10 Tribeca Film Festival Movies You Should Pay Attention To

James Franco's gay-porn biopic and Madonna's dancers sparked buzz.
Daniel Zuchnik via Getty Images

The Tribeca Film Festival concluded its 15th year on Sunday, and the ever-expanding gala may have finally found its voice. Sure, the movies were decent, but it's the events that made a splash: Chris Rock and J.J. Abrams discussed their careers, the cast of "Taxi Driver" reunited for the movie's 40th anniversary, Oprah Winfrey showed off the new OWN series "Greenleaf," the cast of "The Good Wife" bid the drama farewell, virtual reality became a fixture, and Baz Luhrmann talked about working with Prince on a "Great Gatsby" song that never came to be.

Really, the list could go on -- but that sampling alone proves that Tribeca, which has yet to attract the indie caliber that favors Sundance or the prestige that travels to Cannes, is carving out a space for itself as it ages. Still, movies are the name of the game, and there were plenty that lit up the 12-day New York festival. Let's talk about a few of them.

"Strike a Pose"
The dancers on Madonna's celebrated Blond Ambition Tour became minor celebrities unto themselves thanks to the seminal 1991 behind-the-scenes documentary "Truth or Dare." (If you've never seen it, head to Netflix immediately.) Twenty-five years after solidifying themselves as unprecedented queer icons, six of these men are the stars of Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan's "Strike a Pose." When the tour ended, the comedown was brutal. Facing individual hardships, the tight-knit group drifted apart. This documentary reunites them, gracefully channeling a famous moment in popular culture as a rumination on life's metamorphoses and the durability of makeshift family.
"My Scientology Movie"
Where last year's "Going Clear" probed the lunacy of Scientology's inner workings, BBC journalist Louis Theroux focuses his exposé on the process of making a Scientology documentary. In "My Scientology Movie," the roadblocks that stymie any legitimate access to the controversial church become as much of a premise as the torturous practices to which the organization allegedly subjects its members. What results is humorous insight into just how far these paranoid zealots will go to restrain outsiders.
With lyrical devotion, Alma Har’el's "LoveTrue" explores the notion of true love through the lens of three splintered relationships -- one in Alaska, another in Hawaii and a third in New York City. Interspersing the three narratives, Har’el casts actors as her subjects' younger selves, thereby melding their pivotal pasts and fickle futures. Produced by Shia LaBeouf and scored by Flying Lotus, "LoveTrue" uses hypnotic surrealism to debunk the fantasy of perfect romance.
On paper, "Dean" reads like a cliché: sad white guy dealing with life's changes flees his hometown and meets an attractive women who helps to revive his spirit. In practice, Demetri Martin's directorial debut is far more. It's a sweet, well-rounded portrait of a struggling illustrator (Martin) whose hopeful worldview is clouded by his mother's recent death and his father's desire to sell his childhood home. Dean is supposed to be an adult -- whatever that means -- but the youthful confusion that exists in all of us emerges through Martin's droll, Woody Allen-esque humor. "Dean" is bittersweet, but it's never a downer. In fact, despite ample talk of the Grim Reaper, the movie brims with optimism, like an 87-minute case study in understanding just how fine everything will turn out. To boot, the movie won Tribeca's top jury prize and secured theatrical distribution.
"Women Who Kill"
Ingrid Jungermann was one of Tribeca's key breakout stars. She wrote, directed and stars in her feature-film debut about two co-op-loving Brooklyn ex-girlfriends who host a podcast about serial killers. When one of them begins carousing with a mysterious new lover, the pair's true-crime obsessions are aroused. "Women Who Kill" is a fresh look at relationships, vegetables and paranoia.
"The Meddler"
Sony Pictures Classics
This one's easy -- its Tribeca premiere was a promotional formality, considering "The Meddler" bowed at last year's Toronto Film Festival and has already hit theaters. But we'll take any excuse to applaud it. Susan Sarandon plays a new widow who moves to Los Angeles to be near her TV-writer daughter (Rose Byrne). But without a life of her own, she just keeps calling and coming over and, well, meddling -- until she begins to experience something of a renaissance. Lorene Scafaria's directorial follow-up to "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" is an affectionate tale about growing up in one's golden years, featuring Sarandon's best performance in years.
"Abortion: Stories Women Tell"
At a time when we couldn't need it more, Tracy Droz Tragos has given us a documentary that delves deep into what it means to get an abortion. How do women find the support they need? How do we break through labels like "pro-choice" and "pro-life" to provide proper medical care to those who seek it? And how do women who have had abortions feel about them years later? With honesty and open-mindedness, "Abortion: Stories Women Tell" humanizes one of the fiercest political debates of the century. (The movie will premiere on HBO later this year.)
"Always Shine"
In the vein of "Persona" and "Sisters" (not the one with Tina and Amy), "Always Shine" explores the psyches of two individuals whose scorned friendship conjures up a hypnotizing madness. During a secluded getaway, a once-close pair of actresses -- one (Caitlin FitzGerald) more successful than the other (Mackenzie Davis) -- succumb to professional jealousy and personal deception. But theirs is no mere bitter succubus. These women are responding to years of feminized torture, of being asked to comport themselves with a certain allure within a male-dominated world. It is far more than their friendship that has imploded -- it is their selfhood, even if neither recognizes it as such. Director Sophia Takal explores that turmoil with the tenor of a fever dream, resulting in a psychological thriller that is both stirring and tormenting.
"All This Panic"
Jenny Gage and her husband, cinematographer Tom Betterton, spent three years chronicling two Brooklyn sisters as they brave their teenage years. The pair navigate the political travails of high school and the confusion that comes with maturing into young adults. The intimate documentary also drops in on several of their friends, including one who questions her sexual identity and another who is the only black scholarship student at a snooty private school. By the end, "All This Panic" is a tender ode to the beauty of adolescence.
"King Cobra"
There's obvious interest in any sexually induced project to which James Franco attaches his name, but "King Cobra" is particularly buzzworthy. Franco plays one of the two hustlers responsible for the 2007 murder of online gay-porn maestro Bryan Kocis, who made a star out of the desirable young Sean Lockhart (better known as Brent Corrigan). Writer/director Justin Kelly, who worked with Franco on the queer-themed "I Am Michael," cast Disney Channel alum Garrett Clayton as Lockhart and a remarkable Christian Slater as Kocis. He also recruited Molly Ringwald and Alicia Silverstone for supporting plots, fashioning a "Boogie Nights"-inspired thriller that is truly stranger than fiction.
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