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New York Film Festival 2021: 10 Films We Are Most Excited To See

New Films from Wes Anderson, Mike Mills, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, and More

Sep 10, 2021 By Kaveh Jalinous Web Exclusive
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In its 59th year, the New York Film Festival has adapted to the pandemic-driven changes in the film industry. The festival is dropping its virtual component this year and is operating in a similar fashion to how it was in pre-2020. From September 24th to October 10th, the iconic Lincoln Center will be the headquarters for film lovers to connect with one another and experience the power of cinema on the big screen.

With a fresh batch of releases headed to cinemas and streaming services over the next few months hopefully, as well as new releases from several prominent directors on the way, the fall of 2021 holds the potential to make up for the tumultuous film year of 2020. The official film selection reflects this renewed hope with a variety of big-name flicks, including some that have premiered at other festivals to much acclaim, as well as a broad selection of smaller, quieter gems.

Here are the films that we are most excited to see this year, selected by Under the Radar film critic Kaveh Jalinous.

1. Drive My Car (Main Slate)

Who: Japanese auteur Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, director of Asako I&II, famed best-selling author Haruki Murakami.

What: “An engrossing, expansive epic about love and betrayal, grief and acceptance, charting the unexpected, complex relationships that a theater actor-director forges with a trio of people out of professional, physical, or psychological necessity.”

Why: Viewers may initially be daunted by the film’s hefty runtime of 179 minutes, the longest film of the festival. But, it’s been three years since the last film adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s enigmatic writing, the Cannes-winning and Oscar-snubbed Burning. If Drive My Car is anything like that thought-provoking masterpiece, which initial reviews suggest it may be, we’re in for quite an experience.

2. C’mon C’mon (Spotlight)

Who: Acclaimed director Mike Mills, Academy Award-winning actor Joaquin Phoenix.

What: “A soulful Joaquin Phoenix plays Johnny, a kindhearted radio journalist taking care of his sister’s troubled young son while trying to complete a project in writer-director Mike Mills’ latest effort, another warm, insightful, and gratifyingly askew portrait of American family life.”

Why: It’s been five years since Mike Mills’ previous film, excluding the visual album he directed for The National in 2019. It’s exciting to see the director return to the festival circuit with another quiet yet powerful drama, highlighting the power of relationships and connection. C’mon C’mon is also the first film that Joaquin Phoenix has starred in since he won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in 2019’s Joker.

3. Memoria (Main Slate)

Who: Apichatpong Weerasethakul, whose film, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, took home the Palme d’Or in 2010, Academy-Award winning actress Tilda Swinton.

What: “Jessica, an expat botanist visiting her hospitalized sister in Bogotá, becomes ever more disturbed by an abyssal sound that haunts her sleepless nights and bleary-eyed days.”

Why: Throughout his career, Weerasethakul has proved that he is masterful at creating slow paced films that unravel themselves with care and elegance. Based on the film’s synopsis and its reception at Cannes earlier this year, Memoria looks to be no different. Plus, just the fact that Weerasethakul and Swinton are working together is more than enough to pique our interest.

4. Vortex (Main Slate)

Who: Director Gaspar Noé, the risk-taking French director of Enter The Void and Climax.

What: “A handful of dark days in the lives of an elderly couple in Paris: a retired psychiatrist (Françoise Lebrun) and a writer (Dario Argento) working on a book about the intersection of cinema and dreams.”

Why: After shocking audiences in 2018 with the horrifying and nauseating Climax, the French auteur is back with a film that is said to be more grounded and less explicit than his other projects. What that means exactly we have yet to figure out, but based off of the initial plot synopsis, the film looks to be a harrowing and deeply affecting look at the pain and destruction caused by dementia.

5. Titane (Main Slate)

Who: Julia Ducournau, the director of the chilling and disturbing cannibalism-centered horror flick, Raw.

What: “A thrillingly confident vision from Julia Ducournau that begins as a work of intense horror and ends as something else: a film that questions our assumptions about gender, family, and love itself.”

