Like Toronto, the New York Film Festival is one for which it's not only possible, but also hopefully helpful to write up an index before the festival actually begins. Even back in August, when the lineup was announced, we already knew quite a bit about more than a few of the selections because, of course, the NYFF is not about premieres; it is instead a summing up of the year so far, a presentation of the best of the best. Local cinephiles know they could do worse than heed the advice of one of 2009's most memorable characters: "Attendez pour la crème!"
One would also due well to turn to the Voice for recommendations. After all, of the five members of the selection committee, only Richard Peña, program director for the Film Society of Lincoln Center, isn't connected with the weekly in some fashion or other. J Hoberman and Scott Foundas are Voice Media film critics; Melissa Anderson is a contributing writer; and Dennis Lim is a former film editor. In the current issue, J Hoberman recommends five "must-see films" - Ghost Town, Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno, To Die Like a Man, Kanikôsen and Trash Humpers. Scott Foundas has flown to Paris to interview Alain Resnais, whose Wild Grass opens this year's NYFF, and Nicolas Rapold previews the documentaries.
"This year's New York Film Festival seems aimed at hardcore cinephiles," writes Steve Erickson in Gay City News; and here at The Auteurs, Daniel Kasman notes that "the hardcore would rather watch two 70 minute movies that one twice as long." It's the year of the "micro-feature."
Previewing the first half of the festival for Filmmaker, Howard Feinstein finds "a number of movies that break barriers and/or do not pretend to sate the highbrow crowd. What a relief, especially because Tribeca, the other major New York festival, opts more and more for mainstream fare."
The Time Out New York team has selected "nine you should put on your must-see list."
Updates, 9/25: "When it hit New York in 1963, the festival didn't have much company in the United States," notes Manohla Dargis in her preview of the first week's offerings in the New York Times. "These days we live in a world of the 24/7 festival - a permanent event for every season, quirk, taste, demographic, aesthetic sensibility and commercial interest, a stream of images running through theaters and playing on cable, at home and abroad. Amid such overwhelming visual plenty, an organization founded on a necessary principle of elitism, on the serious regard for cinema, needs all the help - and audience love - it can get."
At Hammer to Nail, Michael Tully weighs in on the lineup and begins posting capsule reviews.
Online listening tip. "What are we most eagerly anticipating? What have we already seen? What should people not miss?" At GreenCine Daily, Aaron Hillis talks with Andrew Grant and Nick Schager.
Online viewing tip. The Film Society has a YouTube channel and knows how to use it.
Update, 9/27: Michael Guillén turns to the second section of Film Festival Yearbook 1: The Festival Circuit and specifically to "Rahul Hamid's informative and fascinating historical essay 'From Urban Bohemia to Euro Glamour: The Establishment and Early Years of the New York Film Festival' (2009:67-81)."
"Billed as the earliest surviving Korean film, Crossroads of Youth is an ensemble drama about a group of characters whose lives are unknowingly intertwined," writes Cullen Gallagher at Not Coming to a Theater Near You. "The era in which silent cinema reigned may be seven decades in the past, accessible now only as part of history or experimental niches, but that doesn't mean that its ways weren't sophisticated then, nor does it mean that it can't still surprise modern audiences and teach them a thing or two."
Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl (Daniel Kasman)
"Andrzej Wajda's latest feature film Sweet Rush intertwines three different storylines," wrote Kasia Trojak for the AFI Fest Daily News when it screened there on October 31: "one based on a short story by one of Poland's most acclaimed writers, Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz; a monologue of the lead actress about the death of her real life husband and one of Wajda's closest collaborators, Edward Kłosinski; and a story about filmmaking itself. The film has a complex narrative that offers a simple and universal message about love and death." Jeff Reichert in Reverse Shot: "It's already been noted, but it's worth repeating: along with Wajda, NYFF entries from Rivette, Resnais and Oliveira make this year's edition something akin to a geriatric director's convention. That no film is an embarrassment, and most approach the heights achieved by these filmmakers' youthful excursions, suggests that, for the right artists, the quality of artmaking is ageless." 2.5 out of 4 stars from Andrew Schenker in Slant; more from Martin Tsai (Critic's Notebook) and Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York).
