It’s that time of year again. The 2016 Tribeca Film Festival is upon us, and unfortunately things began on a bit of a bum note. Festival head Robert De Niro defended the controversial (and frankly, irresponsible) anti-vaccination documentary, “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe,” only to rescind those comments and the festival to pull the film the next day. But hey, what’s a film festival without some controversy?
That issue aside, Tribeca 2016 has its share of programming goodies, not the least of which are amazing talks with filmmakers and actors like Baz Luhrmann, Francis Ford Coppola, Jodie Foster, Tom Hanks, Tina Fey, Alfonso Cuaron, Ethan Hawke, Patti Smith, J.J. Abrams with Chris Rock, Michael Cera, Catherine Hardwicke, Andrea Arnold, Ira Sachs, Joss Whedon, Mark Ruffalo and many, many more.
The eclectic festival has its array of riches. From discovery titles, documentaries (where the fest usually excels in their choices), dramatic titles featuring directors and actors you love and of course, the ever-growing field of TV narrative projects, mini-series’ and one-offs. Tribeca has a lot to offer and this year isn’t any different. So without further ado, a deep dive into the titles that are intriguing us the most at the moment. The 2016 Tribeca Film Festival runs from April 14th to 24th.
What it’s about: The untold true story behind the meeting between the King of Rock ‘n Roll and President Nixon, immortalized in the most requested photograph in the National Archives.
What you need to know: Sure, the film will be hitting theaters just four days after its Gala World premiere screening at Tribeca, but that doesn’t mean we’re any less amped for this film from Liza Johnson (“Return,” “Hateship Loveship”). Four words: Michael Shannon as Elvis Presley. Kevin Spacey as Richard Nixon ain’t too shabby either. Based on the trailer, the two look to be in fine comedic form, with backup from Colin Hanks, Evan Peters and Johnny Knoxville. If anyone can make a film about one day in the White House with Elvis and Nixon entertaining, it’s Shannon and Spacey.
"The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea"
What it’s about: Henry (Jason Sudeikis) and Penny (Jessica Biel) are a New Orleans couple very much in love, until tragedy strikes and Henry is forced to rebuild. Quite literally, it turns out. After he befriends a tough street teen (Maisie Williams), he helps her construct the raft she’ll use to sail across the Atlantic in search of her long lost father.
What you need to know: Longtime assistant director and TV director Bill Purple (“New Girl,” “Fresh Off the Boat") makes his feature directorial debut with “The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” and he’s amassed quite the impressive cast. In addition to Sudeikis, Biel and Williams, the film’s cast includes Mary Steenburgen, Orlando Jones, and Paul Reiser. It’s opening the Spotlight section, and looks to be an affecting drama about grief, loss, fatherhood and finding family. Sudeikis has been turning toward more toward dramatic performances of late, and doing a damn fine job of it too, and this looks to be even more dramatically challenging. Oh, and the score is composed by one Mr. Jessica Biel, Justin Timberlake himself.
What it’s about: In Tom Tykwer‘s adaptation of Dave Eggers‘ novel, Tom Hanks stars as a struggling American businessman who travels to Saudi Arabia to sell a new technology to the King, only to be challenged by endless Middle Eastern bureaucracy, a perpetually absent monarch, and a suspicious growth on his back.
What you need to know: This is “Run Lola Run” director Tykwer’s first solo outing since working with the Wachowskis on “Cloud Atlas” and the Netflix series “Sense8.” “A Hologram for a King” looks to be a sort of whimsical and broadly comic fish out of water story. Let’s hope that with an Eggers book powering the story (Tykwer adapted the screenplay too), that this doesn’t go near “Rock the Kasbah” territory.
What it’s about: Legal and intimate family dynamics dovetail in "Custody." Starring Viola Davis as an embattled family court judge with a fraught marriage of her own; Hayden Panettiere as a recent law-school grad flung into a custody case; and Catalina Sandino Moreno as the single mother at the center of the case who risks losing her two children over an ill-timed argument.
