After last year’s virtual and drive-in screenings, the New York Film Festival returned this fall for its 59th edition, with in-person screenings at the Upper West Side’s Lincoln Center.
NYFF often serves as a launching pad for successful Oscar campaigns, with the last two Best Picture winners, “Parasite” and “Nomadland”, both having premiered at the festival. Much of this year’s slate seems destined for similar success, making this year an exciting one for moviegoing and awards races.
Here are some of the must-see picks from the festival slate.
The Tragedy of Macbeth
One half of the Cohen Brothers, Joel Cohen, is back with his first solo directorial effort, a brilliant adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”.
Cohen’s latest had its world premiere on Opening Night of the festival at the Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall.
Frances McDormand, Cohen’s wife, is a producer on the film and portrays Lady Macbeth alongside fellow Oscar winner Denzel Washington, who plays Macbeth.
McDormand and Washington are outstanding, but arguably the MVP of this film is cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel. Shot in a slick black-and-white on a Los Angeles sound stage, Delbonnel has a cinematographer’s playground at his disposal. The production design and lighting configurations work in harmony to create dazzling, meticulously crafted images.
Delbonnel’s cinematography, paired with Cohen’s intimate direction, makes “The Tragedy of Macbeth” feel claustrophobic: there is nowhere to hide.
Similar to NYFF opening night films in recent years, such as “The Irishman,” “The Favourite,” “Gone Girl” and “13th,” “The Tragedy of Macbeth” is a grand spectacle from a distinguished auteur and is poised to have success at March’s Academy Awards.
Director Julia Ducournau has a history of creating wild, out-of-body theatrical experiences. Her feature-length debut about cannibalism, Raw, famously had audience members fainting, throwing up, and leaving the theater at film festivals. The reaction to her latest, which won the Palme D’or at Cannes, was similar.
At the U.S. Premiere at the NYFF, people started walking out of the theater about five minutes into the screening.
On the surface, “Titane” is loud, gross, and ultraviolent. Buried underneath the provocative, walk-out-of-the-movie-theater content is a story about love, humanity, and family. I would share more about the plot, but it is best to go into the film cold and unprepared.
“Titane” was one of the most memorable theatrical experiences I have had in recent years. Throughout the screening, people squirmed, winced, shielded their eyes, laughed, and screamed. It was a ride that I wasn’t expecting or prepared for, but once I opened myself up to the madness that unfolded, it was a thrilling experience that could only have been achieved in a cinema.
See it in a movie theater.
The Worst Person in the World
Norwegian filmmaker Joachim Trier caps off his Oslo trilogy with a joyful, comedic, awe-inspiring, excellently crafted film. The film chronicles four years in the life of Julie, played by Renate Reinsve, who won Best Actress at Cannes for her role. The character is navigating relationships, her career, and trying to discover who she is.
It is fascinating to watch Trier keep his sympathy with this character as she goes through life making questionable decisions. The film, like Julie, has flaws, but the utter joy that Trier’s script and Reinsve’s performance deliver makes all of its issues leave your mind.
Trier is masterful in conducting several large, creative, emotional set pieces that give the film a surprisingly large scale. It’s his best and one of the best of the year. Look for it to be a serious contender in the Best International Feature race.
The French Dispatch
Created to resemble an issue of an American magazine, “The French Dispatch” is Wes Anderson’s hyper-stylized love letter to magazine journalism, specifically to “The New Yorker”. We follow an American print publication based in a fictional town in France and are guided through a commemorative issue showing the best stories from the past several years.
The film is formatted in an unconventional manner. It is split into three main stories covered in the magazine. The film includes stories about an incarcerated artist, a student revolution, and a police commissioner with a kidnapped son.
This may be Anderson’s best-looking film, filled with his typical granular set details and bright colors. There are also several sequences in black-and-white, as well as a long animated sequence, which further expands the director’s visual range.
“The French Dispatch” doesn’t have a central plot. They are several fragments of stories that could very well be their features. The film moves fast; there is always something new to look at or observe. The film genuinely feels like flipping through a magazine.
Anderson has an obsession and passion for this subject, shown through the detail and care put into the film.
At this point in his career, Anderson is doing projects about what fascinates him. Whether it’s hotels, submarines, foxes, or magazines, Anderson’s curiosity is infectious and makes it hard to want to leave the worlds he creates.
The Power of the Dog
After spending the last decade creating television, dignified auteur Jane Campion returns with a western shot entirely in her native New Zealand.
“The Power of the Dog” is adapted from Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel of the same name. This period piece follows two brothers, Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Burbank (Jesse Plemons), who co-own a Montana ranch. The main conflict involves the growing feud between Phil and George’s new wife (Kirsten Dunst) and her son (Kodi Smit-McPhee).
It’s a slow burner but is still a dramatic, high-intensity film. The conflict and tension between the characters boil from the very start and peak during the climax.
The film features career-best performances from Cumberbatch and Dunst and also a star-making version from Smit-McPhee.
Campion re-establishes herself as one of the best working filmmakers of her generation. She proves her extensive experience with her clever use of panning, always searching and honing in on her actor’s performances in ways the audience may not even notice.
Campion’s direction could win her third Oscar, with Cumberbatch and Dunst both expected to be top contenders for lead and supporting awards as well.
The return of the festival served as a reminder to moviegoers and cinephiles of the power of theatrical experiences. Feeling the rush of emotions on a massive screen, in a packed room, with others, shows why filmmakers and actors have been clamoring for theatrical exclusivity: it is the best way to watch a film.