Reviewing NYFF across space and time

Posted by · 10:22 am · October 3rd, 2011

Like the upcoming London Film Festival (which I will be covering first-hand from next week), the New York Film Festival is one of those greatest-hits affairs consisting mainly of cherry-picked successes from previous fests — with just enough new content to keep it from becoming a residents-only deal.

This year, for example, securing the world premiere of “My Week With Marilyn” (which will be unveiled on Sunday) has attracted enough eyeballs to the NYFF that even its repeats of already-reviewed hits from Cannes, Venice, Toronto and the like prompt flutters of Twitter activity.

I’d love to be in New York to bring you festival views directly — actually, I’d love to be in New York for many reasons — but obviously, I am not. Happily, however, Kris and I have seen enough of the NYFF selections between us that we could reasonably fake a festival report if required. It needn’t come to that, of course, but for those of you following the festival coverage, what follows is a quick round-up of the NYFF titles we’ve already reviewed and/or discussed here at In Contention.

I was an early adopter of Iran’s foreign-language Oscar hopeful “A Separation”, writing an enthusiastic take in February from the Berlinale, where it went on to win the Golden Bear and both acting trophies. Over six months later, Kris was no less impressed in Telluride. Also positively reviewed by me at Berlin was Hungary’s Oscar submission, Bela Tarr’s super-severe (if arguably self-parodic) “The Turin Horse.” Berlin proved a happy hunting ground for future Oscar submissions: I also discussed Wim Wenders’s dazzling 3D dance documentary “Pina” there. Kris wasn’t as taken with it at Telluride.

Fine films, all three, but none was my favorite of the Berlinale: fortunately, NYFF audiences can now see for themelves why I flipped for Best Director winner Ulrich Köhler’s Conradian dual-character study “Sleeping Sickness.”   

Naturally, New York has cribbed a bunch of higher-profile hits from Cannes. Big-league Oscar player “The Artist” needs no introduction by now, but here’s my glowing review from the Croisette — countered with Kris’ more reserved Telluride response. Two Cannes titles at NYFF have already opened in the UK. The first of them, Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia,” I thought remarkable. (Kris, again, had a more muted response, though he hasn’t written it up.) The second, Pedro Almodóvar’s glassy thriller “The Skin I Live In” didn’t quite meet my expectations, though I found plenty to appreciate in it nonetheless.

As usual, Cannes was another crucial fest for unearthing future foreign Oscar players. I saw Mexico’s “Miss Bala,” Turkey’s “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” and Finland’s “Le Havre,” but have yet to review them — I will rectify that in the coming weeks, as the films also resurface at the London fest. Kris, however, briefly wrote up some charitable thoughts on “Le Havre” from Telluride.

One I did review from Cannes, and none too favorably, was Israel’s submission, Joseph Cedar’s strained comedy of letters, “Footnote.” In the same piece, I also offered my thoughts on a foreign NYFF entry not submitted to the Academy: the Dardenne brothers’ affecting if unsurprising “The Kid With a Bike.” Cannes is also where I saw and raved about Sundance hit “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” due to make its final (and closer-to-home) US festival stop before its release later this month. Kris was equally stunned.

Which brings us up to the more recent discoveries of the fall festival season. The NYFF kicked off last week with Roman Polanski’s “Carnage,” which Kris and I have both discussed in detail: if my Venice review was on the cool side, Kris was even less convinced last week. Similarly, neither of us was wowed by David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method”; here’s my Venice review, and Kris’ Telluride reaction.

Our streak of agreement continued, and to more positive effect, on Steve McQueen’s “Shame”; I enthused about it at Venice, and Kris’ Telluride appreciation followed shortly afterwards. (A final NYFF selection from the Lido is Abel Ferrara’s “4:44 Last Day on Earth”: I could hardly review it, but I did explain why I walked out here.)

Finally, the New York curtain will close on the 16th with “The Descendants”: I haven’t seen it yet myself, but Kris wrote up his guarded appreciation here. That concludes our long-distance NYFF attendance; expect some fresh reviews, including a few leftovers from previous festivals, as the month wears on.  

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