Just when we fear that movies may get swallowed by the monsters named sequel, franchise and reboots, the 54th Annual New York Film Festival reminds us how extraordinary cinema can be. This year’s event includes the world or American premieres of nearly 20 movies, from comedies to documentaries to thrillers, all showing nearby at Lincoln Center from Sept. 30 to Oct. 16. Here are a few of the selections I can’t wait to see.

The 13th

Two years ago, director Ava Duvernay thrilled audiences with her soaring look at the impact of Martin Luther King in the movie Selma. While the film made headlines for its controversial look at Lyndon B. Johnson, no one debated Duvernay’s talent with a camera. Now the documentary The 13th explores the challenges of trying to pass an amendment to the Constitution to outlaw slavery. The movie promises to make us think about how lives matter.

Manchester By The Sea

As a playwright, Kenneth Lonergan soars with his command of words and issues, feelings and relationships. On film, he brought this sensibility to the family dynamics of You Can Count on Me, a topic he explores again in this look at how people related to each other react to a milestone death. The moviemaker’s ability to get to the core of family issues promises to make this journey to Massachusetts a trip we will remember.

20th Century Women

One of these years, Annette Bening will land a role that wins her an Oscar. Yes, she could have won for The Grifters (but lost to Whoopi Goldberg) or American Beauty (when Hilary Swank won for Boys Don’t Cry) or The Kids Are All Right (when the Oscar went to Natalie Portman for Black Swan). Word is that Bening my get the role this year in this story of how a single mother tries to hold her family together. She makes any movie worth seeing.


Expectations are high for this drama about how an African-American man struggles to accept himself, live his values and sustain meaningful relationships. According to those who saw the film at the recent Telluride Film Festival, writer/director Barry Jenkins thoughtfully humanizes challenges of sexual identity, commitment and compassion at a time when too many people face issues that too few people may understand.

Best Worst Thing That Could Have Ever Happened

For anyone who loves theater, any show from composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim is an experience to savor. Of his musicals, Merrily We Roll Along may be the most perplexing. While its score may be Sondheim’s most accessible, the show’s narrative — that is told in reverse — challenges directors, casts and audiences. In this documentary, Lonny Price — who starred in the Broadway production — talks with the original cast about a show that still makes people wonder.

Bright Lights

Long before George Lucas made Carrie Fisher royalty on screen, she was a princess in real life as the daughter of movie legend Debbie Reynolds. Their complex relationship — that inspired Fisher’s Postcards from the Edge — receives the documentary treatment in this look at people who overcome their challenges to authentically love each other. Word is that Fisher and Reynolds emerge as the victors in a competitive industry where many lose it all.

The New York Film Festival — sponsored by the Film Society of Lincoln Center — runs Sept. 30 through Oct. 16. To learn more about this program, and order tickets, go online to filmlinc.com or call 212-721-6500.

Beauty and the Beast:

A welcome return to the New York Film Festival

Twenty-five years ago, the people at Disney took a courageous step.

They brought a movie they believed in to be shown at the New York Film Festival.

Now, this was not out of the ordinary for a studio, except for two reasons. This movie was animated and it wasn’t finished. Parts only existed on storyboards and in the imaginations of the creators.

Still, the movie came to the festival, won a well-deserved standing ovation in Alice Tully Hall, and later became the first animated film nominated by the Academy for Best Picture. Twenty-five years later, long after becoming a classic, Beauty and the Beast returned to Lincoln Center last Sunday evening (Sept. 18) in a special screening featuring a live performance of the title song by Angela Lansbury, the voice of Mrs. Potts.

Thank you to the Film Society of Lincoln Center for such a special evening.

You see, in our family, we savor any chance to watch a musical, on stage or on screen. On film, Beauty and the Beast feels like a show created for Broadway. The movie captures the excitement of live theater even though, of course, the singing and dancing are animated.

Like the best musicals that celebrate universal emotions, Beauty and the Beast explores the wonder of curiosity. When we hunger to learn new things, and experience the unfamiliar, our imaginations soar. Belle is a young woman who wants to experience every great adventure she absorbs from literature. Her curiosity takes her imagination to places and people far beyond the remote village where she lives.

But Belle is a realist. She knows how some people misunderstand the curious. She realizes that people in her village taunt and tease because they can’t relate to a mind filled with questions. When her father, an absent-minded inventor, gets lost in the forest, only Belle can save him; her rescue opens her life to adventures as breathtaking as any chapters in her favorite books. She learns that, when someone hungers to experience, excitement may follow.

Beauty and the Beast musically celebrates Belle’s journey at every turn. Like the best of Broadway, the songs naturally emerge from character, including Lumiere, the candlestick who wants to be a real servant again, and Mrs. Potts, a teapot who wants to return to life as a housekeeper. The beast himself wants to be a real man, Chip yearns to be a real boy, and Belle wants more for her life than her society may endorse. And, because this is a musical, their dreams become musical moments to savor. Be Our Guest recalls the movie musicals of Busby Berkeley while the title song, which won an Oscar, brims with romantic joy.

While the songs serve dessert, the film’s substance comes from the authenticity of its heroine. While some female roles in Disney animated films pursue superficial aspirations, Belle has no intention to settle for less than her potential inspires. She reminds us that ambition fuels dreams as powerfully as it drives aspirations.

Every time I see this film, I sing along. I imagine I am seeing it, again, in a big theater filled with an enthusiastic audience. And I applaud when I least expect.

And, thanks to the Film Society of Lincoln Center, I got to do all that on Sunday evening. Thank you.

See you at the movies.