So while the news that neither “Birdman” nor “Inherent Vice” (our no. 10 and no. 1 most anticipated films of the year, respectively) will be showing in Cannes may have us casting our thoughts forward to the fall festival season, there are still quite a few key events on the cinephile calendar between now and then. Indeed, the Tribeca Film Festival starts this week, and while the line-up overall feels more muted in profile than some years, there’s still plenty that has piqued our curiosity in its slate. The 13th iteration of the New York-based festival opens on Wednesday night and will run until Sunday 27th with 33 jurors presiding over the competitive sections, including Jeff Goldblum, Whoopi Goldberg, Lake Bell, Toni Collette, Nate Parker, Gary Ross, Catherine Hardwicke, Adepero Oduye, Heather Graham, Michael Stuhlbarg, Alfonso Arau, Christine Lahti, Anton Yelchin and Natasha Lyonne. We’ve seen a fair number of the selection already at other festivals (and you can find links to reviews at the end of this article), but of those titles that will be new to us, here are the twenty, from across all the sections, that we’re most looking forward to.
Synopsis: Gabriel is a troubled teenager battling the demons of mental illness and searching for a stability that he believes he can find if reunited with an ex-girlfriend. His pursuit of her, however, becomes increasingly obsessive, testing his relationship with his family and bringing him to the brink of breakdown.
What You Should Know: Rory Culkin has slowly but surely become our favorite of the Culkin acting brothers, having impressed us repeatedly before, often in supporting roles, most recently with his sensitive and nuanced performance in the underseen “Electrick Children.” So it’s always good to see him get a front-and-center showcase for his talents—it feels like it’s only a matter of time before some role really connects for him and kicks his career up to the next level. And this could be it, as first-time director Lou Howe‘s film, which is partly funded by grants from the Sundance Institute and elsewhere, sounds like it may hit right in his wheelhouse, with the tricky character of the confused and vulnerable central teenager.
Synopsis: Seven college friends reunite for a weekend of drink, drugs, food and togetherness after one of their number has a breakdown, only to discover that as much as they’ve drifted apart in the intervening time, old jealousies, flirtations and political differences still hold considerable power over them.
What You Should Know: Widely billed as a “Big Chill” for the social media generation, that descriptor might have us ordinarily running for the hills, but the cast alone makes this one worthy of attention: Aubrey Plaza (an actress we’re dying to see in something better than the lacklustre-to-plain-bad likes of “Life after Beth” and “The To-Do List“), Max Greenfield (the undersung lynchpin of making “New Girl” a whole lot better than it should be), Maggie Grace, Nate Parker, Max Minghella and Jane Levy play the friends, while “Parenthood” star Jason Ritter follows up his supporting role in SXSW title “Wild Canaries” as Alex, whom it is all, presumably, about.
“Every Secret Thing“
Synopsis: Two young women, recently released from prison after being convicted of involvement in an infant’s death, come under suspicion again when another child goes missing. The investigation gradually lays bare a haunted town full of secrets and ghosts.
What You Should Know: Written by the eternally underrated Nicole Holofcener, based on the bestselling novel by Laura Lippman, directed by Amy Berg of “West of Memphis” fame (making her narrative feature debut here), produced by Frances McDormand and starring a terrific ensemble in Elizabeth Banks, Diane Lane and Nate Parker (his second Tribeca film after “About Alex,” plus he’s a juror) with Dakota Fanning and Danielle Macdonald (“The East“) as the two young suspects, this has to be one of the highest profile premieres in the line-up. It is also one of the most intriguing sounding of all the female-led projects in this year’s festival (and continuing Tribeca’s usually strong showing in this area, of the 107 directors presenting features here, 22 are women).
“In Your Eyes“
Synopsis: A neglected East Coast doctor’s wife discovers she has an uncanny connection with an ex-con living in New Mexico, leading to a unique metaphysical romance, despite the distance between them and their involvement with other partners.
What You Should Know: Mainly, that Joss Whedon-penned the script and it stars Zoe Kazan, who has consistently, if quietly, impressed us of late. Kazan refers to the film as “Joss Whedon does Nicholas Sparks” which does cool our ardor somewhat, but it’ll be interesting to see what spin first-time director Brin Hill can put on proceedings, and if “Much Ado About Nothing” is an idea of the kind of palette-cleanser script that Whedon can turn out between “Avengers” installments, then we’re totally on board. Michael Stahl-David (who’s been mostly on TV since “Cloverfield“) Nikki Reed, Mark Feuerstein and Jennifer Grey co-star.
