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The 20 best movies at the Tribeca Film Festival

Here are the 20 must-sees—world premieres, stirring docs, indies and star-studded affairs—at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival

A lot can happen in 14 years. In that time, the Tribeca Film Festival has matured from its origins as an urgent economic response to 9/11 to one of the world's most prominent movie events, comfortable with taking both programming risks and attracting big names. This year’s edition, running April 15–26, boasts close to 100 features—narrative, documentaries and foreign films—with a robust 30 of them directed by women. We’ve scoured the selection, put in hours of viewing and whittled down our favorites. Happy watching, New York!

RECOMMENDED: Full coverage of the Tribeca Film Festival

Best Tribeca Film Festival movies

1
Among the Believers

Among the Believers

The battles make the headlines, but the war for the future of Pakistan is being fought far beyond the reach of the public eye. Defined by its jaw-dropping access, Hemal Trivedi and Mohammed Ali Naqvi’s sobering new documentary drops viewers into the heart of an organization known as the Red Mosque, a network of madrassas that aims to spread its jihadist ideology by targeting the most vulnerable Pakistanis: lower-class children. Regal Battery Park; Apr 20 at 7:30pm, Apr 24 at 5:45pmBow Tie Chelsea; Apr 21 at 6:30pm, Apr 26 at 3:45pmDE

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2
Autism in Love

Autism in Love

Inspiring and heartbreaking in equal measure, Matt Fuller’s doc follows four people on the autism spectrum who are just different enough to be fully aware of how different they are. Candid and never the least bit condescending (in other words, nothing like The Other Sister), Autism in Love pauses to recognize the romantic challenges that are unique to its subjects, but the film is at its best when focusing on how universal their struggles truly are. Regal Battery Park; Apr 16 at 5:30pmBow Tie Chelsea; Apr 17 at 5:30pm, Apr 18 at 6:30pm, Apr 21 at 3:30pmDE

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3
Being 14

Being 14

It’s not the easiest age, we can all agree. In French director Hélène Zimmer’s catty yet quietly sympathetic drama, female junior-high-schoolers unleash a frightening amount of verbal pain on each other, nudging their squabbles into uncomfortable territory. Subtly, a theme emerges from the viciousness, indicting not the girls but the systemic peer pressure that occupies their every waking moment. (Lunkheaded, sex-obsessed boyfriends don’t help.) Allegiances flip with the seasons—your head will spin. Regal Battery Park; Apr 18 at 6:45pm, Apr 20 at 6pmBow Tie Chelsea; Apr 21 at 9:45pm, Apr 22 at 6:45pmJR

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4
The Birth of Saké

The Birth of Saké

Not too far-removed from Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Erik Shirai’s The Birth of Saké is a contemplative portrait of a year inside Japan’s Tedorigawa saké brewery, a small company renowned for its elegance and finesse. Both atmospheric and informative, Shirai’s film looks for the small changes that define a vocation rooted in tradition. Regal Battery Park; Apr 16 at 7:30pm, Apr 23 at 5pmBow Tie Chelsea; Apr 17 at 8:30pm, Apr 18 at 9:45pm, Apr 26 at 3:30pmDE

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5
Bridgend

Bridgend

If you don’t know about Wales’s notorious Bridgend County, that may be a blessing. It’s a place where 79 people—mostly teens—have committed suicide since 2007 in a secret pact that’s mystified parents and law enforcement for years. Jeppe Rønde’s starkly involving dramatization feels like a Joy Division dirge come to life: There’s little to do in this frigid, rural community but drink, vandalize and yell senselessly at the sky. Deep reserves of emotion spring from Game of Thrones’ fresh-faced Hannah Murray, playing a nice kid who’s new to town and immediately suspicious. Bow Tie Chelsea; Apr 16 at 9pm, Apr 17 at 9:30pm, Apr 18 at 2:30pmRegal Battery Park; Apr 24 at 9:45pmJR

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6
Crocodile Gennadiy

Crocodile Gennadiy

Captured in a Blade Runner–like Ukraine of decaying buildings and smoke-belching factories, Steve Hoover’s outraged documentary follows pastor Gennadiy Mokhnenko, a furiously committed intervener who drags drug-addicted kids into clinics and confronts the pharmacists who sell them codeine. The film toys with notions of vigilantism (perhaps for fame), but the overall takeaway is complex. Galvanic, shaming and inspiring, this is the social-issue movie of the festival, with a nightmarish synth score co-composed by Gone Girl’s Atticus Ross. If Mokhnenko is at your screening, expect a deafening standing ovation. Regal Battery Park; Apr 16 at 9pm, Apr 18 at 3:45pm, Apr 24 at 8pm • Bow Tie Chelsea; Apr 19 at 3:30pmJR

