Top ten Tribeca Film Festival 2012 picks

The downtown fest returns; here’s what you need to see.

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  • Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie

  • Headshot

  • Keep the Lights On

  • Let Fury Have the Hour

  • Polisse

  • Postcards from the Zoo

  • Side by Side

  • Sleepless Night

  • Take This Waltz

  • Trishna

Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie


It may have adopted a somewhat leaner and meaner attitude toward its programming than in past years, but the Tribeca Film Festival once again invades downtown Manhattan with the usual sprawling mixture of big-name Hollywood blockbusters (a new Jason Segel rom-com! The Avengers!), Amerindie and world-cinema obscurities (scrappy lo-fi offerings from Cuba, Canada and the four corners of the earth) and everything in between (the truly unclassifiable toon Consuming Spirits). Here are ten offerings from the 2012 edition that’ll help you maintain a well-balanced cinematic diet.

RECOMMENDED: Full coverage of the Tribeca Film Festival

Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie
Morton Downey Jr. grew up in the shadow of his popular-singer father until he “distinguished” himself with an in-your-face television talk show that took on hot-button issues like the Tawana Brawley rape allegations, while giving his guests and audience a chance to act out in a base, Roman Colosseum fashion. It’s a dubious legacy that this absorbing doc—which posits its subject as a pre-Beck-and-Hannity pioneer of loud punditry—examines with a heathenish affection of which “the Mouth” himself would surely approve. (Showtimes and venues)—KU

Headshot

A disgraced cop disguised as a monk assassinates a politician, thereby earning a bullet in his own skull. We then find out how our fallen hero ended up progressing toward this predicament along the path of karmic redemption. The fact that the killer literally sees everything upside down—dig those dizzying POV shots!—seems appropriate, given how Thai filmmaker Pen-Ek Ratanaruang (Monrak Transistor) upends conventions of hit-man parables and Hitchcockian thrillers while plying his trademark chilly-sexy-cool style. (Showtimes and venues)—DF

Keep the Lights On
Charting an NYC gay couple’s highs and lows over a nine-year span, Ira Sachs’s drama about an epically enabling relationship touches on drug addiction, codependency, the perils of phone-sex party lines and the pain of endless breakup/make-up cycles. This indie love story’s strength, however, lies in Sachs’s refusal to romanticize his fucked-up duo, while never giving their lengthy, can’t-live-without-you romance short shrift. It’s lovingly raw, uncompromising and the director’s strongest work since 1996’s The Delta. (Showtimes and venues)—DF

Let Fury Have the Hour
A thrillingly articulate wallop of ’80s-era rage, Antonino D’Ambrosio’s color-tinted political collage is about a crucial subject made visual: the ideological shift away from social responsibility and toward free-market individualism. It’s a moment identified with Reagan and Thatcher—here is all that striking-miner footage you wished had been in The Iron Lady—but the documentary also includes some choice new interviews: Chuck D, John Sayles, Eve Ensler, Billy Bragg and more. How refreshing it is to hear musicians and artists eschewing indie softheadedness and getting to the point. (Showtimes and venues)—JR

Polisse
Imagine several Law & Order seasons condensed into a two-hour film, and you’ll have the general gist of director Maïwenn’s ensemble piece about a Parisian child-crime unit. But the French actor-turned-auteur’s effort is more than just another precinct drama; her wide-ranging, often over-the-top police procedural’s impeccable cast—Marina Foïs, Karin Viard, Joey Starr—lets you know these characters intimately, while the movie takes sideswipes at France’s flawed judicial system. It’s arresting, in more ways than one. (Showtimes and venues)—DF

Postcards from the Zoo
Indonesia’s reigning fantasist, Edwin (Tribeca is apparently the go-to fest for mono-monikered moviemakers), delivers a dreamy fairy tale about a young woman (Ladya Cheryl) who grows up in a zoo. Once a cowboy-magician takes our heroine out of her giraffe-filled Garden of Eden, however, things quickly go south. Like his previous feature, 2008’s Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly, Edwin’s latest is a magpie affair—absurdist tangents, oblique social commentary, music-video visuals—that transforms into something cracked and completely sui generis. (Showtimes and venues)—DF

Side by Side

Christopher Kenneally’s probing doc about the movie industry’s changeover from film to digital uses an impressive roster of talking heads—Vittorio Storaro, George Lucas, Davids Lynch and Fincher—and up-to-the-minute examples to examine the epochal technical shift cinema is undergoing. Zen-surfer tour guide Keanu Reeves winds us through pro and con arguments for each format, but true to its title, the clear and concise Side by Side affords equal airtime to both sides of the celluloid-versus-pixels divide. (Showtimes and venues)—KU

Sleepless Night

Are the French lapping us in terms of action-movie satisfaction? Frédéric Jardin’s curve-hugging cop thriller breathes new life into that old saw about a dirty police officer (Tomer Sisley), a kidnapped son and a bag of missing narcotics, but it also carefully constructs the kind of white-knuckle ride that we used to look to American potboilers for. Trust us, the knock-down, drag-out fight in a nightclub kitchen alone makes this Gallic crime flick essential viewing for genre fiends. (Showtimes and venues)—DF

Take This Waltz

Actor Sarah Polley’s transition to directing—with 2006’s touching Away from Her, starring the sublime Julie Christie—was a model of ease, and her equally ambitious latest marks Polley as a serious explorer of broken relationships. Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen (more exposed than he’s ever allowed himself to be) are married Torontonians who have settled into a too-comfortable domesticity. The simmering friction, caused in part by charming neighbor Luke Kirby, takes the film in surprising directions. (Showtimes and venues)—JR

Trishna

The prolific Michael Winterbottom (The Trip) transplants Thomas Hardy’s Victorian novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles to modern-day India, with Slumdog Millionaire’s Freida Pinto as the destitute young woman who eventually falls in love with her wealthy employer. But the longer these two lovers are together, the more the bloom fades. Winterbottom makes impressive use of locations in and around bustling Rajasthan, and the luminous Pinto is heartbreaking as the misfortune-prone heroine. (Showtimes and venues)—KU

The Tribeca Film Festival runs Apr 18–29; click here for the complete lineup and venue info.

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Augusto Newton Goldman
Augusto Newton Goldman

I wish the Tribeca Film Festival could interest foreign film distributors in showing abroad what new and upcoming American directors are doing. An exchange of these new films would be cultural beneficial not only for the modern American cinema but also for off stream foreign film directors.