“5 to 7“
Synopsis: A young man’s affair with a French diplomat’s wife (that takes place mostly between the titular hours of 5 and 7) brings him into conflict with his traditionally-minded parents, but the couple nevertheless fall deeper in love, until he can no longer be satisfied with the part-time nature of the relationship
What You Should Know: The debut directorial feature from TV writer and producer Victor Levin (“Mad About You” and “Mad Men” are among his TV credits, while he also wrote the script for “Win a Date with Tad Hamilton“) “5 to 7” has a few things going for it: namely Anton Yelchin and Berenice Marlohe (“Skyfall“) as the smitten central couple, Glenn Close and Frank Langella as his parents, with Olivia Thirlby, Eric Stoltz and Lambert Wilson in support too. It’s a great cast and sometimes, cynical as we are, we just like to watch attractive people falling in love with each other. This may well scratch that romantic, culture-clash comedy of manners itch.
“Alex of Venice“
Synopsis: A driven careerwoman attorney suddenly has to deal with domestic and family issues (especially her aging father’s demands) on her own when her husband, who has been the primary homemaker to that point, asks for a separation that goes from temporary to more permanent.
What You Should Know: Chris Messina is one of the more ubiquitous actors on the indie scene, reliably turning in assured and generous supporting performances in “Ruby Sparks” and “Argo” and showing up in “The Newsroom” on TV for good measure. This is his directorial debut, and he again takes a supporting role as the husband, but the lead is taken by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and hopefully will give her a chance to make further good on the promise of her excellent work in “Smashed,” and consolidate her transition from scream queen/geek dreamgirl to one of her generation’s most interesting actresses. Also look out for Don Johnson in the role of the father—with supporting roles in “Cold in July” and “The Other Woman” too, he’s having a comeback moment even outside his recurring role on TV’s “From Dusk Till Dawn.”
Synopsis: A welterweight boxer, whose successful career came to an abrupt end, is drawn into a shady web of deceit and murder by a crooked restaurateur who lures him with promises of restoring his former glory and status.
What You Should Know: We ended our review of writer/director Noah Buschel‘s last film, 2012’s “Sparrows Dance” with the words “we can’t wait to see what Buschel does next.” And this noir-tinged morality play is it, which is one reason we’re very excited for this one. A second reason is that it’s a starring role for Corey Stoll, whose breakout in season one of “House of Cards” was one of our favorite acting performances of last year. Billy Crudup, Kelly Lynch and Marin Ireland (reteaming with Buschel from “Sparrows Dance”) round out the promising cast, and the few early glimpses we’ve seen look to deliver something visually striking too.
“Goodbye to All That“
Synopsis: When his wife asks for a divorce out of the blue (from his point of view), hapless everyman Otto’s life is upended as he struggles to understand her motivation, tries to maintain a relationship with his daughter and reluctantly reengages with the dating scene.
What You Should Know: It might not sound like the freshest idea on the block, but this is the directorial debut of “Junebug” screenwriter Angus MacLachlan and it looks like he’s assembled the perfect cast to make this potentially bittersweet, funny/sharp dramedy sing. Paul Schneider takes the lead, with Anna Camp (“Pitch Perfect,” “The Help“), the great Melanie Lynskey, Heather Graham, Amy Sedaris, Celia Weston, Ashley Hinshaw and Heather Lawless among the impressive supporting cast.
“When the Garden Was Eden“
Synopsis: An unabashed documentary love letter to the the New York Knicks, focusing on their late 1960s evolution and their early 1970s championship run.
What You Should Know: While we’ve been enjoying Michael Rapaport‘s guest starring role on “Justified” recently, the omnipresent actor was also behind one of our favorite recent documentaries, “Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest.” His return to the documentarian director’s chair might not be quite so squarely in our wheelhouse, but Rapaport has shown he can communicate his enthusiasm for his subject matter brilliantly, and appears to have had good access to the stars of the day, and so we’re very willing to be won over. The film is produced by ESPN, based on the bestselling 2012 book of the same name by Harvey Araton and kicks off the Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film festival sidebar.
