The New York Film Festival each year brings tremendous movies to the Big Apple. For a few weeks each fall, the best and brightest in cinema descend on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. To celebrate NYFF 2019, we’re going to be running down some of the festival’s top options to check out.
Below you will see ten of the most anticipated titles at NYFF this year. Honorable mentions include “63 Up,” “Atlantics,” “Bacurau,” “First Cow,” “Oliver Sachs: His Own Life,” “Varda By Agnès,” “Wasp Network,” and “Zombi Child.” Without question, it’s a festival with many compelling movies screening.
“Young Ahmed” (2019)
dir: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
The Dardennes’ latest is one of their slightest efforts to date, but it’s still rather compelling. NYFF audiences who have shown up for their work in the past will certainly want to do so again. In other hands, this tale of religious radicalization could have come off as tone deaf or exploitative. Luckily, the filmmaking brothers are far too talented for that, making this one to definitely check out.
“The Whistlers” (2019)
dir: Corneliu Porumboiu
Deftly mixing comedy and crime, this oddball noir is a massively entertaining mystery. The premise, centering on a troubled detective in deep with gangsters while learning a secret language consisting of only whistles, is deeply compelling. That’s hardly the only quality item here, though, as the execution is pitch perfect. You’ll laugh a lot, but also be genuinely surprised by where it goes.
“45 Seconds of Laughter” (2019)
dir: Tim Robbins
A documentary about a theater workshop for inmates in a California prison isn’t the most obvious choice for a new film by Tim Robbins. However, the story must have captured his interest in a major way, as he not only directs the doc, but appears as well, taking part in the sessions. Without question, it stands apart as a lighter non-fiction offering.
“Motherless Brooklyn” (2019)
dir: Edward Norton
The New York Film Festival is an incredibly apt spot for Edward Norton‘s Brooklyn-set detective tale. Ending the fest as the Closing Night Selection, it bookends its beginning at the Telluride Film Festival. There, Clayton chimed in with this take:
Based on the novel by Jonathan Lethem, Norton’s adaptation is very dense and at very specific moments brilliant. Norton’s inner scribe has the understanding for incentives of characters to make their choices feel genuine, and the movie builds itself as the large puzzle maze that the viewer is also navigating alongside Lionel.
Norton saw mixed reviews for his movie, dulling anticipation somewhat. Still, any of the big three at NYFF are well worth seeking out, as the selection committee never chooses an outright dog for one of these coveted slots.
“Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (2019)
dir: Céline Sciamma
Ever since this drama won Best Screenplay at Cannes, buzz has been building. While France did not choose it as their country’s selection for Best International Film, there’s still much excitement around this movie and its artful depiction of romance. At Telluride, we had this rave review to file:
The story, about two young women in 1770 France, emerges as a beautiful allegory for creating a portrait as the equivalent of falling in love.
Not being able to compete in Best International Film at the Academy Awards will hurt the flick, but it won’t matter at this festival. Previous stops have already cemented it as essential viewing.
“Pain and Glory” (2019)
dir: Pedro Almodóvar
Antonio Banderas is well on his way to his first Academy Award nomination for this moving turn in Pedro Almodovar‘s deeply personal new movie. At Telluride, this review of ours was over the moon:
Good filmmakers make their audiences feel the plight of their subjects, and immerse them into the film and story with sincere and relatable cues. Great filmmakers do all of that almost as an afterthought, and take you to a higher level—they tell a human story that you must care about if you have a soul, and that you must suffer alongside with if you have a heart. There is no question, then, that Almodovar is one of the greats.
Banderas has never been better than he is in “Pain and Glory.” If Almodovar’s specific cinematic eye tends to compel you, expect that to again be the case here.
dir: Todd Phillips
Perhaps the most unlikely Academy Award player this year is Todd Phillips‘ exploration of the legendary comic book villain. Star Joaquin Phoenix has gotten incredible buzz for this commit turn, sparking it as a must-see curiosity. Our Toronto International Film Festival review teased how unique the movie is:
A tense, slow burn, “Joker” is less about flashy fight sequences and fiendish plots, but it acts as a character study (according to director Todd Phillips) of the man we’ve been familiar with since the 1940’s. The villainous showman is absent for the majority of “Joker,” causing audiences to hold on in quiet anticipation. The green hair, clown makeup, and purple suit are a payoff for our patience.
“Joker” has proven divisive so far, but those who love it are rapturous in its praise. With buzz that says it’s a dangerous film, that’s sure to bring it extra attention, including here as a prime title at NYFF.
dir: Bong Joon-Ho
Believe the hype. This is one of the year’s very best films and the best work yet from master filmmaker Bong Joon-Ho. The less you know about this one, the better, but just know that it’s absolutely phenomenal. At Telluride, Clayton raved about it in this four star review, hinting at the twists and turns of the story:
With the fear of ruining any element of the film, simply stated, “Parasite” tells the story of the Ki-taek family, all of whom are unemployed, and who take a peculiar interest in the wealthy and glamorous Park family, before unexpected and surprising incidents occur.
Go into this masterpiece as cold as you can. Let it wash over you. Then, you’ll understand why every bit of praise has been apt and not hyperbole.
“Marriage Story” (2019)
dir: Noah Baumbach
NYFF will be the latest fest to screen Noah Baumbach‘s probable Oscar juggernaut. The Centerpiece Selection, it presents Laura Dern, Adam Driver, and Scarlett Johansson as prime candidates for Academy Award attention, along with Baumbach himself. Clayton loved it at Telluride, penning this review:
“Marriage Story” is most alive in its performances. Baumbach has never been more attuned with an actor’s needs and capacity to go beyond their comfort zones. It is the director’s best effort yet, and one that is captivating to sit back and watch unfold.
“Marriage Story” has wowed at every festival it’s played at so far this season. Expect the to be the case here as well.
“The Irishman” (2019)
dir: Martin Scorsese
Easily the most anticipated title at the New York Film Festival in some time, Martin Scorsese brings his long-in-the-making gangster epic as the Opening Night Selection. Reuniting Scorsese with Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, and Joe Pesci, as well as teaming him up for the first time with Al Pacino, expectations are sky-high. Friday, it will screen publicly for the very first time. NYFF’s big debut is the biggest remaining X-factor of 2019, so this is a clear choice.