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Capote, Brokeback Mountain, Breakfast on Pluto
among the favorites at Telluride

Capote, Brokeback Mountain, Breakfast on Pluto
among the favorites at Telluride

Philip Seymour Hoffman came to check out the competition, and he liked what he saw and heard. His starring role in Bennett Miller's Capote was the talk of the sold-out 32nd Telluride Film festival, which took place during the four-day Labor Day holiday weekend. Hoffman's performance as fey New Yorker Truman Capote, in Kansas to report on Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, the murderers Capote wrote about in his 1966 nonfiction novel, In Cold Blood, wowed many of the 2,000 pass-holders at this tiny Rocky Mountain ski resort. An Oscar nomination for Hoffman appears inevitable, observers said, and Catherine Keener, who costars as novelist Harper Lee, could find herself in the supporting actress race.

Other likely Oscar contenders who emerged during the fest included Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, who star as Johnny Cash and June Carter, real-life lovers and country music icons, in James Mangold's $25 million Walk the Line. Sony Pictures Classics' Capote and 20th Century Fox's Walk the Line both portrayed young artists in the process of finding--and losing--their way. Capote fell victim to ambition, celebrity, and alcohol; Cash had to battle his way out of an amphetamine addiction before he could win his singing partner's hand in marriage.

A clip of the young Cash also popped up in another movie about the creation of a cultural giant--Martin Scorsese's No Direction Home, a portrait of Bob Dylan. Scorsese allowed Telluride a one-time-only screening of his 3-1/2-hour documentary, which recounts the transformation of teenage Midwesterner Robert Zimmerman into the channeler of the '60s zeitgeist. PBS invested early in the documentary and has insisted on premiering the film, which will not receive a theatrical release.

Telluride audiences also were buzzing about director Ang Lee's elegiac Western Brokeback Mountain, which should catapult Australian actor Heath Ledger into a new category, that of serious actor. He also could find himself chasing Oscar glory, though the box office prospects for the Focus Features film were the subject of serious debate. The film is a heartbreaking gay romance, which novelist Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana adapted from Annie Proulx's short story about two cowboys in the '60s and '70s who feel compelled to hide their passion for each other. One school of thought held that Jonathan Demme's award-winning Philadelphia, starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, is the exception that proves the rule: It's impossible for a gay love story to find mainstream audience acceptance. Others argued that, backed by critical raves and Oscar nominations, Brokeback Mountain could become a must-see for serious cinephiles.

Cillian Murphy, currently in theaters with Red Eye, was another of the actors who made an impression at the festival. He stars in yet another movie about sexual identity, Neil Jordan's Irish comedy Breakfast on Pluto, which the director adapted with Patrick McCabe from McCabe's novel. Also set in the '60s and '70s, the Sony Pictures Classics release centers on Patrick "Kitten" Braden, a winsome cross-dressing Irishman who goes through many misadventures as he tries to find the mother and father who abandoned him at birth. Liam Neeson plays a key role as a Catholic priest.

Liev Schreiber, the New York theater and film actor, searched for his roots while filming his directorial debut, Everything Is Illuminated, in contemporary Odessa and the countryside outside of Prague. His adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's 2001 novel stars Elijah Wood as a young man trying to find his grandfather's Ukrainian village. Former Soviet screen star Boris Leskin and Ukrainian-born New York musician Eugene Hutz play his tour guides. "They both learned Ukrainian for the part," Schreiber said. "That's more than you could ask."

Raised in the Eastern European film tradition by his family, Schreiber brings the absurdist humor and rhythms of the films of Milos Forman, Dusan Makavejev, and Emir Kusturica to the movie. Speaking by phone from the Venice International Film Festival, Schreiber said, "I had wanted so much to make this a European film. Jonathan and I compared stories of our grandfathers. I wanted to show their survivor's sense of humor: If you believe your life is excrement, then you either drown in it or transcend it with irony. That's a distinct Eastern European trait."

In addition to Everything Is Illuminated, Warner Independent Pictures brought the Berlin International Film Festival prize-winner Paradise Now, a timely chiller that is sure to ignite an explosion of controversy. Filming on location in the West Bank city of Nablus, Palestinian writer-director Hany Abu-Assad gets inside the mind of a suicide bomber (Kais Nashef) as he faces the prospect of fulfilling his religious mission to martyr himself on a Tel Aviv passenger bus. By turns compassionate and lecturing, Paradise Now had Telluride audiences on the edge of their seats. It remains to be seen if the coming media firestorm will propel filmgoers to theaters. "It's insane to continue this circle of killing," the director told the Telluride crowd. "I hope I make people question without telling them what to think." The film opens September 14 in the Palestinian territories and will debut in Israel in October.

Fox Searchlight debuted Scott McGehee and David Siegel's family drama Bee Season, adapted by Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal from the Myla Goldberg novel. It stars Richard Gere and Juliette Binoche as Kabbala followers who become overly invested in the success of their ace speller children, played by newcomers Flora Cross and Anthony Minghella's son, Max. Judging from the festival reaction, Fox Searchlight should find receptive audiences on the art-house circuit.

All of these films will enter the crowded Toronto International Film Festival fray this week armed with a serious boost from Telluride. Sony Classics, especially, built advance hype for its fall-winter slate, which includes Capote and Breakfast on Pluto; two Cannes prize winners, Michael Haneke's contemporary thriller Cache and the intense emotional drama L'Enfant (which was part of a tribute to its directors, the Dardenne brothers); and Michelangelo Antonioni's 1970s classic The Passenger, which stars Jack Nicholson and is being reissued in advance of a DVD release.

Actor-turned-director Andy Garcia was one of the filmmakers looking for buyers at Telluride as he unveiled The Lost City, a project that has taken him 16 years to complete. Similarly, director Stuart Gordon showed off Edmond, which David Mamet adapted from his provocative stage play. And Hans Canosa bowed the romantic drama Conversations With Other Women, starring Helena Bonham Carter and Aaron Eckhart as former lovers who reunite at a wedding. Roadside Attractions and several other buyers were circling the Garcia film, which stars the director as a Havana nightclub owner who fights to save his two brothers and his fiancee from Castro's revolution. Bill Murray contributes a comic turn as the film's writer, the late G. Cabrera Infante, and Dustin Hoffman appears as Meyer Lansky. Admittedly inspired by his Godfather III director, Francis Ford Coppola, Garcia, who struggled with an overlong screenplay, may have to trim the historic epic before it wins release. "I finished the film in 35 days," Garcia boasted.

Conversations, whose split-screen technique met with mixed reaction, went over best with women and is expected to find a distributor. Edmond, on the other hand, hit Telluride audiences between the eyes with its assaultive portrait of an uptight racist (William H. Macy) who lets loose one night in the red-light district, meets a young waitress (Julia Stiles), and winds up on a spree of violence. First Independent, which was seeking a buyer, will likely wind up distributing the film. "It's the most challenging thing I've ever done," Macy said. (Anne Thompson, via Reuters)

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