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7
Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon

Charting a transition from Harvard campus newsletter to a national brand that encompassed movies, albums, tours and books, Douglas Tirola’s upbeat doc on National Lampoon already feels essential for celebrating a hard-fought moment of American comic subversion. The gang, which included John Belushi, Harold Ramis and a brilliant team of writers and artists, lived hard and suffered consequences, but they went as far as they could go. Until the defunct magazine starts magically arriving in your mailbox again, this excellently titled pic will do nicely. Regal Battery Park; Apr 16 at 9:15pm, Apr 21 at 9:15pm, Apr 24 at 8:45pmJR

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8
Goodfellas

Goodfellas

In the 25 years since Martin Scorsese’s rapturously entertaining gangster classic debuted, we’ve seen The Sopranos, Pulp Fiction and Breaking Bad—all of which owe a debt to arguably the most influential film of the iconic director’s career. Fittingly, a remastered anniversary print closes the festival that Robert De Niro built. Afterward, Jon Stewart moderates a panel with cast members Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco, Ray Liotta and Paul Sorvino. Go get the papers (get the papers), then make it a point to get tickets. Beacon Theatre; Apr 25 at 7:30pmJR

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9
Hyena

Hyena

On the surface, this London-set crime thriller resembles many of its kind: a corrupt cop and his even shadier boss; brutal drug dealers; a helpless female victim of a sex-trafficking ring. But in his follow-up to his seedy 2009 serial-killer drama Tony, writer-director Gerard Johnson manages to put his own vivid stamp on familiar material, moving beyond dirty realism to a heightened intensity that’s appropriate for the misadventures of these coked-up bad lieutenants. Startling, claustrophobic and penetrating in its analysis of compromise, Hyena is the most powerful British crime flick since Sexy Beast. Regal Battery Park; Apr 20 at 9:45pmBow Tie Chelsea; Apr 23 at 9:45pm, Apr 24 at 11:30pmTrevor Johnston

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10
In My Father’s House

In My Father’s House

Che “Rhymefest” Smith rose to fame after cowriting Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks,” but his own album flopped, and his career fizzled. Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg’s documentary begins a few years later, as Smith returns to Chicago, buys his childhood home and tries to reconnect with the alcoholic dad who abandoned him as a kid. It may revolve around a semicelebrity, but In My Father’s House tells an all-too-relatable story about faith and fatherlessness in America. SVA Theatre; Apr 16 at 9pm • Regal Battery Park; Apr 19 at 2:30pm • Bow Tie Chelsea; Apr 17 at 6:30pm, Apr 23 at 6pmDE

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11
In Transit

In Transit

The last film from late, great vérité legend Albert Maysles, this gentle but (literally) moving doc takes you for a ride on the Empire Builder, Amtrak’s busiest long-distance route. Embedding themselves on the scenic three-day trip from the Pacific Northwest to Chicago, Maysles & Co. zero in on passengers from all walks of life. This short but sweet swan song is a fitting reminder that everyone has a story to tell. Regal Battery Park; Apr 16 at 8:30pm • Bow Tie Chelsea; Apr 18 at 3:30pm, Apr 24 at 6:45pm • SVA Theatre; Apr 19 at 2pmDE

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12
Men Go to Battle

Men Go to Battle

Inspired by letters from Kentucky’s Civil War era (and cowritten by House of Cards’ Kate Lyn Sheil), director Zachary Treitz’s absorbingly atmospheric indie springs off from the tension between a pair of testy brothers. At the onset of 1861’s harsh winter, they can’t keep their grubby farm going. The chickens drown in the rain, their fieldwork amounts to nothing, and they squabble and hurt each other. Eventually one leaves for the front lines, and a cast of authentic reenactors turns the movie into an immersive memorial to differing paths marked by blood. Regal Battery Park; Apr 17 at 8:30pm, Apr 18 at 6pm • Bow Tie Chelsea; Apr 20 at 6:45pm, Apr 22 at 9:30pmJR

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13
Palio

Palio

Imagine a horse race that’s part Kentucky Derby and part Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, and you’ll have a good idea what Italy’s Palio di Siena is all about. Director Cosima Spender’s handsome and mirthfully hilarious doc unpacks Siena’s most treasured biannual blood sport, bridging the gap between the Palio’s 17th-century origins and the colorful, merciless personalities who keep it alive today. Bow Tie Chelsea; Apr 18 at 6pm • Regal Battery Park; Apr 19 at 7:30pm, Apr 22 at 8pm, Apr 25 at 3:45pmDE

