New York Film Festival 55th annual edition keeps movie selection pure

While many of its counterparts have gotten bigger and flashier over a shorter span of time, the New York Film Festival has remained remarkably pure as it begins its 55th annual edition Thursday night.

It remains a festival devoted toward nothing but showing a small and meticulously curated roster of great movies from a range of genres and a multitude of countries. There are 25 films in its main slate, and more in several sidebars, crafted by some of the best filmmakers around.

“Each year, I’m asked about the themes that we’ve pursued in our selections,” says festival director Kent Jones. “And my answer’s always the same, which is that we don’t. We just select the films we like best. That’s our mandate.”

This year, that includes movies like “Lady Bird,” the directorial debut of actress Greta Gerwig starring Saorise Ronan as an artistic woman desperate for a way out of Sacramento. It’s “The Florida Project,” the new movie from cinematic innovator Sean Baker about children living in a Florida motel run by Willem Dafoe.

It’s the Swedish satire “The Square” and Dee Rees’ “Mudbound,” about a family of sharecroppers and their landlords in Mississippi during World War II, a Robert Mitchum retrospective and documentaries about Joan Didion, male bodybuilding and more.

While the filmmaking is, as ever, the point at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s signature event, movies aren’t made and festivals aren’t programmed in a vacuum, and this is an unusual and unsettled time in the United States.

There are, therefore, a number of entries across the festival that “reflect and refract” the larger currents of the Trump era, Jones says, including the opening night movie “Last Flag Flying.”

From indie icon Richard Linklater, the film follows three Navy veterans (Laurence Fishburne, Steve Carell and Bryan Cranston) as they reunite under a cloud of tragedy during the Iraq War.

“It directly relates to the war and a casualty of the war and looks at things from a different perspective,” Jones says. “… It’s inevitable. If you’re a thinking person responding to things with more than just a programmatic stance, or thumbs up, thumbs down, it’s inevitably going to be there.”

NYFF runs through Oct. 15. See the full lineup at filmlinc.org.