“Loitering with Intent“
Synopsis: Dominic and Raphael are a pair of aspiring screenwriters who head upstate to focus on completing a screenplay, but are interrupted by the arrival of Dominic’s sultry sister, who is herself escaping from her turbulent relationship with her boyfriend. More arrivals, romantic complications and unexpected developments conspire to distract them further from their work.
What You Should Know: With “Red Light Winter,” the film version of his play which he was slated to direct still in development having been announced and cast back in 2012, playwright, novelist, screenwriter and director Adam Rapp (“Blackbird,” “Winter Passing,” regular writer for “In Treatment” on TV) rustled this indie comedy up in the meantime, directing from a script by Michael Godere and Ivan Martin, who also star. With the cast a mix of familiar and unfamiliar names, it’s mainly the inclusion of Marisa Tomei as the sister and Sam Rockwell as her boyfriend that has us anticipating this one, with Natasha Lyonne and Brian Geraghty also in support.
Synopsis: Four friends living in New York interact with each other as they search for a sense of balance.
What You Need To Know: Having directed Sundance competition film “The Dry Land” back in 2010 to reasonable reviews, writer/director/actor Ryan Piers Williams is back with his follow-up, once again reuniting with spouse and “Ugly Betty” star America Ferrera for this drama. The logline might sound a little indistinguishable from a thousand other indie dramas, but Williams has assembled a strong cast here, with “Fruitvale Station” star Melonie Diaz and newcomer Jon Paul Phillips joining the director and Ferrera as the rest of the central quartet, and Amber Tamblyn, Common, Dree Hemingway, David Harbour and Adam Rapp in support. The soundtrack comes from Playlist favorites Fall On Your Sword too, which is always a bonus.
Synopsis: A middle-aged man in a rocky marriage takes a wrong turn and picks up a troubled young man, an event which ends up turning his life upside down.
What You Need To Know: There was a point at which Dito Montiel looked like he might be the next big thing in indie film: debut “A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints” won top reviews and a Special Jury Prize at Sundance back in 2006, and follow-up “Fighting,” starring Channing Tatum, was a minor hit. His subsequent films have been somewhat disastrous: “The Son Of No One,” with Tatum and Al Pacino, attracted derision on its premiere in 2011, and thriller “Empire State” failed to get a theatrical release despite featuring franchise headliners Liam Hemsworth and Dwayne Johnson. But he seems to have taken a much-needed left turn with his fifth feature, a low-key domestic drama. Robin Williams takes the lead role, and that’s a generally a good thing when Williams is in more dramatic territory, while Kathy Baker, Bob Odenkirk and newcomer Robert Aguire are in support.
“Summer of Blood“
Synopsis: An unprepossessing young New Yorker stuck in a dead-end job and at a relationship impasse gets a new lease on life when turned into a vampire, although balancing his newfound lust for blood with his sudden Brooklyn sex-God lifestyle proves tricky.
What You Should Know: Graduating from his micro-budget indie background to a marginally less micro-budgeted indie level, writer/illustrator, occasional actor and filmmaker Onur Tukel (not here in his alter ego Sergio Lapel, under which alias he has directed two films) returns with a take on the vampire mythos played for laughs on the streets of gentrified hipster Brooklyn. Mileage will vary on this one, but “Richard’s Wedding” was funny and sharply written enough to stave off the worst excesses of mumblecore, and we very much hope Tukel can repeat the trick of taking a somewhat tired premise and bringing the funny by channeling insights about modern, privileged, East Coast life through it.
Synopsis: A married couple and the husband’s brother go out on a hunting trip together deep in an overgrown nature reserve, but soon find themselves becoming the hunted.
What You Need To Know: Actor/director Christopher Denham has been a bit of a secret weapon in recent years: he turned in an excellent performance in Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij‘s “Sound Of My Voice,” made an impression as one of the captives in “Argo” and, most importantly for our purposes, directed 2008’s better-than-most found footage horror “Home Movie,” a cult hit on the festival circuit. Six years on, he’s followed it up with another horror flick. Again, it’s got a reasonably rote premise, but we’re promised that it takes the set-up into intriguing new direction. And it has some good actors to do that with too, thanks to a trio of prestige cable drama favorites: “The Wire” and “Orange Is The New Black” actor Pablo Schreiber, “Boardwalk Empire” breakout Wrenn Schmidt (she played Julia, the great love of Richard Harrow, on the show), and Aaron Staton, who’s Ken Cosgrove on “Mad Men.” Definitely one for genre fans to keep an eye on.
