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Sunday, September 27, 2015

NYFF Daily Report #1

Courtesy of Sony Pictures
By Joshua Handler

I’ve been covering NYFF for three years now. Every year brings a new, carefully-curated selection of the best of world cinema condensed into 16 days. Yesterday was my first day at the festival, though the films I saw weren’t the first NYFF festival films I screened (I saw Brooklyn and Maggie’s Plan in Toronto, along with a few others over the summer).

Yesterday began with Yorgos Lanthimos’ bizarre, disturbing, melancholic, yet hilarious and moving Cannes Jury Prize-winner, The Lobster, which featured one of Colin Farrell’s finest performances, along with a strong supporting turn by Rachel Weisz. It’s a film I loved every second of.

That evening, after a break, I attended the opening night screening of Robert Zemeckis’ The Walk, which while not the greatest film I’ve seen recently, was one of the most remarkable technical achivements of the year. The use of 3D is stunning, particularly in the latter half of the film. Zemeckis uses the 3D to deepen the image (though he does occasionally have fun by using the 3D to throw objects at the audience), which immersed me in the film and made it stand out from other films.

The final event of the night was the opening night party, my favorite film event of the year. As usual, the event was held at Tavern on the Green in Central Park, which on a crisp fall day is the perfect venue. There’s nothing to me that compares to this party because the entire New York film industry comes out (filmmakers, distributors, publicists, journalists, etc.), and having all of my colleagues and friends under one roof for a few hours late into the night is always a thrill. A friend of mine calls the event “film prom.” 

Today brings Nanni Moretti's Mia Madre and Ridley Scott's The Martian.  

Saturday, September 26, 2015

What to See at NYFF53

By Joshua Handler

This year’s New York Film Festival brings a wealth of gems (as usual), so the following are a couple of films that I have screened and highly recommend (due to a busy schedule, I was unable to screen as much as I usually do pre-fest):

Courtesy of Fox Searchlight
BROOKLYN (Dir. John Crowley) – A rich, deeply moving 1950s-set drama, John Crowley’s Brooklyn has been a sensation ever since premiering at Sundance in January. Starring a soulful, haunting Saorise Ronan as an Irish girl torn between her two homes, Ireland and America, and featuring superb performances by the excellent ensemble (Julie Walters and Etan Cohen stand out), Brooklyn is a film that I found very relevant to my life that also left me emotionally fulfilled and satisfied. Expect a slew of Oscar nominations. Fox Searchlight will release the film on November 6.

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
MAGGIE’S PLAN (Dir. Rebecca Miller) – Greta Gerwig leads Rebecca Miller’s latest comedy about a New Yorker, Maggie (Gerwig), who wants to get pregnant through a sperm donor. She also falls for a professor (Ethan Hawke) who is married to a brilliant, yet unstable woman (Julianne Moore). The screenplay is quick-witted, heartfelt, and full of great one-liners, and the performances are universally excellent. The standout, though, is Julianne Moore using a supposedly Dutch accent in a role that allows her to steal every scene. Sony Pictures Classics will release the film.

Friday, September 18, 2015


Tobey Maguire stars as Bobby Fischer in Edward Zwick's PAWN SACRIFICE, a
Bleecker Street release.
 Credit: Takashi Seida

2015, 114 minutes
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, some sexual content and historical smoking

Review by Joshua Handler

Edward Zwick’s Pawn Sacrifice is, narratively, a standard biopic, but rises above other biopics due to its immaculate craft and the quality of the performances. The film tells the story of genius chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer, his declining mental health, and his rivalry with Boris Spassky of Russia during the Cold War.

As Fischer, Tobey Maguire gives the performance of his career, creating a character that’s alternately despicable, intriguing, pitiful, impressive, and sad. Maguire is a recognizable actor who frequently portrays ordinary or weak men who either turn into someone extraordinary (The Cider House Rules, Spider-Man) or are out of place in extraordinary circumstances (Pleasantville, The Great Gatsby). In Sacrifice, he is a weak man with a powerful mind. Maguire is forceful and unpleasant, yet heartbreaking. Peter Sarsgaard and Michael Stuhlbarg also give strong supporting performances.

Many will criticize the film for being so narratively conventional, yet while there isn’t much structurally that sets the film apart, it doesn’t matter since it flows nicely and immersed me into the world of Bobby Fischer. Many biopics are like “greatest hits” versions of their subjects’ lives instead of explorations of the subjects’ personalities and souls. But, writer Steven Knight delves deeply into the inner of world of Bobby Fischer, allowing us to understand him, even if we can't always sympathize with him.

Knight’s solid script combined with Zwick’s confident, well-judged direction make this an exhilarating ride. Everyone involved with this film seems to have faith in Zwick’s clear vision and turns in high-caliber work. Steven Rosenblum’s editing is particularly sharp and keeps Pawn moving at a clip for just about all of its nearly two-hour running time.

Also of note is Bradford Young’s typically rich cinematography. Young is one of the most exciting cinematographers working today, having shot some of the most visually striking films in recent memory such as Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Selma, A Most Violent Year, and Vara: A Blessing, and his rich, eye-popping work on Pawn gives the film a polished quality that makes viewing it an unusually pleasurable experience.

Overall, Pawn Sacrifice is a very good piece of filmmaking that left me completely satisfied. It's a dramatic thriller that actually thrills and should please most audiences. So often nowadays I see films that are technically accomplished that fail to satisfy on most levels. Pawn Sacrifice satisfies by telling a complete, engaging story with melancholic undertones that builds to a simultaneously triumphant and tragic conclusion.