Best in Show

FILM, Film Festivals
img_tildaswinton-annatokarevaChoice quotes from the movers and shakers at the 51st New York Film Festival.

“To use a Woody Allen joke, she’s even more beautiful sitting here than she is in person.”—Jim Jarmusch on Tilda Swinton

The New York Film Festival is a terrific event, featuring the best films from the other big festivals. In 2013 Cannes was represented with dazzling French romance Blue is the Warmest Colour and bittersweet family dramedy Nebraska. Hayao Miyazaki’s beautiful cinematic farewell The Wind Rises for Venice. Toronto with 12 Years a Slave, Berlin with Gloria.

A main programme of thirty-something titles follows over a month of media screenings, smoothly run by affable NYFF staffers like critic-turned-director Kent Jones and actor-turned-publicist John Wildman.

World Premieres included Paul Greengrass’s best yet, Captain Phillips, the opening night film. The spectacular, riveting action film was peppered with sociopolitical comment, and deftly managed to convey all perspectives on Somali piracy. Greengrass and his leading man Tom Hanks were compelling and witty in the flesh.

Ben Stiller’s middling centrepiece, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, flaunted eye-catching cinematography from Kiwi Stuart Dryburgh, who has shot films such as Inside My Father’s Den. Steve Coogan’s irritating, insufficiently funny Alan Partridge movie was an archaic disappointment. I asked the man behind the hilarious Saxondale/The Trip about whether, following the 2011 scandal (and his smackdown), he thought the tabloid media had changed. He replied.

Her’s personable director Spike Jonze, loveably eccentric lead Joaquin Phoenix, and fetching actresses (Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde) closed proceedings. Echoing her notoriously bad behavior on Vincent Ward’s River Queen, Jonze didn’t want to talk about how he had to fire female lead Samantha Morton, and replace her with the singularly sultry voice of Scarlett Johansson.

As a number of these films—such as Nebraska—are now opening on general release here in New Zealand, I thought I’d revisit some good lines from media interview opportunities I went to after screenings. Illustration by by Anna Tokareva.

“Every summer I used to come here from college, entering a world of unimaginable excitement… I loved New York, it had a very, very powerful effect on me.”—Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips Read More

“You don’t want to be an idiot, you don’t want to ask: ‘What was it like? What were you feeling? Are you a hero?’ You don’t ask questions like most journalists do. Everybody says, ‘We keep getting the same answers’; well they’re just the same questions.”—Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips Read More

“My father worked at sea, I don’t really get seasick. On the first day that we really were shooting out on the lifeboat, out on the ocean, the sea thumps down and it’s wild. The windows are up, you’re sitting down on the seat, you’re cramped, it stinks of diesel, it’s a brutal craft. I was on the camera boat next door; we couldn’t work two cameras on one boat because there was nowhere for me to sit in there. ‘The focus puller’s a bit sea sick,’ ‘Just keep fuckin’ shooting,’ ‘Umm the focus puller’s just been sick all over Tom,’ ‘Just keep shooting,’ ‘Barry’s now been sick too,’ ‘Just keep shooting,’ ‘B camera’s down too.’ Until eventually, everybody got seasick and there was poor old Tom Hanks, who never got seasick, just sitting there with people puking around him. And I thought, well the good news is we’ve only got about 56 days of this to go.”—Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips

“‘What was it like when you first found out about slavery?’ I could never remember. All I remember as a young person was a tremendous sense of shame, almost a sense of embarrassment. So, in some ways, why I wanted to make this film was, as I said before, somehow try to sort of embrace it and tame it and master it, but also to sort of make it mine.”—Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave

“[Gestures toward co-stars Amy Adams, Rooney Mara and Olivia Wilde] There are these three ladies that are so smart and beautiful and cool and I feel like we should talk to them.”—Joaquin Phoenix, Her

“Spike has a hard time [with intimacy], too.”—Spike Jonze, Her

“Everyone asks me: ‘What is the end?’ and I don’t really know. I love that she can still exist in people’s mind and spirit.” Would you work with Keciche again? “For sure.”Adele Exarchopoulos, Blue Is the Warmest Colour

“The length of the film came out of my sensing and feeling the rhythm that went with it and the inner breathing that I felt vis-a-vis the film. I’ve tried in former films to format my scenes, to cut them to make them fit into something that was something of a more classic model. And I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, I was just trying to fit it into what was more standard, but I find that the more I go forward in filmmaking, the more I want to allow a film to breathe its natural rhythm. Therefore, in coming years, they’ll be longer. In terms of the final cut, this cut is shorter than what the final cut will be, which will be probably be about 40 minutes longer. In terms of improvisation, I wouldn’t call it exactly that but I like to give my actors a great deal of freedom so that sometimes they can carve out a path, which may be one of discovery.”—Abdellatif Keciche, Blue Is the Warmest Colour

