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Photo: Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros.Joker

The 10 best movies to see at the 2019 New York Film Festival

The city’s premiere annual event for film fanatics, NYFF, is about to begin. Here are the truly unmissable titles.

Joshua Rothkopf
Written by
Joshua Rothkopf

Every September, we turn to Lincoln Center for a new edition of NYC’s revered showcase of the best cinema from around the globe: the stuff you’ll be stanning for, if anyone asks. This year’s lineup—the 57th, if you can believe it—unspools Sept 27–Oct 13 and doesn’t disappoint. Things kick off in explosive fashion with Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, still unseen by critics but promising to be its director’s return to his signature criminal universe. Let’s stick to the movies we have seen. These 10 titles are the ones you should finagle a ticket (or two) for. Visit for the complete lineup and tickets.

Best movies at NYFF 2019

Free Time

2. Free Time

If you thrill to archival footage of the city in its earlier black-and-white incarnation, Manny Kirchheimer’s hour-long collection of gorgeously restored vignettes (shot by himself and Walter Hess) needs to be seen: a reclamation of impossibly romantic late-’50s street life. Children playing stickball, some guy walking with his cat, rows of chrome tailfins—all of it plays hypnotically. The jazz accompaniment is nice but the live sound is even better. In some ways, our town hasn’t changed a bit.

Walter Reade Theater, Sept 28 at 1pm; Francesca Beale Theater, Sept 29 at 6:15pm.

  • Movies
  • Action and adventure

Already, Oscar buzz is deafening for Joaquin Phoenix’s galvanizing turn as a damaged supervillain in the making (this ain’t your typical comics movie), and even if you don’t care for the movie’s sociopolitical subtext, Joker is the one movie that everyone will be talking about this fall. You’ll want to join the conversation. Set in a Scorsesean Gotham clearly inspired by the mean streets of Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, it’s essential viewing for locals. Our fest gets it early, before the fanboys do.

Alice Tully Hall, Oct 2 at 9pm.

  • Movies
  • Drama

Noah Baumbach’s killer divorce drama—starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, both hitting career highs—is an updated Kramer vs. Kramer, now loaded with the combative machinations of matrimonial lawyers stuck in a street fight. This love affair may be a cinder, but it still throws off an immense amount of heat; you won’t see arguments this raw in anything else.

Alice Tully Hall, Oct 4 at 6, 9:15pm; Walter Reade Theater, Oct 4 at 6:30, 9:30pm; Howard Gilman Theater, Oct 4 at 8:45pm; Francesca Beale Theater, Oct 4 at 10pm. 

Martin Eden

5. Martin Eden

Jack London’s 1909 novel, about an angry young man who blooms into a radical poet (and then becomes something of a sellout), is one of the most epic-feeling Italian movies in years, a throwback to ’70s-era big-canvas statements. Lead actor Luca Marinelli, rousing in every scene, comes within hailing distance of a young Robert De Niro. He’s even got the mole.

Alice Tully Hall, Oct 6 at 2:30pm; Walter Reade Theater, Oct 7 at 8:45pm.

  • Movies
  • Drama

Call it an upstairs-downstairs drama if you must, but Bong Joon-ho’s nerve-shredding social satire—the most perfect film out of this year’s Cannes—plays like blackest comedy. A downtrodden family secretly infiltrates a wealthy one, job by job, over several months. Their comeuppance is too good to spoil; meanwhile, outside the film, this kind of class warfare seems increasingly probable.

Alice Tully Hall, Oct 5 at 9pm, Oct 7 at 6pm.

State Funeral

8. State Funeral

If Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin used the despot’s 1953 funeral as a springboard for vicious comedy, Sergei Loznitsa’s documentary is a fascinating counterpoint: an assemblage of Soviet footage of grieving, wreath-laying and paying respects. The grandeur is off the charts. A live orchestra saws away in a stiff March breeze, and the footage has an unusual hush: It’s the official record, with no dissent. Stalin would be disentombed in 1961 but for now, the cult of his personality commands obedience even after death.

Walter Reade Theater, Sept 28 at 5:45pm; Francesca Beale Theater, Sept 29 at 12:30pm.

  • Movies
  • Drama

Nadav Lapid’s spiky quasi-comedy is about a man drifting through Paris; we come to learn that Yoav (Tom Mercier, doing a physical Adam Driver–like performance) is Israeli, that he hates his home country, that he wants to improve his French post-haste. Falling in with an attractive couple of twentysomethings, Yoav begins to broaden his horizons, but Lapid’s film has other ideas, specifically about the indelibility of one’s past and culture. This is the kind of edgy, problematic drama that you go to festivals to see—and hopefully hash out afterward.

Alice Tully Hall, Sept 29 at 2:45pm; Walter Reade Theater, Oct 1 at 8:30pm.

Varda by Agnès
  • Movies
  • Documentary

This year’s NYFF is dedicated to the late French documentarian Agnès Varda, who died in March at age 90 but still seems impossibly alive. Her final work is a literal master class: a filmed lecture during which Varda rambles enjoyably through her greatest hits, such as Cléo from 5 to 7, Vagabond and The Gleaners, imparting the crucial lesson that art is meant to connect its maker with the larger public.

Alice Tully Hall, Oct 9 at 6pm; Walter Reade Theater, Oct 10 at 8:45pm.

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