The 10 Best Films of the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival

By  · Published on April 28th, 2014

Tribeca Film Festival

And, just like that, another film festival has just gone ahead and wrapped itself right up. This year’s Tribeca Film Festival featured a hefty number of features that sounded typical, standard or otherwise expected (save for a little ditty titled Zombeavers), but the results were often unexpectedly great, strangely able to twist a trite trope or two into something fresh. “Relationship dramas” ruled, there was twentysomething ennui as far as the eye could see and documentaries keeled to the side of “dramatic,” but plenty of final films felt truly satisfying and original.

And, of course, there was also a little something we like to call “a triumph of the weird,” but you’ll have to read ahead for that one. After the break, our own Kate Erbland and Daniel Walber – old Tribeca pros by now – share their favorite films of the festival, in the hopes that you’ll be able to seek them out one day, too.

Life Partners

A pair of best friends start to grow apart when one of them lands a serious mate. The other one stumbles through a series of bad dates and worse significant others. Something changes, both in them and in their own relationship. It’s a story we’ve seen on the big screen plenty of times before; this is, after all, twentysomething catnip. And yet Susanna Fogel’s film is so witty and true and real that it’s somehow both very honest and very entertaining. If you’ve ever struggled to find a balance between your friends and your lovers and come up short, this is probably going to be your new favorite film. A winner, through and through. -Kate Erbland

Black Coal, Thin Ice

Something of a coup for the Tribeca programming team, Golden Bear winner Black Coal, Thin Ice is a triumph of the weird. A dark detective thriller with flashes of slapstick, it can be hard to discern exactly what the film is in its opening scenes. Yet by the time it picks up it is absolutely transfixing and transformative, not only of the genres it blends but also the way that we see the urban landscape. A pair of scenes set at a makeshift outdoor ice skating rink is breathtaking and Liao Fan gives an enigmatic performance worth of the noir pantheon. -Daniel Walber

Goodbye to All That

Any film that earns Paul Schneider some acting accolades is a-okay by us, and Angus MacLachlan’s directorial debut not only got him a Best Actor award at the festival, it allowed the multi-faceted performer a chance to really show off his chops in a not-so-romantic comedy-with-shades-of-drama. -KE

Something Must Break

Tribeca’s luck with Scandinavian cinema continues. Broken Hill Blues is also quite good, an ensemble film built like a landscape painting with stunning vistas and striking, sometimes unsettling details. Yet Something Must Break rises above even that, a coming-of-age romance with a fiery spirit and passionate devotion to its protagonist. By the end of the film, Ellie (né Sebastian) is one of the strongest, most thoroughly articulated characters of the year. She is raised up from the pain of tragic romance, the throes of reckless sexual adventure and a throbbing, glamorous soundtrack. -DW

Palo Alto

Gia Coppola’s debut feature is a knockout, thanks to her decidely clear vision, a kickass soundtrack, and some super stellar young actors. James Franco’s source material – and, hell, James Franco’s supporting performance in the film – might not be top-notch, but Coppola and the rest of her cast have made a series of tales about suburban teen ennui feel both recognizable and revelatory. Even better? Nat Wolff’s performance as this year’s Teenage Dirtbag Supreme. -KE

Ne Me Quitte Pas

Marcel and Bob are getting on in years, lonely single men in a small Belgian village with nothing to do but drink and make fun of each other. That may sound boring as the subject of a documentary, but filmmakers Sabine Lubbe Bakker and Niels van Koevorden have done something extraordinary. It has a structure akin to a fiction film, and has a more powerful emotional arc than most European narratives on the festival circuit. Marcel struggles to get sober with the help of both Bob and a hospital, though his friend might not be the best influence. A dark, wry humor arises out of these two men, sometimes bumbling and often unexpectedly wise. -DW

Other One: The Long, Strange Trip of Bob Weir

Quick, name a member of the Grateful Dead that’s not Jerry Garcia. We said not Jerry Garcia. If such a question seems hard to answer, you’re not alone, which is probably why Mike Fleiss decided to make a documentary all about Bob Weir, a visionary singer/songwriter/guitarist who should be just as recognized and lauded as his dearly departed compatriot. A fiercely entertaining blend of interviews, archival footage and lots of insight, Other One is essential viewing for Deadheads and non-fans alike. -KE

Mala Mala

Mala Mala contains multitudes. The subject is the transgender and drag communities of Puerto Rico, a plural portrait. That plurality is essential because, as directors Dan Sickles and Antonio Santini explore, there is no one way to associate with either transgender identity or drag performance. They don’t avoid the tension between the two, either. Mala Mala is successful because it is polyphonic, allowing each voice its dignity even when their subjects offer very different definitions of their community. All of this is wrapped in an aesthetic that makes sure to portray these beautiful people as they are, rather than how a flawed and disinterested camera might misrepresent them. -DW

About Alex

Yes, this might be The Big Chill for the Twitter generation, but you know what? The Twitter generation deserves their own Big Chill. An auspicious debut from Jesse Zwick, the film’s strong cast and believable chatter help smooth over some third act problems, but the whole thing is so damn charming and fresh that those issues are almost forgivable. -KE

The Overnighters

Go west, young man. The Overnighters is built up from the migration of the unemployed to North Dakota to find work in an oil boom town. It’s a new-fangled version of the old drive to the west for fortune, though many of the men on the move are not at all young. It’s obviously about the recession and its impact on people of all ages, but it is also so much more. It raises questions of faith, law, and justice. By centering its narrative on an embattled minister who is trying to shelter all of these migrant workers in his church, it becomes an essential discourse on the hope and hubris of our heroes and our mythology. It is the Great American Documentary of 2014. -DW

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