Looking at the list of movies playing at the Tribeca Film Festival can be absolutely overwhelming; more so than many other festivals, it’s difficult to know where to start. At Cannes or Sundance, there’re always at least a handful of films and directors that already have a lot of hype going for them. Tribeca, on the other hand, features plenty of names that even the biggest of film-nerds haven’t heard of; and that’s part of the appeal! There’s a real sense of discovery at Tribeca; sometimes the only real bit of information you’ll have to go on when choosing what to see is a plot description. It’s a real luck of the draw situation: maybe you’ll end up seeing a foreign film that doesn’t ever find much distribution in the United States, maybe you’ll stumble upon a documentary about a subject matter you’ve never even heard of, and maybe, if you’re really lucky, you’ll fall in love with something that you didn’t even know what to expect from going in.
But we’re here to make sorting through everything just a little bit easier! Here at MoviePass, we’ll be covering this year’s Tribeca Film Festival from beginning to end, bringing you reviews, interviews, and inside information. Here’s a peek, in no particular order, at some of the movies we’ll be seeing and why:
City of Ghosts
Dir. Matthew Heineman
Category: Viewpoints, Documentary
City of Ghosts focuses on a group of citizen-journalists collectively known as “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS).” These reporters risk life and limb in order to educate the world at large about the violence and turmoil in their home country of Syria. Of course, this would be fascinating subject matter in its own right, but we’re particularly excited to see City of Ghosts due to the presence of director Matthew Heineman. His previous film, Cartel Land, which featured absolutely unbelievable footage from the frontlines of the Mexican Drug War, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary feature. If City of Ghosts is similarly immersive, it could be something really special.
Dir. Julian Rosefeldt
Category: Spotlight Narrative
The Boy Downstairs
Dir. Sophie Brooks
Category: Spotlight Narrative
The Boy Downstairs continues a tradition for Tribeca – every year the festival premiers a handful of charming romantic comedies. Some would contend (read: this writer would contend) that sometimes there’s really nothing nicer than watching an old-fashioned rom-com; and these days those are actually pretty hard to find! The Boy Downstairs tells the story of a girl who accidentally moves into the apartment above her ex-boyfriend. As you’ve probably already guessed, old feelings rise to the surface and things get complicated. This is director Sophie Brooks’ first feature, but we’ll be especially happy to see stars Zosia Mamet, fresh off of the series finale of Girls, and Matthew Shear, who was really funny in 2015’s Mistress America.
Dir. Julia Solomonoff
Category: International Narrative Competition
It’s often difficult to decide which international movies to check out at Tribeca. The directors and actors often aren’t particularly well-known in the United States, so the best bet might just be to choose whatever sounds best. This Argentinian film is especially intriguing, as it’s actually set in New York City. In Nobody’s Watching, a famous soap opera actor in his native Argentina tries his luck at making it big in the acting world of the United States. But with Americans being completely unfamiliar with his work, he finds that succeeding isn’t nearly as easy as he might’ve hoped. Nobody’s Watching has the potential to put a unique spin on the whole “struggling actor in New York” narrative by telling it from a foreign perspective.
Dir. Rainer Sarnet
Category: International Narrative Competition
Sometimes a movie sounds so wild that you just have to see it. The Estonian film November combines a realistic 19th century period setting with the (often horrific) fairytale elements of traditional folklore. Promising appearances by werewolves and the devil, it looks a bit like 2016’s The Witch, but turned up a few notches. And even if November turns out to be a dud, the pretty black-and-white cinematography means it’ll, at the very least, be very nice to stare at for two hours.
Dir. Lana Wilson
Category: Documentary Competition
Lana Wilson’s debut After Tiller garnered a lot of buzz and won her an Emmy, so her follow-up is a good bet to be one of the most talked-about documentaries at this year’s festival. So, yeah, she’s as good a reason as any for us to check out The Departure. But it also sounds really cool! It’s a portrait of Ittetsu Nemoto, a Buddhist monk who used to be a punk rocker. What he’s most known for, though, is saving many people of Japan from suicide, by use of his words alone. He’s the kind of guy you want to know more about after reading only two sentences about him. That fact, combined with Wilson’s track record, has us plenty excited.
