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The Best and Worst of Tribeca Film Festival 2013

The 12th annual Tribeca Film Festival came to a close Saturday night with a rare, special screening of The King of Comedy, perhaps the most underrated collaboration between Martin Scorsese and festival co-founder Robert DeNiro. That event ended a week and a half of premieres, screenings, and events, and while your film editor was only able to sample a fraction of the dozens of movies at this year’s TFF, all of them made an impression — for good or ill.

PLEASANT DIVERSIONS

Lil Bub & Friendz

This documentary from Vice Films is about as lightweight as they come — it runs barely an hour — but it matches the subject, which is the Internet-age phenomenon of meme cats. The primary focus is Lil Bub — and her human, Mike Bridavsky, who manages to transcend the “crazy cat lady” type by coming off as a normal, likable dude who just loves this cat (“I got Bub because I thought she was amazing”). Some of the other folks interviewed by Andy Capper and Juliette Eisner aren’t so lucky, and the film’s primary flaw is that it can’t seem to decide whether it wants to skewer or embrace is secondary figures. Still, it’s a crowd-pleaser, with some compelling theories on why felines have become so omnipresent on the ‘net.

Bending Steel

Forty-three-year-old New Yorker Chris Schoeck is introverted, withdrawn, anti-social even. But he’s got a skill: in spite of his average (almost scrawny) size, he’s wicked strong, and can bend steel bars, horseshoes, and wrenches. He aims to make a name for himself as an old-fashioned strongman, hoping to work down on Coney Island, because “what’s Coney Island without a strong man?” He’s a bit of a lug, but he’s got a good heart, and you feel for him; director Dave Carroll’s gentle documentary shows how he finds a community and family among his fellow strongmen, and generates real tension and concern by its conclusion, which smells like manipulation but works nonetheless.

Almost Christmas

Director Phil Morrison, helming his first feature since 2005’s Junebug, crafts a shambling, low-key comedy drama in the California Split mold. The timing is a little off in spots (particularly early on), but it’s got an off-the-cuff charm, and genuine affection for the losers at its center, played with appropriate comic desperation by Paul Giamatti and Paul Rudd. (Sally Hawkins is also terrific in an odd, offbeat supporting turn.) It’s a slight but touching effort, and the stars — particularly Giamatti — get at the soul of these poor saps.

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