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The Top 40 Picks From the Tribeca Film Festival

The Hit List

The Beat That My Heart Skipped In James Toback's 1978 debut, Fingers, Harvey Keitel played the flexi-digited debt collector and would-be concert pianist as a typically Tobackian moral polymath, flouncing between the gutter and the clouds. Jacques Audiard's Parisian transfer finesses the story's irony and style, with Romain Duris as a real-estate heavy pining—and making an all-thumbs grab—for the starry innocence of his ivory-tinkling younger days. Duris doesn't have quite the charisma or empathic conviction of the actors in Audiard's previous Read My Lips, but Stéphane Fontaine's ambient camerawork and Alexandre Desplat's fleeting score give him good support. Wellspring, opens July. NICK BRADSHAW

Bittersweet Place In many ways a typical dysfunctional-suburban-family indie, Alexandra Brodsky's Long Island-made feature debut has personality and texture to burn, locating a lovingly shot Cassavetes minor key amid the mess of cheap paneling, picnic tables, and personal messes. Seymour Cassel is the limo company widower, co-scripter Jennifer Albano is one resentful, ill-married daughter, Elisabeth Moss is the other—a manic-depressive sprite around whom the family's unhappiness spins. Living in a world of post-Brooklyn, pre-Florida Jewishness, Brodsky's protagonists eventually get caught up in no-budget clichés, but the film comes from a real place. MICHAEL ATKINSON

Boats Out of Watermelon Rinds Two marginalized teenage boys find solace in movie madness in Ahmet Uluçay's affectionate debut feature. Trekking daily from the same tiny village, Recep (Ismail Hakki Taslak) and Mehmet (Kadir Kaymaz) work as apprentices in town, enduring incompetent or brutal bosses and the humiliation of unrequited love. "Think of cinema only," Mehmet instructs his distraught pal, who dreams of buying an 8mm camera. The scrappy performances by the adolescent leads—and a celebratory but never worshipful view of cinephilia— save the film from Cinema Paradiso sentimentality. MELISSA ANDERSON

photo: Sony Pictures Classics

Come Back, Africa Shot in Johannesburg and the black township of Sophiatown as it was being razed for white settlements, this amateurish 1960 semi-fiction may be the first thoroughgoing exploration of apartheid most of us ever see. Following one "native" as he tries to escape the mines and find work in the city, the movie freely mixes in raw and stupefying documentary footage. The late Lionel Rogosin, proprietor of the Bleecker Street Cinema, shot parts of his film with concealed cameras and had to smuggle it out of South Africa reel by reel. An important missing integer in any consideration of race and cinematic history. ATKINSON

Czech Dream In which film students Vit Klusák and Filip Remunda pull a Yes Men-ish prank on the eager consumers of Prague—pouring their state grant into a massive marketing campaign for a new, nonexistent "hypermarket." The media blitz, including a catchy jingle, impossible markdowns, and reverse-psychology come-ons ("Don't go there," "Don't spend"), naturally attracts thousands come opening day. It's significant that the context for this nasty social experiment is a relatively young market economy, but the hilarious and horribly compelling results beg for an American remake. LIM

Days and Hours Quickly assembling an impressive, embraceable vision from the ruins of the Yugoslav wars, Pjer Zalica follows up 2003's light-it-up black farce Fuse with this disarming whatchamacallit. In terms of plot, nothing happens: The grown nephew of an elderly Bosnian couple comes to fix their water heater, talks, eats, schmoozes with the rest of the neighborhood, and then must sleep over when his car doesn't start. That's it, except it isn't: The memory of the war dead lingers, family relationships are bitterly, or mournfully, picked over, crucial passions go unvoiced, and in the meantime the bounce, warmth, and abidance of small-town relationships are captured in crystal. It may be the festival's most enduring movie, with an aw-c'mon denouement that could lay you out. ATKINSON

The Devil's Miner In this video doc by Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani, we visit Cerro Rico, a massive Bolivian mountain whose hundreds of dying silver mines—dating back to the 16th century, when Spaniards enslaved the natives to extract ore—are still being drilled by desperate villagers, many of them children. Contrasting the mountainscapes outside with the claustrophobic hellishness inside, the filmmakers focus on one 14-year-old boy, his day divided between school and subterranean darkness. He's our guide into this centuries-old mutant-Christian culture, in which Jesus belongs to the outside world and the mines belong to the Devil. A trifle treacly, the movie's a sobering daytrip. ATKINSON


Edgar G. Ulmer: The Man Off-Screen An Austrian expat who began his career working for European greats like Lubitsch, Murnau, and Lang but ended up cranking out low-budget movies for Hollywood's poverty row studios, Edgar G. Ulmer is today best known as one of the ultimate purveyors of unadulteratedly grimy film noir, as exemplified by his 1945 classic Detour (also at the festival). Though the many interviewees—fans like Joe Dante and Peter Bogdanovich, who admire his do-or-die ingenuity—never quite achieve a conclusive recounting of his myth-shrouded life, Michael Palm's picture provides a lively portrait of a driven artist forced to make do with little—a spiritual forefather of the independent filmmaker, whether he liked it or not. A Kino release, opens fall. ED HALTER

Excavating Taylor Mead "I'm BA—before Andy," sniffs octogenarian actor-poet-peregrinator Mead about his prodigious underground cachet before becoming a Warhol superstar in 1963. The star of Ron Rice's 1960 beat classic The Flower Thief, the owlish Mead still captivates in William A. Kirkley's reverential doc, bemusedly recounting his boho homo life, from a childhood of Grosse Pointe privilege to current Ludlow Street squalor. Although assembled avant-gardists and fellow Factory-ites sing the praises of the elder statesman of the L.E.S., they're no match for Mead's own entertaining egotism. ANDERSON

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