film festival

19 Films You Should See at This Year’s Tribeca Film Festival

Photo: Universal Pictures, RLJE Films and Getty Images

The Tribeca Film Festival is upon us, having returned for its 18th go at a Manhattan-centric screeningpalooza helmed by Robert DeNiro and longtime collaborator Jane Rosenthal. The slate is expansive (a Ted Bundy movie! A Charlie Manson movie! A movie called the “Kill Team”! The range!), including 103 movies from 124 international filmmakers. Among the highlights are a slew of documentaries, a rom-com from Pen15 collaborators Jeff Chang and Maya Erskine, some classic midnight horror offerings, and Margo Martindale. Sound exhausting? Here are some films our critics and writers are excited to see at the festival, to help you pare down your list:

Blow the Man Down
Danielle Krudy and Bridget Savage Cole direct this ramshackle but very enjoyable peek at the lurid underbelly of a small Maine fishing town, where a pair of sisters (Morgan Saylor, Sophie Lowe) discover that their newly deceased mom was instrumental in starting a brothel with the town’s most formidable barfly (Margo Martindale, yay!). What follows the funeral is a self-defense killing, a dismemberment, and a couple of murders, with scenes broken surreally by old tars singing sea shanties on the docks. Older ladies of the town led by June Squibb play a decisive part in the outcome, but this is not a movie you can diagram. —David Edelstein

Charlie Says
In January, we will officially be done with 50-year-anniversaries of events that happened in the Sixties. But until then, we’re going to get a lot of content about Charles Manson. Charlie Says, from American Psycho director Mary Harron, looks like it will take a slightly different tack than Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Here, the focus is on three of Manson’s female acolytes (Sosie “daughter of Kevin” Bacon, Hannah Murray from GOT, and Imposters’ Marianne Rendón) as they’re slowly deprogrammed by a sensitive prison worker (Merritt Wever). The Manson murders are confined to flashbacks in which Charlie is played by Matt Smith, continuing his post-Crown string of big swings. —Nate Jones

Tribeca’s closing night presentation is a collaboration between director Danny Boyle and writer Richard Curtis, who returns to the time-travel motif of About Time for a flaky comedy in which a struggling singer-songwriter (Himesh Patel) wakes to find that no one knows the Beatles have ever existed — but he knows all the songs! You can imagine the problems. Well, you and I will both have to, since the film hasn’t screened in advance, but for those hundred millions of dissatisfied people whose thoughts turn to time travel at regular intervals, this could be a profitable wallow. Lily James plays the singer’s childhood best friend, Kate McKinnon his “steel-hearted” American agent. —David Edelstein

Ask Dr. Ruth
America’s most beloved sex therapist, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, is still kicking at 93, and in this documentary, Ryan White captures much of what makes her so singular. Westheimer, a Holocaust survivor, looks back at her illustrious career, as well as the tragedies that preceded it. She’s as frank and no-nonsense discussing her childhood suffering as she is answering sex questions — and she maintains an impressive, sharp sense of humor and a boundless joy for life throughout all of it. Dr. Ruth is a rare delight, and Ask Dr. Ruth gets at the heart of her charms. By the end of it, like me, you’ll be laughing through your tears. —Rachel Handler

Come to Daddy
Ant Timpson’s father-son reunion picture starts creepy and degenerates into full-bore bloody Midnight Movie mayhem. Elijah Wood — fast becoming a boy’s best Midnight Movie avatar — heads to the Oregon coast to meet the dad he hasn’t seen since he was five and is greeted by a garishly confrontational old drunk (Stephen McHattie). To say more would kill the fun although I use the word “fun” conditionally. (It’s conditional on whether nonsensically nihilistic splatter floats your boat.) Brits might enjoy the strangest-ever reference to the politician Michael Heseltine. —David Edelstein

Plus One
Netflix isn’t the only one trying their hardest to revive the romantic comedy. This debut feature follows two Millennials (Pen15’s Maya Erskine and Jack Quaid, whose mother starred in the greatest rom-com ever) who make a pact to be each other’s guests at a summer’s worth of weddings. It’s like Wedding Crashers, but they were invited! Or like My Best Friend’s Wedding, but sped up! Buzz seems to be building around Erskine, who gets to play a character her own age for once. —Nate Jones

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound
Walter Murch is the belle of the ball at this year’s Tribeca, both with his restoration of Apocalypse Now, and with Making Waves, an in-depth look at the history and technique of sound design and editing. Anyone who’s ever gone to the bathroom during the Sound categories at the Oscars will have a new appreciation for the work of artists like Murch, Star Wars pioneer Ben Burtt, and countless other designers and editors and mixers. Starting from the dawn of cinema (originally developed by Thomas Edison to accompany phonograph recordings, it turns out) and going all the way to RomaMaking Waves makes a great case for sound being truly half the picture. You may never rewatch movies the same way. —Emily Yoshida

You Don’t Nomi
As in, “No Me.” Or, “Know Me.” Or, “No, Me.” Jeffrey McHale’s exhilarating, madcap cine-essay (with help from some trenchant critics, authors, and performers) covers the phenomenon that was and is Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls — one of the most reviled films ever made but one with a mighty, ever-growing fan base. Depending on whom you believe the film is either sleazy, sexist, and clueless or daring, brilliantly satirical, and empowering, with star Elizabeth Berkeley either gratingly awful or with a “hysterical energy” that transcends our petty notions of realism. I suspect that McHale agrees with all these views, no matter how contradictory. —David Edelstein

