Running from April 17-28, the 12th incarnation of the Tribeca Film Festival starts this week. It’s a festival which has only grown in stature and confidence over the years; those awkward toddler years in which the line-up was rather unwieldy and the standard a little haphazard are now just a distant memory. And if you consider the festival’s timing — sandwiched between the titans of Sundance and Cannes — the fact that it has managed to carve out a well-respected identity for itself, and not simply be seen as a potted version of one or an extended trailer for the other, is all the more impressive. This year’s selection looks to be just as well-curated, with perhaps fewer big splashy event screenings, but more than enough smaller, innovative events to keep the cinephile interested. As ever, we’ll be bringing you a lot of coverage from the festival, which is sure to include at least a few surprises we never saw coming. But for right now, screening-wise, these are the 20 titles we’re really excited about (in no particular order), plus a few more we’ve already seen that we strongly urge you to check out, too.
Synopsis: Two separate women (Amy Morton and Louisa Krause) awaken one morning to discover that tiny acts of negligence or distraction from the day before have devastating consequences for their lives and for the fragile calm of the small New England town they live in.
What You Need To Know: With one Playlister lucky enough to already have seen this directorial debut from Lance Edmands (editor on Lena Dunham‘s “Tiny Furniture“), we are very confident in our recommendation here. It’s a mature debut boasting very strong performances from a supporting cast made up of veterans of some of our favorite TV of recent years (John Slattery of “Mad Men,” Margo Martindale from “Justified” and Adam Driver from Dunham’s “Girls” all feature), while leads, Jason Reitman-approved Morton (a stage actress with a small role in “Up in the Air“) and Krause (from “Young Adult” and “Martha Marcy May Marlene“) both rise to the occasion of their biggest screen roles to date.
When: THU 4/18 6:30 PM SVA Theater 1 Silas
“Run and Jump“
Synopsis: An unconventional romance develops between an Irish woman (Maxine Peake) struggling to hold her family together in the wake of her husband’s debilitating illness and the American doctor (Will Forte) who comes to study the family’s post-tragedy dynamic.
What You Need To Know: Whether or not his much mooted sequel to “MacGruber” ever actually happens, Forte (“Saturday Night Live,” “30 Rock“) should now have options in a more serious arena following this dramatic turn in director Steph Green‘s first feature. For some reason — perhaps the pathos he brought to his “30 Rock” role — we’re fairly sure Forte has it in him to play it straight, with the eclectic family vibe putting us in mind of Steve Carell‘s “Little Miss Sunshine” moment. Green was previously nominated for a short film Oscar and counts Spike Jonze as a mentor, having worked as his assistant on “Where the Wild Things Are.”
When: SAT 4/20 6:30 PM Clearview Cinemas Chelsea 6
Synopsis: In denial about her daughter Sylvie’s (Marin Ireland) addiction to prescription painkillers, Faye (Melissa Leo) befriends Beckett (Josh Hamilton) in the hope that he will be able to help Sylvie through. Relationships evolve, though, and not necessarily as planned, and the selfless, hopeful Faye has to make a painful choice between attending the needs of Sylvie, and taking this chance for happiness herself.
What You Need To Know: The second feature from director Enid Zentelis (“Evergreen“), “Bottled Up” (originally titled “Something in the Water“) was shot in 2011 and has apparently spent over a year in post-production. Rumored initially for a Sundance bow, it will actually be enjoying its World Premiere at Tribeca. How these delays bear on the finished product we can only guess, but with the ever-reliable Leo on board, we’re still optimistic.
When: FRI 4/19 9:00 PM SVA Clearview Cinemas Chelsea 7
Synopsis: An unplanned but nonetheless welcome pregnancy may stretch the already threadbare finances of Melissa (Naomi Watts) and Richie (Matt Dillon) even tighter. But it’s the arrival of Melissa’s abusive ex and the possibility of eviction and losing her job that really threaten their hitherto modest-but-happy lives.
What You Need To Know: Director Laurie Collyer‘s last film, 2006’s “Sherrybaby,” which starred Maggie Gyllenhaal, also dealt with issues of poverty and disenfranchisement. It was a small-scale drama that stumbled a little in its later stages, but boasted an absolutely terrific central performance from Gyllenhaal. Liking Watts and Dillon as much as we do, we hope for similarly great things from them here, Watts to cement her post-“The Impossible“-Oscar-nod reputation as one of our best working actors, and Dillon to prove once again that he’s one of our most unfairly overlooked.
