Over its first five years of existence, the Chicago Critics Film Festival has hosted the Midwestern premieres of major films and appearances by incredibly talented guests. Films that have played for the first time in Chicago at CCFF include “The Spectacular Now,” “A Ghost Story,” “Stories We Tell,” “Lucky,” “The End of the Tour,” “Me, Earl & The Dying Girl,” “Columbus,” “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” “Little Men,” “Morris From America,” and dozens more. The festival has provided a warm, encouraging atmosphere for people like Aubrey Plaza, Sarah Polley, Joan Cusack, Bobcat Goldthwait, James Ponsoldt, John Carroll Lynch, Kogonada, and many more. The sixth annual edition of the only week-long film festival curated by working film critics starts this Friday, and you simply have to be there.
Understanding that you can’t see everything (although you can for an amazingly low $150 for a full-festival pass of over two dozen films), I thought I’d pick out a highlight from each day. As the festival’s co-producer, I’m uniquely capable of pointing potential film goers to our highlights, although it’s honestly very difficult to pick only one for each day. So I’ve stuck with our guest screenings, the ones for which you will be able to hear from the people who made the films. Then I’ll pick out a few more highlights at the bottom. See as many as you can. You won't regret it.
Overall, this is our strongest line-up yet, which is saying something if you’ve been to our festival before. Every single one of our films has been approved by a committee of working film critics, giving them a stamp of quality that you don’t get from every film festival. Here are some of the highlights (click on the titles for more information and to get tickets now):
FRIDAY, MAY 4
In this genre-bending supernatural drama, a woman is forced to go on the run when her extraordinary abilities are discovered. Years after abandoning her family, the only place she has left to hide is home.
SATURDAY, MAY 5
A satire set in the world of competitive battle rap, BODIED is the story of Adam Merkin, a progressive grad student who becomes an accidental battle rapper after encountering Behn Grym, a respected icon in the merciless sub-culture of poetic personal insults. As Adam makes his politically-incorrect climb up the ranks, he risks alienating his father, a renowned writer and tenured professor at Adam’s university, along with his skeptical girlfriend Maya, and all of his academic friends. His success breeds outrage however; Adam soon faces growing backlash on campus and the consequences of his controversial talent. BODIED explores the dangerous spaces of the world’s most multicultural and artistically brutal sport.
Director Joseph Kahn in attendance for a Q&A!
SUNDAY, MAY 6
Samuel Alabaster (Robert Pattinson), an affluent pioneer, ventures across the American Frontier to marry the love of his life, Penelope (Mia Wasikowska). As Samuel traverses the Wild West with a drunkard named Parson Henry (David Zellner) and a miniature horse called Butterscotch, their once-simple journey grows treacherous, blurring the lines between hero, villain and damsel. A loving reinvention of the western genre from the Zellner brothers (Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter), Damsel showcases their trademark unpredictability, off-kilter sense of humor, and unique brand of humanism.
Writer/directors/stars Nathan and David Zellner in attendance!
MONDAY, MAY 7
The pastor of a small church in upstate New York (Ethan Hawke) spirals out of control after a soul-shaking encounter with an unstable environmental activist and his pregnant wife (Amanda Seyfried) in this taut, chilling thriller.
Writer/Director Paul Schrader in attendance!
TUESDAY, MAY 8
After David Kim (John Cho)’s 16-year-old daughter goes missing, a local investigation is opened and a detective is assigned to the case. But 37 hours later and without a single lead, David decides to search the one place no one has looked yet, where all secrets are kept today: his daughter’s laptop. In a hyper-modern thriller told via the technology devices we use every day to communicate, David must trace his daughter’s digital footprints before she disappears forever.
Director Aneesh Chaganty in attendance!
WEDNESDAY, MAY 9
Agnes, taken for granted as a suburban mother, discovers a passion for solving jigsaw puzzles which unexpectedly draws her into a new world – where her life unfolds in ways she could never have imagined.
Director Marc Turtletaub in attendance!
THURSDAY, MAY 10
Abducted in Plain Sight is the twisting, turning, story of the Brobergs, a naïve, church going Idaho family whose daughter, Jan, is kidnapped by the family’s best friend and neighbor. Twice. This true-crime documentary examines one family’s struggle with desire, deceit, faith and forgiveness. The Brobergs’ troubling admissions reveal epic failures and untold personal dramas that point to the biggest tragedy of all – that these crimes could have been prevented.
Director Skye Borgman in attendance!
Thirteen-year-old Kayla endures the tidal wave of contemporary suburban adolescence as she makes her way through the last week of middle school—the end of her thus far disastrous eighth grade year—before she begins high school.
Writer/Director Bo Burnham in attendance!
A 35MM anniversary print of the timeless “Jurassic Park.”
RogerEbert.com editors Chaz Ebert, Brian Tallerico, Nick Allen, Matt Fagerholm, and contributors Peter Sobczynski, Collin Souter, Mark Dujsik, Patrick McGavin, Angelica Jade Bastien, and Allison Shoemaker are all members of the CFCA.