Synopsis: A film archivist accidentally discovers that the house he shares with his wife was the scene of a horrific murder over a century ago. As secrets bubble to the surface of his relationship now, he becomes obsessed with the idea that the house, and the spirits it contains, is exerting its malevolent influence, and descends to the brink of insanity to uncover the truth.
What You Should Know: Director Ivan Kavanagh has four previous features to his name, many of which have played the festival circuit, but outside his native Ireland he’s yet to gain the kind of recognition that some of his compatriots have in recent years. That may change with “The Canal,” a promisingly eerie-sounding haunted house tale that has a slightly higher profile perhaps than his previous outings thanks to the casting of recognisable U.K. actor Rupert Evans (“Hellboy“) and rising Northern Irish actress Antonia Campbell-Hughes. Mostly though, this looks to be an exercise in mood and atmosphere and we’re always ready and willing to be creeped out.
“Beneath the Harvest Sky“
Synopsis: A coming-of-age tale centering on the relationship between two young friends who find different ways of making the money they need to escape their small Maine hometown, one by harvesting potatoes, the other by running drugs across the Canadian border. Eventually their differing outlooks place a strain on their friendship, though, one they struggle to overcome.
What You Should Know: Opinions differed on Derek Cianfrance‘s “The Place Beyond the Pines,” but one performance in that film that saw fairly unanimous acclaim was Emory Cohen‘s, so his central role here would be enough to get our appetites whetted. However it also comes from husband and wife writer/director team Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly, who were on Variety’s 2013 10 Directors to Watch list, and whose 2009 documentary “The Way We Get By” was a major festival hit. Callan MacAuliffe (who played the teenaged Gatsby in “The Great Gatsby” and appeared in “I am Number Four“) co-stars with Cohen, and Aidan Gillen, Sarah Sutherland and Zoe Levin round out the supporting cast.
“Dior And I”
Synopsis: A documentary going behind the scenes of legendary fashion house Christian Dior, focusing on the launch of new Artistic Director Raf Simons‘ first haute couture collection.
What You Need To Know: Obviously fashion-centric documentaries aren’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but if it does hit your sweet spot, French director Frederic Tcheng has probably been behind some of your recent favorites: he produced, edited and shot “Valentino: The Last Emperor,” and co-directed the excellent “Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel.” Having already tackled one legendary designer, he now makes his solo directorial debut with “Dior And I,” and given the legendary status of his subject matter, there’s every reason to hope that he might have another winner on his hands. From the logline, and the presence of Anna Wintour in the cast list, we’re reminded on paper of another good fashion doc, “The September Issue,” so if this is half as entertaining as that, it should be worth checking out.
Synopsis: A straitlaced policeman embarks on a reckless pursuit to save his village from the onslaught of a mysterious, murderous samurai who dresses in women’s clothing and wields an enormous katana, but finds the killer exerting a seductive pull on his own psyche, as his long-repressed urges come to the surface.
What You Should Know: Well, our selection wouldn’t be complete without a little midnight madness-style cult viewing and sure enough, in the Midnight section of the festival, this German oddity looks exactly offbeat and strange enough to satisfy that urge. The debut feature film from German director Till Klieinert, “Der Samurai” picked up impressive (if occasionally nonplussed) notices at its Berlinale premiere, but having missed it there we look forward to catching up with the stylish queer-themed horror in Tribeca instead.
Synopsis: A crime story based loosely on the true story of antiques dealer-turned-“Gentleman Bank Robber” Eddie Dodson, who ripped off over 60 banks in the 1980s.
What You Need To Know: Another year, another attempt to make Jim Sturgess happen, with the “21” and “Cloud Atlas” star taking the lead role in this true-crime picture. But there’s some reason to hope that this might work where some others have failed. Firstly, it has a strong true-life tale to tell. Secondly, it marks the fictional debut of director Tristan Patterson, who made a real impression a few years back with his skateboarding documentary “Dragonslayer.” And the supporting cast— Isabel Lucas, Chloe Sevigny, Patricia Arquette, Christophe Lambert—is just bonkers enough that it could work, plus indie legend Christine Vachon is producing. Maybe this is finally the one that makes Sturgess’ name?
