Calling all “Oscar and Lucinda” fans! The New York Film Festival has a reunion of sorts for you. Back in 1997 — one year before her star-making role in “Elizabeth,” that little-seen Australian romantic drama announced 28-year-old newcomer Cate Blanchett to the moviegoing public; the striking actress was then an unknown quantity beside the headlining name of her more seasoned co-star Ralph Fiennes, by then a two-time Oscar nominee and high-end heart-throb.
Sixteen years later, Blanchett has done some catching up. The star, who currently chasing her sixth Oscar nomination for Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine,” has been named as one of the Gala Tribute honorees at this year’s NYFF. The other, of course, is Fiennes, whose second film as a director, “The Invisible Woman,” has its world premiere at the festival. Okay, so it’s not actually a reunion — the Tributes are a week apart — but it’s a sweet confluence all the same.
The Gala Tributes are a relatively new fixture in the NYFF lineup. The festival introduced them last year, with Nicole Kidman (whose film “The Paperboy” played in last year’s fest) and festival programme director Richard Peña selected as the inaugural honorees. They evidently proved popular enough for the festival to continue them, this time with more star power. Perhaps one slot will be reserved every year for an Australian screen goddess.
Blanchett is an interesting choice of honoree, given that (bar a surprise appearance by George Clooney’s “The Monuments Men”) the actress doesn’t have a film in the festival lineup. What she does have, however, is resurgent star heat. After a couple of years away from the spotlight — taking secondary roles in the likes of “Hanna” and “Robin Hood” while she busied herself with theater work in Australia — she’s returned to leading-lady status with a vengeance in “Blue Jasmine.” It seems silly to declare locked Oscar nominations in August, but the Best Actress race would have to become fiercely crowded in the next few months for the actress not to figure in next year’s race; some pundits even think she can win her second Oscar for her brilliantly barbed turn as a disenfranchised New York socialite in Allen’s critical and commercial hit.
So it seems a good time for the festival to take stock of her career thus far — as well as an opportune moment for Blanchett to keep her profile aloft as campaign season heats up in October. (It certainly didn’t do Kidman any harm last year.) Film Society Lincoln Center director Rose Kuo says in the press release: “In the year that many critics are hailing her most recent – and perhaps greatest – performance (in ‘Blue Jasmine’), the Film Society is delighted to celebrate the career of Cate Blanchett. Since her breakthrough in ‘Oscar and Lucinda’ in 1997, Ms. Blanchett has consistently mesmerized audiences with some of the boldest screen performances of the past twenty years, with roles as diverse as Queen Elizabeth I and Bob Dylan.”
Fiennes will also be hoping for his Gala Tribute to be the start of a successful awards season run. “The Invisible Woman” is currently creeping under the radar, but the literary biopic, in which he stars as Charles Dickens in a story centered on his secret romantic life, could conceivably be something that appeals to Academy types. His imperfect but arresting directorial debut, an adventurously updated take on Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus,” demonstrated both his cinematic ingenuity and, less surprisingly, his facility with actors. Nabbing the first showing of his sophomore effort represents yet another coup for the NYFF programmers.
Of Finnes, Kuo states: “In just his third screen role, Ralph Fiennes’s performance as the monstrous Amon Goeth in Steven Spielberg’s ‘Schindler’s List’ terrified audiences with its personification of evil. Since then, Mr. Fiennes has brilliantly embodied the larger-than-life creations of writers such as Shakespeare, Dickens, and Graham Greene, among others, and given us an extraordinary body of work to celebrate. The Film Society is excited to honor him at this year”s New York Film Festival not only as an actor, but as the director of ‘The Invisible Woman,’ truly one of the noteworthy films of the year.”
Blanchett’s Gala Tribute will take place on October 2; Fiennes’ on October 9. The NYFF runs from September 27 to October 13.