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The Film Society of Lincoln Center announced today that Alexander Payne‘s The Descendants (pictured) will be the closing night film for this year’s New York Film Festival. NYFF’s main slate was also unveiled and includes David Cronenberg‘s A Dangerous Method and Pedro Almodóvar‘s The Skin I Live In, which both will be screened as special gala presentations; Simon CurtisMy Week With Marilyn, which will have a centerpiece screening; and Roman Polanski‘s Carnage, which will open the fest. Read the complete lineup below.

NYFF’s 49th edition will take place Sept. 30 – Oct. 16. General public tickets will become available starting Sept. 12. Learn more here.

Films & Descriptions

Abel Ferrara, 2011, USA, 82min
How would we spend our final hours on Earth? And what does how we choose to die say about how we have chosen to live? In the hands of the inimitable Abel Ferrara (Go Go Tales, NYFF ’07), this thought experiment takes on a visceral immediacy. With the planet on the verge of extinction, a New York couple (Willem Dafoe and Shanyn Leigh) cycle through moments of anxiety, ecstacy, and torpor. As they sink into the havens of sex and art, and Skype last goodbyes in a Lower East Side apartment filled with screens bearing tidings of doom and salvation, the film becomes one of Ferrara’s most potent and intimate expressions of spiritual crisis. An apocalyptic trance film, 4:44 is also a mournful valentine to Ferrara’s beloved New York: the director’s first fiction feature to be filmed entirely in the city in over a decade, and coming 10 years after the September 11 attacks, a haunting vision of doom in the lower Manhattan skyline.

Michel Hazanavicius, 2011, France, 90min
An honest-to-goodness black-and-white silent picture made by modern French filmmakers in Hollywood, USA, “The Artist” is a spirited, hilarious and moving delight. A sensation in Cannes, Michel Hazanavicius’ playful love letter to the movies’ early days spins on a variation on an “A Star Is Born”-like relationship between a dashing Douglas Fairbanks-style star (Jean Dujardin, who won the best actor prize in Cannes) whose career wanes with the coming of sound and a dazzling young actress (Berenice Bejo) whose popularity skyrockets at the same time. Meticulously made in the 1.33 aspect ratio with intertitles and a superb score, “The Artist” has great fun with silent film conventions just as it rigorously adheres to them, turning its abundant love for the look and ethos of the 1920s into a treat that will be warmly embraced by movie lovers of every persuasion. With James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller and John Goodman as a definitive cigar-chomping studio boss. A Weinstein Company release.

Roman Polanski, 2011, France/Germany/Poland, 79min
Summoning up the sinister from beneath the veneer of normalcy has always been Roman Polanski’s specialty, so it’s no surprise that the great director does such a smashing job of putting Yasmina Reza’s 2009 Tony-winning play “God of Carnage” on the screen. With the expert cast of Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christopher Waltz and John C. Reilly, Reza’s explosively comic X-ray of the anger and venality lying just under the surface of the outwardly civilized behavior of two New York City couples has been fully realized. Returning to the New York Film Festival with a feature for the first time since he presented his debut work, Knife in the Water, at the very first festival in 1963, Polanski pries open the true nature of these characters in something of a companion piece to his previous New York-set film, “Rosemary’s Baby.” Although it was filmed in Paris, the Brooklyn locale is as convincingly rendered as are the alternately uproarious and devastating revelations of human nature. A Sony Pictures Classics release.

Alice Rohrwacher, 2011, Italy/Switzerland/France, 100min
“Seeing the Spirit is like wearing really cool sunglasses,” according to the instructor of 13-year old Marta’s (Yle Vianello) catechism class. Such observations introduce Marta to the religious climate in the small seaside Calabrian town to which she, her mother and older sister have just moved from Switzerland. Marta is sent to the local church to prepare for her Catholic confirmation and (hopefully) make some new friends. But the religion she finds there is mainly strange: the way it dominates people’s lives is unlike anything she’s ever experienced. Alice Rohrwacher’s extraordinarily impressive debut feature chronicles Martha’s private duel with the Church, carried out under the shadow of the physical changes coursing through her. Rohrwacher is not interested in pointing out heroes and villains, but instead in offering a perceptive look at how the once all-powerful Church has dealt with its waning influence. A Film Movement release.