What you need to know: Writer/director James Lapine is a Tony, Pulitzer and Peabody award winner, and wrote two plays you might have heard of: do “Into the Woods” and “Sunday in the Park With George” ring a bell? What a slouch, right? All kidding aside, Lapine is a Broadway rock star, and it will be fascinating to see how he takes on the dramatics inside family court. This is his return to narrative directing after the HBO doc “Six By Sondheim,” and several TV movies — not to mention 1993’s Michael J. Fox vehicle “Life With Mikey” — so his return to more serious cinema will be welcome. Also, Viola Davis.
"All We Had"
What it’s about: Ruthie continually makes the best of her mother Rita’s hard luck. When their attempt at settling in a new town hits a stumbling block, even Ruthie struggles to keep it together.
What you need to know: “All We Had” marks the directorial debut of Katie Holmes, so color us at least curious to see how this one turns out. She also takes on acting duties, starring as down-and-out mom Rita across Stefania Owen as Ruthie. The film based on Annie Weatherwax’s 2014 novel, and offers a thematic undercurrent of the Great Recession to the traditional mother/daughter coming of age tale. Luke Wilson, Judy Greer, Richard Kind, and Mark Consuelos support, with cinematography by “Short Term 12,” “Hellion,” and “The Meddler” DP Brett Pawlak, so it’s sure to look great.
What it’s about: Anthony Keller, star of his NYC high school basketball team, is riding his way to Cornell on a sports scholarship. He can only maintain his popular jock facade for so long, as his troubled father Lee has a gambling addiction that threatens to derail his dreams both on and off the court.
What you need to know: Written and directed by Mr. Julianne Moore, Bart Freundlich, “Wolves” stars Michael Shannon and Carla Gugino and we’re sold. Newcomer Taylor John Smith stars as their son, the aforementioned jock, in this coming-of-age drama set on the mean streets of NYC, from prep schools to the LES ball courts.
"Youth in Oregon"
What it’s about: A family road trip dramedy about an ailing man traveling to Oregon to be legally euthanized, and the family who follows along for the trip in the hopes of talking him out of it.
What you need to know: If you don’t initially know the name of writer/director Joel David Moore, you’ll definitely know his face from his numerous acting roles in “Dodgeball,” “Avatar,” “Grandma’s Boy,” and just about every medical or forensic procedural on TV. But this isn’t his first time behind the camera, having directed the 2007 thriller “Spiral,” and another feature, “Killing Winston Jones,” with Richard Dreyfus in the can. This heartfelt dramedy looks a little like “‘Little Miss Sunshine’ Meets Dr. Kervorkian,” in a good way, with a top rate cast including Frank Langella, Billy Crudup, Christina Applegate, Mary Kay Place and Josh Lucas.
"A Kind of Murder"
What it’s about: A ’60s-set Hitchcockian thriller that explores how we judge culpability in the death of another.
What you need to know: Todd Haynes did pretty damn good last year with his Patricia Highsmith adaptation “Carol,” and no doubt director Andy Goddard will be hoping to strike Highsmith gold twice with this adaptation of her book “The Blunderer.” Goddard has directed a wealth of TV in the UK including “Downton Abbey” and “Doctor Who,” as well as feature “Set Fire to the Stars” with Elijah Wood. Patrick Wilson stars in “A Kind of Murder” as an architect/crime novelist who imagines what it would be like to kill his wife (Jessica Biel) in this retro psychological thriller. Vincent Kartheiser and Eddie Marsan offer backup.
What it’s about: A photographer who suffers severe memory loss following a horrific car accident puts her life at risk, as well as those of her husband and daughter, while piecing together and confronting her traumatic past.
What you need to know: Doesn’t it feel like entirely too long since we’ve had a great Abbie Cornish film? She’s got several upcoming projects on the docket, but we’re hoping that this psychological thriller, co-starring Dermot Mulroney, Diego Klattenhoff, and Justin Long kicks off the Cornish comeback. Canadian writer-director Ed Gass-Donnelly’s past work includes “This Beautiful City” and “Small Town Murder Songs,” which traffic in the darker side of life, and “Lavender” looks to be similar, with hallucinatory twists and turns.
