Friday, May 4, 2018

10 Movies to See at the 2018 Chicago Critics Film Festival

by Patrick Bromley
It's one of the best movie weeks of the year!

This year's Chicago Critics Film Festival -- the only film festival in the world programmed completely by a critic body -- kicks off tonight with Fast Color starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw. It's the first of over 25 films that will screen over six days at Chicago's Music Box Theatre.

Those of you who have been reading this site for several years know that I have been attending CCFF since its very first year in 2013, when it took place over the span of a single weekend and I was not yet a member of the CFCA. Though I have since joined the CFCA, I don't have a role in programming the fest, meaning none of the films have been chosen by me. That doesn't matter. Every year I've attended has been one of my favorite movie-watching weeks of that year, leading me to discover a number of films I have loved and a bunch of others I'm at least happy to have seen.

This year marks the 6th annual festival, and if you're anywhere near Chicago you need to come out for a movie or 10. Here's a list comprised of some films that I've already seen and want to champion and some of the titles I'm looking forward to checking out most:

1. Support the Girls (dir. Andrew Andrew Bujalski)
Writer/director Andrew Bujalski's last movie Results screened at CCFF in 2015, so it's cool to see his follow-up programmed into this year's fest. It's another deep dive into a small subculture, only this time instead of a computer chess tournament or personal trainers, it's the goings on at a Hooters-style restaurant in Texas called Double Whammies. Regina Hall gives yet another quietly great performance as the manager of the restaurant, and the movie basically follows a day in its operation, introducing us to a wide cast of characters and finding drama in the mundane. Support the Girls would be good and relevant any time, but, just as the title suggests, feels more necessary now in the #MeToo movement than ever before, from its conversations about respect to its varied portrayals of female identity to, above all, its great final shot. (Screens Friday, May 4 at 9 pm & Thursday, May 10 at 4 pm)

2. Three Identical Strangers (dir. Tim Wardle)
Three identical triplets, separated at birth, reconnect as adults and discover a dark secret. That's the brief synopsis for director Tim Wardle's documentary of what I believe is a pretty high profile case, though one with which I have no familiarity. That's good. It's as much as I want to know. That means I can go into this doc a blank slate and let it unfold before me, the way so many of my favorite documentaries are unable to do.  (Screens Tuesday, May 8 at 5 pm and Wednesday, May 9 at 3 pm)

3. First Reformed (dir. Paul Schrader)
A new Paul Schrader movie is always worth seeing, and the fact that Paul Schrader is going to actually be in attendance at this screening of his latest film makes being there that much more necessary. Ethan Hawke, whose present-day career in genre films has been so cool to watch, plays a pastor in what is being billed as a thriller with possibly supernatural overtones. I have no idea how much of a horror movie this is; if a trailer exists, I haven't watched it because I like going into these films knowing as little as possible. My points still stand: Paul Schrader, Ethan Hawke, maybe horror. I'm in. You should be too. (Screens Monday, May 7 at 7:15 pm)

4. Bodied (dir. Joseph Kahn)
Here's a movie that's been blowing the roof off of every festival it's played, winning audience awards and getting hyped up like crazy online. It's the story of a geeky white grad student (Calum Worthy) who enters into the world of competitive rap battling, told in director Joseph Kahn's usual high-energy style, put to its best use to date (and produced by Eminem, who also worked on the music). This is the kind of movie that should be seen with a big crowd that isn't sure how to react, so make sure you're there for the Chicago premiere during the fest. Director Kahn will be there in person, too, which means you'll be able to get all your pressing Torque questions answered. (Screens Saturday, May 5 at 7 pm)

5. Abducted in Plain Sight (dir. Skye Borgman)
As we've seen in documentary after documentary, the craziest stories are so often the true ones. That's the case with Abducted in Plain Sight, which recounts how a young girl was kidnapped by a close family friend not once but twice. As the story comes to light, there are so many more details that make the story more impossible, more incredible, more heartbreaking. Constructed more or less entirely of present-day interviews with the family members (and some old home movie reenactment footage), Abducted isn't a great film so much as it is a fascinating story and a tragic portrait of mistakes and regret. (Screens Thursday, May 10 at 6 pm)

6. Revenge (dir. Coralie Fargeat)
Of all the films I've not yet seen at this year's fest, this is the one I'm most excited about. This year's programming isn't especially genre heavy, so of course this one is very much my speed, but I've also heard nothing but good things about it since it began making the rounds last year. Those of you who can't make the Revenge screenings at the fest needn't worry; it's going to premiere on Shudder very soon. I still want the chance to see it on the big screen. (Screens Friday, May 4 at midnight and Monday, May 7 at 3 pm)

7. Hal (dir. Amy Scott)
I haven't seen this documentary about the great Hal Ashby, but I'm excited to learn more about this enigmatic filmmaker whose work I love despite never having quite been able to articulate what makes a "Hal Ashby movie." Hopefully this doc sheds some light on that. I'm a sucker for filmmaker documentaries, too, which always have the effect of making me want to go home and watch that director's entire filmography. I suspect this one will be no different. (Screens Monday May 7 at 9:45 pm)

8. A Kid Like Jake (dir. Silas Howard)
Claire Danes and Jim Parsons star as the parents of a young boy who, as the synopsis puts it, is more interested in playing princesses than playing cars. This may sound like indie twee stuff for some of you, but I suspect this will hit close to home thanks to a family I know and with whom I am close. I like the idea of seeing this story dramatized in what I hope is a very human and sensitive way. We all need that right now. (Screens Wednesday, May 9 at 5 pm)

9. Damsel (dir. Nathan and David Zellner)
The directors of Kumiko the Treasure Hunter return with another offbeat effort, this time a riff on the American western. Robert Pattinson continues to reinvent himself with every performance, here playing a lovelorn young man who teams up with a drunk so he can marry the woman he loves, played by the always dependable Mia Wasikowska. This is a movie full of surprises, subverting almost every trope of the western on its way to being something eccentric and funny and totally original. It reminds a lot of Slow West, another movie I saw at CCFF back in 2015. I mean that as pretty high praise. (Screens Sunday, May 6, at 7:15 pm)

10. Eighth Grade (dir. Bo Burnham)
Comedian and musician Bo Burnham makes his directorial debut with this, the closing night selection of the fest. It's another coming of age comedy about how it sucks to be young -- recognizable in everything from Lady Bird to Welcome to the Dollhouse -- but has been received very well at other fests and promises to be sharp and funny and honest. Burnham will in attendance for the screening.(Screens Thursday, May 10 at 8:30 pm)

You can view the full schedule for CCFF here and buy your tickets here.


  1. Goddamn you Mr Bromley, I had only planned on seeing one or two of these but now I'll be seeing a lot more.