The New York Film Festival is in the books, ladies and gentlemen. 2019 marked another big year for the fest, complete with a massive debut in Martin Scorsese‘s “The Irishman,” as well as a number of other movies that seem poised for major Academy Award attention. So, to close out coverage of the fest, today we present the cream of the NYFF crop in 2019.
Below you will see ten of the best NYFF titles this year. Honorable Mention goes to “Young Ahmed,” though it was overall a high quality slate, with only one film actually inviting any real scorn. That’s a pretty high batting average for any festival, so the NYFF programmers should be very proud.
dir: Todd Phillips
This controversial movie cracks the NYFF-centric list mainly due to Joaquin Phoenix and the technical aspects. A fully realized period version of Gotham City is a production achievement on par with any this year, helping to build an unsettling world for Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck to go mad in. There were a lot of better movies at the festival, without a doubt, but no other title generated more interesting conversation and debate than “Joker” did, helping it to make this list.
dir: Mati Diop
Remember the name Mati Diop. She is going to be a filmmaker who makes a major impact on the industry. Netflix clearly saw something in her when they acquired “Atlantics,” a haunting debut, literally. A romantic drama with supernatural elements that play out slowly, there’s a lot going on here. Diop has some incredible talent, and if this is only a hint at what she can do, we should all be very excited. When she shows up next at the festival, she could be on the verge of winning some Academy Awards.
8“Zombi Child” (2019)
dir: Bertrand Bonello
You’ve never seen zombies like this before. Presented in less of a horror manner and more of a tragic one, there’s genuine pathos to be found in this film. That, and voodoo, which is yet another way that “Zombi Child” sets itself apart from the undead pack. Surprisingly mellow for much of its running time, late in the third act, when the aforementioned voodoo takes center stage, the experience becomes delightfully surreal.
7“Pain and Glory” (2019)
dir: Pedro Almodovar
Antonio Banderas delivers his finest performance to date in this latest pairing with filmmaker Pedro Almodovar. “Pain and Glory” sees the latter largely working in autobiographical territory again, arguably more so than ever before, with the former helping to bring the vision to life. Almodovar is an NYFF mainstay, but this one might be the title that resonates most, of all his previous stopovers at the fest.
6“The Whistlers” (2020)
dir: Corneliu Porumboiu
A clever noir that winks at its own roots, “The Whistlers” is far more effective than the premise suggests. Watching this efficient crime story evolve is a dark joy to behold, especially when the dark comedy elements come into play. Both an early sequence involving a sexual deception, as well as an unexpected death scene, give the film a bounce that really lends it a unique distinction.
dir: Juliano Dornelles, Kleber Mendonça Filho
A wholly unexpected genre bender, any description of this New York Film Festival entry does it a disservice. “Bacurau” puzzled some at the fest, but some must not have been on its wavelength. Mixing the societal concerns of modern Brazil with some violent action, there’s a surprising amount of creative brutality on display. It’s not for everyone, but for those who dive in with an open mind, there’s lots to digest.
4“Uncut Gems” (2019)
dir: Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie
Adam Sandler turns in career best work for the Safdie Brothers in “Uncut Gems,” a visceral experience that will leave your palms sweaty. It has been said elsewhere, but when a film opening colonoscopy is the least stressful moment over more than two hours, filmmakers Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie are doing something right. Sandler is a ball of bad decisions, with toxic energy that mesmerizes from start to finish. It’s not an easy sit, but rarely has discomfort been this worth it.
3“Marriage Story” (2019)
dir: Noah Baumbach
Can one movie contain five of the year’s best performances? If it’s the New York Film Festival Centerpiece Selection “Marriage Story,” it sure can. Noah Baumbach gets staggering work from leads Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, with Alan Alda, Laura Dern, and Ray Liotta not far behind. An acting showcase that’s as funny as it is heartbreaking, this is a full cinematic meal. NYFF was lucky to have it as its Centerpiece this year.
2“The Irishman” (2019)
dir: Martin Scorsese
Opening the New York Film Festival to great fanfare, Martin Scorsese’s three and a half hour epic is brilliant. Worthy of every bit of its hype, the master is exploring the crime drama, as well as aging, in a way that he’s never fully done before, though with old friends Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci (alongside new playmate Al Pacino). Right after its screening, we wrote that “This is ambitious and compelling work, not just showcasing that these men are still the best when it comes to mob stories, but also tackling the effect this life has on a man. Even without the technical wizardry this would be a tremendous crime movie. But knowing how they were able to de-age the cast, it’s even more stunning to behold.” Expect the Academy to love it just as much as the NYFF crowd did, long running time be damned.
dir: Bong Joon Ho
The best movie of NYFF is also one of the year’s very best. Bong Joon Ho‘s masterpiece has something for everyone, dancing through different genres with ease. It’s rare that a work this magnificent begs you not to discuss it in depth, but that’s yet another charm that this one has up its sleeve. A surefire Oscar player, more conversation will be had in the weeks to come. Just know that it’s utterly amazing and would top just about any festival it could play at. “Parasite” is perfection.