Sept/Oct 2011 cover

Reprinted from the September-October 2011 issue of Film Comment.

Regular readers may have noticed that over the years I’ve used this page as a forum for grumbling or sounding off about things. Many times, I’ve found myself casting about in desperation for a topic about which I can conceivably squeeze out 500 words or so—you gasp, but all too often that’s what writing an editor’s letter comes down to. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that there’s one standby you can always count on if inspiration doesn’t come to the rescue. That’s right, when all else fails, denouncing this or that film festival for failing to measure up in some way or other works every time. All you have to do is invent some expectation or obligation that said festival has failed to meet, add water, and voila! And let’s face it, everybody likes a good fight as long as they’re not the punching bag. You think I’m joking. I’m not joking.

But here’s the funny thing: ironically, almost every time I’ve gone down that pick-a-fight-with-a-festival path, by some miracle I almost always seem to stumble upon something legitimate to talk about. Just check your back issues if you don’t believe me. Perhaps I’m blessed with some kind of preternatural intuition—or then again, maybe it’s just dumb luck. Who knows?

But this issue, we’re playing a different tune.

While happily retaining editorial autonomy, Film Comment is, and has always been, in the unique and fortunate position of being published by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the parent organization of the New York Film Festival. It’s always seemed natural that every year, our September/October issue devotes some of its pages to selectively previewing the festival’s upcoming edition. But this year we’ve outdone ourselves. For the first time we’ve come up with a special unifying design for our festival package, and committed an unprecedented eight out of 10 features, including our cover story, to coverage of some of the 49th NYFF’s highlights. Does this mean that this year’s festival selection is better than last year’s? I honestly don’t know, but it’s certainly a strong lineup based on what I’ve seen. (And I’m certainly not suggesting that the New York Film Festival is somehow superior to those other festivals I’ve griped about on this page and elsewhere.)

That’s all very well, our non-New-York-based readers may say, but what relevance does any of this have to me? For those of you who don’t attend the NYFF or aren’t festival-circuit habitués, take my word for it: the highlights we’re covering in this issue are among the best films of the year—and very soon you’ll be able to see for yourselves. Although it’s a little early to be making such pronouncements, I’m not sticking my neck out in saying that our cover story film, David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, which marks the director’s first appearance in the NYFF in his 40-year career, is one of the best movies of 2011 (and will be a strong Academy Award contender). And the same goes for a number of other picks, Alexander Payne’s The Descendants (see next issue) and Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s The Kid with a Bike, as well as Martin Scorsese’s deeply moving George Harrison: Living in the Material World (see page 36), coming to a cable channel near you a matter of days after its New York premiere. You won’t be disappointed.

There’s only one problem now: just how do we top this for the NYFF’s 50th edition?