The full slate for the 51st New York Film Festival is littered with titles we’ll likely be talking about for the rest of the year (as the Oscar picture snaps into focus), and possibly for years to come. Potential classics from Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips), Joel and Ethan Coen (Inside Llewyn Davis), Alexander Payne (Nebraska), Jim Jarmusch (Only Lovers Left Alive) and many more stand out during a cursory scan of the entire cinematic roster. You can scour the list to your heart’s content here.
“Cinema is a vast terrain with a complex ecology, encompassing a mindbending array of species and habitats," said NYFF Director of Programming Kent Jones in a statement. "I love the level of diversity in the main slate selections, which includes documentaries, biographies, comedies, adventures, epics, chamber pieces, elegies, explorations and affirmations. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did."
We plan to. And if we only could see five movies from the diverse palate of cinematic offerings when the festival kicks off on Sept. 27, here are the films we’d consider essential.
1. Inside Llewyn Davis
The Coen brothers charmed Cannes critics with their grungy, melodic story of a down-on-his luck folk singer (Oscar Isaac). Now they’re taking their show to New York City, where Gothamites likely will respond to the Big Apple setting of the titular musician’s journey. Inside Llewyn Davis is expected to strike the same emotional chords the Coens plucked in movies like Miller’s Crossing, A Serious Man and even O Brother Where Art Thou, but they also seem to be hoping to tap into some more of the Academy attention generated by their last picture, True Grit. A successful run through the NYFF will help this film’s awards chances.
2. Captain Phillips
Director Paul Greengrass has taken a break from making movies with Matt Damon to recount the true story of heroism on the high seas that occurred when an unarmed U.S. freighter was attacked by Somali pirates. We’re paying close attention to this projecr because Greengrass casts perennial Oscar contender Tom Hanks, against type, as the tough-as-nails title character. The last time Greengrass worked to fashion a nail-biting thriller from actual, devastating headlines he came up with United 93… a film I consider to be one of the greatest of the past 20 years. Could this one come close to that?
3. All Is Lost
When was the last time Robert Redford was great? I mean, truly great? Indecent Proposal? Sneakers? You are going back 20 years. I'm hoping Margin Call director JC Chandor has handed Redford his most challenging role in decades, casting him as a sailor braving brutal weather conditions on a damaged boat. The reviews out of Cannes were solid, and we should know more about All Is Lost when it screens for crowds in New York.
4. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
It was a surprise finding Ben Stiller’s Christmas release on the schedule for a September film festival. And yet, most of what we have seen from Siller’s latest directorial effort suggests that that it’s going to be one of this year's sure-fire Oscar contender… making a bow at NYFF a calculated risk. In The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Stiller casts himself as a daydreaming cubicle dweller at Time Magazine who’d like to pursue the heart of a coworker (Kristen Wiig), if he could only put his emotional obstacles behind him. Is it as good as it looks? Thanks to its debut at NYFF, we will know soon.
5. Blue Is The Warmest Color
This last slot was tough to fill. In lieu of the new Payne, or the new Jonze, the new Denis (really, the list goes on and on) I’m going with Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue is Te Warmest Color, another Cannes sensation that rode near-universal critical praise to a Palme d’Or trophy earlier this year. We’re anxious to see if what played well in France carries over to the States, because sometimes Cannes films fall flat. Everything we hear, however, says that young co-stars Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux give heartwrenching performances that transcend language barriers. Put this on your must-see list.