JULIETA - Adriana Ugarte

JULIETA - Adriana Ugarte

ELLE - Isabelle Huppert

ELLE - Isabelle Huppert

TONI ERDMANN - Sandra Huller

TONI ERDMANN - Sandra Huller


FESTIVAL FOCUS  -- 9/26/16


Festival focus: After the frenzy of Sundance, the glitz of Cannes, the glamour of Venice, the film buffs at Telluride and the deal making at Toronto, Hollywood is now gearing up for the New York Film Festival.

Unlike the festivals that launched the awards conversation earlier this year by showcasing potential contenders, the Film Society of Lincoln Center's NYFF is more of a cultural event. Its 54th edition, which runs for 17 days from Sept. 30 through Oct. 16, includes world premieres as opening night, centerpiece and closing night selections, but is mostly built around strong titles that already have a festival buzz going for them.

These are films that sophisticated Manhattan moviegoers didn't see at the earlier festivals and want to get a look at now that they're playing in the Big Apple as the awards season gets underway. These are movies that people can actually enjoy talking about at dinner after seeing them, which makes them perfect for New York festivalgoers.

Adding to NYFF's clout with awards marketers is that it takes place in the media capital of the U.S. and, arguably, the world. Films that play well at NYFF and generate favorable reviews in New York media emerge as contenders. Becoming part of that conversation propels them through the long weeks of October and November, after which critics groups and other awards givers start defining the race with their announcements of winners or nominees.

Here's a quick look at a dozen of the 25 films that will be playing in NYFF's main slate:

The festival's opening night selection on Sept. 30 is the world premiere of Netflix's documentary "The 13th," directed by Ava DuVernay, who received Golden Globe and Critics Choice Awards nominations in 2015 for directing "Selma." It's the first time NYFF has kicked off with a documentary.

DuVernay didn't get into the Oscar race for directing "Selma," a biographical drama about the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., although the movie, itself, landed a best picture Oscar nod.       DuVernay's omission was one of many criticisms that year about the Academy's lack of racial and gender diversity in its noms. Her focus in "13th" on the history of racial inequality and conflict in the U.S. could make the film a very timely contender in Oscar's documentary feature category. With Academy interest in diversity greater than ever right now, members are likely to give serious consideration to DuVernay's new movie.

NYFF's centerpiece selection is the Oct. 8 world premiere of A24 and Annapurna Pictures R rated comedy "20th Century Women." Directed by Mike Mills ("Beginners"), it stars Elle Fanning, Alia Shawkat and Laura Wiggins in a story about three women exploring love and freedom in Southern California in the late '70s.

Closing night (Oct. 15) will see the world premiere of Amazon Studios and Plan B Entertainment's biographical action adventure "The Lost City of Z." Directed by James Grey ("The Immigrant"), it stars Tom Holland, Charlie Hunnam and Robert Pattinson.

Based on the best-seller by David Grann, it's the story of British explorer Col. Percival Fawcett (Hunnam), who in the 1920's disappeared in the Amazon jungle while searching for the fabled  kingdom of El Dorado.

Another high profile NYFF world premiere is set for Oct. 11 with TriStar Pictures and Marc Platt Productions' 3D war drama "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk." Directed by Ang Lee, a two-time best directing Oscar winner (in 2006 for "Brokeback Mountain" and in 2013 for "Life of Pi"), it opens wide Nov. 11. Starring are: Kristen Stewart, Vin Diesel and Garrett Hedlund.

Based on the bestselling novel by Ben Fountain, it's the story of 19-year-old private Billy Lynn (newcomer Joe Alwyn). Billy, along with his fellow Bravo Squad soldiers, becomes a hero after a traumatic Iraq War battle and is brought home for a victory tour.   

Using flashbacks that culminate with a Thanksgiving Day football game halftime show, Lee reveals what really happened to Bravo Squad.

In shooting "Billy," Lee used new technology with an ultra-high frame rate creating an immersive digital experience to dramatize war onscreen more effectively than was previously possible.

Besides its world premieres, NYFF will screen many other titles that have already made big splashes at Sundance, Cannes, Toronto and elsewhere.

Sundance Selects' drama "I, Daniel Blake" won the Palme d'Or at Cannes and the Audience Award at the Locarno International Film Festival earlier this year. Directed by veteran British director Ken Loach ("Kes"), it stars Dave Johns, Hayley Squires and Sharon Percy.

It's the story of a 59 year old carpenter recovering from a heart attack who befriends a single mom with two kids trying to get through the U.K.'s complex and impersonal benefits system.

Another title that got major attention at Cannes and is now surfacing at NYFF is IFC Films' thriller "Personal Shopper." Directed by Olivier Assayas ("Clouds of Sils Maria"), it stars Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger and Sigrid Bouaziz.

"Shopper" is a ghost story set in Paris's fashion underworld.

Also in the Cannes spotlight and now in the spotlight at NYFF is Sony Pictures Classics' R rated thriller "Elle," opening exclusive engagements Nov. 11. Directed by Paul Verhoeven ("Basic Instinct"), it stars Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte and Anne Consigny.

