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The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s 56th annual New York Film Festival provides New Yorkers and cinephiles the opportunity to catch outstanding international films from the prestigious Toronto, Telluride, and Venice fests, promising first peeks at potential Oscar-nominees, restored classics, immersive experimental storytelling, and, of course, a healthy dose of celebrity spotting.

This year, sections include a lineup of documentaries, experimental films, and dialogues with directors including Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men, Gravity), Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line), and Claire Denis (Beau Travail, White Material). As for tickets, you can pre-purchase online via the Film Society app and the Alice Tully Hall box office. If a screening sells out, line up for last-minute standby tickets at the film’s venue one hour before showtime (with fingers crossed, of course).

To help scope out the NYFF’s must-sees, Roxy Cinema curator Illyse Singer offers up some top picks and commentary.

If Beale Street Could Talk

Making its US Premiere at NYFF, director Barry Jenkins’s follow-up to Oscar-winner Moonlight is an adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel about an African American couple, Fonny (Stephan James) and Tish (KiKi Layne), facing racism-fueled tragedy when Fonny is falsely accused of a crime.

Singer Says: “I think Jenkins is bringing a really fresh and interesting perspective to issues that need to be brought to the forefront. In Moonlight, we could all relate to that need to be loved—he captures emotional undercurrents in a quiet, powerful way.”

The Favourite

Set in 18th-century England, this subversively dark comedy sees Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone star as Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough, and her servant Abigail Hill, who schemes, backstabs and plots while competing for the favor of an ailing Queen Anne (Olivia Colman). Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster) has whipped up yet another offbeat delight, with a Sapphic edge to boot.

Singer Says:It sounds wild and ridiculous; a sexual fight to the death for the body of Queen Anne. But it looks so rich and beautiful, and there has to be quirkiness. It can’t be normal!”


Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity, Y Tu Mama Tambien) returns to his homeland with this semi-autobiographical Centerpiece title about a live-in nanny and maid who keep a six-member middle-class family together (the title refers to the Mexico City district, Colonia Roma, where they live).  

Singer Says:Cuarón has always been one of my favorite directors, going back to 1998’s Great Expectations. It’s been a really long time since he put something out and it’s going back to his roots—and in black and white.”

The Times of Bill Cunningham

Before he passed away in 2016, New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham established himself as the most prolific name in urban street fashion reportage. Hot on the heels of his recently released memoir, Fashion Climbing, this documentary traces his career and work from beginning to end.

Singer Says: “He’s such an interesting subject who captured New York City life. This film was made posthumously, and they have a really long interview with him from 1994 that serves as the centerpiece.”

Private Life

Filmmaker Tamara Jenkins returns after a decade with this drama about a New York couple, played by Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn, who enlist an extended family member to help them have a child.

Singer Says: “Whereas Jenkins’s Slums of Beverly Hills was about a 15-year-old girl, this is about a couple trying to have a kid—it seems she’s moving along the stages of her own life as she makes more movies. It also has such a strong cast.”

At Eternity’s Gate

Willem Dafoe stars as Vincent van Gogh in artist/filmmaker Julian Schnabel’s first film since 2010’s Miral. NYFF’s Closing Night selection.

Singer Says: “I love Willem Dafoe. I think he’s one of the greatest actors alive. Schnabel really only makes films about artists, like Jean-Michel Basquiat in Basquiat and Reynaldo Arenas in Before Night Falls. Now he’s tackling van Gogh, which seems so out of his normal reach. I’m curious to see how he brings it to life.”

Also on our short list: Her Smell starring Elisabeth Moss as a 1990s alt-rocker; Cannes Palm D’Or winner Shoplifters; Latin American drama Too Late To Die Young; Paul Dano’s directorial debut Wildlife; and Frankenstein AI: A Monster Made By Many, a free interactive AI experience from Columbia University School of the Arts’ Digital Storytelling Lab.

Words Lawrence Ferber

Image The Times of Bill Cunningham, Film Society of Lincoln Center

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