Water Mitty world premiere New York

Upcoming Fox release joins 'Captain Phillips' on NYFF's developing slate

The New York Film Festival has tapped “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” directed by and starring Ben Stiller, to screen at the festival’s centerpiece gala this fall.

The world premiere of the pic, due to hit theaters Dec. 25 in a 20th Century Fox release, is the second title so far to be announced for the 51st annual NYFF — a slate that’s being closely watched as the first under the leadership of the new director of programming and selection committee chair Kent Jones.

It’s too soon, however, to get a sense of how Jones’ tenure will immediately distinguish itself from the titles chosen in prior years by his predecessor, Richard Pena, a 25-year veteran of the fest and of Film Society of Lincoln Center, the nonprofit that presents NYFF. Both “Mitty” and the recently announced opener, Tom Hanks topliner “Captain Phillips,” are the kind of prestige studio offerings that have often snagged high-profile slots at the fest in the past.

But NYFF, with its tightly curated main slate of 25-30 films, has long had a rep as a champion of challenging international films, and it seems likely that the whole lineup, taken together, will offer the biggest clues to the festival’s artistic shift under Jones.

For now, however, “Walter Mitty” can enjoy the prestige of nabbing a place at NYFF in what is often considered a rigorously brainy slate. A spot in the fest can prove an important early step in turning the heads of critics and awards nominators, as it did for 2010 opener “The Social Network” or for 2011 offering “Hugo.”

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” — which also stars Kristen Wiig, Shirley MacLaine and Sean Penn — centers on a daydreamer who embarks on a real-life adventure. Movie will screen Oct. 5 at NYFF, which runs Sept. 27-Oct. 13.

The 2013 festival’s full main slate, along with its lineup of complementary programming, will be announced in the coming weeks.

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