1. About Alex
Starring: Maggie Grace, Max Greenfield, Jane Levy, Max Minghella, Nate Parker, Aubrey Plaza, Jason Ritter
Directed by: Jesse Zwick
Zwick’s upcoming directorial debut brings together some of the stars of the best comedies currently on television — Parks and Recreation’s Aubrey Plaza, New Girl’s Max Greenfield, and Suburgatory’s Jane Levy — to tell the story of a group of former college friends who reunite after one of them suffers an emotional breakdown. The drama is specific to twentysomethings of today in that the seven former classmates realize that once they’re together again, despite keeping up with each other facelessly through technology, they don’t know each other as well as they once did. Of course, with a cast with such comedic prowess, the movie will have its lighter moments. Zwick, who also wrote the screenplay, told Entertainment Weekly that About Alex is “a drama but with comedic elements,” which, he explains, is “much truer to life this way, especially in the wake of tragedy.” Considering his other writing credit is a Season 4 episode of NBC’s Parenthood, which also starred Ritter, Zwick should be able to master that balance. —Jaimie Etkin
2. Alex of Venice
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Don Johnson, Derek Luke, Katie Nehra, Chris Messina, Skylar Gaertner
Directed by: Chris Messina
Playing everyone’s favorite curmudgeonly heartthrob doctor on The Mindy Project, popping up on The Newsroom, and acting in multiple movies every year isn’t enough for Chris Messina, who makes his debut as a filmmaker with Alex of Venice. Messina also appears in the film as a man who leaves his marriage, but the focus is on his workaholic lawyer wife, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who struggles to get her life and family back in balance after the end of the relationship. Actors turned directors tend to give more emphasis to the performances in their films, and with Winstead, terrific in 2012’s Smashed, in the starring role here, that’s a very good thing. —Alison Willmore
3. Begin Again
Starring: Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Hailee Steinfeld, Adam Levine, James Corden, Yasiin Bey, Cee Lo Green, Catherine Keener
Directed by: John Carney
Once writer-director John Carney is back on the romantic musical movie beat with Begin Again, which will close this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. The Judd Apatow–produced movie sees college sweethearts Gretta (Keira Knightley) and Dave (Adam Levine) head to New York when he lands a deal with a major label. But as they drift apart, she meets disgraced record label exec Dan (Mark Ruffalo) while performing in the East Village. After the movie, which was originally titled Can a Song Save Your Life?, debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, Variety’s Peter Debruge wrote, “Precious few music producers seem to pay attention to lyrics anymore, but the words matter here, often more than the dialogue itself (some of which Carney allows the actors to improvise, to mixed effect, clearly taking a cue from Apatow) as the songs say what the humans sometimes can’t.” I will be bringing tissues. —J.E.
4. Electric Slide
Starring: Jim Sturgess, Isabel Lucas, Chloe Sevigny, Patricia Arquette, Christopher Lambert
Directed by: Tristan Patterson
Tristan Patterson’s first film was Dragonslayer, a dreamy, poetic documentary about a pro skateboarder’s struggles with maturity that won multiple festival awards. Electric Slide finds the filmmaker taking the leap into narrative movies and, by the looks of it, not shedding one bit of his sense of style. Jim Sturgess (Cloud Atlas) plays Eddie Dodson, the real-life “Gentleman Bank Robber” who supported his swank lifestyle and taste for drugs with a record number of holdups. Isabel Lucas, Chloe Sevigny, and others join Sturgess in donning ‘80s duds for this true crime story that appears to have plenty of swagger. —A.W.
5. Every Secret Thing
Starring: Diane Lane, Elizabeth Banks, Dakota Fanning, Danielle Macdonald, Nate Parker, Common
Directed by: Amy Berg
As her follow-up to Enough Said, Nicole Holofcener penned this adaptation of Laura Lippman’s 2004 crime novel of the same name that follows two 11-year-old girls — Alice Manning and Ronnie Fuller — who discover an infant in an unattended stroller while wandering home one day in Baltimore. The shocking and awful events that follow send both girls to juvenile detention. The story catches back up with them when they’re 18, when questions remain about the crime they committed, especially when another child disappears under similar circumstances. Fanning plays grown-up Ronnie while Banks plays the detective looking into the new case in the film, which marks Berg’s directorial debut and was produced by Frances McDormand. —J.E.