When: SAT 4/20 6:00 PM BMCC Tribeca PAC
Synopsis: Popular and privileged Natasha (Haley Bennett) uses her charms on local blue-collar townie Danny (Shiloh Fernandez) and enlists his help to go on a drug run to Ecuador, as part of a tradition belonging to the boarding school secret society of which she is a member.
What You Need To Know: While the back catalogues of all involved may not instill huge confidence that this will be anything above an issues-driven series arc on “Gossip Girl,” hope springs eternal, and Haley Bennett (“Marley & Me,” “Music and Lyrics“), due to appear (or will she?) in Terrence Malick‘s music scene film (the one after the next one), is worth keeping an eye on. Similarly, Shiloh Fernandez seems to be graduating from the obligatory TV and horror-remake phase of his young career, so with a bit of luck, and if the elements come together this could be the film that starts them both on the track to better things. Pics and additional info here.
When: FRI 4/19 9:45 PM Clearview Cinemas Chelsea 8
Synopsis: Following what she believes is her lover John’s (Martin Henderson) abandonment of her, photojournalist Lee (Jennifer Jason Leigh) checks into a mental hospital, where she meets a fellow patient who bears an uncanny resemblance to John. Working with a psychiatrist to piece together her fragmented memories, Lee finds her sanity under increasing threat.
What You Need To Know: Really, we’re just delighted to see Jennifer Jason Leigh back in a starring role again, especially at the head of such a promising supporting cast, including Henderson, Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Alia Shawkat. And Meat Loaf. Director Jane Weinstock‘s first film since 2006’s “Easy,” we’re hopeful that this twisty psychological thriller delivers on the high-concept memory-muddling it promises and comes out more “Memento” than “Gothika.” Check out the poster and some more detailed info here
When: SUN 4/21 6:00 PM Clearview Cinemas Chelsea 7
Synopsis: Aspiring poet Amy (Emma Roberts) takes a job at the titular local sex shop, where, reluctantly at first, she becomes entwined in the lives of her co-workers, while trying to pursue reclusive writer Rat Billings (John Cusack) to mentor her.
What You Need To Know: Actor/director Scott Coffey, whose last directorial outing was 2005’s Naomi Watts-starrer “Ellie Parker” has attracted a great cast here, with Roberts one of the more promising actresses of her generation and Cusack someone we have far more nostalgic goodwill toward than most of his recent outings warrant. So we’re already cheering this one on from the sidelines, but add in a promisingly offbeat but lighthearted premise and an eclectic supporting cast including Evan Peters, Armando Riesco, Cloris Leachman and Shannon Woodward, and we officially have our fingers crossed for it. Plenty of pics and details here plus an exclusive clip.
When: THU 4/18 6:00 PM BMCC Tribeca PAC
Synopsis: Russian agent Gregory (Jean Dujardin) is sent to observe shady businessman Ivan (Tim Roth). But when he suspects that Alice (Cecile de France), the undercover agent also assigned to the case, may be betraying their side, he goes counter to procedure and contacts her directly, initiating both a passionate affair and a chain of dangerous, explosive events.
What You Need To Know: Sadly not a biopic of the influential French comics artist of the same name, “Mobius” still intrigues as a high-concept and starry spy thriller, and piqued our interest greatly with its Nolan-indebted, stylish and exciting trailer. Of course as Dujardin’s first post-Oscar U.S. premiere (French film “The Players” didn’t get a release stateside) interest will be high anyway. But with Roth, de France, John Lynch and Wendell Pierce all aboard, and the trusted genre hand of French director Eric Rochant at the helm, despite the language issue (it’s in French with some English and Russian) it seems destined to be a high-profile transatlantic release, if it lives up to even a little of the promise of the trailer.
When: WED 4/24 8:00 PM BMCC Tribeca PAC
“What Richard Did“
Synopsis: Richard Karlson (Jack Reynor) lives a charmed life as the golden boy of the privileged Dublin set, until he participates in a violent incident which has dire consequences, not just for the victim, the victim’s family and Richard’s own circle, but for his entire sense of self, which crumbles in the aftermath.
What You Need To Know: Based on a novel which was itself based on a notorious real-life incident in Dublin, “What Richard Did” is the third full feature from rising Irish director Lenny Abrahamson (“Adam & Paul,” “Garage“). The local interest angle of its subject matter meant it had a huge impact in Ireland, but the excellent performances from rising Irish star Jack Reynor (Kirsten Sheridan‘s “Dollhouse,” the upcoming “Transformers 4“), and original “The Killing” star (and brother of Mads) Lars Mikkelsen, among others have given it international appeal. Abrahamson will next be directing Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson, Scoot McNairy and Maggie Gyllenhaal in “Frank,” so consider this a taster, on many levels, of bigger things to come.
