NYFF: Surprise “Hyde” Stand Out, Germany’s “Barbara,” and the Love of “Liv & Ingmar”

Today the New York Film Festival brought a presumed Oscar hopeful, Germany’s official submission for the foreign language category at the Academy Awards, and a tender-hearted documentary that surprised the likes of many, including myself.

Hyde Park on Hudson (***)

I try extremely hard to not read reviews, especially for Oscar hopefuls.  At Telluride and Toronto, Roger Michell’s Hyde Park on Hudson received mixed-to-negative reviews citing the film’s weak screenplay and other off-putting manners.  Chalk this up to a guilty pleasure but I found Hyde Park on Hudson charmingly delightful.  From the charismatic turn by Bill Murray as FDR to what I found to be a near pitch-perfect performance by Samuel West, the stylistic quality by director Roger Michell was satisfying.  

The clear problem with the film is the screenplay by Richard Nelson.  One thing that annoys me about films sometimes is when a screenwriter (or director) choose to begin a film in what feels like the 45th minute of the film.  The film tells the story of Margaret Suckley (Laura Linney), FDR’s fifth cousin, and her relationship with the president (Bill Murray) surrounding his visit from the King (Samuel West) and Queen (Olivia Colman) of England in 1939.  Nelson chooses to start the film with nearly zero back story for Suckley and the bridge to the famous Hyde Park on Hudson.  The film is rushed right into the thick of the story (and a hand job) within 10 minutes time.  It also doesn’t help that the film is overtly misogynistic in tone and view towards women.  I can definitely see many people being offended.

Surprise standout Samuel West as “King George”

Outside of writing, Hyde Park on Hudson is pure fun and harmlessly amusing.  This is one of Murray’s best performances, dancing his way throughout the film with magnetism and allure.  Laura Linney is fine in a role that brings a lot of frustration to the audience.  As Queen Elizabeth, Olivia Colman brings precision and authority to the role that lacked in Helena Bonham Carter’s role in Tom Hooper’s The King Speech (2010).  Colman’s role allows for Hollywood to see how good she is and will hopefully lead to more available roles for her to shine.  Olivia Williams, a brilliant and underrated actress, is simply outstanding in her minimal screen time as Eleanor Roosevelt.  If she had more development added to her character, Williams would be on an Oscar ballot easy.  With the small amount she has, Williams still delivers an Oscar-worthy turn.  Best-in-show goes to Samuel West as King George IV, who manages to steal the spotlight from the likes of Murray and Colman without even trying.  It’s a performance that stands among some of the best of 2012 so far.  It’s an impressive and surprising turn by West.

The sets are very well done by Production Designer Simon Bowles while the score by Jeremy Sams stands out as one of the year’s creative thus far.  “Hyde Park” is loads of entertainment and thoroughly enjoyable.

Barbara (**½)

In a snail pace of a film, Christian Petzold’s Barbara, Germany’s official submission for Foreign Language Film, is a character focused picture showcasing a star-making turn by Nina Hoss.  Petzold’s story about a woman who’s exiled to a small village in Germany doesn’t offer the key details for the audience to understand our main character’s motivation.

Hoss commits to Barbara in a method that can only be praised.  It’s an authentic and pure talent-full performance by a gifted actress.  Accompanying her in the role of André is Ronald Dehrfeld, another talented actor who chugs the audience through this long-winded tale.

Petzold does capture glimpses of greatness but with a story that at times seems like it’s going nowhere, and worst of all its 105 minutes and feels like 185.  Not one of the stand-out contenders this year I’m sure.

A love story for the ages…

Liv and Ingmar (***½)

A documentary that encompasses one of the most profound and real love stories captured, Liv and Ingmar, the story of actress Liv Ullman and director Ingmar Bergman, whose love during the film Persona (1966), spans over decades of love, depression, and friendship.

There are so many beautiful things about the film, written and directed by Dheeraj Akolkar.  The first is in the simple yet genius way the story is told; through interviews with Ullman and scenes from her films directed by Bergman including Persona and his later works.  Cinematographer Hallvard Bræin captures the most gorgeous and dazzling scenery seen in 2012.  Besides bringing out Ullman’s crystal blue eyes, the shots overlooking the ocean and trees being blown in the breeze has elements of what makes Emmanuel Lubezski so great.  I’d keep an eye on this guy.

Liv Ullman’s interviews introduce us into a world of classical foreign cinema, many may not have known existed.  Fully admitting I don’t know Ullman and Bergman films the way I should, the film has inspired me to seek out these classical films that had more being said then what was on-screen.

The film is edited smoothly by Tushar Ghogale while Stefan Nilsson offers up some wonderful musical accompaniment that leads to an ending that is sure to choke up even the most iron-filled hearts.  The film is so accessible and relatable to anyone who has ever been in love.  It’s one of, if not, the best documentary this year.  It’s well-made, dynamic, and one of the more unique subjects tackled this year.  Liv and Ingmar is spectacular and the best film of the NYFF so far.

Comment and discuss!