Cinema's Best Head to Manhattan for N.Y. Film Festival

Neta Alexander
Neta Alexander
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This image released by 20th Century Fox shows, from left, Ben Affleck, Lisa Barnes and David Clennon in a scene from 'Gone Girl.'Credit: AP
Neta Alexander
Neta Alexander

NEW YORK – Paul Thomas Anderson, David Fincher, Martin Scorsese, Ben Affleck, Michael Keaton, Richard Gere and American-Israeli director Oren Moverman are only some of the guests who will be attending the New York Film Festival this year to screen new films for the first time, and to converse with American audiences. 

The festival, which is marking its 52nd year, is one of the oldest and most prestigious ones in the United States. Once again it is being held at Lincoln Center on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and will run from September 27 through October 13. HBO and UnionDocs will be participating in the festival, which will include dozens of screenings, workshops and other special events.

The 2014 New York Film Festival presents the best of world cinema, as well as a selection of films from Cannes, Venice and Toronto. It will include premiere screenings from American masters like Fincher, whose new film “Gone Girl” was chosen to open the festival, and Anderson, who will attend the highly anticipated premiere of his recent collaboration with Joaquin Phoenix – “Inherent Vice.” The fact that the festival has focused on feature films with commercial and Oscar potential in recent years has given rise to concerns about over-commercialization.

Regardless, it remains one of the fall’s most important cinema events. After a relatively disappointing summer full of Hollywood sequels, the New York festival provides an opportunity to explore new trends in world cinema and get acquainted with experimental films as well as excellent documentary offerings.

The most intriguing film of the festival is “Inherent Vice,” directed by Anderson, who is currently considered one of the greatest masters of American film, following his works “Boogie Nights” (1997), “Magnolia” (1999), and 2012’s “The Master,” which was his previous collaboration with Joaquin Phoenix. This time, his new film is a dark adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s novel about the 1970's drug culture in Los Angeles.

Anderson has worked with a slew of stars aside from Phoenix, including Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro. The plot focuses on the desperate attempt of private eye Larry “Doc” Sportello to find his former girlfriend, and evade a police officer on his heels.

David Fincher is another American master returning to the festival this year, with his adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s bestseller, “Gone Girl,” a crime thriller about Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), an American man suspected of murdering his wife, who has gone missing. The film portrays America as a society that tends to turn suspects into celebrities against their will.

New York-born director Bennett Miller will bring his promising “Foxcatcher” to the festival. Miller gained recognition in 2005 with his excellent film “Capote,” starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, but has had difficulty producing anything else at that level. His most recent film, “Moneyball,” starring Brad Pitt, received mixed reviews. At the moment, it seems as if Miller is charging the Oscar race with a violent drama depicting the lives of boxing champion brothers, Dave and Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo) who represented the United States in the Olympics in the 1980s. Steve Carell plays the millionaire who discovers them. The film received positive reviews at Cannes in May, particularly due to Carell’s outstanding performance.

Another intriguing film is “Time Out of Mind,” brought to the festival by Israeli-American director Oren Moverman, who earned a best screenplay Oscar nomination in 2009 for his film, “The Messenger.” This time, Moverman casts Richard Gere in this psychological drama about a man who suddenly finds himself with no apartment, clothes, property, or memory of the events that put him out on the street. This bleak urban offering makes Moverman one of the most outstanding experimental directors in current American cinema.

The festival will also include American offerings alongside high-profile films from Venice and Cannes, including “Maps to the Stars,” directed by David Cronenberg; and “Two Days, One Night,” by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne.

Documentaries from Godard to Scorsese

The festival also includes 15 documentaries from well-known filmmakers, from Jean-Luc Godard to Albert Maysles. One of the more promising films is “The 50 Years Argument,” from Martin Scorsese and David Tedesch, which tells the story of “The New York Review of Books.” The film, produced by HBO, includes dozens of interviews as well as archival footage of intellectuals like Gore Vidal and Susan Sontag.

The festival's biggest documentary title, however, is sure to be the new film of Josh Oppenheimer, who earned an Oscar nomination for his 2012 film, “The Act of Killing” about the horrific massacres that took place in Indonesia during the 1960’s. While that film provided the point of view of the perpetrators, now he returns to the festival with “The Look of Silence,” which examines the perspective of the victims of the Indonesian atrocities.

The film follows an Indonesian family trying to identify the murderer responsible for the killing of two family members. This time, as well, the audience is faced with the reality in which the murderers have become the rulers and the victims are left with the blame.

What may be the most intriguing film has neither big budget, well-known director or famous actors. “Heaven Knows What” is a film about drug addicts starring unknown actors, some of them former drug addicts themselves. It’s a hair-raising drama that uncovers the hell of heroin addiction, and those who walk the streets of New York, chasing after their next high.

When watching the film, it is difficult to believe that Ariel Holmes, who plays the protagonist, was discovered by the directors when she herself was a homeless 19-year-old drug addict. Even if American brothers Josh and Benny Safdie are still not recognized by film lovers, it certainly seems that this situation is about to change – and that is precisely why festivals like the New York Film Festival exist.