New Yorkers who couldn’t make it to Cannes or Sundance should head to New Directors/New Films (the festival that discovered Spike Lee, John Sayles, Pedro Almodovar, and even Steven Spielberg) this week to sample the best of both along with a few premieres. We know planning what to see can be a daunting task with over two dozen films to choose from, so we assembled a guide to our favorites. Click through for our must-see picks, accompanying trailers, and ticket info.
The festival opens with Richard Press’ fly-on-the-wall documentary Bill Cunningham New York, a film which follows the enigmatic and deeply private Times photographer as he pedals around the city on a beat-up bike searching for new trends. Cunningham seems equally comfortable around Lady Astor as he is with a street cleaner, and while he runs in elite circles for his work, he lives very modestly in a tiny studio filled with filing cabinets — it could easily be mistaken for a storage closet. It’s this dichotomy that makes Press’ superb film fascinating. Fashion consumes Cunningham, and yet he prefers it on others, sticking to a blue work coat and a few simple basics for himself.
2. 3 Backyards
Eric Mendelsohn‘s 3 Backyards is a bizarrely tense dramedy that benefits from an excellent core cast: Edie Falco as a slightly deranged housewife and Elias Koteas as man struggling to connect with his family in all the wrong ways. The title refers to three households in the same neighborhood that never meet, highlighting the isolation of the characters. There are numerous small cinematic moments to savor here including a girl with a runaway poodle and wild nature shots in the Hamptons, all blanketed by a frantic score that fits the pulse of the film. Mendelsohn’s well-crafted characters will stick with you long after the screen fades.
My Perestroika is a rare glimpse behind the iron curtain that explores the transformation of USSR through the eyes of five ordinary citizens who grew up together but embarked on drastically different career paths. Director Robin Hessman weaves their stories together seamlessly while letting them unfold naturally in this thoughtful doc. The result is a powerful and surprisingly humorous examination of life under government control and a welcome insight into the day-to-day lives of a particularly captivating group of Russians.
4. I Am Love
That Tilda Swinton can speak Italian is just one of many delightful surprises in Luca Guadagnino’s richly drawn drama that focuses on the disintegration of a family dynasty and the destructive potential of unchecked passions. Swinton plays a fading trophy wife trying to hold onto her family while finding ways to escape her loneliness. John Adams‘ rhythmic score brings out the well-hidden tension of the Recci family, enhancing Yorick Le Saux‘s gorgeously shot scenes of Milan and the lush Italian countryside, evoking the spirit of the aptly named film.
Tanya Hamilton‘s gritty feature debut is a riveting story of former Black Panthers trying to piece together a life for themselves amidst the savage inequalities of the times. Hamilton has a lot to say but avoids being preachy by crafting subtle moments that leave the judgment up to the viewer. Kerry Washington is astounding as a lawyer who fights from within the system and Anthony Mackie delivers a powerful performance as man trying to carve out a meaningful existence out of the mess he was born into.
6. Down Terrace
This chilling pitch-black comedy has a deceptively warm opening that sucks you inside the heads of its charmingly psychopathic drug-dealing protagonist and his equally deranged family, engaging you for the ensuing bloodbath. Director Ben Wheatley along with his writing partner Robin Hill draw on the everyman aspects of The Sopranos but have a fresh and subtle sensibility that shines through even in the film’s darkest moments.
Borat meets Michael Moore in this inventive and daring new doc that takes us inside of North Korea as two Danish-Korean comedians prepare for a concert homecoming and fight becoming a propaganda tool of Kim Jong-il. Director Mads Brügger provides insightful and hilarious commentary, even using the great leader’s film theory book as a faux guide to how he should structure his film. These hilariously surreal moments contrast nicely with the harrowing reality of this isolated country.
This complex tale celebrates the joys of cinema while starkly depicting the final days of a French producer who wrestles with his zest for life and simultaneous desire for it to be over in the face of mounting debt and depression. There are no easy answers to be had but an abundance of wit and charm goes a long way to make this one of the most moving films we’ve seen this year.
New Directors/New Films runs from March 24 through April 4 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and MoMA. Buy tickets here.