The Top 40 Picks From the Tribeca Film Festival

The Hit List

Since the Tribeca Film Festival's 2002 debut, naysayers have grumbled that the last thing New York's crowded movie calendar needs is an event this large and unwieldy. But the fourth annual edition, squeezing 158 features and 96 shorts plus workshops and panels into 14 venues and 13 days (April 19-May 1), should prove that Tribeca is no longer just a corporate-powered celebrity pep rally for Lower Manhattan. The city's biggest and by default most eclectic film festival, Tribeca has also significantly upped the quality control in the last couple of years. Under executive director Peter Scarlet, the fest's big-tent programming has skewed increasingly political and cinephilic. There are perhaps still too many films in too many sections with too few distinctions among them. (What's the difference between Spotlight and Showcase? Are Special Events more special than Special Screenings?) But this year's muscular lineup snares a few high-profile coups—most notably the North American premiere of Wong Kar-wai's keenly anticipated 2046 (re-edited since last year's Cannes) and the first New York screenings of the much-blogged-about political documentary The Power of Nightmares. There's also a healthy crop of discoveries freshly harvested from Sundance, Rotterdam, and Berlin; many topical and/or New York-centric docs; a nifty sidebar of restorations; a complementary pair of bleak post-Soviet visions; a James Toback remake and a James Toback doc; and sneak previews of upcoming releases from indie marquee names like Michael Winterbottom, Gregg Araki, and Claire Denis. To help navigate the sprawling program (full lineup at, the Voice's film critics assembled this survival guide: a handpicked selection of the 40 best (or at leastmost noteworthy) films that we previewed. (Unless indicated, all titles are without U.S. distribution at press time.)

13 Lakes Old-school minimalist James Benning continues to push the boundaries in a non-spectacular manner. A film that Robert Smithson might have made, 13 Lakes sees Benning finding a new, political way to represent nature. An installation piece designed for the screen (or per Benning, "found paintings"), it's precisely, mathematically, what its title promises: 13 lakes across the U.S., each shot in a 10-minute take and jam-packed with action. Number 12, Oregon's Crater Lake, a glorious mirror image of land and sky, could pass for a Rorschach test turned on its side. MARK PERANSON

photo: Sony Pictures Classics

2046 One of the most eagerly awaited movies of recent years, Wong Kar-wai's mazelike reverie is itself a film about waiting—a sequel to In the Mood for Love, with the Tony Leung character's pensive melancholy shading into bitter regret as he makes his way through a revolving door of lovelies (Zhang Ziyi, Faye Wong, Gong Li). The title refers to a hotel room and to Leung's sci-fi novel, dramatized in a few scenes that achieve a vertiginous sense of nostalgia for the future. While the great director's images are more ravishing than ever, his habitual fetishism flirts with solipsism (there are allusions aplenty to his other films). 2046 perhaps conjures its hero's prison of repetitive stasis all too well, but it dares the viewer to look away from its kaleidoscope swirl—it's a holding pattern for Wong, but of course, a stunningly beautiful one. Sony Classics, opens August. DENNIS LIM

4 This precociously nuts debut by 30-year-old Muscovite Ilya Khrzhanovsky links numerology to cloning to the genetic manipulation of livestock to the homespun manufacture of doll parts. Larded with dead and aging tissue, this jaw-dropping whatsit—winner of a top prize at Rotterdam this year—is a grandiose study of barbarism and decay, a treatise on the way of all flesh, with DNA spliced in from Leos Carax, Kira Muratova, PETA ads, and Chris Cunningham's Aphex Twin videos. LIM

9 Songs A minor sensation in the U.K., Michael Winterbottom's latest is softcore structuralism in the service of hardcore sex. For just over an hour, it alternates the mass ecstasy of rock performances with the supposedly private fucking and sucking performances of an attractive young couple. The man's memories of the affair, recollected as he flies over the snowy wastes of Antarctica, introduce a third formal element. Kieran O'Brien is more grim than his giddy nonprofessional co-star, Margot Stilley. Dialogue is realistically insipid, and the spectacle is artistically shot in digital chiaroscuro. Tartan, opens July. J. HOBERMAN

Aaltra Aki Kaurismäki shows up to deliver the punchline of this black-and-white Belgian, um, wheelchair road movie—which is only fitting given the film's creepingly lugubrious comedy (epitomized by a biker-bar rendition of "Sunny"). Odd-couple writer-directors Benoît Delépine and Gustave Kervern play sworn enemies who become paralyzed in a tractor accident and end up traveling north in search of a motocross rally and the manufacturer of the faulty farm machinery. Lethally precise and improbably hilarious, Aaltra traces a throughline from Tati to Kaurismäki to the Farrellys. LIM

Bearing Witness Co-directed by documentary grande dame Barbara Kopple (with Bob Eisenhardt and Marijana Wooton), this A&E-bound thumbnail sketch (set to premiere on May 26) of five female war correspondents leaves control-room considerations aside to focus on the personal costs of unembedded frontline journalism. The subjects likewise seek the human angle, and while Kopple et al. don't often suggest the military-industrial media's counter-offensive maneuvers to restrict or compromise such stories, their film is extremely effective in showing how the job of an alternative war journalist includes absorbing the unspeakable horror that too many of us have the temporary privilege to ignore. ROB NELSON

Next Page »

Now Showing

Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

Box Office Report

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, film info & more!