By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood August 29, 2014 at 7:57PM
Opening day at Telluride brought a sunny Rocky Mountain brunch attended by the talent who will be introducing a roster of anticipated films over Labor Day Weekend. "Rosewater" rookie director Jon Stewart withstood well-wishers who know him from their living rooms, while his Mexican star Gael Garcia Bernal explained that it was impossible to cast the film about an imprisoned Iranian journalist in Iran. Open Road, which won the bidding on "Rosewater" after it screened for distributors last April, screened "Rosewater" to mixed reviews ahead of the festival, where it debuts Friday night. The reason? Producer Scott Rudin, who hand-picked the attendees himself. Also debuting Friday is Weinstein's World War II code-cracking thriller "The Imitation Game," starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley.
Thursday night Telluride screened Alejandro G. Inarritu's "Birdman" for the festival staff, as well as Roger Ebert documentary "Life Itself." "Birdman," which wowed Venice, plays Saturday.
Also mingling with crowds was "Foxcatcher" Oscar contender Steve Carrel, who flew unaccompanied on the Thursday morning shuttle from Los Angeles. Also on the flight to Montrose was hale screenwriter-director John Milius, who has not been seen much since he suffered a stroke three years ago; he came to the brunch in advance of Friday's unveiling of Francis Coppola's 1979 restored original cut of "Apocalypse Now." He enjoyed hanging out with fest regular Werner Herzog, who did not bring his unfinished "Queen of the Desert" to Telluride.
First-timer Megan Ellison of Annapurna Pictures accompanied her "Foxcatcher" director Bennett Miller, who sat in the sunshine with festival tributee Hilary Swank, whose Cannes western "The Homesman" will be shown here. Errol Morris and Wim Wenders are presenting "The Look of Silence," Joshua Oppenheimer's follow-up to "Act of Killing," which has already wowed Venice. And 25-year-old Canadian auteur Xavier Dolan is another Telluride rookie, here with his Cannes hit "Mommy." At the brunch it was revealed that the "Sneak" screening will be the TWC-Radius pickup starring Benicio del Toro, gangster flick "Escobar," which had been designated as a world premiere at Toronto. Another one bites the dust.
At the press conference with co-directors Tom Luddy and Julie Huntsinger, the Toronto question came up. Clearly they felt TIFF's world premiere stance as an assault, but they said while this was a quieter year than last--even with some 6000 people in attendance in this mountain town--which was an "anomaly," they were proud of the line-up. Mostly they did not see as many films as they might have otherwise, such as Jason Reitman's "Men, Women and Children," and many films that they did see won't be in the fall fests at all because they are not ready. Picking only 25 new movies --aside from their classics program--meant having to say no. Huntsinger said they insist on ignoring the Oscar hoopla and focusing on picking the best possible program. "It's a mutually beneficial situation," she said, if distribs Fox Searchlight, Roadside Attractions, Sony Pictures Classics (which bought rounds of Patron Tequila Thursday night at the New Sheridan bar) and Weinstein want to bring their films and talent here. Finally said Luddy, he's sorry that the talent are being punished by Toronto's stance.
The first new movie to screen --at a special opening at the Chuck Jones for patrons of the festival --was Jean-Marc Vallee's follow-up to "Dallas Buyer's Club," "Wild," starring Reese Witherspoon as the writer who walked 1000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in order to find herself. Author Cheryl Strayed thanked her producers including Bill Pohlad as well as her stars Witherspoon and Laura Dern, a Telluride regular. While Witherspoon ably carries the movie, the person who deserves a round of applause is Nick Hornby, who did a great job adapting the book, which I did not read.
This movie could easily have degenerated into self-help cliche as this lonely woman carrying an impossibly heavy pack perseveres over three months in heat and rain and snow, hearing scurries in the night, wearing too-small hiking boots that she loses on one mountain, continuing on with socks and duck-taped sandals until a replacement set arrives at a ranger station where she is hit on one more time. As she walks, she flashes back to memories of the mother she lost to cancer (an excellent and moving Laura Dern, who could land a supporting actress Oscar nomination) as well as her own addictions to crack and heroin and sex, and the husband she left and loved ("Newsroom" star Thomas Sadowski).
What's good about this movie may make it a quiet success: it feels genuine, and heartfelt, and true. It does not dwell on histrionics nor does it tug at heartstrings in a manipulative way, although it is moving indeed. Nor is it an extraordinary cinematic achievement. Will audiences, critics and the Academy respond? Some will and some won't. Oscar voters tend to reward movies with sets and fancy camerawork. I suspect Witherspoon, Hornby and Dern will be recognized.