Reese Witherspoon. Tommy Lee Jones. Hilary Swank. Gael Garcia Bernal. Steve Carell. Benedict Cumberbatch. Laura Dern. Channing Tatum.
These are just some of the actors descending on the 41st Telluride Film Festival, kicking off Aug. 29 and running through Labor Day.
Then there are the true stars of this legendarily film-adoring gathering: the directors.
Fresh from "Dallas Buyers Club" success, Jean-Marc Vallee brings a whole expedition party to the mountain town for "Wild," his adaptation of Cheryl Strayed's memoir, including the author and stars Witherspoon and Dern.
Also set to brave the altitude: Francis Ford Coppola, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Bennett Miller, tributee Volker Schlöndorff, Mike Leigh, Wim Wenders and some newbie by the name of Jon Stewart.
Take that, Toronto!
Honestly, that's far more churlish than Telluride's co-directing triumvirate Tom Luddy, Gary Meyer and Julie Huntsinger would ever be in addressing the fact that earlier this year, the utterly vital and massive Toronto International Film Festival (Sept. 4-14) laid down the law.
Powerfully programmed, TIFF has an opening weekend that features a whirl of star-saturated red-carpet premieres in addition to its international and indie programming that expands global film culture. TIFF told filmmakers that if they want to be in on that opening weekend, they could not show their work elsewhere in North America. No, not even those pesky sneak preview TBAs Telluride has been so fortunate with.
Yes, Colorado, our globally hailed festival is on the map not just for its beautiful San Juan Mountain setting but for being a thorn in the paw of that massive lion, TIFF.
Bragging rights are all well and good, but Telluride's impressive run of Oscar winners and nominees — "Slumdog Millionaire," "The King's Speech," "Argo," last year's "12 Years a Slave" — was never about that. Telluride doesn't even announce its lineup until the day before the festival.
"There's a massive amount of trust in what our core mission is. We want to show good movies, and that's what we'll keep on doing," said co-director Julie Huntsinger on the phone earlier this week. "Our audience knows that's all we care about, and you've seen the program — that's what we do. And that trust, we know it's hard earned and it's easily lost. And we refuse to lose it. They understand that there's no other agenda than showing good movies."
There are rules, she says. "The filmmakers have to accompany the film. They can't just pop in and out.
Here are five shout-outs that represent the festival's temptations:
"Wild": Her Oscar-winning turn in "Walk the Line" served notice of just how good Reese Witherspoon can be. In this story of one woman's loss and rediscovery on the Pacific Crest Trail, she has ample opportunity to reintroduce us to that depth.
"Foxcatcher": Bennett Miller's "Capote" and "Moneyball" were very different and remarkable movies. They offer the best reasons to believe this reality-based story of du Pont heir and aspiring coach John du Pont (Steve Carell) and wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum). This year's best-director prize from Cannes doesn't hurt.
"Birdman": Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu's latest features Michael Keaton in what is being hailed out of its Venice Film Festival world premiere as a career-defining turn. In this dark comedy he portrays an aging superhero actor who wants to mount a comeback by staging an adaptation of Raymond Carver's "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love."
"Leviathan": Even before the downing of MH17 over the Ukraine, the state of Vladimir Putin's Russia had offered up painful challenges. Andrey Zvyagintsev's weighty drama about desolation and corruption won best- screenplay honors at Cannes in May. Add Gabe Polsky's fascinating documentary "Red Army" — about the Cold War, Russia's legendary hockey team and star defenseman Slava Fetisov — and you've got quite the crash course in Russia's complexity.
Lisa Kennedy: 303-954-1567, email@example.com or twitter.com/bylisakennedy