The 54th annual New York Film Festival wrapped up last night, bringing an end to a two-plus week downpour of terrific fiction and nonfiction films from here and abroad. Back on September 30, at the beginning of that festival (it seems years ago now) we ran down the best selections we saw in advance; now that it’s over, here are our picks and passes from what unspooled during the festival proper.
The great thing about a big, prestigious festival like NYFF is that they can attract world premieres of new works from some of our finest filmmakers. The bad thing is that sometimes those films don’t live up to their expectations.
Billy Lynn’s Halftime Walk
Ang Lee’s decision to shoot his adaptation of Ben Fountain’s novel at five times the frame rate of a normal movie will go down as one of the most baffling artistic decisions in modern moviemaking. It’s not just an eyesore that gives this star-packed prestige picture the look of an amateurish 1998 shot-on-DV erotic thriller; the aesthetic failure becomes a dramatic one, because the ugly video captures ostensibly natural, realistic scenes in a way that only increases our awareness of the artificiality of it all. Maybe this would’ve worked if shot conventionally – though the script is clumsy and the acting is spotty – but the miscalculation of the medium is so overwhelming, it’s impossible to guess.
The Lost City of Z
James Gray’s masterful The Immigrant was a stunning mix of period piece and character drama, and his new film isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination (a caveat unavailable for Billy Lynn). In many ways, it’s textbook great: handsomely mounted, (mostly) well acted, boldly audacious, gorgeously photographed. Yet for all of its admirable ambition, there’s something missing; Gray never quite manages to couple the beauty of his images with a matching emotional resonance, a balance magnificently achieved by his last picture. And part of the problem may lie in the casting of Charlie Hunnam in the leading role, an actor who never quite inhabits the character convincingly, and thus never makes the human connection this adventure epic so badly needs.