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Tribeca 2011: Ten Picks for Must-See Flicks

Tribeca 2011: Ten Picks for Must-See Flicks

Are you attending the Tribeca Film Festival this year? Then we’d like you to meet the five kids in the above image. The one in the middle is actually 56, but among them she’s probably the least able to take care of herself. Not that she’s handicapped in any way save for being spoiled by a fortune that’s now disappeared. Find out why in the documentary “The Good Life.” Like the other four kids (of “NEDS,” “Turn Me On, Goddammit,” “Bombay Beach” and “The Bully Project”), she could really use a friend right now, or at least an audience. And of the 93 feature-length stories offered up by the festival starting tomorrow, hers is one that should be quite popular. We’re hoping the others will be, as well.

Going into the event, which runs April 20 through May 1, we can already recommend a number of films worth checking out. Somewhere at the top of the pile is “The Muppets Take Manhattan,” which will screen free this Saturday. Other more recent favorites, each reviewed by us in the past, include “The Troll Hunter,” “Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest” and “A Matter of Taste: Serving Up Paul Liebrandt.” Definitely see those too, but for now Spout’s Christopher Campbell and Daniel Walber have ten more preliminary picks for you. In addition to the five represented in the header, there are three pseudo sequels (a western, a documentary and a buddy comedy), a film history and a powerful Egyptian drama.

1. “NEDS”

At last, director Peter Mullan follows up his 2002 film “The Magdalene Sisters,” one of my favorite dramas of the last decade, with another powerful period film involving institutional prejudices and the teens who rebel against them. Instead of the Irish Church locking up young “fallen women,” this time it’s Scottish schools assuming boys’ delinquency based on who they’re related to. Specifically we witness the coming-of-age story of a kid who could have risen above his family troubles and reputation but instead winds up in a violent gang after getting sick of being bullied by peers and authorities. If you like Shane Meadows’ “This is England,” you’ll want to see this story, set a few years earlier when the would-be skinheads still had hair. Never mind the very on-the-nose ending, which is still in tune with Mullan’s excellent tongue-in-cheek vision. The drug-induced bout against Jesus and a number of other fantastic sequences will be the memories you’re left with anyway. Sample the first five minutes of the film below to get a taste. — Christopher Campbell

2. “Turn Me On, Goddammit”

There’s something terribly refreshing about a teen comedy where the cast is played primarily by actual teenagers. It’s even better when those characters act and feel like real adolescents, without the ridiculously exaggerated sexual sophistication of American high school comedies. Instead, writer/director Jannicke Systad Jacobsen’s story deals with the real awkwardness that colors the way these kids interact with each other and confront their suddenly overwhelming sexuality. It’s also nice to see a teen sex comedy in which the female characters are not only well-acted but are also well-rounded. It has a singular sense of humor, and will keep you laughing through the painful mishaps of being 15 in the middle of nowhere. — Dan Walber

3. “The Trip”

Just as they did in the underrated “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story” a few years back, British actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon self-parodically play friends and professional rivals “Steve Coogan” and “Rob Brydon” for filmmaker Michael Winterbottom. This one is abridged from a mostly improvised BBC series of the same name, in which the duo lampoon travel and food programs while reflecting on the state of their lives and entertainment careers and comparing successes in between doing amazing celebrity impressions (see their popular Michael Caine ‘duel’ below). Often downbeat but consistently hilarious, I’m now convinced these guys need to just continue working together exclusively as the latest great comedy duo, circumnavigating the world as the meeting point between Hope & Crosby and travelogue-era Michael Palin. — C.C.

4. “The Good Life”

This one has already been called the Danish “Grey Gardens” countless times, and while it certainly profits from comparison to such a classic documentary Eva Mulvad’s intimate portrait is also something quite unique. These women, a destitute mother and daughter living in Portugal decades after the collapse of their family fortune, are not only less delusional than the Beales of Long Island but their relationship is also much darker and tempestuous. Mulvad’s deeply personal and sometimes overwhelming exposure of this family pushed to the brink and beyond, after years of wealth and privilege, is not one to miss. — D.W.

5. “Bombay Beach”

It’s not necessary to infuse a film about Bombay Beach and the Salton Sea with much fantasy. The place already resembles the setting of a post-apocalyptic movie and is for the most part an unbelievably surreal wasteland on its own. But we’ve already seen the straight story of this paradise-turned-dystopia (in Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer’s 2004 doc “Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea”), and anyway filmmaker Alma Har’el’s unconventional hybrid approach to her subjects — residents of the town and its surrounding area — is a wonderful, remarkable and irresistible way of presenting strange truth through hyperreal execution. Having just come off directing a music video for the band Beirut (whose music makes up most of the soundtrack of the film), Har’el makes a documentary that is as much MTV as PBS, almost like a non-fiction compliment to Spike Jonze’s recent Arcade Fire collaborations of video and short film. And all I can really say is that it’s an awesomely fresh piece of cinema.

