We’re just a week away from the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival, which opens on Wednesday April 15th and runs until the 26th. As ever, the lineup is skewed toward U.S. productions, though not exclusively so, ranging from higher-profile projects with starry casts and broad ensembles to smaller, more under the radar titles from first-time directors. While the festival overall can’t claim equivalent prestige with the Sundance and Cannes Film Festivals. Tribeca is positioned between either, both in geographic and chronological senses, and has carved out a solid niche for itself as an independent-leaning festival with a laudable agenda to foster new talent in both feature and shorts filmmaking.
And this year, in addition to attracting an eclectic top-shelf jury including Dylan McDermott, Cobie Smulders, Steve Buscemi, Whoopi Goldberg, Gloria Steinem, Vanessa Williams, Sheila Nevins, Debi Mazar, Minnie Driver, Andre Holland, Hank Azaria, Mamie Gummer, Mark Boal, Burr Steers, David Gelb and Michael Rapaport, the festival is mounting some truly mouthwatering talks and events, like George Lucas in conversation with Stephen Colbert, Cary Fukunaga interviewed by James Schamus and Christopher Nolan talking to Bennett Miller.
We’ve gone deep into Tribeca’s broad catalogue to bring you the 20 feature films we’re most looking forward to this year. Look out for reviews of these and all the other news and coverage from Tribeca, starting next Wednesday.
“The Adderall Diaries”
Director: Pamela Romanowsky
Cast: James Franco, Ed Harris, Amber Heard, Christian Slater, Cynthia Nixon
Synopsis: An author suffering from writer’s block and an increasing reliance on drugs becomes obsessed with a high-profile murder case, and finds it reawakening memories of his troubled relationship with his estranged father.
What You Should Know: The source book by Stephen Elliott, writer, magazine editor and director of the dubious “About Cherry,” which also starred Franco, was a bestselling memoir about drug addiction, fathers and sons, media, crime and fraying realities, so there’s certainly no shortage of hot button topics for Franco (who also produces alongside Robert Redford) and first-time feature director Romanowsky. The production team and the starry cast make this one of the higher-profile Tribeca entries this year (though it’s a surprise it didn’t go to Sundance given Redford’s involvement —perhaps three Franco joints there would have been overkill?) and while we slightly feel like we’ve seen Franco play “troubled writer” an awful lot, he looks to be pleased with the result, even tweeting Romanowsky’s name in connection with his recent acquisition of Chuck Palahniuk‘s “Rant.“
Director: Reed Morano
Cast: Olivia Wilde, Luke Wilson, Giovanni Ribisi, Elisabeth Moss, John Leguizamo, Juno Temple, Scott Mescudi, Merritt Wever, Kevin Corrigan, Ty Simpkins, Mark Feuerstein
Synopsis: When their son goes missing and months pass with no new information, the relationship between a formerly loving couple is strained to breaking point.
What You Should Know: The directorial debut of terrific indie cinematographer Reed Morano (“The Skeleton Twins,” “Kill Your Darlings”) would be on our radar no matter the project, but this story sounds complex and provocative, and she has attracted one hell of a cast to bring it to screen. Not only that, but Wilde, who also produces the film, recently tweeted that she had “never been more proud of a film” and as fans of all involved, we’re definitely excited.
Director: Tim Blake Nelson
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Sam Waterston, Tim Blake Nelson, Glenn Close, Corey Stoll, Gretchen Mol, Michael K Williams, Jessica Hecht
Synopsis: An investigation of the chain of events leading up to, and the aftermath of, the violent mugging of a Columbia University philosophy professor. The incident brings extended family, friends and complete strangers into each other’s orbit, culminating in a snapshot reflection on the nature of city life and modern urban relationships.
What You Should Know: The first foray behind the camera since 2009’s ambitious and somewhat underrated philosophical stoner comedy “Leaves of Grass,” veteran character actor Nelson has assembled a fine cast to bring what sounds like an a equally ambitious project to the screen, if one with a far more serious tone. The vaguely “Crash“-esque premise is perhaps not doing it too many favors, but we can at least expect great things of this cross-generational ensemble, if the adage about actors-who-direct being actor’s directors is true. With Stewart turning in her best performance to date in this week’s release “Clouds of Sils Maria,” her presence raises not just the profile but the expectations for this film too.
Director: Neil LaBute
Cast: Matthew Broderick, Alice Eve, Gia Crovatin, Phil Burke
Synopsis: During an unexpectedly long layover in Albuquerque, a pair of work colleagues end up venturing downtown and find an unusual rapport developing, as they reveal more of their secrets to each other.