David Cronenberg, 2011, France/Ireland/UK/Germany/Canada, 99min
David Cronenberg, a filmmaker with a peerless grasp on the mysteries of the mind and the body, turns his attention to a seminal chapter in the founding of psychoanalysis. Adapted from Christopher Hampton’s play A Talking Cure, A Dangerous Method charts the relationship between Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and his protégé turned dissenter Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), as it was shaped by the case of Sabine Spielrein (Keira Knightley), a young Russian Jewish patient of Jung’s. Cronenberg brilliantly dramatizes not just the rivalry and rupture between two pioneers who defined a field but also the birth of their groundbreaking theories of the unconscious and the forces of Eros and Thanatos. Featuring an electrifying trio of lead actors, who turn near-mythic figures into flesh and blood, this is a film of tremendous vigor and ambition, a historical drama that brings ideas to life. A Sony Pictures Classics release.

Alexander Payne, 2011, USA, 115min
In his first film since the Oscar-winning Sideways, writer-director Alexander Payne once again proves himself a master of the kind of smart, sharp, deeply felt comedy that was once the hallmark of Billy Wilder and Jean Renoir. Based on the bestselling novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, The Descendants stars George Clooney as Matt King, the heir of a prominent Hawaiian land-owning family whose life is turned upside-down when his wife is critically injured in a boating accident. Accustomed to being “the back-up parent,” King suddenly finds himself center stage in the lives of his two young daughters (excellent newcomers Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller), while at the same time being forced to decide the fate of a vast plot of unspoiled land his family has owned since the 1860s. Rooted in Clooney’s beautifully understated performance, Payne’s film is an uncommonly perceptive portrait of marriage, family and community, suffused with humor and tragedy and wrapped in a warm human glow. A Fox Searchlight release.

Joseph Cedar, 2011, Israel, 106min
Thanks to a clerical error, Eliezer Shkolnik, a respected if little-known Talmudic scholar, is informed that he’s won the coveted Israel Prize; in truth, the prize was meant for his son, Uziel, a much more flamboyant, widely-read Talmudist. The authorities ask Uziel to help them rectify the situation, but Uziel argues the case for his father’s deserving the honor; meanwhile, Eliezer plans to use the occasion as an opportunity to intellectually take down his son and the whole generation of a la mode Talmudists. Winner of the prize for Best Screenplay at Cannes, New York born-and-trained Israeli filmmaker Joseph Cedar has here created the wryest of Jewish comedies, an emotional competition that pits father against son, built around the understanding of sacred texts. Rarely has the weight of a culture’s intellectual past been depicted so forecefully, nor shown to be as vibrant. A Sony Pictures Classic release.

Martin Scorsese, 2011, USA, 208min
Rich in mesmerizing archival footage, Martin Scorsese’s expansive documentary on the Beatles’ lead guitarist—and of one of the greatest musicians of the 1960s and ’70s—traces in detail all aspects of Harrison’s professional and personal life. Friends (Eric Clapton, Eric Idle), family (wives Patti Boyd and Olivia Harrison), and band mates (Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr) reflect on Harrison’s mid-’60s embrace of Indian mysticism and music, which forever changed the sound of the Fab Four. Harrison’s spirituality also defines his masterful solo work, especially the 1970 triple album All Things Must Pass, produced by Phil Spector, another subject interviewed in depth. Until his untimely death in 2001, Harrison remained fiercely committed to his music and other passions (including film producing), earning the admiration of all who were lucky enough to work with him. Courtesy of HBO.

