I missed the best New York film of the festival to see “Suburban Girl.” It was Sunday morning, and I was running down 34th street—most screenings this year were a few train stops from Tribeca—and somehow through the haze of just-past 9AM I decided a movie headlining Alec Baldwin and Sarah Michelle Gellar in love would be more entertaining than “The Education of Charlie Banks,” Fred Durtz’ directorial debut and the now-anointed “Made in New York” narrative winner.
Why, you wonder? For starters, “Suburban Girl” is based on Melissa Bank’s sharp, hilarious, best-selling “A Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing,” the sort of book girls give to their friends as birthday presents (yeah, I did). Then there’s the overwhelm factor, experienced last year as a Tribeca newbie with 250 movies to see and ten days to see them in. Choosing, to say the least, is difficult.
This year, there were 157 features and 88 shorts. There were parties on a nightly basis. There were outdoor screenings of vintage hits like “Dirty Dancing,” and there was an entire week devoted to Tobey Maguire in tights, swinging across a darkened version of our city. Back in indieville there was Entourage’s Kevin Connolly, meeting longtime pal Lukas Haas in Chelsea to talk to eager journalists about “Gardener of Eden,” which marks Connolly’s debut as a director and stars Haas as a college dropout trying to reform New Jersey.
Speaking of debuts, Leonardo DiCaprio makes his as producer on this one, and when girls thought he’d be joining Haas and Connolly, there were shrieks. Then girls (and, yeah, journalists) gathered round as Elijah Wood and Chris Klein joined co-star Jon Bernthal and director Bryan Gunnar Cole to talk about the making of their moving indie, “Day Zero,” which imagines a reinstated draft and climaxes at an anti-war rally filmed during a real rally on New York streets.
Some of the best films at Tribeca might not get a release: documentaries like “Invisibles” and “Beyond Belief” (the title isn’t an exaggeration), and shorts by talented young filmmakers I chatted with in a press lounge that looked like it had been swallowed in art deco. Not that I was bothered by decor: there were zone bars all around (I’ll be eating them for months), and an espresso machine that whirled out free cups of the strong stuff.
But the highlight was the movies. Due to flukes of fate or simple bad judgment, I missed every single award-winning film. Yet almost everything I saw was excellent.
A few features you should (or shouldn’t) keep an eye peeled for:
Up-and-coming actress Daniela Virtzer stars as Lulu, as aspiring fashion designer dubbed the Israeli Carrie Bradshaw by her roommates (Ohad Knoller and Alon Friedman). The three live in a hip Tel Aviv apartment, sheltering themselves from the political whirlwind that rages at close checkpoints. When Knoller falls in love with a young Palestinian (Yousef Sweid) their youthful, hopeful bubble looks like it might burst. A touching portrait more focused on characters than taboo topics.
Directed by first-time filmmaker Beth Murphy, this doc tells the story of Susan Retik and Patty Quigly, two 9/11 widows who start a foundation (Beyond the 11th) and send aid to widows in Afghanistan. The subject matter could have drowned in sentiment; like Susan and Patti, it’s clear-eyed and brave. The highlight? A gripping trip from Boston to Afghanistan and back again.
”The Cake Eaters”
Proof that simplicity rules. Written by actor Jayce Bartok and beautifully directed by Mary Stuart Masterson (“Fried Green Tomatoes” “Benny and Joon”) the film shines in its portrayal of the tentative romance between a young cripple (Kristin Stewart) and a timid high school cook (Aaron Stanford).
Robert Downey Jr. plays an alcoholic high school principle who spends his (ample) free time with toy boats. ‘Nuff said. This quirky teen comedy, starring Anton Yelchin as a high schooler doling out free meds to his disgruntled classmates, occasionally errs on the silly side, but is overall an enjoyable romp.
The best thing about this drama, written by Robert Malkani, is its refusal to answer the questions it raises, namely: does re-instating the draft defy the meaning of democracy? Elijah Wood, Chris Klein, and Jon Bernthal play former high school friends all ordered to report. The performances are top notch, and Wood, who handles a physical transformation with terrifying conviction, is a standout.
“Gardener of Eden”
A comic book theme descends on New Jersey as Lukas Haas, bulking up on protein and buffing up with weights, tries on an imaginary superhero persona in an effort to rid his town of human “roaches,” including a drug dealer played by Giovanni Ribisi. He also tries to get the girl (Erika Christensen). It plays like a quirkier “Garden State,” and the plot twists and performances make it worth your while.
Woody Harrelson, Cheryl Hines, Dennis Farina, Richard Kind, and others pile on poker chips in an improvised comedy that’s one of the funniest things I’ve seen this year. Written (sort of) by Zak Penn and circumventing the possible destruction of a Vegas casino, the film culminates in a too-short championship game but more than makes up for it with random cameos (Brett Ratner!) and comic gold from supporting players like Hank Azaria and Judy Greer.
Actor Javier Bardem produced this intense collection of documentary shorts directed by greats like Wim Wenders and Isabel Coixet. From rape victims in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to child soldiers in Uganda, this documentary is as much an amazing piece of filmmaking – haunting, visual, dramatic - as it is a call to action.
“In Search of a Midnight Kiss”
Proof that the 21st century might re-invent the golden age of cinema. Up-and-comers Scoot McNairy and Sara Simmonds star as L.A. twenty-somethings on a New Year’s Eve first date. They pull off the walk-and-talk in a way that could put Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks to shame, and this smart, hilarious take on contemporary romance should be a major hit when it gets distribution.
An entertaining mess that I would see again. The son (Bryan Greenberg) of an egomaniacal Nobel prize winner (Alan Rickman) is kidnapped, but the egomaniacal Nobel prize winner won’t cut his victory trip short until he’s surprised with his son’s thumb in a bag. The movie goes nuts in the second act, and the ending sort of made me wince. But I kept watching, because this movie is proof that an audience will follow interesting characters anywhere – almost. Best of all? Mary Steenburgen as Rickman’s forensic psychologist wife; Eliza Dushku’s wacky artist and Danny Devito’s obsessive compulsive neighbor are fun too.
Matthew Perry, who serves double duty as producer, stars as a Hollywood writer turned – yes – numb when he ODs on pot. But was it the pot? Not one therapist in Los Angeles can give him a straight answer, so Perry tries to solve his woes by dating Lynn Collins. Predictable right up till the clos