Tribeca Film Festival 2018: Our Best of the Fest

May 01, 2018
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Words by Austin Trunick

Tribeca ’18 has come to a close, and again proved to be two of the best weeks a film fan could possibly have in New York City. Personally, much more of this year’s fest was spent interviewing up-and-coming filmmakers and established film stars – but that didn’t stop me from seeing a couple dozen new movies and taking in many of the unique VR projects populating this year’s Immersive section. Here are some picks for some favorites which we couldn’t necessarily cover with interviews.

Best Monologue (Ever?)

Sam Huntington in "7 Stages to Achieve Eternal Bliss"

If I had to pick a favorite few minutes from anything I saw at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, my easy choice would be Sam Huntington’s mid-movie breakdown in 7 Stages to Achieve Eternal Bliss By Passing Through the Gateway Chosen by the Eternal Storsh. (Whew, try saying that five times fast.) The movie centers on a young, Midwestern couple who find a hot deal on an apartment in their new home of Los Angeles. There’s always a downside, though, and this one’s a biggie: a prominent cult leader once killed himself in their bathtub, and now his devotees break into the house at night to commit ritual suicide in their tub. Yes, Seven Stages is even weirder than it sounds, but it’s ridiculously funny – and its funniest moment comes when actor Sam Huntington delivers a long, tear-filled, single-take monologue about why the couple had to leave Ohio. (It involves a never-ending tire fire, and people hunting naked in the woods.) You’ll rarely see such a well-acted piece of absurdity, and it had the audience howling the whole time. We’d venture it’ll be a favorite among the cult audience this film seems destined to find.

Most Impactful Use of VR for the Greater Good

This Is Climate Change

The Immersive portion of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival had no shortage of environmentally-concerned virtual projects. It’s a subject that makes a lot of sense for the medium: so much of mother nature is visually-breathtaking, and there’s a real thrill that comes in being dropped (virtually, at least) into the middle of a pack of lions or herd of elephants. While several of these films were very good, the one that has lingered with me the longest would be This Is Climate Change, a multi-part docuseries that sheds light on very different ways our planet is being adversely affected by mankind. In the short, roughly ten-minute episodes, you’ll find yourself exploring the deforested areas of South America and its intrinsically-linked cattle industry; flying into raging infernos with a Californian wildfire counter-strike team, and visiting a central African refugee camp where drought is killing an entire generation of children. The latter made mw want to cry into my headset. If someone still doesn’t accept that climate change is truth, it would be hard to find more damning evidence than this series.

Best Performance While Wearing a Goofy Wig

Ethan Hawke in "Stockholm"

I’d always had a passing familiarity about from where the term “Stockholm syndrome” arose, but the true story behind the 1973 Swedish hostage situation which coined the phrase is far stranger than I’d ever imagined. Ethan Hawke plays a Scandinavian bank robber who badly disguises himself as a Texan (hence his silly wig) and takes four hostages at one of Sweden’s biggest banks. Over a six-day hostage standoff, his captives slowly come around to like the guy, and even help him negotiate his escape from the police. It’s not because he’s particularly charming or sexy, as I’d passingly assumed about the case, but more because he seems to be a genuinely nice guy with hazardously poor decision-making. Hawke plays him convincingly affable, in an endearingly dopey way.

Most Deceptively Decadent Period Drama

Mary Shelley

I’ll admit, I went into this indie biopic with a little bit of skepticism. I usually need my period pieces to be lavish studio affairs to be able to suspend my disbelief – too often with lower-budget pictures you can just tell when they’re shooting in a modern setting, and simply asked the locals to pull their cars around the back of the buildings. But, Mary Shelley’s cast – Elle Fanning, Bel Powley, Joanne Froggatt, and Maisie Williams among them – was too good, and the production design was on par with a much more expensive feature. The film chronicles the turbulent romance that led into Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin penning the timeless Frankstenstein when she was just 18 years old. (Tom Sturridge’s Lord Byron is particularly great; his portrayal paints the seminal poet as a delightfully amoral, Dr. Frank-n-Furter type, with his own Gothic castle and a lust for seemingly everyone who walks through its doors.)

Easiest VR Experience to Completely Lose Yourself In

Where Thoughts Go

Where Thoughts Go is as collaborative an experience as I had at this year’s festival. It drops you in a series of beautiful, surreal environments; in each, a straight-forward yet intimate question slowly manifests in front of you. (“When did you first fall in love?” “What advice would you give your younger self?” and so forth.) Small, glowing spheres will hover around you – you can grab these from the air, triggering a voice recording of someone answering the question with each one. (These answers were recorded by the people who entered the VR experience in sessions ahead of you.) As you finish, you’ll be asked to answer the question yourself and your answer will become part of future visitors’ experiences. It felt intimidating to confess these truths, even anonymously to strangers, but it felt weirdly safe, and listening to other people speak so honestly was addictive. I felt a tap on my shoulder, and my time was up even before I’d made it 1/3 of the way through the experience – it was so immersive I’d lost track of time.

Film Most Likely to Make You Re-up Your Hulu Subscription

Love, Gilda

Now, Hulu actually had a film at least one film playing at the Tribeca Film Festival (On Tiny Shoulders) but the film that had me logging into my Hulu account after the screening was Love, Gilda. This funny and heart-wrenching documentary tracks the life of comedian Gilda Radner, a staple of Saturday Night Live’s earliest seasons, who died tragically young after putting up a strong fight against cancer. This doc’s a great reminder of Radner’s comedic genius, and you’ll be rushing to stream those early SNL episodes as soon as it wraps.

VR Game I Most Desperately Need To Finish and See How It Ends

Fire Escape

This episodic game series places the player on a Brooklyn fire escape overlooking a concrete courtyard, and with direct sightlines into every apartment in the opposing building. In the game’s first episode – the engrossing teaser being offered up in Tribeca’s Immersive playground – you’ll exchange phone calls with a friendly neighbor and eavesdrop on the private lives of the building’s eclectic residents. The episode ends with the power briefly going out, the light returning to reveal a homicide has taken place – we’d bet the following episodes have you trying to find the culprit from your voyeuristic vantage point. This of it as a VR Rear Window. I was hooked.

Most Impressive Debut from at 10+ Year Industry Vet

Karen Gillan's directorial debut, "The Party's Just Beginning"

I typically get nervous when I see an actor's name appear for the first time under the directorial credit, and that's with reasonable cause. For every Big Night or In A World..., there are far more faceplants like Harlem Nights, Sonny, and Beyond the Sea.The Party's Just Beginning, directed (and written) by Karen Gillan, is one of the rare exceptions. A tribute to her hometown in Scotland, the film is about a young woman unable to come to terms with her best friend's suicide. Not only well-acted, the film shows off a strong command of the camera and features a thumping, perfectly-curated soundtrack.

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Raf
May 11th 2018
1:36pm

Very good festival and list.

Celyse
August 6th 2018
2:50am

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