Was the New York Film Festival this year all it could have been? It seems that the two weeks came and went, and the amazing films that leave a lasting impression and carry that sought-after Oscar buzz never showed up. On paper the main slate of the festival promised an impressive and varied list of films, with a sizable number of entries from Europe and Asia. It seemed a throwback to the days of Richard Peña, the former festival chef who one year answered a New York Times article by assuring audiences that the festival was indeed elitist. He might as well have announced that the Film Society of Lincoln Center was a humorless place where only the most esoteric and cryptic (read boring) films need apply. But then again, most New Yorkers who grew up attending the festival from the 1980s on already knew that.
Maybe I missed the films that really mattered this year. I wasn’t there opening night, missed the centerpiece, and could not attend closing night. I did finally catch up with The Meyerowitz family and their stories, but I had to log on to my Netflix account to catch Noah Baumbach's wonderful film. I was glad I did. It was one of the most enjoyable films that was shown at the festival. The kind of film that exemplifies the new New York Film Festival under Kent Jones. I wish there could have been more where that came from.
There was a stern quality to the festival that seemed out of place. Zama, an Argentinian film from Lucrecia Martel was a long, monolithic story of barbarism and civilization that took itself way too serious. Ditto for BPM, a French film about the AIDS crisis and the militant work of ACT UP Paris. Even Richard Serra’s official poster for the festival had an ultra-no nonsense look as it tried to be referential to a camera lens. Interesting, but oh, so serious.
The Opera House, which was shown at the Metropolitan Opera was a documentary of the company’s move to Lincoln Center in the 1960s, but in the end, it served to be no more than a two-hour infomercial highlighting Peter Gelb’s current Met Opera. Showing it at the MET itself was the best aspect of the screening.
Call Me by Your Name was, more than likely, the most popular film in the festival, and rightly so. The story of the coming of age of a teenager in 1980’s Northern Europe was bubbly, moving, and it featured amazing performances by a talented ensemble cast featuring newcomer Timothée Chalamet as a teenage boy falling in love with a thirty-year old man.
Perhaps my favorite films this year at the festival were the revivals, especially the restorations of The Old Dark House and Pandora's Box; the latter was shown with live musical accompaniment. Watching these restorations was like watching new works being screened for the first time.