What You Should Know: If not exactly a bastion of consistency, writer/director LaBute rarely turns in a boring film, though whether it’ll be redolent of the scabrous cynicism of his first two directorial films or of the WTF car-crash fascinating of “The Wicker Man” remake is hard to predict. This film is billed as a “sharp-edged comedy” and sounds like it could deliver something a little smart and different, as a pair of ordinary people experience the weird in-between time of a layover. We’re getting quite the grown-up “Ferris Bueller” vibe from the casting of Broderick and the “moment of unexpected freedom” idea of the premise, and we especially like the description in the program of the duo as a “non-romantic couple.”
“The Driftless Area”
Director: Zachary Sluser
Cast: Anton Yelchin, Zooey Deschanel, John Hawkes, Ciaran Hinds, Aubrey Plaza
Synopsis: A bartender returns to his home town where an enigmatic woman puts him head-to-head with a criminal over a duffel bag full of cash.
What You Need To Know: We don’t seem to get enough good indie neo-noirs these days, but that’s a gap that “The Driftless Area” could fill. The feature debut by acclaimed shorts helmer Sluser, and like his earlier “Path Lights,” based on source material by novelist Tom Drury and featuring the always wonderful John Hawkes, this film might sound generic from the logline, but given that it’s described as a “metaphysical romance,” we’re expecting something a little different. Sluser’s a talent from the look of his short-form work, and he’s certainly gathered one of the starriest (and most Tribeca-y) casts of the festival, with Yelchin, Deschanel (who’s interestingly against-type as a femme fatale here), Hawkes, Hinds and Plaza also joined by Frank Langella and Alia Shawkat. There’s some interesting behind-the-camera talent too, with Oscar-winning “Whiplash” editor Tom Cross and “Enemy” composers Bensi & Jurriaans involved as well.
Director: Andrew Renzi
Cast: Richard Gere, Dakota Fanning, Theo James, Cheryl Hines, Clarke Peters
Synopsis: A wealthy oddball infiltrates the life of the young daughter of an old friend.
What You Need To Know: Gere’s not really leading big studio projects anymore, but the present seems have been one of the most interesting phases in his career. Sure, he was on typical form in “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” but he’s also been delivering some of his best-ever work in films like “Arbitrage” and “Time Out Of Mind.” “Franny” looks to be in the same mold: coming from Sundance-approved shorts director Andrew Renzi, it supposedly grants Gere a “Shakesperean character,” and pairs the 66-year-old with Dakota Fanning (who’s now old enough to be playing a character who’s married, apparently), and “Divergent” star Theo James. If Renzi’s doc “Fishtail,” which was at the festival last year, is anything to go by, expect this to be something a little more offbeat than the usual fare, and Gere alone should make it worth checking out.
“Among The Believers”
Director: Hemal Trivedi, Mohammed Ali Naqvi
Synopsis: A documentary about the Red Mosque, an organization in Pakistan that attempts to initiate children in jihad.
What You Need To Know: Clearly, the question of radical Islam
versus the Western world has been preeminent in the 21st century
so far, yet it’s proven difficult to filmmakers to get much
access into that milieu, and so documentaries on the subject have tended
to focus on the U.S. side of the equation. “Among The Believers,” a
collaboration between Indian-born Emmy winner Hemal Trevedi and
Canadian/Pakistani filmmaker Mohammed Naqvi, looks to change that: the
pair were granted comprehensive access to Red Mosque leader Maulana Aziz
and his operation and pupils.
Director: Stephen Fingleton
Cast: Martin McCann, Mia Goth, Olwen Fouéré
Synopsis: In a post-apocalyptic setting where marauding gangs roam the land, a man has carved out a subsistence existence for himself on a small farm in a forest which he protects fiercely. But his lonely yet unencumbered existence is disrupted by the arrival of a woman and her daughter, as constantly shifting currents of allegiance, suspicion and dependence emerge.
What You Should Know: It may be Fingleton’s debut feature film, but as an Oscar-nominated shorts director (“SLR“) and the writer of the script which placed on the both the Black List and the Brit List of best unproduced screenplays, there’s reason to be very excited for this lo-fi Irish dystopia tale. Rising Northern Irish star McCann (“Clash of the Titans,” “X+Y“) is due a breakout and co-star Mia Goth was extremely impressive in her explicit debut role in “Nymphomaniac Vol II.” It looks like Fingleton’s instincts to keep the scope narrow and claustrophobic and to focus on the emotional and psychological rather than the science-fiction elements of the set up could well result in a thoughtful, compelling blend of genre.
