I was out of the country for the bulk of the 51st New York Film Festival (my 9th year attending) so unfortunately I didn’t get to see as many films as I would have liked — “All Is Lost,” “The Immigrant,” “Bastards,” “Only Lovers Left Alive” and “The Wind Rises” were probably my most noteworthy omissions — but on the plus side, my hit-to-miss ratio was much higher than it has been in previous years. I enjoyed all the films I saw this year to varying degrees with the top choices certain to land high on my year end list. Here, in descending order of preference, are my favorites from the 2013 NYFF.
1. Her (dir: Spike Jonze) Probably the strangest (and most effective) love story since “Punch-Drunk Love” is a heart-on-a-sleeve romance between a man and his operating system. As much as I adore his collaborations with Charlie Kaufman, with “Where The Wild Things Are,” his 31 min short “I’m Here” and “Her,” it’s great to finally see Jonze’s voice onscreen. There’s nothing else like it.
2. Inside Llewyn Davis (dir: Coen Bros.) Low-key character study features a career-making performance from Oscar Isaac and feels like a spiritual cousin of 2009’s severely underrated “A Serious Man.” The Coens track record has been spotty in recent years but ‘Llewyn Davis’ can stand alongside that and “No Country For Old Men” as their finest of the aughts.
3. Nebraska (dir: Alexander Payne) Well observed father-son story is a big step back in the right direction for Payne after the milquetoast “The Descendants.” It may move a tad slower than I might’ve liked but the bench of supporting players is deep (Bob Odenkirk, Buzz from “Home Alone,” etc.) and it pays off big time emotionally in the final act.
4. Captain Phillips (dir: Paul Greengrass) Not a film I need to see again but an effective true life thriller whose finale undercuts uplift with raw emotion and elevates the entire film which preceded it. Hanks doesn’t have a ton to do here (outside of the strangely awkward opening with Catherine Keener), but his final scenes do haunt.
5. Blue Is The Warmest Color (dir: Abdellatif Kechiche) The coming out/coming-of-age story that took home the Palme d’Or at Cannes contains some potent stuff (particularly in the first 3rd) but there is no reason on Earth that it needed to be 3 hours. Extended running time lingers on scenes that go nowhere and skips potentially huge dramatic developments. Its infamous sex scenes betray the previously earned dramatic emotion.
n/a. The Age Of Innocence (dir: Martin Scorsese) Lured by the promise of a Winona Ryder appearance that never came I was inadvertently tricked into seeing Scorsese’s 1993 romance, also the next-to-last narrative film of Scorsese’s that I hadn’t seen yet. (If you’re curious, the last one is (“Boxcar Bertha.”) Damn you, FilmLinc!