Our Preview of the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival

The 53rd edition of the Chicago International Film Festival is upon us, beginning tonight (and continuing through October 26), with the Chicago premiere of the historical courtroom drama Marshall, from director Reginald Hudlin. He’ll be in attendance, along with cast members Chadwick Boseman (who plays an early-career Thurgood Marshall, the civil rights attorney who would go on to become the first African-American Supreme Court Chief Justice), Josh Gad, Sterling K. Brown, as well as producer Paula Wagner. (See my full review here.) The event takes place at AMC River East 21 (322 E. Illinois), where all Chicago Film Festival screenings happen once again this year.

The festival’s other major screening events include the Centerpiece film Lady Bird (on October 18), the directing debut from actress Greta Gerwig starring Saoirse Ronan, Steppenwolf Theatre ensemble members Laurie Metcalf and Tracy Letts, the latter of which will be on hand representing the film. The Chicago theatrical community is also represented on Closing Night (October 26), where director Guillermo del Toro’s festival-circuit sensation The Shape of Water will screen, with co-star and Oscar-nominee Michael Shannon in attendance to receive a Festival tribute.

The festival also plans tributes this year to a host of great actors, including Logan and Green Room star Sir Patrick Stewart (October 25); 12 Years a Slave’s Alfre Woodard (October 21), who will be give a Career Achievement Award as part of the 21st edition of the festival’s Black Perspectives Program; and Oscar-winner Vanessa Redgrave (Oct. 16), who will also be on hand for screenings of her landmark 1966 film Blow-Up and her directorial debut, the documentary Sea Sorrow. Redgrave will receive a special Visionary Award in conjunction with her movie.

The Festival’s Spotlight theme this year is International Film Noir, which includes 10 titles that “reflect times of political corruption, moral ambiguity, and pervasive dread,” according to the programmers. The lineup features four U.S. films, including a restoration of director-star Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (the only vintage title in the spotlight, showing October 22), followed by a conversation with restoration consultant and Chicago film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum. Works from China, Thailand, Italy, Belgium and Hungary round out the program, with the most intriguing title being documentary director Errol Morris’ six-part, 256-minute, doc/feature hybrid series for Netflix, Wormwood (screening October 22; set to premiere in mid-December).

As it did two years ago, the festival, with support from the Chicago Architecture Biennial, will present an additional, six-film spotlight on Architecture, with titles that are either about the practice or feature architecture prominently on the big screen. In addition, CIFF presents additional architecture-themed movies for free throughout the festival at at venues such as the Chicago History Museum, the Chicago Cultural Center, and the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture.

Over the course of the next week or so, the Third Coast Review film team will cover the festival through capsule reviews of many of the featured films. In the meantime, other high-profile works to keep an eye on during the latest edition of the Chicago International Film Festival include:

Borg/McEnroe, the Swedish on the rivalry between tennis champ Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe;

Call Me By Your Name, which is already generating awards buzz; from director Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love), from a screenplay by James Ivory;

Last Flag Flying, from director Richard Linklater (Boyhood), starring Steve Carrell, Bryan Cranston, and Laurence Fishburne; a worthy spiritual sequel to The Last Detail;

Breathe, the directing debut from actor and motion-capture guru Andy Serkis, starring Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy;

Mudbound, the Sundance hit, set in 1940s Mississippi and starring Mary J. Blige and Carey Mulligan;

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, from writer-director and legendary playwright Martin McDonagh, starring Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson;

Jane, the remarkable documentary made up almost entirely of lost footage of naturalist Jane Goodall’s first research expedition among chimpanzees. From director Brett Morgan (The Kid Stays in the Picture);

In the Fade, from Germany and starring Diane Kruger, who won the Best Actress prize at Cannes this year;

Let the Sunshine In, from one of France’s greatest filmmakers, Claire Denis, and starring Juliette Binoche;

Racer and the Jailbird, from Belgium’s Michael R. Roskam (the Oscar-nominated Bullhead), and starring the best-looking couple on film, Matthias Schoenaerts and Adèle Exarchopoulos;

The Whiskey Bandit, from Hungarian filmmaker Nimrod Antal, who returns to his homeland after a stint at making films in America;

Thoroughbreds, another Sundance favorite from director Corey Finley, featuring one of final roles from Anton Yelchin, as well as co-stars Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke;

Creep 2, following up his feature debut (which also played at the Chicago festival), director Patrick Brice returns with actor Mark Duplass, this time attempting to terrify Desiree Akhavan; and

The Endless, from directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (Spring), who also happen to star in this trippy, end-of-the-world (?) thriller.

The full schedule for the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival, as well as descriptions of all films and special events, can be found here. Watch this space for all of Third Coast Review’s coverage.

Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

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