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2023 NYFF SPOTLIGHT LINEUP: New Films From Hayao Miyazaki, Richard Linklater, & Sean Price Williams To Be Showcased

About a week after announcing their Main Slate lineup, the New York Film Festival has unveiled the lineup for its Spotlight section. Taking place from September 29 through October 15, the highlights of this lineup include the U.S. premiere Hayao Miyazaki’s first film in over a decade The Boy and the Heron, Harmony Korine’s AGGRO DR1FT, Garth Davis’ dystopian love story Foe, Richard Linklater’s Hit Man, and Sean Price Williams’ directorial debut The Sweet East.

As previously announced, Bradley Cooper’s Maestro will screen October 2 as part of the Spotlight Gala at David Geffen Hall, which will be specially outfitted with Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos sound.

Documentaries are also a huge part of this year’s lineup. The legendary Frederick Wiseman makes his return to the festival with his newest documentary Menus-Plaisirs Les Troisgros, which explores a three-star Michelin restaurant in rural central France. Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson’s Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project will also be making its NY premiere. Steve McQueen is also bringing his new documentary Occupied City to Lincoln Center, which recounts the years of Amsterdam under Nazi occupation during World War II. The late composer Ryuichi Sakamoto is paid tribute to in Neo Sora’s Ryuichi Sakamoto | Opus, which will have its North American premiere at the festival.

On top of those, there will also be new short films from Pedro Almodóvar, David Cronenberg, and Yorgos Lanthimos to add to your watchlists.

See the Spotlight lineup below, with passes available now and tickets going on sale Sept. 19.

Maestro (previously announced)
Bradley Cooper, 2023, U.S., 129m
North American Premiere

In his directorial follow-up to A Star Is Born, Bradley Cooper dramatizes the public and private lives of legendary musician Leonard Bernstein with sensitivity, visual ingenuity, and symphonic splendor. Coasting on the boundless energy of its subject’s runaway genius, Maestro transports the viewer back to a vividly re-created postwar New York, when Bernstein (Cooper) began his stratospheric rise to international fame as both a conductor and composer, and also when he first met Felicia (Carey Mulligan), the actress whom he would marry and spend his life with. Maestro is a tender, often intensely emotional film about the different faces one wears when living in the public eye, depicting the complicated yet devoted decades-spanning relationship between Leonard and Felicia. Fueled by Cooper and Mulligan’s perfectly matched duet of towering performances, Matthew Libatique’s balletic cinematography, and, of course, Bernstein’s thrilling music, Maestro is a tour de force for its director. A Netflix release.

Harmony Korine, 2023, U.S., 80m
U.S. Premiere

More than a decade after Spring Breakers, Harmony Korine (Julien Donkey-Boy, NYFF37; Trash Humpers, NYFF47) returns with an even more hallucinatory trance film, and perhaps his most formally unbound work. Shot entirely in retina-scorching infrared and set to an intoxicating Araabmuzik score, AGGRO DR1FT casts Jordi Molla and rapper Travis Scott in a feverish, transporting action-movie miasma of skulls and swords, masks and machine guns, strippers and mobsters, horned demons and hot cars.

Preceded by:

Four Unloved Women, Adrift on a Purposeless Sea, Experience the Ecstasy of Dissection
David Cronenberg, Canada/Italy, 4m
North American Premiere

Surgery is the new sex, 18th-century style. In David Cronenberg’s wry, surrealist miniature, four anatomical female wax models—taken from the collection of Florence’s 250-year-old science museum La Specola—lie in uncanny repose as the camera dreamily caresses their detachable organs, exposed body cavities, and glossy ceroplastic flesh. Under the director’s inimitable gaze, objects created as pedagogical tools take on an impassioned agency, contorting in perpetual agony and ecstasy.

Yorgos Lanthimos, 2022, Greece, 35mm, 30m
North American Premiere

Director Yorgos Lanthimos and star Emma Stone have worked together before (The Favourite, NYFF56; Poor Things, NYFF61), but never in black-and-white on a remote Greek island with a herd of goats. In this entrancing, wordless collaboration, Stone gives a mesmerizing performance as a young widow who, along with her late husband (Damien Bonnard), embarks on a singularly unclassifiable journey through sex, death, and resurrection. Showing for the first time since its Athens premiere last year and designed never to be presented with a recorded soundtrack, this unique 35mm screening of the silent film will feature live accompaniment by an ensemble of musicians and a choir, performing pieces by J.S. Bach, Knut Nystedt, and Toshio Hosokawa. Followed by a conversation with Yorgos Lanthimos.

