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Picking Our Favorites From the Last Five Years of the Tribeca Film Festival

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by Forrest Cardamenis and Steve Greene
April 26, 2013 2:34 PM
4 Comments
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"Take This Waltz"

At the end of this weekend, Tribeca 2013 will come to a close. While the critical consensus for this year's edition is still being formulated (you can check our roundup over at the Criticwire Cheat Sheet for a quick glance), we thought it might be interesting to look back at some beloved and overlooked films from the last five year's worth of Tribeca. (And if you're on a festival retrospectives kick, you can read the one that we did before SXSW 2013 here.)

2012

Forrest Cardamenis: "Take This Waltz" was one of my favorites movies of last year; I couldn't pick anything else as my favorite if I wanted to. It was such a beautiful window into the life of someone trapped in a comfortable but un-stimulating relationship. It's hard to make a love triangle where you like all three characters and both potential couples equally, but Sarah Polley did it here. It never cops-out with an easy answer because the problems it examines don't have any. They don't have even have correct answers. That alone would have made "Take This Waltz" good enough for me, but I think Sarah Polley has one of the best compositional eyes in North America right now. And I don't want to spoil "Stories We Tell" for anyone, but after watching that, "Take This Waltz" takes on another dimension. It's great.

Steve Greene: I'll take any excuse to talk about the greatness of "Stories We Tell," but we'll probably save that for a different post. Like the pair of Polley films you mentioned, another drama that spans the emotional spectrum is Maiwenn's "Polisse," an ensemble look at Paris' Juvenile Protection Unit. It's a little simplistic to reduce this to a "'The Office' meets 'Law & Order: SVU'" description, but there's an impressive tonal tightrope that Maiwenn and the rest of her cast walk when portraying the day-to-day workings of a department that handles crimes against children. It's rare to see a film that can fluidly move back and forth between scenes of gut-punching devastation and laugh out loud moments. Without giving any specifics, the film's epilogue features a character choice that might not work for everyone, but I admired Maiwenn for the audacity to include it in the final cut. I'm really intrigued to see what she comes up with next.

"Trollhunter."

2011:

FC: There really isn't an easy way to say this, but a quick scan revealed that I have seen exactly 0 films from this festival. I haven't even heard of most of them. Quick Steve, pick something and convince me!

SG: In that case, I'll give you three! One would definitely be Andre Ovredal's "Trollhunter," a Norwegian sci-fi film about a group of college kids who stumble across a top-secret practice of dealing with the titular monsters that inhabit the Scandinavian wilderness. Yes, the film is cut from the found-footage/students-making-a-documentary mold, but there are tiny touches that set it apart from others in the genre. (It's the only faux documentary that I can recall ever featuring the on-screen crew ever taking the time to white-balance.) Otto Jespersen makes a fascinating central subject, a crusty veteran who dispenses the logic of trollhunting with a weariness that keeps the whole thing from venturing into ridiculous territory. If you're looking for an actual documentary, I would recommend either "Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest" and "Jiro Dreams of Sushi." Both are rounded looks at two different types of artistry: hip-hop and cooking. Yet both are also willing to explore the psychological burdens that come with other-worldly talent.

"The Arbor."
2010

SG: When I was looking through the program for the 2010 festival, I stopped after the first page. There might be other quality choices, but "The Arbor" is one of those cinematic experiences that lingers in your subconscious. Clio Barnard's documentary about the troubled life of playwright Andrea Dunbar foregoes a number of traditional genre conventions, much to its benefit. We never see Dunbar's friends and family telling of their struggles growing up in West Yorkshire. Instead, those recollections are performed by actors lip-synching to the audio of their dialogue. And instead of showing video from a performance of one of Dunbar's autobiographical plays, Barnard stages scenes from those plays in the neighborhood that inspired them. Unlike "Polisse," there are few moments of levity to break up the harrowing anecdotes of poverty and abuse, but it's a fascinating exploration of the transcendent nature of artistic expression and the power of the written word to capture an entire life. Anything particularly overlooked that you can find from the 2010 slate?

FC: I'm a big fan of Fatih Akin's "Head-On," which is just a searing portrayal of two messed up people who love each other but are also terrible for each other, and while "Soul Kitchen" is nothing like that film, I'm drawn to it too. Akin's underdogs are always charismatic and humanistic even at their worst, so to see him portray a decent guy just trying to do a regular-person thing in getting his restaurant a good reputation commercially and critically is a treat. It's a straightforward comedy most of the time, but I think that it's also a great allegory for Akin's own career. How can you be good and still be seen? Sometimes I feel like "Head-On" wasn't seen at all and "The Edge of Heaven" only slightly more, so if Akin feels the same way, the onscreen action is a tangible allegory. Even if not, it's good clean fun from a typically dark director, and it's good to change things up once in a while.

