Tribeca Film Festival 2019: ET's Top Picks Starring Zac Efron, Trixie Mattel and More
By Stacy Lambe
World of Wonder / Netflix / Greg Middleton
Now in its 18th year, the Tribeca Film Festival returns to lower Manhattan for 12 days of film, TV and the next generation of storytelling. "We are always looking for new things all the time,” says Jane Rosenthal, who co-founded the festival with Robert De Niro. That curiosity led to the inclusion of AR and VR, as well as more diverse voices in front of and behind the camera.
This year, more than ever, the festival has embraced the ideals of New York City as a place of inclusivity and diversity, with 40 percent of the feature films directed by females, 29 percent by people of color and 13 percent by those identifying as LGBTQIA. “There are clearly more [female filmmakers] now than ever,” Rosenthal says. “There’s a whole new generation that is coming up [and] you’re seeing more women.”
While Tribeca opens with the HBO documentary, The Apollo, which tells the story of the legendary Harlem theater through conversations with Pharrell Williams and Jamie Foxx, and closes with Danny Boyle's rock-n-roll comedy Yesterday, starring Himesh Patel, Lily James and Kate McKinnon, there's no shortage of star power to catch in between.
Award-winning actors -- Christoph Waltz (Georgetown), Margo Martindale (Blow the Man Down), Margot Robbie (Dreamland) and Naomi Watts (Luce) and -- all star in films debuting during the festival, alongside projects from the likes of Alexander Skarsgård (The Kill Team), Cynthia Nixon (Stray Dolls), Elijah Wood (Come to Daddy), Fran Drescher (Safe Spaces), Leslie Odom, Jr. (Only), Matt Smith (Charlie Says) and Simon Pegg (Lost Transmissions). Other highlights include rising stars Haley Bennett in Swallow, Sabrina Carpenter in The Short History of the Long Road and Sydney Sweeney in Clementine.
Meanwhile, this year's slate of documentaries go inside the lives and careers of some of the world’s most famed personalities, from Muhammad Ali (What's My Name) to famed TV therapist Dr. Ruth (Ask Dr. Ruth) to the Wu-Tang Clan (Wu-Tang: Of Mics and Men). Of the 103 feature films in competition at the festival, ET screened over 40 scripted movies and documentaries in advance. Here are the 18 films we enjoyed the most.
A Day in the Life of America
Directed by Jared Leto, this ambitious yet elegant documentary captures a day in the life of people across all 50 states as they celebrate the Fourth of July. The end result is a kaleidoscope of varying beliefs and wildly different perspectives on what it means to be "American." (Screening Info & Tickets)
Following the devastating 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, documentarians embedded themselves with surviving students and the parents of those who were killed to capture every moment of their journeys from grief to reflection and recovery to political activism. (Screening Info & Tickets)
Hong Chau leads this stellar cast of character actors -- Sarah Gadon, Lola Kirke, John Gallagher Jr. and Ellen Burstyn -- in a fictionalized account of Patty Hearst's 1974 kidnapping. The atmospheric drama is told from the perspective of Jenny (Chau), a political activist assigned to take care of the heiress as the nation clamored for her safe return. (Screening Info & Tickets)
Directed by Tanya Wexler (Hysteria) and written by Brian Sacca, this raucous comedy starring Zoey Deutch, Judy Greer, Jai Courtney and Schitt’s Creek’s Noah Reid tells the story of a young woman who attempts one financial scheme after another until she finds success in debt collecting. (Screening Info & Tickets)
Changing the Game
Directed by Michael Barnett, this documentary follows transgender high school athletes from across the country as they attempt to focus on the competition while challenging the boundaries and perceptions of fairness and facing near constant discrimination. (Screening Info & Tickets)
In Tribeca alum Emily Cohn's first feature-length film, three college freshman girls -- Izzy (Isabelle Barbier), Anuka (Deeksha Ketkar) and Fiona (Sadie Scott) -- make a pact to lose their virginity before returning home for the summer, with their night culminating at the super exclusive “crush party.” While the concept may sound similar to Blockers, (thankfully) there are no parents involved. (Screening Info & Tickets)
Directed by rising filmmaker Andrew Ahn and written by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen, this family drama tells the story of a lonely boy (Lucas Jaye) who unexpectedly befriends a disgruntled retiree living next door (Brian Dennehy, who also stars in the twisted short film Master Maggie) after he and his mother (Chau) move into his late aunt’s house. (Screening Info & Tickets)
