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Tribeca Film Festival 2014: Ten movies you can’t miss

Power games, weird sex and two old friends on an Icelandic getaway: Tribeca beguiles yet again


1. Champs

Former fighters Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins hold court in Bert Marcus’s fascinating doc, investigating America’s continuing obsession with boxing. The pugilists have plenty of tales to tell, singing the sport’s praises even as they shine a spotlight on more dubious practices like monetary mismanagement and racial bias. It really packs a punch (bet you saw that one coming).—KU

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2. Dior and I

In the wake of John Galliano’s toxic departure from Christian Dior, soft-spoken Belgian designer Raf Simons assumed the mantle of the label’s creative direction, but with only weeks to complete his first collection. Frédéric Tcheng’s suspenseful documentary uses its privileged access to some unusually satisfying ends. It’s an intimate portrait
of a well-oiled machine—from seamstresses to high-level strategists—as well as a study in coolheaded leadership that Project Runway wanna-bes ought to consider homework.—JR

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3. Five Star

Brooklyn filmmaker Keith Miller follows up 2012’s terrific Welcome to Pine Hill with a stellar doc-fiction hybrid, set in the projects of Kings County. Newcomers James “Primo” Grant and John Diaz play variations on themselves, the former an alternately tough and tender gang leader, the latter a tenacious teen he mentors. The film adeptly avoids clichés at every turn.—KU

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4. Journey to the West

In Tsai Ming-liang’s 2012 short “Walker,” the director’s frequent collaborator Lee Kang-sheng played a Buddhist monk ambling his way around Hong Kong. This hour-long follow-up, no less mesmerizing, captures Lee’s leisurely character as he moseys through France’s coastal city of Marseille. This time he’s joined by an imitative disciple, played by that most physically expressive of French actors, Denis Lavant.—KU

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5. Land Ho!

Two oldsters, once related by a marriage that went south, have reached an age at which retirement and death aren’t faraway concepts. But darn if that’s going to keep them from splurging on an adventurous trek through Iceland’s pubs and hot springs. Blessed by salty language, comfortable turns from two aces (Paul Eenhoorn and Earl Lynn Nelson) and a euphoric use of the music of Big Country, the movie’s a winner about not losing your spark.—JR

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6. Love is Strange

Chatty painter Ben (John Lithgow) and his music-teacher partner of nearly four decades, George (Alfred Molina), tie the knot in an idyllic ceremony—but then lose their apartment when the latter is fired from an intolerant workplace. In the hands of most other directors, this might have felt like a cautionary tale about the perils of gay marriage; instead, Love Is Strange emerges as a total triumph for director Ira Sachs and his leads.—JR

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7. Palo Alto

Francis Ford Coppola’s granddaughter Gia makes an auspicious directorial debut with this atmospheric and empathetic adaptation of James Franco’s short-story collection. The intertwining narratives—one following a high-school girl (Emma Roberts) who has an affair with her teacher (Franco), the other tailing two students (Nat Wolff and Jack Kilmer) who act in increasingly delinquent fashion—form an incisive portrait of adolescent malaise.—KU

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8. Regarding Susan Sontag

Sharp as a scalpel in print and often as prickly in person, Sontag was the last of the dazzling New York intellectuals—to many, her name is still incendiary. (A courageous essay published only days after September 11, 2001, incited citywide fury.) Nancy D. Kates’s profile does well by the early years, critical texts and novels, but gets even further into the writer’s evolving private persona: unsatisfied, unbowed, unapologetic.—JR

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9. Supermensch

Legendary entertainment manager Shep Gordon dusts off his best stories, like the one about putting a chicken onstage for Alice Cooper to abuse, then calling the cops on his own show. Viciously funny and vibrating with terrific archival clips, Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon bears an unusually distinctive style for a first-time filmmaker: comedian Mike Myers, touching on his own rough patch and Gordon’s intervention.—JR

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10. Venus in Fur

Mathieu Amalric is a harried playwright and director who meets with a seemingly airheaded actor (Emmanuelle Seigner) for a role in a highbrow S&M theater production. Roman Polanski’s initially subdued single-set satire soon gets deliciously grotesque, with a finale that stands proudly alongside his profoundly perverse shenanigans in Cul-de-sac (1966) and The Tenant (1976).—KU

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Don’t call the 13th edition of NYC’s downtown fest unlucky: This year’s lineup—culled from global sensations as well as some truly confident world premieres—is among its strongest in memory. Tickets go fast (some of the hottest screenings have already sold out), so get viewing with our picks.

The Tribeca Film Festival runs Apr 17–27. Visit tribecafilm.com for info and tickets.

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