film festivals

Sixteen Movies to Watch at Tribeca

Photo: Keep The Lights On

The Tribeca Film Festival starts April 18 and lasts until April 29. There are 89 feature films screening over the next week and a half, so how do you choose which ones to see? From a documentary about the firemen of Detroit (Burn) to a bizarre thriller-slash-family drama starring Eric Bana (Deadfall), here’s Vulture’s guide to Tribeca’s gems.*

*The original version of this slide show incorrectly stated the location of the movie Freaky Deaky.

Full of some of the most haunting fire footage around, this documentary about the firemen of Detroit — a city with one of the worst arson rates in the world — is potent stuff, plunging us headlong both into the actual flames as well as fiery debates over labor practices, all the while introducing us to some of the toughest guys in the world.
In Ira Sachs’s pseudoautobiographical gay relationship drama, we watch the development and disintegration of a turbulent long-term love affair between a filmmaker and a drug-addicted lawyer. A hauntingly introspective film — obsessively charting the couple’s trajectory from initial passion to emotional enslavement — it was a standout at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and is one of the most powerful films at Tribeca.
This is going to sound all sorts of wrong, but this is one of the most entertaining films you’ll ever see about a young boy dying of cancer. To be fair, it’s also one of the saddest. Playfully mixing elaborate animations with real-life heartbreak, Ian Fitzgibbon’s drama is a marvelously conceived coming-of-age tragedy, marked by terrific performances — not the least of them is Andy Serkis’s portrayal of a psychologist who tries to break through to our troubled, cynical hero. Photo: ? Bavaria Pictures/Allen Kiely
Directors Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg (Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, TFF 2010) look into the endangered art of the knuckleball, a controversial pitching style that results in erratic and unpredictable trajectories, confusing batters and driving fans crazy. What starts off as a fairly normal sports doc gains traction as it examines the “freak” status of the knuckleballers themselves — including former Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield, and the Mets’ R.A. Dickey, the only remaining knuckleballer in the major leagues — and what it means when a beloved career path starts winding to a close.
One of the breakout hits of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, this rousing documentary looks at the South African cult that built up around Rodriguez, a long-forgotten, believed-dead American singer-songwriter from the 1970s and how a couple of his ardent fans decided to figure out what happened to him. It plays like a mystery-adventure, with touching pit stops into the counterculture, the music industry, as well as the decaying city of Detroit.
A follow-up to his touching 2003 gay soldier drama, Yossi and Jagger, Israeli director Eytan Fox’s touching little film looks at the titular character, now a somewhat-closeted gay doctor living a sad, solitary existence in Tel Aviv and haunted by memories of his fleeting, tragic military love affair years ago. But it’s not all wallowing in regret: When he agrees to drive a group of young soldiers while on vacation, Yossi begins to feel the stirrings of love and desire for the first time in years, and Fox cannily mixes in vibrant pop flourishes into the character’s Death in Venice–like reveries.
The key reason to watch this atmospheric, brutal, and rather bizarre crime thriller-cum-family drama is Eric Bana, who brings an overwhelming, unhinged intensity to his part as a criminal fleeing (with sister Olivia Wilde, also excellent) across the snow after robbing a casino. It’s also terrific to see two veteran actors like Kris Kristofferson and Sissy Spacek, playing a couple whose family becomes entangled with Bana and Wilde’s in rather violent fashion. Photo: Jonathan WENK
Playing more like a diffuse documentary than a coherent narrative, French actress/director Maiwenn’s cop drama follows the officers of the Child Protection Unit in Paris, showing — through what seems at times like a collage of incidents, moments, gestures — the consequences of their actions as well as the brutal toll this troubling job takes on their lives. It’s based on real events; at times it’s so authentic it feels like you’re watching the actual events themselves.
Emin Alper’s drama about a slow-boiling blood feud in a wooded corner of Turkey builds an odd atmosphere of languorous tension. We watch the characters sit around fires and have meandering conversations even as we sense that events are about to spin out of control around them. Tribeca bills this as a psychological drama with “skin-crawling terror.” We’re not sure we agree; it’s more like a meditative suspense film, and as such, one of the more unique films at the festival.
With the laid-back intricacy of his plotting and the submerged longing of his characters, adapting Elmore Leonard to the screen is always tricky. Directors like Tarantino and Soderbergh used the books as staging grounds for their own personal films; Charlie Matthau’s film changes the setting of one of the author’s best known novels — from eighties Detroit to seventies L.A. — but does justice otherwise to the breezily sprawling, deceptively dense thriller about onetime radicals now wrapped up in an elaborate game of explosives, extortion, and revenge. It’s both charming and grisly.
This subtle, intimate look at former World Latin Dance Champion Slavik Kryklyvyy and his ill-fated attempt to make a comeback with his new dance partner — girlfriend Anna Melnikova — is a raw, heartbreaking drama: Every glance carries weight; every moment of stillness is loaded with tension. And you’ve never seen a jive infused with so much sorrow.
Unfolding over the course of one night, this engrossing dinner-party drama, which centers on two sisters, their buried secrets, and their guests’ shifting loyalties, is characterized by a social unease that’s almost unbearable. Director Adam Christian Clark wrangles top-notch performances from Marguerite Moreau and Bitsie Tulloch as the titular pair.
Don’t let the ludicrous-sounding premise — a pack of lithe young Brooklynites are marooned in a farmhouse with no heat or electricity and have to learn to make fires and hunt — scare you off. Naturalistic performances and director Benjamin Dickinson’s unsentimental approach to the material keep this atmospheric, chilling drama from becoming a parody of itself.
Seung-Jun Yi’s quiet, elegantly filmed portrait of an unusual Korean couple — Young-Chan, a deaf and blind artist and poet, and his small, spritely wife Soon-Ho, who has a spinal disability — avoids sentimentality, or even a whiff of pathos, in favor of a more universal profundity. The singular and sensual energy between the couple is infectious, expanding our definitions of human communication, and the duo has talent to spare as well: Young-Chan’s sculptures of animals and flowers are breathtaking, considering he knows their shapes only through touch.
Bekoji, a small city in Ethiopia, has been churning out one world-class runner after another for the last fifteen years — even though only 17,000 people live there. Genetics? Superior training? Director Jerry Rothwell (Donor Unknown, TFF 2011) introduces us to two charming youngsters hoping to be the next Derartu Tulu, as well as Sentayehu Eshetu, the one man who has coached all of Bekoji’s athletes. The doc offers an engaging look at a peculiar cultural phenomenon while exploring how the work ethic in this developing country — and the fame that running brings — are changing perceptions of Ethiopia all over the world. Photo: COPYRIGHT, 2006
Coiro’s small, atmospheric drama about an unhappy young wife (Kate Bosworth) accompanying her violist husband to Naples follows a familiar trajectory: She visits a nearby island for the day, meets a handsome teenage vagabond, and starts up a whirlwind love holiday that upends her boring life. But Bosworth is surprisingly engaging, and the luminous black-and-white photography and sumptuous setting (the volcanic island of Ischia) makes it all worthwhile.
Sixteen Movies to Watch at Tribeca