As the Tribeca Film Festival wraps up its latest edition, many of the movies screening across the two-weekend festival have yet to find distribution. This is common at many festivals, and there’s no question that buyers have paid close attention to the hype around some of the festival’s more promising titles. Still, it’s a competitive marketplace out there, so we’re always eager to weigh in. Here are the best 2018 Tribeca movies that still deserve U.S. distribution.
An intimate story about a woman staring death in the face and struggling to see its reflection in her own life, “Diane” is as depressing as it sounds. On the other hand, Kent Jones’ jury-winning narrative debut is told with such lucid sadness that it eventually achieves a kind of hallucinatory calm (similar to “Synecdoche, New York” in how it uses the ordinary to reach the transcendental, but much simpler in its approach). Mary Kay Place delivers the best performance of her career in the title role, a retired widow who now spends most of her time doting on the people in her life and doing what little she can to ease their burden. It sounds like small potatoes, but Jones’s film embraces the disconnect between the modesty of its size and the infinitude of its scale, using the former as a lens through which to better see the latter. It’s a pinhole portrait of life on Earth, and a non-judgmental story about trying to reconcile meaning with meaningless before the well runs dry and it rains again. — DE
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The third feature documentary from Stephanie Wang-Breal, who counts among her mentors Kristen Johnson and Yance Ford, is a riveting look inside a Queens sex trafficking courtroom. Wang-Breal places the viewer in the middle of the hectic daily proceedings with little explanation, approximating the experience of the defendants who find themselves there. Afforded unprecedented access to highly sensitive moments, Wang-Breal treats her subjects with the utmost respect, never revealing personal bias and letting them speak for themselves. Presided over by Judge Toko Serita, the courtroom is a bustling corner of the criminal justice system, populated with women from all walks of life. Shot with verité immediacy and full of compelling real life characters, “Blowin’ Up” offers a refreshingly nuanced take on sex trafficking and prostitution—which are two very different things. —JD
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David Zellner (one half of the filmmaking duo behind “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter” and “Damsel”) stars in this enigmatic debut from director John Maringouin, in which Zellner plays a Texan entrepreneur named Jimmy who’s adrift in China. Hoping to strike it rich with a bizarre invention he claims can interact with the afterlife, he finds himself struggling to break into the country’s tech industry and met with blank stares. The movie oscillates from near-documentary scenes of the Texan’s pitch sessions to surreal, ruminative moments with other expatriates, before the character finally scores an exuberant American investor (ever-reliable goofball Robert Longstreet). Imagine “Salesman” remade by the love child of Wong Kar-wai and Christopher Guest if you must, but “Ghostbox Cowboy” truly defies categorization, and remains so unpredictable that no single viewing can resolve the fertile ideas it puts on the table about globalization, innovation, and the role of individuality in a fast-paced world that rejects it. While hardly a big commercial play, “Ghostbox Cowboy” has cult classic written all over it, and could find a niche crowd in the hands of a distributor willing to play around with its potential as a real conversation-starter. —EK
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You’ve probably seen “In a Relationship” before — hell, if you’re over 25, you’ve probably lived it. But what Sam Boyd’s tender and winning debut lacks in originality and ambition, it makes up for in honesty and charm. Yet another one of those movies about beautiful millennials having sex with each other while trying to sort out How We Love Now, Boyd’s film retreads familiar territory that people like Drake Doremus and the Duplass brothers might seem to have already farmed dry. A white boy with bad hair (Michael Angarano). A button-nosed girl with bad taste (Emma Roberts). A lot of navel-gazing commentary about hook-up culture, the rules of the game, and how they’ve changed for a generation in which constant connection hasn’t brought everybody closer. Watchable at its worst and irresistible at its best, “In a Relationship” is a compelling reminder of why we keep coming back for more of this stuff, and convincing evidence that the genre might still have more rewards to yield. —DE
The opposite of a vanity project, actress Karen Gillan’s dramatic feature directorial debut gives the former “Doctor Who” and current Marvel star the space to dig into a meaty role while also showing off her serious filmmaking chops. Set in Gillan’s own hometown of Inverness, the film uses the tragic history of the Scottish Highlands (which has the highest suicide rate in the U.K.) to spin out an intimate coming of age tale, bolstered by Gillan’s dark sense of humor and a firm understanding of how to play with narrative conventions. She’s got real style, and it shows in every minute. Gillan also stars in the film, and the role she’s written for herself is a complex one that speaks her ability to nimbly tip between humor and pain. Mostly, though, “Party” makes an early and obvious case for Gillan as a filmmaker to watch, a passionate one who knows her way around her craft and who will likely only continue to make beautiful films. Gillan’s name recognition (she’s not just a superhero star; she also starred in global box office smash “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”) is also a plus, but the real gem is the film itself. —KE
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