This Friday, the 60th New York Film Festival kicks off its anniversary edition, which, in a fest first, will feature screenings in all five boroughs. Ahead of the annual showcase of the best recent cinema has to offer, we’ve rounded up 15 films that shouldn’t be missed—all of which currently have tickets available.
Also, don’t miss three free editions of Cinephile Game Night during the festival, featuring our own Jordan Raup and Conor O’Donnell, who will be joined by Cinephile Game creator Cory Everett for an evening of movie-related trivia fun.
Check out our 15 picks below, along with complete coverage of other reviews, and stay tuned for more here.
The Adventures of Gigi the Law (Alessandro Comodin)
In the heat of late summer, San Michele al Tagliamento is a humid emulsion of corn fields, cypress trees, and silent streets. Sitting along the border between Veneto and Friuli, in the northeast of Italy, it’s a rural town in which nothing ever happens, everyone knows each other, and the sun throws everything into a somnolent lockdown—the concrete blazing, the air liquid. Ostensibly a portrait of a man and his daily routine, Alessandro Comodin’s The Adventures of Gigi the Law is also a much larger canvas of the place he roams, a landscape teeming with intimations of sinister mysteries and wondrous revelations. What kicks off as a crime procedural swells into a kind of fairytale, and an anonymous stretch of countryside turns into a microcosm where desire and dread, fear and awe leak into one another. Gigi the Law brims with wide-eyed wonder, the same that’s frozen on its protagonist’s face. At its most lyrical it finds beauty within the tedium of small-town life; it’s this receptivity to poetry, this susceptibility to the epic banal, that turns Gigi the Law into a cumulatively poignant oddity. – Leonardo G. (full review)
The Adventures of Gigi the Law screens on October 12 and 13.
Coma (Bertrand Bonello)
A contemporary cliché that weakly attempts to diagnose what ails us in modern life is the idea of being addled by technology––of our minds and attention spans swamped by screens, content, scrolling. But as the pandemic hit this notion gained a new relevance: it’s not that the virtual realm of content and media was luring us away from our reality––faced with an indefinite lockdown, it had finally become our sole one. Even though this can be poorly rendered by some, it’s the more sensitive and aware artists, such as Bertrand Bonello with his new feature Coma, that remind of the urgency to confront it. Like the best films on this topic, Coma is anything but a navel-gazing work, and more one of imaginative empathy. – David K. (full review)
Coma screens on October 1 and 2.
Descendant (Margaret Brown)
Over half a century after international slave trade was abolished in the United States, Timothy Meaher made a bet that he could transport a ship of captives from Africa to the Alabama coast. As owner of the ship The Clotilda, following the 1860 voyage which brought 110 people from West Africa to Mobile, Meaher covered up his crimes (which could have brought him to death) by burning and sinking the vessel. More than 150 years later, Mobile’s Africatown community––made up of direct descendants whose ancestors were ripped away from their lives of freedom––are searching for truth and closure as the remnants of the slave ship remained a buried mystery. As captured in Margaret Brown’s intimate, powerful documentary Descendant, the quest for answers and the story of how this overlooked community has been marginalized throughout history has ripples far beyond a sunken ship. – Jordan R. (full review)
Descendant screens on Oct. 1, 2, and 6.
Dry Ground Burning (Joana Pimenta and Adirley Queirós)
In the late 1950s newly elected President of Brazil Juscelino Kubitscheck ordered the country’s capital be moved from Rio de Janeiro toward a more central location. Thus began Brasilia, a modernist utopia built in the span of a few years and designed to unite people from all walks of life. Except reality didn’t quite live up to that dream. The thousands of workers who helped build the new capital—and the thousands of migrants who sought to move in—ended up segregated in satellite cities the government created to keep Brasilia safe from unwanted “invaders.” Joana Pimenta and Adirley Queirós’ explosive Dry Ground Burning is a portrait of one such places, Ceilândia, and an engrossing homage to a handful of people stranded in its crime-ridden slum of Sol Nascente: a vast canvas, in turns wistful and furious, of what life in Bolsonaro’s Brazil amounts to for those living on the periphery of the periphery. Few titles unveiled at this year’s Berlinale— where Dry Ground Burning screened in the Forum section—will register quite as timely; fewer still manage to deal with topics this sensitive without feeling exploitative. A paean to the marginalized that refuses to treat them as victims and instead grants them agency and dignity, this is an unsettling docu-fiction hybrid, a moving and invigorating watch. – Leonardo G. (full review)
Dry Ground Burning screens on October 9, 10, and 12.
