Wednesday, October 13, 2010

My NYFF 2010 favorites

For more on the festival, you'll find the wrap-up I did for The House Next Door along with my colleagues Aaron Cutler and Kenji Fujishima here.

I’ve been going to New York Film Festival’s press screenings for several years now, catching as many films as I could in a schedule that was always both leaner and richer than most film festival lineups. NYFF shows fewer films of generally higher quality than most film festivals, and they always include new works by some of the world’s best filmmakers.

In the past, I was lucky if I got to half the movies I wanted to see, since it was hard to fit weekday press screenings around my paying work. I did better this year, seeing nearly 20 films, so I wanted to share my favorites with you.

The bad news is, most of the NYFF’s films won’t ever to make it to theaters in most parts of the country -- if any. The good news is, there are lots of other ways to see movies these days. And a well-curated film festival is one of the best ways to find things to add to your Netflix list or seek out on your computer or TV.

I’ve already caught one of this year’s offerings on TV, and my DVR is set to record another, which may still be playing when you read this. Martin Scorsese’s heartfelt tribute to director Elia Kazan, A Letter to Elia, aired on Channel 13 last week as part of the American Masters series. It’s a respectful and loving introduction to Kazan and his work that is also, like most of Scorsese’s tributes, about Scorsese’s own evolution as a filmmaker, but it didn’t add much to what I learned from Richard Schickel’s excellent biography of Kazan. I expect more from Carlos, Olivier Assayas’ epic dissection of international terrorist Carlos the Jackal, which was one of the best-reviewed as well as the longest (more than five hours) of this year’s NYFF offerings. I’ll be watching Carlos this week on the Sundance Channel, which has split it into three parts.

My favorite NYFF film this year may be Certified Copy, the latest by the great Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami. It’s the first film he shot outside Iran, and it may be his most accessible, thanks in part to the magnetism of its star. Juliette Binoche plays a woman who up with meets a man, apparently for the first time, after he gives a reading from his new book. They spend a day together, first arguing about his book, which claims that a well-made copy in art is valuable because it leads you to the original, and then abruptly switching gears. By mutual if unspoken consent, they begin acting like an estranged married couple, fast-forwarding through the ups and downs of a 15-year relationship over the course of one afternoon. Were they pretending at first to be strangers or are they pretending later on to be married? I don’t know, and I don’t really care. Simultaneously mining our emotions and reminding us of what it’s doing, Certified Copy is a master class in how a well-made movie can illuminate our emotions by artfully imitating life.

My other favorites included Korean director Lee Chang-dong’s Poetry, a powerful story about a woman who makes a wrenching decision involving her grandson, finding her voice through poetry just as Alzheimer’s is making it fade. American Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff is an existential modern Western about a wagon train party that gets lost en route to Oregon’s Willamette Valley and then has to decide whether to exchange one untrustworthy guide for another who may be even worse. Both films are shot from the point of view of women who have to gather their evidence and make their decisions from the sidelines, patronized or ignored by the men in charge.

Beautifully constructed, darkly funny and ultimately heartbreaking, Post Mortem is the second in Chilean director Pablo LarraĆ­n’s loosely conceived trilogy about ordinary people who get swept up against their will in the social upheaval and killings of the 1973 coup. (He’s currently working on the third, and the first was Tony Manero, which NYFF screened in 2008.) Also well worth seeing, though not as deeply engaging, were Boxing Gym, documentary pioneer Frederick Wiseman’s latest; Another Year, Mike Leigh’s look at the limits of friendship and loving kindness; and Tuesday, After Christmas, a dissection of the breakup of a marriage by Romanian director Radu Muntean.

Written for TimeOFF

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