The great pleasures of the fall film season, the venerable NYFF in its 48th year and HIFF, 18 and growing, leave me reeling (no pun), reflecting upon the awards season ahead. To make a comparison over many years of immersion, the NYFF offers the more daring and experimental in world cinema-I am thinking now of two American films, Julie Taymor's "The Tempest" and Kelly Reichardt's "Meek's Cutoff," both visually stunning, risk taking entertainments, the first being Shakespeare Taymor style, with Helen Mirren as Prospera and an all-star cast: Alfred Molina, Chris Cooper, Ben Whishaw, to name a few, The Tempest is a gorgeous visual treat. NYFF's "Meek's Cutoff" stars Michelle Williams in an intensely beautiful film that moves at the pace of buzzards circling their prey.
This must be Williams' year. One of the treats of the Hamptons: she stars with Ryan Gosling in "Blue Valentine," a movie that reveals a relationship so raw it feels like you are seeing it with its guts hanging out. The truth of these performances is memorable, and illustrates a fundamental characteristic of the Hamptons festival: the films have heart, starting with the opening night's "Barney's Version."
While the Hamptons was always a fun festival, its focus was not always clear. That perception has changed. Moving the dates to the holiday weekend has made a difference even if the Hamptons now overlaps with the NYFF. Silvercup Studio head Stuart Suna, Board Chair since the beginning, took credit for the fine weather, but much is owed to the leadership of Karen Arikian and her team, including Programming Director David Nugent. The choices were simply excellent.
Tom Hooper's "The King's Speech" features award worthy performances by Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter in a supporting role. This film with the unlikely subject of King George getting over his stammering has won several audience awards at various festivals and will surely bring award nods to everyone involved: at a dinner at 75 Main in Southampton to honor the film, screenwriter David Seidler said he will bring the play version to Broadway.
But it is "Black Swan" that haunts me most. Darren Aronofsky follows his trend of taking extreme characters on a fatal flying leap-see "The Wrestler"-with Natalie Portman as a young ballerina to star in a variation of Swan Lake directed by Vincent Cassell. You are never sure whether the untoward events are all inside Portman's head but nobody plays sexy and perverse as well as Cassell. Rodarte's costumes add to the spectacular in this film, influenced by Polanski's "Repulsion" and Haneke's "The Piano Teacher." At the Hamptons Q&A, Aronofsky told a crowd that included Madonna and James Franco: Portman, a trained dancer as a teen, did most of her own work.
Also at the Hamptons: producer, distributor, all around film impresario Ben Barenholtz was toasted at an industry tribute at Montauk's Second House Tavern by the Coen Brothers and many others. Marcia Gay Harden was M.C. The next day, the Coen's "Miller's Crossing" starring Harden in her film debut was screened, reminding everyone that the Coen Brothers, so good now, were so good then. Barenholtz was an executive producer of the film. So how does it feel to be toasted like a marshmallow in the Hamptons? "It felt good."
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