Mia Hansen-Løve, 2011, France/Germany, 108min
In her exceptional third feature, writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve (The Father of My Children, ND/NF 2010) shows once again her talent for capturing the agony and the ecstasy of adolescence. Besotted teenagers Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky) and Camille (Lola Créton) struggle, as all couples must, with a painful push-pull dynamic, heightened by the young man’s decision to leave Paris and travel through South America. Over the course of eight years, we watch Camille, initially devastated by her boyfriend’s departure, emerge with new passions, intellectual and otherwise. Touchingly illuminating the indelible imprint that first romance leaves, Hansen-Løve’s film also explores the hard-won satisfaction of leaving the past behind. A Sundance Selects release.

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 2011, Belgium/France, 87min
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, the latest film by Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne centers on Cyril, a restless 11-year-old boy (terrific newcomer Thomas Doret) placed in a children’s home after being abandoned by his father. Unwilling to face the fact that parents are imperfect people, Cyril runs away to his former apartment block in search of both dad and his abandoned bicycle. Instead, he meets Samantha (the excellent Cécile de France), a kind hairdresser who helps to retrieve his bike and eventually agrees to become his weekend guardian. But literally and figuratively, Cyril isn’t out of the woods just yet. Shooting once more in the Belgian seaport town of Seraing, the Dardennes have created another poetic, universally resonant drama about parents, children and moral responsibility. A Sundance Selects release.

Aki Kaurismäki, 2011, Finland/France/Germany, 103min
The latest deadpan treat from Aki Kaurismäki (The Man Without a Past, NYFF ’02) was inspired, the director has said, by his desire to have been born a generation earlier, so that he could have witnessed the Resistance during World War II. Thus Le Havre abounds with sly references to classic Resistance dramas from Port of Shadows to Casablanca as it tells the whimsical tale of Marcel Marx (André Wilms), a noted Parisian author now living in self-imposed exile in the titular port city. Dividing most of his time between his neighborhood bar and caring for his bedridden wife (longtime Kaurismaki muse Kati Outinen), Marcel finds himself alive with a new sense of purpose when he comes to the aid of a young African on the run from immigration police and trying to reunite with his mother in London. Beautifully shot in Kaurismaki’s signature shades of muted blue, brown and green, with scene-stealing appearances by French New Wave icon Jean-Pierre Léaud and a dog named Laika, Le Havre is a gentle yet profound comedy of friendship, random acts of kindness and small acts of revolution. A Janus Films release.

Julia Loktev, 2011, USA/Germany, 113min
This staggeringly acute examination of the fissures that develop between couples from Julia Loktev (Day Night Day Night, ND/NF 2007) proves that even the most wide-open spaces can feel suffocating during romantic discord. Nica (Hani Furstenberg) and Alex (Gael García Bernal), a few months away from their wedding, take a hiking trip in the Caucasus in Georgia, led by tour guide Dato (Bidzina Gujabidze). Nica and Alex appear to be completely in-sync partners, wildly attracted to each other and sharing the same interests. But a split-second decision by Alex proves horrifying to Nica and sets off impenetrable, stony silences. In a film in which so much is communicated nonverbally, Furstenberg and Bernal astoundingly uncover the toxic, erosive effects of disappointment and resentment.

Sean Durkin, 2011, USA, 101min
Sean Durkin’s haunting first feature, about a young woman’s halting attempts to undo the psychic terror of the cult she’s just escaped, heralds the arrival of a remarkable new talent. Fleeing a Manson-like Catskills compound at dawn, Martha (Elizabeth Olsen, leading an excellent cast) reconnects with her older sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson), a bourgeois New Yorker who takes in her sibling at the Connecticut country house she shares with her husband, Ted (Hugh Dancy). Lucy remains unaware of exactly what happened to Martha over the past few years—details that Durkin slowly but powerfully unveils in uncanny, disorienting flashbacks. The film’s gorgeous, painterly compositions have the chilling effect of suggesting that even our worst nightmares still retain a seductive allure. A Fox Searchlight release.