6. “Cinema Komunisto”

The films of 1960s and ‘70s Yugoslavia are not the sort of thing even most hardcore cinephiles are familiar with, but this documentary seems determined to change that. A history of Marshall Tito’s grand and state-subsidized production city (think Cinecittà but with more Communist kitsch), it is not only informative but surprisingly entertaining. Driven by interviews with directors, producers, actors and the like (even the dictator’s personal projectionist) and some fantastic clips of the period’s greatest films, “Cinema Komunisto” sheds light on a much-forgotten chapter in European movie history. Also, there’s footage of Orson Welles acting in Serbo-Croatian that really must be seen. — D.W.

7. “The Bully Project”

I don’t normally go for docs centered on specific charities, causes or movements, the kind that end with titles telling you what you can do next to help out. But boy did Lee Hirsch’s film get under my skin and into my heart in ways I couldn’t resist. Following different stories around the U.S. on the problem of bullying, much of it non-physical, the film is a great continuation of things insufficiently explored in Nanette Burstein’s “American Teen” and the Frontline episode “Growing Up Online” (though I wish, as the latter did, “Bully Project” had more attention on cyber-bullying). Filled with characters both lovable and infuriating, it’s also exquisitely shot, incredibly intimate and beautiful, and will surely choke up anyone in the audience who has dealt with being teased, on any level. Of course, those few of you who can’t relate at all are probably the ones who need to see it the most. Sadly, “The Bully Project” and “NEDS” aren’t ever screening on the same day. They’d make a brilliant double feature, especially given how much the doc deals with and warns of retaliatory and table-turning outcomes as well as the more tragic suicidal effects. — C.C.

8. “Blackthorn”

Bolivia, late 1920s. Butch Cassidy, as it turns out, was not killed in a gunfight at San Vicente in 1908 but spent the next few decades peacefully living on a ranch in the countryside. Director Mateo Gil (writer of “The Sea Inside” and “Open Your Eyes”) focuses in on the cowboy’s last great adventure, a tumultuous ride through the gorgeous Bolivian landscape on the run from bandits and thugs hired by wealthy local mining families. The stoic yet articulate Cassidy is played artfully by Sam Shepard, reluctantly accompanied by the always compelling Eduardo Noriega. Much like its clear inspiration, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “Blackthorn” takes an impassioned look at the twilight of the Western. It’s a poetic postscript to a postscript, set to some of the most beautiful landscapes in this year’s festival line-up. — D.W.

9. “Revenge of the Electric Car”

Chris Paine revisits the topic he documented in 2006’s popular non-fiction film “Who Killed the Electric Car?” And I’m very glad he hasn’t moved on. While that first film was a kind of hokey affair with too much address of the environmentalism angle, this flashy Tim Robbins-narrated ‘sequel’ is an exceptional re-direction of tone and interests. I don’t completely love it, but I’m impressed with and excited for how much Paine has improved as a filmmaker and delighted that he takes us to a whole new place with his follow-up. Where “Who Killed…” centered on the car owners, including too much celebrity parading, “Revenge” is about the automakers, both the giants and independents, and their struggles since the death of GM’s EV1 to produce new kinds of electric-powered vehicles. Likely less candid than it seems at times — more plausibly we’re seeing a lot of well-crafted displays of PR at its finest — but nonetheless a fascinating and revealing portrait of an industry at a crossroads of failure and progress. — C.C.

10. “Cairo Exit”

This panoramic view of the lives of lower class women in Egypt floats between melodrama and neorealist-reminiscent social criticism, and is mostly the better for it. Amal, 18 and pregnant, must decide whether to run away with her boyfriend or stay and remain part of a community (and primarily female) support system. Her mother is in an abusive relationship, her sister seems entirely misguided, and her best friend is being forced by poverty into marriage, all of which is artfully connected by director Hesham Issawi. Perhaps a bit too fragile at moments, “Cairo Exit” is nonetheless a powerful film overall. — D.W.

Keep in mind that these are only early favorites and we’ve still got a whole lot of films to see that we’re looking forward to. Stay tuned as we bring you more reviews and roundup pieces throughout the next two weeks during and after the festival. Check back here and keep up with us on Twitter for any quick reactions, as well:

Follow Spout on Twitter (@Spout) and be a fan on Facebook
Follow Christopher Campbell on Twitter (@thefilmcynic)
Follow Daniel Walber on Twitter (@dswalber)

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