Three world premieres, all American made, anchor a main slate of 36 high-profile features at the 51st edition of the New York Film Festival, which begins tomorrow.
Opening night is “Captain Phillips,” a re-creation of the 2009 seizure of the cargo ship Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates. Paul Greengrass’s thriller stars Tom Hanks alongside four first-time actors as the kidnappers.
In the Centerpiece slot, Ben Stiller directs and stars in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” from James Thurber’s 1939 story about a daydreamer. (The 1947 version starred Danny Kaye.) Kristin Wiig, Sean Penn and Shirley MacLaine co-star.
And on closing night, in Spike Jonze’s “Her,” Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with Samantha, the Siri-like voice (it’s actually Scarlett Johansson’s) of his operating system.
The festival will celebrate the long and prolific career of Jean-Luc Godard by launching a retrospective that includes dozens of the great director’s works and continues through the end of October.
Probably the most talked-about movie of the festival -- as it was at Cannes, where it won the Palme d’Or in May -- will be Abdellatif Kechiche’s “Blue Is the Warmest Color.” Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux are two nervy actresses: Their very explicit sex scenes are less shocking than the raw intimacy. It’s three hours long, and it’s amazing.
Another French film, “Stranger by the Lake” -- a dark tale about a gay cruising spot -- is even more explicit. But it’s not hot; it’s frosty.
In the first of two marquee-name galas, Cate Blanchett will talk and offer clips from both past and upcoming work.
Ralph Fiennes will talk, too, before the American premiere of “The Invisible Woman,” about Charles Dickens’s long affair with a much younger woman (Felicity Jones). Fiennes directed and stars as Dickens.
It’s a terrific year for documentaries. Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren’s “The Dog” unleashes a true New York character: John Wojtowicz, who in 1972 held up a bank in order to pay for his boyfriend’s sex change -- that’s right, the guy Al Pacino played in “Dog Day Afternoon.” The real story is even wilder.
Frederick Wiseman, long renowned (he’s 83) for his commentless documentaries, will be present for a Q&A after “At Berkeley,” his four-hour examination of the campus today.
Turning to the somber, Claude Lanzmann, the director of “Shoah,” offers “The Last of the Unjust” -- three-and-a-half hours on Benjamin Murmelstein, the man Adolf Eichmann appointed to head the Jewish council of elders at Theresienstadt.
“The Square,” by the Egyptian-American Jehane Noujaim, was shot at great peril in Cairo’s Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring. Noujaim returned to Cairo to add new footage on the roller-coastering political situation.
Nancy Buriski’s delicately riveting “Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq” is a biography of the great ballerina (George Balanchine discovered and then married her) who, at 27, was stricken with polio and never danced -- or walked -- again.
Among the other highlights:
“A Touch of Sin.” Jia Zhangke’s four-part anthology shows an increasingly violent China in which the rich are arrogant and corrupt while the poor are granted ever less dignity. It won the screenplay award at Cannes.
“Le Week-End.” Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan star in Roger Michell’s bitter, strangely endearing English comedy about a regret-filled couple celebrating (if that’s the right word) their 30th anniversary in Paris.
“Nebraska.” Bruce Dern won best actor at Cannes for his work in Alexander Payne’s black-and-white sort-of-comedy, about a failing old man who thinks he’s won a million-dollar prize.
“Inside Llewyn Davis.” Ethan and Joel Coen’s much-buzzed-about re-creation of the Greenwich Village folk music scene in 1962 has Oscar Isaac as an obnoxious singer and a score supervised by T. Bone Burnett.
“Bastards.” Claire Denis’s French film noir was inspired by the country’s recent sex scandals involving highly placed, powerful men. Think very, very dark.
“All Is Lost.” Writer-director J.C. Chandor (“Margin Call”) has cast a lone Robert Redford in a man-against-the-elements drama about a sailor desperately trying to keep his damaged yacht from sinking into the Indian Ocean.
“The Immigrant.” A lowlife New York burlesque barker (Joaquin Phoenix) preys on a Polish immigrant (Marion Cotillard) in James Gray’s 1920s melodrama.
“12 Years a Slave.” Steve McQueen’s drama about a free black man (Chiwetel Ejiofor) kidnapped and sold into slavery was a huge hit at the Toronto International Film Festival.
The 51st New York Film Festival runs from Friday, Sept. 27, through Sunday, Oct. 13, at Lincoln Center. Last year, 75,000 attended; the Film Society of Lincoln Center expects that number to increase -- as usual.
(Craig Seligman is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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