2009

FC: I'm not an enormous Steven Soderbergh fan. I like almost all of his films that I've seen but I don't love any of them. That said, every time I think I'm done thinking about "The Girlfriend Experience," it comes back to me. From its surprisingly non-chronological structure to its alienating stylistic distance, it's a tough film to penetrate, but there's also a lot to see. Sasha Grey's blank performance makes her a great canvas, the contradictions and similarities in being a prostitute vs. a call-girl and going to Vegas at the height of an economic depression give it a studious edge of a very particular, very American moment in time, and when you put it all together, it's a strange, almost surreal experience that has about a dozen more questions each time you watch it, and that's not something I'm used to from a director who usually entertains me more than he challenges me.

SG: If "In the Loop" was just a short film that only consisted of Malcolm Tucker's opening phone call, it would still be my pick for this list. It probably doesn't fall under the "challenging" heading, but it's eminently quotable (anyone else managed to squeeze "difficult, difficult, lemon difficult" into polite conversation?) and superbly delivered by an able cast. It also manages to employ the framework of U.S.-British governmental relations without it ever seeming like a gimmick. Armando Iannucci and his co-writers are responsible for some of the most satisfying British comedy of the last decade and this ranks as one of their greatest achievements. Also, Tucker (Peter Capaldi) is a textbook example on how to ensure a great character doesn't overstay his welcome. "In the Loop" could easily have devolved into merely a one-liner showcase, but the diplomatic stakes ensure that everyone walks the line. (Side note: I almost cheated and said "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" here, since it played as part of the festival. But I'll save that for when we do our Sight & Sound lists.)

A scene from Tomas Alfredson's "Let the Right One In." Image courtesy of Magnet Releasing.
2008

FC: Sorry to steal your pick here, but is there a more creative love story in recent memory than "Let The Right One In?" Is there a more creative vampire story in recent memory? No need to answer, obviously. It's a film of contradictions, grotesque and beautiful, sweet and creepy, scary and assuring, and it's also a coming-of-age story like no other. Psychoanalysts could have a field day with this one, but even if you just take it for what it is, a wonderful performance by Lina Leandersson (and Elif Ceylan, her voice) as the vampire Eli makes "Let The Right One In" pretty hard to forget. And let's not forget the striking cinematography, which made me want to go to Sweden when I first saw the film and continues to do so now. I haven't seen this one in the while, but even just this little bit of conversation has me dying to change that. How did you like it? And did anything else from '08 stick with you?

SG: One other part of "Let the Right One In" that I would single out is Johan Soderqvist's score. I'm not sure how he saw "Icelandic vampire love story" and immediately thought, "You know, a classical guitar solo would be perfect for this!" But it's absolutely gorgeous.

As for 2008 docs, it wouldn't be a Tribeca list if we didn't have at least one sports movie. Even if you couldn't name a single starter on the San Antonio Spurs, "Gunnin' For That #1 Spot" is still an absorbing insight into the world of youth basketball. This documentary by the late Adam Yauch focuses on eight high school hoops stars who are invited to an inaugural skills camp culminating in a pickup game at the world-renowned Rucker Park. Realizing that some of the kids' talents include a pull-up jumper but not necessarily a telegenic interview presence, Yauch distributes some of the table-setting among the adult mentor figures and entrepreneurs who benefit from these high-schoolers' talent. The film isn't explicit in its condemnation of the exploitative nature of prep sports culture, but there's certainly enough fodder for those who would criticize the system. All of the main eight kids were eventually drafted by NBA teams, but those familiar with how the rest of their careers have developed can see how the seeds of some of the more disappointing trajectories were there seven years ago. (And, as you would expect from a film by MCA, it has a fantastic soundtrack underneath it all.)


And now it's your turn, dear reader. Any titles that we neglected to mention that would have made your lists? Let us know in the comments section below.

4 Comments

  • Jay | April 26, 2013 3:11 PMReply

    Not sure if the reviewer's observations on the Girlfriend Experience was a deliberate parody of how cinephiles talk when discussing utter drivel by the 'contemporary auteur.'

  • Jay | April 26, 2013 3:11 PMReply

    Not sure if the reviewer's observations on the Girlfriend Experience was a deliberate parody of how cinephiles talk when discussing utter drivel by the 'contemporary auteur.'

  • Jay | April 26, 2013 3:10 PMReply

    Not sure if the reviewer's observations on the Girlfriend Experience was a deliberate parody of how cinephiles talk when discussing utter drivel by the 'contemporary auteur.'

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