Views from the Avant-Garde: Turn to Michael Sicinski. More from Manohla Dargis (NYT). And from Ed Halter in Artforum. At Not Coming to a Theater Near You: Leo Goldsmith on Harun Farocki's In Comparison. Genevieve Yue has a roundup in Reverse Shot. Here at The Auteurs, Johnny Lavant revisits "24 Hours of Avant-Garde": the Bad Hours and the Good Hours, parts I and II.
Elliott Stein in the Voice on the Masterworks sidebar, The Films of Guru Dutt: A Heart as Big as the World: "Dutt's best films are unrivaled, not only for the fluidity of their musical sequences - he was the first Indian helmer to integrate song numbers within the narrative - but for the darkness they portrayed in a traditionally cliche-ridden escapist industry." More from Rachel Saltz in the NYT. And Arun Dutt, son of the filmmaker, discusses his father's life and work on the Leonard Lopate Show.
The 70th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz was celebrated not only by the NYFF but also by Warner Home Video with the practically simultaneous release of The Wizard of Oz 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition, which the NYT's Dave Kehr calls "a magnificent demonstration of digital technology used to preserve and perpetuate a crucial artifact of the analog past."
WRAP-UPS, LISTS, ETC
Updates, 10/7: "This year's New York Film Festival can be understood as an unusually powerful and disciplined presentation of an aesthetic ideology we might call festivalism," proposes AO Scott in the NYT. "[T]he festivalist mentality does not simply rest on a taste for depicting or witnessing human misery - social, sexual, economic and psychic. Rather, the embrace of such harsh thematic content reflects a commitment to a dogma of artistic obduracy. TS Eliot said of modern poetry that 'it must be difficult,' an imperative defiantly reflected in a program, harvested mostly from other festivals, that pushes the boundary between the challenging and the punitive."
"The idea that the critics on the selection committee are out of touch with popular taste - an argument that has circulated lately - doesn't quite add up," argues Eric Kohn at the Wrap.
Updates, 10/10: At indieWIRE: "The Year's Best? Bleakest? Elitist? 10 Questions for the NYFF Selection Committee."
"With three-fifths of its selection committee comprised of Village Voice vets from the good old days, and its line-up sporting as many Portuguese centenarians as high-profile American releases, this year's New York Film Festival has been alternately praised and bemoaned as the funkiest, most eclectic in recent memory." A roundup from Mark Asch for Stop Smiling.
Update, 10/15: Philippe Garnier looks back on the festival for LA Weekly.
Update, 10/17: Notes on AO Scott's piece in the NYT and a top ten from James Hansen.
Update, 10/23: "Wait - who hated this festival again?" Edmund Mullins at the House Next Door.
Update, 10/28: For Filmmaker, John Magary ranks this year's batch in categories from "Miss with a clear conscience" to "I dare you not to love this movie, friend." Of course, there's only one of those.
Updates, 11/5: "By objective ratings, 2009's edition was an above average year for me," writes Kevin B Lee, introducing his list of "18 films from top to bottom": "at least 7 films I was genuinely excited about (as opposed to 6 most years and 4 last year). The last time I rated 7 or more NYFF films highly was in 2002. Still, my mind harbors the impression that my first three years of attending NYFF gave me the most, especially that first year when Yi Yi and Platform were the one-two punch that made me a NYFF fan for life. And yet, this year gave me Everyone Else, a film that's on my shortlist for Best of the Decade and one that I find truly inspirational like few films I've seen in recent years."
"Overall, this was a strong year for the NYFF," writes Megan Ratner in her roundup for Bright Lights Film Journal. "Of particular note was by La Rabbia di Pasolini, Giuseppe Bertolucci's 2008 reconstruction of Pasolini's 1963 cine-essay. Working from the original script and culling from images that would have been available to Pasolini at the time, La Rabbia captured Pasolini's intellectual showmanship and verve so well that it felt fresh, specific to its time but not dated."
Update, 11/7: "True, there was a certain take-your-medicine-it's-good-for-you grimness in the programming, traceable to the selectors feeling all film-school Euro-canonical," writes David N Meyer in his roundup for the Brooklyn Rail. "Believe me, if Jean-Pierre Melville were alive, he'd have had a picture in here. Bergman ditto. Some exalted grinding retreads spoiled the mix, Claire Denis foremost. But there were transcendent, uh, visions, some pure cinema (a three-hour Chinese documentary) and some pure blood 'n' guts (The Red Riding Trilogy). I logged at least two days of over eight hours of viewing, and the ass ache was worth every minute."
Also: Sean Glass on Hadewijch and The White Ribbon.