The 2020 New York Film Festival beginning tomorrow September 17 and running until October 11, will be quite different from the 57 that have preceded it. No two film festivals are ever alike, but this one in particular will stand out as cinema lovers will not be descending onto Film at Lincoln Center this year to see unique and captivating features from some of the worlds best filmmakers, and we’re sure you know why. 

It is a little heartbreaking that those of us who look forward to the NYFF every year will not be able to be congregate among our fellow cinephiles, however, we are grateful that we have cinema to experience at all. The team at Lincoln Center has worked with great effort to not only deliver a fascinating lineup of great films, but to also make sure the 2020 NYFF is the most “NEW YORK” festival in the festival’s prestigious history. Films playing this year can be viewed at home — anywhere in the United States —  and a number of screenings will take place at drive-in locations in Queens, Brooklyn, and The Bronx. 

The films that will be on display at the 2020 New York Film Festival, as always, come from all corners of this world: America, France, India, England, Germany, South Korea, Argentina, and many more. This festival, more than ever, shows us that there is no amount of distance, physical or social, that can keep us from experiencing the beauty and power of the movies. It’s really difficult to go wrong with any of the films in the line up this year, however, we have some highlights, starting with the latest from someone who is becoming a force in American cinema. 


Chloe Zhao is a name you should start to get used to hearing. Not only because she is the director of The Eternals, a Marvel film set to release next year, but because she has perhaps made the film of the season and perhaps the year. 

Winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and the Centerpiece of the 2020 New York Film Festival is Zhao’s third feature, Nomadland. It is based on the 2017 novel by Jessica Bruder about elderly Americans, pushed to the outskirts of society, who travel up and down the U.S in search of work. The film — which Zhao wrote the screenplay for and edited — follows Fern, played by Frances McDormand, an elderly woman who packs her belongings into a van and leaves her small Nevada town after the company town has gone under during “The Great Recession.” While looking for work, she comes across a group of people like herself, who travel up and down the United States, living inside cars and campers, looking for whatever work they can find. 

This is the first time Zhao is working with a professional actress. McDormand, the Tony, Emmy, Golden Globe, and two time Academy Award winning actress wanted Zhao to direct the picture after a screening of The Rider in 2017. In her previous two features, Zhao has only used real people to tell her stories, but even with the inclusion of an award winning actor, Nomadland will still show actual nomadic workers, as the director, her star, and her 25-man production team traveled with a group of nomads, many of which were featured in Baurer’s book.

Nomadland will play at the Brooklyn and Queens Drive-in, and virtually, on September 26. 

Small Axe Anthology Series

Lovers Rock by Steve McQueenScene from Lover’s Rock, image courtesy Amazon Studios.

Opening the festival this year will be the latest from British filmmaker Steve McQueen. Lover’s Rock, a love story where two strangers fall for each other one night while dancing to reggae. It will be making its world premiere at the NYFF, along with two other shorts from the Academy Award, BAFTA, and Golden Globe winning director, part of his five part anthology series, Small Axe.

The series, which will screen on BBC One and Amazon Prime later this year, takes place in London’s West Indian community between the mid 1960’s to the mid-1980’s, with each original short directed by McQueen, who shares screenwriting duties. While Lover’s Rock is a fictional tale, the other two are based on real events: Mangrove, starring Black Panther’s Letitia Wright, focuses on the “Mangrove 9,” a group of political activists who after a number of unwarranted raids by the police inside a small restaurant that gives the film its title, march and protest the blatant discrimination they face from the authorities.

The final short, Red, White and Blue, stars Star Wars’ John Boyega as Leroy Logan, a former superintendent of the Metropolitan London Police, who joined the force in the early 1980’s with aspirations of changing it from within after seeing his father face abuse at the hands of the police. The decision causes a rift between son and father, with the son seeing firsthand how the system, which he would work tirelessly to dismantle, is used against his own people. 

In any year, these stories would resonate, as there are communities in the U.S, the U.K, and around the world that have witnessed such events throughout their lives. This year, because of the events that spurred protests in this city and others around the country, the stories McQueen tells should possess that much more power. 

Lover’s Rock will play at the Queens and Brooklyn Drive-In, and virtually on September 17, again at the Bronx Drive-In on September 23, and virtually again on October 3.

On the Rocks

On the rocksPhoto courtesy Apple TV+

Now for something a little lighter. It has been almost twenty years since Sophia Coppola and Billy Murray have worked together, their first collaboration, the much beloved Lost in Translation, is still in the eyes of many Ms. Coppola’s most successful and triumphant film. 

Her latest, which will be showing on Apple+ in early October stars Parks and Recreation‘s Rashia Jones, who suspects that her husband, Dean, played by Marlon Wayans, is secretly having an affair with a coworker. Pushing to investigate if Dean is truly cheating on her, is her  father, Murray, a charming lothario with a taste for cocktails. A story about the unstoppable process of aging, marriage, and the relationship between children and their parents. It has been too long since this director and star have collaborated, but it seems that it has been worth the wait. 

Other Stuff

In the Mood for LoveRemastered version of In the Mood for Love will screen at NYFF. Image courtesy Janus Films.

As always, the New York Film Festival offers new releases but also restorations of classic films, so that they could be given a second or even third life. This year’s selection of revivals include Taiwanese filmmaker’s Hou Hsiao-hsien’s mesmerizing 1998 feature, Flowers of Shanghai, Joyce Chopra’s 1985 drama Smooth Talk, based on the Joyce Carol Oates short story, Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? and starring an 18-year-old Laura Dern in her first film role, and Wong Kar Wai’s 2000 masterpiece In the Mood For Love

Starring Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung as neighbors in early 1960’s Hong Kong, the two begin to develop an intense but distant love for each other after believing that their respective spouses are having an affair with one another. The film, cherished by admirers of international cinema, is known for its immaculate use of music by composer Astor Piazzolla, pace and color, executed marvelously by cinematographer Christopher Doyle. The film will be shown in a brand new 4K restoration, a preview of what’s to come this December when Film at Lincoln Center showcases a number of remastered works from the master in a brand-new retrospective. 

The 2020 New York Film Festival runs from September 17th till October 11th. There are still online tickets for some of the films listed in the preview and many more over at the Film at Lincoln Center website. Also check out what it looks like at the Brooklyn Drive-In and the Queens Drive-In.