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14
Requiem for the American Dream

Requiem for the American Dream

Were you expecting something more upbeat from political analyst Noam Chomsky? Interviewed over four years in a wide-ranging conversation that touches on power, money, democracy and his own career, 86-year-old Chomsky nails down a creeping but perceptible shift in societal thinking since the 1960s. His critique extends beyond left and right (or Democrat and Republican), resulting in a lucid analysis that’s breathtaking in its simplicity, and all the more scary for it. SVA Theatre; Apr 18 at 2:30pmBow Tie Chelsea; Apr 19 at 3pm, Apr 20 at 8:30pm, Apr 25 at 3pmJR

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15
Sleeping with Other People

Sleeping with Other People

If any one person is capable of saving the romantic comedy, odds are it’s Leslye Headland. The Bachelorette writer-director’s new opus is a New York story to the core, following two winsome but wounded Manhattanites (Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie) who have a chance encounter 10 years after losing their virginities to each other. Heartfelt, comfortably familiar and unusually honest, Sleeping with Other People is the rare rom-com that reminds us why we love them so much in the first place. BMCC Tribeca; Apr 21 at 6pmRegal Battery Park; Apr 22 at 9:30pm, Apr 25 at 3:15pmDE

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16
Slow West

Slow West

A hit at Sundance, John Maclean’s terse and casually weird revisionist Western is sure to be a Tribeca highlight. Slow West stars Kodi Smit-McPhee as a young Scottish lad who journeys across the American frontier in search of his lost love. Michael Fassbender plays the bounty hunter who becomes his father figure along the way. The doozy of an ending alone makes this one worth it. SVA Theatre; Apr 18 at 5:30pm, Apr 24 at 9:30pm • Regal Battery Park; Apr 22 at 8:30pmDE

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17
The Survivalist

The Survivalist

A true festival discovery and a film that will shake you for days, Stephen Fingleton’s masterful feature debut, a postapocalyptic drama, has no charming heroes, quips, romance or leather outfits. It’s a tense chamber piece set in a European forest 10 years after the fall of civilization. (We learn from an elegantly simple graph only that demand overtook supply.) What plays out is brutal, arresting and, yet, essentially about the undying nature of hope and human contact. Fingleton’s world is a lushly green universe of ruined people trapped in the psychology of survival. You’ll leave completely rapt. Bow Tie Chelsea; Apr 16 at 9:30pm, Apr 18 at 9:15pm • Regal Battery Park; Apr 21 at 9pm, Apr 25 at 8:45pmJR

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18
Sworn Virgin

Sworn Virgin

The arrestingly serene Alba Rohrwacher (I Am Love) takes on her most ambitious role to date: an Albanian “sworn virgin,” one of that culture’s unmarried women who pledge to bind their breasts and live out their lives as men. The real-life setup is a knockout, both ancient and timely, and even though Rohrwacher never quite passes—she looks too much like Barbra Streisand’s Yentl—the movie is on to a larger point, namely about the fluidity of sexual identity and our universal penchant for self-reinvention. The film builds slowly but deserves an audience eager to discuss it. Regal Battery Park; Apr 17 at 6pmBow Tie Chelsea; Apr 18 at 3:45pm, Apr 20 at 5:30pm, Apr 21 at 3:45pmJR

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19
“Tribeca Talks” Directors Series: George Lucas with Stephen Colbert

“Tribeca Talks” Directors Series: George Lucas with Stephen Colbert

Colbert has never been shy about his nerddom. (His obsession with Lord of the Rings is legendary and led to a cameo in the second Hobbit film.) It stands to reason that the future Late Show host probably has a similar love for Star Wars. Find out by watching Colbert sit down for a chat with the man behind the galaxy far, far away. BMCC Tribeca; Apr 17 at 4pmDE

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20
Very Semi-Serious

Very Semi-Serious

For those of you who read The New Yorker for the illustrations, Leah Wolchok’s all-access look into the weird and wonderful world of cartoon editor Bob Mankoff will be a dream come true. In addition to exploring the history of the magazine’s iconic doodles, Wolchok’s doc is a warm and frequently hilarious portrait of the unique men and women who live for that rare moment when their drawings are printed in their business’ holiest book. BMCC Tribeca; Apr 19 at 1pmBow Tie Chelsea; Apr 20 at 6pm, Apr 21 at 3pmRegal Battery Park; Apr 23 at 5:30pmDE

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