12 Not to Be Missed Films @ Tribeca 2023

Frank J. Avella READ TIME: 14 MIN.

After a few pandemic-altering years, the Tribeca Film Festival is back with one of the most eclectic and exciting lineups in eons. This year's Fest takes place June 7-18 and will include 109 feature films from 36 countries, including a whopping 93 world premieres. TFF also boasts 43 first-time directors and 29 past Tribeca helmers returning with new projects.

In addition, there are 53 documentary features, including the world premiere of Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's illuminating "Taylor Mac's 24-Decade History of Popular Music," which will go on to play at Frameline and Provincetown.

LGBTQ+ titles at Tribeca include Christian Petzold's stunning "Afire," Bill Oliver's affecting "Our Son" starring Luke Evans and Billy Porter, Randall Park's side-splitting, "Shortcomings," Julie Cohen's "Every Body," Stephen Kijak's revelatory doc "Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed," Sacha Polak's "Silver Haze," Georden West's experimental "Play Land," and Gabriella A. Moses's "Boca Chica," to name a few.

Tribeca continues its Juneteenth commemoration through the "Expressions of Black Freedom" and a festival-wide celebration of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, the world premiere of the doc "All Up in the Biz," about New York hip-hop legend Biz Markie, and the world premiere of "Cinnamon," directed by Bryian Keith Montgomery Jr. and starring Damon Wayans and Pam Grier.

Films directed by actors pervade the 2023 Fest, including world premieres of Chelsea Peretti's hilarious and irreverent "First Time Female Director," the satiric "Maggie Moore(s)" by John Slattery, David Duchovny's "Bucky F*cking Dent," "Downtown Owl" by Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater, Michael Shannon's "Eric LaRue," and one of the most impressive filmmaking debuts in a while, Jennifer Esposito's wholly absorbing "Fresh Kills."

In addition, Sara Bareilles will give a special performance following the world premiere of "Waitress, the Musical – Live on Broadway!" (which will also be broadcast in Times Square), Gloria Gaynor will sing after the world premiere of "Gloria Gaynor: I Will Survive," and Alicia Keys will present the legend herself, Jane Fonda, with the Harry Belafonte Voices for Social Justice Award, followed by a conversation with Fonda, moderated by Robin Roberts!

"Over the course of 12 thrilling days, we invite audiences to explore the magic of storytelling as a powerful tool of democracy, activism, and social awareness," states Tribeca Festival Co-Founder and Tribeca Enterprises CEO Jane Rosenthal.

Cinephiles can again take part in the Fest from the comfort of their homes immediately following the Festival, from June 19 through July 2, via the "Tribeca at Home" online platform.

For more updates on programming, follow @Tribeca and #Tribeca2023 on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and to purchase passes and ticket packages for the 2023 Tribeca Festival, go to tribecafilm.com/festival.

EDGE sampled quite a few of the features. Here is a list of some of the Best of the Fest so far. More to come...

'Taylor Mac's 24-Decade History of Popular Music'

Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, who gifted us the Oscar-winning documentaries "The Times of Harvey Milk" and "Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt," as well as "The Celluloid Closet" and "Paragraph 175," now take us into the daring, audacious, and euphoric milieu of one of the most significant theatrical and artistic events of this millennium. "Taylor Mac's 24-Decade History of Popular Music" was a highly ambitious performance art-esque drag-stravaganza that was five years in the making and resulted in a 24-hour audience-attended concert at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn in October of 2016. Because it was a one-night event, very few people were privy to the show, but now, thanks to HBO and Epstein and Friedman, viewers get a taste of the provocative, queer-positive, glittery deconstruction and queer appropriation of American music from the birth of this country right through 2016. It's a staggering, breathtaking, and significant addition to the queer canon.

'Fresh Kills'

We've seen wives and daughters of mafiosi depicted onscreen and TV many times, usually peripherally ("The Godfather" films), sometimes with depth ("Goodfella," "The Sopranos"), most times simply as window dressing ("Donnie Brasco"), but, to my knowledge, there has never been a non-comedic film solely focused on women trying to navigate their lives knowing they're entrenched in the mob world. Quadruple-threat Jennifer Esposito, an Italian-American, now delivers "Fresh Kills," a film that does just that in a disturbing, captivating, and completely believable way. The fictionalized Larusso crime family operate out of Staten Island, New York, but the film centers on Francine (Esposito, hypnotic), the mob boss's wife, and their two girls, the hotheaded, Sonny Corleone-esque Connie (a fearless Odessa A'zion) and the far more reserved Rose (Emily Bader), who would like to imagine a life away from the muck. This is powerful filmmaking on every level, grounded by a deceptively subtle central performance by Marisa Tomei lookalike Bader, who has an 11th hour explosive speech that kills! Annabella Sciorra appears in a few brief but potent scenes as the girls' aunt. Esposito wrote, produced, directed, and stars, knocking it out of the cinematic park!

