I've been lucky enough to have seen quite a few of the more than 130 features being shown over the next two weeks as part of the 49th Chicago International Film Festival. As many top-notch, more recognizable films being shown that you might have actually heard of, the best part of any festival like this is taking a chance on something you may never get to see again. Allow me to name drop a few titles, some of which I've seen, others I'm offering up based on reputation.
Let's begin with the biggest of the bunch: the Festival Centerpiece, the latest from director Alexander Payne, NEBRASKA, a glorious and frustrating story about a father and son (Bruce Dern and Will Forte) traveling from Billings, Montana, to Lincoln, Nebraska, because the father thinks he's won a sweepstake. I'll be moderating the Q&A with Dern, so don't miss it. The Closing Night Gala belongs to the latest from the Coen Brothers, the musically inclined INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, starring Oscar Isaac (who will be attending), Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake, in a story set in the early-1960s folk scene.
Among the other highlights are conversations/appearances with film legends like Italian horror master Dario Argento with his DRACULA 3D; filmmaker George Tillman Jr. with his film THE INVEVITABLE DEFEAT OF MISTER AND PETE; Geoffrey Rush in THE BOOK THIEF; the great stuntwoman-turned-actor Zoe Bell with the girlfight horror film RAZE; filmmaker Ti West and his acclaimed new work THE SACREMENT; and Chicago native and renowned cinematographer Haskell Wexler, after a screening of his classic Chicago-shot and digitally restored MEDIUM COOL.
Other Chicagoans making appearances include actor Pat Healy in the subversive CHEAP THRILLS (I'll also be moderating this); filmmaker John McNaughton and actor Michael Shannon with their new film THE HARVEST; Harry Lennix in H4, a take on Shakespeare's "Henry IV, Part 1 &2"; and Steppenwolf's Amy Morton in BLUEBIRD.
Wildly popular actor Benedict Cumberbatch (STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS) is amply represented with three offerings, including THE FIFTH ESTATE, in which he plays Wikileaks founder Julian Assange; AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY, based on the play by and adapted by Tracy Letts; and the latest work from director Steve McQueen, the powerful and violent 12 YEARS A SLAVE.
A few other things to consider include Steve Coogan's work in ALAN PARTRIDGE: ALPHA PAPA and opposite Judi Dench in PHILOMENA; the latest marathon documentary from Frederick Weisman, AT BERKELEY; the festival favorite dark comedy BIG BAD WOLVES (I'll be moderating the Q&A with director Aharon Keshales); the moving three-hour lesbian love story BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR; the incredible revenge thriller BLUE RUIN; the uplifting documentary BRAVE MISS WORLD, about former Miss World Linor Abargil, who was raped just a couple of weeks before the competition she won; one of the funniest films I've seen all year, the documentary ELAINE STRITCH: SHOOT ME; the chilling and unexpected doc I WILL BE MURDERED, about the politically based killing of a famous attorney in Venezuela; Errol Morris' latest doc, THE UNKNOWN KNOWN; the solid look at teenage angst and coming of age in France, PIECES OF ME; the difficult doc TOUGH BOND about street kids in Nairobi, most of whom are addicted to glue; the smart and biting LE WEEK-END, about an elderly British couple vacationing in Paris and venting about their unsatisfying lives together; and the Lech Walesa biopic from Polish director Andrzej Wajda, WALESA: MAN OF HOPE.
In addition, there are seven shorts programs, an aggressive and mostly great After Dark program for genre fans, and spotlights on African cinema, comedy, new directors, fundraising, and so much more. I've said it before, but it worth saying again: this year's line up is one of the best in the last decade at least, and I can't wait to sample more. And I'll be doing longer reviews over the next few weeks of some of the festival offerings. Stay tuned…