×

How the New York Film Festival Became an Oscar Season Launch Pad

In five years the event has shown its value as a starting point for awards hopefuls.

The New York Film Festival has always been one of the classiest, most finely curated stops on the global festival circuit. But it wasn’t until five years ago that the Film Society of Lincoln Center, which puts on the annual showcase, really capitalized on its position in the film awards season.

That year, David Fincher brought “The Social Network” as a world premiere to open the 48th annual event. The splash was considerable, and soon after, the fest adopted an understanding that two of its three major galas — opened night, centerpiece and closing night — had to be world premieres. Suddenly, a new launching pad was born for movies looking to springboard into the Oscar conversation.

In 2011, Roman Polanski’s “Carnage” kicked things off, while Simon Curtis’ “My Week with Marilyn” served as the centerpiece. Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants” wrapped things up after bowing in Telluride and screening in Toronto as well. But that year also brought the work-in-progress premiere of Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” as a “secret screening.” The next year, Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” pulled the same trick. Talk about making some noise.

Maybe too much noise, though. In due time, the concept of a flashy secret screening wore off. In 2013, it was a 50-year-old Jean-Luc Godard film, “Vivre sa vie,” while in 2014, it was Noah Baumbach’s “While We’re Young,” which had already premiered in Toronto.

Back to the festival’s 50th anniversary in 2012, things kicked off with Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi.” David Chase’s “Not Fade Away” was the centerpiece and Robert Zemeckis’ “Flight” closed things out. Along with “Lincoln,” they were all world premieres and major gets.

Captain Phillips,” “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and “Her” were the trio in 2013, which also marked an interesting year for films playing Cannes and Telluride but skipping Toronto on the way to the Big Apple. “All is Lost,” “Inside Llewyn Davis” and “Nebraska” all opted for that route as the Canadian fest began to lose a little of its awards season luster. Also, a presentation of “12 Years a Slave” was sprung on the fest that year (dubbed a “U.S. premiere” despite the fact that it had already screened in Telluride).

Last year, Fincher was back to kick things off again with “Gone Girl.” Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice” was the centerpiece (producer Scott Rudin has taken a number of films to the fest), interesting for being a bit exclusive to the event with precious few press screenings after its bow there. The closer was another film that opted out of Toronto, eventual best picture winner “Birdman.”

And now, the 53rd annual. Zemeckis will be back Saturday night with the delayed (thanks to the Pope) opening night world premiere of “The Walk.” Rudin will be back with Danny Boyle’s “Steve Jobs” after skipping out on Toronto following a Telluride bow. And Don Cheadle’s “Miles Ahead,” looking more and more like a 2016 release for Sony Classics, will close things out. Interestingly enough, Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies” is a part of the lineup as a world premiere, but it didn’t land one of the three high profile slots.

So that’s a quick sprint through the New York Film Festival’s recent history with the awards race. Along the way, films like “Inside Job,” “The Artist,” “A Separation,” “Amour,” “Foxcatcher,” “Mr. Turner” and “Whiplash” have screened there en route to the Oscars. The event, already unique in the space, has shown its value as a starting point for contenders either not interested in or not ready for the early Venice-Telluride-Toronto corridor.

Which players will emerge from the Lincoln Center with a healthy stride? We’ll find out over the next two weeks!

More Film

  • Promise at Dawn Calcoa

    Colcoa French Film Festival Moves to the Fall with Revamped Formula

    Colcoa, the Los Angeles-based French film festival, will be hosting its 23rd edition in September, right before the start of the Awards season. Created by the Franco-American Cultural Fund, Colcoa will also be showcasing a more contained lineup focused on film and TV at the Directors Guild of America’s newly-renovated venue. The festival was previously [...]

  • Bruce Springsteen FYSEE Opening Night with

    Bruce Springsteen-Codirected 'Western Stars' Film Will Premiere in Toronto

    “Western Stars,” the film that Bruce Springsteen has made to accompany his recent album of the same name, will have its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, it was announced Tuesday. The feature is being listed as a co-directing project between Springsteen and his longtime filmic collaborator, Thom Zimny, who just picked up [...]

  • Sylvester Stallone and Braden Aftergood Balboa

    Sylvester Stallone's Production Company Wants to Be the Blumhouse of Action Films

    “I don’t believe Sylvester Stallone carries around a wallet,” says Braden Aftergood, the executive in charge of scripted development at the movie star’s content company Balboa Prods. It’s not that Sly, as he’s known to friends and fans alike, is trying to duck out on a dinner bill. He never seems to have his license [...]

  • Toronto Film Festival Lineup

    Toronto Film Festival: 'Joker,' 'Ford v Ferrari,' 'Hustlers' Among Big Premieres

    This year’s Toronto Film Festival will feature super-villain origin stories, splashy literary adaptations, and Tom Hanks as the most beloved performer in children’s television. The Canadian celebration of all things movies unveiled its 2019 lineup on Tuesday, and it appears to be an eclectic mixture of glossy awards bait, auteur-driven indies, and populist crowd-pleasers. It’s [...]

  • Sylvester Stallone Variety Cover story

    Sylvester Stallone Feels Robbed of an Ownership Stake in 'Rocky': 'I Was Furious'

    Sylvester Stallone shares an uncanny, symbiotic connection with Rocky, the underdog boxer character he created four decades ago — a kindred spirit who served as his creative muse in spawning one of Hollywood’s most successful film franchises. In his long career Stallone also played another memorable screen role — John Rambo — but Rocky was [...]

  • Beware of Children

    First Trailer Released for Venice Days Entry 'Beware of Children' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Variety has been given exclusive access to the first trailer for Dag Johan Haugeruds’ politically and socially charged drama “Beware of Children,” which premieres as part of the Venice Film Festival’s Venice Days section. The pic, which is being sold at Venice by Picture Tree Intl., features the dramatic aftermath of a tragic incident in [...]

  • The Tower animated film about Palestinians

    ‘The Tower’ Animation Wins Japan's Skip City Festival

    “The Tower,” Mats Grorud’s animation about the plight of the Palestinians, as viewed through the eyes of an 11-year-old girl in Beirut, won the grand prize in the international competition at the 16th edition of Skip City International D-Cinema Festival. The film also scooped the section’s audience award. The Skip City festival, which launched in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content