Preview: 6th Annual Chicago Critics Film Festival

In my 20-plus years as a film critic, I’ve been very fortunate to be a part of some truly great events. But few have been more fun or more rewarding than assisting in pulling together and bringing to life the annual Chicago Critics Film Festival, a weeklong event celebrating its sixth year in 2018, and taking place once again at the Music Box Theatre, from May 4-10.

Eighth Grade
Eighth Grade closes the 6th annual Chicago Critics Film Festival. Image courtesy of a24.

Organized by my hard-working fellow members of the Chicago Film Critics Association, this year’s CCFF collects more than 25 programs selected with care by some of the most respected film journalists in the city. Included are a festival-record four documentaries (Abducted in Plain Sight; Hal, about the career of legendary filmmaker Hal Ashby; the animated Liyana; and Three Identical Strangers, a jury prize winner at Sundance); presentations of two exceptional 35mm prints—a 25th Anniversary screening of Jurassic Park and Yasujiro Ozu’s 1933 silent film Woman of Tokyo, co-presented by the Chicago Film Society; and two short film programs, scheduled to screen on Sunday, May 6 and Monday, May 7.

All of the features are receiving their Chicago premieres at this event, which remains the only such festival curated and produced by film critics. Each of these films was selected by a member or members of the CFCA after seeing it at a festival in the last year (such as Toronto, Sundance, SXSW, etc.) or having it submitted by someone connected to the production. As this event was being conceived, we all agreed that pointing our readers to great movies was our primary goal. But almost as important was spotlighting works that might not have the benefit of big-studio marketing dollars. Yes, some of these works already have release dates; but several do not, so this may be your only chance to see these films on the big screen.

As always, we have an incredible array of special guests, including Opening Night (May 4) guests Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle, A Wrinkle in Time) and producer/co-writer Jordan Horowitz (La La Land) with their film Fast Color. It’s a favorite from the SXSW Film Festival, about a woman whose superhero powers send her on the run. The festival’s Closing Night (May 10) selection is the official Sundance selection Eighth Grade, written and directed by Bo Burnham (also in attendance) and starring Elsie Fisher (Despicable Me) as a middle schooler enduring the tidal wave of contemporary suburban adolescence as she survives the last week of the school year before officially making it to high school.

The full festival schedule, links to buy tickets, a PDF of the festival program, and all additional information about the Chicago Critics Film Festival can be found at the Official Website and via Music Box Theatre. Here’s the final line-up (all guests are indicated in the cast & crew list of each film):


Fast Color
Image courtesy of Chicago Critics Film Festival

7pm Fast Color

Directed by Julia Hart; Written by Julia Hart & Jordan Horowitz (In Person). Starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw (In Person), Lorraine Toussaint, Christopher Denham, and David Strathairn

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.

9:30pm Support the Girls

Directed by Andrew Bujalski. Starring Regina Hall, Haley Lu Richardson, and Dylan Gelula

Lisa Conroy is the last person you’d expect to find in a highway-side “sports bar with curves,” but as general manager at Double Whammies, she’s come to love the place and its customers. An incurable den mother, she nurtures and protects her girls fiercely, but over the course of one trying day, her optimism is battered from every direction. Double Whammies sells a big, weird American fantasy, but what happens when reality pokes a bunch of holes in it?

11:59pm Revenge

Directed by Coralie Fargeat. Starring Matilda Lutz, Kevin Janssens, and Vincent Colombe

Jen joins her married lover, Richard, for a romp at his secluded desert villa before his annual hunting vacation. However, when his leering pals arrive, they’re a far cry from Richard’s millionaire-Adonis charms, and they feel entitled to make their own advances on Jen and ignore her rejections. Things get dramatically out of hand… and the hunting game turns into a ruthless manhunt.