[Laughs]We just knew that John [Goodman] would understand it. John turned us onto Charles Portis, the novelist who wrote True Grit, but his other novels were contemporary. All his novels have an old, gasbag character kind of like John’s character in the movie.”—Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis

“I did internally [sing songs through Inside Llewyn Davis]. My interior monologue was scored.”—John Goodman, Inside Llewyn Davis Read More

“Shaving, in that crisis moment, was the attempt of the character to realign himself and treat things as normal as possible. And I like that and I like the idea also that—I think overall thematically for me this film satisfied a larger philosophical question. At a certain point when things seem impossible, that all is lost, there’s no chance to survive, that all the odds are against, as you look forward you see nothing forward possible so you give up. And others for whatever reason just keep going. And there’s no other reason than that, just to continue. Because that’s all there is to do, that’s all you know to do, you don’t know to do anything else except just keep going, even though the odds are against. I felt this film had that and the character had to deal with it and that was very appealing to me.”—Robert Redford, All Is Lost Read More

“My intention of the film by the third act [was]—if we had done our job and most importantly at that point if he’s [Robert Redford’s] done his job—he had almost become a conduit or a vessel for you as an audience member. My intention was that the film was yours at that point, as an audience member, and the experience almost becomes yours… We’ve now shown the film a couple of times and it’s fun—you can stand outside in the lobby and a couple friends will come out and one of them will say something like ‘thank god he made it’ and the other one kind of looks over and says ‘what the heck are you talking about?’ There are 21 frames of light right at the last moment which I put in there—which is a little unusual because it actually lights up the theatre in a weird way when you have white frame—and in my mind that was a way of cementing the end of the film, kind of locking it in your mind so at that moment when you see that moment, you know it’s your film, I sort of am handing it over… It’s a reflection on the end of our lives you know, and I think in a weird way—hopefully you’re learning something about yourself and your own view about the end of your life, and starting to think about that.”—J.C. Chandor, All Is Lost

“The helicopter stuff was all real, over water. Jeff found this 50-year-old helicopter, that’s actually the original Hawaii 5-0 helicopter. The helicopter pilot kept saying, “Man I wish this thing had more power,” which is not what you want to hear.”—Ben Stiller, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

“I pushed myself to imagine a landscape that hasn’t been shot to death, something that allowed us some surprise when you see the scope of it all, something that from a bird’s eye view might allow you the chance to recognise how big the world is. So it seemed like Iceland and Greenland were undiscovered in that way.”—Steve Conrad, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

“Bruce Dern’s heaven! I love him. He’s a wonderful actor and he’s one of the funniest men I’ve ever met in my life, one of the most outrageous men I’ve ever met in my life!”—June Squibb, Nebraska Read More

“No, no [improvisation]. It’s pretty much on the page. Everything is on the page. You dance a little bit, but not with the vocabulary, because the vocabulary’s there. I’m famous for dancing but not in this movie. It was so good on the page you just had to do it, you know?”—Bruce Dern, Nebraska

“From the moment I picked up the screenplay many years ago, I always saw the movie in black and white. I can’t say why, it just felt right. How does it help storytelling? It’s just so darn beautiful. Every day the DP and I would look at each other and say, ‘How can we possibly go back to colour?’ Most of the films I see, our great film heritage, is in black and white. I’m sorry we don’t have more pictures currently in black and white. Not only that, but it was my first Cinemascope. I’d shot widescreen before, but it was always Super 35. It was my first time using the old Cinemascope lenses, and boy that was a treat too.”—Alexander Payne, Nebraska

“Writing is almost kind of a form of method. Because you have to live the person that you’re writing. And what you find is that whenever I give the script for friends of mine for feedback before I shoot, tell me what you think. If I haven’t done that weird living it for that person, even if it’s a smaller role, inevitably the friend of mine will go ‘Yeah, that character is not good, you need to think about that character.’ You can never hide from that. So I try to think it as much as possible and hope for the best.”—James Gray, The Immigrant

“I became obsessed with rickets but it didn’t really have a place in the film. I kept trying to get it in and that was the only thing I wanted, but it just wouldn’t work. That was about all the research I did.”—Joaquin Phoenix, The Immigrant

© Anna Tokareva 2014. All Rights Reserved. More illustration at

Filed under: FILM, Film Festivals


Alexander Bisley is an editor-at-large who has contributed in-depth interviews and more to The Lumière Reader since 2004. He’s written extensively on culture (and sport) for all of New Zealand’s leading outlets, and also makes his living freelancing for international publications including The Guardian, Slate, and The AV Club. He’s published by The Independent, BBC, Vice, The Sydney Morning Herald, Playboy, and Slate France, and has been paid once by The New Yorker.