Best of Tribeca 2022

From father-daughter mortality dramas and empathetic docs to psychological thrillers and gibberish comedies, here are Letterboxd’s ten best from this year’s Tribeca fest. 

The kids weren’t alright at this year’s Tribeca Festival, a fitting theme we noticed emerging from the 2022 crop as we sat down to assess the line-up once it ended on Father’s Day. Plenty of father-daughter dramas punctuated the cool air inside the returning theaters for this year’s hybrid edition. We had correspondents on the ground, grateful to retreat indoors to stave off the scorching heat, and at home, watching from wherever the AC was. 

Heat was on the Tribeca menu in more ways than one. While director Michael Mann unfortunately had to miss the Q&A and screening of his 1995 classic (Covid strikes again), Al Pacino and Mr. Tribeca himself, Robert De Niro, were still on hand for an absolutely packed house (over 2,500 attendees!), who were positively thrilled to watch the masterpiece play out on the big screen. 

Robert De Niro and Al Pacino pause on the Tribeca Festival red carpet ahead of the Heat Q&A. — Photographer… CJ Rivera/​Everett Collection/Alamy
Robert De Niro and Al Pacino pause on the Tribeca Festival red carpet ahead of the Heat Q&A. Photographer… CJ Rivera/​Everett Collection/Alamy

Our own Flynn Slicker was one of many in the crowd; she reports that Pacino delighted the audience with a tongue-in-cheek answer about wanting Timothée Chalamet to play him in the Heat prequel (it’s possible: the hardcover of Heat 2, co-authored by Mann and Meg Gardiner, hits bookshelves in August). Pacino did momentarily forget the name of his character, Vincent Hanna, so maybe it is time for someone else to step into the shoes and hit the diner? De Niro was characteristically reserved, though he did jest (we hope) that he robbed a few banks to prepare for his role as Neil McCauley. 

While that exciting Tribeca Talk event was exclusively for the couple of thousand folks in the seats (and those prepared to pay $15 to watch the replay at home—the festival portal is open through July 3), there was plenty more on offer throughout the increasingly sprawling fest, which has officially dropped the ‘film’ from its name in recognition of the myriad other content it carries. (No word yet on whether ‘Tribeca’ will be phased out, given that the event, originally created to revitalize downtown post-9/11, now stretches to the Upper West Side. Jokes, jokes.)

Scouring your reviews along with our own, we landed on our selection of the ten best features—both narrative and documentary—from this year’s fest. Words by Jack Moulton, Flynn Slicker, Annie Lyons, Isaac Feldberg and Mitchell Beaupre.


Butterfly in the Sky

Directed by Brett Whitcomb and Bradford Thomason 

The mission statement of beloved PBS educational children’s series Reading Rainbow was not solely to teach children to read, it was also to encourage the love of reading, a crucial gap in programming at the time it began airing in 1983. Brett Whitcomb and Bradford Thomason’s documentary Butterfly in the Sky gives an aural history of the show’s conception, their hunt for a host, its impact on an individual level, as well as the construction of its iconic theme song. 

I’ll admit here that I went to this film fairly blind, unlike lifelong fan Morgan, who writes, “This film gave me new appreciation for a series near and dear to my heart.” Unfortunately, we did not get Reading Rainbow in England, so my biggest point of reference is LeVar Burton’s appearance in an episode of Community (“you can’t disappoint a picture!”), a pop culture moment addressed early in Butterfly. Nevertheless, my unfamiliarity didn’t blunt the film’s degree of power and insight, nor my desire to beam episodes of Reading Rainbow to my childhood self.