Lars von Trier, 2011, Denmark/Sweden/France/Germany/Italy, 135min
The end of the world—and the collapse of the spirit—has never been depicted as beautifully and wrenchingly as in Melancholia, the latest provocation from Lars von Trier (Antichrist, NYFF ’09). The title refers both to a destructive planet “that has been hiding behind the sun” and the crippling depression of new bride Justine (a revelatory Kirsten Dunst, rightful winner of the Best Actress award at Cannes this year), whose mental illness is so severe that she drives away her groom during their disastrous wedding reception. As the extinction of the planet looms ever larger, Justine is desperately tended to by her sister, Claire (an equally magnificent Charlotte Gainsbourg), herself gripped by anxiety over the impending doomsday. Melancholia’s premise may be science fiction, but the feelings of despair it plumbs are the most heart-felt human drama. A Magnolia Pictures release.

Gerardo Naranjo, 2011, Mexico, 113min
One of the most exciting young talents around, the Mexican director Gerardo Naranjo (I’m Gonna Explode, NYFF ’08) approaches the hot-button topic of drug violence through the perspective of an unlikely, unwitting heroine: a Tijuana beauty pageant contestant (Stephanie Sigman) who stumbles into the path of ruthless cartel operatives and corrupt officials. Although inspired by a true story, Miss Bala avoids docudrama cliches and tabloid sensationalism, and instead evokes the pervasive climate of fear and confusion that has enveloped daily life in some increasingly lawless pockets of northern Mexico. Using long takes and fluid, precise camera work, Naranjo fashions a highly original thriller: an anguished and harrowing mood piece with an undertow of bleakly absurdist humor and moments of heart-stopping action. A D Squared Pictures release.

Simon Curtis, 2011, UK, 96min
One of the most exciting actresses working today, Michelle Williams accomplishes the near-impossible—portraying Marilyn Monroe as an actual person, not just an easily caricatured icon—in this charming bio-pic centering around the production of Laurence Olivier’s film The Prince and the Showgirl. Based on two memoirs by Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), who worked as an assistant on Olivier’s film, My Week With Marilyn depicts Monroe’s numerous clashes with her imperious, classically trained director (played with great relish by Kenneth Branagh), maddened by his star’s method acting and her ever-present drama coach, Paula Strasberg (Zoë Wanamaker). Williams captures not only Monroe’s notorious fragility, both on-screen and off-, but also her magical, unclassifiable charisma. A Weinstein Company release.

Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2011, Turkey, 150min
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s latest begins as a small caravan of cars snakes its way through the nocturnal countryside, looking for where a murdered man was buried. Yet every time the confessed killer points out the grave, the gravediggers come up empty; much of the landscape looks alike, it’s dark out, and anyway the killer claims he was drunk. As the increasingly frustrating investigation wears on, far more is revealed than where the body is buried; through quick looks, furtive gestures and offhand bits of dialogue, Ceylan (Climates, NYFF 2006) reveals in this seemingly pacific Turkish outback a festering world of jealousies and resentments, as the story behind the murder gradually emerges. Impeccably photographed (by Gökhan Tiryaki) and with a stand-out performance by Taner Birsel as a police inspector, this is Ceylan’s most impressive film yet. A Cinema Guild release.

Wim Wenders, 2011, Germany/France/UK, 106min
Here revolutionizing the dance film just as he did the music documentary in Buena Vista Social Club, Wim Wenders began planning this project with legendary choreographer Pina Bausch in the months before her untimely death, selecting the pieces to be filmed and discussing the filmmaking strategy. Impressed by recent innovations in 3D, Wenders decided to experiment with the format for this tribute to Bausch and her Tanztheater Wuppertal; the result sets the standard against which all future uses of 3D to record performance will be measured. Not only are the beauty and sheer exhilaration of the dances and dancers powerfully rendered, but the film also captures the sense of the world that Bausch so brilliantly expressed in all her pieces. Longtime members of the Tanztheater recreate many of their original roles in such seminal works as “Café Müller,” “Le Sacred du Printemps,” and “Kontakthof.” A Sundance Selects release.

