It was little more than four years ago that the Tribeca Film Festival was founded to spur the downtown economy post-9/11—but now that the neighborhood is thriving, the festival must begin to stand on the merits of its films. Soon, it just might do so. The 2006 lineup is still scattershot, but each year’s slate has been a bit stronger, and last year’s fest scored one important coup: Transamerica, the film that would earn Felicity Huffman an Oscar nomination. This year will bring even more screenings at more venues all over Manhattan. And, oh, yeah, Tom Cruise is crashing on our couch. But what else should you watch out for?
If history—and early screenings of 48 films—is any judge, many of the 174 features being shown aren’t going to have lives outside this festival. Tribeca is still outgunned in the fight for quality cinema by Sundance, Cannes, Toronto, the New York Film Festival, and others—and it continues to accept god-awful films with B-list celebrities, as if these movies were being picked by party planners rather than curators. That said, more films are being eyed for acquisition than ever before, including Lonely Hearts (James Gandolfini, Salma Hayek, and John Travolta); The TV Set (David Duchovny); and Colour Me Kubrick (John Malkovich).
When Tribeca announced that it was adding Cruise’s M:I:III to its premieres of Poseidon and United 93, Daily Variety blasted the news across its front page, noting that the fest would be “putting Tribeca’s regular auds through some wrenching emotional gyrations—from viewing real-life tragedy on-screen to watching manufactured disaster and derring-do.” Variety needn’t have worried, because there are exactly zero public tickets available to the premieres of these films. Meanwhile, only M:I:III has made talent (director J. J. Abrams) available for a panel talk.
That’s the number of wildly uneven films by New York filmmakers in the “NY, NY” competition. Tread carefully and start with these two: East Broadway stars writer-director Fay Ann Lee as a city girl romping through a sprightly Chinatown romantic comedy with Gale Harold and Margaret Cho. Oren Rudavsky’s quiet, tweedyThe Treatment adapts Daniel Menaker’s novel about a schoolteacher (Chris Eigeman) stuck between a hot widow (Famke Janssen) and an intense Freudian psychoanalyst (Ian Holm).
The ideal age for the audience of Keeping Up With the Steins, a Miramax bar mitzvah comedy that will come out later this summer, about a kid and his status-obsessed Hollywood-agent father played by—yep, Jeremy Piven. It’s so sweet-hearted that it may disappoint fans of HBO’s Entourage—but it’s a fun, safe bet for the family. (Bonus: Jews of all ages should seek out The Tribe, a short that makes the convincing, tongue-in-cheek case that Barbie is our ultimate assimilated American Jew.)
The age of terrific young actor Rupert Grint, the redheaded sidekick who finally steps out of Harry Potter’s shadow and shambles his way into a breakout performance in Driving Lessons. Fifty-six is the age of his lovely co-star, Julie Walters, a grande dame of the British telly who plays Maude to Grint’s Harold (Laura Linney plays his mother). Despite the unavoidable comparisons to its predecessor, this film warms the screen with genuine affection.
The year Lionel Rogosin released On the Bowery, a New York classic about the beer-drenched tragedy of the Bowery bum. Newly restored, it’s a must-see.
The year the hardscrabble, hard-drinking New York Cosmos signed the Brazilian superstar Pelé and launched the American soccer craze, captured in Miramax’s party-vibe documentary Once in a Lifetime.
The year self-declared prophet Jim Jones orchestrated the mass suicide documented in the powerful Jonestown. Footage of bystanders being gunned down is jolting—but no more so than the memories of that day’s once-idealistic survivors.
Finally, Tribeca’s selection of the “highlights of other festivals” is so strange as to be nearly arbitrary. However, there are at least three films worth catching before they hit New York art houses: The Road to Guantánamo is Michael Winterbottom’s movie about the Tipton Three, the innocent terrorism suspects who were held for two years by the U.S. government. Lunacy is the latest insanity from Czech animation master Jan Svankmajer. And Wordplay packed houses with crossword-puzzle fanatics at Sundance, all of whom were desperate to glimpse their hero-tormentor—New York Times puzzle master Will Shortz.