I’ve been very fortunate in the 18 years I’ve been a film critic to be a part of some truly great events. But never in my time as a critic or Chicagoan have I had more pride in playing a role in pulling something together as I have assisting in the programming of the 4th annual Chicago Critics Film Festival, a weeklong event, taking place this year at the Music Box Theatre May 20-26.
Organized by my hard-working fellow members of the Chicago Film Critics Association, the 2016 CCFF collects 26 features and two short film programs comprising primarily recent film festival favorites and as-yet undistributed works, nearly all receiving their Chicago premieres at this event. There are two important things you should know about this particular festival: one, as far as we know, this is the first time a film critics group has ever hosted and produced an event of this scale; second, each of these films was hand selected by a member or members of the CFCA because they saw it at a festival (such as Toronto, Cannes, Sundance, SXSW, etc.) or by other means in the last year, and went after it. Either someone saw and loved the film, or it wasn’t considered.
As this event was being conceived, we all agreed that pointing our readers to great movies was our core job, but almost as important is spotlighting works that might not have the benefit of big-studio marketing dollars. So the idea behind the CCFF was to bring such films to our city. Yes, some of these works have release dates; some do not, so this may be your only chance to see these films on the big screen.
And not only do we have more features than ever before, but we have more guests, including Craig Robinson, Michael Peña, Martin Starr, Adam Pally, Dylan Gelula, Ti West, Ira Sachs, Patricia Rozema and many more. The full schedule and all additional information about the Chicago Critics Film Festival can be found at the official website. Here’s the final line-up (all guests are indicated in the film descriptions):
MAY 20, FRIDAY – OPENING NIGHT
7pm Morris From America
Writer and director Chad Hartigan and Craig Robinson (both in person).
Crowd-pleasing comedy follows the adolescent misadventures of a 13-year-old American boy (Markees Christmas) growing up in Germany while living with his father (Robinson). The film was a hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award and a Special Jury Award for Individual Performance for Robinson.
Director Andrew Neel.
Co-written by David Gordon Green, this harrowing drama follows a 19-year-old boy who pledges his older brother’s fraternity. As the hazing rituals grow more and more dangerous, he finds himself reconsidering his loyalty to both his brother and his newfound friends. Directed by former documentarian Andrew Neel (Darkon) and co-starring Nick Jonas and James Franco (producer), the film offers an eye-opening look at some of the more appalling aspects of masculinity in contemporary society.
11:59pm Trash Fire
Writer and Director Richard Bates, Jr. With Adrien Grenier, Annalynn McCord and Fionnula Flanagan.
In this super-dark comedy with horrific overtones, a narcissistic young man visits his estranged grandmother and sister in order to please his pregnant girlfriend and prove he’ll be a good father. Yet the two soon discover that family ties can choke as well as bind.
MAY 21, SATURDAY
11am Lo and Behold: Reveries of a Connected World
Director Werner Herzog.
The famed director explores the existential impact on human life of the modern world’s technical advancements, including the Internet, robotics, AI, and the Internet of Things.
1pm Shorts Program 1
3pm My Blind Brother
Writer and director Sophie Goodhart. With Jenny Slate, Adam Scott, Zoe Kazan and Nick Kroll.
The rivalry between two brothers reaches a fever pitch during a charity swim competition.
Writer and director Jeff Baen. With Thomas Middleditch, Adam Pally (in person), Alex Ross Perry, Nick Kroll, Brett Gelman, Jenny Slate, Lauren Graham, Aubrey Plaza, Joe Swanberg, Kris Swanberg, Alison Brie and Jake Johnson.
Josh treats what would have been his bachelor party as an opportunity to reconnect with his friends.
7:15pm War On Everyone
Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh. With Michael Peña (in person) Tessa Thompson, Alexander Skarsgard, Theo James, Caleb Landry Jones and Paul Reiser.
Two corrupt cops in New Mexico set out to blackmail and frame every criminal unfortunate enough to cross their path. Things take a sinister turn, however, when they try to intimidate someone who is more dangerous than they are.
9:30pm Into the Forest
Writer and director Patricia Rozema (in person). With Ellen Page, Evan Rachel Wood, Max Minghella and Callum Keith Rennie.
In the not too distant future, two young women who live in a remote ancient forest discover the world around them is on the brink of an apocalypse. Informed only by rumor, they fight intruders, disease, loneliness and starvation.
11:59pm Another Evil
Writer and director Carson D. Mell. With Steve Zissis, Mark Proksch, Jennifer Irwin, Steve Little and Dan Bakkedahl.
After encountering a ghost in his family’s vacation home, Dan and his wife Mary hire an “industrial-grade exorcist” named Os to get rid of the being. But Dan soon realizes that cleansing the house of evil won’t be as simple as it seems.
MAY 22, SUNDAY
12pm Life, Animated
Director Roger Ross Williams.
Based on Ron Suskind’s memoir, this documentary tells the story of Ron’s autistic son Owen and how they used Disney movies to communicate with each other. Live-action and animated sequences depict Owen’s exploration of his feelings as he takes his first steps toward independence.
2pm Beauty and the Beast
Director Christophe Gans. With Vincent Cassel and Lea Seydoux.
Director Gans (Brotherhood of the Wolf, Silent Hill) unites two of France’s biggest stars, Vincent Cassel and Lea Seydoux, in this lavish live-action version of Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s classic fantasy story of a beautiful young woman who agrees to become the prisoner of a ferocious beast in order to save her beloved father’s life.
4:15pm Under the Shadow
Writer and director Babak Anvari. With Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi and Bobby Naderi.
