The 2022 edition of the newly-christened Tribeca Festival (no longer Film Festival) is in the books, and we saw over 40 feature films—from earnest depictions of Holocaust-survivor film directors to tales told in gibberish about a trip to a nudist colony (and that one was only one of two films we saw this year set in naturist establishments). But only a few made the cut to receive special consideration.
Here were our ten favorite films from Tribeca 2022:
1. Of Medicine and MiraclesDirector: Ross Kaufmann
In Ross Kaufmann’s poignant Of Medicine and Miracles, two story strands eventually become interwoven. In the first, a generationally brilliant medical researcher stumbles upon a shocking new approach to stimulate the body into healing itself. In the second, two parents struggle to find treatments that could possibly save their six-year-old daughter from a particularly virulent form of leukemia. Both strands are incredibly compelling; this is a film with both head and heart. The strands, of course, intertwine in more or less the way you’d expect, but Kaufmann keeps us in suspense as to the final outcome. This is the work of a master storyteller.
2. The DropDirector: Sarah Adina Smith
There’s an event early in The Drop that gives the film its name, but it’s so funny and horrifying that it’s best you don’t know about it beforehand. That moment shapes nearly everything that comes afterward. A group of friends have traveled to a Mexican resort for the marriage of Peggy (Jennifer Lafleur) and Mia (Aparna Nancherla). And as in most such indie movies, all the relationships between the characters will be tested by the trip. But Sarah Adina Smith (Buster’s Mal Heart, The Midnight Swim) is so adept at handling character, and she and co-writer Joshua Leonard have produced such natural dialogue, that none of the exchanges feel stale. Each character, and each conversation, feels essential to telling the story. It’s also hilarious.
3. American PainDirector: Darren Foster
Are you down to spend nearly two hours with some of the most loathsome hustlers you’ll ever come across? You’d think that would be a slog, but in the hands of the Emmy-winning Darren Foster (Science Fair), the story of twin brothers who create a Central Florida empire of pain clinics centered around the laughably easy prescriptions for and distribution of pain pills, it’s a ride you won’t mind taking. Foster takes us inside the loathsome brothers’ family history and rise to power and fortune, and also the lives of those who benefited from their perfidy, including hillbilly family crime operations who drive busloads of people from states away to supply their own pill pushers. You won’t be edified, but you’ll certainly be entertained. And as much as you’d like to, you won’t be able to look away.
4. Four SamosasDirector: Ravi Kapur
An Indian American wannabe rapper, Vinny (Venk Potula), finds that his ex-girlfriend Rina (Summer Bishil), who he never got over, is engaged. The engagement wakes him up to the reasons the relationship didn’t work out, so he enlists his friends in a misguided plan to stop the wedding and help his friends finance their dreams. There is never a dull moment in the madcap romp that’s also surprisingly moving.
5. Lynch/OzDirector: Alexandre O. Philippe
Documentaries by filmmakers about filmmakers can be tricky. It’s hard to simultaneously please the casual fans and the film geeks (as I, Michael, know from experience) but this film intrigued and delighted both of us. I (Lindsay) especially loved the visual comparisons between Lynch’s films and Oz. I (Michael) especially loved the structure, with five different thinkers each giving his perspective on the monumental influence on Lynch’s work. We both feel everyone will find something to love in this documentary.
6. HueseraDirector: Michelle Garza Cervera
I (Lindsay) am a grown-up, so a horror movie filled only with jump scares doesn’t do anything for me. I get that in real life from my kids. This film provides the perfect combination of suspense to draw you in and jump scares too to make you…well, jump. So much so that you’ll almost forget that it’s also a profound exploration of the terror of new motherhood.
7. Employee of the MonthDirector: Veronique Jadin
Early in this film, young intern Melody (Laetitia Mampaka) pushes the middle-aged Ines (Jasmina Douieb) to ask for what she is worth. Over the next hour-and-a-half, she will do just that, in more and more outrageous ways. You will be on the edge of your seat waiting for what could happen next. This film also pulls off the neat trick of being very violent and very funny.
8. We Might As Well Be DeadDirector: Natalia Sinelnikova
Natalia Sinelnikova’s directorial debut opens with a couple interviewing for a spot in a co-op building. But they seem overly desperate. By the end of the scene they’re literally begging the security guard conducting their tour/interview, to put in a good word with the higher-ups. But we quickly learn that they’re not the weirdest ones—the entire society that has grown up inside the building is creepy as hell. I (Michael) am still deciding which parts of our own society Sinelnikova is parodying but, in any case, she does it very well. If you have the stomach for a little bit of surrealism mixed in with your dramedy, you’ll love this psychological thriller.
9. The DOCDirector: Dave Caplan
For one brief shining moment in the late ‘80s, The D.O.C. was the next big thing in hip-hop. Having been a chief partner in NWA’s rise to prominence, his debut solo album No One Can Do It Better went to number one and produced two number one singles. A few months later, a devastating car accident permanently damaged his larynx. For over 30 years, he never gave up the dream of a comeback but, as this documentary shows, the reality of changing your dreams isn’t as simple as it sounds. Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem and other hip-hop royalty play prominent roles in the film. Also, a warning: Everyone is old now.
10. Peace in the ValleyDirector: Tyler Riggs
When her husband (Michael Abbott Jr.) is killed breaking up a mass shooting, a young mother (Brit Shaw) must navigate her family’s life without him. That journey is substantially complicated when his twin brother (also Abbott Jr.) starts showing up more and more. It’s a film that does a wonderful job exploring a nuanced and completely cliche-free depiction of grief, and Abbott Jr. turns in yet another beautifully understated performance.
Subject (a fascinating and always thought-provoking look into the lives of the subjects of famous documentaries of the past), Hancock (the story of the most influential jazz musician of the hip-hop age, who passed away shortly after filming), The Cave of Adulluam (a portrait of a martial arts guru working to transform inner-city boys’ lives through love and understanding), January (a touching coming-of-age tale about an aspiring young filmmaker in violence-torn 1991 Latvia).
And a special note on Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song (directed by Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine): The music and life of Leonard Cohen mean so much to me (Michael) that there’s no way I can objectively review this documentary. I can tell you that I sobbed through at least half of it. If you also love Cohen, I feel sure you’ll have a similar reaction. And if you don’t…well, I’m not sure my opinion will hold much sway over you anyway. But it was my most deeply emotional experience of the entire festival.
Michael Dunaway is a film producer, festival director, and Editor at Large at Paste. Lindsay Kirschner is an Atlanta-based film critic and photographer.