Per its Tribeca description, Swallow is about a pregnant woman who is suddenly and inexplicably “compelled to eat a small marble.” That small compulsion turns into an obsession with consuming things that ought not be consumed. It seems entirely bizarre and extremely up my alley of weirdness. The most compelling aspect here, however, is an extremely selfish one: That pregnant woman, played by Haley Bennett, is named Hunter. That is my name. My whole life I have had to smile politely as someone says that they either expected me to be a white men’s lacrosse player from Yale, or a white men’s basketball player from Kansas, or they just say something like “Really?” We’ll see if Swallow changes this. Anyway: I only know one other woman named Hunter, and now I will know two! —Hunter Harris

17 Blocks
Director Davy Rothbart and writer Jennifer Tiexiera have shaped two decades of a South Central L.A. family’s home video footage into a crushingly sad saga of loss. The film is almost too painful to recommend, but I do recommend it: It’s the most intimate portrait I’ve seen of the impact of addiction and gun violence on the already-fragile ecosystem of the poor. —David Edelstein

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile
Perhaps it’s gauche to say, but Zac Efron, please murder me. Barring that, I suppose I’ll go see you as Hot Ted Bundy in Extremely Wicked, Shocking Evil, and Vile. —Rachel Handler

The Kill Team
Not available to watch, Dan Krauss’s narrative adaptation of his Tribeca-winning documentary of the same name stars Nat Wolff as the U.S. infantryman who participates in a war crime against Afghanistan civilians and can’t live with the guilt — or the knowledge that his psychotic sergeant (Alexander Skarsgård) could easily lead another such “mission.” Reviewing the doc, I wrote: “We have made it relatively easy for veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to speak of the horrors to which they were subjected, but not of the horrors done by them or in their name. Where does that guilt go?” —David Edelstein

Devil’s Pie — D’Angelo
It’s been said before, but it bears repeating: “Amen! (D’Angelo’s back).” This documentary — filmed during D’Angelo’s “comeback” tour — promises “never-before-seen live footage and painfully honest interviews” to get to the truth about the elusive artist. (Stunningly, it will probably not include the 2000 word essay I wrote about D’Angelo the first time I got high in college.) —Hunter Harris

Joe Begos writes and directs this metaphorical vampire picture with the heaviest hand imaginable, but he knows how to wield a cine-brush and has the courage of his psychotic convictions. Dora Madison is the famous but faltering L.A. painter who rekindles the fires of inspiration with a drug that also turns her into an artery-chomping ghoul. Begos doesn’t stand back from all this — he plunges into the maelstrom with her so that the movie itself is a bad trip. Using substances to alter your own mood might help overcome your resistance — or generate a stroke. —David Edelstein

The reigning Oscar winner for Best Live-Action Short gets a feature-length companion piece by the same name. This version of the tale doesn’t seem like it will follow the bonkers plotting of the original Skin; instead, it’s the true story of white supremacist Bryon Widner (Jamie Bell), as he slowly abandons the racist ideology that’s tattooed all over his body thanks to the love of a good woman (Danielle McDonald of Patti Cake$). Sam Rockwell isn’t in this movie, but he’s going to get nominated for it anyway. —Nate Jones

Lost Bayou
Eerie, evocative, and beautifully acted by Louisiana-bred performers, Brian C. Miller Richard’s film follows a struggling addict (Teri Wyble) home to the bayou houseboat of her estranged father (Dane Rhodes), a sort of have-talismans-will-travel Cajun witch-doctor who is either delusional or more lucid than you or I will ever be. Sometimes it’s good to go in not knowing not just the plot but the genre of what you’re going to see… —David Edelstein

Initials S.G.
From director Rania Attieh, this Argentinian-Lebanese-U.S. production charts a few catastrophic days in the life of a morbid, self-centered, failing film extra (Diego Peretti) who moves between bottom-rung jobs, the World Cup finals (Argentina has a shot), and the attentions of a smitten American film-acquisitions exec (Julianne Nicholson, delightful). A day that starts bad gets worse and worse and worse, but Peretti — an Al Pacino lookalike with huge, burning eyes — remains magnetic at his most pathetic. Highly recommended, though don’t expect to figure out what it all adds up to, despite the input of a sardonic narrator. —David Edelstein

Bonus: Apocalypse Now 40th Anniversary Restoration
Francis Ford Coppola has gone back to tinker with his iconic 1979 Vietnam War head trip on more than one occasion (see 2001’s divisive, 202-minute Redux.) But this anniversary restoration, in addition to a new 4K transfer, is a rigorously sonic one. If you’re lucky enough to catch the Beacon Theatre premiere, you will see the film as Coppola and his longtime sound collaborator Walter Murch intended, with a custom-calibrated sound system that can output frequencies “below the limits of human hearing, giving the audience a truly visceral experience.” Get ready for those choppers to feel like they’re flying right into your skull, and for an Apocalypse Now unlike any you’ve seen before. —Emily Yoshida

Bonus: Reality Bites Reunion
The absolute best part of my job — and yes this is a brag — is that I get to talk to Ethan Hawke somewhat frequently. I talked to him on the phone the day after Reality Bites’ 20th anniversary and he told me this: “You know what’s funny about that movie? More than any other movie I’ve done, people often quote it to me.” Reality Bites rules! It has everything: the aimless ambivalence of your post-grad years, Winona Ryder making awkward small talk with Ben Stiller on a date, the earliest stages of Ethan Hawke’s forehead wrinkle, and the line “You look like a doily!” Congratulations to us all that we get to celebrate it this Tribeca fest. —Hunter Harris

19 Films You Should See at This Year’s Tribeca Film Festival