October 16, 2023
WRITTEN BY: PAIGE
Nothing is better than cozying up on a rainy day to watch a movie. Now imagine getting to do that for eight straight days in The Big Apple. That is exactly what I got to do at the 61st New York Film Festival, resulting in 14 films watched and Q&As with two directors, Todd Haynes and Yorgos Lanthimos.
If you’ve never been, the aesthetic and vibe of being at a film festival is something special. Being surrounded by like-minded movie fanatics, experiencing the rush of seeing multiple movies a day, is an exhilarating experience, especially when you get to see some of your most anticipated movies of the year, not to mention the thrill of finding hidden gems.
While I’m bummed that I missed films like Hit Man, Janet Planet, and Priscilla due to timing, I did have a better experience overall this time around, my second year in a row covering this prestigious festival. Hopefully, next year will be even better!
Check out what I did get to see below, all 14 movies – ranked:
14. STRANGE WAY OF LIFE
Strange Way of Life is a melodramatic queer western that feels like a cologne commercial that’s trying to rip off Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain. While the performances from Ethan Hawke and Pedro Pascal are very nuanced and engaging, the true issue with this short film is that it tries to say too much in such a short amount of time. It would have benefited greatly if it was a feature, and to be honest, one of the few things that saved it from being a total miss was Pedro Pascal's bare ass.
13. THE SETTLERS
The Settlers is a brooding western that features beautiful landscape shots paired with the tones of a Robert Eggers film. Don't expect it to shy away from the violence and bloodshed either, with this directorial debut from director Felipe Gálvez Haberle showing that he has the chops to deliver a strikingly brutal film. With that said, it’s a very masculine film that relies heavily on shock value rather than a strong story to rope you in. While I dug the chapter-based storytelling structure, the overarching story did not come together for me.
12. ALL DIRT ROADS TASTE OF SALT
All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt is an intimate and raw look at life that is very somber. While some may consider it to be pretentious with its metaphors of comparing human life to mother nature, its poetic themes are actually more relatable than one may think. But, unfortunately, even with its stunning imagery, its quiet and minimalistic storytelling approach will not captivate or grab your average audiences. It’s a little all over the place too. The film needed more meat on its bones to be considered satisfying.
11. THE ZONE OF INTEREST
While The Zone of Interest is well-crafted, I can’t help but feel cold and disengaged from it. Mica Levi’s haunting and chilling score does create a unique atmosphere, but it’s writer/director Jonathan Glazer’s direction that didn’t have me emotionally invested in whatever story this film is trying to tell. The movie lacks narrative momentum because it feels like two films are happening at once: one you see and one you hear. If those two stories were combined together more gracefully, this slow burn Nazi drama could’ve had more weight to it.
10. EVIL DOES NOT EXIST
Evil Does Not Exist is a slow-paced, peaceful story about humans and their relationship with nature, as well as a commentary on the importance of preserving our natural resources. With a fantastic score and beautiful scenes throughout, I found myself more and more interested until I reached the third act. While I thought that the story would play out one way, the third act takes a somewhat out-of-the-blue turn that feels a bit abrupt and out of place. I didn't see it coming, that’s for sure, and maybe the metaphoric ending just needed more lead up to make sense.
9. CLOSE YOUR EYES
Close Your Eyes, director Victor Erice’s first film in thirty-odd years, is a very quiet and calm film that preserves the artifacts of one’s life and the thought of being forgotten. The way it conveys its message is in a simplistic and peaceful manner, built on somber but great performances. While the film’s runtime is way too long…it definitely could have afforded to cut a few scenes… try your best not to blink, lest you fall out of the movie’s trance.
8. THE BOY AND THE HERON
While The Boy and the Heron is another captivating film by Hayao Miyazaki, I can’t help but feel that its themes missed the mark for me. It just wasn’t as compelling as his previous works, and it relies heavily on beats similar to those from his other films instead of bringing something new to the table. Still, it’s visually spectacular (as usual) and quite funny at times, but it's tonally inconsistent, with Joe Hisaishi’s score ultimately elevating the film’s emotional beats.
Foe is an ambitious film that is more of a domestic drama than a world-building sci-fi spectacle. Don’t expect it to feel like the Black Mirror episode “Beyond the Sea” because its purpose is very muddled. While I actually quite enjoyed this character-driven flick, I do admit it’s a slow burn that needed a stronger story and better structure to fully come together. Still, the film does manage to play to the strength of its actors. Saoirse Ronan and Paul Mescal manage to deliver emotionally deep performances, even when the rest of the film stumbles along the way.
6. THE BEAST
If Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind and Cloud Atlas had a baby, it would be The Beast. This bizarre yet intriguing sci-fi-like epic warns of the fear of falling in love through the lens of these characters' entangled past lives. Despite a runtime that certainly overstays its welcome, Léa Seydoux and George MacKay deliver underrated performances that deserve to be praised, and while some plot points don’t resolve in a satisfying way, the core ideal to live in the moment, not carry the weight of the past, and not to worry too much about the future is something that we all should take to heart.
5. MAY DECEMBER
May December is an uncomfortable and pulpy melodrama that embraces its absurdity in a very unique manner, and in doing so, it somehow makes the film work flawlessly, proving that Todd Haynes is a hell of a director. Haynes also manages to get stellar performances from Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, and Charles Melton (although, Melton, in particular, is the true stand out of the film). While I do wish we dove even deeper into these characters' psyche to get a better understanding of the overall picture we’re presented with, I must admit… these interpretations are memorable as is.
4. THE SWEET EAST
The Sweet East may be one of my favorite hidden gems of the year. While it’s an innovative and memorable solo directorial debut from Sean Price Williams, it’s Talia Ryder's fierce lead performance that guides us through this chaotic and cynical look at modern-day America. Although this trippy coming-of-age odyssey can feel a little disjointed and messy at times, it’s held together by its wacky and magnificent cast. If you enjoyed Sean Baker’s Red Rocket, you’ll enjoy the heck out of this one.
3. ALL OF US STRANGERS
All of Us Strangers is an incredibly personal film that is both heartbreaking and extremely powerful. It’s intimate, tender, and everything in between. This work of art touches on themes of loneliness and grief that will resonate with many, and I promise you it will give all the feels thanks to the stellar and moving direction from director Andrew Haigh. Plus, Andrew Scott, Paul Mescal, Claire Foy, and Jamie Bell all deliver riveting performances. This gem will have you rushing out of the theater when it’s over to call your loved ones.
2. POOR THINGS
Poor Things is a brilliantly bizarre exploration of rebirth that offers a beautifully deranged portrait of what it means to be human, turning the very idea on its head. It allows Emma Stone, who deserves all the praise (including the Best Actress Oscar), to breathe life into her odd character. That said, the second half of the film drags a bit, and it can feel somewhat repetitive. However, that doesn’t take away from the fact that this is one of the most stunning films of the year, from its performances to the steampunk production design to the magnificent costumes. This film is truly the full package.
1. ANATOMY OF A FALL
Anatomy of a Fall is a riveting courtroom drama that is subtle and brilliant all at once, featuring sharp dialogue and a thought-provoking story that will keep you guessing throughout. While Sandra Hüller (Sandra) delivers a gripping performance, it’s the boy who plays her son, Daniel (Milo Machado Graner), that is the true standout in my eyes. I was truly blown away by his performance. But, even with all of that, the film’s real beauty is that it allows its audience to determine its true outcome, which will have you thinking about it long after it’s over.
Photo Credits: New York Film Festival