Director: Henry Hobson
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin, Joely Richardson, Laura Cayouette, Dana Gourrier
Synopsis: In a world stricken by a zombie plague, a farmer tries to care for his teenage daughter who’s contracted the infection, despite the risk to himself and others.
What You Need To Know: We’d argue that some of his films got an unfair rap (“The Last Stand” is one of his best movies), but most would concede that Schwarzenegger’s post-politics comeback isn’t exactly going to plan, with three flops on the trot and “Terminator Genisys” looking decidedly ropey. Perhaps a change of pace is required, and “Maggie” certainly represents a change of pace: seemingly a sober horror-drama that marks the biggest departure, and challenge, of the action icon’s career to date. Originally set to bow at the Toronto International Film Festival before Lionsgate picked up the rights and held it back for a premiere closer to the release date, this film has been a question mark (director Henry Hobson is best known as a credits designer, for “The Walking Dead” among others) for a long time, but a recent trailer suggested it could be a genuine surprise, not least for giving Arnie something new to do.
“Men Go To Battle”
Director: Zachary Treitz
Cast: Kate Lyn Sheil, Tim Morton, David Moloney, Rachel Korine, Steve Coulter
Synopsis: In Civil War-era Kentucky, two young brothers attempt to keep their family farm alive, but a brutal fight leads to their separation.
What You Need To Know: Between the excellent “The Keeping Room” and James Badge Dale vehicle “Echoes Of War,” Civil War-set indies seems to be becoming a mini-trend, and “Men Go To Battle” fits neatly into this new movement. This first feature from Kentucky’s Zachary Treitz gains some indie cred by not just co-starring but also being co-written by the omnipresent Kate Lyn Sheil (“The Color Wheel,” “Sun Don’t Shine,” “House Of Cards”), with “Spring Breakers” actress Rachel Korine also a recognizable face among the cast. Featuring the use of real-life civil war re-enactors and “Barry Lyndon”-style candlelit photography, it’s an ambitious plan for a first feature, but one that could pay off nicely and should certainly stand out from the Tribeca crowd.
Director: Christopher Bell
Synopsis: A documentary investigating the insidious and vastly
underreported phenomenon of “legal” drug addiction in the United States,
which consumes over 75% of the world’s prescription drugs.
What You Should Know: Bell is the filmmaker behind 2008’s “Bigger Stronger Faster,“
a brilliant, shocking and ultimately very personal look at steroid
abuse in the bodybuilding, gym-rat and professional wrestling community
that included Bell’s own family. It proved to be remarkably,
tragically prescient: the year it was released, Bell’s brother, a
WWF wrestler who was featured heavily in the film, died at age 37 in a
rehab center. Spurred in part by the loss of his brother, here Bell
takes on one of the biggest American taboos and confronts Big Pharma
and medical professionals alike, while apparently also relating the
issues raised back to his own family as he did with such unexpectedly
moving results last time out, pushing this to the very top of our list
of must-see documentaries of 2015.
Director: Sean Mewshaw
Cast: Rebecca Hall, Jason Sudeikis Dianna Agron, Blythe Danner, Joe Manganiello, Griffin Dunne, Richard Masur
Synopsis: Despite the passage of years since the death of her folk-legend husband, Hannah has never really adjusted to life without him. But when she begins to collaborate on a book about him with a brash New York academic and writer, they both uncover revelations about the dead songwriter, as well as about each other.
What You Should Know: Based on a script by the director’s wife Desi Van Til, Mewshaw’s debut feature is billed as a comedic love story, and certainly has netted a very attractive cast. We’re always ready to queue up to see anything Hall is in, and she’s been rather underserved of late, so we’re happy to see her take center stage here (she apparently replaced Rose Byrne who was rumored at one point), especially in light of such a strong ensemble. More than many genres, the indie rom-com lives or dies on its cast, and there at least “Tumbledown” has a considerable head start.
Director: Nick Sandow
Cast: Vincent Piazza, Patricia Arquette, Michael Imperioli, Vincenzo Amato, Doug E. Doug, Domenick Lombardozzi
Synopsis: In the early ’90s, a Gotti-obsessed aspiring gangster and his lover embark on a drug-fuelled crime spree in a quest to establish themselves in the criminal underworld they so admire.
