The 2023 edition of The Tribeca Film Festival upped the anty for female filmmakers this year. Femmecentric storytelling gave us innumerable outstanding performances from women of all ages. As usual, I begin my annual roundup with the caveat that this list pertains solely to the films I saw. Here is my 2023 list of Women to Watch from Tribeca.
*an earlier version of this article first appeared on AWFJ.org*
Tessa Thompson plays Beth, a crisis line operator who works the overnight shift. Watching Thompson process callers in real-time is akin to live theatre. Scenarios range from a call from a formerly incarcerated man, a husband who just told his wife he no longer loves her, an overburdened mother, a runaway in danger, and more. Her final call, which is also the lengthiest, challenges her sense of emotional security but ultimately invites us into Beth’s life in earnest. Thanks to screenwriter Alessandro Camon, THE LISTENER is fully ripe for the stage. Tessa Thompson is in every single frame. The gentleness in her voice is soothing. Her patience is breathtaking. Underneath her job slips a weary face. The emotional investment is palpable. This performance is a master class in measured behavior. Thompson had me in the palm of her hand. Full Review here.
YOU’LL NEVER FIND ME
Jordan Cowan haunts us with a performance that keeps you guessing. Theories swirl when she knocks on the door in a trailer park during a freak storm. Her fear is palpable. By the end of the film, Cowan has you by the throat. It is a role that has you consistently on edge and inevitably wildly cheering.
THE MIRACLE CLUB
Laura Linney plays Chrissy, a woman who returns to Ireland for the first time in forty years following the death of her estranged mother. Carrying quiet despair, Linney puts bitterness aside to heal her past. Her poise elevates the film. Kathy Bates plays cousin Eileen with a weary spirit, spunk, and unforgiving spite. Her journey is slowgoing but worth the wait. The legendary Dame Maggie Smith plays a formerly close family friend, Lily. The connection between the two women is filled with guilt and anger but quickly softens in search of forgiveness. As expected, Smith treats each beat with care and discovery. She is always a joy to watch. Agnes O’Casey plays Dolly, the faithful mother of a mute son. Her heartfelt desperation pours off the screen. She could easily lead a feature on her own. The film comes to theaters July 14th from Sony Pictures Classics.
Barbara Crampton, whom I retain the right to declare a Time Lord, plays Dr. Danielle Upton. Had this film been made 20 years ago, she would be Beth. Crampton is as good as it gets. She is sharp, 100% committed, and slyly comic. Her casting is no accident, and writer Dennis Paoli (Re-Animator) again does her justice. Heather Graham goes all out, essentially playing three roles in one. She is feisty and unbridled. Easily keeping up with Crampton’s iconic status, Graham nails the style. Full Review here.
Cousin Madeline comes to overbearing life through the performance of Marin Ireland. Her aggressive affection and territorial nature toward Scott are off-putting and flawless. You cannot look away from her. Jennifer Kim plays Meg with frayed nerves and pent-up trauma on every inch of her skin. She lives inside the mind of someone who survived unspeakable horror. But, her feisty spirit and take-no-shit attitude barrel this unrelentingly intense story onward. Kim owns every second of screen time. Every bit of this script feels like a slowly tightening vice on the nerves as the lines of reality blur easily. In her feature directorial debut, filmmaker Olivia West Lloyd has a stranglehold on viewers. SOMEWHERE QUIET is a skillfully crafted and heinous tale of terror that will have you on the edge of your seat. Full review here.
The titular role comes to life through the eyes of Agafia Niemenmaa. This personification of innocence is captivating against the stark quiet of Finnish snow and ice. She is a star. Sanna-Kaisa Palo gives present-day Lida a palpable lived-in trauma and definitive rage. Dismissive at the beginning, her healing journey comes with the shedding of shame and reclamation of identity through the next generation. Full review here.
Writer-director Gabriela Cowperthwaite gives Tribeca audiences one of the best of the fest. This compelling thriller plays out in claustrophobic chambers, pitting three American against three Russians while war breaks out on Earth’s surface. It is a skillfully crafted visual feast never disappoints. A look at humanity, ethics, and fear, I.S.S. is out of this world. Ariana DeBose stars as the newest crew member onboard. Her composed nature and willingness to take a beat lure you into the narrative from the beginning. She is well on her way to EGOT status with roles like this.
WAITRESS, THE MUSICAL- LIVE ON BROADWAY!
Sara Bareilles stars as Jenna in the stage-adapted version of the late Adrienne Shelly‘s indie of the same name. Bareilles embodies a woman in an abusive relationship, confused and wary of her newly pregnant body. One moving song after another, the audience gets caught up in the emotional complexities of change and choosing oneself.
Dar Zuzovsky plays potential surrogate Maor with a sunshiny disposition that is completely jarring. Something is off, but you cannot quite put your finger on it. Samar Qupty is Yafa. She is whipsmart with an acerbic wit and defensive edge. Her softening mirrors Nurit in real-time. It is a memorable turn. Reymonde Amsellem plays Nurit with a measured tone. She is undeniably brilliant. The dynamic between Nurit and Yafa is fascinating. They are combative, challenging, and yet connect in ways you do not expect. Their relationship is essential to understanding Nurit’s journey. Full Review here.
ONE NIGHT WITH ADELA
Laura Galán wowed audiences last year in PIGGY. One Night with Adela is a performance from the other end of the acting spectrum. With a shocking and revenge-fueled turn, Galán captivates in a one-take format. Drugs, alcohol, music, and sex radiate off the screen in a role cementing her as one of Spain’s rising stars.
Judy Greer gives us a complex woman coping with the horrendous aftermath caused by her son. Michael Shannon adapts the stage play written before the Columbine tragedy. Made a pariah, Greer experiences emotional torture, regret, and confusion, in her attempts to make amends with the community that blames her. Greer is a shapeshifter, inhabiting the skin of any role like a pro. She often goes under the radar because of the projects she chooses. Her performance deserves the widest audience.
Filmmaker Roxine Helberg gives us a story of ambitious women in journalism that may be predictable, but only because we have seen this plot tirelessly played out with an all-male cast. Here we find Bel Powley as a journalism grad student looking for her nig break under the guidance of powerhouse Diane Heger, played by Tracee Ellis Ross. Powley’s scrappy nature turns mirky when sabotage becomes the means to an end. Her eagerness eventually exploited by the sadistic and undeniably genius efforts of Ross. Cold Copy is a film railing against the patriarchy while saluting the idea of creating your own monster.