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Ten brilliant new movies showing at the 2021 New York Film Festival

Still don’t know which tickets to grab for the 59th NYFF? We’ve seen these films – and can guarantee they’re great.

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Dave Calhoun
&
Phil de Semlyen
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Each year, the New York Film Festival (which runs from Friday, September 24, to Sunday, October 10, 2021) sweeps up the best of the year’s international cinema. In 2021, the festival will open with the world premiere of Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth, close with Pedro Almodóvar’s Parallel Mothers and squeeze in a midway gala of Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog. In between, there’s a long list of new movies from around the globe, many of them from the best directors working today, including South Korea’s Hong Sangsoo, France’s Céline Sciamma and the UK’s Joanna Hogg. But which films are genuinely worth trying to get tickets for? That’s where we can help. These are Time Out’s picks of the program.

You’ll find the full NYFF program and information on times and tickets here.

Ten movies to see at the 2021 New York Film Festival

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  • Drama

The directorial debut of actor Rebecca Hall, this is a stunning, black-and-white adaptation of Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel about two Black women, once childhood friends, who meet again years later in NYC. One of them, Clare (Ruth Negga), now ‘passes’ as white, and the effect of her reappearance on the life of her old friend Irene (Tessa Thompson) is fascinating to witness. A bold and thoughtful gem. Dave Calhoun

  • Movies
  • Drama

Clocking in at two-and-a-half-hours—or is it a week? Or ten minutes?—Thai arthouse master Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s latest meditation is a time-bending balm for the soul. If you’re up for letting it wash over you with its seductive rhythms and deeper meaning, the quest on which Tilda Swinton’s expat in Colombia goes on to track down the source of a mysterious banging sound is a truly hypnotic adventure. Vive le slow cinéma! Phil de Semlyen

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  • Movies
  • Drama

French filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve (Eden, Goodbye First Love) makes insightful, revealing, deceptively airy dramas that riff on relationships in her past. Her latest is the first to reflect her experience as a filmmaker and tells of two directors (Tim Roth, Vicky Krieps) who are in a rocky relationship and on an artistic retreat at the former island home of Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. It’s a treat for fans of European film history, and its film-within-a-film elements are especially fun to unpick. DC

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  • Animation

Studio Ghibli may still hog the headlines when it comes to family-friendly animes but Studio Chizu and its co-founder, Mamoru Hosoda, are pushing the boundaries just as hard these days. And Hosoda’s latest is a serious piece of animation: expect wildly trippy visuals, earworm-worthy bangers and a lot of heart as grieving 17-year-old high schooler Suzu reinvents herself as a superstar in a virtual world known as ‘U’. PDS

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Red Rocket
Drew Daniels

Red Rocket

Sean Baker’s (The Florida Project) latest has already been likened to Boogie Nights, which is an invidious point of comparison but not outlandish. It definitely packs some cinematic inches, with its fading porn star, Mikey Saber (Simon Rex), somehow simultaneously odious and oddly likeable. Comeback kid Rex—a one-time porn star himself—plays him as a fading Dirk Diggler-alike, all pheromones and desperation, as he returns to a hometown still seething over his past deeds. PDS

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  • Drama

Debut director Panar Panahi is the son of Jafar Panahi—the celebrated Iranian filmmaker tormented in recent years by his government—and his first film shows extraordinary promise. It’s a black comic and also deadly serious road movie about a family on anything but a fun family trip. It’s full of acute, amusing observations about parents and kids and yet at its heart is a deep sadness, the source of which is left to us to discover. DC

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  • Movies
  • Drama

How can such a simple, short film contain so many layers of meaning and emotion? The latest from France’s Céline Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire) tells of a woman and her young daughter and how their lives play out in the wake of the death of the former’s mother and the latter’s grandmother. Sciamma explores grief and the mother-daughter relationship with a magic touch, playing on the edges of time and fantasy. It’s fascinating to experience and gets right to your heart. DC

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Not seen the first half of British filmmaker Joanna Hogg’s autobiographical two-parter? Don’t worry, that’s showing at the NYFF too (although you’ll find it streaming). Hogg already proved herself a unique screen artist with films including Archipelago and Unrelated, but this is surely her greatest achievement to date: a remarkably frank and painful (but also playful) account of coming of age as a woman and filmmaker. It’s also one of the most toe-curling and recognizable portraits of Englishness to date. DC

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  • Movies
  • Thriller

This madder than mad, stylish, savage French revenge story (which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year) is from Julia Ducournau, who made the cannibal tale Raw. This is no less provocative. It tells of a young woman, Alexia (the excellent Agathe Rousselle), whose life is steered in a wild direction following a car crash in her childhood after which she has titanium implants in her head. It plays with all sorts of ideas around identity, attraction, bodies and…really, it’s best not to share too many details. Just see it—but be prepared for some tough-going scenes even if you’re only slightly sensitive to fleshy violence. DC

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Don’t believe the title: it’s simply a reflection of the self-worth, at a very low point, of this Norwegian film’s very endearing main character, Julie (Renate Reinsve). We follow her in her twenties and thirties in almost every frame of this warm, sympathetic leftfield romantic comedy. Unfolding over several years in Oslo, it feels like it’s capturing the heartbeat of a city as well as honouring the rhythms and rituals of a generation. Delightful. DC

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