The latest stop on the Fall Festival circuit hit the Big Apple Friday night with the opening of the New York Film Festival, which boasts two World Premieres as its key draw for Awards Season attention. They include Warner Bros.’ Paul Thomas Anderson-directed Inherent Vice next Saturday, and of course Friday night’s unveiling of the much-awaited film adaptation of pete_hammond_300x100the best seller Gone Girl  from 20th Century Fox and New Regency which screened  at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. to strong reaction from all reports. I wasn’t there, as I am in L.A. and have already seen most of what theny-film-festival-2014 NYFF is offering. A lot of it consists of retreads from other fests going as far back as Cannes (too many titles to mention), even Sundance (with the brilliant Whiplash). And Gone Girl was simultaneously screened for west coast awards pundits at 3 p.m. PT Friday in a small  room on the West Los Angeles lot of Fox. I was there although after Fox had already shown the film over the past week to a gaggle of critics and groups like the Hollywood Foreign Press, so it was a bit anti-climactic in having the suspenseful air of a true debut. If I were the NYFF I would have been a little upset to have the thunder taken away from my big opening night, but there’s no question with a major wide opening happening just days away Fox had to get this one out there.

For those seeing it Friday afternoon the air was necessarily taken out of this balloon in other words — but it didn’t matter. In the end it’s not when you see it, but what you see. And in this case the movie directed immaculately by David Fincher delivers on almost every level. To say I was transfixed is an understatement. I will have a full video review on Monday but suffice it to say Gone Girl should not only clean up at theaters when it opens next Friday, but looms as a growing threat in the Oscar contest.

Gone GirlTrue, adult suspense thrillers of this genre aren’t a staple in the Best Picture contest. 1987’s Fatal Attraction certainly was an exception but that built into an awards contender primarily because of its enormous commercial success (in addition to being a hell of a movie). I expect the same for this one, which has the Fincher imprimatur along with towering performances from its stars, a best-ever Ben Affleck  and a stunning Rosamund Pike turn, not mention great supporting work from Kim Dickens, Carrie Coon, Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry as the defense attorney.  The screenplay adaption by Gillian Flynn from her own book is near-perfect as a rabid fan of the book told me right after the screening. And Fincher’s direction doesn’t make a false move, not onlyIF keeping up the “thriller” end of things but also delivering a smart and wickedly funny look at marriage and the male/female relationship dynamic.

It’s also ever-so subtly skewering what passes for journalism in modern day media. It’s the combination of all those elements that give it a better shot as an Oscar contender than most thrillers of this ilk have managed.

Fincher, responsible for such modern-day classics in the genre as Zodiac  and Seven (both grossly underappreciated at Oscar time)not to mention Fight Club, Social Network, The Game, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and Panic Room PLUS The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button has with Gone Girl perhaps his most accessible movie ever, and he’s done it without dumbing down things one little bit.

This is his Double Indemnity, his North By Northwest. The comparisons to vintage Wilder and Hitchcock are daunting but I will make them anyway. Ultimately I would not be at all surprised to see this film, if handled properly, turn up among the year’s Best Picture nominees and certainly Pike , in a role Reese Witherspoon originally craved (she remains as a producer),  sails to the top of any Best Actress list.

GoneGirlAmyThe NYFF continues through October 11th when it will, very appropiately, close with that most New York of films, Birdman, which has already been seen at Venice and Telluride. Fox Searchlight even had a screening and reception on their WLA lot Tuesday night where Michael Keaton mingled with press. The studio hopes to get lots of mileage from its NYFF “official” North American launch as Keaton  and director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu will be out of pocket much of the awards season making other movies rather than stumping for Oscars.

It’s apparent, even though only September still, that the season has begun to heat up. After seeing Gone Girl, I drove across town to the Academy’s Linwood Dunn theatre in Robert-Downey-Jr_-and-Robert-Duvall-in-The-Judge-2014-Movie-Image-2-750x499Hollywood to moderate a SAG nominating committee screening of Warner Bros.’  The Judge and it was packed to the rafters with actor voters who gave a warm reception to this very actor-centric movie. Star Robert Downey Jr. and co-stars Dax Shepard, Vera Farmiga and Jeremy Strong along with director David Dobkin participated and it was a lively forum for the movie which, like Gone Girl, got its start launching a major Fall Fest, in this case the recent Toronto International Film Festival. And also like Gone Girl,  it’s smart adult entertainment from a major studio. Who knew?