My 10 Favorite Films from the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival
“Roads” is the story of a capricious British teen named named Gyllen (Fionn Whitehead) who steals his step-father’s recreational vehicle while on holiday in Morocco, and sets off on a risky journey to France in order to locate his birth father. Along the way Gyllen is joined by William (Stéphane Bak), a Congolese emigrant in search of his brother who is lost somewhere in the French Republic—the two quickly bonding as mutual accomplices and comrades. Weaving in an often harrowing depiction of Europe’s migrant crisis, the storyline follows Gyllen and William along a path of soul-searching and often surprising revelation. Written and directed by German filmmaker Sebastian Schipper, best known for his phenomenal single-take thriller “Victoria” (2015), “Roads” is a vibrant road film with extraordinary heart. Schipper imbues his characters with a humanity rarely delivered so beautifully on film, and crafts a touching story of escapism and reconciliation.
“The Kill Team” is documentary filmmaker Dan Krauss’ feature debut, based on his 2013 documentary of the same title, about a squadron of U.S. Army personnel deployed to Afghanistan in 2010. The storyline follows eager young Andrew Briggman (Nat Wolff) as he strives for advancement and glory on the battlefield, before becoming disillusioned by his new commanding officer, Sergent Deeks (Alexander Skarsgård), a hardened tactician dedicated to a brutal campaign of savagery against the Afghan people. Once Briggman learns of Deek’s illicit scheme of murder and false evidence does he reach a crisis point, ultimately putting his own life at risk in in the process. Based on the real-life case of The Maywand District Murders, “The Kill Team” is a stark and harrowing depiction of moral ambiguity on the frontline, featuring superb performances by Skarsgard and Wolff. Exceptional storytelling and a thoroughly involving narrative make it a can’t-miss affair.
“Georgetown” is an captivating mystery/crime drama based in part on the true story of Albrecht Muth, A German national who was convicted in the 2011 murder of his 91 year old-wife, Viola Herms Drath. In his directorial debut, two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz portrays “Ulrich Mott”, a thinly-veiled characterization of Muth, as a rabid social climber amongst the high-powered Washington DC elite. Posing as a commander in the French Foreign Legion (and later as a Brigadier General in the Iraqi Army), Muth insinuates himself into the life of the elderly Elsa Brecht (Vanessa Redgrave) and upon taking her hand in marriage, uses her influence and connections to build a fictitious consulting firm—an arrangement that leads Muth down a snowballing path of deception, treachery and destruction. Highlighted by phenomenal performances by Waltz, Redgrave and Annette Bening, “Georgetown” is a deliriously twisted and darkly humorous escapade not to be missed.
4. Scheme Birds
A Swedish documentary filmed entirely in Scotland, “Scheme Birds” is the deeply enthralling chronicle of young Gemma Gillon—a fractious and often volatile teen girl who balances a life of misbehavior with a dedication to her training as a boxer. Supervised by her grandfather, Joseph, Gemma displays a passion for the sport before the street life ultimately drags her down a path of misconduct and misfortune. Following Gemma over the course of several years, filmmakers Ellen Fiske and Ellinor Hallin chart her maturation as she eventually becomes a young mother who struggles with her boyfriend, Pat, who is unwilling to turn away from a life of alcohol, drugs and crime. It’s a stunningly intimate and profoundly touching display of young lives on the periphery, offering up a melancholy slice-of-life from the post-industrial landscape of the northern UK—an often bleak glimpse touched with a fleeting silver lining of hopefulness and renewal.
5.. Come to Daddy
"Come to Daddy" is a twistedly amusing and highly entertaining dark-comedy thriller starring Elijah Wood as Norval, a young man who treks to the remote Oregon coast to reunite with his long-lost father (Stephen McHattie). Upon arrival, Norval is rather bewildered by his father's caustic demeanor, attempting to engender some degree of reconciliation between the two of them, even as his father displays an increasingly antagonistic attitude toward his son. Soon enough, dark overtones descend upon Norval as mysterious sounds begin to emanate from within the house, and his sense of foreboding reaches a fevered pitch of fear and paranoia—the result of which is all too tantalizingly to be spoiled her. As macabre a family reunion as you’re likely to find on film, “Come to Daddy” delivers a winning combination of horror and humor in nearly perfect measure. Borderline perverse at times, this one will light up your senses and stick with you long after the credits have rolled.
