NYFF 2013: Kicking Off Yet Another Fest with Coens & 'A Touch of Sin'
by Alex Billington
September 27, 2013
My first year living in New York City, and now my first year at the New York Film Festival. Starting today, the 51st New York Film Festival (or just NYFF as it's better known) kicks off, continuing the fall festival season following Telluride, Toronto and Fantastic Fest. Luckily, living in New York, I don't have to travel far to attend this festival. Over the last year I've been hearing nothing but great things about this fest from many of my New York friends/colleagues. Being my first year attending, I have no idea what to expect. What I do know is that the Film Society of Lincoln Center is one of the greatest places for cinema in this country.
The slate of films playing at the 51st NYFF is quite impressive, featuring a number of excellent films from other fests as well as premieres that I am dying to see, like Spike Jonze's Her and Ben Stiller's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Leading up to the opening today, the festival has been screening many of the films in advance. I've already had a chance to catch 6 films so far and plan to see quite a few more over the next few weeks. If you live in the NYC area as well, based on the line-up alone I highly suggest making the trek to the Lincoln Center to catch a few screenings. It's worth it. The venues are wonderful and well-maintained, and the festival seems to care deeply about the film lovers they cater to, which makes them lovable in return.
Here's what I've seen: Paul Greengrass' Captain Phillips, the opening night film of this year's festival, which is intense and entertaining to watch; Zhangke Jia's A Touch of Sin (Tian zhu ding), which I missed in Cannes but loved; Richard Curtis' About Time, brought from the UK, a time travel romantic comedy charmer; Jehane Noujaim's The Square, a powerful documentary about the revolution in Egypt; the Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis, which was just as good a second time (I first saw it in Cannes earlier this year); and Declan Lowney's Alan Partridge, an absurd but fun, very dark comedy starring Steve Coogan.
Last year was the 50th anniversary of the New York Film Festival, which was an iconic achievement that I unfortunately missed out on entirely. My time at the NYFF begins with their 51st year and I'm loving it so far. Most of the press screenings take place at the Walter Reade Theatre and, as many of my colleagues often reiterate, it's one of the best places to see movies in all of New York City. I'm honestly just happy that I get to experience some of the year's finest movies at a venue as exceptional as the Lincoln Center. It's a place that truly appreciates and embraces the arts in all its forms. I want to talk about two films specifically so far:
A Touch of Sin - Holy crap this was awesome! This triptych tells three unique and rather violent stories about corruption in China. Each one flows smoothly into the next and gives us a taste of the modern society in China today. I was fascinated throughout and completely lost in the stories. As much as I can continue to rave about it, I think the best summary was tweeted by my friend Raffi: "A Touch of Sin is classic Zhangke, meditative cinema, with a touch of Tarantino. Bursts of violence punctuate inequality in industrial China." Recommend viewing for cinephiles. This is a great film to ponder and discuss with others after watching it.
The Square - Wow. A powerful, intimate, infuriating, inspiring and moving documentary about struggles of revolution in modern day. Required viewing for any and everyone. Not only an incredible inside look at the revolution in Egypt, with the story centered around Tahrir Square in Cairo, but an inspiring historical exposé looking at how this modern era empowers the people of this world to take control, rather than power control the people. This is one of those outstanding docs that made me feel every emotion, from sadness and anger to frustration and fascination. I can't stop raving about it and I hope many, many people seek this out.
With the festival officially underway, I'll be catching more screenings over the next two weeks and writing about any films that really stand out. As always, I constantly tweet reviews/news @firstshowing and shoot photos on Instagram as @abillington. I'm excited to experience my first NYFF, discover more great films and discuss them with friends and fellow critics. If you're in New York, check out the NYFF schedule here.