6. Five Star
Starring: James “Primo” Grant, John Diaz
Directed by: Keith Miller
Filmmaker Keith Miller loves to explore the place where fiction and documentary intersect, using nonprofessional actors for greater realism. His last film, Welcome to Pine Hill, grew out of a confrontation he had with someone about a dog he found outside a house in his neighborhood, ultimately starring the man with whom he had the run-in and encompassing larger themes of race and class. One of the leads of his new movies Five Star is an actual East New York Bloods leader who ends up mentoring a younger man who’s considering following in his footsteps, a set-up that promises a rare, naturalistic take on gang life. —A.W.
Starring: Rory Culkin, David Call, Deirdre O’Connell, Emily Meade, Louisa Krause, Lynn Cohen, Alexia Rasmussen
Directed by: Lou Howe
The Culkin legacy lives on with youngest brother Rory Culkin, who delivered a noteworthy performance as the younger version of his brother Kieran’s character in 2002’s Igby Goes Down. Now, 12 years later, he’s on his own with Gabriel, in which he plays the vulnerable and confused titular teenager, who’s struggling with mental illness. The film, from first-time writer-director Lou Howe, follows Gabriel’s obsessive pursuit of his old girlfriend, believing that rekindling their romance will finally allow him to find happiness. The final moments are said to haunt audiences long after they’ve left the theater. —J.E.
8. Goodbye to All That
Starring: Paul Schneider, Anna Camp, Michael Chernus, Heather Graham, Ashley Hinshaw, Heather Lawless, Melanie Lynskey, Audrey Scott, Amy Sedaris, Celia Weston
Directed by: Angus MacLachlan
Angus MacLachlan helped introduce the world to Amy Adams when he wrote the screenplay for Junebug, the 2005 movie that nabbed the actor the first of her five Oscar nominations. Goodbye to All That is MacLachlan’s debut film as a director, and it stars such equally breakout-worthy types as Paul Schneider, Melanie Lynskey, and Anna Camp in the story of a man who tries to start dating again, and to reconnect with his daughter, after his wife unexpectedly asks for a divorce. —A.W.
Starring: Rose Leslie, Harry Treadaway, Ben Huber, Hanna Brown
Directed by: Leigh Janiak
Game of Thrones actor alert! Rose Leslie, who plays wildling archer Ygritte, steps up to her first big-screen lead role in Honeymoon, a horror movie from first-time filmmaker Leigh Janiak. Leslie and Harry Treadaway play newlyweds who encounter something ominous when they travel to a remote cabin in the woods after their wedding, in an ominous thriller that plays off marital anxieties as much as it does things that go bump in the night. —A.W.
10. In Your Eyes
Starring: Zoe Kazan, Michael Stahl-David, Nikki Reed, Mark Feuerstein, Steve Harris, Jennifer Grey
Directed by: Brin Hill
Zoe Kazan has become a Tribeca Film Festival staple and, with Brin Hill’s paranormal romance, she ventures into some new territory. In Your Eyes, which was written by Joss Whedon, features the actress as East Coast housewife Rebecca, who, despite living thousands of miles away from New Mexico–dwelling ex-con Dylan (Michael Stahl-David), whom she doesn’t know, is able to sense what he is feeling. As is he with her. Zoe Kazan described the movie as “Joss Whedon does Nicholas Sparks,” so really, that’s reason enough to give it a shot. —J.E.