Dir. Nathan Silver
US Narrative Competition
New York movie-goers should be especially interested in this one! Thirst Street was written and produced by C. Mason Wells, the Director of Repertory Programming at the newly reopened Quad Cinema and a former programmer at the IFC Center. Thirst Street draws from the classic European film influences you’d expect of any great programmer (Fassbinder, being one of them). In the film, Lindsay Burdge plays Gina, a depressed American flight attendant who falls in love with a Parisian bartender. When that love goes unrequited, her jealousy and unease soon have her on the verge of insanity. And here’s one other intriguing tidbit: it’s narrated by Anjelica Huston! Thirst Street is definitely one of our most anticipated premiers of the entire festival (okay, and as New Yorkers who love going to the movies, we’re biased).
A Suitable Girl
Dir. Sarita Khurana and Smriti Mundhra
Documentaries have the ability to give us a personal look at something we’ve heard of but don’t actually know squat about. Many Americans don’t have a true understanding of how arranged marriages in India work. Hopefully, A Suitable Girl can provide us with a much better picture of the process. It follows three women over four years, as they do their best (of course, with the help of their families) to find husbands. With the filmmakers’ intimate access to their subjects, the movie has the potential to provide a terrific window into the lives of young Indian women. One of the best documentaries at last year’s festival, All This Panic, followed multiple teenage girls in America over several years – if A Suitable Girl makes as good a use of their extensive footage as that film did, there are a lot of reasons to be excited.
Dir. Guillaume Canet
In Rock’ Roll, real-life couple Marion Cotillard and Guillaume Canet (the film’s director) play versions of themselves. In a desperate attempt to be a little edgier, Canet decides to transform his life in ways that slowly begin to put his marriage to the test. Let’s be honest: any movies where people are essentially playing themselves can veer very easily into cutesy-ness. There’s a non-zero chance that Rock’n Roll will be, quite frankly, really annoying. But we love Marion Cotillard! And although Guillaume Canet may not be much of a household name, his 2006 thriller Tell No One was pretty darn good. We’re willing to risk it with this one.
Dir. Max Winkler
US Narrative Competition
At this point, we can hardly remember a time when Zoey Deutch wasn’t everywhere. There’s no way around it – she’s going to be a really big star. So, of course, she’s one of the big draws to this coming-of-age comedy about a girl spending her summer pulling sexual scams on older men. But when her mother’s boyfriend and his son suddenly move in with them, life starts to get a lot more complicated. From there, the movie apparently goes in some pretty unexpected directions. The cast has us sold – joining Deutch are Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, and Tim Heidecker. With all that talent on board, we’re very optimistic about Flower being one worth seeing.
Dir. Israel Cárdenas and Laura Amelia Guzman
International Narrative Competition
Again, it can be a bit tricky picking which of the international movies at Tribeca you want to see, but this one has us intrigued. It follows Francisco “Cisco” Castillo, who returns home to the Dominican Republic after 15 years in a United States prison. When he finds that life there isn’t all that much better than prison, he turns to street fights to make cash, eventually leading him to a budding career as a boxer. Let’s face it, boxing often makes for good cinema. Most of all, we’re happy to see a movie from the Dominican Republic in competition – it’s a country whose films don’t often make it to the United States.
Dir. Philippe Falardeau
Speaking of boxing movies, Chuck tells the story of Chuck Wepner, the real-life boxer who served as the inspiration for Rocky Balboa. That’s plenty enough reason to check this one out, especially for those of us who didn’t even know Rocky was based on an actual person. And check out this cast: Liev Schreiber, Elisabeth Moss, Ron Perlman, Naomi Watts, and Jim Gaffigan. Given the subject and the cast, Chuck is a movie we could easily picture being a successful indie hit (with a much wider release than most movies playing at Tribeca). It also played last fall at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it received generally positive reviews, so we at least know going in that it, at the very least, won’t be a colossal stinker.
The Reagan Show
Dir. Sierra Pettengill and Pacho Velez
The Reagan Show, which promises to give us a deeper understanding of a “Made-for-TV President,” is almost certainly going to have critics drawing parallels to the current political situation. And here’s what’s really cool about it: it’s made entirely of archival footage from Reagan’s staff, as well as from 1980s news broadcasts. We’re big fans of documentaries that make extensive use of archival footage; in fact, another documentary, 2013’s Our Nixon, also took the all-archival approach to tell the story of a presidency, and to great effect. If The Reagan Show offers something similar in quality, then we expect nothing less than a film that enriches and deepens our understanding of the 40th president.
