Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 13, 2020 2:50 pm 
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THE BEST OF THE NYFF 2020

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Docs rock

This is a year unlike any other any of us have known. But New York doesn't quit. Film at Lincoln Center surmounted all obstacles to provide a real festival, in hybrid form, virtual (open to the whole country) combined with local drive-in presentations. They did their best with what they had. And it was good.

The Main Slate was packed with documentaries - more than any other year: why on earth so much factual stuff at a time when we need cheering up? Have we grown intolerant of frivolity, of charm? Nonetheless non-fiction films did provide more of the festival's real satisfactions. Gunda (Victor Kossakovsky 2020) and Notturno (Gianfranco Rosi 2020) manage to combine the greatest artistry and the greatest meaning. The Truffle Hunters (Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw 2020) has charm and perfection even if it may be far down on the scale of "relevance." Time (Garrett Bradley 202) and MLK/FBI (Sam Pollard 2020) are more workmanlike productions with important messages on the timely subjects of police brutality and racism. In City Hall, about Boston, Frederick Wiseman reliably provides a rich story in impeccable non-fiction style. So there are six documentaries in the Main Slate - unprecedented, all of them really good, even if it wasn't essential to include every one of them in this elite list.

That may bespeak a thinner feature list this year and perhaps that was true. The way the Centerpiece film Nomadland (Chloé Zhao 2020) mixes a famous actress with authentic, found people felt false, yet it'll probably be the Main Slate's most talked-about American film; there were hardly any, anyway. (I missed Sofia Coppola's On the Rocks but it sounds like a minor effort, as is the closing night French Exit (Azazel Jacobs 2020), a mere bauble, albeit a notable showcase for Michelle Pfeiffer.)

Three favorite features

Three that impressed are: The Disciple (Chaitanya Tamhane 2020), Days (Tsai Ming-liang 2020), and Undine (Christian Petzold 2020). The first two won't be for everyone, and Undine is less substantial than the trilogy from Petzold that proceeded it. The Disciple is a complex drama about entering the demanding world of classical Indian music. Days is a slow cinema study of an older man encountering a younger man and briefly connecting. Undine is a witty, sexy riff on the water nymph legend set in contemporary Berlin.

A surprise was the three from Steve McQueen's "Small Axe" series. Lovers Rock, Mangrove, and Red, White and Blue, scheduled for TV release (BBC; Amazon Prime). I wrote them off as more filler, not real movies, and more stuff where McQueen browbeats us, all very wrong on my part. McQueen is a lot better than I realized and is working in top form, and these films - they are films - about the struggles and triumphs in different historical moments in the life of the London West Indian community, are passionately acted and filmed and breathlessly intense and exciting films. Put "Small Axe" on your to-do list.

There are three other titles that, however flawed, matter or show great promise: Beginning (Dea Kulumbegashvili 2020), I Carry You with Me/Te Llevo Conmigo (Heidi Ewing 2020) and Night of the Kings/La Nuit des rois (Philippe Lacôte 2020).

But there was no great or universally acclaimed feature film this year. No Marriage Story, no Pain and Glory, no Parasite. No Ash Is Purest White, no Burning, no Shoplifters. No Call Me by Your Name, no Lady Bird, no Zama. No Manchester by the Sea, no Moonlight, no Toni Erdmann. And that is just to review the past four years in reverse: the Main Slates of 2019, 2018, 2017 and 2016.

John Waters' official 58th NYFF poster:

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