By Jeff Labrecque
Updated April 16, 2014 at 04:17 PM EDT
Credit: Pedro Gomez Milan
  • Movie

The Tribeca Film Festival began as a way for New York to rebuild culturally after the World Trade Center attacks in 2001. For the first time since then, the area around Ground Zero is dominated by a sparkly, newly finished Freedom Tower, which represents so much more than the city’s resilience and recovery. The Tribeca festival played a small, but not insignificant, role in that recovery, inviting artists and film lovers to the city and reassuring New Yorkers that life can be beautiful even in the darkest of days.

After more than a decade of growth, Tribeca is also entering a new phase in its maturation. Last month, the Madison Square Garden Company purchased 50 percent of Tribeca Enterprises, the entity that runs the festival. MSG’s world-class venues, like the Beacon Theatre and Radio City Music Hall, give the festival a higher profile. The deal also represents some permanence: Tribeca isn’t going away anytime soon.

But as the 13th Tribeca Film Festival begins Wednesday night — with the Nas documentary Time is Illmatic and live concert — a fair question is, “What exactly is a Tribeca movie?” Sundance has its rags-to-riches stories, like Clerks; Toronto launches Oscar campaigns for films like Gravity and 12 Years a Slave. Tribeca hasn’t yet had that one film that helps epitomize its mission, but that’s also because the New York festival is so diverse and so eclectic. So New York. International films, like Roman Polanski’s Venus in Fur, view Tribeca as a launching pad into America. There’s a tech-focused Innovation Week program that echoes the offerings at SXSW; neighborhood events like a street fair, sports day, and drive-in screenings of family-friendly classics, give the festival a unique flavor.

The quintessential Tribeca movie might be difficult to define — but it likely has music in it. The Nas film follows last year’s festival opener, Mistaken For Strangers, the delightful not-what-anyone-expected documentary about The National. And many of this year’s most anticipated festival movies have musical roots, especially Begin Again, the charming Mark Ruffalo/Keira Knightley New York story from Once director, John Carney. It’s played previously in Toronto, but it comes home, in a sense, at Tribeca.

Scroll down for more about Begin Again, and 12 world premieres that already have people talking.

Begin Again (U.S. premiere)

Directed by John Carney

Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, Adam Levine, Hailee Steinfeld, and Catherine Keener

Seven years after Once, director John Carney is back with another musical romance about two lonely souls. This time, the setting isn’t Dublin, but New York City, and Begin Again — which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last fall under the title Can a Song Save Your Life? — makes the most of the city’s many iconic locales. “We all wanted to make sure that New York becomes like a character in the film,” says Keira Knightley, who plays a fame-averse songwriter who gets dumped by her overnight-star boyfriend (Adam Levine) and joins forces with an old-school record exec (Mark Ruffalo). “And whenever I’m in New York, I’m on the street most of the time because you want to be. That’s where the lifeblood of the city is, so I think it was very important that we were out as much as possible. Again, this isn’t a film where you have the money to close streets down and have lots of extras. So it was very much like, ‘Okay we’re going to film on this street and we’re really going to hope that nobody’s going to look around or look into the camera.’ And just go. So that’s kind of what we did.”

Begin Again, which will open in theaters on July 4, is Tribeca’s closing-night film on April 26.

Gabriel (World premiere)

Directed by Lou Howe

Cast: Rory Culkin, David Call, Deirdre O’Connell, Emily Meade, Louisa Krause, Lynn Cohen

Credit: Pedro Gomez Milan

The youngest Culkin (You Can Count On Me) plays a troubled young man who gets it in his mind that the answer to his many emotional and mental problems is reuniting with his old high-school girlfriend. First-time filmmaker Lou Howe, a native New Yorker, was mentored by Hal Hartley, and fans of the latter might appreciate the audience’s uncomfortably affectionate bond with Gabe, a somewhat creepy protagonist.

Directed by Keith Patterson and Phillip Schoppe

Before Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton, there was Ann Richards, the shootin’-tootin’ female governor of Texas. At the 1988 Democratic National Convention, she became famous overnight for mocking the verbal blunders of the Republican nominee — and fellow Texan — George H.W. Bush by saying, “Poor George, he can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth!” The Bush family exacted some measure of revenge when George W. unseated Richards as governor in 1994, but her style and folksy pragmatism made her a role model and trailblazer for subsequent women politicians in the national spotlight. All About Ann will also air on HBO on April 28.

Every Secret Thing (World premiere)

Directed by Amy Berg

Cast: Elizabeth Banks, Diane Lane, Dakota Fanning, Danielle Macdonald, Nate Parker

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

Berg, a former TV news producer who directed the 2012 documentary West of Memphis, tackles another tale of missing children and neighborhood paranoia. Based on the novel by Laura Lippman and adapted by Nicole Holofcener, Every Secret Thing tells the story of a missing child, and the two girls (Dakota Fanning and Danielle Macdonald) who are immediately suspected because of their conviction for a previous ghastly crime.