What You Should Know: Four years after his well-received debut feature “Ponies,” actor Nick Sandow, who you’ll know better as the unfortunate Joe Caputo in “Orange is the New Black” and who also appears in “Meadowland” (see above) presents his sophomore directorial feature with this true-crime would-be gangster story. It all sounds very promising, and that’s before you add in a so-hot-right-now Oscar-winning Arquette into the mix. We’re getting a kind of trash-talking “A Most Violent Year” vibe from the first look photos, and with Martin Scorsese on board as executive producer, it’s also got the potential to be a kind of lo-fi alternate take on “Goodfellas,” and a new perspective on the classic gangster film genre, where the fellas in question never quite attain the status of wiseguys.
Director: Ben Palmer
Cast: Lake Bell, Simon Pegg, Rory Kinnear, Olivia Williams, Ophelia Lovibond
Synopsis: A cynical singleton is mistaken for someone’s else blind date, leading to a wild and unexpected evening.
What You Need To Know: It’s been a long, long time since we had a genuinely good mainstream romantic comedy, but having seen “Man Up” already (full review to come during the festival), we’re happy to report that the streak has mostly been broken. Hailing from Britain’s Big Talk (“Hot Fuzz,” “Attack The Block”), penned by newcomer Tess Morris and directed by “The Inbetweeners Movie”’s Ben Palmer, this film doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but is a niftily structured piece of work with the right blend of gags and pathos, capturing the spirit of (good) Richard Curtis and “Bridget Jones” while still feeling fresh. The film’s central pairing are its best element: Bell, displaying a flawless British accent, builds on her breakthrough with “In A World,” while Pegg recaptures the charm he’s sometimes struggled to maintain when he’s working away from Edgar Wright or J.J. Abrams. This film is likely to be one of the more purely entertaining films of the festival.
“When I Live My Life Over Again”
Director: Robert Edwards
Cast: Amber Heard, Christopher Walken, Oliver Platt, Ann Magnuson, Hamish Linklater, Henry Kelemen, Kelli Garner
Synopsis: Briefly overwhelmed by the big city, a young singer-songwriter retreats to the Hamptons to get away from it all and spend time with her aging, washed-up crooner father. But he is plotting his musical comeback, and his daughter soon realizes that staying with her dad gives rise to its own set of challenges.
What You Should Know: Apparently something of a 180 from his last film as writer/director, 2006’s ambitious Ralph Fiennes and Donald Sutherland-starrer “The Land of the Blind,” Edwards’ bittersweet comedy has a couple of major things going for it, like a plum role for perpetually on-the-cusp Heard and in a masterstroke of “why hasn’t this happened before?” casting, Christopher Walken as her entertainer father who seems unwilling to admit that his crooning days are behind him. It’s unlikely to be the deepest or most provocative title we see at this year’s Tribeca, but we’re ready and willing to be charmed by it.
Director: William Monahan
Cast: Garrett Hedlund, Oscar Isaac, Louise Bourgoin, Walton Goggins, Mark Wahlberg
Synopsis: A writer-director heads out into the California desert, where he finds a mysterious drifter.
What You Need To Know: His first directorial feature “London Boulevard” might have been something of a washout, but as his Oscar for “The Departed”
indicates, William Monahan is a hell of a screenwriting talent, so we’d
have been intrigued to check out his second feature anyway. Though
it sounds like it could be a somewhat self-indulgent piece from the
logline, the script’s a long-time passion project for Monahan, and which sounds interesting not least because of the “Inside Llewyn Davis” reunion of Hedlund (who replaced Jason Clarke after
the latter had to drop out over scheduling) and Oscar Isaac, the latter
of whom’s been on a hell of a run recently and who apparently plays a somewhat satanic character here. The reliable Walton Goggins also crops up and there’s reportedly a cameo from Mark Wahlberg, but it’s
definitely the central pairing that has us interested.
Director: Patrick O’Brien
Synopsis: The story of Patrick O’Brien, aka DJ TransFatty, an early online viral video star who was diagnosed with ALS at the age of only thirty.
What You Need To Know: Between the ice bucket challenge and the Oscar-nominated “The Theory Of Everything,”
ALS has been in the headlines a lot recently, but if we’ve been missing
the voice of someone actually suffering from the disease in the
discussion, “TransFatty Lives” could well rectify that. The film’s
interesting already in its focus on a distinctive online video
filmmaker, but doubly so because O’Brien himself documented his own
decline over a decade in a project he describes as an “art project of
his existence.” The film promises to be a unique look at this affliction, and will hopefully much more personal and moving than the
disappointing “Theory of Everything.”
Director: Alexis Alexiou
Cast: Stelios Mainas, Dimitris Tzoumakis, Adam Bousdoukos, Giorgos Symeonidis, Mimi Branescou, Maria Nafpliotou
Synopsis: A debt-ridden Athenian jazz club owner gets involved in increasingly desperate and dangerous schemes to try to raise the money to pay back the Romanian gangster he borrowed from in order to finance his idealistic but now failing business.