11:30am Woman of Tokyo

Directed by Yasujirô Ozu. Starring: Yoshiko Okada, Ureo Egawa, Kinuyo Tanaka

Plus: A Straightforward Boy [Surviving Fragment] (Yasujiro Ozu, 1929)

Co-presented with the Chicago Film Society

Although the Japanese film industry converted to sound a few years prior, silent cinema continued to present opportunities for experimentation and refinement for Ozu. Two pairs of adult siblings attempt to eke out a living in Tokyo: a university student shares an apartment with the sister who pays for his education through office work while his girlfriend lives with her policeman brother. When the cop learns that the typist may be supplementing her income with disreputable side gigs, he inadvertently ruins one life and another in turn. This staunchly feminist tragedy envisions gender roles as pernicious traps for men and women alike.

1:15pm Liyana

Directed by Aaron Kopp and Amanda Kopp.

A Swazi girl embarks on a dangerous quest to rescue her young twin brothers. This animated African tale is born in the imaginations of five orphaned children in Swaziland who collaborate to tell a story of perseverance drawn from their darkest memories and brightest dreams. Their fictional character’s journey is interwoven with poetic and observational documentary scenes to create a genre-defying celebration of collective storytelling.

3pm We the Animals

Directed by Jeremiah Zagar. Starring Evan Rosado, Raúl Castillo, and Sheila Vand

Manny, Joel and Jonah tear their way through childhood and push against the volatile love of their parents. As Manny and Joel grow into versions of their father and Ma dreams of escape, Jonah embraces an imagined world all his own.

5pm The Guilty

Directed by Gustav Möller. Starring Jakob Cedergren, Jessica Dinnage, and Omar Shargawi

When police officer Asger Holm is demoted to desk work, he expects a sleepy beat as an emergency dispatcher. That all changes when he answers a panicked phone call from a kidnapped woman who then disconnects abruptly. Asger, confined to the police station, is forced to use others as his eyes and ears as the severity of the crime slowly becomes more clear. The search to find the missing woman and her assailant will take every bit of his intuition and skill, as a ticking clock and his own personal demons conspire against him.

7pm Bodied

Directed by Joseph Kahn (In Person). Starring Calum Worthy, Jackie Long, and Rory Uphold

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. The film explores the dangerous spaces of the world’s most multicultural and artistically brutal sport.

9:45pm Shotgun

Directed by Hannah Marks & Joey Power. Starring Jeremy Allen White, Maika Monroe, and Marisa Tomei

Elliot is 23, lives in New York, and has no real responsibility. He spends most of his time partying with his best friend Nico. Shortly after meeting Mia, Elliot is diagnosed with a rare illness. They fall in love under the cloud of his illness, despite barely knowing each other.

11:59pm Beast

Directed by Michael Pearce. Starring Jessie Buckley, Johnny Flynn, and Geraldine James

Moll is 27 and still living at home, stifled by the small island community around her and too beholden to her family to break away. When she meets Pascal, a free-spirited stranger, a whole new world opens up to her and she begins to feel alive for the first time, falling madly in love. Finally breaking free from her family, Moll moves in with Pascal to start a new life. But when he is arrested as the key suspect in a series of brutal murders, she is left isolated and afraid. Choosing to stand with him against the suspicions of the community, Moll finds herself forced to make choices that will impact her life forever.


12pm Jurassic Park: 25th Anniversary—Presented on 35mm

Director by Steven Spielberg. Starring Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Richard Attenborough, and Jeff Goldblum

In director Steven Spielberg’s three-time Academy Award-winning blockbuster Jurassic Park, paleontologists Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler and mathematician Ian Malcolm are among a select group chosen to tour an island theme park populated by dinosaurs created from prehistoric DNA. While the park’s mastermind, billionaire John Hammond, assures everyone that the facility is safe, they find out otherwise when various ferocious predators break free and go on the hunt. The groundbreaking epic that launched one of the most popular series in cinema history was originally released in theaters on June 11, 1993.

2:30pm Shorts Program 1

See here for the complete program rundown.

4:45pm Leave No Trace

Directed by Debra Granik. Starring Ben Foster, Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, and Jeff Kober

For years, Will and his teenage daughter, Tom, have lived off the grid, blissfully undetected by authorities in a vast nature reserve on the edge of Portland, Oregon. When a chance encounter blows their cover, they’re removed from their camp and put into the charge of social services. Struggling to adapt to their new surroundings, Will and Tom set off on a perilous journey back to the wilderness, where they are finally forced to confront conflicting desires—a longing for community versus a fierce need to live apart.

