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15 Must-See Movies at Tribeca Film Festival 2015

From DJ AM and ‘SNL’ docs to a hardboiled Hollywood thriller, these are the NYC fest pics you need to catch

'Orion: The Man Who Would Be King' and 'The Cut'

'Orion: The Man Who Would Be King' and 'The Cut'

Every spring, the downtown New York City neighborhood known as Tribeca turns into a hub of famous faces, adventurous movie lovers, celebrity spotters, red-carpet strollers, documentary enthusiasts and all-around scenesters — each of them ready to see what's new in the world of filmmaking. Now in its 14th year, the Tribeca Film Festival returns with another batch of cinematic goodies from around the world, and we've got the 15 entries you need to see right here. From thought-provoking social-issue docs to some foreign-language and indie-flick gems, these are the movies you'll want to catch while you can.

Adderall Diaries

Stephen Elliott (James Franco) and Neil Elliott (Ed Harris) Anna Kooris

Anna Kooris

‘The Adderall Diaries’

Based on Stephen Elliott's 2009 memoir, Pamela Romanowsky's film adaptation follows the journalist's journey through "moods, masochism and murder" as he covers the trial of a famous programmer accused of killing his wife. Once the author (played by the prolific James Franco) starts suffering from a crippling case of writer’s block, however, he starts binging on the titular prescription drug so he can deal with an abusive past, a looming book deadline and an attempt to woo a comely New York Times writer (Amber Heard). It’s a disjointed, dark tale about the myriad ways, both synthetic and natural, that the past keeps clouding our present. CD

As I Am: The Life and Times of DJ AM

‘As I AM: The Life and Times of DJ AM’

At his peak, Adam "DJ AM" Goldstein was a technically brilliant, genre-blasting musician who manned the decks for Madonna's birthday party and became the center of a reinvigorated Las Vegas nightlife. He was also a recovering drug addict who once tried to kill himself and filled the void of a broken childhood with excess in every facet of his life. When a plane crash left the DJ severely burned and back on medication to help with anxiety, an once-promising career began to spiral to its tragic end. Kevin Kerslake's moving new documentary brings out the celebrity talking heads — Mark Ronson, A-Trak, Jazzy Jeff, Diplo — to praise the late artist. But he also doesn't shy away from his subject's dark side, and allows this portrait to strip away the lie that money, fame and power are panaceas for internal woes. JN

A Ballerina's Tale

Misty Copeland laughs with the crew during the filming of one of two exclusive solos she performed for the production’s cameras. Photo by Oskar Landi

Oscar Landi

‘A Ballerina’s Tale’

A teen prodigy and the first African-American soloist at the American Ballet Theatre since the Eighties, Misty Copeland fought hardships and legal battles to become not only one of the premier dancers of her generation but, per writer Jim Farber, "the Jackie Robinson of classical ballet." Journalist, author and filmmaker Nelson George (Finding the Funk) captures a transitional period of her life, when — after dancing Stravinsky's Firebird with six fractures in her shin (!) — Copeland had to undergo surgery and work her way back into the ABT's top ranks. Inspirational doesn't begin to describe it. DF

The Birth of Sake

(Right) Head Brewmaster Yamamoto Toji has been crafting sake for 54 years. (Left) Chi-chan, 70 year old brewery worker and childhood friend of Head Brewmaster Yamamoto Toji Photograph by Yoshida Yasuyuki

Yoshida Yasuyuki

‘The Birth of Sake’

Founded more than 140 years ago, Japan's Yoshida Brewery is one of the last places to still practice the time-consuming traditional method of creating sake; workers, eat, sleep and live together for half of the year, toiling for dawn until dusk to create a world-class beverage. The liquor accompaniment to Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Erik Shirai's engrossing documentary delves into the life of Yamamato Toji, the head brewmaster who has worked at Yoshida for more than 55 years, as well as profiling the next generation of hopeful successors. It's as much a testament to the artisanship, dedication and pride of each employee — which sadly feels like an dying relic from a bygone era — as it is a how-to instructional guide for high-end boozehounds. JN

