Jia Zhangke's A Touch of Sin

The 51st New York Film Festival officially gets underway this evening and the film world is taking notice. In his first year in the role, NYFF Director of Programming Kent Jones has beefed up the Main Slate—there are a record 26 Official Selection films this year—and built out sidebar sections focused on documentaries, restored films, Jean-Luc Godard, filmmaker talks, and more. Needless to say, there is truly something for everyone. Aaron Hills of Village Voice conceded as much when he wrote that “Last year's New York Film Festival may have celebrated its golden anniversary, but the 51st edition—launching half a century plus a couple weeks after Lincoln Center's inaugural fest—has distinctively, determinedly expanded in breadth, offering the closest NYFF has come to a something-for-every-cineast saturnalia.”

One of the welcome challenges of attending a film festival is trying to see as many films as humanly possible. The New York Film Festival’s selection has its attendees covered. Writing for The New York Times, Mahnola Dargis proclaimed: “Ladies and gentlemen, clear your calendars and chug those double espressos: the 51st New York Film Festival is about to begin. Newly recharged, this venerated annual event has reigned supreme since 1963 as the city’s premier cinematic happening, and its lofty position remains secure. Then, the marquee names included Orson Welles, Robert Bresson and Chris Marker. This year’s stars include Spike Jonze, Jia Zhangke and, back again, the late, great Marker, whose 1960 film, “Description of a Struggle,” is one of 202 (!) titles in the festival’s avant-garde program. Also on tap: the latest from the guy who made “Love Actually” and a vast Jean-Luc Godard retrospective.”

The festival kicks off tonight with the World Premiere of Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips, a true story about a heroic man whose ship is overtaken by Somali pirates. Starring Academy Award winner Tom Hanks, the film has received much praise. Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter raved, “The film rips right along and never relinquishes its grip. The format of the last-minute heroics goes back to the earliest Westerns and could well be accused of patness or being cliched—other than for the fact that it's what happened. Unsurprisingly, though, the director indulges in no jingoistic, rah-rah stuff with the Navy, even if it has not often been the case that American military operations in the Middle East have come off exactly as planned. Craftsmanship and technical contributions are first-rate all the way, while Henry Jackman's electronic score throbs underneath most of the action.”

The weekend continues with such critically acclaimed films as Jia Zhangke‘s A Touch of Sin (“A bitter, brutal, often brilliant exploration of violence and corruption in contemporary China,” says Jon Frosch of The Atlantic), Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises (“[a] hauntingly beautiful historical epic [that] draws a sober portrait of Japan between the two World Wars,” notes Scott Foundas of Variety), Frederick Wiseman's At Berkeley (“[the film's] themes [are] explored with such remarkable depth and complexity throughout every minute of Wiseman's latest triumph,” proclaims Andrew Schenker of Slant Magazine). and the Coen brothers' latest, Inside Llewyn Davis (“It's the movie's profound undercurrent of sadness that gets to you. There's a mournful sterility to Bruno Delbonnel's desaturated cinematography that's very much of a piece with Davis' ingrained hopelessness,” writes Keith Uhlich of Time Out New York).

The question remains: which films will you be seeing this weekend? A full plate awaits!