7:15pm Damsel

Directed by Nathan and David Zellner (both In Person). Starring Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, David Zellner, Nathan Zellner, and Robert Forster

Samuel Alabaster, an affluent pioneer, ventures across the American Frontier to marry the love of his life, Penelope. As Samuel traverses the Wild West with a drunkard named Parson Henry 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.

9:45pm Madeline’s Madeline

Directed by Josephine Decker. Starring Helena Howard, Miranda July, and Molly Parker

Madeline is dedicated to her theatre workshop. Much to the worry of her protective mother, she has become an integral part of a prestigious, progressive, and experimental theatre troupe in the city, one that emphasizes movement, commitment, and an intense focus on authenticity. When the workshop’s ambitious theater director pushes teenage Madeline to weave her troubled history and rich interior world into their collective art, the lines between performance and reality begin to blur in surprising and potentially destructive ways, spiraling out of the safe rehearsal space and into her everyday interactions.


3pm Revenge (Encore)

5:15pm Shorts Program 2

See here for the complete program rundown.

First Reformed
Image courtesy of A24

7:15pm First Reformed

Directed by Paul Schrader (In Person). Starring Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, and Cedric the Entertainer

The pastor of a small church in upstate New York spirals out of control after a soul-shaking encounter with an unstable environmental activist and his pregnant wife in this taut, chilling thriller.

9:45pm Hal

Directed by Amy Scott

Hal is a long-overdue, feature-length documentary film celebrating the life and work of director Hal Ashby (Harold and Maude, Shampoo, Being There), set against a backdrop of a rapidly changing America, and an even more dramatic shift in filmmaking. While Ashby was once the toast of “New Hollywood,” his rise and fall became an archetypal story of art versus industry.


3pm Shotgun (Encore)

5pm Three Identical Strangers

Directed by Tim Wardle

New York, 1980: three complete strangers accidentally discover that they are identical triplets, separated at birth. The 19-year-olds’ joyous reunion catapults them to international fame, but it also unlocks an extraordinary and disturbing secret that goes beyond their own lives, and could transform our understanding of human nature forever.

7:15pm Searching

Directed by Aneesh Chaganty (In Person). Starring John Cho, Debra Messing, and Joseph Lee

After David Kim’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.

9:45pm On Chesil Beach

Directed by Dominic Cooke. Starring Saoirse Ronan, Billy Howle, and Emily Watson

Adapted by Ian McEwan from his bestselling novel, the drama centers on a young couple of drastically different backgrounds in the summer of 1962. Following the pair through their idyllic courtship, the film explores sex and the societal pressure that can accompany physical intimacy, leading to an awkward and fateful wedding night.


3pm Three Identical Strangers (Encore)

5pm A Kid Like Jake

Directed by Silas Howard. Starring Claire Danes, Jim Parsons, and Octavia Spencer

A Brooklyn couple has always known that their four-year-old son is more interested in fairy tale princesses than toy cars. But when his preschool director points out that his gender-nonconforming play may be more than a phase, the couple is forced to rethink their roles as parents and spouses.

7pm Puzzle

Directed by Marc Turtletaub (In Person). Starring Kelly Macdonald, Irrfan Khan, and David Denman

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.

9:30pm American Animals

Directed by Bart Layton. Starring Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Blake Jenner, and Ann Dowd

The extraordinary and thrilling true story of four friends living everyday lives who, desperate to break out of the ordinary, brazenly attempt to execute one of the most audacious art heists in U.S. history.


2pm The Guilty (Encore)

4pm Support the Girls (Encore)

6pm Abducted in Plain Sight

Directed by Skye Borgman (In Person)

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.

8:30pm Eighth Grade

Written and Directed by Bo Burnham (In Person). Starring Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, and Emily Robinson

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.

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 ( 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.