"Vincent N Roxxy"
What it’s about: A small town loner and a rebellious punk rocker find themselves on the run from the same dangerous criminals. Soon, the star-crossed lovers discover violence is never far behind them.
What you need to know: Emile Hirsch and Zoë Kravitz star in Gary Michael Schultz’s “alternately romantic and brutal drama,” a descriptor that has us intrigued. Schultz has one directorial feature under his belt, the horror comedy “Devil in My Ride,” with Sid Haig. Emory Cohen pops up in a supporting role, as well as Scott Mescudi aka Kid Cudi in this “story about a misfit romance at the mercy of brutality.”
What it’s about: Joey is a young woman in search of direction in her small town. A visit to an army recruiting office appears to provide a path, but when she meets and falls in love with Rayna that path diverges in ways that neither woman anticipates.
What you need to know: “AWOL” is based on director Deb Shoval’s Sundance award-winning short film of the same name, and stars the chameleon Lola Kirke and Breeda Wool, who turned in one of the breakout performances from last year’s excellent Lifetime series “Unreal.” This romantic drama about two women in love looks to be a deeply personal film for Shoval, who lives in rural Pennsylvania, where she grew up, with her wife. The script was co-written with novelist Karolina Waclawiak, and looks to be a powerful and distinctly feminine story featuring two excellent actors on the rise.
What it’s about: Nadine (Dree Hemingway) and Lewis (Keith Stanfield) visit a small Bahamian island hoping to restore their relationship in the wake of a tragedy, only to find the picturesque island torn in two: on one side a dangerous human trafficker and on the other an aging patriarch, struggling to maintain order.
What you need to know: First time filmmaker Logan Sandler mined his own experiences growing up in the Bahamas and Miami for his debut film, and his personal knowledge of the islands looks to be a new perspective on the island paradise archetype, revealing things about the community an outsider wouldn’t necessarily know. We’re already huge fans of Keith Stanfield, who has been a standout since “Short Term 12,” and has impressed in “Selma,” and “Miles Ahead” most recently. Dree Hemingway also gave an impressive star turn in “Tangerine” director Sean Baker’s film about adult performers in “Starlet.” While Sandler is a newcomer, with the talent attached and original subject matter and setting, we have high hopes for this one.
What it’s about: After his mother ends up in a coma under suspicious circumstances, a law student decides to drown his sorrows at a seedy bar. The next morning, he wakes up to the realization that he may have hired a hitman and his girlfriend to take out the suspected perpetrator of his mother’s life-threatening accident.
What you need to know: Tye. Emory. Bel. Three of the most exciting young actors in Hollywood have us ready to sign up for this one. Tye Sheridan, is of course known for his wunderkind performances from “The Tree of Life,” to “Mud” to the “Stanford Prison Experiment”; Emory Cohen wowed in “The Place Beyond the Pines” and stole hearts in “Brooklyn”; while Bel Powley owned 2015 for her breakout role in “Diary of a Teenage Girl.” British director Christopher Smith has done fine work with genre fare and “Detour” is described as a “stylized noir throwback,” so this one sounds like a lot of fun, and you can’t go wrong with those three performers.
What it’s about: Part-time pianist Monty Fagan begins a May-December romance that upends his home life.
What you need to know: This is the directorial debut of actor and Rooney frontman Robert Schwartzman —yes, of those Schwartzmans, and big brother Jason and mom Talia Shire both appear in supporting roles. Johnny Simmons (“Scott Pilgrim vs. The World”) takes the starring role of Monty, while the supporting cast includes Amy Landecker, Frankie Shaw, Alan Ruck, Noël Wells, and Beverly D’Angelo. The comedy is billed as an “update on ‘The Graduate,’ cut with a little piano music,” and here’s hoping Schwartzman’s musical chops and experience in front of the camera will lead to a sweet cinematic melody.
"Folk Hero & Funny Guy"
What it’s about: Two artistically inclined childhood friends, a comedian and a folk-rocker, set out on a tour together in hopes of regaining their “mojo” and find love in the process.
