The 13th annual Tribeca Film Festival drew to a close in New York City last night, ending 12 days of non-stop movies across the city. Your film editor has always had a soft spot for this festival, and not just because it’s the first one I ever covered as a green and naïve Internet Film Writer; it is, after all, a hometown event, and if the young fest is still figuring out its place among a very crowded field, throwing all kinds of movies — some brilliant, some daring, some bland, some just plain bad — at the screen to see what sticks, it’s anything-goes spirit can also result in some wonderful movie-going experiences. I was lucky enough to peek at some of the best of this year’s films beforehand; here are a few more to seek out (or avoid) in the months to come.
Compared to What: The Improbable Journey of Barney Frank
Filmmakers Michael Chandler and Sheila Canavan got themselves a juicy subject for a documentary profile in newly retired Congressman Barney Frank, a 20-year public servant known for his unapologetic liberalism, bullshit-free approach, and wicked sense of humor — and for being the first openly gay member of Congress. The delicacy with which he navigated his way out of the closet while in office, and his long history of raising and fighting the good fight, is well-documented by an impressive collection of clips and archival interviews. But good heavens, the filmmaking. The picture is frightfully amateurish, from the ugly videography to the messy sound (lav mics, people!) to the incompetent mixing to the overloaded (and frequently grammatically incorrect) on-screen text. Frank is endlessly fascinating, but he deserves better than this.
Super Duper Alice Cooper
This portrait of ’70s rock trendsetter Cooper starts off well, with a razzle-dazzle shoot-the-works spirit and a stated focus on the Jekyll and Hyde-style split personality that separated “perfect ’50s kid” and preacher’s son Vince Furnier from “this Alice character [who] nearly killed me.” But his early years — and the formulation and development of his band’s sound and style — are more interesting than the success story, which we’ve heard a thousand times before (tension within the band, splintered friendships, substance abuse, near-divorce, rehab, redemption). The filmmakers do their best to fog up the familiarity by deploying a gimmicky, semi-animated style seemingly cribbed from the Bill Hicks doc American, but it ultimately feels like a big-screen episode of Behind the Music.