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New York Film Festival preview: LIFE OF PI, FLIGHT and more

The 50th New York Film Festival is bookmarked by two films in which disasters lead to personal awakenings. The opening movie on September 28 is Ang Lee’s LIFE OF PI, a 3D adventure tale about an Indian boy’s antics with various wildlife after a shipwreck sets them adrift on the ocean. The closing night attraction is Robert Zemeckis’ FLIGHT, about a pilot, played by Denzel Washington, who saves a plane — if not necessarily his life — from crashing.

In between those two reportedly eye-popping journeys, there will also be highly awaited films like AMOUR, Michael Haneke’s Palm d’Or-winning glimpse at a couple advancing into old age, and entries by Olivier Assayas (SOMETHING IN THE AIR), Alan Resnais (YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHING YET) and Noah Baumbach (FRANCES HA, a comedy starring Greta Gerwig). Add Brian De Palma’s PASSION, with Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace in a story about the theft of ideas and the revenge that follows and a PRINCESS BRIDE anniversary screening that reunites much of the original cast — plus a slate of other features from all around the world — and the fest sounds like it’ll be a voyage full of great stuff.

Village Voice critic Melissa Anderson, who served her fourth year on the selection panel, gave me some seasoned insight into the proceedings.

Hello, Melissa. Seems like there are a lot of old-time faves among the directors this year.
Some, but what’s very delightful is that there are several first-time filmmakers and works by filmmakers who are up and coming. There’s this wonderful film from the Philippines called BWAKAW, about a 60-year-old gay man and his dog — one of the most amazing animals I’ve ever seen — from a filmmaker I don’t think any of us were familiar with.

Sounds like a gay UMBERTO D. And there are animals in the opening film, LIFE OF PI.
There’s an amazing menagerie, including a fantastic CGI tiger.

How about the closing film, FLIGHT?
Denzel plays this alcoholic, coke-snorting daredevil pilot who has to make a spectacular plane landing. The sequence is about 20 minutes long and it’s as if you were in an emergency landing yourself. It’s extraordinary and terrifying. It becomes a portrait of how this very messy person tries to get it together.

What are some other highlights of the fest?
There are two great performances by Australia’s greatest export, Kylie Minogue, and Leos Carax in HOLY MOTORS, and Nicole Kidman’s performance in Lee Daniels’ THE PAPERBOY.

Last year, the festival included a lot of high-profile films, and even the esoteric ones like SHAME and MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE were very buzzy. Is it a different feeling this year?
It seems to be the same balance between high-profile and much smaller films. LIFE OF PI is one of the most anticipated films of the year.

What’s unique about this festival?
The beauty of the festival is that it’s highly curated. There are 33 films that constitute the main plate, compared to Toronto, which has 10 times as many. It’s a cinema orgy there — there’s so much happening. And Tribeca has whittled down their slate, but there’s still a lot of films, at least 80 or 90. This festival is offering to filmgoers the chance to see the best of the best in world cinema.

Image credit: LIFE OF PI official site