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See Aubrey Plaza's Naughty Nun, Revisit 'Southland Tales' & More At Chicago Critics Film Fest

By Joel Wicklund in Arts & Entertainment on May 11, 2017 2:40PM

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Kate Micucci, Alison Brie and Aubrey Plaza in "The Little Hours." (Photo: Gunpowder & Sky)

Entering its fifth year, the Chicago Critics Film Festival (May 12 to 18 at the Music Box Theatre) looks like it has legs—no small achievement in a city with as many movie fests as ours hosts. It's been hard to peg exactly what this festival's niche is, but they seem to have found one.

American independent films and documentaries have dominated CCFF schedules, but foreign films have also had a presence. The festival site describes the event as "a selection of films comprised of recent festival favorites and as-yet-undistributed works from a wide variety of filmmakers," but the eclectic programming can't be reduced to a "best of" sampler from Sundance, South by Southwest, etc.

Organized and programmed by members of the Chicago Film Critics Association, CCFF's defining quality might simply be "worthy indie movies other area festivals didn't book." Good enough for me. As low-to-medium budget productions are increasingly expected to find their place on home-viewing platforms, it's nice to have an event where more of these kinds of movies can be shared as theatrical experiences.

Chicagoist didn't have the chance to preview many of the films playing this year, but there are definitely several enticing features on the roster. Here are a few potential highlights.

The Little Hours (Friday, May 12)
Raunchy comedies are a dime a dozen these days, but a raunchy comedy drawn from 14th century literature is certainly a novelty. Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie, Kate Micucci and Molly Shannon play nuns not exactly living up to their vows in a film loosely drawn from stories in The Decameron. The cast is packed with comedy favorites, including John C. Reilly, Nick Offerman, Fred Armisen, Paul Reiser and Dave Franco. Plaza, Micucci and director Jeff Baena will appear for a Q&A session.

Score: A Film Music Documentary (Saturday, May 13)
Considering how vital musical scores are to the success of most films, a multi-part television series would have trouble even scratching the surface on the topic, let alone a 93-minute documentary. Still, the interview subjects comprise an awfully impressive lineup here: Howard Shore, Quincy Jones, Hans Zimmer, Randy Newman, Trent Reznor, Thomas Newman, John Williams, Danny Elfman and many more. Definitive or not, this looks like a must-see for anyone who appreciates what composers bring to cinema.

Southland Tales (Saturday, May 13)
Richard Kelly's epic, scattershot 2006 satire is remembered more for its wild ambition than successful execution, but as with many films dismissed in their time, it has earned a small army of defenders in the intervening years. The anything-goes cast features Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Sarah "Buffy" Michelle Gellar, Justin Timberlake, actor and playwright Wallace Shawn, fanboy god Kevin Smith, and several Saturday Night Live alumni. Whether you loved the movie or hated it upon first release, anything coming from the creator of Donnie Darko is probably worth revisiting. Kelly will appear for a Q&A session.

Harry Dean Stanton in "Lucky." (Photo: Magnolia Pictures International)

Lucky (Saturday, May 13 and Thursday, May 18)
John Carroll Lynch has been stealing scenes in movies for over two decades, whether as gentle comic relief (playing Frances McDormand's husband in Fargo) or a figure of slow-burning menace (a chief suspect in Zodiac). Now, with his directorial debut, this top-notch character actor showcases a legend in his field: Harry Dean Stanton. The 90-year-old Stanton plays an elderly atheist living in a remote desert town in this film that reportedly reflects parts of Stanton's own life. Need another selling point? The movie co-stars cinema maverick and transcendental meditation proselytizer David Lynch (no relation to John Carroll), who has made several films with Stanton. John Carroll Lynch will appear for a Q&A session at the May 13 screening.

The Hero (Sunday, May 14)
Who doesn't love Sam Elliott? Whether getting his ass kicked in Road House, waxing philosophic in The Big Lebowski, or appearing in more Westerns than seems possible in these lean times for the genre, Elliott's gruff but laidback presence, inimitable voice and superb mustache improve any film he appears in. The Hero is a vehicle tailored for Elliott. He plays an aging actor with a fading career and a cancer diagnosis to tackle. Director Brett Haley appears for a Q&A.

Because the World Never Stops
Part of "Shorts Program 2" (Sunday, May 14)
The shorts program Chicagoist previewed featured several entertaining films, but this amusing assemblage of on- and off-camera footage from a Swedish television newscast may be the highlight. Capturing the innocuous comments, moments of tedium and just plain odd asides shared among the news personalities, it exposes the artificial and shallow nature of much of so much so-called journalism on the airwaves.

Chicagoist had advance peeks at the dark kidnapping comedy Take Me (Monday, May 15) and the offbeat German drama Wild (Tuesday, May 16). Though it has energetic performances from Taylor Schilling and Chicago's own Pat Healy (who also directed), Take Me never really lands as either a discomforting black comedy or modern-day screwball comedy. Wild begins intriguingly but descends into an unpleasant borderline bestiality fantasy. Take a pass on those two in favor of the promise of the above-mentioned features or others on the docket.

Closing night feature A Ghost Story, starring recent Oscar-winner Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, has generated plenty of buzz since its Sundance Film Festival premiere in January. It will be getting a substantial release in July, however, so you might want to wait on that and prioritize movies less likely to show at a theater near you.

See the complete Chicago Critics Film Festival schedule here.