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Top 10: Tribeca World Premieres

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In just 12 years, the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City has carved quite an interesting and influential niche for itself in the independent film world. Though it’s wedged somewhat unceremoniously between Sundance/Berlinale and Cannes, the festival has become THE destination for New York premieres, as well as plenty of North American premieres and a fair share of world premieres of soon-to-be big documentaries, foreign narrative features, and American indies.

With the kick-off of the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival just weeks away, I’m counting down the biggest titles (world premieres only) in the festival’s history. The criteria: On-paper talent, box office dollars, awards, and quality.

10. (tie): Tribeca Opening World Premieres
Baby Mama, The Five-Year Engagement, The Interpreter, Shrek Forever After, United 93

Tribeca has played host to some HUGE world premieres. Both its location and timing (right before the start of the summer movie season) means major studios have seen fit to use the festival’s spotlight for big publicity. The films above all started in Lower Manhattan. Also noteworthy is last year’s biggest film in terms of box office—The Avengers. It doesn’t earn an official slot on this list because it wasn’t a world premiere (rather the film’s North American bow), but Marvel’s choice to play Tribeca speaks volumes to where its come in just 12 years.

9. Redbelt
The name David Mamet arguably isn’t held in as high regard as it was back in the early part of the last decade, if only because he’s been oddly quiet on the new project front. His 2008 MMA flick starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Emily Mortimer, and (wait for it) Tim Allen doesn’t completely gel, but a Mamet film is a big get for any festival, especially a still young (at least at the time) Tribeca.

8. The House of the Devil
The third feature film by Ti West debuted in the Midnight section of the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival. Not only did it scare the pants off everyone in attendance, but it turned West into an overnight sensation. The guy is one of the modern kings of horror with a style that’s equal parts original and endearingly retro.

7. Detachment
Since setting the world on fire with 1998’s American History X, director Tony Kaye has stayed largely out of the spotlight, opting to make hard-hitting, but decidedly uncommercial films like the 2.5-hour-long abortion documentary Lake of Fire. Starring Adrian Brody, Detachment wasn’t exactly a turn back toward mainstream cinema (if we’re even calling American History X mainstream), but it was a nice reminder of what both Kaye and Brody are capable of.

6. The Arbor
Clio Barnard’s experimental documentary retelling of the playwright Andrea Dunbar’s life story never made much of a splash commercially, and I’d argue it’s not even a good film, but it has some passionate fans within the online film community and managed to snag a coveted Golden Brick Award from the world’s best film podcast, Film Spotting, back in 2010, when it premiered at Tribeca.

5. Jesus Camp
The first of only two Tribeca world premieres to earn Oscar nominations, this doc (which comes courtesy of Detropia directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady and was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 2007 Academy Awards) is a searing indictment of the evangelical Christian movement, particularly as it relates to the brainwashing of young children. In 2006, it won the festival’s Special Jury Prize.

4. City Island
This underrated family dramedy starring Andy Garcia got its start at Tribeca in 2009 but didn’t hit theaters for almost another full year. It won an Audience Award at the festival and went on to become a relative box office success.

3. Charlie Bartlett
This Anton Yelchin-starring high school comedy was a box office disappointment, but it signaled big things to come for Robert Downey Jr. who, just months later, resurrected his A-list status as the title character in Iron Man. Charlie Bartlett is also an exceptional film that’s grown in stature quite a bit since 2008.

2. Bully
Neither the big financial success nor the awards play The Weinstein Co. undoubtedly hoped this film would be, Bully nonetheless became a major talking point last year at this time with its rating controversy. It also brought some much-needed attention to the issue of bullying in schools and managed to make the Best Documentary Feature shortlist for the 2013 Oscars.

1. Taxi to the Dark Side
The only Tribeca film (at least by my research) to win an Oscar was Alex Gibney’s incredible 2007 documentary. Gibney also took home Best Documentary Feature at Tribeca, as well as DGA and WGA awards for documentary filmmaking. It’s also the best film on this list and Gibney’s (a great documentarian) strongest film.

Stay tuned for much more Tribeca 2013 over the coming weeks.

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