The phrase “the death of cinema” gets thrown around every few months, but there’s little to worry about. And while the pundits will continue to ring the death knell over and over again, this week’s upcoming New York Film Festival is irrefutable proof that cinema is alive and healthier than ever.

The 54th annual New York Film Festival kicks off this Friday and as usual, the stellar programming is a top-shelf selection of artful and intelligently-made cinema. While on the surface, NYFF is a collection of films that have already hit Cannes, Sundance, Telluride and more, in reality NYFF is more like an carefully curated line-up of prestigious arthouse and cinephile picks from many of the greatest working filmmakers on the planet— many of them foreign talents that lend NYFF a distinctly international and erudite air (and not everyone is privileged enough to hit all the previously mentioned festivals).

In simplest terms, the choices made in the NYFF programming this year is as exemplary as ever. As the festival begins this Friday, we decided to run down a list of 14 must-see movies for you New Yorkers dying to absorb more cinematic culture.

the-lost-city-of-z-james-grayThe Lost City Of Z
Some 8-odd years in the making, James Gray follows up the intimate chamber drama, “The Immigrant,” with his most ambitious film to date. Based on the titular book by David Grann, “The Lost City Of Z” centers on a knowledge-thirsty English explorer who leaves the comfort of his family to travel to South America and look to discover a rumored lost city in the middle of the Amazonian jungle. Perilous and potentially foolhardy, the quest is heart of darkness journey down the rabbit hole of jungle of claustrophobia. Starring Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Tom Holland, Sienna Miller, and shot once again by Darius Khondji, the epic-sounding ‘Lost City Of Z’ said to be influenced by David Lean and Francis Ford Coppola, is easily Gray’s biggest film to dates and widest in scope ever. Gray uses genre as a Trojan horse to examine masculinity and family dysfunction so it will be interesting to see what Gray does with this “Apocalypse Now”-sounding picture. Additionally, Gray’s picture has the distinction of being the festival’s closing night film.

Cast of '20th Century Women'20th Century Women”
One of the great, but underrated humanist directors, after a six-year absence Mike Mills’ (“Thumbsucker,” “Beginners”) is finally back with an ensemble story featuring Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning, and Billy Crudup. The story of three women who explore love and freedom in Southern California during the late 1970s, the movie centers on a single mother (Bening) raising a son surrounded by bohemia which includes a punk rocker (Gerwig) and a hirsute carpenter (Crudup). Mills is a sensitive director with a big swelling heart for melancholy and always constructs an intimate safe space for his actors that yields terrific results. So we expect nothing less than a drama, that’s funny, sad, and insightful per his oeuvre thus far.

billy-lynns-halftime-walk-ang-leeBilly Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
Try and pin down Ang Lee’s career and it’s difficult. You can point to well-crafted dramas about longing, unrequited love or alienation (“Lust, Caution,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “The Ice Storm”) as his bread and butter, but then you have to contend with super hero movies (“The Hulk”), balletic wuxia pictures (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) and ambitious, VFX-heavy spiritual quest shot in 3D (“Life Of Pi”). Ang Lee’s brand is perhaps the absence of one. A versatile filmmaker, Lee blends his ideas of drama and technology for “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.” Starring newcomer Joe Alwyn as the titular character plus Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Vin Diesel, Steve Martin, Chris Tucker, and Ben Platt, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” centers on a 19-year-old soldier brought home for a victory tour after a harrowing Iraq battle, but flashbacks reveal the differences reveal the horrors of war vs. the American need to lionize troops no matter the reality. The technology? It’s shot in an unprecedented 120 frames per second which is the highest for any film and it’s also being presented in 3D. Now let’s just hope it doesn’t look like the dinner theater look of “The Hobbit.”