Despite this, there is a bittersweetness to Butterfly in the Sky. It is deeply life-affirming in the way Reading Rainbow single-handedly elevated a generation’s sense of curiosity about the world. That never leaves you, and it demonstrates how a little effort goes a long way. The most profoundly affecting moments of the documentary comes at a time of vital healing as it focuses attention on children in NYC shortly after 9/11. But it’s painful how easily all of this can be taken away: Reading Rainbow’s eventual cancellation came in 2006, despite subsequent attempts at revivals throughout the years. Butterfly in the Sky forms the ultimate trilogy of PBS tear-jerkers with Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street, thoroughly earning its spot alongside that pair. JM

Don’t Make Me Go

Directed by Hannah Marks, written by Vera Herbert

If anyone is going to play the role of a sexy dad who can also make you cry until your face hurts, it’s John Cho. Don’t Make Me Go, from director Hannah Marks, exposes all of our darkest fears of one day not being with our parents and having the comfort of their guidance through life. When Max (Cho) discovers he has a bone tumor near his brain and a year to live, he decides not to tell his daughter Wally (first-time actor Mia Isaac), but instead take her on a cross-country journey to reunite with her estranged mother and tie up loose ends before he passes. 

Set to a summery, guitar-heavy soundtrack, Don’t Make Me Go has needle drops that will be stuck in your head days after watching, including a prominent placement for that road trip anthem, Iggy Pop’s ‘The Passenger.’ It’ll remind many viewers of that specific experience of listening to the music your dad would play and how that could tell you so much about who he is. 

In her debut performance, Isaac brings an exciting energy that fuses with Cho’s experience into a chemistry that radiates with joy and heartache as you await the inevitable ending. Writing on Letterboxd, Wally warns us: “You’re not gonna like how this story ends, but I think you’re gonna like this story.” To say the ending hits hard would be a massive understatement, as Kendall notes in their review: “Being at the world premiere was great and all but I almost wish I had waited [until] it came out on Amazon Prime so I could’ve wept openly by myself instead of holding my breath to stifle my sobs.”

Don’t Make Me Go is the perfect film to watch with your parents, and it’s the worst film to watch with your parents. Regardless, it will make you want to hug them tight and never let go, and you can see it for yourself when it streams on Amazon Prime from July 15. FS

God’s Time

Written and directed by Daniel Antebi

In the time it takes to introduce its first character via a quick Zoom, tense percussion, and a pink diamond-esque caption—in other words, within the opening minute—God’s Time announces its presence as, in Fernando’s words, “a full throttle dispatch of Gen Z cinema.” Director Daniel Antebi’s feature debut is “frenzied and loud and so very New York,” shares Claira Curtis, adding that the tone “nails that trapeze of bleak and humor.” 

The dark comedy works in the same vein as anxiety-inducers like After Hours and Good Time, riffing off a familiar premise about one single day in NYC that spirals out of control. Central to the action are best friends and recovering addicts Dev (an electric Ben Groh) and Luca (Dion Costelloe). When mile-a-minute Dev begins to suspect that their mutual crush, Regina (Liz Caribel Sierra), plans to murder her ex-boyfriend, he drags Luca along in a Covid-era quest across the city to stop her. Refreshingly, the pandemic mostly just inspires true-to-life set dressing, not the main plot.

It might have been a shorter film if Dev and Luca were half as smooth as they want to be, but the pair’s mismatched buddy comedy grounds the action from flying off the rails that it loves to intentionally spark against. Antebi’s internet-drenched editing and flashes of meta humor also play into dissecting Dev’s inflated assurance of his perceptive skills. “The fourth-wall breaking is beyond a gimmick,” writes Dylan Wachman. “It prevents us from experiencing reality outside of their warped perspectives. This brilliant move makes for superbly impactful tone shifts, when the smiles and the jokes wear off, the sweat is pouring, and you begin to realize the weight of what is happening.” AL

Huesera

Written and directed by Michelle Garza Cervera

Mexico’s Michelle Garza Cervera brought her bone-chilling feature debut to Tribeca and left as one of the festival’s buzziest breakouts, after winning both its New Narrative Director prize and the Nora Ephron Award for a female filmmaker on the rise. Those accolades likely won’t be the last for Huesera (out later this year from XYZ Films), which is about an expectant mother, Valeria (Natalia Solián), who struggles with self-doubt and intensifying supernatural visions as she nears her delivery date.

