Festival’s Best

Avengers, James Franco Meta-Doc, More Tribeca Must-Sees (PHOTOS)

New York’s 11th annual downtown film festival kicks off Tuesday with The Five-Year Engagement, a comedy starring Jason Segel and Emily Blunt. From a ‘manscaping’ documentary to the Avengers premiere, see our top picks.

The 11th annual Tribeca Film Festival, which kicks off April 18 in downtown New York City, will showcase an eclectic array of cinema from around the globe—and even honor Justin Bieber with a special award. This year, the festival’s opening night film is The Five-Year Engagement, a comedy starring Jason Segel and Emily Blunt, directed by Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), while the closing night movie is the superhero extravaganza The Avengers. Hollywood fare aside, the festival boasts intriguing documentaries on broke ex-pro athletes, “manscaping,” and the ubiquitous James Franco, as well as several notable features. Those who can’t make the trip to Manhattan can see some of the films competing at Tribeca online via tribecaonline.com. Read on for The Daily Beast’s top picks at this year’s festival.

By Marlow Stern

Glen Wilson

'Five Year Engagement'

Reuniting actor Jason Segel with his Forgetting Sarah Marshall director Nicholas Stoller, the festival’s opening night film, co-written by Segel, looks to be another hilarious look at a tumultuous relationship—in this case, an incredibly long engagement between Segel and Emily Blunt. While Segel and Blunt’s last movie together, Gulliver’s Travels, didn’t fare so well, Stoller has proved to be a reliable comedy director with Marshall and his last film, 2010’s Get Him to the Greek. Plus, props to Segel-Stoller for having the foresight to include some jabs at The Hunger Games.

Zade Rosenthal

'The Avengers'

Nabbing Joss Whedon’s $220 million superhero blockbuster extravaganza The Avengers as the festival’s closing night film was a massive coup for Tribeca. In the film, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), head of the global peacekeeping organization S.H.I.E.L.D., assembles an all-star team of superheroes from the Marvel universe to battle Loki (Tom Hiddleston), an otherworldly megalomaniac hell-bent on enslaving the human race. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and newcomer Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) put their egos aside to save the planet.

Courtesy of Magnolia Pic

'Take This Waltz'

It’s fitting that Sarah Polley’s sophomore feature—after her stunning directorial debut, Away From Her—is named after a Leonard Cohen song. After all, his song “Everybody Knows” featured prominently in Atom Egoyan’s 1994 film Exotica, which was one of Polley’s breakthrough roles. In Take This Waltz, Margot (Michelle Williams) and Lou (Seth Rogen) star as a chummy married couple who’ve settled for companionship over romance. When Margot falls in love with a charismatic young artist who moves in next door, she’s forced to choose between mere contentment and the possibility of something more. The dramedy also boasts a fine supporting turn from raunchy comedienne Sarah Silverman.

Patricia Khan / Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

'Chicken With Plums'

Filmmaking duo Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud floored audiences with their stunning, Oscar-nominated 2007 debut feature Persepolis—an animated bildungsroman about a young girl growing up in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution. Their follow-up is a live-action feature starring acclaimed French actor Mathieu Amalric (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) as Nasser Ali Khan, the most revered violin player in 1950s Tehran who is forced to retreat into a fantasy world to cope with his despair after the woman he loves breaks his heart and his beloved violin is destroyed.

Doug Chamberlain

'Francophrenia (or Don’t Kill Me, I Know Where the Baby Is)'

At last year’s Tribeca Film Festival, the ubiquitous James Franco premiered his behind-the-scenes documentary on NBC’s sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live. This year, he’s getting even weirder. Franco will premiere Francophrenia, based on the behind-the-scenes action that took place while he appeared on the daytime soap General Hospital. Franco and editor Ian Olds have combined that footage with other found footage, as well as an interior monologue spoken by Olds (playing the voice of Franco), to create what’s been billed as an “experimental psychological thriller” that’s a “mind-bending meditation on identity,” exploring Franco the human being, Franco the performance artist on General Hospital, and Franco the actor. Meta.

Courtesy of Sexy Baby

'Sexy Baby'

What does it mean to be a young girl, teenager, or woman in today’s sex-saturated culture? That’s what debut filmmakers Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus explore in their documentary Sexy Baby, making its world premiere at Tribeca. The film follows three characters: Winnie, a precocious Lady Gaga-worshipping 12-year-old who’s growing up too fast for her parents; Laura, 22, who’s being pressured by her weirdo boyfriend to get a “designer vagina” via cosmetic surgery; and Nakita Kash, a 32-year-old former porn star who’s teaching housewives and coeds to pole dance. With its combination of sex, humor, and pop-culture savvy, Sexy Baby is sure to be one of the most talked-about films of the festival.