What You Should Know: The second film from Greek director Alexiou, whose debut, the surreal but slightly undernourished “Tale 52,” was released all the way back in 2008, this title is something of a wild card pick. But the series of pictures we’ve seen from the film so far look rather seedily beautiful (from DP Christos Karamanis) and the storyline’s decent-man’s-descent-into-criminality, along with the edge of topicality that the backdrop of Greece’s economic collapse lends, has us hopeful that this project could be a standout in the otherwise US-indie-dramedy-heavy Tribeca lineup.
Director: Diane Bell
Cast: Jessica Biel, Zosia Mamet, Edi Gathegi, Joe Anderson, Harry Hamlin
Synopsis: A yoga instructor reconnects with her troubled, long-lost sister, who has become a prostitute caught in an abusive relationship.
What You Need To Know: Given its pop-cultural impact, it’s surprising that the cast of “Girls” haven’t yet crossed over to movies in a bigger way: the show’s only real big-screen breakout is Adam Driver who is, well, a boy. Zosia Mamet looks to be making a proper run at the movies in this indie, taking a significant step away from Shoshanna-style characterization via her role as a troubled prostitute. First-time filmmaker Diane Bell, a Scottish born California resident whose bio tells us “opened the first Ashtanga Yoga studio in Barcelona,” has assembled a strong cast here, and even if the title and premise seems initially on the nose, we’re most intrigued to see if Mamet can pull off something grittier and more serious than the part with which she made her name.
Director: Albert Maysles, Lynn True, Nelson Walker, David Usui, Ben Wu
Synopsis: Documentary capturing the passengers and surrounding
landscape of The Empire Builder, the busiest long-distance train-route
What You Need To Know: The film world was devastated earlier in the year by the loss of Albert Maysles, who with his brother David made films like “Salesman,” “Gimme Shelter” and “Grey Gardens” and thus practically invented American documentary cinema as we know it. Maysles’ last full film “Iris”
hits theaters at the end of the month, but his last credit was actually
on this collaborative film as one of four directors attempting to
capture one of America’s most iconic train journeys, running from
Chicago to the Pacific Northwest. We’re fascinated by movies about
trains in general, and between the stunning locations and the stories
of rail passengers in a nation dominated by cars and planes, this sounds
like a must-see.
There’s plenty to excite us elsewhere within the program, notably a few Sundance premieres that we missed in Park City that we hope to catch up to in Tribeca: “Grandma,” featuring an apparently blistering turn by the great Lily Tomlin; National Lampoon doc “Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead“; and Kevin Pollak‘s documentary “Misery Loves Comedy,” in which some of the world’s most famous comics attempt to investigate whether practitioners of their profession are indeed more prone than others to depression. But there are quite a few other Tribeca premieres we’re keeping an eye on too, like “Dixieland” starring Riley Keough; babysitter thriller “Emelie“; “Jackrabbit,” a lo-fi sci-fi featuring the excellent Joslyn Jensen; and female-odd-couple road trip comedy “Shut Up and Drive” starring “Veep”‘s Sarah Sutherland.
On the non-fiction front, a few further docs that have piqued our interest include festival opener “Live from New York” about the long history of “Saturday Night Live“; Michael Winterbottom‘s “The Emperor’s New Clothes” in which Russell Brand investigates the World Financial Crisis and the widening gap between rich and poor; “Palio,” a portrait of the wheeling and dealing and literal horse trading that goes on behind the scenes of the world’s oldest horse race in Siena, Italy from the producers of the terrific “Senna“; “Thought Crimes” which uses the story of NYC’s notorious “Cannibal cop” to explore the link between fantasy and deed when it comes to violent crime; and a biography of the remarkably varied life of “Peggy Guggenheim – Art Addict.“
And as ever there are quite a few Tribeca films that for better or worse we’ve already managed to catch elsewhere, such as (click on the title for a link to our review): “Aferim!“; “Aloft“; “Cartel Land“; “The Cut“; “Far From Men“; “Good Kill“; “Hungry Hearts“; “Hyena“; “Jimmy’s Hall“; “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck“; “The Overnight“; “Sleeping with Other People“; “Slow West“; “Sworn Virgin“; and “The Wolfpack.”
See you somewhere on the triangle beneath Canal Street from April 15th-26th, after which we’ll be ramping up into Cannes season, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.
—Oliver Lyttleton, Jessica Kiang