Bridgend

Hannah Murray (Sara) & Josh O'Connor (Jamie) Photographer Credit: Magnus Jønck

Magnus Jønck

‘Bridgend’

Danish newcomer Jeppe Ronde takes a fictionalized look at the very real Bridgend, an English town where a highly-publicized wave of suicides has plagued residents. Sara (played by Game of Thrones' doe-eyed Hannah Murray) moves back to her home town and quickly falls in with a group of rowdy, seemingly harmless teens. But as the death count rises around her, Sara gets swept up in a love affair that could have disastrous consequences. While the movie could have played the story for cheap creeps, Ronde instead puts a sharp focus on how its heroine's natural adolescent confusion, romanticism and sadness are magnified by the continuing loss of her peers — a viewpoint that doesn't make the story any less unsettling. CD

Cut

Nazaret Manoogian: Tahar Rahim Seamen: Extras Photographer: Gordon Mühle

Gordon Mühle

‘The Cut’

An Armenian father (A Prophet's Tahar Rahim) sees his peaceful life torn apart as the Ottoman Empire's systematic elimination of his people during WWI kicks into gear. Left scarred and mute after barely surviving a massacre, he proceeds to travel halfway across the world to find his missing daughters. If the Turkish-German filmmaker Fatih Akin's first stab at making a wide-ranging historical epic lacks the punkish, culture-clashing energy of his best work (see Head On and The Edge of Heaven), it still brims with artistry and anger; this is a cri de couer about the regionally taboo topic of the 20th century's Armenian genocide that runs on a righteous sense of rage and an endless reservoir of tears. DF

Dream Killer

Bill Ferguson Photographer: Mike Edmund

Mike Edmund

‘Dream/Killer’

In Columbia, Missouri in 2005, Ryan Ferguson was convicted of murder and sentenced to 40 years in prison despite no physical evidence linking the then-21-year-old to the crime. As he languished in a cell, his father Bill spent nearly 10 years building up evidence that would exonerate his son from his Kafkaesque nightmare. Inspired by Errol Morris' true-crime documentary The Thin Blue Line, director Andrew Jenks (Room 335, MTV's World of Jenks) dissects Ryan's case, showing the corruptive nature of power and brutally slow machinations of the U.S. justice system. Fans of Serial and The Jinx, meet your new favorite film. JN

In My Father's House

Che Smith enjoys breakfast with his father, Brian Tillman, shortly after their reunion. film still: © Charles Miller

Charles Miller

‘In My Father’s House’

Chicago rapper Che "Rhymefest" Smith has won Oscars and Grammys, co-wrote "Jesus Walks" with Kanye West and met with UK Prime Minister David Cameron to discuss gun violence. But this portrait of the artist by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg (Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work) eschews hip-hop hagiography or club-hopping excess to focus on the musician's search for his dad, now homeless, who abandoned the family when Che was a child. Equal parts poignant, comical and heartbreaking, the film examines both adult homelessness and the massive undertaking needed to acclimate to society with the flip side of hip-hop success. JN

In Transit

Stephen Adler

‘In Transit’

The Empire Builder is Amtrak's busiest train route, carrying more than 500,000 passengers a year from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest. Five filmmakers, including pioneering documentarian Albert Maysles (in one of his last films before his death), point their camera at select riders' stories and chronicle both the fascinating and banal details that make up everyone's life. Drunk twentysomethings and overdue pregnant women mingle with a mother who hasn't seen her daughter in 47 years and a man who quit his job on the spot to take a cross-country train. Themes of escape, transformation and "finding yourself" form a common thread through the stories, whether it's running toward something or away from it, and show that everyone has a tale to tell if you just ask. JN

Live From New York!

‘Live From New York!’

