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Tribeca Launches Its '09 Film Festival with Woody Allen and Larry David: Would You Be There If You Could?

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Photo: Lovekin/Getty

The Tribeca Film Festival opens tonight with Woody Allen's Whatever Works starring Larry David as a cranky New York Jew very much like Woody and Larry. These days cranky is good. Robert De Niro, along with his producing partner Jane Rosenthal and her husband Craig Hatkoff, cooked up the festival in 2002 to help rebuild their New York neighborhood after the physical and spiritual devastation of 9/11. Since then Tribeca has invariably been bullied by the big boys — Sundance, Toronto, Cannes, SXSW, and the snob-appeal New York Film Festival that traditionally opens the fall film season uptown. Tribeca 2009, running through May 3rd, has made Woody and Larry their public face this year. Is that idea strong enough to sell tickets? That remains to be seen. But there's no doubt that the festival has developed some real steal.

The fest recently raided Robert Redford's Sundance for its longtime secret weapon, Geoff Gilmore, and made him head honcho over Tribeca Enterprises. Ballsy move. OK, the films are fewer this year (down to 87 from 120 in 2008 and 157 in 2007), and the quality isn't always top tier. There are exceptions: The Eclipse, from playwright turned director Conor McPherson, is a keeper. Ditto Outrage, a Kirby Dick documentary hellbent on outing closeted gay politicians in an era when gay marriage is on the ropes. And I have nothing but praise for In the Loop, a sharply hilarious political satire costarring James Gandolfini. Tomorrow Natalie Portman and Christine Aylward will introduce the world to their baby, MakingOf.com, a Web portal that will provide an insider look into what goes into making a movie.

Good stuff, But the Woody Allen film is the prize. The Woodman's last four films have been shot in Europe. Whatever Works, which the rest of the world can't see until June 19th, puts Allen back on home turf. He doesn't appear in the film. Larry David does the heavy comic lifting as Boris, railing against the mindless zombies" eating away at the city's intellectual life and taking a child bride (Evan Rachel Wood) with a handy supply of Viagra. I can't review the movie yet, but let's just say there will be no need to curb your enthusiasm.

So here's to Tribeca '09. In a nation where movies are seen but rarely discussed and indie cinema is crowed out by Miley, Zac and assorted chihuahuas, a film festival seems more essential than ever. The question for today? Sight unseen, how does the idea of Larry David in a Woody Allen movie strike you? Are they made for each other or ghosts of triumphs past?

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Peter Travers

Rolling Stone senior writer Peter Travers has reviewed movies for the magazine for more than 20 years. Send your comments and questions to him here.

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