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Why the New York Film Festival appeals to movie buffs

As per tradition, the line-up for the upcoming New York Film Festival offers a preview of what will invariably be some of the year's best-reviewed and most frequently awarded titles. Left, a still from David Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method".


It doesn’t have the international glamour of Cannes or Venice or the party scene of Sundance, and it’s been called elitist, grim, and self-consciously arty. But the New York Film Festival has earned a reputation since its creation in 1963 as one of the world’s most prestigious and smartly-programmed cinema events.

Year after year, the festival boasts a line-up that is the fruit of a painstaking selection process led by a small committee of leading US film critics and scholars. There is no competition at the New York Film Festival – no jury, prizewinners, or tearful speeches – and fewer world premieres than at other major festivals.

Indeed, the emphasis at this low-drama, no-frills event is on the movies themselves. In turn, the roster of chosen works is generally received as gospel by film buffs and also serves as a preview of what will invariably be some of the best-reviewed and most frequently awarded titles of the year.

The 27-movie selection for this year’s edition – which will take place from September 30 to October 16 – was announced Wednesday and reads in large part like a rigorously condensed and refined mix of last May’s Cannes competition and the line-ups for the upcoming Venice and Toronto film festivals.

Polanski, Cronenberg, Panahi…and Marilyn?

Holdovers from Cannes include French director Michel Hazanavicius’ black-and-white, silent crowd-pleaser “The Artist”; Israeli Joseph Cedar’s dark father-son comedy “Footnote”; the Dardenne brothers’ latest slice of Belgian neo-realism “The Kid with a Bike”; Lars Von Trier’s apocalyptic sci-fi drama “Melancholia”; Pedro Almodovar’s twisty medical thriller “The Skin I Live In”; and “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia”, a moody, nearly-3-hour police procedural from Turkey’s Nuri Bilge Ceylan.

Among films selected for New York that also screen in Venice and Toronto are Roman Polanski’s “Carnage”, about two couples (played by Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Kate Winslet, and Christopher Waltz) who face off after their children get in a schoolyard scuffle; David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method”, about the relationships between Freud, Jung, and a mentally unstable young woman (played by Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender, and Keira Knightley, respectively); Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants”, a bittersweet domestic comedy starring George Clooney; and Steve McQueen’s “Shame”, headlined by Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan, which has been described by the festival organisers as “a portrait of a sex addict”.

The selection also has several politically charged titles, most notably “This is Not a Film”, the latest film from imprisoned Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi. Others are Ruben Östlund’s “Play”, about a racial incident in Sweden; Israeli Nadav Lapid’s “Policeman”, a drama that examines economic inequalities in Israel; and “The Student”, Argentinian director Santiago Mitre’s début about a university student’s relationship with a radical activist.

One of the most hotly anticipated performances of the festival will be Michelle Williams’ turn as Marilyn Monroe in Simon Curtis’s “My Week with Marilyn”, which chronicles the star’s rocky relationship with British thespian Laurence Olivier (played by Kenneth Branagh) during the production of 1957 film “The Prince and the Showgirl”.

The New York Film Festival selection committee includes prominent film critics Melissa Anderson, Scott Foundas, Dennis Lim, and Todd McCarthy, as well as Richard Peña, the head film programmer at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York.

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