Part of my problem with this year’s New York Film Festival slate, I suppose, is that I was spoiled by the NYFF’s first-anywhere debut of The Social Network in 2010 — that was a major score that put the NYFF, which had acquired a bit of a sleepy, sedentary rep under Richard Pena, back on the map and was a feather in the caps of the newly ascended Scott Foundas and NYFF selection committee member Todd McCarthy.
Note: I’ve been informed that a certain former Lincoln Center fellow with the initials “K.J.” played a crucial role in landing The Social Network, and that I shouldn’t go overboard in assuming that Foundas-McCarthy were the principal architects of that “get.”
To be sure, landing Flight as the closing-night attraction is a commendable score, but the only thing that could have fully lived up to The Social Network this year would have been Steven Spielberg‘s Lincoln (Disney, 11.9). Life of Pi for the opener, Flight for the Centerpiece and Lincoln for the closing-nighter…perfect!
Alas, Spielberg films almost never play major festivals (the big exception was ’08’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), and Disney marketing’s decision not to debut their film as a closing-night NYFF attraction may, I fear, indicate their level of confidence in it, at least as far as how Lincoln will fare with the NY critical community…but let’s not assume too much. Ease up, take it slow.
Still, the fact that Lincoln will open on November 9th, only three and a half weeks after the NYFF closes, makes you wonder if there’s any big-city, media-centric event that they’d be comfortable partnering with for a Lincoln debut. What are they going to do, show it around the country in a series of rube screenings like they did with War Horse?
The answer, of course, is “no” — that screen-it-for-the-rural-popcorn-crowd strategy convinced everyone except for EW’s Dave Karger that War Horse was a problem, and that’s exactly what it turned out to be. It doesn’t matter how much money it made ($79 million domestic, $97 million foreign) because (a) many if not most ticket buyers are not afflicted with that cultural burden or affliction called “taste,” and (b) the fact that War Horse was grotesquely sentimental and wildly manipulative destroyed its Best Picture chances, and cemented the notion that Spielberg’s worst tendencies are out of control these days.
Which is why people are concerned about Lincoln as we speak, and saying to each other that “whatever Spielberg does with this material, you really can’t trust him to do the right thing any more, not after War Horse and also considering the tedious experience of Amistad.” They’re also saying that “the only thing we’ll be able to really count on, most likely, will be Daniel Day Lewis‘s performance, and hopefully Tony Kushner‘s screenplay and perhaps the supporting performances…who knows?” But nobody trusts Spielberg.