Ruben Östlund, 2011, Sweden/Rance/Denmark, 124min
A deliberately provoked racial incident, based on numerous similar real-life transgressions, is played for all it’s worth in “Play.” Swedish writer-director Ruben Östlund has developed mesmerizing visual strategies based on long takes and fixed camera positions to relate a disturbing tale of how five savvy African immigrant boys in Gothenberg take advantage of the liberal guilt and placating temperament of three local kids to rob them and take them for a ride to unknown destinations. Social, racial and political credos are twisted, pulled inside out and stood on their head by this bracing and confronting work, which will challenge the assumptions of many a viewer. Dazzlingly shot on the new Red 4K camera, “Play” is a considerable achievement both formally and dramatically that poses more questions than it answers as it lays bare attitudes lurking beneath the surface tranquility of Scandinavian life—a peacefulness that, as we have seen of late, can sometimes be tragically shattered.

Nadav Lapid, 2011, Israel/France, 100min
A boldly conceived drama pivoting on the initially unrelated activities of an elite anti-terrorist police unit and some wealthy young anarchists, “Policeman” is a striking first feature from writer-director Nadav Lapid. Provocatively timely in light of recent unrest tied to social and economic inequities in Israel, this is a powerfully physical film in its depiction of the muscular, borderline sensual way the macho cops relate to one another, as well as for the emphatic style with which the opposing societal forces are contrasted and finally pitted against one another. Although the youthful revolutionaries come off as petulant and spoiled, their point about the growing gap between the Israeli haves and have-nots cannot be ignored, even by the policemen sent on a rare mission to engage fellow countrymen rather than Palestinians. A winner of three prizes at the Jerusalem Film Festival and a special jury prize at Locarno.

Asghar Farhadi, 2011, Iran, 123min
A critical and audience favorite at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, where it won the Golden Bear as well as acting prizes for all four lead performers, A Separation is an Iranian Rashomon of searing family drama that turns into an unexpectedly gripping legal thriller. The film, directed by Asghar Farhadi, begins with married couple Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Moadi) obtaining coveted visas to leave Iran for the United States, where Simin hopes to offer a better future to their 11-year-old daughter. But Nader doesn’t feel comfortable abandoning his elderly, Alzheimer’s-stricken father, and so the couple embark on a trial separation. To help care for the old man, Nader hires Razieh (Sareh Bayat), a pregnant, deeply religious woman who takes the job unbeknownst to her husband (Shahab Hosseini), an out-of-work cobbler. Almost immediately there are complications, culminating in a sudden burst of violence that constantly challenges our own perceptions of who (if anyone) is to blame and what really happened. A Sony Pictures Classics release.

Steve McQueen, 2011, UK, 99min
In his much-anticipated encore to his superb first feature, “Hunger,” British artist Steve McQueen reunites with the extraordinary Michael Fassbender in the ferociously sexual drama “Shame.” An explosive portrait of a sex addict walking a tightrope between presentable respectability and the wild side, this incendiary drama captures the anger and the ecstasy of its anti-hero’s incessant drive for conquest in contemporary New York, where any woman he meets he believes is ripe for the taking. Madly attractive but with cruelly cold eyes, this compulsive Casanova finds his style cramped by the abrupt arrival of his unstable sister (Cary Mulligan), whose insecurities crack open issues of his own. Daring, stylistically brilliant and erotically charged, McQueen’s heady, beautiful and disturbing film seems as determined to leave the viewer unsettled as it will surely serve to further propel Fassbender into the front ranks of contemporary screen actors.

