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Telluride: The Movies the Filmmakers Want to See

Jon Stewart, Mike Leigh, Bennett Miller, Errol Morris and Megan Ellison sound off

Jon Stewart Telluride - H 2014
Jon Stewart at the Patron Brunch

As the Telluride Film Festival got underway this morning, high-profile festivalgoers cited such films as Birdman, starring Michael Keaton, and Foxcatcher, with Steve Carell and Channing Tatum, as ranking high on their lists of must-see movies.

To kick off the Labor Day weekend event, filmmakers, press and big-money supporters gathered for the annual Patron Brunch at Gray Head, a private residence high in the mountains about 20 minutes outside town. Despite the sweltering heat, Michael Barker, whose Sony Pictures Classics is distributing Foxcatcher, donned a wrestling sweatshirt bearing the movie's title; Jon Stewart, here with his directorial debut Rosewater, gamely posed for selfies with people serving bagels and lox; and Laura Linney, who met her husband, Marc Schauer, 10 years ago at Telluride, cradled their new baby boy.

As they and dozens of other boldfaced names took in the breathtaking views and sampled food from the sumptuous buffet tables, they talked with The Hollywood Reporter about which films, besides their own, they were most excited about seeing. Screenings kick off this afternoon with the Patron Preview, which The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed will be the world premiere of Fox Searchlight's Oscar hopeful Wild.

"For me, it's Steve Carell and Foxcatcher," said Stewart, who attracted the most attention at the brunch, just hours before Rosewater was slated to have its world premiere. "I know what he's capable of, having worked with him for so long, but man, I had no idea that he could step to that level, and I'm so excited to see it." Morten Tyldum, another first-time filmmaker whose feature, The Imitation Game, will be unveiled later today, singled out Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Birdman, which just opened the Venice Film Festival, as well. "I love Alejandro, so probably Birdman," he said when asked what he was most looking forward to. "And I've heard so many good things about Foxcatcher. So those are really high up."

Meanwhile, the veteran British filmmaker Mike Leigh, who has been here several times, is back with his latest work, Mr. Turner, accompanied by Marion Bailey, one of that film's stars. Leigh had only just seen the schedule when asked for his pick. "Apart from the new ones, we want to see Apocalypse Now," he said. "And Wim Wenders has a documentary. There's quite a few, actually. We haven't seen the Dardenne brothers' film yet, also."

Bennett Miller, back at Telluride with a version of Foxcatcher that he has edited slightly since he was awarded Cannes' best director prize in May, refused to commit to one movie: "Wild, Rosewater, Apocalypse Now, Wild Tales, The Salt of the Earth, Leviathan, Night Rail, Magician, Birdman, Merchants of Doubt, The 50 Year Argument, Red Army, Forbidden Films, Hearts of Darkness, Night Fall. I'm gonna see so many of them." Foxcatcher producer Megan Ellison, visiting the fest for the first time, had an easier time making up her mind: "There are so many good films here that I want to see, but if I had to choose one — Birdman!"

Independent producer Bill Pohlad, who was here last year with eventual best picture Oscar winner 12 Years a Slave, agreed with Ellison: "Probably Birdman because of the filmmaker and because I've heard a little buzz about it before, even before Venice, so I just feel like that's one to be drawn to. But I also really want to see Foxcatcher and a lot of other Cannes films — not to mention Wild."

The Belgian brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, last here two years ago with The Kid With a Bike and back this year with Two Days, One Night, had not yet been privy to the full lineup, but Jean-Pierre said they already knew of one selection that they look forward to seeing: "Tonight, the film by Xavier Dolan, Mommy." Meanwhile, Telluride rookie Andrea Di Stefano, here with his film Escobar: Paradise Lost (which is not on the books but will be a TBA screening late tonight), weighed in with an oldie and two new films: "I'm excited to see Apocalypse Now, the Dardennes' movie and Wild — I really want to see Wild."

The Oscar-winning documentarian Errol Morris, who has some shorts at the fest, will appear on a panel and is also an executive producer of Joshua Oppenheimer's new The Look of Silence, the sequel to Oppenheimer's Oscar-nominated doc from last year, The Act of Killing. He said, "I'd like to see Foxcatcher."

Barker and his SPC co-chief, Tom Bernard, who have a half dozen films at the fest and will likely leave with even more, have been coming to Telluride since the late 1970s. Barker singled out "The Orson Welles movie that no one has seen," Too Much Johnson, as his most anticipated, explaining, "The idea that we're seeing an Orson Welles movie for the very first time is a pretty incredible thing." Said Bernard, "I guess Birdman, just because it's in the mix and has a lot of buzz and I like Michael Keaton. And Apocalypse Now, which I saw when it first played here in 1979."

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which is a major sponsor of the fest, is well represented as well. Its recently reelected president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, was diplomatic and declined to name a "most anticipated" film, but former Academy president Sid Ganis, who first came to the fest 25 years ago when he was with Robert Rodriguez and the film El Mariachi, and has returned sporadically over the years, no longer has to play it as safe. "I'm excited about the Michael Keaton movie," he said, "because every word I read about it is absolutely sensational. The other is the Heinrich Himmler documentary — I need to know more about all of that. And then the third one, of course, gets a little personal: the Jon Stewart movie because I want to see his work because I know his work is great, and I hired him twice to host the Oscars and he was in Big Daddy [which Ganis produced], so we're old pals."

The Oscar-nominated producer Bonnie Arnold, a Telluride regular who is coming off a summer hit with How to Train Your Dragon 2, said, "The one I'm looking forward to the most is the Mike Leigh film Mr. Turner because I'm a huge fan of the director — I love his other films — and I've heard some good buzz, and I suspect the film is the most consistent with my sensibility of all the films here."

Annette Insdorf, Columbia University's director of undergraduate film studies, one of several academics here, told me, "The one to which I look forward with the most delight is Rosewater, because I am such a big devotee of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I respect this man above anyone else on television and I can't wait to see him do his fiction directorial debut." Meanwhile, Alice Kelikian, chair of the Brandeis University film program, said, "I'm most excited to see Errol Morris' three new shorts, which do not have a title yet. This is their premiere here. I've seen the rough cuts and they're fantastic."

TCM host Ben Mankiewicz's choice was "the L.A. serial killer one," Tales of the Grim Sleeper, because, he said, "I just read about it yesterday and it sounded fascinating."

And Linney, looking nondescript under a baseball cap, said with a smile, "I'm excited to see Foxcatcher, I'm excited to see Rosewater, I'm excited to see Wild, I'm excited to see Madame Bovary and I'm excited to see Mr. Turner. Those are just the ones that I know of!"

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg