New York Film Festival: 15 Must-See Films To Watch

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The 56th Annual New York Film Festival is upon us once again, gifting the cinematic landscape with thrilling and compelling films carefully curated from all over the world.  Last year’s favorites included “Call Me By Your Name” and “Lady Bird,” the latter of which went onto become A24’s highest grossing film and earn not one but five Academy Award nominations.  This year is no different, the festival will unleash future classics like “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” directed by the Coen Brothers, the sweeping Mexican epic “ROMA,” the latest effort by Academy Award winner Alfonso Cuaron. Paul Dano’s inaugural directorial effort “Wildlife” will also premiere, starring Carrie Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal both can be counted among the most brilliant actors working today.  It’s a festival of riches and a great catch-up for all of us that weren’t able to make it to Cannes, Venice and Toronto (most of us). Without further ado, here are 15 films you need to watch and dozens of other, equally-worthwhile films to keep an eye on.

READ MORE: 55 Must-See Films: The 2018 Fall Movie Preview

Roma
Cast: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Nancy García
Synopsis:  A story that chronicles a year in the life of a middle-class family in Mexico City in the early 1970s.
What You Need To Know: Winner of the Golden Lion at this year’s Venice Film Festival, Alfonso Cuarón won over the festival with his black and white masterwork “Roma.” Having directed such iconic films like the mind-blowing “Gravity,” the intensely compelling film “Children of Men,” or his spellbinding turn in JK Rowling’s sprawling adventure “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.” “Roma” will undoubtedly be a cinematic experience unlike any other this year [our review from Venice].
Release Date: On Netflix December 14, but likely in theaters before that. 

READ MORE: 2018 Toronto International Film Festival: The Good, The Great, & Only A Little Ugly

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Cast: James Franco, Liam Neeson, David Krumholtz, Brendan Gleeson
Synopsis: An anthology western following six different storylines centering on a man named Buster Scruggs.
What You Need To Know: What reportedly originally began as a six-part Netflix series evolved into a feature film with Joel and Ethan Coen at the helm.  Needing no introduction, the Coen Brothers have cemented themselves a place in cinematic history with instant classics like “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “True Grit” and “No Country for Old Men” just to name a few. Reminiscent of classic Westerns, a genre the Coens are exceedingly familiar with, ‘Buster Scruggs’ will be part of the recent resurgence of Western-themed films and television series into the entertainment landscape [our review from Venice].
Release Date: November 16 on Netflix [our review from Venice].

Her Smell
Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Cara Delevigne, Dan Stevens, Agyness Deyn, Amber Heard
Synopsis: A self-destructive punk rocker struggles with sobriety while trying to recapture the creative inspiration that led her band to success.
What You Need To Know: Alex Ross Perry’s evocative film will be an intense journey through the trials and tribulations of fame, addiction, and self-destruction.  Elisabeth Moss recently said that the role was “the hardest thing” she’d ever done when speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, which is exciting when you consider her powerful work in Hulu series “The Handmaid’s Tale” a role that has garnered her annual Emmy nominations. Moss and Perry have teamed up on two prior films “Queen of Earth” and “Listen Up Philip” so it will be interesting to see what their third partnership will bring forth next [our review from TIFF].
Release Date: TBD.

High Life
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, André Benjamin, Mia Goth
Synopsis: A father and his daughter struggle to survive in deep space where they live in isolation.
What You Need To Know: Claire Denis teams up once more with Juliette Binoche in the lo-fi sci-fi odyssey “High Life,” having worked together previously on 2017’s “Let The Sunshine In.” The film also stars Robert Pattinson and André Benjamin in Denis’ first English language film, which could finally launch her into the North American cinematic landscape [our review from TIFF].
Release Date: TBD.

If Beale Street Could Talk
Cast: KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King
Synopsis: A woman in Harlem desperately scrambles to prove her fiancée innocent of a crime while carrying their first child.
What You Need To Know: Based on the book written by famed American novelist James Baldwin in 1974, Barry Jenkins wrote the screenplay and directed the film which centers on a young man falsely accused of rape.  Obviously a challenging subject choice post #MeToo, but necessary nonetheless; one can certainly expect that Jenkins will tackle it earnestly.  This film is his sophomore effort, following “Moonlight’s” historic (and dramatic) Academy Award win last year. [our review from TIFF].
Release Date: November 30.

Private Life
Cast: Kathryn Hahn, Paul Giamatti, Siobhan Fallon Hogan
Synopsis: An author (Hahn) is undergoing multiple fertility therapies to get pregnant, putting her relationship with her husband (Giamatti) on edge.
What You Need To Know: Alongside “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” Tamara Jenkins’ film “Private Life” is the second Netflix main slate entry into the New York Film Festival this year. As Jenkins’ first film in a decade, “Private Life” is her entry back into filmmaking and her latest film will likely be a warm and touching reflection on family, life, and love [our review from Sundance].
Release Date: October 5 on Netflix.

