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The 10 best movies at the 2015 New York Film Festival

Attend the New York Film Festival in confidence by seeking out these essential titles, chosen by our film critics

By Joshua Rothkopf and David Ehrlich

With selections cherry-picked from the current world of cinema, the annual New York Film Festival is your essential movie event. This year’s official Main Slate boasts a keenly selected 26 features, not to mention the other gems playing in sidebars devoted to revivals and special events. Where to begin? Allow us to lend a hand. We’ve scoured the lineup, put in many pleasurable viewing hours and are now passing along our knowledge. Here are the 10 upcoming movies you can’t pass up at the festival this fall.

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Best New York Film Festival movies

1. Arabian Nights

Movies Drama

The first thing you should know about Arabian Nights is that it’s nearly six hours long. For perspective, that’s longer than Lawrence of Arabia but shorter than the scene in Sex and the City 2 where Samantha screams “Lawrence of my laaaabiaaa!” Portuguese director Miguel Gomes (Tabu), furious at the harsh 2013 austerity measures that forced millions of his country mates into poverty, has fought back with a surreal and boundlessly creative trilogy of movies that express his rage. Spanning his nation’s history through a series of heavily allegorical tales, Gomes’s epic does nothing less than capture the soul of a battered but brilliant country. Volume 1, Sept 30 at 6pm; Volume 2, Oct 1 at 6pm; Volume 3, Oct 2 at 6pm

2. Carol

Movies Drama

The late author Patricia Highsmith is best known for her suspense thrillers (Strangers on a Train, The Talented Mr. Ripley), but her most beguiling story is actually a tender Ike-era lesbian romance between a teenage shopgirl and a divorcing New Jersey socialite. Director Todd Haynes’s astonishing adaptation stars a wide-eyed Rooney Mara as young Therese and Cate Blanchett—in the role that will come to define her career—as the eponymous older woman struggling to deny her most natural desires. Kissed by Carter Burwell’s swooning score, this delicate story of longing builds to a powerful finale with Haynes’s masterpiece palpably conveying the fear, hope and ferocious courage of its heroines. Forget the Oscars, Carol might just be the best film of the decade. Oct 9 at 6pm, Oct 10 at 2pm


3. Cemetery of Splendour

Movies Drama

We’re through stumbling over Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s name. Not only can we pronounce it with ease, but throughout a little more than a decade and several exquisite films (Tropical Malady, Syndromes and a Century), the Thai director nicknamed “Joe” has taken his place as a poetic, visually inspired artist. His latest, Cemetery of Splendor, is set in a hospital where a compassionate nurse tends to the victims of a baffling sleeping coma, and it communicates in the amorphous language of dreams, a specialty of this filmmaker. It’s an art fix that will last the rest of the year. Sept 30, Oct 1 at 9pm

4. De Palma

Movies Documentary

Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow’s juicy documentary about expert suspense filmmaker Brian De Palma doubles down on its subject’s famous obsessions with Alfred Hitchcock, curvy women in peril and coke-snorting gangsters, reclaiming a peevish Hollywood giant in the process. A straight chronology that runs through such classics as Carrie, Dressed to Kill, The Untouchables and Carlito’s Way, the profile is narrated solely by the unusually free-speaking De Palma, still stinging at his defeats, still thrilled by the euphoria of moviemaking. It’s a public therapy session that upturns expectations. Sept 30 at 6pm


5. The Forbidden Room

Movies Drama

Should you choose to enter The Forbidden Room, you’ll be stepping inside an exhilarating slipstream of two-strip Technicolor havoc that feels like an exquisite corpse assembled from every leftover idea that retro-silent filmmaker Guy Maddin (My Winnipeg) has ever had. A dense quilt of nested scenes allegedly pulled from cinema’s greatest abandoned films, this impossible tangle of original stories bounces from sailors on a sinking submarine to burly hunters trying to rescue a woman from a lupine forest gang. Maddin’s most delirious film to date is practically a film festival unto itself. Sept 28 at 9pm, Sept 29 at 8:30pm

In the Shadow of Women

6. In the Shadow of Women

The French may not have invented the love triangle, but nobody else has so thoroughly explored all of its angles. New Wave legend Philippe Garrel (Jealousy) is as responsible for his country’s reputation as anyone, but while In the Shadow of Women covers familiar ground, his concise and cutting rumination of infidelity is far too intimate to feel trite. Spanning a few turbulent months in the life of a philandering documentarian (Stanislas Merhar) and the wife he pushes toward having an affair of her own (Clotilde Courau), Garrel’s latest needs only 68 minutes to nail both male entitlement and casual cruelty. Oct 6, Oct 7 at 6pm


7. The Lobster

Movies Comedy

Get bibbed up for this exhilaratingly strange and nightmarish comedy. The hero is David (a never-better Colin Farrell), checking in at a mysterious seaside clinic where the guests must successfully shack up with a fellow patient or be surgically transformed into the animal of their choice. It’s a brutally dark metaphor for the vicissitudes of dating, and with a cast that includes John C. Reilly, Rachel Weisz and a terrifying Léa Seydoux, the movie’s life-and-death stakes are nothing short of hilarious. Melting the butter sauce is Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth), whose home-grown surrealism makes the leap into English with panache. Sept 27 at 6pm, Sept 28 at 9pm

My Golden Days

8. My Golden Days

Nobody does the messy sprawl of middle-age frustration better than France’s Arnaud Desplechin (Kings and Queen, A Christmas Tale). So it’s notable that the director pivots for his latest, diving with warmth and sympathy into a coming-of-age movie that all but redeems the frequently sentimental form. Desplechin regular Mathieu Amalric returns as the same academic from the filmmaker’s 1996 My Sex Life…or How I Got Into an Argument, though the actor quickly takes a nostalgic supporting role as the movie shifts into teenage flashbacks that alternately take the tone of domestic melodrama, spy thriller and gushing romance. Oct 2 at 6pm, Oct 3 at noon


9. Right Now, Wrong Then

Movies Drama

Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo (Turning Gate) has a reputation for repeating himself. With few exceptions, each of his droll comedies have followed a bumbling male director as he travels to a film festival, gets tanked on soju and belligerently throws himself at a woman. Hong, however, is well aware of his formula, and his cheeky new movie pokes terrific fun at the tired criticisms. The first half of Right Now, Wrong Then fits the usual mold, but the real joke begins when the movie abruptly starts over, our hero making subtly different choices the second time around in the rich and playful revision. Oct 9 at 9pm, Oct 10 at 3:30pm

Michael Fassbender en Steve Jobs
Foto: Cortesía Universal

10. Steve Jobs

Movies Drama

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin knows a thing or two about the visionaries of the tech industry, those Great Men whose untamable zeal for changing the world competes with a personal flaw. For Apple CEO Steve Jobs—or at least the version of him that a feral Michael Fassbender plays in Danny Boyle’s electric new biopic—it’s the need for absolute control. Combining the acid-tongued pathos of Sorkin’s The Social Network with the backstage mania of Birdman, this bold work of re-examination dissects three of the most pivotal product launches of Jobs’s life, using those moments as a keyhole to see if it’s possible to be both brilliant and decent. Oct 3 at 6, 9pm


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