When: MON 4/22 6:45 PM Clearview Cinemas Chelsea 8
“Michael H. Profession: Director“
Synopsis: A documentary on the life, work and philosophies of one of the most fascinating and well-respected international auteurs at work today (or ever), Michael Haneke.
What You Need To Know: Yves Montmayeur, the man behind several making-of features on Haneke’s films prior to this, has obviously built on that relationship in order to gain unprecedented access to the notoriously private Maestro. The film includes footage up to and including Haneke’s Oscar winning “Amour,” but unfolds in reverse chronological order, using clips and footage from films, interviews with collaborators like Juliette Binoche, Isabelle Huppert and Emmanuelle Riva, and most excitingly Haneke himself, to explore in great detail Haneke’s creative process. Pretty much required viewing for anyone with even a passing admiration for Haneke’s films, which is pretty much everyone we (care to) know. The (unsubtitled) trailer is here, and gives a good idea of the approach.
When: THU 4/18 9:00 PM AMC Loews Village 7-1
Synopsis: Fresh out of prison, misanthropic ex-con Dennis (Paul Giamatti), clashes with easygoing charmer Rene (Paul Rudd) for stealing his wife, but as an apology, Dennis accepts an offer to be included on a get-rich-quick scheme selling Christmas trees. The two French-Canadian ne’er-do-wells travel to New York City, but a new plan emerges when Dennis befriends a local rich dentist’s wife (Sally Hawkins).
What You Need To Know: Director Phil Morrison hasn’t made a film since 2005’s “Junebug,” which launched Amy Adams’ career, and Morrison has been sorely missed. An odd-couple buddy comedy about two reluctant pals trying to make an honest go of it, at this point we’d watch Morrison direct the phone book, he’s a voice we need so badly. With its funny, mannered and empathetic look at humanity, if our DVD of “Junebug” was an LP it would be worn out by now. Welcome back.
When: THU 4/18 9:30 PM BMCC Tribeca PAC
“The Pretty One“
Synopsis: The meek, painfully awkward half of a pair of twin sisters envies the other’s confidence, style, independence. When tragedy strikes, Audrey (Zoe Kazan) uses the opportunity to reinvent herself and assume her sister Laurel’s (Kazan again) identity and soon begins a new relationship with her neighbor (Jake Johnson).
What You Need To Know: First-time feature-length director Jenée LaMarque (the shorts “Spoonful” and “Happy Deathday“), makes her prime-time debut with this quirky, lovely tale of identity and the eternal bond between two sisters. It’s obviously a gimmicky conceit, but Kazan (a writer/actress/director) is immensely talented and the idea of seeing her take on two characters next to the affable and hilarious Jake Johnson is a game we’re willing to bet on. Ron Livingston, John Carroll Lynch and Frances Shaw co-star.
When: SAT 4/20 9:30 PM SVA Theater 1 Silas
“Some Velvet Morning“
Synopsis: A young and beautiful New Yorker (Alice Eve) is surprised when an old lover — that she has not seen or heard from in four years (Stanley Tucci) — appears at her door with great expectations. Guess what, he’s finally left his wife for her. This strange, out-of-nowhere bewilderment is complicated by the fact that she is now friends with Fred’s recently married son.
What You Need To Know: Theater director turned feature filmmaker Neil LaBute stormed independent cinema in the late ’90s with the searing indictment of modern masculinity “In the Company of Men,” and kept it going with “Your Friends & Neighbors” (1998) and the criminally underrated “Nurse Betty” (2000) — one of the few of his features that he didn’t have a hand in writing. But it’s been a puzzling road ever since (the “Wicker Man” remake with Nicolas Cage, “Lakeview Terrace” with Samuel L. Jackson and the 2010 remake of “Death at a Funeral” — the latter two seemingly done for cash more than anything). Still, LaBute is an interesting character, to say the least, and this one, an original, intimate work set in a living room is seemingly more in character with his stage plays and looks like it could be a return to his early days. Having Tucci and Eve in the lead parts certainly doesn’t hurt.
When: SUN 4/21 6:00 PM BMCC Tribeca PAC
Synopsis: An unflinching look into the oil industry’s heart of darkness, this documentary explores a number of cases in both Nigeria and Ghana, wherein political motivations, greed, and systemic corruption come together to form a perfect storm of exploitation and environmental unrest.