Ulrich Köhler, 2011, Germany/France/Netherlands, 91min
This remarkably assured third feature by the young German director Ulrich Köhler—winner of Best Director at this year’s Berlin Film Festival—transports us to Cameroon, where German doctor Ebbo (Pierre Bokma) and his wife have spent two decades combating an epidemic of sleeping sickness in the local villages. Soon, they will return to Europe and to lives long ago put on hold, and this has created a crisis for Ebbo, who, like Joseph Conrad’s Kurtz, has spent too much time up river to ever come back down. Meanwhile, a young black doctor—a Frenchman born to Congolese parents—travels to Africa to evaluate the efficiency of Ebbo’s program. But when he arrives, nothing goes according to plan, and despite his heritage, he feels very much a stranger in a strange land. Finally, the two subjects of this haunting meditation on Africa’s past and future dovetail—effortlessly, seamlessly—and the cumulative impact is stunning.

Pedro Almodóvar, 2011, Spain, 113min
At “The Cinema Inside Me” program at the 2009 NYFF, Pedro Almodóvar surprised many when he spoke of his great love for American horror and science fiction films—a clue, it turns out, to what he was then just planning. With his new film, Almodóvar ventures headlong into those very genres. Dr. Robert Ledgard (a welcome return for Antonio Banderas) is a world famous plastic surgeon who argues for the development of new, tougher human skin; unbeknownst to others, Dr. Ledgard has been trying to put his theory into practice, keeping a young woman, Vera (Elena Anaya), imprisoned in his mansion while subjecting her to an increasingly bizarre regime of treatments. Fascinated by the thin layer of appearance that stands between our perception of someone and that person’s inner essence, Almodóvar here addresses that continuing theme in his work in a bold, unsettling exploration of identity. A Sony Pictures Classic release. A Sony Pictures Classics release.

Santiago Mitre, 2011, Argentina, 110min
Politics is a game, a seduction, and a vicious cycle in Santiago Mitre’s gripping, fine-tuned debut, the story of Roque (Esteban Lamothe), a university student who falls for a radicalized teacher and organizer (Romina Paula) and soon finds himself entangled with Buenos Aires campus activists, in a world as heated and byzantine as the one inhabited by the student revolutionaries of the mythic 1960s. Anchored by Lamothe’s nuanced, charismatic performance, The Student complicates the classic bildungsroman narrative of education and disillusionment, emphasizing the endless adaptability—or malleability—of its protagonist. An urgent attempt to grapple with the legacy of Peronism in present-day Argentina, the film abounds with telling details and rich local color. But it’s also a truly universal political thriller, one that illuminates the conspiratorial pleasure, the ruthless hustle, and the moral fog of politics as it is practiced.

Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, 2011, Iran, 75min
Accused of collusion against the Iranian regime and currently appealing a prison sentence and a ban from filmmaking, Jafar Panahi (a four-time NYFF veteran with films like Offside and Crimson Gold) collaborated with the documentarian Mojtaba Mirtahmasb on a remarkable day-in-the-life chronicle that, as with many great Iranian films, finds a rich middle ground between fiction and reality. Shot with a digital camera and an iPhone, the movie is almost entirely confined to the director’s apartment, where he discusses his films and an unrealized script, while the outside world imposes itself through phone calls, television news, a few comic interruptions, and the sound of New Year’s fireworks. Far more than the modest home movie it initially seems to be, This Is Not a Film is an act of courage and a statement of political and moral conviction: surprising, radical, and enormously moving.

Béla Tarr and Agnes Hranitzky, 2011, Hungary/France/Germany/Switzerland/USA, 146min
After witnessing a carriage driver whipping his horse, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche ran to the scene, threw his arms around the horse and then collapsed; he would spend the next, final ten years of his life in almost total silence. Focusing not on Nietzsche but on the driver and his family, Béla Tarr (Satantango, NYFF 1994) and his longtime collaborator Agnes Hranitzky, working from a screenplay by Tarr and novelist László Krasznhorkai, create a mesmerizing, provocative meditation on the unsettling connectedness of things, in which the resonance of actions and gestures continues long after their actual occurrence. Beautifully photographed (by Fred Kelemen) on the austere, unforgiving Hungarian plain lands, The Turin Horse challenges us to enter into a world just beyond the one we experience daily. Winner of the Silver Bear at this year’s Berlin Film Festival. A Cinema Guild release.

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