Exceptional in a demanding lead role that also marks her feature acting debut, Solián captures the full measure of Valeria’s descent into paranoia and dread, hinting at a hidden past that both clarifies and complicates her mixed feelings around pregnancy. And as Huesera approaches its freaky, full-throttle third act, Cervera demonstrates impressive command of her uncanny tone, weaving strands of Latin-American folklore and visceral body horror into a thorny, feminist meditation on the various losses of agency women endure in cultures where patriarchy constricts motherhood. 

Broaching such subjects as postpartum depression and maternal self-sacrifice in the form of a haunting psychological thriller, Huesera has drawn comparisons to Rosemary’s Baby and The Lost Daughter, and its Tribeca audiences were unanimous in their praise for the film’s unsettling sound design. “Everyone in the audience started reflexively cracking their knuckles,” writes Cori. “Worst sound in the world.” Alex, for one, vows, “I’ll never crack my knuckles again.” The bone-breaking atmosphere did little to deter Bheir from declaring Huesera “my fave of Tribeca,” adding “this movie was such a mindfuck, and the colors and cinematography were excellent.” IF

The Integrity of Joseph Chambers

Written and directed by Robert Machoian

Furthering the examination of imperiled American masculinity they began with last year’s The Killing of Two Lovers, writer-director Robert Machoian reteams with star Clayne Crawford for this brutally economical, formally elegant character study. Less pressurized than its predecessor, in which a husband’s desperate rage at his marriage’s dissolution was so palpably felt as to charge each scene with the threat of eruptive violence, The Integrity of Joseph Chambers scrutinizes another family man in crisis, but one whose moral and psychic damage is more decidedly self-inflicted.

Recently relocated to rural Alabama, Joseph (Crawford) sets off one morning on a solo deer hunting trip, having borrowed a truck and rifle, in order to prove his manliness to his concerned wife Tess (Jordana Brewster), but primarily, to himself. Alone in the vast Appalachian wilderness, the nature of Joseph’s self-delusion soon becomes clear; posturing as a survivalist despite lacking basic survival skills, he soon triggers a worst-case scenario he’s unprepared to face. Framed in claustrophobic 4:3 and rigged with sound design that shifts from naturalistic to disquietingly abstract, Integrity allows its protagonist to sink into a morass of his own making. Crawford lays bare the haunted psychology of a man driven by ego and impulse but defined, cruelly, by his own inaction. 

Praising the film’s “classical, picturesque, midwestern framework,” Bruce Tetsuya expresses admiration for Crawford’s performance during an unbroken sequence of a nervous breakdown. Calling it a “much simpler” follow-up to The Killing of Two Lovers, Tetsuya added that “this film is also an exploration of masculinity, but instead of focusing on a father’s place in a family dynamic, we see a portrait of emasculation, aspiration and failure.” Meanwhile, Benji Kaplan praises the film’s use of sound, describing how “cracks of branches translate us to another world inside our character’s head,” surmising that “what begins as a simple wilderness movie becomes a thrilling psychological dream.” IF

Liquor Store Dreams 

Directed by So Yun Um, written by Um and Christina Sun Kim

“All there is left to do is be happy.” This stirring line in So Yun Um’s debut documentary feature Liquor Store Dreams holds such a contradiction in its simplicity when juxtaposed against the enormity of the tragedies that exist in the world. Faced with the events that have unfolded over the last few years, how is happiness attainable? That question is one of many So Yun Um opens up in this moving portrait of two Korean-American children—the filmmaker herself, and childhood friend Danny Park—of liquor store owners living in Los Angeles who attempt to figure out their own way in life in relation to the sacrifices and expectations of their immigrant parents. 

Capturing life in America over the last few years, Liquor Store Dreams is inevitably impacted by cataclysmic shifts in the country that have come with the Covid pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020. Rather than trying to capture the full picture of these mountainous moments, So Yun Um’s far more interesting angle is allowing us to see how the personal lives of these two families are impacted by such major sea-changes. She doesn’t hide from an upsetting moment of outrage her father has when watching the protests on television, and takes care to give the audience an education on the cultural history of the area, which has had an influence on ingrained prejudices. 