The Boy and the Heron
Hayao Miyazaki, 2023, Japan, 124m
Japanese with English subtitles
U.S. Premiere

The first film in a decade from Hayao Miyazaki is a ravishing, endlessly inventive fantasy that is destined to be ranked with the legendary animator’s finest, boldest works. While the Second World War rages, the teenage Mahito, haunted by his mother’s tragic death, is relocated from Tokyo to the serene rural home of his new stepmother Natsuko, a woman who bears a striking resemblance to the boy’s mother. As he tries to adjust, this strange new world grows even stranger following the appearance of a persistent gray heron, who perplexes and bedevils Mahito, dubbing him the “long-awaited one.” Indeed, an extraordinary and grand fate is in store for our young hero, who must journey to a subterranean alternate reality in the hopes of saving Natsuko—and perhaps himself. Uniting the countryside surreality of My Neighbor Totoro with the Alice in Wonderland–like dream logic of Spirited Away and the personal historical backdrop of The Wind Rises (NYFF51), yet fabricating something ingeniously original, The Boy and the Heron is a deeply felt work of eccentric beauty brimming with inspired images that lodge in the mind, from the adorable to the grotesque. Moving from earthbound serenity to a universe of boundless imagination, Miyazaki’s long-anticipated film seeks, once and for all, a world without malice. A GKIDS release.

The Curse
Nathan Fielder and Benny Safdie, 2023, U.S., 159m
World Premiere

In this brilliantly discomfiting collaboration between Nathan Fielder (hot on the heels of his revelatory comic creation The Rehearsal) and Benny Safdie (Uncut Gems, NYFF57), Fielder and Emma Stone play Asher and Whitney Siegel, married entrepreneurs (don’t call them gentrifiers!) whose latest plan is to flip houses and convert them into eco-friendly homes for the struggling residents of Española, New Mexico—all for an HGTV-style reality show being overseen by an ingratiating producer (Safdie) with demons of his own. From this premise, which nimbly touches upon inescapable American issues of race, class, and capital, Fielder and Safdie branch out into an increasingly tangled network of ethical and moral gray zones, expertly balancing the tender and the merciless. The New York Film Festival is pleased to premiere the first three episodes of this genre-defying, riotously funny series, directed by Fielder and David and Nathan Zellner; episodes 4–10 will be screened at Film at Lincoln Center during the show’s run. An A24/Showtime release.

Garth Davis, 2023, Australia, 110m
World Premiere

In the year 2065, a married midwestern couple, Hen (Saoirse Ronan) and Junior (Paul Mescal), live in Junior’s weather-beaten ancestral farmhouse. Their relationship seems to be on ground as unsolid as the expansive, desolate landscape that surrounds them, parched and mottled by decades of climate change. One night, a stranger (Aaron Pierre) arrives at their door with a surprising proposal, offering them the chance to change their own futures and perhaps alter the course of human existence. In this superbly rendered, sensationally acted science-fiction drama, adapted from the acclaimed novel by Iain Reid, director Garth Davis (Lion) brilliantly toys with viewers’ perceptions while interrogating essential questions of our time about environmental apocalypse and the rise of artificial intelligence, building in emotional intensity to a devastating climax. An Amazon Studios release.

Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project
Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson, 2023, U.S., 103m

Winner of the Grand Jury Prize in the Sundance U.S. Documentary Competition, this beguiling documentary portrait follows poet and activist Nikki Giovanni as she approaches 80. The film explores Giovanni’s Afrofuturist-feminist philosophical outlook as well as her poignant relationship with her family, her political audacity, and her poetic eloquence, all knit together with a constant eye and ear for its subject’s own aesthetic verve. Looking back at a personal life and history cast in the long shadow of American racism, and forward to hopeful, possible futures, Giovanni acts as our guide and narrator, with refreshingly unorthodox filmmakers Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson refraining from traditional chronologies or talking-head conventions. Going to Mars is fueled by constant intellectual engagement and radical imagination in the search for emotional and political fulfillment in a world of disenfranchisement.

