The Tribeca Film Festival is in the books for 2020. Of course, this fest was unlike any previous incarnation. COVID-19 and the shutdown of New York City prevented Tribeca from holding any screenings, instead allowing certain titles to play in a “virtual festival” through their digital libraries. That left many films unable to play, but a number of quality titles still showcased their wares. Between that and those already coming to/in release, today we can pay tribute to the top Tribeca 2020 efforts.
Below you’ll see the ten movies that made up the best of the Tribeca Film Festival this year. Honorable mentions go to “The Half of It,” “Harley,” “Through the Night,” and “Wake Up on Mars,” while a special citation goes out to the currently embargoed “The King of Staten Island.” Suffice it to say, had it been able to screen at Tribeca, it would have had top tier placement on this list.
dir: Vaughn Stein
A genre offering with a twist, this drama morphs into a thriller by the third act. Lily Collins and Simon Pegg star in a somewhat B-movie spin on the themes presented in “Parasite.” Not to be confused with the Oscar-winning film, the charms here are more of the guilty pleasure variety. In particular, watching Pegg play against type in a creepy role is rather delightful. He helps raise up Vaughn Stein‘s film quite a bit. Now available on Digital, “Inheritance” is one you can even watch right this moment!
9. Sweet Thing
dir: Alexandre Rockwell
Approaching adolescence with a kind eye and a poetic vibe, “Sweet Thing” truly sports a timeless aesthetic. Alexandre Rockwell‘s use of black and white cinematography is among the most fulfilling elements here, though it’s far from the only one. Our review summed up its charms thusly:
“Sweet Thing” rewards your patience. Despite slow pacing, the short running time evens things out, with the end result truly moving. With a monochrome look and naturalistic performances abound, it’s the kind of indie movie that will connect with a small but vocal community. Had Tribeca been more of a true festival this year, it very well might have caught on in a big way.
Easily the festival’s best cinematography, it really stands out from the pack.
8. The State of Texas vs Melissa
dir: Sabrina Van Tassel
Seeing the legal system stacked against a helpless individual can truly be a frustrating experience. Sabrina Van Tassel uses the case of Melissa Lucio to make some very humane and timely points about how justice can be miscarried to a horrific degree. In particular, her case and the criminal justice system on the whole are held up for scrutiny. Our highly positive review ends on this all too real note:
“Van Tassel, a former journalist herself, makes it clear through narrative structure and subtle subtext that her documentary isn’t trying to judge guilt or innocence – although some of the facts she uncovers lead to some pretty large shadows of doubt. Instead, she narrows her focus on exposing the weak links – and there is a litany of them – in the judicial chain that landed Lucio in an unwinnable circumstance. This plays like a horror movie for anyone who isn’t a white, wealthy man.”
“The State of Texas vs. Melissa” can be hard to watch at times, but that’s what makes it such essential viewing.
dir: Sabrina Doyle
Jena Malone and Pablo Schreiber navigate some tricky emotional territory in “Lorelei,” a melodrama gushing forth with achingly real human needs. Malone in particular puts forth her strongest turn in some time, which our review made sure to highlight (while not leaving out Schreiber), stating:
Jena Malone and Pablo Schreiber invest their all in these characters. Early moments showing their flirtation and reunion have a lot left unsaid, but their eyes say a ton. Later on, life takes its toll, but we remember the spark that brought them together. Even when they make bad choices, they’re always flawed people with good hearts. Malone gets to go to more dramatic places than Schreiber, though both are at their best here. Malone especially leaves a deep impression, especially when her character becomes overwhelmed with dissatisfaction with how her life has turned out.
Sabrina Doyle loves her characters, and armed with these two talented actors, she makes you fall in love with them, flaws and all.
6. Call Your Mother
dir: Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady
This incredibly sweet documentary may not be especially deep, but the warmth and the good humor displayed within are impossible not to fall in love with. “Call Your Mother” pays tribute to the women who raised many of our generations most famous comedians, showcasing the bonds that are strong to this day. In our take, we concluded that as slight as it might have been at times, the effectiveness with which it presents its central them is quite joyous. From the review:
Call Your Mother” has a good lesson and takes a fun approach in telling it. Had the approach been a little more diverse, a better overall film would have resulted, but as far as documentaries go, it’s hard to get more pleasant than this one.
Filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady managed to make a fun documentary (one that played on Comedy Central back during Mother’s Day, so should be readily available), and that’s worth celebrating.
dir: Josephine Decker
Author Shirley Jackson gets a very unconventional showcase in “Shirley,” less a biopic than a hybrid psychological thriller involving a real person. Elisabeth Moss is hauntingly effective as Jackson, while surrounding actors like Logan Lerman, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Odessa Young are given ample moments to shine. Josephine Decker has crafted a deliciously dark and twisted character study that also lets loose into some wild territory. Keeping the audience consistently on their toes, Decker and the cast make this one of the more unusual Tribeca titles in the 2020 lineup.
4. The Trip to Greece
dir: Michael Winterbottom
A most unlikely franchise comes to an end in spectacularly entertaining (and delicious) fashion. “The Trip” began a culinary adventure and travelogue for Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan, and now that ends in “The Trip to Greece.” Their back and forth arguments/conversations are quite funny, while the moments of pathos are actually rather touching. Now in theaters, our review highlights what makes the series so inviting:
The pair are still fresh at the ready with impersonations and harmless barbs while dining. Moreover, it’s inspiring to see these aging actors easily endure the taxing nature of both country and coastal expedition. With unintended impeccable timing, the serious comic trio of Winterbottom, Coogan, and Brydon deliver the perfect remedy for quarantine: a virtual reunion with old friends whose idiosyncrasies thankfully never change.
Michael Winterbottom‘s collaborations with Brydon and Coogan are a delight, with this one being no exception.
3. Pray Away
dir: Kristine Stolakis
The best non-fiction title at Tribeca this year was “Pray Away,” a heartbreaking look at the damage that conversion therapy causes. Focusing on the rise of this religious form of brainwashing, as well as its evolution, the documentary plays as much like a horror movie as it does a history lesson. This enthusiastically positive review fetes it for its emotional effectiveness:
“Pray Away” may well break your heart. At the very least, it should enrage you. Conversion therapy is a cancer, not just to followers of Christianity, but of course to those caught up in its web. This is a heavy documentary, but it’s essential viewing. Brace yourself for some tough emotions, but keep in mind that, for those who come out on the other end intact, there’s a deep sense of relief. The film itself displays the same, which is one of the main reasons why it’s among the best things that Tribeca 2020 has to offer.
The palpable sense of justifiable anger permeates throughout the doc, fueled on by director Kristine Stolakis. However, the love and pathos are what makes it among the cream of Tribeca’s crop.
dir: Ruthy Pribar
One of the major award winners at the Tribeca Film Festival, “Asia” is a wonderful movie that defies any expectations. Filmmaker Ruthy Pribar not only tells what could have been a melodramatic story in a real yet tender manner, but she also does it with two powerhouse performances. Stars Shira Haas and Alena Yiv take Pribar’s already tremendous material and raise it to a whole other level. Our rave of a review had this to say:
As far as intimate dramas go, “Asia” is really top-notch. Never content to go for an easy emotional beat, every single moment feels real, regardless of what other feelings it brings out in you. Winner of three of Tribeca’s top prizes this year, it’s a very strong selection and highlights some of the best the festival has to offer.
Depending on how a release goes, it may very well be a major awards contender in Best International Feature. The love thrown its way at this fest is only the beginning!
1. Bad Education
dir: Cory Finley
One of the year’s best films, “Bad Education” would have taken the cake at a full version of Tribeca 2020. Hugh Jackman gives one of the most compelling performances of the year, both delightfully scheming and also tragically human, while Allison Janney again dominates in a juicy supporting role. Director Cory Finley and writer Mike Makowski take the real life scandal in the Roslyn School District out on Long Island and amplify it. No longer just a New York based crime, it’s a study of a broken person, desperately trying to hide the pieces, as they shatter one by one. Jackman show’s you the good and the bad, in equal measure, making it far more than the typical scam artist role that it other wise could have been. The movie is an absolute triumph, a fact only exacerbated by the leading man at its center.
Which of these Tribeca Film Festival titles are you looking forward to seeing most? Let us know in the comments below!