It’s that empathetic lens that gives us an understanding of who all of these people are (including, perhaps especially, the parental figures), where they’ve come from and what makes them innately human—flaws and all. As Dhagladroob puts it, it’s “amazing how So weaved in poignant elements from her personal life in the context of how US society stands with racial justice and the immigrant stories that many of us living here have.” As well as being a filmmaker, So Yun Um is also a film lover—this is shown in both her observations within her own film of the cinema that reflected and rejected her, and in her Letterboxd activity. Naturally, we invited her onto The Letterboxd Show. MB

My Love Affair with Marriage 

Written and directed by Signe Baumane

Seven years in the making, My Love Affair with Marriage serves up a deliciously animated smorgasbord of ambitious ideas. It’s certainly the only Tribeca film to feature a finger-wagging Greek chorus, or a neuron that breaks down neurochemistry in friendly sidebars. “It feels like reading a picture book, watching an educational documentary, and listening to a semi- autobiographical podcast all at once,” says Peter Charney, praising the “insightful writing matched with compelling artistry.” Did I mention it’s also a musical? And it picked up a Jury Distinction Award at its international premiere at Annecy this month, too. 

Latvian animator Signe Baumane offered an intensely personal look at mental health with her first feature, Rocks in My Pockets (one of Letterboxd’s 50 highest rated animated films by women directors). She’s again introspective here, drawing from past relationships and her upbringing in Soviet Union-era Riga. These inspirations form the fictional Zelma (Dagmara Domińczyk), a semi-autobiographical avatar who allows Baumane to recontextualize parts of her life through the neurochemical processes and social pressures that underscored them. My Love Affair with Marriage follows a young Zelma into adulthood, showing how society’s rigid expectations once caused her to conform to patriarchal conceptions of love and womanhood.

Baumane’s idiosyncratic blend of hand-drawn characters moving through stop-motion-animated sets brings warmth to the interconnected ruminations on gender stereotypes, cultural biases, and self-discovery. Whimsical visual metaphors capture the emotions behind Zelma’s narration, like how she envisions her true form as a clawed cat ready to fight. Another artist, Yajun Shi, animates the biology sequences, marking the division between Zelma’s self-perception and her unconscious synapses. Highlighting how the expressive aesthetics imbue the film’s themes, Nicholas Jennings notes how “the only time when the environment moves in accordance to Zelma is when she comes to find herself and love herself completely as the structures of society move around her.” AL

Nude Tuesday

Directed by Armağan Ballantyne, written by Julia Davis and Jackie van Beek

The gimmick of New Zealander Armağan Ballantyne’s Nude Tuesday is not limited to its perturbing tagline: “a comedy in gibberish.” It is accurate; the dialogue of the film is in a gibberish language improvized by the characters—the script was written and rehearsed in English before being performed this way. The gimmick is that the completed film was sent to British comedienne Julia Davis and, without being provided any context, she was commissioned to write the English subtitles—to decode the story, color in the backstory, find heart and soul, and throw in as many gross-out gags as she could (Letterboxd’s editor-in-chief Gemma Gracewood spoke to Davis about the process). In doing so, Nude Tuesday keeps its element of surprise throughout and holds a tension in the air as you root for Julia to excel within her limitations and nail the next line with a zinger. 

The story itself follows a couple (Damon Herriman and Jackie van Beek, the latter also the screenwriter) whose marriage is on the rocks, so they go to a couple’s retreat, which is led by an uninhibited Jemaine Clement (who has previously acted with van Beek in What We Do in the Shadows and The Breaker Upperers, and here is squarely in his element), in order to reignite their flame. Due to the simplicity of the premise and the dramatic situations, it would be an easy film to follow without Julia’s descriptors. We would have been able to gather that it’s rude not to be nude on ‘nude Tuesday.’ The unique concept offers an actor’s playground (the retreat’s workshops could be mistaken for acting exercises) and an opportunity for a type of raw impulsivity that other absurdist comedies rarely broach. It’s less about the nudity and more about the humanity. And worth watching for the gibberish covers of ‘Road to Nowhere’ and ‘Time of the Season’ alone.

