The 2012 Tribeca Film Festival opened and closed with two glossy, star-studded premieres, as the raunchy rom-com "The Five-Year Engagement" and the surefire summer blockbuster "The Avengers" bookended the event.
But it was the far more modestly budgeted films in between that made the 11th annual Tribeca fest a success, with audiences and critics alike discovering gems you probably won't see plastered on the side of a bus anytime soon.
Our 10 favorites ranged from music documentaries ("Searching for Sugar Man") to quote-unquote mumblecore ("Your Sister's Sister"), but they share one common thread, at least in our eyes: They deserve a much wider audience. Maybe even on bus ads. – By Jason Guerrasio, Kevin Polowy, Nigel Smith and Brooke Tarnoff
'The Giant Mechanical Man'
Jenna Fischer stars in this charming, off-beat exploration of casual existentialism; the movie, written and directed by her husband, Lee Kirk, makes the most of the regular-person appeal that made Fischer famous on "The Office." The story follows Janice (Fischer) as she copes with chronic underachievement, aimlessness and an aggressively high-functioning little sister. When she meets a street performer who believes more in meaning than money, Janice sees her life plans in a new light. As a romance, it hits close to home, with chemistry (between Fischer and the titular "Mechanical Man" Chris Messina) more real and relatable than most big-budget fare. Topher Grace as an over-the-top motivational speaker is a wonderful bonus. – BT
Also Check Out: 5 Questions From Tribeca: Jenna Fischer
Abbie Cornish, who wowed critics in "Bright Star" and had a pretty mediocre 2011 with strong turns in a series of so-so films ("Limitless," "Sucker Punch" and "W.E."), gets to flex her acting muscles once again in "The Girl," a tense drama directed by David Riker ("La Ciudad"). In it, the Australian beauty plays an unemployed single mother trying to win back custody of her son after the authorities deem her an unfit parent. She takes a cue from her dad and smuggles a group of illegal immigrants across the Mexico/Texas border, but when things don't go according to her plan, she finds herself forced to care for a motherless Mexican girl. -- NS
Also Check Out: 5 Questions From Tribeca: Abbie Cornish
Following his time as an aid worker in Iraq, Kirk Johnson came home to learn many of his Iraqi coworkers were being kidnapped or killed by radical militias -- and the U.S. government wasn’t doing anything about it. With nowhere else to turn, Johnson took it upon himself to help his colleagues and created The List. Director Beth Murphy follows Johnson’s obsession to assist Iraqis who helped the Allied Forces seek refuge in America while also highlighting the frustrating and dangerous process these Iraqis must go through to find their freedom. -- JG
Indie darling Greta Gerwig shines in "Lola Versus," a hilarious and undeniably moving comedy about a New York woman's journey of self-recovery after she's unceremoniously dumped by her jerk of a fiancé. Finding herself single for the first time in eight years, Lola (Gerwig) seeks out help from her best guy friend Henry (guess how that turns out) and her sassy gal pal Alice (co-screenwriter Zoe Lister-Jones, who gets all the best lines … big surprise). Lola’s by no means a perfect heroine, but with Gerwig in leading lady mode, you’ll fall in love with Lola, warts and all. -- NS
'Searching for Sugar Man'
Chances are you've never heard of the musician Rodriguez … unless you're South African. Hopefully that changes with this inspiring documentary, which brings to light the crooner's truly astonishing story: The singer-songwriter was signed to a small Motown label in the early '70s, and the music pros who handled him were sure he'd be the next Bob Dylan. Then both of his records flopped, and he disappeared. But unbeknownst to Rodriguez, or anyone who knew him, he became one of South Africa's most beloved and influential figures, an Elvis-like icon presumed dead. Spoiler alert: Wait until you see what happens when Rodriguez and South Africa finally meet face-to-face. It makes for pure movie magic. -- KP
Frédéric Jardin's electrifying thriller – about a corrupt cop (or is he?) whose life turns upside down when the kingpin he ripped off on the sly kidnaps his teenage son – takes place almost entirely at a Parisian mega-club over the course a single blood-soaked night. The results get occasionally repetitive, but no less riveting, as our wounded antihero (Tomer Sisley) becomes increasingly desperate to find his son, hidden somewhere in the bowels of the venue. By the end, you're practically begging him to do his best Mel Gibson impression and holler, "Give me back my son!" ... You know, in French. – KP
With witty dialogue and a slew of NYC talent (including Alex Karpovsky, Kevin Corrigan and Lena Dunham), Daniel Schechter’s second feature-directing effort has put him on the map. Premiering at Tribeca and receiving high marks from critics and audiences alike, the film follows two friends who spend their days editing movies and analyzing each others' love lives. Part bromance, part ode to comedies from the ’70s, "Characters" is bringing Schechter attention, and it will only build with his next scheduled project, "Switch," a prequel to Tarantino’s "Jackie Brown." -- JG
'While We Were Here'
Writer-director Kat Coiro set out to recreate the feel and aesthetic of French and Italian New Wave cinema with this Ischia-set romantic drama about a violist's wife (Kate Bosworth) who strays from her mundane marriage during a two-week vacation in Naples. Good news: Coiro succeeds, framing the understated, tender story in gorgeous black and white. Even better news: The film gets a much-needed jolt of energy from newcomer Jamie Blackley (as her lover), a star in the making. -- KP
Also Check Out: Jamie Blackley's Subway Adventure
'Your Sister's Sister'
Emily Blunt was the toast of this year's festival, with two very different romantic comedies screened at the event: opening-night film "The Five-Year Engagement" and "Your Sister's Sister." Despite their crowd-pleasing appeal, the two couldn't be more different from one another. While the former is a mainstream ode to the endurance of love, the latter finds Blunt in indie territory, exploring the sour dynamics of a sister rivalry over the same man. Deftly written and directed by Lynn Shelton ("Humpday"), "Your Sister's Sister" is messy, relatable and exceptionally well acted by its cast of three (Mark Duplass and the ever-reliable Rosemarie DeWitt round out the ensemble). It also packs an emotional wallop, so be prepared. – NS
Also Check Out: 5 Questions From Tribeca: Emily Blunt
Winning the Best New Director, Best Cinematography and Best Actor awards at this year’s fest, Lucy Mulloy’s debut feature, based loosely on true events, examines the lives of three Cuban teens and their attempt to leave their homeland for freedom in Miami. Shooting in Havana with non-actors, Mulloy used her actors' stories and the environment around her to create an honest story of today’s Cuba. And in a surprising twist of life imitating art, two of the three actors who were granted visas to attend the festival disappeared once they landed in Miami, never making it to the festival. They have since surfaced and have stated they are seeking political asylum. -- JG