Why: Firstly, this film took home the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. With a mysterious plot synopsis, a dialogue-less trailer and a lack of overt detail surrounding the project, our eyes are definitely peeled to see what Ducournau has in store for audiences. If the film is anywhere near as good as the first impressions from Cannes and other festivals suggest it is, we are surely in for a wild time.

6. The Tragedy of MacBeth (Main Slate)

Who: Joel Coen, directing solo without his brother Ethan Coen, Academy Award-winning all-time icons Frances McDormand and Denzel Washington.

What: “Joel Coen’s boldly inventive visualization of The Scottish Play is an anguished film that stares, mouth agape, at a sorrowful world undone by blind greed and thoughtless ambition, starring a strikingly inward Denzel Washington as the man who would be king and an effortlessly Machiavellian Frances McDormand as his Lady.”

Why: Where to even begin. First: the fact that Joel Coen is writing and directing here, without his brother Ethan, is intriguing in itself. Second: Coen’s captivating screenwriting style bringing Shakespeare’s rich source material to life, if done right, will be unforgettable. Finally, just the idea of McDormand and Washington sharing the screen together already has us completely sold. The Tragedy of MacBeth is also this year’s Opening Night Film.

7. BELLE (Spotlight)

Who: Mamoru Hosoda, acclaimed anime director of The Girl Who Kept Through Time and the Academy Award-nominated Mirai.

What: “The exhilarating story of a shy teenager who becomes an online sensation as a magical pop star named Belle in a parallel virtual universe known as the ‘U.’”

Why: BELLE is the only animated film in the entire festival lineup and since it is Hosoda’s first feature in three years, expectations are through the roof. Based off the buzz and word-of-mouth from Cannes filmgoers, where the film first premiered, Hosoda’s modern tale appears to rival, if not exceed, the praise for all of his other films.

8. Parallel Mothers (Main Slate)

Who: Iconic Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, famed actress Penélope Cruz.

What: “Two women, a generation apart, find themselves inextricably linked by their brief time together in a maternity ward, bound by a secret with ties to a deep trauma in Spanish history.”

Why: This is the third year in a row that Almodóvar has brought a film to the festival, and hopefully this tradition will carry on. Fresh off of its premiere at the Venice Film Festival, where it garnered a nine-minute standing ovation, Almodóvar’s film is said to be a pensive and shattering look at the power of motherhood. With Penélope Cruz in the center role as well, there’s not much more to wish for.

9. Petite Maman (Main Slate)

Who: Céline Sciamma, director of the acclaimed and award-winning Portrait of a Lady on Fire.

What: “Céline Sciamma proves again that she’s among the most accomplished and unpredictable of all contemporary French filmmakers with the gentle yet richly emotional time-bender Petite Maman, concerning 8-year-old Nelly’s complicated response to the death of her grandmother.”

Why: The incredible Portrait of a Lady on Fire may be the film that Sciamma is best known for, but the French director has been making quaint, deeply affecting dramas throughout her entire career. Petite Maman looks to be no different. The film is only 72 minutes long, but shorter runtimes have never stopped Sciamma from creating profound character studies riddled with emotion and heart.

10. The French Dispatch (Spotlight)

Who: Fan-favorite director Wes Anderson, a vast lineup including (but surely not limited to) Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Benicio del Toro, Timothée Chalamet, Adrian Brody, Léa Seydoux, Owen Wilson and Saoirse Ronan.

What: “Wes Anderson’s unmistakable cinematic style proves delightfully suited to periodical format in this missive from the eponymous expatriate journal, published on behalf of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun from the picturesque French town of Ennui-sur-Blasé. Brought to press by a corps of idiosyncratic correspondents, the issue includes reports on a criminal artist and his prison guard muse, student revolutionaries, and a memorable dinner with a police commissioner and his personal chef.”

Why: Wes Anderson returns with his first live action film since 2014’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. It’s been a long time coming, especially considering how many times the film has been delayed and how much hype the film has garnered since it was first announced. While the film’s trailer suggests that the film will echo Anderson’s signature quirky filmmaking style, The French Dispatch is the director’s first anthology film, divided into three parts. Only time will tell if Anderson will be able to captivate audiences using this storytelling style. Considering his track record, though, we’re not too worried.


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