New York is once again the center of the cinematic world starting Friday night, as the lights go down, the curtains peel back and the 51st edition of the New York Film Festival unspools at Lincoln Center.
Kicking off with the world premiere of “Captain Phillips,” starring Tom Hanks, and featuring first-ever showings of Ben Stiller’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and “Her” with Joaquin Phoenix, this year’s NYFF brings serious Oscar-contending Hollywood star power to the Upper West Side as the headliners for an eclectic selection of movies culled from across the globe.
“I like the span of it,” said Kent Jones, NYFF director of programming and selection committee chair. “It’s a lot of different ideas of what movies are, what cinema is.”
The 2013 edition sports a main slate of 36 films, an increase of three over last year, and a plethora of additional programs. These include an extensive avant-garde sidebar, gala tributes to Cate Blanchett and Ralph Fiennes, repertory screenings, a multimedia program, a spotlight on documentaries, special talks with filmmakers and more.
There is, in other words, a concerted effort to connect with the community at large, a welcome and continuing development for a festival that some have knocked as elitist and esoteric.
“Anything to connect the audience to the films and to the filmmaker is good — anything,” Jones said. “I think it’s great. ... It’s great to give people forums in which to comment on movies, to react to movies. That’s what I really love. Hearing people talking about movies. If they like them or not is immaterial. Of course, it’s great when people like them, but it’s good when they hate them too. What’s not good is when they solemnly file out.”
The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s signature event arrives after a major organizational transition. Longtime programming head Richard Peña stepped down after last year’s event. Jones, a Lincoln Center veteran, stepped in.
But “the mission of the festival has never really needed to change dramatically,” Jones said.
The NYFF has introduced countless prestigious films and filmmakers over its 51 years, including the Coen Brothers, who have a film, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” in this year’s fest.
So, directors from this year’s crop are justifiably thrilled to be included.
“Our film ‘The Square’ is about young people challenging deep power structures in my hometown of Cairo — a beautiful chaotic city that never sleeps,” says filmmaker Jehane Noujaim. “I can’t imagine a better place to open this film than in my other hometown of New York — another beautiful, chaotic city that never sleeps.”
James Gray, director of “The Immigrant” starring Phoenix and Marion Cotillard, adds: “I’ve been lucky enough to show my films at many festivals around the world, but being invited to New York is, for me, simply one of the biggest honors of my career. It’s my hometown — I’m a Queens boy!”
These are some of the biggest movies playing at the New York Film Festival. Tickets are still available for many, and you can always try standby lines for the sold-out shows. For more information on the fest, which runs from Friday through Oct. 13, visit nyff.filmlinc.com.
“Captain Phillips” — The opening-night selection stars Tom Hanks as Maersk Alabama Capt. Richard Phillips, whose ship was hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009.
“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” — Ben Stiller directs and stars in the latest adaptation of James Thurber’s short story about an adventurer in his own mind.
“Her” — The festival closes with Spike Jonze’s look at a very modern form of loneliness, following a writer (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with an operating system voiced by Scarlett Johansson.
“Nebraska” — Will Forte (yes, the former MacGruber) and Bruce Dern star in Alexander Payne’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning “The Descendants,” a black-and-white portrait of a father and son on a road trip from Montana to Nebraska.
“About Time” — “Love Actually” director Richard Curtis returns with a crowd-pleasing, time-traveling romance/philosophical exploration starring Domhnall Gleeson as a time traveler and Rachel McAdams as the woman he loves.
“Le Week-End” — Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan play a British couple trying to resuscitate their marriage in Paris in this film from director Roger Michell (“Hyde Park on Hudson”).
“Inside Llewyn Davis” — The Coen Brothers, lovers of American kitsch, turn their acerbic eyes on the Greenwich Village folk scene circa the 1960s. Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan and John Goodman star.
“All Is Lost” — Robert Redford has garnered serious Oscar buzz for his solo work in this movie about a man stranded on his boat in the Indian Ocean.
“Blue Is the Warmest Color” — This French film depicts the intense, tumultuous love story of two young women. It won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival and is a rare movie being released with the NC-17 rating.
“American Promise” — A 14-years-in-the-making documentary by Brooklyn parents Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson that follows their son Idris and his friend Seun through the prestigious Dalton School.