Sunday, May 3, 2009

Tribeca Wrap-Up

So the award winners for this year’s Tribeca Film Festival have been announced, and keen prognosticator that I am, only one was part of my film going schedule. That one was Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi, which won the Best New Documentary Filmmaker award for director Ian Olds. About Elly, an Iranian feature from director Asghar Farhadi, won the Best Narrative Feature award, while Marshall Curry’s Racing Dreams won Best Documentary Feature (Defamation, which also managed to sneak into my view, got a Special Jury Mention).

Rune Denstad Langlo won the Best New Narrative Filmmaker award for North. CiarĂ¡n Hinds won Best Actor in a Narrative Feature Film for The Eclipse, while Zoe Kazan took Best Actress honors for The Exploding Girl. In the “New York Competition,” Darko Lungulov’s Here and There won Best New York Narrative, with Honorable Mention going to Entre nos; Danae Elon’s Partly Private won Best New York Documentary. Congratulations to all the winners; I guess I’ll see your movies in theatre and on video, when everybody else does. On reviewing the schedule, I see that I missed both Here and There and Racing Dreams so I could see Hysterical Psycho. Good call, Bailey.

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In spite of a few duds, I think this year’s festival was pretty well-programmed. There were the usual duds that seemed to have only been booked because they had stars in them (Stay Cool, for example), but clearly there were plenty of quality pictures unspooling (seeing’s how I at least liked nearly everything I saw, and I only saw about a third of the features).

One of the pleasures of the fest was how there seemed to be thematic links between certain films; if you were into, say, New York art in the 70s and 80s, you could see an 80s art doc (Con Artist), a 70s and 80s punk rock doc (Burning Down The House: The Story of CBGB), a 70s and 80s punk film doc (Blank City), and a seminal New York indie film from the period (Variety). These were fun to watch as a group, to watch the various figures from each scene floating into the others (and therefore, into their documentaries).

And a sidebar, I saw another common theme that was quite encouraging: brevity. It seems like I’m always complaining about films—even indies—that overstay their welcome; even some of the year’s good films, like State of Play or Observe and Report, are about ten minutes too long, minimum. At this festival, I only saw one film that ran over two hours and only a couple that topped 100 minutes; the average running time seemed to be an hour and a half, and I saw three that ran less than 80. It may sound like pure pragmatism, but as far as I’m concerned, there are not a lot of movies that are too short, and most movies I saw here were just about as long as they should have been.

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As for the movies I did manage to see…. Well, here’s some thoughts:

TOP FIVE FILMS OF THE TFF:
1. The Girlfriend Experience. Soderbergh’s latest low-fi digital film was unexpectedly daring—not in terms of subject matter, but for its style and structure, which are unique and immensely rewarding. Plus, it’s fun to watch.
2. Moon. Stylish, hypnotic, and memorable, Duncan Jones’ indie sci-fi mindmelt is thrillingly literate, often moving, and frequently funny.
3. Outrage. My favorite documentary of the festival (and there were many, many good ones) was Kirby Dick’s incendiary examination of the closeted hypocrisy of secretly-gay lawmakers.
4. In the Loop. Armando Iannucci’s delightfully smart British comedy (with the able, gleeful participation of James Gandolfini, Anna Chlumsky, and others) was a piercingly funny examination of modern-day politics on both sides of the pond.
5. Playground. No film at the fest was tougher to watch than this disturbing, heartbreaking examination of the child sex trade in America.

RUNNERS-UP: Other good films included PoliWood, Kobe Doin’ Work, American Casino, Blank City, Con Artist, Burning Down The House, Defamation, Departures, An Englishman in New York, Fixer, Queen To Play, and Vegas: Based on a True Story.

WORST FILM OF THE TFF: Without question, Dan Fogler’s excerable Hysterical Psycho shouldn’t have seen the light of a DVD laser, much less the screens of a reputable film festival like this one.

GREATISH PERFORMANCES: Sam Rockwell in Moon, Sasha Grey in The Girlfriend Experience, John Hurt in An Englishman in New York, Kevin Kline and Sandrine Bonnaire in Queen To Play, Bryan Greenberg in The Good Guy, Colin Firth and Kristen Scott-Thomas in Easy Virtue, Anna Chlumsky in In The Loop and The Good Guy, Peter Capaldi in In The Loop, Meg Ryan in Serious Moonlight, Hillary Duff in Stay Cool, Raymonde Amsalem in Seven Minutes in Heaven, Jonas Inde in The Swimsuit Issue, and Zach Thomas in Vegas: Based on a True Story.

NOT-SO-GREATISH PERFORMANCES: Sean Astin in Stay Cool, Jessica Biehl in Easy Virtue, and the entire ensemble of Hysterical Psycho.

I had a great time covering the festival, soaking up so many great films in such a short period of time; thanks again to John at DVD Talk for working to get me in the door, and all of the nice folks at Tribeca for putting this bad boy on. See ya next year!

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