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile
Zac Efron embodies the twisted mind of notorious serial killer Ted Bundy in a scripted look at his life from the perspective of his longtime girlfriend, Liz (Lily Collins). Directed by Joe Berlinger, the movie made a splashy debut at the Sundance Film Festival before heading to Netflix in May. Rounding out the cast is Kaya Scodelario, Jeffrey Donovan, Angela Sarafyan, Dylan Baker, Jim Parsons and John Malkovich. (Screening Info & Tickets)
Model and actress Stav Strashko is at the center of this Israeli-language film about three teenage girls in search of physical perfection who turn to the dark world of black-market plastic surgery. Strashko earned an Ophir Award nomination for Best Actress -- Israel's equivalent to the Oscars -- for her authentic portrayal of a closeted transgender girl who risks exposing her secret in order to fit in with the ideals of her peers. (Screening Info & Tickets)
Slick Woods -- known to many as the pregnant model who gave birth shortly after walking Rihanna’s NYFW show last fall -- stars in this unexpectedly enchanting journey about a young woman who dreams of stardom while trying to keep her sisters out of the clutches of child protective services. Written and directed by Sam de Jong, Goldie only has one shot at making her dreams come true in this stylish and gritty New York fable. (Screening Info & Tickets)
Tribeca alum Frédéric Tcheng’s documentary examines the prolific career of Halston, who put American fashion on the map while becoming an icon of the 1970s. Tcheng employs an inventive narrative device with Tavi Gevinson as a way of trying to answer lingering questions about the late designer. The film also features Liza Minnelli, director Joel Schumacher and model Pat Cleveland. (Screening Info & Tickets)
A group of boys -- Alan (Nashville’s Keean Johnson), Peter (It breakout Jaeden Martell), Red (Alex Neustaedter) and Smitty (Daniel Zolghadri) -- spend the summer roving the Jersey Shore boardwalk before a discovery of gold sends them down a path of suspicion and violence in this teenage treasure hunt that echoes Stephen King and Kings of Summer. (Screening Info & Tickets)
Lucky Grandma (辛運的奶奶)
Set in New York City’s Chinatown, Lucky Grandma follows an ornery, chain-smoking aging matriarch whose luck at the casino soon turns into trouble and puts her in the middle of a gang war. Former Bond Girl Tsai Chin, now 82, is at the center of this delightful film directed by Sasie Sealy and co-written by Sealy and Angela Cheng. (Screening Info & Tickets)
This documentary goes inside the world of emojis, which has exploded in popularity yet still confounds many users and experts alike. With smiling poops and heart-eyed faces on the verge of becoming their own language, directors Martha Shane and Ian Cheney attempt to unpack the origin, its rise to fame and how its regulated and used today. (Screening Info & Tickets)
Amid the return of rom-coms comes this film about two longtime, single friends -- Ben (Jack Quaid) and Alice (Maya Erskine) -- who agree to be each other’s plus one during a long summer of wedding obligations. Following the superbly funny PEN15 on Hulu, Erskine gets another opportunity to shine in this lighthearted ‘90s throwback date movie. Ed Begley Jr., Beck Bennett and Finn Wittrock also star. (Screening Info & Tickets)
Standing Up, Falling Down
At first glance, this buddy comedy is an all-too-familiar story about an unlikely friendship -- this time between a failed comedian (Ben Schwartz) and a charming, alcoholic dermatologist (Billy Crystal). However, both actors’ understated performances as two men confronting long-simmering regrets work here. The cast is rounded out by Grace Gummer, Nate Corddry, Debra Monk and Kevin Dunn. (Screening Info & Tickets)
Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts
While known to the world as Trixie Mattel, this documentary directed by Nick Zeig-Owens goes beyond the wigs and makeup to show how Brian Firkus is balancing the pressure of fame and living up to fans’ expectations as he goes on the road to promote his solo work beyond RuPaul’s Drag Race or his talk show with fellow contestant and friend, Katya. (Screening Info & Tickets)
You Don't Nomi
Jeffrey McHale’s new documentary reexamines Showgirls through a critical lens, tracing the 1995 Paul Verhoeven film’s journey from notorious critical and commercial flop to camp cult classic to what McHale suggests may be a masterpiece in disguise. (Screening Info & Tickets)