What you need to know: Actor Jeff Grace, from the apocalypse comedy “It’s A Disaster,” makes his directorial debut with “Folk Hero & Funny Guy,” which he also wrote. Wyatt Russell co-stars as the folk hero, while “Girls” star Alex Karpovsky takes on funny guy duties in this road trip dramedy about love and friendship. Meredith Hagner plays Bryn, a singer-songwriter they pick up on the road, while Michael Ian Black, Hannah Simone, Heather Morris, Melanie Lynskey, and David Cross all pop up in supporting roles. Folk hero Russell sings original tunes by musician Adam Ezra.
"Always Shine "
What it’s about: A twisty psychological drama about obsession, fame, and femininity that follows two friends, both actresses, who take a trip together to Big Sur to reconnect.
What you need to know: Director Sophia Takal is a certifiable Brooklyn indie film darling, having directed “Green,” and starred in “Wild Canaries,” “All the Light in the Sky” and “Gabi on the Roof in July” (just to name a few). This one leaves NYC for the wilds out West, and stars “Halt and Catch Fire” and “The Martian” actress Mackenzie Davis, alongside Caitlin FitzGerald from “Masters of Sex.” Takal’s “Wild Canaries” co-filmmaker Lawrence Michael Levine provides the script, which tackles “two women whose ideas of success are dictated as much by external cultural criterion as their own sense of self-worth.” Sounds a bit like “Queen of Earth” with a core of Hollywood commentary, and basically, we’re here for it.
What it’s about: Longtime couple Henry and Dianne are afraid that if they finally tie the knot it would mean the end of their days as free-spirited urbanites. A whirlwind night apart will either make them realize why they are together in the first place or finally drive them apart forever.
What you need to know: Writer/director Rafael Palacio Illingworth’s sophomore feature draws from influences as diverse as Cassavetes to Youtube to explore the state of the modern longterm relationship and all of its complications. Ben Feldman and Olivia Thirlby, who play the focal couple, each bring a one-two punch of charm and talent, we’ve got a feeling they’ll be a winning duo on screen, while Adam Goldberg and Analeigh Tipton serve as the strangers who tempt the pair to stray. The icing on the cake? Peter Bogdanovich is in this.
"Pelé: Birth of a Legend"
What it’s about: From the slums of Brazil to center stage at the world’s biggest sporting event, Pelé’s rise to become the youngest-ever World Cup winner, at the age of 17, was nothing short of a miracle.
What you need to know: Directors Jeff and Michael Zimbalist are the helmers behind the most excellent “30 for 30” doc “The Two Escobars,” about the Colombian national soccer team and the drug lord who was their biggest fan. They go the narrative route in tackling the inspiring story of Pelé, with something more uplifting and heartwarming. Kevin de Paula stars as Pelé himself, with Vincent D’Onofrio, Rodrigo Santoro, Diego Boneta, Seu Jorge, and Colm Meaney supporting. Even better, the film is lensed by Matthew Libatique, with a score composed by A.R. Rahman.
You can consider the rest of the program honorable mentions, but here are a few we wanted to shout out: Demetri Martin’s directorial debut “Dean,” starring Gillian Jacobs; “Little Boxes,” starring perennial fave Melanie Lynskey and Nelsan Ellis, with Cary Fukunaga lending his name as a producer; Ido Fluk’s “The Ticket,” starring Dan Stevens, Malin Akerman and Oliver Platt; “Mr. Church,” marking Eddie Murphy’s return, with Britt Robertson, and Xavier Samuel, directed by “Driving Miss Daisy” helmer Bruce Beresford.
We’ve also got an eye on Domenica Cameron-Scorsese’s financial drama “Almost Paris”; gay porn drama “King Cobra,” with Christian Slater, James Franco, Alicia Silverstone and Molly Ringwald. Johnny Simmons marks another starring role in baseball film “The Phenom,” across Paul Giamatti and Ethan Hawke. There’s some great buzz around “Kicks,” following a group of Bay Area kids across the city to retrieve a pair of sneakers. We’re also looking forward to “Actor Martinez,” a meta-film directed by and starring prolific indie auteurs Nathan Silver and Mike Ott. And just for synopsis alone, Ingrid Jungermann’s debut feature “Women Who Kill,” a comedy about a pair of lesbian true crime podcasters—one please!
