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Photograph: Iñaki Vinaixa for Lincoln Center | Lincoln Center

This year’s New York Film Festival offers a sneak peek at upcoming Oscar contenders

NYFF opens September 29 with some of fall’s buzziest indies.

Written by
Elizabeth Weitzman

You may have noticed that the film industry is, shall we say, experiencing a touch of turmoil these days. While the inescapable successes of Barbie and Oppenheimer balance one side of the scale, an upended system battling multiple strikes and stoppages sits pretty heavily on the other. Which makes the latest edition of the New York Film Festival more essential than ever.

Then again, while the details may change from one year to the next, the festival's objectives have remained remarkably steady throughout its six decades. NYFF has always been thoughtfully curated, with a sensibility that is simultaneously current and timeless. “I hope that [this year’s] festival does what it has done every year since 1963,” affirms artistic director Dennis Lim. “Which is simply to make a case for cinema as a vital art form, and prove that the art of film is in robust health despite the disruptive changes that have always been part of its history.” 

RECOMMENDED: A guide to the New York Film Festival 2023

picture of julianne moore and natalie portman in MAY DECEMBER
Photograph: Francois Duhamel | Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman in ‘May December’

He and his team at Lincoln Center have more than achieved their goal, with an impressively strong slate that’s likely to serve as a substantial sneak preview for the upcoming awards season.

Many of the movies at NYFF will be making their North American premieres, after having screened to ovations at international festivals. Among the high-profile films already drawing rave reviews is Todd Haynes’ May December, which has been tapped for opening night on September 29. Longtime Haynes muse Julianne Moore stars as an ex-teacher married to the former student (Charles Melton) she once seduced, while Natalie Portman plays the actor portraying her in a film exploring—or is that exploiting?—their relationship.

 Adam Driver in ‘Ferrari’
Photograph: Eros Hoagland | Adam Driver in ‘Ferrari’

The festival will close on October 13 with another long-awaited title: Michael Mann’s Ferrari, in which Adam Driver, Penélope Cruz, and Shailene Woodley play the titular Italian car magnate, his wife, and his mistress. In between, you’ll find a must-see lineup that includes Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla, starring Jacob Elordi as Elvis and Cailee Spaeny as his (barely) teenage bride; Bradley Cooper’s Leonard Bernstein biopic Maestro, in which he directs himself alongside costar Carey Mulligan; and Yorgos Lanthimos’ steampunk Frankenstein fantasy Poor Things, which is already earning Emma Stone serious Oscar buzz. 

That said, it’s also worth looking beyond the marquee names to find your own unexpected discoveries. “I always suggest that people take a chance on something they have never heard of,” Lim says, pointing in particular to the festival’s Currents and Revivals sections. There are several gems among the former, including James Benning’s documentary Allensworth, about the complex history of a California town founded and run by African Americans at the turn of the 20th century. And classic film fans won't want to miss new prints of Jean Renoir’s 1947 noir The Woman on the Beach, starring Joan Bennett, or Lee Grant’s 1980 drama Tell Me a Riddle, featuring Melvyn Douglas as an aging patriarch.

‘Poor Things’
Photograph: Atsushi Nishijima/20th Century Studios | Emma Stone and Mark Ruffalo in ‘Poor Things’

Yet another consistent strength of this festival is its vast range of foreign films. This year, the biggest issue will be narrowing down so many compelling options. 2022 Oscar winner Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (Drive My Car) returns with Evil Does Not Exist, about a gentrified Japanese village. Agnieszka Holland’s fraught drama Green Border tracks a Syrian family of refugees through Eastern Europe, and Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest offers a portrait of beatific domestic tranquility…as seen from the perspective of a Nazi commandant. There are also promising new films from Hayao Miyazaki, Catherine Breillat, Wim Wenders, Steve McQueen, Andrew Haigh, and Aki Kaurismäki (among others).

And yes, many of these movies are likely to sell out. But don’t despair: Lim promises that “we are always able to get people in from standby lines for every screening, even the most popular ones.” So scan the schedule, grab some cinephile friends, and get ready to start placing those early Oscar bets.

The 2023 New York Film Festival runs from September 29 to October 15 at Lincoln Center, with encore screenings on October 14 and 15. Tickets and schedules are available at Standby lines form before showtime at the corresponding venue, and rush tickets will be announced and available throughout the festival online or via newsletter.

Photograph: Netflix | Carey Mulligan and Bradley Cooper in ‘The Maestro’


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