As I must always mention, for accredited press and industry people with the time to attend the P&I screenings, the New York Film Festival is a great ride — you get to watch the entire “main slate” (formerly 28 films, this time 36) together, separately from the public, in sequence, in comfortable surroundings. The Film Society of Lincoln Center can do this because the main slate is relatively small, and because New York has a lot of P&I people on hand. Thanks to the FSLC for allowing me to attend and review every main slate film of the NYFF for nine years in a row. Thanks particularly to the the great Film Society of Lincoln Center publicity directors, the late Graham Leggat, his successor Jeanne Berney, and the current holder of the mantle, the urbane John Wiseman. And thanks to the witty consummate pro theatre manager, Glenn Raucher, who keeps it all running smoothly and on time.
For me the best of what we saw were J.C. Chandor’s All Is Lost, Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, and I’m coming around to seeing the power of French director Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue Is the Warmest Color, even though it’s too long. Next come a clutch of other good French films. I was not so impressed by the extra number of mainstream British comedies or American premieres such as Captain Philips and Her and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I didn’t warm to the Coens’ Inside Llewyn Davis, but I know it’s well made. I love James Gray’s films but his old-fashioned The Immigrant even with Marion Cotillard felt a bit flat compared to other Gray films like Two Lovers.
Other good French films were Catherine Breillat’s elegant autobiographical Abuse of Weakness with a perfect Isabelle Huppert, Claire Denis’ complex and cool Bastards, Alain Guiraudie’s Hitichcockian gay thriller Stranger by the Lake. Philippe Garrel’s arty Jealousy, starring his son Louis, was smoothly done. But Arnaud Desplechin’s Emglish-language Jimmy P. : the Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian was a misstep, a disaster. Maybe the English comedies were meant to offset the grim festival fare, the three- or four-hour films that made you want to scream; but they did not.
Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave has gotten raves in the States but I am not so convinced. It’s impressive but I now see a pattern of McQueen continually browbeating his audience in what seems a self-important but not very smart way, and I now doubt my earlier admiration for his debut Hunger, as Villeneuve’s terrible Prisoners has made me reassess and doubt the value of his earlier Incendies.
A true little gem is Mexican Fernando Eimbcke’s sweet, droll, compact Club Sandwich. Berlin Best Actress winner Gloria from Chile was good too; but I wished there had been more Spanish language films.
I think the festival, if it’s enlarging its main slate, should try to have more debuts by talented newcomers and bother less with people of privilege like famous actors (Franco’s Child of God, Fiennes’ Invisible Woman) even a clothing designer (agnes b.’s flimsy My Name is Hmmm…, which is as well forgotten).
There were more good documentaries than in the past, five solid ones with Jehane Noujaim’s very moving Egyptian revolution film The Square heading the list.
I have not mentioned every film. See the reviews. If I didn’t mention it, it probably didn’t meet my expectations, but I may have missed a couple.
It would take too much space to reel off highlights of NYFFs from the past few years to show this was not really a particularly outstanding year, but it’s still the same great, informative cinematic experience.
12 Years a Slave (2013)
About Time (2013)
Abuse of Weakness (2013)
Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013)
All is Lost (2013)
American Promise (2013)
At Berkeley (2013)
A Touch of Sin (2013)
Blue is the Warmest Color (2013)
Burning Bush (2013)
Captain Phillips (2013)
Child of God (2013)
Club Sandwich (2013)
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Jimmy P., Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian (2013)
Le Week-End (2013)
Like Father, Like Son (2013)
My Name is Hmmm… (2013)
Nobody’s Daughter Haewon (2013)
Norte, the End of History (2013)
Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
Stranger by the Lake (2013)
Stray Dogs (2013)
The Immigrant (2013)
The Invisible Woman (2013)
The Last of the Unjust (2013)
The Missing Picture (2013)
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)
The Square (2013)
When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism (2013)
The Wind Rises (2013)