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Full Chicago International Film Fest Schedule Is Out: Plan Your Cinema Gorging Accordingly

By Joel Wicklund in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 20, 2014 4:00PM

John Hawkes in a scene from Low Down, courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories.

Earlier this week, the Chicago International Film Festival announced its complete schedule for its 50th anniversary edition. Now, hard decisions must be made by local movie lovers without the free time or budget to see the more than 150 features, 68 shorts, and many special events on tap.

Inevitably, focus tends to be on festival selections already getting a lot of critical acclaim or marketing-generated buzz. But though I'm eager to see Michael Keaton in Alejandro González Iñárritu's Birdman; Bill Murray in St. Vincent; and Reese Witherspoon in Jean-Marc Vallée's follow-up to Dallas Buyers' Club, Wild, all those movies have guaranteed future play dates at area theaters.

And while you might want to attend opening night attraction Miss Julie just to see director Liv Ullmann in person—with Jessica Chastain and Colin Farrell heading the cast (not to mention Ullmann's Bergman pedigree)—the movie itself is another sure thing for a later theatrical opening.

Unless seeing movies before the masses is your main kick, skip the buzz films and seek out movies you've heard little about.

With the variances of film distribution and independent theater bookings, there's no way to know everything that will open later. The greatest value of the fest, though, is the chance to catch something you may never see on the big screen outside of the event.

Stellan Skarsgard in “In Order of Disappearance.” (Photo by Phillip Øgaard, courtesy of Nordisk Fimdistribusjon.)

Several highlights were mentioned here when CIFF gave a sneak preview of its schedule, but the full lineup has revealed many more intriguing options:

  • French-Canadian writer-director Denys Arcand (The Barbarian Invasions, Jesus of Montreal, Love and Human Remains) returns with An Eye for Beauty, a drama about marital infidelity that marks his first feature in seven years.
  • A dark comic thriller, In Order of Disappearance reunites Norwegian filmmaker Hans Petter Molland with Stellan Skarsgard, who also starred in Molland's Zero Kelvin, Aberdeen and A Somewhat Gentle Man.
  • David Robert Mitchell's supernatural chiller, It Follows, has drawn comparisons to both Val Lewton's classic psychological horror films and John Carpenter's Halloween. High praise indeed!
  • Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles features interviews with Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, Steven Spielberg and other notables, along with extensive archival footage, in a documentary portrait of the problematic genius of stage, screen and radio.
  • Early festival reviews for Low Down have been mixed, but a lead performance by the exceptional John Hawkes (The Sessions, Martha Marcy Mae Marlene, Winter's Bone) makes this biography of jazz musician Joe Albany enticing.
  • French director Claude Lelouch is best known for 1966's A Man and a Woman, but his excellent, slow-burn thriller Roman de Gare (2007) showed a veteran craftsman in top form. His latest, We Love You, Bastard, stars French pop music icon Johnny Hallyday, Sandrine Bonnaire (La Ceremonie, Monsieur Hire) and Irene Jacob (Krzysztof Kieslowski's Red).

Scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s 'Jamaica Inn.'

With more revivals than usual included as part of the 50th anniversary celebration, there are also several return visits worth noting:

  • Alfred Hitchcock's Jamaica Inn (1939).
  • George Cukor's A Star Is Born (1954). This will be the somewhat controversial 1983 restoration, with still photos used to fill in missing footage.
  • Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander (1982).
  • Michael Moore's Roger & Me (1989).
  • Lars von Trier's Breaking the Waves (1996).
  • Michael Haneke's The Piano Teacher (2001), showing as part of an Isabelle Huppert tribute.

Though CIFF is a global festival, local filmmakers do get a bit of the spotlight. This year's schedule includes This Afternoon, from micro-budget filmmaker Stephen Cone (recently profiled by the Tribune's Michael Phillips); and two works by veteran Columbia College film department staffers: Michael Caplan's Algren, a documentary about famed Chicago author Nelson Algren; and Josef Steiff's drama, The Other One.

Red carpet events at CIFF never quite make it "Cannes on Lake Michigan," but well-known performers and filmmakers always attend. In addition to Ullmann and Isabelle Huppert (subject of a four-film tribute), expected guests to include actress Kathleen Turner and directors Taylor Hackford, Bob Rafelson, Michael Moore and Oliver Stone.

Controversy magnets Moore and Stone are sure to attract a crowd, but for my money the auteur event of the festival belongs to Rafelson.

A true maverick too often overlooked, Rafelson directed the landmark American movies Five Easy Pieces and The King of Marvin Gardens (with Jack Nicholson's breakthrough roles as a leading man) as well as such underrated gems as Stay Hungry, Mountains of the Moon and Blood and Wine.

He was also one of the creators of The Monkees TV series, and both directed and co-wrote (with Nicholson) the band's memorably bizarre feature film, Head. Rafelson hosts a master class at Columbia College that includes a screening of Mountains of the Moon, as well as a presentation of award-winning shorts from Action4Climate, a competition to raise awareness of climate change.

The Chicago International Film Festival runs Oct. 9-23, with most screenings and events at AMC's River East 21 theaters (322 E. Illinois St.). The complete schedule and ticket information are available here.