Films To Look Forward To At The 2020 New York Film Festival


The 58th New York Film Festival is right around the corner. Early next week, the virtual press screenings begin, while the fest officially starts up on September 17th (running from then all the way until October 11th). Obviously, the festival is a lot different than in years past, what with the coronavirus pandemic still raging, but it’s going on, nonetheless. So, COVID-19 be damned, New York City will still (in a virtual and/or socially distanced form) play host to some of the year’s most interesting movies. Below, I’ve come up with a list of what to really look forward to at NYFF this time around. It’s hardly an exhaustive one, but there are twelve titles that caught my eye. Your mileage may vary…

Here are a dozen films to look forward to at NYFF:

12. The Salt of Tears – Coming off of Lover for a Day three years ago at the festival, Philippe Garrel has another depiction of young French love to share with audiences. A small character study, it’s the sort of international work that NYFF always champions. If The Salt of Tears is on par with Garrel’s recent work, it’ll be something to keep an eye on.

11. Hopper/Welles – Cinephiles no doubt have this one earmarked, as how can you not be fascinated by an extended conversation from 1970 between screen legends Dennis Hopper and Orson Welles? The documentary could prove to be one of the most interesting of the fest, that’s for sure. Hopper and Welles fans will surely be down for this one, at the very least.

10. The Calming – Song Fang’s story of a young filmmaker traveling through Asia after a break-up may prove to be one of the best under the radar flicks at the New York Film Festival this year. Described as non-judgmental and observational, we may be in for a treat here, just following a compelling character as she finds her way. Count me in.

9. Undine – Christian Petzold’s latest is, wait for it…a supernatural melodrama, which is certainly something new from the director. This one has already been picked up by IFC Films, so there’s a bit of a pedigree here. Petzold is due a big breakout festival smash, so while the year has certainly conspired against him, maybe this is the one?

8. MLK/FBI – One of the more timely movies playing at the fest is this documentary. Looking at the thorough FBI surveillance of Martin Luther King Jr. during the height of his activism, it’s not just an account of governmental oversight, but a window into the racism of J. Edgar Hoover. Expect this doc to drum up a lot of conversation once it screens.

7. Mangrove – Steve McQueen has a project called the Small Axe anthology that’s partly playing at NYFF, focused on London’s West Indian community over the decades. This piece dramatizes a landmark trial in the 70s, as well as what led up to it. All eyes are on McQueen to see how this epic project pays off. It would be shocking for all three of the festival entries to be top notch, but bet against him at your own risk.

6. Red, White, and Blue – The second of three McQueen efforts, this one stars John Boyega as Leroy Logan, a London Metropolitan Police Force officer in the 1980s. Another true story, this one shows the group’s racism, which he bit experiences and saw firsthand. Boyega was so stirring in Detroit for Kathryn Bigelow, so if this traffics in similar territory, it could be a surprise gem.

5. Lovers Rock – Of McQueen’s three flicks at the fest, this is the one that programers seem the highest on, as it was given the coveted Opening Night Selection slot. Largely taking place at a house party in the 80s, it could be the lighter and more joyous companion to his two other heavier entries here. If nothing else, it’s going to really stand out…

4. American Utopia – Reviews at other festivals have labeled this as one of the best concert films in years. Directed by Spike Lee, this recording of the David Byrne stage show of the same name is blowing folks away. NYFF is next. I, for one, am curious what makes this one so special, but the acclaim has been hot and heavy for what Byrne and Lee cooked up here.

3. French Exit – The Closing Night Selection, this movie sounds like a unique experience, to put it mildly. Adapted from a Patrick deWitt novel, this vehicle for Michelle Pfeiffer is described as eccentric, which is an interesting way to put it. Co-starring Lucas Hedges and the voice of Tracy Letts, it seems like an absurdist comedy. An odd choice to close NYFF? Sure. Potentially one of the festival’s best picks? I wouldn’t doubt it!

2. Nomadland – Chloe Zhao has received out and out raves for her third feature, which is the Centerpiece Selection of the festival. Zhao, along with star Frances McDormand, are tipped for major Oscar love here, with this depiction of itinerant life for an older American citizen capturing the hearts and minds of critics at two other film festivals already. NYFF is next, with raves almost assuredly to follow.

1. On the Rocks – Sofia Coppola’s new film reunites her with Bill Murray. That alone makes it a must-see and one of my top titles for NYFF, but seeing Murray paired with Rashida Jones for an adventure around New York City almost makes it a period piece. The unexpected emotions there, seeing the city pre-pandemic, will make it an experience that could sneak up on you. It’s the festival title I most want to see, so it’s tops on this list.

Honorable Mention: All In: The Fight for Democracy, The Human Voice, Meeting the Man: James Baldwin in Paris, The Monopoly of Violence, and Time

Stay tuned to see how the New York Film Festival turns out!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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