Movies that made history at the New York Film Festival
On the road to Oscar, the New York Film Festival can be a most important stop.
Each year this curated collection of cinema takes us places we can only imagine. And playing the festival can send a film on the road to Oscar nominations and wins.
Here are a few of the festival’s greatest hits from the past.
Last year’s Oscar winner for Best Director (Alfonso Cuarón) found his way into the hearts of moviegoers when this personal memoir thrilled festival audiences. The extraordinary film introduces us to a family trying to learn what life can mean as they maneuver through the details of day-to-day living. Thanks to its appearance at the festival, “Roma” became an essential experience for anyone who is curious, thoughtful and committed to the world and its goodness. And who loves movies.
12 Years a Slave (2013)
A look at history can inform how far we have come and how far we still have to go. Director Steve McQueen wanted to learn more about how slavery defined the Black experience in America. And he hoped to better understand the tensions of today by taking a clear look at the stresses from the past. “I could not remember when I learned about slavery, but all I could feel was shame,” he said on a road to Oscar that started at the festival.
When Alejandro González Iñárritu stepped on stage at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, after the world premiere of his master work, he remarked, “The film is about a man’s battle with his ego, and I am losing my battle with mine.” He had reason to be proud. His exploration of a man’s fear of failure - looking as though it was shot without any edits — confirmed what a camera can accomplish with an artist looking through the lens. And it still thrills.
Chariots of Fire (1981)
Few people expected much from this costume drama about two athletes who compete in the 1924 Olympics. This was, after all, the year Warren Beatty triumphed with Reds, Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn touched hearts in On Golden Pond and Steven Spielberg dazzled with Raiders of the Lost Arc. But Chariots grabbed the audience at the New York Film Festival and, a few months later, was an upset winner for the year’s Oscar for Best Picture.
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Not many could imagine how an animated film - or cartoon as popularly labeled — could be serious enough to be shown at the festival. But the Disney folks decided to screen an unfinished “work in progress” version of this classic at the 1991 event. With a musical score by Alan Mencken and Tim Rice, the movie played like the best of Broadway shows, with every moment and movement perfectly timed as it fed an audience hungry for entertainment.
Bullets Over Broadway (1994)
Woody Allen’s tribute to the egos of the New York stage tickled many funny bones at the 1994 event. Aside from Allen’s razor-sharp humor and keen sense of observation, the film highlighted another superlative supporting performance from Dianne Wiest. While it was rare for a comedy to get a slot at the NYFF, the successful showing launched the film’s Oscar campaign. And, the next spring, Wiest won her second Oscar.
Mystic River (2003)
The lifelong tragedy of child abuse reached center stage at the festival in Clint Eastwood’s harrowing adaptation of the novel by Dennis LeHane. With Sean Penn and Tim Robbins as boyhood friends who spent their adult lives coping with what happened in their youth, Eastwood probed how people refuse, reimagine and reinvent in an effort to survive. When it came to Oscar time, Penn and Robbins were victorious in career-defining roles.
The Queen (2006)
From the moment Helen Mirren stepped onto the screen at the festival, the journey to Oscar began for this legendary lady’s rendition of Queen Elizabeth II. Looking at the days immediately after the death of Princess Diana, this Stephen Frears film may have invented some facts but never served Her Majesty with anything less than respect. And, from festival time, Mirren was the favorite to win the year’s Best Actress Oscar. Which she did.
No Country for Old Men (2007)
Writer/directors Joel and Ethan Coen may not have considered the most likely moviemakers to adapt this brutal Carmac McCarthy novel for the screen. The film was set in West Texas, far from the Coen’s usual stomping ground, and its band of characters offered little hope for redemption. But the Coens knew precisely how to make the book work as a movie. And the festival showing launched their road to Oscar where the film was named Best Picture.
No one can predict which of this year’s films will be remembered as the years pass.
For the moment, let’s continue to savor their moments at the 57th New York Film Festival.
See you at the movies.