Dir. Brian Shoaf
US Narrative Competition
Here’s another one that the cast has us sold on; we’ve been waiting to see Jenny Slate star in another movie ever since Obvious Child. Here she plays a therapist whose patient (played by Zachary Quinto) is suffering from hallucinations and a poor relationship with his brother. That brother just so happens to be a famous TV actor, played by Jon Hamm! At this point, it’s pretty clear that Hamm has great comedic sensibilities, although his choice of roles since Mad Men leaves a little to be desired. Here’s hoping the movie built around this trio is worthy of them!
My Friend Dahmer
Dir. Marc Meyers
“The teenage years of the most famous serial killer in American history” is one of those concepts that could go very well or very poorly. Either way, it’s something we’re “dying” to see (get it?). Based on the graphic novel of the same name, My Friend Dahmer brings us back to Jeffrey Dahmer’s days as a high schooler, before he started doing that whole “murder thing.” And here’s something really creepy: the film was shot in Dahmer’s real-life childhood home. There’s lots of potential for creepiness here. The graphic novel on which the movie is based, written by an actual classmate of Dahmer, was very well-received, so there’s good reason to be optimistic about this one.
A Gray State
Dir. Erik Nelson
You may have recently read about the truly bizarre events this documentary centers on: the story of David Crowley, an aspiring filmmaker and prominent member of the radical anti-government movement, was featured in The New Yorker just a few weeks ago. In 2015, when Crowley was found dead in his home, along with the bodies of his wife and daughter, conspiracy theorists were quick to start, you know… theorizing. Crowley is ripe for the documentary treatment, as he filmed hours upon hours of himself and his family. And the subject is in good hands; director Erik Nelson produced several of Werner Herzog’s best documentaries. Herzog himself is serving as an executive producer on A Gray State.
Super Dark Times
Dir. Kevin Phillips
Super Dark Times is the most intriguing title in Tribeca’s Midnights lineup – literally, the title Super Dark Times really stands out. And maybe that’s reason enough for it to deserve our attention. It’s playing in the “Midnight” category, Tribeca’s home for the kind of stuff that could comfortably be placed under the umbrellas of horror, sci-fi, or cult. Super Dark Times is about a pair of best friends who accidentally do something horrible and are forced to suffer the consequences. It premiered at the Rotterdam Film Festival a couple months back and the reviews have been largely positive – the performances and direction have been particularly praised. We’re expecting something a little like Stranger Things, but with the violence taken to the next level; and, honestly, that sounds kind of awesome.
Dir. Quinn Shephard
US Narrative Competition
This is a movie we’re excited to see for a bit of an odd reason: the director’s lack of experience. Quinn Shephard, an actress who’s appeared in movies such as Unaccompanied Minors and Hostages, directed Blame at only 20-years-old. We’re excited to see what this young filmmaker can do! Shephard does double-duty here, starring as a high school student cast as the lead in a production of The Crucible. As her relationship with the school’s drama teacher grows more intimate, accusations are thrown and the situation begins to mirror the plot of the play itself. “The Crucible… but in high school!” isn’t half-bad as far as concepts go (will there be witches?), so there’s some hope here that we could be seeing the beginnings of a talented new filmmaker.
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story
Dir. Alexandra Dean
Documentary, Special Screening
Hedy Lamarr is one of the most fascinating figures of Old Hollywood. A documentary about her career, with all its ups and down, would be a treat in its own right. Yet fewer know about Lamarr’s career as an inventor. In the 1940s, she was instrumental in developing a radio guidance system for the Allied forces. In fact, her work in the field remains important to this day. Given this, along with all the archival footage that must be available, Lamarr should make a perfect subject. Her story made for one of the best episodes of the excellent You Must Remember This podcast, making a full-length documentary very well-deserved.
Dir. Brian Crano
Like we said earlier, we’re suckers for a good rom-com. Especially one that stars a pair as great as Dan Stevens and Rebecca Hall. You just see those names and you already want to see them together. They play Anna and Will, a longtime couple whose relationship takes a turn when Anna’s brother innocently points out that she’s never been with anyone other than Will. It’s not much of a plot to go on, but hopefully it’ll go in a clever direction. What really matters here is that Stevens and Hall have the potential to have off-the-charts chemistry. If that’s the case, then Tribeca’s tradition of bringing us delightful romantic-comedies will continue untarnished for yet another year.