Enys Men (Mark Jenkin)
Perched on the cliff of a windswept island off the coast of Cornwall is a shock of white flowers. Every day a woman studies their petals in religious silence before heading home and jotting notes in a diary. Date. Daily temperature. Observations. The year is 1973, the month April, and that’s about as much contextual information Mark Jenkin’s sinuous, entrancing Enys Men parcels out. We don’t know who the woman is, what or who those notes are for, when she got to the island, when she’ll leave. Penned by Jenkin, its script credits her as “The Volunteer,” whose daily pilgrimages to the cliff feel like a vocation, an act of faith. – Leonardo G. (full review)
Enys Men screens on October 8 and 9.
EO (Jerzy Skolimowski)
In one of analytic philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s most widely shared quotes, he mused that “if a lion could talk, we would not understand him.” The barrier of language and gulf of understanding between man and animal is the subject of the quite wondrous Eo, a true surprise from the great Polish filmmaker Jerzy Skolimowski, now enjoying his mid-80s. It is adapted—freely inspired may be a better term—from Robert Bresson’s iconic 1966 film Au Hasard Balthazar; from Eo’s opening minutes any memory or sense of that masterpiece’s forbidding stature is banished—we’re dealing with quite a different animal here. No, it isn’t as good. But it’s different, and a companion piece that flatters both that film and itself. – David K. (full review)
EO screens on October 11 and 13.
Human Flowers of Flesh (Helena Wittmann)
Early into Helena Wittmann’s 2017 feature debut, Drift, a character recounts a Papua New Guinean tale of the world’s creation. Back when the planet was all water, a giant crocodile kept paddling around preventing the sand to settle; only after a warrior slaughtered the beast did the land jut into being. A few minutes into Human Flowers of the Flesh a sailor shares another legend, this one from Ancient Greece. As he chopped Medusa’s head, Perseus dropped it on the shore; the seaweed absorbed the Gorgon’s petrifying powers, and that’s how coral was born. Wittmann has a knack for myths, and her cinema radiates a certain mythical grandeur, a pleasure as primeval and untimely as the stories her projects orbit around. Flowers, in that, feels both ancient and novel. It’s a film whose visual experiments invite one to see the world anew, even as the demons that fuel it harken back to a passion for storytelling that’s as old as time itself. – Leonardo G. (full review)
Human Flowers of Flesh screens on October 10 and 11.
Mutzenbacher (Ruth Beckermann)
That the Viennese author Felix Salten wrote the book Bambi was based on while also being an avid hunter—so much so that he’s said to have killed over 100 deer—is a fine paradox for a life’s work; but then Salten had another. In 1906 a book was released anonymously, titled Josefine Mutzenbacher; or, The Story of a Viennese Whore, as Told by Herself. Aside from a smattering of bans over the last century, the novel has stayed in print ever since, selling around three million copies. It has always been controversial, and it has always been attributed to him. – Rory O. (full review)
Mutzenbacher screens on Oct. 2 and 4.
No Bears (Jafar Panahi)
Jafar Panahi’s career can now be split into two distinct sections: his work prior to an initial 2010 arrest amidst Iran’s Green Movement, and his creative response following that. The latter, ongoing now but complicated by a new six-year prison sentence he has just commenced, constitutes one of the stranger and more miraculous stretches of work for any internationally renowned filmmaker. It’s a period, beginning with 2011’s still-revelatory This is Not a Film—famously smuggled out of Iran and to Cannes on a USB stick inside a cake—that found Panahi working prolifically while attempting to evade detection and further punishment by the authorities—these two currents fusing to engender international solidarity for a predicament putting his life, let alone freedom, at risk. – David K. (full review)
No Bears screens on October 9, 13, and 14.
Pacifiction (Albert Serra)
Pacifiction is what Albert Serra might describe as an unfuckable movie. “Unfuckable is, you take the whole thing or you don’t take it but you cannot apply a critical judgment in an easy way,” he explained to us in 2019, “because it is what it is and it doesn’t look like any other film.” Pacifiction does not look like any other film. It doesn’t taste or smell like other films, either, even Serra’s own distinctive body of work. It premiered in a Cannes competition that has been high on wattage but low on power, crying out for a sensation. Pacifiction is that sensation: a film unlike any other this year, appearing near the end of proceedings, with the festival’s final furlongs already in sight; it is the closest the selection has come to delivering a masterpiece. – Rory O. (full review)
Pacifiction screens on October 5 and 6.