Hit Man
Richard Linklater, 2023, U.S., 113m
U.S. Premiere

In a wily and charismatic star turn, Glen Powell plays straight-laced philosophy professor Gary Johnson, who moonlights as an undercover hitman for the New Orleans Police Department. Preternaturally gifted at inhabiting different guises and personalities to catch hapless people hoping to bump off their enemies, Gary begins to descend into morally dubious territory when he finds himself attracted to one of those potential criminals, a young woman named Madison (Adria Arjona)—setting off a chain reaction of play-acting and false selves. Richard Linklater’s peppy sunlit neo-noir—based on an improbable true story, with a few wild embellishments—is a continually surprising delight: co-written by Linklater and Powell, it’s a cleverly existential comedy about identity that deepens in meaning as it escalates in absurdity.

Menus-Plaisirs Les Troisgros
Frederick Wiseman, 2023, France/U.S., 240m
French with English subtitles
U.S. Premiere

The United States’ unrivaled maestro of observational nonfiction, Frederick Wiseman, brings his camera into a three-star Michelin restaurant in rural central France, and the results are as expansive, delectable, and provocative as one would hope. La Maison Troisgros, located in the Roanne commune in Loire, is run by head chef Michel Troisgros and his sons César and Léo. In addition to displaying the craft and skill that goes into Troisgros’s mouthwatering dishes, Wiseman takes an organic approach, bringing us to the local farms that provide the restaurant’s produce and animal products as well as behind the scenes with floor staff and administrators. The result is a patient, kaleidoscopic documentary portrait of the demand for perfection that makes for a surprising but apt subject in Wiseman’s decades-long inquiries into the inner workings of complicated institutions that function with their own rules and standards. A Zipporah Films release.

Occupied City
Steve McQueen, 2023, U.K./Netherlands, 262m, including intermission

A work of patient storytelling and gripping historical excavation, Steve McQueen’s four-and-a-half-hour documentary is a mammoth confrontation with a shameful historical legacy that draws parallels to our contemporary world. With startling sobriety, McQueen (12 Years a Slave, NYFF51; Small Axe, NYFF58) recounts in prismatic fashion the realities of life in Amsterdam during World War II under the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Rather than rely on archival footage or talking heads, McQueen constructs the film from exquisitely composed, newly captured images of Amsterdam, compiled over the past three years, including during the city’s COVID lockdown. Over these shots, provocatively detached voiceover by actress Melanie Hyams—adapted from the book Atlas of an Occupied City (Amsterdam 1940-1945) by Dutch journalist and documentarian Bianca Stigter—narrates the evils that took place in these exact places, public and private, not even a century ago. Recalling McQueen’s more durational installation work as much as his narrative cinema, Occupied City accrues power as it forges ahead. Visually representing these spaces entirely within a present-day context, McQueen evokes the rise of right-wing extremism currently felt throughout the Western world, while never letting us forget that everywhere we stand is haunted by a violent past—and that to be in history is to constantly walk upon graves. An A24 release.

The Pigeon Tunnel
Errol Morris, 2023, U.K., 92m

Pioneering documentarian Errol Morris applies his signature aesthetic to a riveting portrait of John Le Carré, whose novels such as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy forever changed the way we perceive espionage in popular culture and the world. Adapting Le Carré’s 2016 nonfiction memoir of the same name, The Pigeon Tunnel—named for the cement paddock where the birds are kept before being released as shooting targets for sportsmen—traces with thriller-like precision the fascinating life of the British-Irish author, born David Cornwell, from a motherless childhood overseen by a con-man father to his travels to Berlin and his eventual fame as the 20th century’s preeminent writer of existential, intricately detailed spy stories that were realist, politically acute alternatives to James Bond. At the center of the film, however, is the relationship between the main interview subject, recorded not long before his death in 2020, and his interrogator: for Le Carré, submitting to Morris’s camera becomes a willful act of “self-examination,” a chance to question the nature of truth and what can—or refuses to—be revealed behind a placid outward exterior. An Apple Films release.

