There are a lot of flashy names and choice nabs at the 52nd annual New York Film Festival. But don’t let that distract you from the truth: NYFF has always been, and hopefully always will be, a time for adventurous, sometimes punishing (though also sometimes fun) cinema. The three-week battering ram brings untold famous faces, both at home and abroad, to Manhattan, as well as a fake one-shot dramedy, a 3-D movie from one of film’s legends and an allegedly stunning performance from KStew.
Arguably NYFF’s biggest get is “Gone Girl,” which finds director David Fincher again lending his exacting, borderline OCD (and sometimes just OCD) style to bear on a mega-bestseller. This one’s a better fit for him than the drearily plot-heavy “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” Gillian Flynn’s whiplashy novel, about a former journo (Ben Affleck) suspected of foul play with his AWOL wife (Rosamund Pike) is as funny as it is twisty, and Fincher might even be better than Flynn (who wrote the screenplay) at sussing out the truth that this is about marriage, not about thrills.
The other giant is “Inherent Vice,” in which Paul Thomas Anderson tries to beat a typically sprawling, goofy Thomas Pynchon novel into some kind of cinematic shape. Even if he fails, there’s no way that Joaquin Phoenix’s turn as a pot-smoking, easily distracted detective won’t be one of the year’s craziest.
Elsewhere: These have played elsewhere, but not New York, but the fest also nabbed the American premiere of “Birdman,” the faux-one-take study of an actor who once played a winged movie superhero, appropriately played by Michael Keaton. Also hitting Gotha are “Foxcatcher,” with Steve Carell as murderer John Du Pont and Channing Tatum as the brother of the guy (Mark Ruffalo) who he killed; and David Cronenberg’s latest, “Maps to the Stars,” with Julianne Moore as a washed-up actress.
The established masters
NYFF has always been a showcase for cinema’s finest directors, and this year has the latest from the usual suspects. Along with the final film of Alain Resnais (“Life of Reilly”) and newbies from Jean-Luc Godard (the 3-D “Goodbye to Language”) and Mike Leigh (the painter biopic “Mr. Turner”), it has “The Clouds of Sils Maria,” which pairs handheld master Olivier Assayas (“Carlos,” “Summer Hours”) with no less than Kirsten Stewart. The former Bella Swan getting raves for playing the assistant to a famous actress (Juliette Binoche), but the draw should still be Assayas’ observant and thrillingly immediate style.
Speaking of famous actresses, Marion Cotillard finds herself in "Two Days, One Night," the latest grim but calmly observed social drama from Belgium’s Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne (“Kid with a Bike”). She slightly dirties herself up to play a worker rushing around after finding her bosses have asked employees to vote for keeping her or their much-needed bonuses.
Elsewhere: With “Pasolini,” Abel Ferrara does up the final days of murdered Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini (Willem Dafoe). There’s also the latest from South Korea’s reliably chatty and boozy Hong Sang-soo (“Hill of Freedom”), Africa’s Abderrahmane Sissako (“Timbuktu”) and Portugal’s super-mega-hyper-minimalist Pedro Costa (“Horse Money”), plus a documentary about The New York Times Book Review co-made by Martin Scorsese (“The 50 Year Argument”).
Breakthroughs rarely come more startling than Joshua Oppenheimer’s “The Act of Killing,” which found unique ways into the subject and the confidences of members of an old Indonesian death squad. “The Look of Silence,” his follow-up finds another angle, following the brother of a murdered man more openly confronting the free and often wealthy former members (who he unfailingly dubs “murderers”), while Oppenheimer tacitly questions whether closure can ever be achieved.
Having already mentioned Assayas, it’s worth noting his girlfriend, Mia Hansen-Love, is a pretty terrific director herself. Last seen with “Goodbye First Love,” her follow-up, “Eden,” is an epic about the early days of clubbing featuring music by Daft Punk.
Elsewhere: “Listen Up Philip” finds Alex Ross Perry, of the hilariously sour “The Color Wheel,” with name actors, with Jason Schwartzman as a Philip Roth-y author and Elisabeth Moss as his tolerant girlfriend. Asia Argento brings her third feature, “Misunderstood,” as does “The Messenger”’s Oren Moverman (“Time out of Mind,” with Richard Gere), and actor-director Mathieu Amalric (“Quantum of Solace”) shows off “The Blue Room.” Meanwhile Bertrand Bonello chases the brilliant “House of Pleasure” with the 2 ½ hour biopic “Saint Laurent,"Debra Granik makes the documentary "Stray Dog," about a man she met while filming her indie hit "Winter's Bone," and Edward Snowden gets one of surely many docs in the Steven Soderbergh-produced "Citizenfour."
Revivals, et cetera
Along with a meaty retro for Hollywood mainstay Joseph L. Mankiewicz (“All About Eve,” “Sleuth”), there’s a random smattering of classics up for grabs, from Anthony Mann’s Jimmy Stewart-goes-psycho Western “The Man From Laramie” to the new, longer cut of Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in America” to the sound version of Robert Flaherty’s “Moana.” And those fearing that “Views from the Avant-Garde” had disappeared from the roster will be relieved to learn it has simply been rechristened as “Projections.” This year offers the latest from experimental luminaries like Ken Jacobs, Ben Rivers, Ben Russell, Lewis Klahr and two from colorful collage wonder Jodie Mack, whose peerlessly happy-making work you can catch up on right here.
The 52nd New York Film Festival stars this Friday, Sept. 26 and runs through Oct. 12. For schedules and tickets, visit the NYFF site.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge