New York Film Festival: As Good as it Gets
Like Duane Reade and JP Morgan Chase, there are film festivals on virtually every corner in the world. Many of them are competitive, with Golden Palms and Lions, Silver Bears, and hoopla of every color. But at the New York Film Festival there are no prizes – just location, with opening night, centerpiece, and closing night taking pride of place. Always, some years are better than others, and 2010 was a very, very good year in New York.
There were many gems: Mike Leigh’s Another Year, and the ubiquitous Uncle Boonmee, Who Can Recall, etc., everyone’s favorite except – curmudgeon that I am – mine. But pulling out the big guns, where can you find a festival with four heavy hitters like: The Social Network, Of Gods and Men, Poetry, and Inside Job?
Since the Academy Awards will be handed out tonight, I’ll start with Social Network. Quite simply, it’s a perfect film. Written by one man and directed by another, acting as one (to say nothing of having an actor who plays identical twins), it’s like a sphere – and although there’s an awful lot going on in that sphere all the time, nothing can be taken out or added. Not one frame, one sound effect, one note of music. Yes, perfect. There are those who have been pushing for The King’s Speech for months. And it has a good story and an exclusively A-list cast. But that story is marred by excessive mugging and long – too long – and frequent – too frequent – reaction shots. Had they been trimmed, had there been less nudge-nudge, wink-wink, the story would actually have had greater impact (remember less is more)? (I know. like Uncle Boonmee; I’m a small voice in the wilderness.)
Of Gods and Men opened this weekend, and I can’t wait to see it again. Slow and contemplative, (and as perfect as The Social Network), the two films were screened for press on successive days, underscoring how good they were, and how different. And as if they weren’t enough, there was Poetry, with Korean actress Yoon Jeong-hee. The word “legendary” seems to follow her name whenever it’s in print; it’s actually an understatement, because her performance in this subtle, complex meditation is riveting. Finally, there’s Charles Ferguson’s body blow of a documentary, Inside Job. As powerful as it is depressing, (Ferguson goes to the heart of the country’s economic meltdown and Wall Street’s role in it), the filmmaker admitted to the New York Times only last week that “In 10 years this could all happen again,” and, even more disturbing, that “..there has been no justice.” Perhaps the only way to remain sanguine after seeing it, is to see it on a double bill, followed by The King’s Speech.
All four films are playing now, and are must-sees. No matter which ones win an Oscar, or Oscars, there is a lighter note: Lambert Wilson, who plays Father Christian in Of Gods and Men and is notable in it for his excellent baritone, has also used it to effect while starring in A Little Night Music in the West End. I am assured by colleague Mel Cooper that his Sondheim is as convincing as his Plain Chant. Alas, there are no Oscars for Plain Chant.