Ryuichi Sakamoto | Opus
Neo Sora, 2023, Japan, 102m
Japanese with English subtitles
North American Premiere

When Ryuichi Sakamoto died in March 2023 at age 71, the world lost one of its greatest musicians: a classical orchestral composer, a techno-pop artist, and a piano soloist who elevated every genre he worked in and inspired and influenced music lovers across the globe. As a final gift to his legions of fans, filmmaker Neo Sora (Sakamoto’s son) has constructed a gorgeous elegy starring Sakamoto himself in one of his final performances. Recorded in December 2022 at NHK Studio in Tokyo, this filmed concert is an intimate, melancholy, and achingly beautiful one-man show, featuring just Sakamoto and a Yamaha grand, as the composer glides through a playlist of his most haunting, delicate melodies (including “Lack of Love, “The Wuthering Heights,” “Aqua,” “Opus,” and many more). Shot in pristine black-and-white by Bill Kirstein and edited by Takuya Kawakami, this stirring film brings us so close to a living, breathing artist that it feels like pure grace.

Strange Way of Life
Pedro Almodóvar, 2023, Spain, 31m

Almodóvar has spent his career creating gorgeous works of cinematic pastiche without sacrificing the essential human core. In his dazzling new short, he has created something unexpected, a hyper-male Western melodrama of vivid colors and explosive homoeroticism starring Ethan Hawke as a small-town sheriff who, after 25 years, rekindles a sexual relationship with a former lover, played by Pedro Pascal, when the latter’s son is suspected of a local killing. Gorgeously shot and scored by Almodóvar’s standbys José Luis Alcaine and Alberto Iglesias, Strange Way of Life captures the rarely dramatized intensity of middle-aged romance. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Followed by a conversation with Pedro Almodóvar.

The Sweet East
Sean Price Williams, 2023, U.S., 104m
North American Premiere

Smack in the middle of a high school trip to our nation’s capital, self-possessed teen Lillian (Talia Ryder) breaks off from her classmates, kicking off a journey straight down the rabbit hole of the New Weird America. In the rollicking feature debut for both director Sean Price Williams (known for his grotty-beautiful cinematography for films by Alex Ross Perry and the Safdie brothers) and critic-turned-screenwriter Nick Pinkerton, the Eastern seaboard becomes the site for a deranged and hilarious autopsy of contemporary U.S. life in which Lillian becomes an indifferent sounding board to all manner of loquacious, callous oddballs, including a sexually numb, white supremacist pedant (a delightfully committed Simon Rex) and a pair of wildly excitable indie filmmakers (Ayo Edebiri and Jeremy O. Harris, comedy gold). Tying it all together is a performance of remarkable poise and confidence by Ryder (memorable in Eliza Hittman’s Never Rarely Sometimes Always), who provides the tender center to this cockeyed exhibition of all-purpose mockery. A Utopia release.

The Taste of Things
Trân Anh Hùng, 2023, France, 145m
French with English subtitles

Destined to be remembered as one of the great films about the meaning, texture, and experience of food, this sumptuous, exceptionally well-crafted work, set in late 19th-century France, stars Juliette Binoche and Benoît Magimel (married, decades ago, in real life) as Eugénie, a cook, and Dodin, the gourmet chef she has been working with for 20 years. As they reach middle age, they can no longer deny their mutual romantic feelings, which have so long been concentrated in their passionate professionalism. This simple narrative—based upon Marcel Rouff’s 1924 novel La passion de Dodin-Bouffant, Gourmet—sets the table for a sublime, sense-heightening exploration of pleasure, in which the play of sunlight across a late-afternoon kitchen is as meaningful as the image of a perfectly poached pear or the crisp of a buoyant vol-au-vent. Director Trân Anh Hùng (The Scent of Green Papaya, NYFF31) won the Best Director prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival for his bravura, scrupulously deployed feat of epicurean cinema. An IFC Films release.

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M.J. O'Toole began writing for HtN in early 2021 during the Sundance Film Festival. An NYC native and lifelong cinephile, his favorite films include Chungking Express, The Three Colors Trilogy, Hiroshima Mon Amour, Lovers on the Bridge, and Midnight Cowboy. He is the Digital Marketing Manager for the agency 3rd Impression - working alongside Editor-at-large Matt Delman - that specializes in digital marketing for independent film. He holds a BA from Adelphi University and a Masters in Digital Photography from the School of Visual Arts. You can check out his portrait and street photography on Instagram.

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