Wildlife
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Carey Mulligan, Ed Oxenbould,  Bill Camp
Synopsis: A boy witnesses his parents’ marriage falling apart after his mother finds another man.
What You Need To Know: Paul Dano is stunning audiences with his first filmmaking effort, quite an undertaking considering the talent headlining the film.  A considerable acting talent himself (“There Will Be Blood” serves as a stellar example), Dano stepped aside taking a role behind the camera as director, setting the stage for brilliant actors Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal to shine.  As expected, the two seized the opportunity with enthralling performances likely to astound and delight in this gripping family drama [our review from Sundance].
Release Date: September 30.

Transit
Cast: Franz Rogowski, Paula Beer, Godehard Giese, Lilien Batman, Maryam Zaree
Synopsis: When a man flees France after the Nazi invasion, he assumes the identity of a dead author whose papers he possesses. Stuck in Marseilles, he meets a young woman desperate to find her missing husband – the very man he’s impersonating.
What You Need To Know: This film is an adaptation of German novelist Anna Seghers’s 1942 book “Transit Visa” and is directed
by notable director Christian Petzold, who won the highly coveted Grimme-Preis Award for excellence in German television. The film stars up and comer Franz Rogowski who was most recently seen in “Happy End” and profiled by The New York Times is definitely one to watch, quietly making waves in the European film industry.  Rogowski appears to be on the cusp of international stardom with this film as well as his other 2018 film “In the Aisles” which have solidified his irrefutable presence in German cinema [our review from Berlin].
Release Date: TBD.

At Eternity’s Gate
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Oscar Isaac, Rupert Friend, Mads Mikkelsen
Synopsis: A look at Vincent van Gogh’s time in Arles.
What You Need To Know: A tour-de-force performance by Willem Dafoe in which he expertly captures the final days of famed painter Vincent van Gogh.  Dafoe transforms in what might be considered to be some of the best work of his career and Academy Award nominated director Julian Schnabel said that the film is simply “impossible to describe.” The project is somewhat shrouded in mystery which makes for a tantalizing sense of curiosity for the audience which is not often felt with films today. Schnabel previously directed the critically acclaimed film “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” so that, combined with Dafoe’s superlative talent assures us that it’s no surprise this film is garnering quite a bit of attention.
Release Date: November 16.

Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Cast: Sylvia Chang, Yongzhong Chen, Jue Huang, Hong-Chi Lee, Meng Li, Wei Tang
Synopsis: A man went back to Guizhou, found the tracks of a mysterious woman. He recalls the summer he spent with her twenty years ago.
What You Need To Know: Emerging Chinese filmmaker Bi Gan embarks on his second film following the critically praised film “Kaili Blues” which garnered worldwide attention.  In his follow-up, Bi’s filmmaking seems to be steadily evolving as this film lies between both fantasy and reality,  interweaving the bounds of time – creating an immersive and unique cinematic experience [our review from Cannes].
Release Date: Spring 2019 via Kino Lorber.

Grass
Cast: Min-hee Kim, Joobong Kee
Hotel by the River
Cast: Joo-Bong Ki, Min-hee Kim,  Hae-hyo Kwon, Seon-mi Song, Joon-Sang Yoo
Synopsis: “Grass” – In a small Café, Min-hee Kim plays a guest who prefers to observe but not interact with the other guests herself. “Hotel by the River”- Two tales intersect at a riverside hotel: an elderly poet (Ki Joo-bong), invited to stay there for free by the owner, summons his two estranged sons, sensing his life drawing to a close; and a young woman (Kim Min-hee) nursing a recently broken heart is visited by a friend who tries to console her. At times these threads overlap, at others, they run tantalizingly close to each other. (via 2018 NYFF)
What You Need To Know: The intensely prolific South Korean filmmaker Sang-soo Hong has two films expected to delight and spellbind New York Film Festival viewers this year. Having directed a whopping four films in 2017 with “Grass” and “Hotel By The River” being released in 2018, Sang-soo is a consistently busy filmmaker and needless to say, audiences are eager for his latest and greatest [our review of “Grass” from Berlin].
Release Date: TBD