Liam Daniel / Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

'Hysteria'

If the documentary Sexy Baby offers too harsh a dose of reality for you, the femme-centric feature Hysteria may be up your alley. Directed by Tanya Wexler, the film follows an outspoken feminist (Maggie Gyllenhaal) in 19th-century London who befriends a rebellious young doctor (Hugh Dancy) who helps treat “hysteria” in female patients. The two join forces to combat the rigid restrictions of Victorian society and end up inventing the electro-mechanical vibrator. Boasting an all-star supporting cast, including Like Crazy’s Felicity Jones, Rupert Everett, and Jonathan Pryce, Wexler’s film sounds like a far cheekier counterpunch to David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method.

Mansome Pictures LLC 2012

'Mansome'

Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock has explored McDonald’s (Super Size Me) and the war on terror (Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?), but he tackles his hairiest subject yet in Mansome. Spurlock’s documentary focuses on the phenomenon that is “manscaping”—men who groom their body hair—and explores what it means to be a man in the 21st century. The film includes candid interviews with an all-star cast of comedians, including Paul Rudd, Jason Bateman, Zach Galifianakis, and Will Arnett, as well as everyday people, in order to uncover the secrets to being “mansome.”

Charlotte Jardat-Katz

'Revenge for Jolly!'

Every film festival experience should include a blood-splattered, batshit-crazy dark comedy, and Revenge for Jolly! appears to be just the ticket at this year’s Tribeca. Harry (Brian Petsos) and his cousin, Cecil (Drive’s Oscar Isaac), come home one day to find that Harry’s beloved pet dog has been murdered. Armed with a trunk full of guns, the duo vows to avenge his death and embarks on a boozy, violent rampage. Along the way, they encounter a motley crew of characters played by Bridesmaids Kristen Wiig (as a bride this time), Elijah Wood, Ryan Phillippe, Kevin Corrigan, and Saturday Night Live’s Bobby Moynihan.

'Broke'

According to recent studies, 60 percent of NBA players are broke within five years of their retirement. For NFL players, 78 percent are broke three years after they leave the game. Acclaimed documentary filmmaker Billy Corben (Cocaine Cowboys) explores this disturbing trend in his doc Broke, made in partnership with ESPN. Including frank confessions from former professional athletes Jamal Mashburn, Andre Rison, Bernie Kosar, and others, Corben’s film provides a thorough examination of the psychology of competition and how it can make athletes millions on the field and ruin their lives off it.

Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

'Knife Fight'

From two-time Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Bill Guttentag (Nanking) comes this intriguing tale about the cutthroat world of politics. Rob Lowe stars as Paul Turner, an ace political strategist who is struggling to keep his two troublesome clients—a cheating Kentucky governor and a California senator who’s being blackmailed—from making headline news. The film, which was conceived with the help of Democratic political consultant Chris Lehane, reunites Lowe with his co-star on The West Wing, Richard Schiff, who plays an investigator, and Jamie Chung, Eric McCormack, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Modern Family’s Julie Bowen round out the supporting cast.

Myles Aronowitz

'Lola Versus'

Despite the epic fail that was the Arthur remake, indie “it girl” Greta Gerwig is still one of the more fascinating American actresses around. Her performances in Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg, the Duplass Brothers’ Baghead, and most recently, in Whit Stillman’s comeback film Damsels in Distress, were all fantastic. Now she’s been given her first star vehicle in the romantic dramedy Lola Versus. Directed by the filmmaking duo Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister Jones, who made the underrated 2009 film Breaking Upwards, the film follows Lola (Gerwig) on a series of adventures after she’s dumped by her fiancé three weeks before their wedding. Fox Searchlight, which distributed the quirky flick 500 Days of Summer, is handling this one as well.

Hal Wilson / Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Searching for Sugar Man

One of the first films to be acquired after rave reviews at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, Malik Bendjelloul’s documentary focuses on the critically acclaimed ’70s Mexican-American folk musician Rodriguez, who burned out after a few albums, faded into obscurity, and was even rumored to have committee suicide onstage. Years later, the singer’s protest music found a following among the youth movement in apartheid South Africa, leading two intrepid fans on a quest to uncover what exactly happened to the mysterious singer. Their search leads them to 1970s Detroit, where a bombshell discovery alters the course of their fanatical investigation.