film festival

17 Films You Should See at This Year’s Tribeca Festival

Opening night movie In the Heights
Opening night movie In the Heights Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture

The Tribeca Festival was created in the wake of 9/11, the brainchild of founders — Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, and Craig Hatkoff — who were looking to lure people back downtown with an eclectic, hastily assembled lineup that included indies like Roger Dodger and Washington Heights, and also the premiere of Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones. On its 20th anniversary, having spent years establishing an identity and gradually spreading above 14th Street, Tribeca once again finds itself taking place in the aftermath of a major trauma. This time, it’s aiming to bring audiences back into a city that’s in the process of reopening, and back to the movies by way of a mix of virtual and outdoor screenings spread out over multiple boroughs.

Since 2020’s festival was canceled, with juried prizes for the films in competition announced online, Tribeca 2021 includes screenings of some of last year’s program in addition to a new slate that includes documentaries about Anthony Bourdain, Jackie Collins, and Rick James; a werewolf horror-comedy starring Sam Richardson; and a Detroit crime drama from Steven Soderbergh. The festival kicks off on June 9 with In the Heights, Jon M. Chu’s adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s ebullient New York City–set musical, which will premiere in outdoor screenings in all five boroughs. Here’s a list of some of the other titles that Vulture can’t wait to see.

All My Friends Hate Me
Pete (Tom Stourton, who co-wrote the script) hasn’t seen his college friends for years, so the birthday bash they’ve planned for him also serves as a reunion for the old crew as they head into their 30s. But, as the title indicates, All My Friends Hate Me is less The Big Chill and more cringe comedy, as things start going awry from the moment Pete arrives at the country manor where the group’s spending the weekend. Shot through with social anxiety and class discomfort, this film from director Andrew Gaynord keeps you wondering as to whether someone’s out to sabotage Pete, as he starts to believe, or whether he’s being paranoid and is just very good at ruining things for himself.

All These Sons
Documentarian Bing Liu got an Oscar nomination at the age of 30 for his debut Minding the Gap, a wrenchingly personal film about skateboarding, domestic abuse, and growing up in the Rust Belt town of Rockford, Illinois. Liu’s follow-up, which he directed with his Minding the Gap editor Joshua Altman, is another exploration of masculinity, this time set in the South and West sides of Chicago. All These Sons focuses on two mentorship programs — IMAN Green ReEntry and the MAAFA Redemption Project — aimed at young men at high risk of becoming perpetrators or victims of gun violence. As it follows the progress of some of the programs’ participants, All These Sons explores what it means to grow up in the midst of trauma and constant fear for your life, and what it takes to start believing a stable future is possible.

As of Yet
Throwing journalistic objectivity out of the way for a second, As of Yet is a showcase for comedian and Official Friend of Vulture Taylor Garron, who stars, co-directed, and wrote the screenplay. Like Garron’s Follow (From a Safe Distance) Friday series, As of Yet takes the form of multiple video-chat conversations, through which a young Brooklynite navigates dating, friendship, and COVID during those dark, socially distanced days of summer 2020. If it hits, we’ll be able to brag that we knew her back when.

Bernstein’s Wall
How does one do justice to the breadth and impact of Leonard Bernstein’s life and career? The man wasn’t just the most important American conductor of the 20th century, he was also a highly visible and committed activist, as well as a genuine celebrity — the rare high-culture figure who crossed the social membrane to become a household name, and then did something with that clout. He was also a gay man who struggled with his sexuality. Over the years, documentarian Doug Tirola has shown himself to be a versatile chronicler of both the intimate and the seismic, with titles like An Omar Broadway Film and Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon to his credit. That bodes well for his ability to tackle this monumental figure.

Catch the Fair One
Professional boxer Kali Reis makes her bruisingly compelling acting debut in this thriller from Manos Sucias director Josef Kubota Wladyka and executive producer Darren Aronofsky, as a character whose search for closure, or at least revenge, resonates with Reis’s real-life activism. Reis plays Kaylee, a fighter who spiraled into addiction after her sister went missing. When she picks up the trail of a human-trafficking operation that targets vulnerable Indigenous women, she risks everything in pursuit of the possibility that she might find her lost sibling, uncovering a world in which evil lurks behind banal domesticity.

False Positive
It’s just a shot hop from comedy to horror for Ilana Glazer and director John Lee, who worked together on Broad City, and have leapt together into co-writing this movie about pregnancy gone wrong. Glazer stars as a woman who, along with her husband Justin Theroux, resorts to a fertility treatment offered by a sinister Pierce Brosnan. In the grand tradition of Rosemary’s Baby, she quickly starts to believe that something has gone wrong, and that Brosnan might be in on it. The enviable cast along for the genre experiment also includes Sophia Bush as one of Glazer’s friends, Zainab Jah as a midwife, and Gretchen Mol as a sinister nurse.

Italian Studies
Ever since breaking out as a mercurial princess Margaret on The Crown, Vanessa Kirby has challenged again and again on film, whether in a frontier love affair in The World to Come or in the aftermath of a disastrous home birth in Pieces of a Woman. Here, she slips into a Lower Manhattan fugue state as a woman who isn’t quite who she is or where she’s meant to be. Adam Leon previously wrote and directed two other New York odysseys with Gimme the Loot and Tramps. Italian Studies is full of beautiful footage (shot by Brett Jutkiewicz) of New York, pre-pandemic, full of crowds and happenstance. This journey, however, is less about a character getting from point A to B as much as having the city reveal her identity back to herself.