Shoplifters
Cast: Lily Franky, Kirin Kiki, Sôsuke Ikematsu, Sakura Andô, Mayu Matsuoka
Synopsis: A Japanese couple stuck with part-time jobs and hence inadequate incomes avail themselves of the fruits of shoplifting to make ends meet. They are not alone in this behavior. The younger and the older of the household are in on the act. The unusual routine is about to change from care-free and matter-of-fact to something more dramatic, however, as the couple opens their doors to a beleaguered teenager. The reasons for the family and friends’ habit and their motivations come under the microscope.
What You Need To Know: This film is a force to be reckoned with following a history-making win at the Cannes Film Festival this year, winning the coveted Palme d’Or as well as being one of Japan’s highest grossing domestic films this year, earning more than $37 million in the box office. Director Hirokazu Kore-eda, already known for his focus on humanism in film, delves that much deeper into the genre with his latest incantation.  Having blown away critics and judges at both Cannes and the Munich Film Festival, one can expect that this film will definitely have a strong presence during awards season this year and undoubtedly have an impact at the New York Film Festival as well [our review from Cannes].
Release Date: November 23.

Burning
Cast: Yoo Ah-In, Steven Yeun, Jun Jong-Seo
Synopsis: A frustrated introvert’s already-difficult life is complicated by the appearance of two people into his orbit: a woman, who is a romantic possibility and a wealthy sophisticate who may be a rival suitor.
What You Need To Know: Based on a story by Haruki Murakami (“The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle,” “1Q84,” “Burning is the searing examination of alienation from South-Korean filmmaker Lee Chang-dong. Heralded at the Cannes Film Festival — as many expected it to win the Palme d’Or, but the competition was fierce — it was given the FIPRESCI Prize and critical adoration of the film during the festival and at TIFF where it also screened, was electric. Many already consider it the film of the year, so many of us are dying to finally catch up with it [our review from Cannes].
Release Date: October 26.  – Rodrigo Perez

The Other Side Of The Wind
Cast: John Huston, Peter Bogdanovich, Oja Kodar, Cameron Mitchell, Paul Mazursky, Henry Jaglom, Claude Chabrol
Synopsis: A Hollywood director emerges from semi-exile with plans to complete work on an innovative motion picture.
What You Need To Know: Almost 50 years after he started shooting and 35 years after his death, legendary director Orson Welles‘ “The Other Side Of The Wind” is finally finished. Unfinished, unedited and in legal limbo for decades, how that was made possible is its own amazing tale told in the crucial companion viewing is Morgan Neville‘s doc “They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead” which also screens at NYFF and is must-see. Back to ‘Wind,’ itself. It’s an autobiographically meta-like tale of an old-guard macho Hollywood director (played by director John Huston) at the end of his tether and trying to make a film that marries the sensibilities of the incoming cinematic EuroArt wave (Michelangelo Antonioni) and American sensibilities [our review from Telluride].
Release Date: In select theaters and on Netflix November 2.  – RP

Non-Fiction
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Guillaume Canet, Vincent Macaigne, Nora Hamzawi
Synopsis: Set within the world of publishing,  two hopelessly intertwined couples, a troubled book executive and a weary actress obsess with the state of things, and how (or when) they will (or might) change.
What You Need To Know: Is print dying? Has blogging replaced writing? Is fiction over? These are the kind of questions Olivier Assayas considers in “Non-Fiction,” a rare sort-of dramedy by the well-regarded French filmmaker. It’s been equated a little bit to his “Clouds of Sils Maria” movie, a talky drama where not a lot happens, only with more charm and sense of humor. That film divided some critics, but it was still incredibly captivating. And we always expect no less from Assayas [our review from Telluride].
Release Date: TBD, but Sundance Selects has already acquired the film for the U.S. – RP

Honorable Mention
Of course, there’s lots more. There’s several films that already premiered at Cannes that look great including, Pawel Pawlikowski‘s black and white drama “Cold War,” Alice Rohrwacher‘s “Happy as Lazzaro,” Jia Zhangke‘s “Ash Is Purest White,”  Ali Abbasi‘s Un Certain Regard section winner  “Border,” Nuri Bilge Ceylan‘s “The Wild Pear Tree” and Jean-Luc Godard‘s “The Image Book.” Documentaries look strong as usual including Frederick Wiseman‘s “Monrovia, Indiana,” Errol Morris‘ controversial “American Dharma” which spotlights conservative extremist Steve Bannon, “Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes” Charles Ferguson‘s “Watergate” doc, “The Waldheim Waltz” “The Times of Bill Cunningham.” The always well-chosen Revivals and Retrospectives sections are great (Mikhail Kalatozov‘s “I Am Cuba” and classics by Wim Wender, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Godard), and the Talks include appearances by Clarie Denis, Alfonso Cuaron and more.  There’s so much to see and experience. The New York Film Festival runs September 28-October 14.

Check out all our coverage from the 2018 New York Film Festival here.

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