6, (World premiere)

Directed by Louie Psihoyos

There have been five mass extinctions in the history of our planet, and the Oscar-winning director of The Cove examines the first symptoms of what might be the beginning of the sixth. Psihoyos and his crew snuck in to about 20 different countries to document animal abuse with state-of-the-art equipment. “If The Cove was Oceans 11, this is Oceans 12,” the director said in a recent Reddit AMA.

Goodbye to All That (World premiere)

Directed by Angus MacLachlan

Cast: Paul Schneider, Anna Camp, Heather Graham, Ashley Hinshaw, Melanie Lynskey

Junebug writer Angus MacLachlan gets behind the camera for the first time to tell the story of husband and a father who thought his life was going alright — until his wife informed him their marriage was over. Dipping his toes into the modern dating pool, which is now built on the Internet, Otto (Paul Schneider) quickly learns that love and happiness aren’t a text or Facebook status update away.

Boulevard (World premiere)

Directed by Dito Montiel

Cast: Robin Williams, Kathy Baker, Roberto Aguire, Bob Odenkirk

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

It’s been too long since Robin Williams tackled a complex dramatic role with the requisite amount of subtlety. In the latest from Dito Montiel (A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints), he plays Nolan, a mild-mannered and dutiful husband who’s going through the motions of life in order to maintain appearances. But when he decides to give a troubled young man a car ride home one night, Nolan sets in motion a series of events that will force him to face his life as it really is.

In Your Eyes (World premiere)

Directed by Brin Hill

Cast: Zoe Kazan, Michael Stahl-David, Nikki Reed, Mark Feuerstein, Steve Harris, Jennifer Grey

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

Brin Hill directs a script by a young writer named… let me make sure I pronounce this correctly… Joss Whay-donne. French, maybe? Might also be pronounced Joss Whedon. His science-fiction romance, which he hatched while he was making The Avengers, tells the story of two people living on opposite sides of the country who are somehow connected in a way they can’t explain.

Directed by Alex Gibney

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

The indefatigable Alex Gibney, who documented Lance Armstrong and Julian Assange just last year, turns his focus on Soul Brother No. 1, James Brown. The doc is still a work-in-progress, but with the cooperation of the Brown estate, and growing anticipation for the summer biopic, Get On Up (starring Chadwick Boseman as Brown), Gibney’s take on the singer’s life and impact on the civil right movement is a hot ticket.

Match (World premiere)

Directed by Stephen Belber

Cast: Patrick Stewart, Carla Gugino, Matthew Lillard

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

Stephen Belber brings his 2004 Broadway play to the screen, with Patrick Stewart playing the retired dancer part that earned Frank Langella a Tony nomination. A couple from Seattle comes to interview him in New York for a dissertation on dance she (Carla Gugino) is researching, but Stewart’s dancer soon suspects they have ulterior motives. He would be right.

Miss Meadows (World premiere)

Directed by Karen Leigh Hopkins

Cast: Katie Holmes, James Badge Dale

Miss Meadows Katie Holmes
Credit: Briana Baker

Part Mary Poppins, part Travis Bickle, Katie Holmes’ substitute school teacher will shove more than a spoonful of sugar down your throat if you get out of line. She’s a vigilante with a strict code of manners in this very strange dark fairy tale. Iron Man 3‘s James Badge Dale plays the town sheriff who follows the clues to her crimes, while simultaneously, of course, falling for her. Because who wouldn’t!

X/Y (World premiere)

Directed by Ryan Piers Williams

Cast: America Ferrera, Ryan Piers Williams, Melonie Diaz, Jon Paul Phillips, Amber Tamblyn

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

This isn’t just a husband (Williams) and wife (Ferrera) collaboration, it’s a Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants reunion (Ferrera and Tamblyn)! But this steamy New York story, which takes an intimate look at the lives of four friends who are maybe coming to the end of their relationships, is much hotter and heavier than a pair of shared denim. Jon Paul Phillips and Fruitvale Station‘s Melonie Diaz round out the quartet who are exploring their sense of being lost in New York.

A Brony Tale (World premiere)

Directed by Brent Hodge

The cartoon My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic was made primarily for young girls, but for some reason, an entirely different audience also became obsessed with the adventures of Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash: teenage boys and young men called bronies. Pony voice actress Ashleigh Ball set out for BronyCon, despite some initial reservations, and ultimately discovered something even more magic than friendship.

Begin Again

  • Movie
  • R
  • 101 minutes
  • John Carney