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TY BURR

Three festivals and two authors (one of them starring in an adaptation of his own book)

From left: Ed McMahon, Nipsey Russell, Leon Bibb, Paul Newman, Martin Luther King Jr., and Harry Belafonte in a scene from "The Sit-In: Harry Belafonte Hosts The Tonight Show."
From left: Ed McMahon, Nipsey Russell, Leon Bibb, Paul Newman, Martin Luther King Jr., and Harry Belafonte in a scene from "The Sit-In: Harry Belafonte Hosts The Tonight Show."Belafonte Enterprises

Housecleaning time: I have a handful of movie-related items that have been cooking on the back burner for a few weeks, so allow me to serve them up as a buffet column. With luck, there’ll be something here to your tastes.

The 58th New York Film Festival — Normally I go to the Toronto International Film Festival in early September, watch 25 movies in six days, and come home and sleep for a month, thereby missing the venerable NYFF, which follows close on TIFF’s heels. But this year everything’s online, which means I can “be there” and so can you: The festival runs through Oct. 11 and there are plenty of tickets remaining for virtual screenings at virtual.filmlinc.org. (If you’re in the New York area and have a car, there are live drive-in screenings at the Bronx Zoo and other outer-borough locations.)

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Filmgoers attended the "Nomadland" screening at the Queens Drive-In at the New York Hall of Science during the 58th New York Film Festival on Sept. 26.
Filmgoers attended the "Nomadland" screening at the Queens Drive-In at the New York Hall of Science during the 58th New York Film Festival on Sept. 26.Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

The NYFF tends toward the world-cinema end of the spectrum, and this years lineup includes new work by Germany’s Christian Petzold (“Undine”), Romania’s Cristi Puiu (“Malmkrog”), South Korea’s Hong Sang-soo (“The Woman Who Ran”), and more. “French Exit,” a comedy from the free-spirited Azazel Jacobs (“Momma’s Man”) that bids fair to be a long-overdue comeback vehicle for Michelle Pfeiffer, will close out the schedule. Before then you can see three of the five features in the “Small Axe” series directed by Britain’s Steve McQueen (“Twelve Years a Slave”), made for the BBC and heading to Amazon in November. One of them is among the best movies I’ve seen all year: “Lovers Rock,” a swirling slice of life that’s set at a house party in a London West Indian neighborhood during the early 1980s and that features perhaps the finest soundtrack of classic reggae since “The Harder They Come.” One scene — the whole party singing and stepping to Janet Kay’s 1979 hit “Silly Games” even after the record has stopped playing — is already in my mental Rolodex of great movie moments.

Richard Wright in "Native Son."
Richard Wright in "Native Son."Kino Lorber

“Native Son” starring its own author — Richard Wright’s groundbreaking 1940 novel has been brought to the screen at least three times, but the first version has been the hardest to see until recently. It’s nothing if not polyglot, filmed in 1951 in Argentina under the direction of France’s Pierre Chenal with an English-speaking cast made up of local talent, Hollywood imports — and the book’s 42-year-old writer as 25-year-old Bigger Thomas, prisoner of the Chicago slums and helpless, hapless murderer. “All you have to do is live Bigger’s nightmare,” the first-time actor was told, and Wright’s performance is both crude and harrowing, the novelist’s age adding a touch of surreal allegory to a project caught between urban realism and film noir.

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None of the acting in “Native Son” is particularly masterful — some is just plain bad — but that pales before the scalding truths of the film’s portrayal of Black life in America, a portrayal that seems ahead of its time but really only exposed the racist rot that Hollywood movies pretended didn’t exist. The Chicago slums in “Son” feel like real slums; the N-word is thrown about with abandon; the white characters are either virulent bigots or naively “woke” liberals. When a fire hose is turned on Bigger during a climactic chase scene, it feels like a bulletin from the civil rights-era future.

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Such harshness didn’t go over well when the film was released in America. Critics jeered at Wright’s acting and the film was rendered incomprehensible after 38 minutes were cut out of it. “Native Son” was a lost film until two uncensored prints resurfaced, and a recent restoration has resulted in as complete a version as we’ll ever get. Along with an introduction by film scholars Eddie Muller and Jacqueline Stewart, the movie is running for a week in a virtual print at the Brattle starting Oct. 2. A 1986 adaptation starring Victor Love and Elizabeth McGovern is an acceptable and straightforward version, and conceptual artist Rashid Johnson’s 2019 re-think, with an electrifying Ashton Sanders (“Moonlight”) as Bigger, is certainly worth a look. But the 1951 original remains its own unique nightmare, one that feels closer to the volcano of its author’s imagination and reality.

L-R: Ray Liotta, Robert DeNiro, Paul Sorvino, and Joe Pesci in "Goodfellas."
L-R: Ray Liotta, Robert DeNiro, Paul Sorvino, and Joe Pesci in "Goodfellas."Associated Press

A good fella on “Goodfellas” —There’s a practice among writers and journalists called “logrolling” that involves praising the newly published work of friends, in the general expectation that they’ll someday do the same for you. It’s a tradition rightfully frowned-upon, which is why I’m not going to write a full review for “Made Men: The Story of ‘Goodfellas’” (Hanover Square), a new book about the 1990 movie written by an old, old friend and fine, fine critic, Glenn Kenny. But I’d be remiss in ignoring it completely, especially if you have any interest in what is a) arguably Martin Scorsese’s best movie (discuss) and b) aside from “The Godfather” the most influential gangster movie ever made. (Tell me “The Sopranos” and everything that followed would exist without it.) The meat of the book is a 150-page scene-by-scene breakdown of “Goodfellas” that touches on every backstory and mobbed-up extra, told with a dry, informed wit you don’t come across in most movie tomes. (A drive-by description of the legendarily monstrous jazz drummer Buddy Rich as “argumentative” made me snort.) “Made Men” is the kind of addictive pop history that loosens up the pause button on your remote as you watch Joe Pesci’s bone-chilling Tommy DeVito ask “Funny how?” one more time.

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A scene from "City Hall."
A scene from "City Hall."Zipporah Films

Two great local festivals this fall — The 22nd annual Roxbury International Film Festival, which started Sept. 30, runs through Oct. 5, and is all virtual, remains your best chance to check out features and shorts by and about people of color. I’m especially intrigued by “The Sit-In: Harry Belafonte Hosts the Tonight Show,” a documentary about the week in 1968 when the singer-activist took over Johnny’s chair and invited MLK, RFK, and Aretha Franklin onto the couch, and “White People Money,” a comedy about a South Side slacker who wins a billion dollars and tries to hide it from his friends and family. More info at roxfilmfest.com. And while it may look like I’m contractually obliged to mention the sixth annual GlobeDocs festival of documentary features and shorts — also all virtual this year — the lineup is excellent and it’s your first chance to see the new Fred Wiseman film, “City Hall,” starring our own Marty Walsh.

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Ty Burr can be reached at ty.burr@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.