Queens of the Qing Dynasty (Ashley McKenzie)
Our introductions to writer/director Ashley McKenzie’s leads in Queens of the Qing Dynasty are not to be forgotten. Whether Star’s (Sarah Walker) open-mouthed and fully dilated thousand-yard stare in a hospital bed after her latest suicide attempt (this time for drinking poison) or An’s (Ziyin Zheng) voice regaling the women nurses with a Chinese song while their supervisor drawls “Old Macdonald” in response, the notion that we’re dealing with two eccentrics in a world that may never understand them is abundantly clear. It’s therefore only right that they’d end up being put on a collision course ignited by duty (An’s hospital volunteer is assigned Star’s evening suicide watch) yet sustained by genuine intrigue. They share their deepest secrets without judgement, ultimately discovering things about themselves along the way. – Jared M. (full review)
Queens of the Qing Dynasty screens on October 1, 2, and 8.
R.M.N. (Cristian Mungiu)
Anyone looking to take the temperature of Cristian Mungiu’s first film in six long years should heed the words of Matthias, his most recent downtrodden protagonist: “People who feel pity die first,” he explains to his 8-year-old son. “I want you to die last.” Too much? Try the more eloquent musings of the local priest: “Everyone has their place in the world, as God ordained.” Translation: go back to where you came from. The Romanian filmmaker returns with R.M.N., a portrait of Europe, perhaps the world, in the days of late capitalism. As bitter and biting as its winter landscape, it stars Marin Grigore as a Hungarian immigrant in a small village nestled amongst the snowy forests and sweeping mountains of Transylvania. Working in crisp blues and greys from Tudor Vladimir Panduru (Graduation, Malmkrog), Mungiu sketches the town as a modern Babel: Romanian, Hungarian, French, German, Sri Lankan, and English are all spoken, and an uneasy coexistence prevails. You soon wonder for how long. – Rory O. (full review)
R.M.N. screens on October 9 and 10.
Scarlet (Pietro Marcello)
In his previous film Martin Eden, and now with Scarlet, Pietro Marcello has found a novel way to depict artistic striving, closely tying it with the concept of labor. It’s also something that runs through Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson, about the poetry-penning bus driver of the same name: both filmmakers have helped demystify our idea of the artist as a potential “great man of history” and the deification often accorded them. The would-be literary maven of Martin Eden and two artist-craftsmen of Scarlet are engaged instead in a noble struggle, a bit like the eternal workers’ struggle of Marcello’s other chief interest: that of leftist political thought. – David K. (full review)
Scarlet screens on October 4 and 6.
Stars at Noon (Claire Denis)
Stars at Noon––based on a minor novel by the underrated American author Denis Johnson––is Denis’ second film to premiere this year, after Both Sides of the Blade at the Berlinale, and a slightly rocky reaction to that film diminished some of the anticipation for this one. Her latest work is not one that feels fully achieved and realized, suggesting an absolutely confident mastery of her primary source material, but it’s still deeply watchable, laden with sex and intimacy in a way that doesn’t apologize for itself, and provides an alternate gloss on her key themes of power, bodies, and postcolonial afterlives. – David K. (full review)
Stars at Noon screens on October 2, 3, and 4.
Unrest (Cyril Schäublin)
The best word to describe Unrest is “clever.” It isn’t on the level of the artisans and thinkers it lovingly portrays—all the graphers (geo, carto, photo) and the ists (social, anarch, horolog, and so on)—but not so far off; and more than enough to be worthy of their story. Consider the title’s neat duality. “Unrest,” as the film explains, is another name for a wristwatch’s balance wheel: an instrument that, working in tandem with the spiral and escapement, creates the mechanism that makes it tick. Then there is the other kind. – Rory O. (full review)
Unrest screens on October 9 and 10.
More films to see at NYFF60:
- All That Breathes
- All the Beauty and the Bloodshed
- Armageddon Time
- Bones and All
- A Couple
- Decision to Leave
- De Humani Corporis Fabrica
- Exterior Night
- The Inspection
- Master Gardener
- The Novelist’s Film
- One Fine Morning
- Showing Up
- Triangle of Sadness
- Walk Up
- White Noise
NYFF60 runs September 30-October 16. Learn more here.