As a mother and daughter struggle to cope with the terrors of the post-revolution, war-torn Tehran of the ’80s, a mysterious evil begins to haunt their home.
6pm Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Director Taika Waititi. With Julian Dennison, Sam Neill and Rachel House.
Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Boy) directs this amusing coming-of-age story about Ricky (Dennison), an unruly orphan who is dropped off at a remote farm. When tragedy threatens to place Ricky with another family, he and Uncle Hec (Neill) take off into the bush and find themselves at the center of a nationwide manhunt
8pm Little Men
Writer and Director Ira Sachs (iperson). With Theo Taplitz, Michael Barbieri, Jennifer Ehle, Paulina Garcia, Greg Kinnear and Alfred Molina.
A new pair of best friends have their bond tested by their parents’ battle over a dress shop lease.
Writers Alice Winocour and Jean-Stephane Bron; Director Alice Winocour. With Matthias Schoenaerts, Diane Kruger and Paul Hamy.
In Disorder, (formerly titled Maryland), Vincent is an ex-soldier with PTSD who is hired to protect the wife and child of a wealthy Lebanese businessman while he’s out of town. Despite the apparent tranquility, Vincent perceives an external threat.
MAY 23, MONDAY
3pm Hunt for the Wilderpeople (encore)
5:30pm Shorts Program 2
7:30pm American Fable
Writer and director Anne Hamilton (in person); producer Kishori Rajan (in person). With Peyton Kennedy Will (in person), Richard Schiff, Kip Pardue, Marci Miller, Gavin MacIntosh and Zuleikha Robinson.
When 11-year-old Gitty discovers that her beloved father is hiding a wealthy man in her family’s silo in order to save their struggling farm, she is forced to choose between saving the man’s life or protecting her family from the consequences of their actions. American Fable is a fairytale thriller set in the 1980s rural Midwest about a courageous girl living in a dark–sometimes magical–world.
Writers Pawel Maslona & Marcin Wrona; Director Marcin Wrona. With Itay Tiran, Agnieska Zulewska, and Andrzej Grabowski.
A bridegroom is possessed by an unquiet spirit in the midst of his own wedding celebration, in this clever take on the Jewish legend of the dybbuk.
MAY 24, TUESDAY
Director Penny Lane.
The mostly true story of Dr. John Romulus Brinkley, an eccentric genius who built an empire with his goat-testicle impotence cure and a million-watt radio station.
5:30pm Contemporary Color
Directors The Ross Brothers.
In the summer of 2015, legendary musician David Byrne staged an event at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center to celebrate the art of Color Guard: synchronized dance routines involving flags, rifles, and sabers. Recruiting performers that include the likes of St. Vincent, Nelly Furtado, Ad-Rock, and Ira Glass to collaborate on original pieces with 10 color guard teams from across the US and Canada, Contemporary Color is a beautifully filmed snapshot of a one-of-a-kind live event.
7:30pm The Other Half
Writer and director Joey Klein. With Tatiana Maslany, Tom Cullen, Henry Czerny, Suzanne Clement, and Mark Rendall.
A bipolar woman and a grief-stricken man struggle to forge a simple life.
9:45pm The Blackcoat’s Daughter
Writer and director Oz Perkins. With Kiernan Shipka, Lucy Boynton, Emma Roberts, Lauren Holly and James Remar.
Stranded on campus during winter break, two students at an all-girls boarding school struggle with sinister visions. Meanwhile, a woman hitchhiking toward the school catches a ride with a seemingly good-natured couple (James Remar and Lauren Holly).
MAY 25, WEDNESDAY
3:30pm Goat (encore)
5:30pm The Fits
Director and co-writer Anna Rose Holmer. With Royalty Hightower, Alexis Neblett and Makyla Burnam.
While training at the gym, 11-year-old tomboy Toni becomes entranced with a dance troupe. As she struggles to fit in, she finds herself caught up in danger as the group begins to suffer from fainting spells and other violent fits.
7:30pm In a Valley of Violence
Writer-director Ti West (in person). With Ethan Hawke, John Travolta, Karen Gillan, Taissa Farmiga, Burn Gorman, James Ransone, Toby Huss and Larry Fessenden.
A mysterious stranger and a random act of violence drag a town of misfits and nitwits into the bloody crosshairs of revenge.
10pm Dark Night
Writer and director Tim Sutton. With Anna Rose Hopkins, Robert Jumper and Karina Macias. The lives of six strangers intersect at a suburban Cineplex where a massacre occurs.
MAY 26, THURSDAY
2pm Beauty and the Beast (encore)
4pm American Fable (encore)
6pm First Girl I Loved
Writer and director Kerem Sanga. With Dylan Gelula (in Pepson), Brianna Hildebrand, Cameron Esposito, Tim Heidecker, Mateo Arias,and Pamela Adlon.
Seventeen-year-old Anne just fell in love with Sasha, the most popular girl at her LA public high school. But when Anne tells her best friend Clifton–who has always harbored a secret crush–he does his best to get in the way.
Writers Sharon Greene (in person) & Logan Kibens (in person); Director Logan Kibens. With Martin Starr (in person), Mae Whitman, Nat Faxon, Cameron Esposito, Retta and Christine Lahti.
Joe, a programmer and obsessive self-quantifier, and Emily, a budding comedy performer, are happily married until they decide to use one another in their work. The film was shot entirely in Chicago and features the Neo-Futurist theater company and their long-running show “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind” quite prominently.
Hope to see you there. Tickets for all festival screenings, as well as Full Festival Passes, can be purchased at the Music Box Theatre’s CCFF page.