'L'ultima notte di Amore' ('The Last Night of Amore')

I first became aware of Pierfrancesco Favino while covering the Tribeca Film Festival my very first time in 2005. He was starring in an exciting epic work, "Romanzo Criminale" (awkwardly translated as "Crime Novel"). Eighteen years and a slew of indelible performances later, he returns to Tribeca with "L'ultima notte di Amore" ("The Last Night of Amore," a better literal translation) and once again delivers a beguiling turn as a cop who gets roped into doing a seemingly simple job for a Chinese mob boss the day before he is set to retire – after 35 years of faithful and uncorrupt service. Suffice to say, things do not go as planned. Writer-director Andrea Di Stefano crafts a taut, stylized thriller (that owes a lot to Michael Mann) where we are never certain if our protagonist and his loyal wife (a terrific Linda Caridi) will make it through the suspenseful, increasingly maddening night.

'Maggie Moore(s)'

John Slattery's second directorial feature, "Maggie Moore(s)" (trust me, the title will make perfect sense once you've seen the film), is a satiric murder mystery of sorts where Jon Hamm gets to show off both his comic and romantic chops (the latter, also, sort of). Two women who happen to share the titular name are victims of gruesome murders and the chief of police (Hamm) investigates, along with his sardonic partner (Nick Mohammed). Enter Tina Fey, in a lovely performance as the lonely nosy neighbor who charms the widowed police chief. Micah Stock, Christopher Denham, and Allison Dunbar provide solid support. Slattery deftly directs Paul Bernbaum's sharp and often unpredictable script. The film enthralls.

'Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed'

There have been many attempts to document Rock Hudson's career and closeted life. Stephen Kijak's transfixing and revealing doc, "Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed." is the best to date. Kijak keenly starts his premise from the vantage point of Hudson's queerness and goes from there, delving into his admitted bumpkin beginnings, his signing with the notorious agent Henry Willson (who basically insisted all his hot male clients sleep with him), and his meteoric rise, Oscar nomination, and, consequently, his necessity to keep his sexual orientation a secret in the deeply damaging, homophobic milieu known as Hollywood. The doc also recalls his ultimately succumbing to AIDS-related complications and the world discovering his (not so well-kept) secret. Utilizing archival footage and new interviews, the filmmaker does not shy away from Hudson's rather promiscuous sexual antics or his real relationships. In the end, Hudson changed the course of the national dialogue around AIDS, which makes him a queer hero, but he also left us with several underrated cinematic performances, some celebrated ("Giant") and some forgotten ("Seconds").

'Catching Dust'

Erin Moriarty is probably best known for playing Starlight on Prime's incredibly good series "The Boys." In Stuart Gatt's feature directorial debut, "Catching Dust," she astonishes as Geena, a budding painter stuck living alone in a remote Texas desert hideout with her anti-social, maybe-criminal husband, Clyde (Jai Courtney). That is, until a bickering couple (Ryan Corr and Dina Shihabi) arrive to stir things up. Gatt creates a taut, suspenseful, and visually stunning thriller/character study where you're never quite sure what will happen next – and it gives you anxiety throughout (a compliment). Courtney is to be commended for finding shades of Clyde for us to empathize with, and Corr and Shihabi are terrific. But it's Moriarty, diving deep into the role of a seriously conflicted woman, who is most memorable. Barring a few hokey moments and a questionable coda, "Catching Dust" is a compelling treat.


In Randall Park's "Shortcomings," Justin H. Min plays Ben, an abrasive Japanese-American Gen-Xer who seeming has no filter, insulting most everyone he comes in contact with. Yet, it's not that difficult to empathize with him, because Min so deftly balances Ben's horrific human interaction skills with his character's tremendous insecurities and his desire to be taken seriously. The film is basically about Ben and his lousy attempt to navigate relationships. Standout supporting turns include Tavi Gevinson as a whackadoodle performance artist, Debby Ryan as Ben's bisexual rebound, and a hilarious, scene-stealing Sherry Cola as Ben's no-bullshit lesbian bestie, who has the funniest, most offensive line in the film. Adrian Tomine's clever, insightful, and often hilarious screenplay is based on his graphic novel.


