And so we’ve reached the end of the Tribeca Film Festival. Known for its wide-ranging selection of films from all over the globe, they truly outdid themselves this year with a slate of diverse, boundary-pushing films that suggested that, outside of the most prestigious fests like New York, Cannes and Sundance, independent cinema was alive and well, flourishing in the fest’s eleventh year. We profiled twenty films at the start of the fest that might be worth discussion, and a number of those spotlight films didn't disappoint. But the excitement of the Tribeca Film Festival is that there's often greatness emerging from where you least expect it.
Granted, we didn’t manage to see everything at the fest this year, but our staff was able to put our feet to the pavement to collect insights on what were the best offerings at Tribeca. Below, you’ll find a collection of the eleven best films we saw at the fest, a group that includes incisive documentaries, compelling dramas and unique visions from filmmakers both established and fresh. In addition, we’ve singled out four breakout talents of this year’s festival -- writers, directors and actors who hopefully will springboard from the fest to careers of great promise.
Synopsis: Chris “Wonder” Schoeck tries to help resurrect the Coney Island Strongman presentation by exhibiting his very specific skillset involving the extraordinary manipulation of steel by hand.
Verdict: It was unlikely to find a documentary as niche as this at Tribeca this year, given that not only is it focused on a peculiar subculture – the strongman world, where feats of strength are exhibited to audiences – but on an introverted neophyte with unconventional skills attempting to break into that milieu. “Bending Steel” doesn’t shy away from the very particular oddness of Schoeck’s skill, which plays to crickets at an un-amused open mic crowd and quizzical stares from Schoeck’s own parents. What it does provide, however, is a tale of inspiration, creating an unassuming everyman hero and thrusting him into an unusual world where we root for his dream to come true. Director Dave Carroll avoids either sentimentalizing or mocking this unusual world, providing a reverent treatment of a quest that mirrors Schoeck: unfussy, clear-headed and unexpectedly poignant. [Read our review here.]
Synopsis: An Israeli cop thinks he’s fingered the creep responsible for a series of vile child murders, but after cell phone footage of him roughing up the suspect turns up online, he’s kicked off the case. Later he forms an uneasy alliance with one of the murdered girl’s fathers, in a gruesome attempt at revenge and reconciliation.
Verdict: “Big Bad Wolves” has the rare distinction of being one of the best movies at the festival this year while being one of the least-talked about movies, too. Not sure why this is, exactly, since the film is very nearly flawless – a whip-smart, occasionally quite funny, beautifully photographed and deeply unsettling foreign thriller. Honestly, we haven’t felt this way about a genre movie at Tribeca since “Let the Right One In” back in 2009. And that’s really saying something. [Read our review here.]
Synopsis: A bluebird flies into the life of a school bus driver in a decaying logging-town in Maine and sets off a chain of events that will haunt two seemingly unconnected families.
Verdict: Another outstanding debut from another talented above-the-line creative turned writer/director is Lance Edmands’ “Bluebird.” Edmands got his start in the editing room, most noticeably cutting Lena Dunham’s debut feature, “Tiny Furniture.” A mature, super wise-beyond-its-years portrait of family, consequences and interconnectivity in the universe, the closest analog we might be able to find for this film is David Gordon Green’s “Snow Angels,” but “Bluebird” is more authentic and existential. On top of a thoughtful filmmaking approach, “Bluebird” also features a stellar cast. And yes, while folks you know like “Mad Men” star John Slattery and Adam Driver from “Girls” shine in supporting roles, it’s mostly the relative unknowns who really are the film’s breakout stars (more on that below). Patient, subdued and wise, you’d never guess that “Bluebird” was a first film. It’s not particularly flashy, but that’s what we deeply appreciate from this wintery and absorbing drama. [Read our review here.]