The Tribeca Film Festival stands out among all the other international film festivals for its quiet heart and deep NYC roots. This is a festival filled with character-driven movies over monster blockbusters. It's also one big freakin' ode to New York City, but the name already told you that.
This year's selection of films ran the gamut from movie-musicals to intense explorations of mental illness to creation stories. It's no secret that New York City is a hub of culture, but TFF truly puts that on display. It's the little fest that could.
Narrowing down a best-of list is near impossible. There's no real theme to what's shown. So, we thought it right to focus on the films that shook us to our core — the ones that left us speechless, and, in some cases, didn't hit us until days later. Some are humorous, others incredibly dark, but all contain performances that will garner award nominations left and right. So, with that, let's reminisce.
Writer-director Lou Howe made his indie debut this year with a jarring character study of a mentally disturbed young man bent on finding his first love. Rory Culkin's performance is riveting — nail-biting, even. Exhaustive in its on-edge pace, Gabriel's disillusioned quest to find the one person in the film who doesn't intentionally smother him leaves a pit in the viewer's gut. (Unfortunately, it's his own family that keeps him from maybe finding some peace.) Variety calls Culkin's performance "electrifying," but it's so much more than that. It's engulfing. The film forces the viewer to question the validity of medicating mental illness, treating it via asylum, or letting the individual live how they want. There is no immediate solution, though. In the end, the screen goes black, and it's not until a few days later that the movie's answers will set in. Prepare yourselves accordingly.
Don't let the additional cast members fool you: This is Patrick Stewart's movie. Based on Stephen Belber's 2004 play of the same name, Match follows a couple visiting New York to study an enigmatic dance teacher Tobi (played by Stewart). The actor told Entertainment Weekly: "One of the principle things in the screenplay that powerfully drew me to this project was that a situation arises where a man is forced to analyze and reconsider incidents in his past that have changed the lives of many people." Stewart's descent into his own trials and tribulations is daunting. Come for the performance, stay for the feels.
The One I Love
Some couples deal with their issues through therapy. Some couples don't deal at all. Some couples try both and end up retreating to the woods for an idyllic weekend only to stumble into some "Twilight Zone shit." Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass fall into the last category in The One I Love. Their marriage has started to hit the fan, and under their therapist's guidance, they retreat for a few days. Corey Everett of Indie Wire writes: "The film asks what the ideal version of your partner would look like, and whether the small things really end up making a big difference." Moss and Duplass grapple between the way they are and the way they could be. Coldplay's "Fix You" comes to mind in that this isn't a film that argues for it. "Fixing" someone isn't necessarily the best route to take. Perhaps "fixing" is the wrong word here. You'll just have to see the film yourself to know what is.
Director Kelly Reichardt continues her exploration of Oregon with a darkly textured narrative of three environmentalists-turned-eco-terrorists bent on bombing a dam. Jesse Eisenberg, Peter Sarsgaard, and Dakota Fanning round out the top of the playbill, and together paint a haunting picture of what happens when you flirt with violence. Fanning gives the best performance of her career, while Eisenberg and Sarsgaard play their roles with a wink (or, in Eisenberg's case, a quivering pout). Reichardt's story tackles the morality of environmentalism, the issues with quick fixes, and the importance of longevity. These, in turn, come to question the effects of destruction on the psyche. Though the Hollywood Reporter argues "the script fails to make a convincing case for the drastic action that provides the chilling climax," each actor's performance saves it from self-destructing.
Time is Illmatic
Brian Josephs of review of rapper Nas' seminal album Illmatic nails it. "Millennials will never be able to 100% relate to Nas’s struggle, but the concept of The Struggle is a very human one that echoes from the Westchester suburbs and Brooklyn’s Flatbush corners," he muses. Josephs calls it a masterpiece, and it is. The film version of the album, Time is Illmatic, embodies the very ethos the Tribeca Film Festival. Nas has been hailed as the quintessential N.Y.C. MC. His words represent the voiceless youth in the city's projects, and this film seeks to make visuals out of words. This documentary tells the story of a classic album, from its influences to its platinum accolades.
Keira Knightley wants to make an idyllic New York City album, and Mark Ruffalo is here to help. Once's own John Carney takes his musical storytelling to the Big Apple and has Adam Levine playing, well, Adam Levine — only this time he's breaking Knightley's heart. Entertainment Weekly calls the film "a feel-good story" with "several candidates for a Best Original Song Oscar." We think that's a fair statement — Begin Again is more refreshing than it is groundbreaking. This one shines among the festival's darker narratives (Knightley is delightful). It's a story bent on making its viewers fall back in love with New York and its magic. What's not to like about that?