Part of me loves attending the New York Film Festival every year, and part of me doesn't. Since it's a pain in the ass to get from Queens to Lincoln Center on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the part of me that hates to use up five hours of my time to see one film is always nagging in my ear: "Skip it this year, man. It takes up too much time. And you're lazy." Then again, when on your first day of screenings you get to watch an exceptional new film from Sidney Lumet, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, and then get to stick around for a Q&A with the legendary director, the part of me that loves attending NYFF ultimately wins out.
Since I've only seen one film so far (mainly because, this year, time just doesn't allow me to snort up every little piece of filmmaking), instead of writing a dispatch I thought I'd place my initial thoughts here. NYFF is a strange festival, because the press screenings begin a good week before the fest officially opens, and they're fairly spread out across four weeks. Since the fest also takes place within the confines of, say, a block or so, that summer camp, community aspect is not really there. You see a press screening, stick around to chat with another NYC-based writer about Marisa Tomei naked (more on that in a bit), and then you go home to write about it. That pretty much sums it up. All the NYC regulars are there, there's always some old smelly guy sitting either next to me, in front of me or behind me, and no matter when I go to the bathroom, I always wind up standing next to someone I know at the urinal. Last year it was actor Patrick Wilson, and this year it was Andrew Grant (aka Filmbrain). Thus, I'm thinking about starting a urinal interview series for folks I run into -- if, ya know, they don't think that's awkward.
But back to the film, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead -- one of Lumet's best in years. I'm somewhat fond of his last effort, Find Me Guilty, though I've had to warm up to it. It's a Sunday afternoon film -- the kind of thing you have on in the background and occasionally go back to once you become numb to Vin Diesel's voice. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead is a whole different animal; powerful, dark, depressing and haunting -- it's the performances from Philip Seymour Hoffman, Albert Finney and, yes, Ethan Hawke, that really drive this one home. Marisa Tomei is nude for about half the film (no joke), but the scenes in which she flaunts her birthday suit are somewhat intoxicating -- especially the opening. There was a moment roughly half-way through where I seriously thought Lumet was going to have Tomei naked in every scene -- and I would've had to give him props for that. Unfortunately (for some), she puts on her clothes for the second half and becomes one of the most well-written trophy wives I've ever witnessed on screen. But more on that in my review.
About ten minutes into the Q&A with Lumet, I was kicking myself for forgetting my audio recorder. Apart from the hysterical exchange in which Lumet told us how he never met screenwriter Kelly Masterson and didn't know whether Masterson was a boy or a girl (he's a boy, by the way), Lumet went on to dissect the film a bit, as well as the characters and their motivations. He told us about a scene at the end that was cut (a scene you'll want to know about after watching the film), but his reasons for cutting it made a lot of sense. The best part of his Q&A came toward the end, when someone asked whether Lumet would continue to shoot digitally and what his thoughts were on the future of film. Luckily, I don't need to dig into my memory to pull quotes out of nowhere since Karina Longworth, of Spout.com, was there to record this particular segment of the conversation. So head on over there to check it out. I'll be seeing more films in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for the Lumet review, and we'll meet back here soon enough.