It's that time of year again, when the New York Film Society at Lincoln Center and a small group of local film critics selects the entries from new world cinema they feel deserves their erudite stamp o' approval. As this year's pre-screening Festival ID tag points out, their 44 years of discernment includes a pretty elite bunch of films and filmmakers, and this year is no different. The NYFF doesn't set out to be mainstream fare, like the younger Tribeca fest, and they pride themselves on this.

2006_09_arts_nyffqueen.jpgThis year's festival opener is Stephen Frears' The Queen, and in a class of great movies on the new releases horizon, this one really resonates. Set in England in 1998 as the brash new Prime Minister Tony Blair takes over for the Labour party, it's a fictionalized look inside the British castle as the royal family copes with the tragic death of Princess Diana. Acting powerhouse Helen Mirren plays the Queen in all of her grandmotherly, fussy, entitled, uptight glory. Like her performance in the HBO movie Elizabeth I, Mirren really knows how to completely inhabit an icon and make her a flesh and blood woman full of foibles and humanity. Don't be fooled by the trailers running on TV now that make this movie seem like a serious drama, it's surprisingly quite funny and light despite the death and politics aspects. Even in the credits of the movie Mirren gets a great big chuckle out of the audience by merely turning to the camera dressed in her full royal regalia and barely raising an eyebrow. In these first moments of the movie you know you're in for an intelligent, witty story. [Screenings Friday, Sept. 29 at 8:15 pm and 9 pm. The movie also hits select theaters this weekend in New York.]

Director Stephen Frears will be featured in a dialogue with Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwartzbaum (one of the selection committee's critics) on Saturday at 4 pm. They'll be discussing "his favorite themes, his influences, and what it’s like to move between the world of low budget indies and Hollywood," according to NYFF.

2006_09_arts_nyffbeach.jpgAnother movie that begins its run this weekend with the festival which shouldn't be ignored is Hong Sang-soo's Woman On The Beach. A Korean director who's had a number of his thoughtful movies with the festival in past years, Hong makes movies that feel like Woody Allen but without the Upper West Side. Like his last film Tale of Cinema, Woman On The Beach also deals with the complicated love life of a film director. Chang-wook won (Seung-woo kim) wants to get out of Seoul so he can do some serious writing and talks a friend into driving him to the beach. The friend brings along his girlfriend (Korean TV actress Go Hyun-jung) and together the three make for an oddly flirtatious and loaded threesome. Hong's films often play with intriguing themes like how fame can get you laid, what to do if this new girl reminds you of your ex and how the best conversations happen after a meal when everyone's drunk. Don't let the subtitles or the long names deter you from checking out this film, Hong Sang-soo's work never disappoints. [Screenings Saturday, Sept. 30 at 6 pm & Sunday, Oct 1 at 9 pm.]

Unfortunately, Gothamist didn't get a chance to see the other big movie showing this weekend, Todd Field's Little Children because of time constraints. However, A.O. Scott raves about it today in the New York Times. He says, "Mr. Field, with his second feature — his directing debut was “In the Bedroom” — proves to be among the most literary of American filmmakers, one of the few who tries to find a visual language suited to the ambiguous plainness of contemporary realist fiction." [Screenings Saturday, Sept. 30 at 9 pm & Sunday, Oct. 1 at 2:30 pm. This movie will also be in theaters next Friday.]

This year's festival sidebar (aka a bunch of movies that aren't new and usually grouped around a chosen theme) is also pretty awesome. If you know art house cinema, you're probably already familiar with the great distribution company, Janus Films. The festival is paying tribute to their incredible influence on European and Asian cinema finding an audience outside of the filmmakers' respective national cinemas with a greatest hits selection. This series is practically an Important Movies 101 class and is worth seeking out. The four flicks playing this weekend alone are enough to get you salivating: François Truffaut's Jules et Jim [Saturday at 1 pm & 5 pm, Monday at 4 pm], Jean Renoir's The Rules of the Game [Saturday at 8 pm], Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal [Saturday at 3 pm, Monday at 2 pm, Tuesday at 5:30 pm}, and Marcel Carné's Children of Paradise [Sunday at 1 pm, Tuesday at 2 pm]. Movies of this caliber projected with high quality prints are experiences you shouldn't miss, so try to take advantage of the riches.