Christian Petzold ("Transit," "Undine") continues to prove he's a bold, singular filmmaker with his latest, "Afire," which centers on Leon (Thomas Schubert), an insecure and rather obnoxious writer who, along with his friend Felix (Langston Uibel), travel to Felix's parents' home so he can work on his book and then meet with his publisher. Alas, there are many warnings that they should just turn around and go home, including a raging fire that is engulfing the area and the fact that the cabin is also inhabited by the initially enigmatic Nadja (a mesmerizing Paula Beer). When Leon allows Nadja to read his work, her blunt critique devastates him. There are many awesome surprises in "Afire," including a bizarre, but welcome, queer relationship that seems to develop literally overnight and then go on to become a great love immortalized. I enjoyed everything about the film except Leon. Schubert plays him well, but the character is so self-doubting, envious, and joyless – he's someone who sucks the life out of a room. I was hoping someone would, at least, punch him in the face.

'Our Son'

Gabriel (Billy Porter) is an artist and stay-at-home dad. and Nicky (Luke Evans) is his ambitious, workaholic husband. They have a young son. When Gabriel decides he can no longer be in the marriage, a queer "Kramer vs. Kramer" fight for custody seems inevitable. Or is it? Porter, in a departure from what we've previously seen him do, unearths the complexities of a rather enigmatic character. Evans is masterful here in a revelatory performance that should get him awards attention. Bill Oliver's sensitive direction impresses, even when the script (by Oliver and Peter Nickowitz) insists on facile presentations. "Our Son" is a very good film; its main flaw is a necessity to play things safe and eschew nuance for positive messaging. The finale is way too tidy. See it for Evans and Porter.

'The Lesson'

Why must all great writers be depicted, in films, as tortured and horrid? In the case of J.M. Sinclair (Richard E. Grant), the iconic novelist and patriarch of a deeply damaged family, he has good reason (which I will not reveal here) as portrayed in Alice Troughton's lyrical, disturbing, and slyly satiric new film "The Lesson." Sinclair and his brooding wife, Hélène (Julie Delpy), hire a young scribe (Daryl McCormack, so good in "Good Luck to You, Leo Grande") to tutor their unfocused son Bertie (Stephen McMillan). True natures are revealed, and mysteries are uncovered, as the saga takes on an almost Southern Gothic tone. The entire ensemble does outstanding work in this engrossing and discomfiting work. Special mention to Isobel Waller-Bridge's haunting score.

'Sunday Best'

Ed Sullivan opened so many doors for so many great artists, literally launching or boosting careers in the process. The famous appearances on his show of Elvis, The Beatles, The Doors, and The Rolling Stones are iconic. Director Sacha Jenkins chose to focus "Sunday Best," on the great impresario's championing of Black performers during his show's 23-year history. As a result, the stain of racism and segregation, especially in the South, becomes painfully evident all over again. The film features artists such as Nina Simone, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, The Temptations, Mahalia Jackson, Diana Ross and the Supremes, and Harry Belafonte, and offers a penetrating look at who Sullivan was, especially when it came to breaking down barriers for Black artists.


Filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite ("Megan Leavey") delivers a nail-biting, engrossing, and sometimes confusing sci-fi thriller that owes much to Alfonso Cuaron's "Gravity" and even Ridley Scott's "Alien." In "I.S.S.," six scientists – three Russian, three American – orbit Earth on the International Space Station, immersing themselves in new and exciting research. But when relations between the two countries becomes combative, both teams receive the same order: To take control of the station at any cost. Chris Messina, Pilou Asbæk, Ariana DeBose, John Gallagher Jr., Masha Mashkova, and Costa Ronin are the six uniformly excellent actors playing allies forced to turn on each other in this "who can you trust?" flick.

by Frank J. Avella

Frank J. Avella is a proud EDGE and Awards Daily contributor. He serves as the GALECA Industry Liaison and is a Member of the New York Film Critics Online. His award-winning short film, FIG JAM, has shown in Festivals worldwide (figjamfilm.com). Frank's screenplays have won numerous awards in 17 countries. Recently produced plays include LURED & VATICAL FALLS, both O'Neill semifinalists. He is currently working on a highly personal project, FROCI, about the queer Italian/Italian-American experience. He is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. https://filmfreeway.com/FrankAvella https://muckrack.com/fjaklute

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