Check out our documentary picks on the next page…
What it’s about: In the summer of 2015, legendary musician David Byrne staged an unprecedented event at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center to celebrate the art of color guard — synchronized dance involving flags, rifles, and sabers — by pairing regional color guard teams with performers, including St. Vincent, Nelly Furtado, and Ad-Rock.
What you need to know: This concert doc is directed by Bill & Turner Ross aka the Ross Brothers, certifiable indie documentary rock stars, known for their Americana doc trilogy featuring “Tchoupitoulas” and “Western.” Their abstract, observational and lyrical style seems particularly suited to a concert film, especially one with such a predominant visual component. Among the listed photographers are noted documentarian Robert Greene and prolific indie cinematographer Sean Price Williams, and the musicians onscreen also include Money Mark, Devonté Hynes, tUnE-yArDs, How to Dress Well, Lucius, and Zola Jesus. The talent in this collaboration is undeniable.
What it’s about: Jon Greenhalgh‘s "Team Foxcatcher" chronicles the paranoid, downward spiral of millionaire John E. DuPont that led to the tragic murder of olympic wrestler David Schultz.
What you need to know: Fans who were enraptured by Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher,” will no doubt want to know the crazy true story behind the film. Acclaimed sports doc director Greenhalgh’s film looks to be more about the relationship between DuPont and Dave Schultz, the man he killed, rather than the peculiar one shared with Mark Schultz, portrayed by Channing Tatum in Miller’s narrative adaptation. Either way, were are so ready for more rich wrestling weirdness.
What it’s about: An eclectic group of women who play in an LA recreational basketball league, specifically, the Pistol Shrimps, a rag-tag group of actresses (including Aubrey Plaza), comedians, musicians, and mothers.
What you need to know: Aubrey Plaza balls so hard? We’re in. Producer Morgan Spurlock lends his name to the project directed by Brent Hodge, about these ballin-ass ladies who prove that “organized sports can be enjoyed at any age and any skill level.” Come for the roller derby worthy team names (Shecago Bulls, Traveling Pants, Space Glam, Ba Dunka Dunks, LA Nail Clippers), stay for the dunks.
What it’s about: Fed up with being abused and harassed on the brutal inner-city streets of Washington D.C., a group of gay and trans teens form a gang to fight back.
What you need to know: Directed by “Nine Lives of Marion Berry” documentarians Dana Flor and Toby Oppenheimer, with executive producers Steve Buscemi and Stanley Tucci, “Check It” takes a look at one aspect of growing up LGBT and the ways in which some teens have tried to protect themselves in “the only documented and known gay gang in the world.” While following a trio of friends who look to escape gang life through fashion, this doc looks to be an interesting and immersive counterpart to Sundance breakout doc “Kiki.”
Documentary Honorable Mentions:
There are a number of great looking doc selections at the fest, including special screenings of the Steve Aoki doc “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead,” and a film about Richard Branson “Don’t Look Down.” The documentary "Life Animated" by Academy Award winner Roger Ross Williams, which evocatively interweaves classic Disney sequences with verite scenes from a life about a young man unable to speak sounds pretty fascinating. We’re also looking forward to “Obit” by Vanessa Gould, about New York times obituary writers, and “The Banksy Job,” about Banksy nemesis AK47. Here’s hoping for the second coming of “Exit Through the Gift Shop” with that one. “Bad Rap,” about Asian-American rappers looks cool, as well as teen girl doc “All This Panic,” from wife/husband filmmaking team of Jenny Gage and Tom Betterton, who come from the fine art world. For more serious doc fare, there’s “Command and Control,” based on Eric Schlosser’s 2013 book and directed by Robert Kenner, about a 1980 explosion at a nuclear test site in Arkansas, as well as “Do Not Resist,” a debut feature from Craig Atkinson about the militarization of U.S. police forces.