The New York Film Festival: 18 films from top to bottom

This year's NYFF was the tenth that I've attended, and it left me feeling more exhausted and less entralled by what I saw than I have in past years. Maybe because I was more in tune to what others were saying about these films (thanks Twitter and Indiewire), to the extent that it was encroaching on the space between me and these films. My burnout got to the point that I had to do a very geeky thing to put it into perspective: conduct a historical evaluation of how many great movies I saw for each of the past 9 years I've attended NYFF. If you look at the very bottom of the page, you'll see a list of the films I saw in each NYFF that I considered great. By objective ratings, 2009's edition was an above average year for me - at least 7 films i was genuinely excited about (as opposed to 6 most years and 4 last year). The last time I rated 7 or more NYFF films highly was in 2002. Still, my mind harbors the impression that my first three years of attending NYFF gave me the most, especially that first year when Yi Yi and Platform were the one-two punch that made me a NYFF fan for life.  And yet, this year gave me Everyone Else, a film that's on my shortlist for Best of the Decade and one that I find truly inspirational like few films I've seen in recent years.

Maybe that's the part of me that is harder to please - the part that is wanting to be blown out of the theater by what I see. Applying an intersubjective lens, I can say there were a lot of great films at this year's NYFF, possibly more than in most years. But somehow that's not enough. Maybe it has to do with getting older, having a more limited sense of time, and putting more value on how one spends it... which may put undue pressure both on oneself and on the movies to make for an awesome experience.

Here are the films I saw from the main lineup, listed in order of preference. I should make special mention in the YES category there should be one film from the Avant Garde program, Harun Farocki's In Comparison, which is one of the most deceptively simple yet observant and eloquent films I've ever seen.

YES

Everyone Else (Maren Ade) - review on Slant Life During Wartime (Todd Solondz) - One of the more hated-on films in the lineup, but I laughed my ass off more than I have at just about any other movie this year. 

yes+ (interestingly, all of these films have a remarkably mercurial sense of time and history)

Ghost Town (Zhao Dayong) - My involvement with the film in recent weeks makes it hard to step back and evaluate it - but needless to say I've taken things from it more profound than a simple rating could convey. Wild Grass (Alain Resnais) - Both energetic and wise, reminiscent of Yeats' late poetry mixing regressive lust with creeping death. Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl (Manoel de Oliveira) - I really need to see this again, for its incredibly fluid, otherworldly sense of time, belonging to no particular period. Independencia (Raya Martin) - A quietly moving and inspiring film, one whose sense of timelessness within history you can get lost in. White Material (Claire Denis) - Once you take the films lack of historical/factual specificity in strike, it works amazingly as an allegorical post-colonial fever dream

yes

Broken Embraces (Pedro Almodovar) - Almodovar's treatment of characters is as trademark as Solondz, with more affection than bite, but equally masterful. Precious (Lee Daniels) - those who decry this as "poverty porn" or "poorsploitation" need to get a life. Bluebeard (Catherine Breillat) - Not a fan of her use of grainy DV, but the story is both sumptuous and chilling, and certainly fresher interpretation of medieval sexuality than Antichrist. Ne Change Rien (Pedro Costa) - Costa stays true to his desolate vision of the creative process, giving dignity even to what sounds to be a mediocre album project. The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke) - Formally perfect but sterile; I have less and less patience for a cinematic game-fixer like Haneke, no matter how good he is at doing it. The Art of the Steal (Don Argott)- review on Slant Police, Adjective (Corneliu Porumboiu) - 100 minutes of boring climaxing in a 15 minute monologue of amazing. Henri Georges Clouzot's Inferno (Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Medrea)- review on Slant

mixed

Min Ye... (Souleymane Cisse)- review on Slant Antichrist (Lars von Trier) - If it inspired some very in-joke cinephile Halloween costumes, at least it served that much purpose.

no

Trash Humpers (Harmony Korine) - There's a distinction to make between a film about rural stupidity and a film that's just plain stupid.

And now, a list of films I consider (or in some cases considered) YES or yes+ level films from each of the past 10 NYFFs:

2000

THE GLEANERS AND I

YI YI

PLATFORM

CHUNHYANG

THE CIRCLE

Films upgraded to YES status upon revisit:

THE HOUSE OF MIRTH

Films downgraded from YES upon revisit:

IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE

2001

THE LADY AND THE DUKE

WHAT TIME IS IT THERE

Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN

WAKING LIFE

I'M GOING HOME

TIME OUT

LA CIENAGA

ATANARJUAT: THE FAST RUNNER

Films upgraded to YES status upon revisit:

IN PRAISE OF LOVE

Films downgraded from YES upon revisit:

MULHOLLAND DRIVE

2002

RUSSIAN ARK

DIVINE INTERVENTION

TEN

THE MAGDALENE SISTERS

FRIDAY NIGHT

BLOODY SUNDAY

SPRINGTIME IN A SMALL TOWN

PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE

TO BE AND TO HAVE

Films upgraded to YES status upon revisit:

TURNING GATE

WAITING FOR HAPPINESS

2003

DOGVILLE

ELEPHANT

RAJA

Films upgraded to YES status upon revisit:

S21: THE KHMER ROUGE KILLING MACHINE

Films downgraded from YES upon revisit::

THE FOG OF WAR

2004

NOTRE MUSIQUE

KINGS AND QUEEN

BAD EDUCATION

MOOLAADE

SARABANDE

CAFE LUMIERE

2005

CACHE

REGULAR LOVERS

DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU

L'ENFANT

SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE

THROUGH THE FOREST

2006

WOMAN ON THE BEACH

PAPRIKA

SYNDROMES AND A CENTURY

OFFSIDE

BAMAKO

THE HOST

2007:

PARANOID PARK

THE LAST MISTRESS

FLIGHT OF THE RED BALLOON

DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY

4 MONTHS 3 WEEKS 2 DAYS

2008

THE CLASS

HUNGER

HAPPY GO LUCKY

TONY MANERO

2009

ECCENTRICITIES OF A BLOND HAIR GIRL

EVERYONE ELSE

GHOST TOWN

INDEPENDENCIA

LIFE DURING WARTIME

WHITE MATERIAL

WILD GRASS