Its story centers on Michele (Huppert), who heads a successful video game company and is as ruthless in her love life as she is in business. After an attack at home by an unknown assailant changes her life forever, she manages to track him down. Both are then drawn into a thrilling game that can spiral out of control at any moment.

Sony Pictures Classics' comedy drama "Toni Erdmann," opening exclusive runs Dec. 25, was also first seen at Cannes. Directed by Maren Ade ("Everyone Else"), it's about a father trying to reconnect with his adult daughter. Starring are: Peter Simonischek, Sandra Hüller and Michael Wittenborn.

"Toni" was a Palme d'Or nominee at Cannes, where Ade won the FIPRESCI international press award. She also won the FIPRESCI at the San Sebastián International Film Festival.

Another high profile NYFF selection is Sony Pictures Classics' R rated romantic drama "Julieta," directed by Pedro Almodovar, who won the best original screenplay Oscar in 2003 for "Talk to Her."

"Julieta," which was a Palme d'Or nominee, stars Michelle Jenner, Rossy de Palma and Adriana Ugarte.

It's a mother-daughter relationship story in which a middle-aged woman in Madrid, Julieta (Emma Suarez), who's been estranged from her daughter for a dozen years, unexpectedly learns she's living in Switzerland with her husband and three children.

Another highlight at NYFF with earlier festival roots is the R rated drama "Manchester by the Sea," which began generating an Oscar buzz last January at Sundance when Amazon Studios acquired it for $10 million. Directed by Kenneth Lonergan ("Margaret"), it stars Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams and Kyle Chandler.

"Manchester," opening Nov. 18 in limited release via Roadside Attractions, is about a teenage boy whose uncle is forced to care for him after his father dies.

A24 and Plan B Entertainment's R rated drama "Moonlight," written and directed by Barry Jenkins ("Medicine for Melancholy"), became part of the awards conversation at Toronto. Starring are: Mahershala Ali, Shariff Earp and Duan 'Sandy' Sanderson. It's based on "In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue," an unproduced play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, who has story credit on the movie.

Its story of self-discovery about a young black man growing up in a tough Miami neighborhood and struggling to find his place in the world makes it a likely title for consideration by Academy voters hoping to improve Oscar's diversity.

Sundance Selects' drama "Things to Come" is directed by Mia Hansen-Love ("Eden"), who won the Silver Bear for directing at the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year. Starring are: Isabelle Huppert, André Marcon and Roman Kolinka.

Huppert plays Nathalie, a Paris high school philosophy teacher, who devotes her time to her family, her former students and her very possessive mother. When her husband suddenly leaves her for another woman, Nathalie is forced to reinvent her life.

Huppert could wind up competing with herself for best actress noms as she's also the lead actress in "Elle" (see above).

Bottom line: Although dozens of awards hopefuls have been playing at film festivals, very few have surfaced yet in theatres. Because awards marketers believe Academy members remember best what they've just seen, distributors typically release their Oscar contenders late in the year just before nominations balloting begins.

That may not be the smartest strategy, however, since it creates a logjam of films hoping to be seen by voters who just don't have enough time to see everything they should see. What they do is wind up watching the high profile pictures that have already made some headway with critics groups and other awards givers.

         Last weekend saw one early best picture contender continuing to hold up very well at the boxoffice  – Warner Bros., Village Roadshow Pictures and RatPac Entertainment's PG-13 rated biographical drama "Sully." Directed by four time Oscar winner Clint Eastwood, it stars two time Oscar winner Tom Hanks.

         "Sully" circled the boxoffice in third place with $13.8 million and a domestic cume of $92.4 million after three weeks.

         First place went to the opening of MGM, Columbia and Village Roadshow's PG-13 rated remake of the classic 1960 action western "The Magnificent Seven" with $35 million. Directed by Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day"), its stars include Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke.

         "Seven" was the closing night film at Venice and the opening night film at Toronto. It could follow in the footsteps of another classic western remake, "True Grit," which received 10 Oscar noms in 2011, including best picture and directing (Ethan & Joel Coen).

         Washington could end up battling himself for best actor Oscar noms since he's also starring in and directed Paramount and Scott Rudin Productions' "Fences," opening in limited release Dec. 16 and going wide Dec. 25. "Fences," a race relations driven drama with an early Oscar buzz, also stars Viola Davis and Mykelti Williamson.

         Washington is a two-time Oscar winner – in 1990 for supporting actor in "Glory;" and in 2002 for best actor in "Training Day." Davis is a two-time Oscar nominee – in 2009 for supporting actress in "Doubt;" and in 2012 for best actress in "The Help."

         Second place last weekend went to Warner Bros. and Warner Animation Group's launch of the PG rated 3D animated family comedy adventure "Storks" with $21.8 million.

         Last weekend, per comScore, was down about 23.8 percent from this time last year – about $105 million vs. $137.9 million – when the PG rated animated family comedy sequel "Hotel Transylvania 2" opened to $48.5 million.

         Not surprisingly, the year-to-date numbers are now slightly less potent – about $8.497 billion vs. $8.083 billion, according to comScore. That's still up 5.1 percent, but a week ago the year-to-date was ahead by 5.4 percent percent and two weeks ago it was leading   by 5.7 percent.