“Point And Shoot”
Synopsis: Documentary following a young Baltimore man who left the U.S and ended up joining the Libyan rebellion against Colonel Gadaffi.
What You Need To Know: Documentaries are often a highlight of Tribeca, and this certainly looks like one of the most promising. For one, it’s directed by Marshall Curry, an executive producer on last year’s toast-of-Tribeca “Mistaken For Strangers,” and whose last film, “If A Tree Falls,” was nominated for an Oscar. And for another, it has a hell of a story, focusing on OCD-sufferer Matthew VanDyke, who left grad school searching for adventure, worked as an embedded journalist in Iraq, taking up arms and actually fighting to depose Colonel Gadaffi, and spending over six months in enemy hands in solitary confinement. It’s the stuff of which hugely compelling documentaries are made, and should be made even more compelling through the presence of footage actually shot by VanDyke himself. Definitely one we’re likely to be hearing about for some time to come.
Also of note:
Of course in exploring the packed slate a few other titles caught our eye without making the final cut, but we will be keeping a weather eye out for the work-in-progress screening of the James Brown Documentary from Alex Gibney, which would have been on our main list had it been in finished form. Other documentaries we like the look of include “Beyond the Brick” about the making of “The Lego Movie,” which will be of interest to that film’s many fans; “Regarding Susan Sontag,” about the famous New York intellectual icon; “Ne Me Quitte Pas,” an offbeat look at friendship and mid-life crises in a rural Belgian setting; “Silenced,” which follows the stories of several people incarcerated under the “Espionage Act” in the U.S.; and “Famous Nathan” about, yes, the iconic hot dog brand, while opening documentary “Time is Illmatic” is undoubtedly unmissable for Nas‘ substantial following.
Elsewhere Leighton Meester and Gillian Jacobs pop up in “Life Partners,” a relationship drama that sounds a little overfamiliar in premise but could surprise; “Match” features a reportedly strong performance from Patrick Stewart as an aging dancer, co-stars Carla Gugino and is based on the director’s own play; black comedy “Miss Meadows” stars Katie Holmes as a sweet-as-pie vigilante who tangles with the town Sheriff played by Playlist favorite James Badge Dale; Courtney Cox takes her first turn behind the camera for “Just Before I Go” starring Seann William Scott; Italian film “Human Capital” stars Valerias Golino and Bruni-Tedeschi in a multi-stranded narrative revolving around a stranger’s death; “Sister” is a family drama about mental instability with the matriarch role filled by Barbara Hershey; “Lucky Them” has jury member Toni Collette team up with Thomas Hayden Church in a romantic comedy with a music industry spin; “Pi” actor Sean Gullette presents his directorial debut “Traitors“; Tsai Ming Liang‘s 56-minute “Journey to the West” stars Denis Lavant and got good notices in Berlin; while prior experience high concept B-movie fare like “Snakes on a Plane,” “Iron Sky” and “Sharknado” has taught us not to fall for the flashy advance charms of a daffy premise and title, and so we’re firmly wait-and-seeing with “Zombeavers” which is about … well, we think you can probably guess what it’s about.
And we’ve already seen:
Additionally, Tribeca boasts a nicely curated selection of films that we’ve already caught up with at other festivals. Click on the titles to bring you to the full reviews, but the ones we recommend most wholeheartedly are “Starred Up,” “Night Moves,” “In Order of Disappearance,” “Love is Strange,” “The Overnighters,” “Battered Bastards of Baseball” “The One I Love” and “Land Ho!” Also playing are Berlin Golden Bear Winner “Black Coal, Thin Ice,” “Palo Alto” “Venus in Fur” and “Begin Again” (formerly “Can a Song Save Your Life“) about which we were somewhat cooler, while we’d advise you to swerve to avoid “Chef,” and “Third Person.” We also saw “Something Must Break,” which we did not review but is a stylishly shot but rather overblown queer issues drama detailing the angsty relationship between a trans woman and her purportedly heterosexual lover, which gazes at its own navel rather too intently to really invest in; and “Bad Hair” which we likewise did not review but found to be a well-intentioned but rather forgettable story with an improvisational feel about a young boy from an underprivileged background’s obsession with straightening his naturally curly hair, and the conflict it causes with his widowed mother.
If you’re attending Tribeca this year, hope this helps with your scheduling, and enjoy your festival. If not, well, you can do the next best thing and follow all our coverage.