Didn't get enough of Saturday Night Live's history with that bells-and-whistles SNL40 special? Bao Nguyen's documentary (and the fest's Opening Night selection) traces the evolution of the series from a glimmer in producer Lorne Michaels' eye to its current reign as a pop-culture juggernaut. A who's-who of cast members and MVP hosts talk about the sketch show's influence, its ability to both surf the zeitgeist and shape it, how its managed to rise from the dead numerous times and why, after four decades, we still get excited when we hear that titular opening line every week. DF

Mojave

Garrett Hedlund as Thomas and Oscar Isaac as Jack in William Monahan’s MOJAVE Photographer: Dylan Hale Lewis

Dylan Hale Lewis

‘Mojave’

Have you heard the one about the moody-rebel moviemaker (Garrett Hedlund) that goes into the desert, meets a possible serial killer (Oscar Isaac, who's been on a role lately), and then engages in a game of cat and mouse with the unhinged drifter back in Hell-Ay? Directed by The Departed's screenwriter William Monahan, this Tinseltown thriller has the sort of hardboiled-to-death, Hollywood tough-guy dialogue that will either cause giddiness or uncontrollable giggling. But it also has a great extended cameo from Mark Wahlberg in manic alpha-douchebag mode as a movie producer and a wonderful turn from Isaac, who starts off aping Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now and ends by channeling Hopper in every other psychotic part he played. DF

Monty Python

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 20: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, John Cleese and Terry Jones perform on the closing night of 'Monty Python Live (Mostly)' at The O2 Arena on July 20, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)

Dave J Hogan

‘Monty Python: The Meaning of Live’

When the five surviving members of Monty Python reunited for one last string of live shows in the summer of 2014, no one was sure what to expect once the stage lights at the O2 Arena went up — least of all the Pythons themselves. This behind-the-scenes look at the lead-up to those sold-out concerts gives folks a peek at the troupe's preparations and creative process, from finding their old rhythms again and enduring rough dress rehearsals to affectionately ribbing each other over not being able to remember lines (we're looking at you, Terry Jones). It's also a reminder that, in addition to bringing their absurdist comedy to TV viewers and moviegoers, the group had always been a crack live act, with rare footage from some of their earliest North American tours in the 1970s. DF

Orion The Man Who Would Be King

Sun Records

‘Orion: The Man Who Would Be King’

What would you do if you were a talented singer in the mid-Seventies who just happened to sound identical to Elvis Presley? Jimmy "Orion" Ellis was a failed Alabama singer until he linked up with Sun Records head Shelby Singleton a year after Presley's death and began recording as the deceased legend. When fans bought these "new" Presley songs in droves, Ellis dressed up in sequined jumpsuits, put on a mask and set up 3,000-person tours in the South that sold out immediately. "They weren't clapping for Ellis," says one friend in Jeanie Finlay's fascinating, tragicomic documentary. "They were clapping for a ghost." A must-watch. JN

Song of Lahore

Character: Asad Ali Photographer: Mobeen Ansari

Mobeen Ansari

‘Song of Lahore’

When Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq became president of Pakistan in 1978 following a military coup d'état, he eradicated a long-held, thriving tradition of lauded musicians in the country. Three decades later, music lover/financier Izzat Majeed established Sachal Studios in Lahore, the Pakistani city that was once the country's songwriting center; its in-house group became a viral sensation after covering Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" and later performed at Lincoln Center with jazz great Wynton Marsalis. Part Mozart in the Jungle and part examination of the cultural effects of Sharia law, Andy Schocken and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy's cinematic cultural corrective hopes to show that, as one musician says, "the entire world will see that Pakistanis are artists, not terrorists." JN

Uncertain

Wayne Smith, photo by Ewan McNicol

Ewan McNicol

‘Uncertain’

Though its name sounds like a horror movie setting waiting to happen, the small town of Uncertain, Texas, is just a little burg on the border of Louisiana, full of lost souls trying to do better and who depend on the town's marshy lake for their survival. Then a mysterious, invasive weed starts to dry up the water and choke out the wildlife, and the region's future is threatened in some fairly unexpected ways. The good ol' boys in the film — a down-on-his luck twentysomething with a drinking problem, an elderly African American river guide, a recovering addict oddly consumed by pig hunting — initially seem straight from the casting agency that brought you Deliverance. But the residents stand for more than just the sum of their parts, and Uncertain turns into an illuminating peek into the forgotten corners of rural America — one that, incidentally, also contains some valuable hog-skinning pointers. CD

In This Article: Tribeca Film Festival

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