Filtering through the number of films showing at a film festival can be overwhelming, so here’s my life of the top 10 most hotly anticipated movies playing at the Chicago International Film Festival. Expect capsule reviews for many of these (but unfortunately not all) in the coming weeks.
The Babadook (Jennifer Kent)- In this Australian horror/drama, a child’s nightmares get out of control. We soon make the spooky discovery that they may be linked to a scary storybook called “The Babadook.” It’s gotten rave reviews that praise the Jennifer Kent’s powerful direction, as well as the moving subtext of her screenplay. Playing 10/10 at 11:00 PM and 10/21 at 8:30 PM.
Black Coal, Thin Ice (Bai ri yan huo)- This Hong Kong neo-noir won the prestigious Golden Bear award at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival, making it one of the most high profile foreign films showing at CIFF. It has the classic makings of a noir thriller: a beautiful femme fatale, a mystery, and an ex-cop with the devil on his shoulder. Boasting impressive visuals and an acclaimed cast, it’s destined to be one of the most exciting offerings at the festival. Playing 10/11 at 8:00 PM, 10/13 at 8:00 PM, and 10/17 at 12:00 PM.
Winter Sleep (Nuri Bilge Ceylan)- The anticipated followup to 2011s critically acclaimed Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Turkish writer and director Nuri Bilge Ceylan offers another beautifully photographed existential tale through Winter Sleep. It already won the much coveted Palm d’Or, the top prize at Cannes, and is destined to make a stir come oscar time in early 2015. Deeply contemplative with issues of class and self-deception, the narrative follows an aging ex-actor who actors as proxy king to his small town. Its epic (some might say too long) running time of 196 might turn some away, but the talent and acclaim alone make it worth it. Playing 10/11 at 7:15 and 10/14 at 7:45.
Birdman (Alejandro G. Iñarritu) - Arguably the most anticipated film of the entire festival, this wildly critically acclaimed black comedy/drama follows an aging actor attempt to make a bold comeback through a new play. Famed cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who just won an oscar for his visuals in Gravity, stitched multiple takes together to give the impression most or all of the film was made in one uninterrupted take. The spectacle is said to be spellbinding and Michael Keaton’s turn as the star spells oscar glory.
Wild (Jean-Marc Vallée)- Hot off the award-season success of Dallas Buyers Club that ended with oscars for Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, Jean-Marc Vallée is back with an adaptation of the best selling autobiographical book of the same name. Wild follows Author Cheryl Strayed, played by Reese WItherspoon with a performance likely to be a major contender come oscar time, in an epic hike through the Pacific Crest Trail. It spans spans more than a thousand miles, and her adventures yield insight how to live life. After the fantastic Dallas Buyers Club, Vallée has demanded our attention no matter what project he chooses- this most of all. Playing 10/23 7:00 PM
The Look of Silence (Joshua Oppenheimer)- Last year’s The Act of Killing isn’t just the best documentary of that year, but possibly one of the best documentaries ever. It was a stirring creative opus that gave the documentary purpose beyond an effective download of information, chronicling the government-sanctioned mass murder that took place in 1960s Indonesia. Instead of following the killers, as was done in The Act of Killing, The Look of Silence, follows the heartbreaking accounts of the victims. If it’s half the film its predecessor was it’s a must-see, and early reviews say it’s excellent. Playing 10/18 3:45 PM and 10/20 6:45 PM
Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne) - The Dardennes latest is a “slice of life” drama following a woman (Marion Cotillard) for 48 hours trying to get her job back after her company downsized. With a premise relevant to economic consequence that’s easy to identify with—what would we do if we lost our jobs?—it looks to be yet another effective drama from this pair of directors. For me the draw is Cotillard, whose loveliness is matched only by her talent. Playing 10/16 at 6:00 PM and 10/19 at 6:15 PM.
It Follows (David Robert Mitchell) - Mitchell’s had an impressive run so far- his first was a small indie film, The Myth of the American Sleepover, gained him modest praise, but his new film, It Follows is going to make him a force in the indie scene. It’s a low budget horror film with a pscho-sexual heart, said to show how production values need not rely on big money. The buzz around It Follows is huge, and I can’t wait to see it make a splash at CIFF. Playing 10/18 at 9:45 PM and 10/22 at 6:00 PM.
Force Majeure (Ruben Östlund) - Make no mistake, this may be the current frontrunner for best foreign film. This comedy/drama follows a Swedish family as they get stuck at a mountainside restaurant due to an Avalanche. It’s the rare film that’s both a critical favorite (at Cannes, where it also took the Jury Prize) and a crowd pleaser, acclaimed for its sharp wit and observational cleverness. Playing 10/10 at 8:15 PM and 10/12 at 5:30 PM.
The Imitation Game (Morten Tyldum) - Having already won the audience award at Toronto, this seems to be the film to beat for public praise. One part character drama, one part thriller, and one part King’s Speech period piece, The Imitation Game, tells the story of Alan Turing, the real life genius and cryptologist that helped crack the Nazi code that was a crucial element in ending World War II. Benedict Cumberbatch has been called—without any apparent hyperbole—amazing, and seems to be entering the best actor race with a vengeance. It’s one of the most must-see films of the festival. Playing 10/16 8:00 PM.