11. Land Ho!
Starring: Paul Eenhoorn, Earl Lynn Nelson, Alice Olivia Clarke, Karrie Krouse, Elizabeth McKee, Emmsjé Gauti
Directed by: Martha Stephens, Aaron Katz
Forced into retirement and short on friends, former brothers-in-law Colin (Paul Eenhoorn) and Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson) end up taking a road trip through Iceland together, in part because they have no one else in their lives to travel with. Co-written and co-directed by Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens, Land Ho! is a chance to enjoy the work of two gifted older performers. Eenhoorn, who after years as a working actor finally got a real showcase for his talents in last year’s quietly lovely This Is Martin Bonner, is especially one to watch out for. —A.W.
12. Life Partners
Starring: Leighton Meester, Gillian Jacobs, Adam Brody, Mark Feuerstein, Gabourey Sidibe, Abby Elliott
Directed by: Susanna Fogel
I went into the screening of Susanna Fogel’s Life Partners with all the doubt in the world and I came out more than pleasantly surprised. On the surface, Life Partners seemed like another potential disappointment of queer representation on screen: Gossip Girl alumna Leighton Meester plays a 29-year-old lesbian named Sasha, Community’s Gillian Jacobs plays her straight, longtime best friend Paige, and Meester’s real-life now-husband Adam Brody plays Tim, the man who comes between them. (I mean, the title alone is cringeworthy.) But the film, which is equal parts drama and comedy, from Susanna Fogel deftly portrays the changing dynamics of a friendship when one person finds love, and the struggle on both sides to navigate the new stage of life. Meester and Brody are the best we’ve seen them since the series that made them famous and the number of facepalm-worthy moments are far outweighed by the smile-inducing ones. —J.E.
13. Love Is Strange
Starring: John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, Marisa Tomei, Cheyenne Jackson, Manny Perez, Darren Burrows
Directed by: Ira Sachs
Who wouldn’t want to see John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as a long-term pair? The veteran actors and real-life friends play Ben and George, a couple finally given the chance to make their union official — only for the marriage to cost George his job as a music teacher at a Catholic school and for the two to subsequently lose their apartment. Filmmaker Ira Sachs explores how love can weather life’s ups and downs. —A.W.
14. Night Moves
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard
Directed by: Kelly Reichardt
Dakota Fanning is going to be really busy at Tribeca this year. In addition to Every Secret Thing, she stars as a radical environmentalist alongside Eisenberg and Sarsgaard in Night Moves as they surreptitiously plot to blow up the Green Peter Dam in Oregon to send a message to the technology-addicted residents of Portland and those who serve them. When their plot goes seemingly only slightly awry, they realize the consequences their actions can have in this suspense thriller from Wendy and Lucy director Kelly Reichardt, making its U.S. debut at Tribeca. —J.E.
15. Palo Alto
Starring: Emma Roberts, James Franco, Jack Kilmer, Nat Wolff, Zoe Levin, Val Kilmer
Directed by: Gia Coppola
If you haven’t overdosed on James Franco yet, Palo Alto offers a look at another side of the actor/director/artist/teacher. The film is adapted from his short story collection of the same name, and features Emma Roberts, Jack Kilmer, and Nat Wolff as a group of teenagers coming of age and causing trouble in the upscale California town of the film’s title. Director Gia Coppola reportedly hasn’t missed out on the filmmaking talent that runs in her family, and Franco does make an appearance as Mr. B, the single-dad soccer coach to whom Roberts’ character is drawn. —A.W.
16. Starred Up
Starring: Jack O’Connell, Ben Mendelsohn, Rupert Friend
Directed by: David Mackenzie
Though Jack O’Connell may merely be one of those familiar faces Tribeca audiences see on screen this year but can’t quite place, he’s certainly one to watch. The British-born actor, who got his start along with the likes of Nicholas Hoult and Dev Patel on the original Skins series and who also recently had a role in 300: Rise of an Empire, is getting rave reviews and early accolades at festivals across the pond for his performance as 19-year-old Eric Love, a troubled and explosively violent teenager who’s transferred to an adult prison, where he finally meets his match in a man named Neville — who also happens to be his father. Starred Up, a term used to describe the early transfer of a criminal from a young offender institution to an adult prison, was written by Jonathan Asser and is based on his experiences working at a U.K. prison as a voluntary therapist. —J.E.