What You Need to Know: Produced by Brad Pitt and directed by Rachel Boynton (who had “Our Brand Is Crisis” at the festival in 2005), “Big Men” is making its worldwide premiere at Tribeca. The documentary seems to take a “Traffic“-like approach to the oil industry in Africa, showing a number of stories connected to the oil business, in order to give a more full and complete picture of what is happening over there. This includes everything from how American companies in Ghana overcome political scrutiny, to how contracts are made and then become the subject of endless complex wrangling, to how pipelines are often bombed or set on fire by militarized citizens demanding their piece of the sticky black pie. From the bigwig oil execs to the common citizen, everyone is accounted for in “Big Men.”
When: THU 4/18 5:30 PM SVA Theater 2 Beatrice
“Stand Clear of the Closing Doors“
Synopsis: Talk about the immediacy of art – “Stand Clear of the Closing Doors” is a drama set during last fall’s devastating Hurricane Sandy, when large swaths of the metropolitan area were turned into soggy medieval fiefdoms. The film follows an autistic youth named Ricky, who lives in Far Rockaway, Queens, who after a particularly difficult day at school, escapes into the subways. It’s here that he starts his real journey, on a days-long voyage of discovery while, above ground, his mom frantically searches for him.
What You Need to Know: The film, inspired in part by a true story, and directed (by New York filmmaker Sam Fleischner) in the Rockaways during the waning days of Hurricane Sandy, giving its authenticity even more heft. In competition in the World Narrative Feature category, the film features a bold mixture of gentle surrealism and gritty naturalism, and hopefully it will be more like last year’s breakout indie sensation “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and less like the autistic-kid-running-around-New-York-during-a-catastrophe debacle “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.”
When: SAT 4/20 6 PM Clearview Cinemas Chelsea 7
“A Case Of You“
Synopsis: This quirky 21st century romantic comedy, follows Sam (Justin Long), who falls for barista Birdie (Evan Rachel Wood). After he tries and fails to get her attention, he creates an irresistible internet profile that Birdie can’t help but fall for (adorned, of course, with endless hobbies that Sam actually has no interest in). When it works, though, Sam has to maintain this elaborate ruse or risk losing Birdie’s interest. Cute.
What You Need to Know: “A Case Of You” is making its world premiere at Tribeca, was co-written by Long and directed by Tribeca alum Kat Coiro, and features a truly staggering supporting cast that includes Peter Dinklage, Sam Rockwell, Vince Vaughn, Brendan Fraser and Sienna Miller. While all that talent is certainly enough to get people into the theater, the film is probably most interesting for being one of the few romantic comedies to tackle social media in a big way, even if it is a snazzy polish on the tireless mistaken/misrepresented identity theme. It’s probably the kind of movie that, after you watch it (no matter its quality – but it does look pretty adorable), you immediately wonder why nobody thought of something like this before.
When: SUN 4/21 9:30 PM BMCC Tribeca PAC
Synopsis: A dark Hollywood satire that follows a failed agent (Clark Gregg) who discovers a troubled young talent (Saxon Sharbino) with an alcoholic father. Even though signing her could lead to all sorts of chaos, he is convinced, and begins grooming her for superstardom.
What You Need to Know: A world premiere in the Spotlight category, “Trust Me” was also written and directed by Gregg (most recognizable as a different kind of agent in the Marvel movies and upcoming “S.H.I.E.L.D.“ television series), making him the a triple threat. Gregg has assembled an all-star supporting cast as well that includes Felicity Huffman, Allison Janney, Amanda Peet, Sam Rockwell (who Gregg last directed in the underrated Chuck Palahniuk adaptation “Choke“), Paul Sparks, William H. Macy and Molly Shannon. As a filmmaker, Gregg always brings humanity to even the darkest scenario, and this set-up (which is supposedly full of twists and turns) seems ripe with endless possibilities. Also: it’s entirely ‘Avengers‘-free.
When: SAT 4/20 9:30 PM BMCC Tribeca PAC
“Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic“
Synopsis: The definitive documentary portrait of one of the most well-respected (and troubled) comedians of his generation, the documentary uses new interviews and archival footage to give a complete view of the man both on and off the stage.
What You Need to Know: First and foremost, you need to know that “Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic” was directed by Marina Zenovich, the controversial filmmaker behind “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired” (which questioned the investigation and prosecution of filmmaker Roman Polanksi) and “Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out” (which looked at how that initial film might have stirred up interest in recapturing Polanski). Zenovich is unreasonably talented and gets to the heart of her subjects in truly incisive ways – choosing figures that the public embraces (or despises) without ever really knowing them. For “Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic,” she talked to Whoopi Goldberg, Mel Brooks, Robin Williams, Dave Chappelle, Lily Tomlin, Quincy Jones and Jesse Jackson, and set the whole thing to a new score by electronic jazz musician Mocean Worker. Is there any part of this that seems like anything less than a must-see? Considering how long and tortured the development of a narrative biography of the comedian has been, this is probably going to be the best Pryor bio for a while.
