The 10 Buzziest Movies at Tribeca Film Festival 2011

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Last night’s screening of the Cameron Crowe documentary The Union (and the post-film concert by its subject, Elton John) marked the kick-off of the tenth annual Tribeca Film Festival — a notable milestone, though it still makes Tribeca a bit of a rookie compared to, say, Cannes or Sundance or the New York Film Festival. Perhaps as a consequence of its youth, Tribeca has yet to establish the kind of definitive brand that some of those festivals have. But the grab-bag quality of its annual slate is much of its charm; star vehicles, documentaries, and micro-budgeted world cinema all share the Tribeca screens, and often the lesser-known films benefit from the spotlight of their better-known brothers. After the jump, we’ll take a look at ten of the most-buzzed titles in the 2011 line-up.

Last Night

This romantic drama starring Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, and Eva Mendes looks — at first glance — like a mannered and overwrought examination of white people problems. But Massy Tedjedin’s directorial debut is a complicated and nuanced examination of a married couple attempting to resist temptation. Contrary to the monsters and angels normally created for cinematic takes on infidelity, it’s not a matter of good and bad relationships, or easy choices. It’s a smart, nuanced movie, with moments so honest and penetrating, it’s almost uncomfortably personal to watch.

The Trip

Director Michael Winterbottom re-teams with his Tristam Shandy stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon for this improvised mockumentary/travelogue, which is a giggly, entertaining treat. The two actors, playing themselves (or versions of themselves, anyway), are on a “restaurant tour of the North” for The Obeserver. The resulting narrative — a kind of mobile My Dinner with Andre — is fast and witty, full of snappy patter and hilarious set pieces (like the dueling Michael Caine impressions above).

Everything Must Go

Writer/director Dan Rush’s adaptation of the Raymond Carver short story “Why Don’t You Dance” boasts one of the festival’s most impressive ensembles: Will Ferrell, Rebecca Hall, Laura Dern, Michael Pena, Steven Root, and, yes, Glenn Howerton (Dennis from It’s Always Sunny) turn up in this American Beauty-style seriocomic drama, which has one “special screening” at the festival before its May theatrical run.

The Bang Bang Club

It’s not uncommon for a film that’s already picked up a distributor to debut in theaters shortly after its festival playdates, but this Salvador-esque tale of war photographers in South Africa circa 1994 has about the quickest turnaround we’ve ever seen: it has a special screening Thursday night and then opens in limited release on Friday. Ryan Phillipe and Malin Akerman star.

A Good Old Fashioned Orgy

Saturday Night Live’s Jason Sudekis fronts this “summery romantic comedy with a dirty mind” (thank you, Tribeca Film Guide) in which a perpetual bachelor tries to put together one last big bash — the titular event — at his dad’s Hamptons beach house. The supporting cast includes Leslie Bibb, Lake Bell, Hot Fuzz’s Lucy Punch, and Sudekis’s SNL castmate Will Forte.

The Swell Season

Consciously or not, thematic similarities often pop up in Tribeca’s documentary programs. In 2009, several films (Con Artist, Blank City, Burning Down The House) touched on the underground downtown art, music, and film scene; this year, several docs are tackling — from very different angles — modern popular music. This one focuses on Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, who famously fell in love while making Once, but found the strength of that relationship tested by the two-year world tour that followed. Yes, the artsy black-and-white cinematography has tripped our Rattle and Hum alarm as well, but this one’s got real potential.

Beats, Rhymes, and Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest

This documentary profile is directed by actor Michael Rappaport (Bamboozled, Cop Land), a longtime fan of the groundbreaking hip-hop group. But Tribe member Q-Tip is apparently not a fan of the film; “I am not in support of the a tribe called quest documentary,” he tweeted in December. “The filmmaker should respect the band to the point of honoring the few requests that’s (sic) was made abt the piece.” No word on whether Rappaport chose to honor those mysterious “requests” or whether he stuck with the decision to make a real documentary; either way, should make for an interesting film.

God Bless Ozzy Osbourne

One of the biggest hits of last year’s Tribeca fest was the warts-and-all portrait Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. This profile of everyone’s favorite bat-biter-turned-reality-star may very well fill that film’s slot this year. While the credits have the scent of a puff piece (son Jack is a producer), the Osbournes have never been much for hiding their dirty laundry, so this could either be a penetrating portrait or an absolute train wreck. Or, of course, it could very well be both.

Jesus Henry Christ

Dennis Lee’s comedy certainly boasts the most provocative title of the festival. It also stars Toni Collette and Michael Sheen, which is about all we need to hear for it to move to the top of our “must see” list. (It will also presumably get some publicity help from its executive producer, one Julia Roberts.)

Catching Hell

The great documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney had no less than three films at last year’s Tribeca fest: My Trip to al-Qaeda, the Eliot Spitzer doc Client 9 (which screened as a work-in-progress), and Freakonomics (an omnibus documentary, to which he contributed a segment). He only has one film showing this year, the slacker. But the good news is, that one movie is this collaboration with ESPN Films, who originally slated it as part of their excellent 30 for 30 series (which presented some of the best documentaries, sports or otherwise, of the last year).

Tribeca’s online film guide is here, and your author is eagerly filling out his festival dance card. What films do you think are worth checking out?