No Sudden Move
Steven Soderbergh and a cast of movie stars doing a heist: That alone should be enough to get your heart rate up. In this case, the heist involves a group of small-time Detroit criminals in 1954 who, after things go wrong, try to figure out who hired them and why. The list of movie stars involved here includes Don Cheadle, Benicio del Toro, David Harbour, Ray Liotta, Jon Hamm, Brendan Fraser, Kieran Culkin, Amy Seimetz, and Julia Fox. Ed Solomon, of Bill & Ted and recent Soderbergh choose-your-own experiment Mosaic, wrote the script. Is this the kind of Soderbergh experiment that is mostly intellectually interesting, or will it actually click? Either way, we’re intrigued.

The Novice
That one scene in The Social Network aside, college rowing lags far behind its brethren when it comes to cinematic recognition. To rectify that, here comes The Novice, a psychological drama set in the high-stakes world of women’s crew. Isabelle Fuhrman (the creepy kid from Orphan, now grown) stars as a freshman who pushes herself to the brink while attempting to make varsity, giving Elisabeth Moss’s deranged eye makeup a run for its money in the process. This is also the directorial debut of Whiplash sound editor Lauren Hadaway, who brings a coxed eight’s worth of style to this most rigorously ascetic of sports.

A love letter to the Columbus, Ohio, music scene by way of a dark satire about creativity and performance. Newcomer Sylvie Mix plays an aspiring podcaster — please, keep reading — who lurks around the edges of the scene, eventually latching onto electro-pop diva Bobbi Kitten of Damn the Witch Siren, who’s playing herself. (The band also contributed the moody score.) Like a young musician listing their influences, Poser’s debt to previous studies of social-media induced malaise is apparent, but the film is worth seeing as a portrait of an artistic community that hasn’t had much time in the national spotlight.

Queen of Glory
Nana Mensah (of Farewell Amor and the upcoming Sandra Oh Netflix comedy series The Chair) wrote and stars in her directorial debut, a warm-hearted dramedy about a woman on the verge of making sweeping changes when life takes her back to her start. Mensah plays Sarah Obeng, a molecular neuro-oncology doctoral student who’s about to leave everything behind to move to Ohio with her lover, despite the fact that he’s yet to officially leave his wife. But when her mother abruptly dies, Sarah has to instead return to the Bronx to take care of her late parent’s affairs and the Christian bookstore that she’s inherited. In doing so, she discovers aspects of her mother’s life that she didn’t know about, while being re-immersed in the Ghanaian community in which she grew up.

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain
Bourdain’s 2018 suicide tragically cut short a remarkable journey that saw him go from celebrated chef to culinary bad boy to dishy memoirist to travel-show host to generational icon. And judging by the trailer, it seems that this film will take in the full measure of the man. One could not hope for a more appropriate director than Morgan Neville, one of our foremost observers of extreme characters (Best of Enemies, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead). If all goes well, this seems like a film we might be talking about a lot this year.

Roaring 20’s
Shot in six takes in Paris last summer, amid a loosening of pandemic restrictions, Elisabeth Vogler’s film follows the coincidental interactions between strangers (remember those?) through an afternoon along the Seine. Part of the draw is simply the technical accomplishment of weaving the scenes and storylines together, coordinating it all amid the pandemic, and Volger’s ability to find ways to crisscross the city with a camera in order to follow all the characters. Along the way, there’ll be an anthropological glimpse of many forms of Parisian life, and evening shots of the Seine.

The Scars of Ali Boulala
There are few documentary subgenres more cinematic than the skating movie, given the subject’s inherent kinetic nature and the practitioners’ obsession with documenting their every move and wipe-out over the years. Years ago, Sweden’s Ali Boulala was one of skating’s most exciting, offbeat stars, specializing in seemingly unhinged, unusually creative moves — until his star came crashing down after a fatal accident upended his life and shocked his world. It’s a fascinating, heartbreaking, controversial story.

Untitled: Dave Chappelle Documentary
The last time Chappelle starred in a documentary, we got Michel Gondry’s sublime, joyous Dave Chappelle’s Block Party. This one promises a different tone, as the subject matter this time are the “cornfield concerts” the comedian put on during a time of pandemic, protest, and economic chaos, and the directors are Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert, who won an Oscar for 2019’s immersive, moving American Factory.

Werewolves Within
This horror comedy from director Josh Ruben and writer Mishna Wolff is inspired by a 2016 VR game of the same name, but you don’t need to be familiar with it to understand the premise, which is basically Mafia by way of a rural town named Beaverfield. Sam Richardson stars as Finn, a forest ranger who’s new to the area, and who finds himself leading an investigation into whether one of the members of the small, contentious community is secretly a werewolf, while the body count steadily rises. The big selling point is the ensemble cast’s abundance of comedic talent — in addition to Richardson, it also includes Milana Vayntrub, Michaela Watkins, Cheyenne Jackson, Michael Chernus, Harvey Guillén, and more.

Continuing a trend of movies about celebrity chefs at this year’s festival, California cuisine pioneer Wolfgang Puck gets his own documentary, too, which will be released on Disney+ at the end of the month. Promising sign: It’s directed by Jiro Dreams of Sushi’s David Gelb, which suggests that it’ll be as much about the actual food as it will be about the subject’s outsize personality.

17 Films You Should See at This Year’s Tribeca Festival