Discover more from 812: Film Reviews and Other Musings
8 Films To Watch At Chicago Critics Film Festival
CCFF Celebrates Its 10th Anniversary With a Stellar Lineup
I say it every year, but the Chicago Critics Film Festival is my favorite festival. The only film festival programmed exclusively by critics takes place at the resplendent Music Box Theater for its tenth iteration, and maybe it’s best. I’m of course a little biased, as I am one of the programmers. But having seen some of the films in this lineup at other festivals like TIFF and Sundance, gives me confidence that some of the best films of the year are contained among this collection of movies that manage to touch issues of gender, race, sexuality, love, death, and technology in run times as short as a few minutes and as long as three hours.
So to give you a primer of the titles I’m most exited about—I’m restricting this to only films I’ve seen, although I’m really forward to something like Ted Geoghegan’s Brooklyn 45 too—I’ve decided to do a top 8 of can’t skip, absolute must-watches that’ll make you kick yourself if you’re not at the Music Box that night.
Bring a rowboat. Because you’ll need it to navigate the stream of tears coming from the theater.
Aching, forlorn, humorous, and without a single false note, writer/director Celine Song’s directorial debut annihilated me at Sundance. The story of two friends separated at childhood when one leaves their South Korean homeland for America, only to reunite years later in New York City, is usually the stuff of Hollywood cliché. Through her controlled compositions, sharp editing, a tremendous cast, and an airtight script, however, Song subverts, diverts, and upends every single cliché, reinventing and inventing new feelings, for one of the year’s best movies.
It’s screening on Tuesday, May 9 with Song in attendance for a Q&A.
The best episode that Atlanta never made is writer/director Jarreau Carrillo’s short form comedy about a Black man who’s just trying to get away from the city on his day off. While the absurdist comedic timbre matches Donald Glover’s series, the primary situation reminded me a lot of the ending to Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep, a film that similarly sees a group of Black folks trying to depart from their milieu only to be sidetracked by a broken down car.
It’s screening as part of the Shorts Program 1 on Saturday, May 6.
And the king said, what a Fantastic Machine
I feel like co-directors Axel Danielson and Maximilien Van Aertryck’s incisive documentary was criminally slept on during Sundance. Even on my laptop screen, the hilarious and clear-eyed editing, which traces our manipulation of the image for instant gratification (a subject becoming more pertinent with the rise of AI technology), juxtaposes history, reality television, cable news, social media, and more with such clear-sightedness I can’t fathom how people won’t come out of this screening wanting to devour the film and its tremendously elongated title again.
It’s screening on Wednesday, May 10.
Origin stories about corporations have proliferated the cinemas: Ben Affleck’s Air, Jon S Baird’s Tetris, and Eva Longoria’s Flamin’ Hot—but nothing feels as endearing and truthful as Matt Johnson’s Blackberry. Following a band of outsiders taken over by a capitalistic shark, this nerdy team achieves their dream of developing a pocket-sized computer that will revolutionize the world. As their success mounts, they in the process, however, do lose their souls. This film does well not to proselytize corporate greed while remaining lighthearted and easygoing (and very Canadian!).
It’s screening on Friday, May 5 with Johnson in attendance for a Q&A.
D. Smith’s rich, black and white documentary shot through Sundance like a lightning bolt of life-affirming glee. With frivolity, four Black transgender sex workers take us through their daily lives and explain the expectations of Black masculinity that make it difficult for many Black men to admit their attraction to transgender men and women. It’s therefore a greater tragedy that recently, Koko Da Doll, one of the film’s stars, was fatally shot in Atlanta—putting a somber note on such a joyous film. For the screening, Chicago Critics Film Festival has pledged to donate a portion of the ticket sales to Brave Space Alliance, an LGBTQIA center located on the South Side of Chicago.
It’s screening on Tuesday, May 9.
With the passage of Section 28 (an anti-gay law prohibiting the promoting of homosexuality passed in England in 1988) looming, PE teacher Jean (Rosy McEwen) battles to maintain her lesbian relationship and give guidance to a new lesbian student in her gym class, without losing her career due to her sexuality. The writer/director Georgia Oakley’s subtle character study takes aim at the nuance faced by queer people who were forced to be closeted due to institutionalized homophobia, and the ways such laws wrecked the emotions and inner lives of those affected.
It’s screening on Tuesday, May 9.
God, I just adore this film. I saw Clement Virgo’s story about two brothers, opposites in every way except their love for each other, who are torn apart by the vicious police state that inflicts their neighborhood. Gorgeous photography, a sumptuous score, and controlled performances by an adept ensemble tell how a family grapples with grief, loss, and heartache when a portion of them is cut away far too soon. It’s a film that feels particularly urgent, as these films always do, at this moment. And yet, it does not wallow in trauma. There are equal moments of joy and beauty, mournfulness and melancholy that will burrow deep inside your heart.
It’s screening on Wednesday, May 10 with Clement Virgo in attendance for a Q&A with me.
The Right Stuff
A 40th anniversary screening on 35mm of Philip Kaufman’s epic about men pushing their masculinity to limit during the space race is coming to the festival. I haven’t watched The Right Stuff since I was 15-years old, maybe? It was one of my father’s favorites. And I’ve never seen it on the big screen. With all of the rockets, the chiseled faces of Ed Harris, Sam Shepard, and Scott Glenn, the interplay between wide vistas and shots within claustrophobic cockpits—I can’t think of many films that’ll look as awe-inspiring (like touching the face of god) as this one on the Music Box Theater’s luminous screen.
It’s screening on Monday, May 8.
If all of these titles excite you, then consider buying a pass for the festival so you get these, plus a few more. Passes can be purchased, here. And I hope, that if you see me around, you’re not afraid to say hello and to tell me what you ended up seeing.