10 must-see films at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival


Most name-brand film festivals come with strong identities. Sundance is a hotbed of discovery, where indie filmmakers and ascending stars go to break out. Cannes is a glitzy, international blowout. Toronto, meanwhile, acts as award season’s unofficial starting gun. But the Tribeca Film Festival, while benefiting off the automatic cachet that comes with its New York City location (and having Robert De Niro as one of its founders), has always been harder to pin down. Its program tends to be a grab bag of smaller features made by emerging directors from all over the map, and in recent years has found a niche with an especially strong slate of documentaries, panels, and VR entries. Beginning this week, Tribeca once again tries to offer something for everyone, and here are ten titles in particular that we think are worth checking out.

Since his breakthrough with the stormy long-distance romance Like Crazy [2011], director Drake Doremus has had an uneven career. Movies like Breathe In [2013] and Equals [2015] have scratched the surface of his potential while falling short of greatness. Still, Doremus’s vérité style of filmmaking along with his ability to coax raw performances from his actors is enough to keep us intrigued. His latest, another sci-fi romance in the vein of Equals, stars Ewan McGregor and Léa Seydoux (playing the title character) as scientists who create a technology to “improve and perfect romantic relationships.” Not much else about the film is known, except that it features a strong supporting cast that includes Rashida Jones, Theo James, and an up-and-coming actor named Christina Aguilera.


The Fourth Estate
One of the most fascinating documentaries in recent memory is Page One, an intimate look at the inner-workings of The New York Times. But a lot has changed for the paper since those Halcyon days. It is now under siege by none other than our current president, while it also scrambles to cover every aspect of his chaotic immigration. This new four-part docu-series from filmmaker Liz Garbus chronicles the first year of the Trump administration through the eyes of the journalists tasked with reporting on an unprecedented year of cascading scandals and power run amok.  The first 90-minute episode will be screened as the closing night program at Tribeca, with the rest of the series premiering May 27 on Showtime.

Duck Butter
Alia Shawkat has spent her career appearing in the sharply-observed independent movies of other filmmakers, often in supporting roles. But with her newfound clout courtesy of her excellent TBS dark comedy Search Party, she’s now in the position to not just star in movies, but to write them, too. Duck Butter represents a creative leap forward for the actor, who co-wrote the movie with her close friend Miguel Arteta, who also directs. It follows two young women (Shawkat and Spanish actress Laia Costa), who fall hard for each other one night, and decide to spend the next 24 hours together, having sex once each hour. Naturally, feelings happen.


Little Woods
Tessa Thompson is having a moment. She was the best thing about Thor: Ragnarok [2017], a movie filled with best things, and followed that up with a killer performance in the sci-fi sleeper Annihilation [2018]. Last month, Thompson was cast alongside her Thor co-star Chris Hemsworth in a planned reboot of the Men in Black franchise, and this weekend can be seen reprising her role as a corporate villain in season two of Westworld. (Did we mention she’s having a moment?) Take this opportunity then, to catch the white-hot actor in this small thriller from first-time director Nia DaCosta, about two sisters (Thompson and Cinderella [2015] star Lily James) who go outside the law in a desperate attempt to pay back their deceased mother’s mortgage. Because for Tessa Thompson, it’s likely that tiny indies like this one will soon be a thing of the past.


It’s hard to believe it’s taken this long for a biography of Robert Mapplethorpe to make its way to the big screen, but better late than never. Fresh off his gender pay gap controversy, The Crown star Matt Smith plays the legendary photographer at the outset of a mythic New York City odyssey that sees him moving into the Chelsea Hotel, meeting Patti Smith, and intoxicating the art world with his black and white photographs of flowers, nude bodies, and BDSM imagery. This period in Mapplethorpe’s life is famously documented in Smith’s book Just Kids, and although the singer declined to participate in the movie (she’ll be played by French actress Marianne Rendón), The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, founded a year before his death of AIDS in 1989, has given its support.


Blue Night
Throughout the last two decades, Sarah Jessica Parker has established herself as a top-tier comedic actor. First with Sex and the City, and now with Divorce, SJP knows how to get a laugh. But as those roles can attest, she also knows how to break hearts. Those considerable dramatic chops will be on full display in this Fabien Constant-directed movie about a famous singer who enters an existential crisis of sorts after receiving a devastating medical diagnosis. Taking place over the course of 24 hours, the French New Wave-inspired movie co-stars Renée Zellweger, Jacqueline Bisset, and Simon Baker.


Love, Gilda
Set to open the Tribeca Film Festival with a huge premiere at the Beacon Theatre, this highly anticipated documentary tells the story of the legendary comedian through archival footage and audio tapes, along with talking head testimonials from names like Hader, Fey, and Poehler. Radner shot to fame as on original cast member on Saturday Night Live, creating unforgettable characters like Baba Wawa and Roseanne Rosannadanna. Her promising career came to an untimely end when she died of cancer in 1989. She has since become something of mythic figure, especially in comedy circles, and this documentary is certain to illuminate the reasons why.

It’s been eight years since Lee Alexander McQueen tragically took his own life at the age of 40. But even after all these years, the late designer’s influence still looms large over the fashion world. This documentary from directors Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui will explore McQueen’s tortured, passionate life—from his appointment at the age of 27 to head designer position at Givenchy, to his friendship with Isabella Blow—using rare archival footage of McQueen himself that will give viewers an up-close-and-personal look at his genius. Bleecker Street has already picked up distribution rights for the project, so if you can’t make it to Tribeca, it will be released in theaters this summer.

Nico, 1988
Tracking the gloomy final two years of the mercurial Velvet Underground singer’s life, this international production made waves when it premiered at last year’s Venice Film Festival, winning the Horizons competition. Danish actor and singer Trine Dyrholm plays Nico, now in her late forties, the glory days of Andy Warhol’s Factory behind her. All she’s left with is her fading beauty and a lingering drug problem as she tours Europe as a solo artist, struggling with her own legacy and eventually attempting to rebuild her relationship with her estranged son, also a heroin addict. Magnolia picked up the movie which is slated for release sometime this year.


State Like Sleep
The feature debut from writer and director Meredith Danluck, this neo-noir follows a woman, played by Katherine Waterston, who is reeling from the mysterious suicide of her famous husband. To get answers as to why he took his own life, she heads to Brussels where they once lived, and discovers a nebulous underworld set largely in the underground club scene. While the movie features a stellar supporting cast including Luke Evans and Michael Shannon, this is Waterston’s show. As she proved in last summer’s Alien: Covenant, she is one of Hollywood’s most formidable actors, so any time you get a chance to see her in a starring role, you should take it.