“Blow the Man Down” is a neo-noir crime thriller that stars Meredith Holzman and Sophie Lowe as Dee and Priscilla Connolly, two sisters residing in a small fishing village on the Maine coast. The story begins with the passing of their mother, and their realization that they must bond together to operate the family fish market and maintain their home together, despite enormous financial difficulties. The two are soon caught up in an illicit cover-up that involves murder and a cache of stolen money—the funds teasing the all-too-alluring financial relief they desperately require, even as sinister forces begin to slowly close in upon them. Remarkably well-crafted by the writing/directing team of Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy, “Blow the Man Down” is an impressive debut for the burgeoning filmmakers, offering up a lively and tense twister in the vein of the Coen Brothers' earlier films (“Blood Simple”, “Fargo”). A dynamite debut from a pair of creative forces well on their way to due prominence and acclaim.
7. The Gasoline Thieves (Huachicolero)
“The Gasoline Thieves” (“Huachicolero”) is a gripping Spanish-language thriller from Mexico, set amidst the escalating black market trade for stolen fuel reserves. The film stars young Eduardo Banda as Lalo, a kindly teenage boy infatuated with his schoolmate Ana (Regina Reynoso), and despite his best efforts at wooing her, is rebuked for his awkwardness and inability to lavish her with expensive gifts (an iPhone being the ultimate prize). Lalo’s desire to win over Ana leads him on a desperate campaign to earn the funds necessary to appease her, soon finding himself caught up amidst hardened criminals who tap gasoline pipelines in order to extract and sell stolen gasoline. Co-written and directed by Mexican filmmaker Edgar Nito, “The Gasoline Thieves” is a harrowing and brutally realistic depiction of desperate criminality south of the border. Given a major boost by Juan Pablo Ramírez’s mesmerizing cinematography, it’s a starkly impressive and morally profound cinematic accomplishment.
Depicting the horrific exploits of infamous serial killer Ted Bundy, “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile” stars Zac Efron as Bundy and Lily Collins as his unsuspecting real-life girlfriend, Liz Kendall. The film charts Bundy’s campaign of murder from 1969 though to his incarceration in 1975 and his eventual execution in 1989—Efron mimicking Bundy’s gusto and unbridled charisma in utterly seamless fashion. As famous for his good looks and charm as he was for his heinous crimes, Efron delivers Bundy to the screen in impressive and downright disturbing fashion. Refreshingly, director Joe Berlinger eschews reenactment of Bundy’s crimes in lieu of an involving character study and historical chronicle, crafting a highly involving human drama tinged with just the right hint of horror. It’s a testament to the famous documentary filmmaker’s storytelling abilities that he succeeds so convincingly without the need for cheap thrills or unnecessary carnage.
9. In Fabric
“In Fabric” is a a wonderfully bizarre and sublimely amusing British horror film about a sinister vestment that haunts its owners. Beginning with the tale of a middle-aged woman named Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) who purchases the dress in preparation for a promising romantic encounter, the storyline follows as she is slowly bedeviled by the mysterious garment—her life spooling increasingly out of control in the process. Purchased from a mysterious emporium managed by an inscrutable and seemingly evil proprietor, the garment finds its way into the hands of unsuspecting clients, each finding their lives slowly destroyed by its very presence. It’s an alternatingly whimsical and chilling affair, delivering a strikingly original narrative in wry homage to the Italian horror films of yesteryear (major tip of the hat to Dario Argento). Written and directed by British filmmaker Peter Strickland (The Duke of Burgundy”, “Berberian Sound Studio”), “In Fabric” is definitely worth a look-see if you’re in the mood something bold, alluring and altogether one-of-a-kind.
10. Crown Vic
“Crown Vic” is a drama-thriller about a rookie LAPD officer named Jack Van Zandt (Josh Hopkins) on his first day on the job, where he finds himself partnered with a grizzled veteran officer named Ray Mandel (Thomas Jane). Simultaneously, two vicious cop killers remain on the loose within the greater Los Angeles area, and from early on it become clear that the two opposing forces are bound to converge in dramatic fashion. Set over the course of a single day, the film follows the new partners as they hammer out their personality differences and face down a series of escalating incidents, highlighting the grim and often dangerous nature of their vocation. Written and directed by Joel Souza, “Crown Vic” cannot entirely escape the routine trappings of police procedurals, but scores best from strong supporting performances by Bridget Moynahan, Josh Hopkins and David Krumholtz. Their dynamic roles breathe life and energy into a narrative that teeters on the edge of cliché at times, and help to deliver a richer and more vibrant human drama.