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Well, consider this a major coup for the Big Apple. Paul Greengrass’ “Captain Phillips,” a fact-based thriller about a hijacking at sea, was widely expected to make its festival debut in Toronto, or even Venice, ahead of its US release on October 11. Instead, however, it will have its world premiere as the Opening Film of the 51st New York Film Festival, which runs from September 27 to October 13.
It’s the third time in four years that the NYFF has kicked off with a first look at a major-league Oscar hopeful: last year, “Life of Pi” did the curtain-raising honors, starting off a robust awards-season run that ended in four Academy Awards, including Best Director for Ang Lee while "The Social Network" was 2010's selection. And in 2011 "Hugo" screened as a work in progress.
Previously better known for its cherry-picking of previous festival highlights than its own major premieres, New York really announced itself as a major player on the festival circuit last year: in addition to “Pi,” it also unveiled “Flight” and “Lincoln” to the world. Today’s announcement proves they’re set on maintaining this elevated status.
“Captain Phillips” stars Tom Hanks as the eponymous commanding officer of a US container ship, the Maersk Alabama, that was taken hostage by Somali pirates in 2009; based on Phillips’ own memoir, it’s a survival story that seems likely to prompt comparisons to the recent Danish festival standout “A Hijacking,” which told a fictionalized tale of a similar incident. That film presented a high bar to clear, but this kind of tension-fuelled true-life thriller territory is where Greengrass has excelled in the past – the British director, who last attended the NYFF with 2002 docudrama "Bloody Sunday," was Oscar-nominated for 2006’s “United 93.” Expectations are duly high, egged on by a promising trailer.
The film also forms half of Hanks’ planned one-two punch this Oscar season, along with his second biographical turn of the year – as Walt Disney in the heavily-buzzed “Saving Mr. Banks.” Once an Academy favorite, the two-time Best Actor winner has been away from the game since 2000. Could he return this year as a double nominee?
Lincoln Center director Rose Kuo said of the selection, “It is a pleasure to welcome back Paul Greengrass to the New York Film Festival with the world premiere of his gripping drama 'Captain Phillips.' Tom Hanks is terrific at capturing the vulnerability, terror and heroism of the harrowing journey of Captain Phillips."
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