The Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place every spring in downtown New York City, celebrated its fifteenth year this April. Established in 2002 partly as a revitalization measure for the area after the destruction of 9/11, it’s an overwhelming festival, and critics struggle to keep up (there is no seeing it all; there’s mostly a lot of lucky guesses).
But a number of films caught my eye that are worth looking for—some are already in theaters, some will be there shortly, and others you’ll catch on various streaming services throughout the year. Here are my picks.
Roger Ross Williams
U.S. theatrical release: July 8, 2016
A good candidate for “Movie I’m Most Likely To Tell My Mom to Watch”—which is a big compliment, because I liked it, too. Life, Animated, which premiered at Sundance in January, tells the story of Owen Suskind, whose onset of autism at age 3 confounded his family, especially because he became non-communicative. Eventually they realized he connected strongly with Disney films; this was the common ground on which they could reach him. Owen is now in his twenties, and as the film opens he’s just about to live semi-independently for the first time in his life. It’s a touching, life-affirming, often very funny film that also gives a unique insight into autism. I’d recommend this to families and churches alike. (There’s a brief scene where Owen’s brother reflects on the fact that Disney movies don’t offer an introduction to sex, but it isn’t gratuitous or off-color.)
Awaiting U.S. theatrical release
I missed this at Sundance as well, but I’m very glad I saw it. Hunt for the Wilderpeople, from New Zealand, is the story of an unlikely partnership between a young boy in foster care and a gruff old farmer. By virtue of having been taken in by a hearty, no-nonsense, loving woman, the two find themselves with only one another to lean on and embark on an adventure. It quickly turns into a caper story in the New Zealand bush, and it is incredibly funny. Some salty language, but otherwise a terrific comedy with a big, big heart.
Awaiting U.S. theatrical release
An oddly affecting comedy about a group of friends who live together and form a stand-up comedy troupe called “The Commune,” this film stars a bunch of terrific and familiar comics (including Keegan-Michael Key and Gillian Jacobs). It also plumbs something that feels uncomfortably familiar but rarely seen on-screen: what happens to a bunch of idealistic, creative people when one of them starts to make it big, and the rest aren’t sure if their ship will ever come in? Can you envy your friend and be happy for them at the same time? What if having passion for your craft doesn’t guarantee you’ll make it? I keep thinking about the film and would especially recommend it for young creative people with big dreams. (Some off-color humor, language, and adult situations.)
U.S. theatrical release: April 22, 2016
What a weird little movie. But I liked it. Elvis & Nixon is the imagined story around a real happening, when The King himself, concerned with the tumultuous culture he saw around him, met with President Nixon in the Oval Office. The narrative never really comes together, staying episodic. But the film’s still worth watching for two reasons: one, Michael Shannon, who looks nothing like Elvis, is a perfect Elvis. And two, the film does have some interesting things to say about the nature of celebrity, especially intersecting celebrity—famous entertainers and powerful politicians have very different sorts of celebrity power, and the film uses that for both comedy and pathos.