“Of yua’ri guud et imbrecong yuar onnir tiinegir, Nude Tuesday shuald govi yua plinty uf gogglis,” writes self-professed native gibberish speaker ZacharyBinx, or per their provided translation: “If you’re good at embracing your inner teenager, Nude Tuesday should give you plenty of giggles.” JM

Pink Moon

Directed by Floor van der Meulen, written by Bastiaan Kroeger

Death can be scheduled, but grief will reject any set timeline. To expect otherwise is gently foolish, a concept Dutch director Floor van der Meulen seems to understand. Empathetic throughout, her remarkably clear-eyed narrative debut makes it easy to see why she earned a Special Jury Mention for Best New Narrative Director. “The story never feels exploitative or like it is trying to tell us the answers,” writes Benji Kaplan, commending “the level of craft and graceful handling of assisted suicide, an endlessly challenging topic.” 

Over red wine and takeout containers, a father (Johan Leysen) informs his two adult children that his 75th birthday will be his last. He’s not sick. He is simply ready to die. Daughter Iris (Julia Akkermans) can’t even begin to wrap her head around the concept and tries everything to convince him otherwise. Pink Moon makes it clear from the start that this will end in tears. (Be kind to yourself and keep tissues on hand.) But the film also doesn’t shy away from the absurdities that arise from logistics you’d never think of, like cross-checking calendars to find the most convenient “death day.” These moments of levity inevitably slip away, leaving a deeply felt portrait of anticipatory grief’s messy contradictions.

The natural ebb-and-flow of van der Muelen’s direction gives the lovely performances space to breathe. Dream-like long takes get increasingly longer as Iris grasps onto every last shared second. As Brandon Samora writes: “The entire film rests on Julia Akkermans’ performance as Iris, daughter in denial—she delivers everything with such conviction and precision that you can’t be certain that she didn’t just lose someone close to her personally. Johan Leysen’s father-with-a-death-wish is played with paternal authority and a muted warmth, until Akkermans’ Iris chips away at him.” AL

You Can Live Forever

Written and directed by Mark Slutsky and Sarah Watts

After her father dies, teenage Jaime (Anwen O’Driscoll) is sent to the scenic Canadian seaside, where she’s to live with her aunt and uncle in a restrictive Jehovah’s Witness community. As a non-believer who’s also recently learned she’s a lesbian, Jaime feels isolated in more ways than one, even before her relatives, unaware of her sexuality, start pressuring her into attending religious services. 

But when Jaime meets Marike (June Laporte), the daughter of a prominent Witness elder, the two soon become inseparable, and people start to take notice. Instead of driving them apart, the community’s disapproval pushes Jaime and Marike ever closer, as their friendship deepens into a passionate but forbidden affair—a paradise on Earth, for them alone to share. 

A sensitively acted and quietly profound debut feature by writer-directors Mark Slutsky and Sarah Watts, the latter of whom grew up gay in a Jehovah’s Witness community, You Can Live Forever explores religious repression and first love with compassion and grace. Contemplating devotion—to another person, or a higher power—as a form of endurance born of blind faith, the specificity of its queer romance gives way to more universal truths.

“It means so much to see myself reflected on screen, in any capacity,” writes Claira. “The longing, the hyper-specific type of anxiety, the panic of being seen, the joyous victory of a kiss shared… You Can Live Forever explores a fantastic intersection between young love, religion, grief, and queerness.” Victoria Murphy adds: “This hurt me at times… but I’m also open to watching it again and again.” It’s “spellbinding” and “just utterly tender,” writes Alex Paps, praising the way the film “focuses on both the pain and beauty that comes with longing.” Of “phenomenal” lead actresses O’Driscoll and Laporte, Paps adds that “you can feel their chemistry growing as they become more intertwined in each other’s hearts.” IF


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