When: TUE 9/23 9:30 PM SVA Theater 1 Silas
Synopsis: A stark documentary set in Oceana, West Virginia where, after the local mining industry closed down and left the local economy in a state of desperation, a new trade has emerged – the drug trade. The locals have nicknamed the town Oxyana after the OxyContin epidemic that has seized the tiny Appalachian community — now every resident is a potential addict.
What You Need to Know: Part of the World Documentary Competition, “Oxyana” is directed by Sean Dunne (“American Juggalo“) with the potential sensationalism of the subject matter dialed way down. Dunne has decided to take a naturalistic, humanistic approach, focusing on the daily struggles of drug dependency – the reason for the pill-popping instead of the pill-popping itself. The atmospheric score is by American alt-country band Deer Tick and adds to the sense of homespun gloom and the feeling that the events in Oxyana are probably happening all over the country.
When: FRI 4/19 9:30 PM Clearview Cinemas Chelsea 6
Synopsis: A documentary charting the development and classification of that fearsome demographic and cultural needle-mover: the teenager. From early 20th century, up until 1945, the film charts the development of the concept of the teenager and its social and cultural importance.
What You Need to Know: Based on the book by punk author Jon Savage, directed by New York filmmaker Matt Wolf (2008’s “Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell“) and narrated by Julia Hummer, Jessie Usher, Jena Malone and Ben Whishaw, the movie uses archival materials, Super 8 recreations, and diary entries, all set to a contemporized post-punk soundtrack (by Deerhunter/Atlas Sound mastermind Bradford Cox), in an effort to create both the history of the teenager and what it feels like to be one. Everything from flappers to Nazi youth to juvenile delinquents are covered in “Teenage.” It might not be enough to make you nostalgic, but it’ll certainly take you back.
When: SAT 4/20 9 PM Clearview Cinemas Chelsea 7
Just missing the cut, but still worth keeping an eye on, are the documentary on The National “Mistaken for Strangers“; the possibly exploitative, possibly awesome “Raze” starring Zoe Bell as a woman taken prisoner and forced to fight other women; and the incendiary-sounding “Kill Team” a doc about alleged “thrill kills” carried out in Afghanistan by U.S. soldiers.
Of course, there are a few films that have cropped up at other festivals that we’ve already seen. Of those, there are three absolute must-sees for anyone who hasn’t had the chance already: Richard Linklater‘s “Before Midnight,” David Gordon Green‘s “Prince Avalanche,”and the debut film from Saudi Arabia’s first female feature filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour “Wadjda.”
Not quite so vital, but still worthwhile, are: Paul Verhoeven‘s shortish, but immensely fun crowd-sourcing experiment “Tricked,” Ramin Bahrani‘s “At Any Price,” and Neil Jordan‘s vampire flick “Byzantium.” “Taboor” is an exceptionally strange but compelling and beautiful film for those with the patience, that shared the Jury Prize at the Marrakech Film Festival, while the neo-realist “Ali Blue Eyes” won a special Jury Prize in Rome. “Before Snowfall,” which took the Grand Prix in Goteborg is a powerful, if somewhat too slowly told, story of a young man embarking on an international voyage to carry out an “honor” killing. “The Rocket,” a film set in Laos, featuring children going to a rocket festival, won big in the youth categories in Berlin, while “Northwest” is a decent Scandinavian crime thriller which won the Critics’ prize in Goteborg.
And then there are a few we’re only mildly interested in, like “The English Teacher” which, despite starring Julianne Moore, just sounds a little mediocre to us, the severely disappointing “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” which we reviewed out of Venice, “Greetings from Tim Buckley” which we were underwhelmed by at TIFF, and the Sam Rockwell-starring “A Single Shot” which let us down in Berlin.
But not to end on a dour note, in addition to the films being shown, this year Tribeca is organizing a series of interesting and innovative events that maybe expand a little our definition of what a film festival covers, and of those, the one we most have our eye on is the “Beyond: Two Souls” video game presentation. With stars Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe in attendance, it will be a sneak peek at the incredibly lifelike visuals (see here), and a discussion with the designers and the stars about the creative process behind it.
So yeah, we’re excited for this year’s festival. We think it’s going to be a good one — stay tuned for more!