Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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ROUNDUP: 52nd New York Film Festival 2014

As usual, the New York Film Festival had depth and high quality. If there wasn't anything to sweep me away like Amour and Holy Motors, an amazing trip like Life of Pi, anything as smart and witty as The Social Network or as profound as Sokurov's The Sun, this isn't the selection committee's fault, because this year seems a bit light on dazzlers. Personally I wasn't deeply impressed by any of the American features, but New York-related films came through strong with the street drug story Heaven Knows What, Gere's stunt as a homeless person Time Out of Mind, Perry's smart and mean Listen Up Philip, and Mexican director Iñárritu's Broadway theater tour de force Birdman.

Then we come to "foreign" films that were various kinds of delight. '71 is an intense historical thriller set in Bellfast at the height of the Troubles, and with it the French-born Yann Demarge, who works in England, emerges as a world class filmmaker. The Film Society favorite Hong Sang-soo's Hill of Freedom is another disarmingly slight-seeming little gem. Mike Leigh's Mr. Turner is both grand and quiet, a marvel of acting and the recreation of period the Brits can do so well. Abderrahmane Sissako shows himself to be one of the world's great filmmakers in the serene, beautiful, memorable Timbukto, which, almost surprisingly, is about jihadist brutality and violence in northeastern Mali. It still seems like a visual poem. There were a number of smart and elegant French films (nothing great from Latin America, nor anything else from Asia): the one I liked best is Bertrand Bonello's dreamy and beautiful Saint Laurent, for which he was able to assemble some tolerably cool actors, to say the least. Graf's German historical film Beloved Sisters was rich and beautiful. It's almost a miniseries though. And why are so many features over two hours? Assayas' Clouds of Sils Maria is an example of a serious art house film with ideas that overstayed its welcome because its editor put away his scissors too early.

The three "major" films idea, opening, centerpiece, and closing, is a bit phony from the cinephile POV, burt the Film Society's choices this year made sense. Fincher's big glitzy Gone Girl was an entertaining opener. I don't know what P.T. Anderson was doing with Inherent Vice, but he is a director I get excited about whose work gets into cineplexes. The closing film, Iñárritu's Birdman, is a welcome change of pace for him and a wild tour de force, if not as profound as it may think it is.

Below is a list I made up for a poll. Don't take it too seriously: five is an arbitrary limit, and I forgot to mention some things I liked, like the Hong Sang-soo, and made up the list before seeing Iñárritu's Birdman, which clamors for award consideration in various categories. So apparently does Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher, but I found that film very unsatisfying, far too long and too one-note, despite how uneasy it makes you. Something of the same could be said of Cronenberg's Maps to the Stars, which is clever and slick but makes no sense and misses its targets, its satire probably out of date. But as with some other choices (compare PTA), it's a film by a filmmaker whose failures you still have to see.

Another late item was Poitras' Citizenfour, which makes sense to include in the Main Slate though a documentary because of the outstanding importance of its subject, Edward Snowden at the moment of his NSA revelations in Hong Kong, and their meaning, but is also an exceptionally cleanly made film. The Festival had a lot of Spotlight on Documentary sidebar films and there were press screenings of some that showed merit, though mostly documentaries are something you watch if you're interested in the material, and they're rarely moving and unique as for example Man on Wire, To Be and To Have, or My Architect happen to be. Doc masterpieces are scarce as hen's teeth but "interesting" (to somebody) docs are very common and very available nowadays (a good thing, but a cause for festival jury reserve: for example, "Spotlight" NYFF film Merchants of Doubt was "interesting," but there are many films on closely related topics and the technique and look were boilerplate. Wiseman is an icon, like Maysles in his eighties still making documentaries, and everything he does demands festival attention. But what a bore he can be sometimes! Let me mention Ethan Hawke's doc debut Seymour: An Introduction, a charming and informative film about a remarkable elderly New York piano teacher (another New York film!), very well made and not to be dismissed just because its maker is a kind of celebrity.

BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE
1. '71 (Jann Demange 2014)
2. Mr. Turner (Mike Leigh 2014)
3. Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako 2014)
4. Two Days, One Night/Deux jours, une nuit (Jean-Pierre, Luc Dardenne 2014)
5. Saint Laurent (Bertrand Bonello 2014)
[6. Beloved Sisters/Die geliebten Schwestern (Dominik Graf 2014)]

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
1. Citizen Four (Laura Poitras)
2. Tales of the Grim Sleeper (Nick Broomfield 2014)
3. Red Army (Gabe Polsky 2014)
4. Seymour: An Introduction (Ethan Hawke 2014)
5. Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait/ (Ossama Mohammed, Wiam Simav Bedirxan 2014)
[6. National Gallery (Frederick Wiseman 2014)]

BEST DIRECTOR
1. Mike Leigh, Mr. Turner
2. Abderramane Sissako, Timbuktu
3 Yann Damange, '71
4. Jean-Pierre, Luc Dardenne, Two Days, One Night
5. Bertrand Bonello, Saint Laurent

BEST LEAD PERFORMANCE
1. Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night)
2. Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner)
3. Jack O'Connell ('71)
4. Richard Gere (Time Out of Mind)
5. Ibrahim Ahmed (Timbuktu)

BEST SUPPORTING PERFORMANCE.
1. Kristen Stewart (Couds of Sils Maria)
2. Hannah Herzsprung (Beloved Sisters)
3. Ben Vereen (Time Out of Mind)
4. Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher)
5. Carrie Coon (Gone Girl)

BEST SCREENPLAY
1. Timbuktu
2. Mr. Turner
3. Listen Up Philip
4. Gone Girl
5. Saint Laurent

BEST ENSEMBLE
1. Mr. Turner
2. Saint Laurent
3. Heaven Knows What
4. Two Days, One Night
5. Birdman [originally Foxcatcher]

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