate tickling of most potent emotional keys that asks a question almost too painful to consider answering and examines it with genuinely heartbreaking honesty.
Claire Denis’ haunting family portrait that lives in the darkness that rises from the aftermath of death. An oddly sensuous nightmare voyage through an unforgiving world that lurks in shadows and painful lies. Exposes a kind of evil culled from the stories that we read and see everyday which have become second nature to us, their dastardliness barely leaving a mark on our skin.
Paul Greengrass’ thrillingly tense drama that captures you with a forceful hand and refuses to let go until its highly emotional end. Void of spectacle and infused with a kind of genuine force rarely seen in docudramas, the film possesses the cinematic excitement of the best hostage thrillers but strips the genre of its pretense.
Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez’s entrancing and beautiful ethnographic documentary taking place high above the mountains of Nepal. As the Holy Motors of Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab, perhaps a packed theater is too limited for such a film, as it deserves to be free of confines. A meditative and exploratory journey that perhaps should be projected in a large space that allows for its audience to enter the film in a more unconventional way.