The 50th anniversary of the Chicago International Film Festival has officially kicked off.  From October 9th to October 23rd, films of every genre and style will run from day until night.

But with so many films to see, how does one know which ones to spend time and money on?

While you probably won’t be able to see them all, there are certain films you should not miss. Many of them have multiple screening dates and times, so that you can work the ones you want to see into your schedule, but others will show for one night only.

In many cases, sacrifices must be made. It’s hard to accept the truth.  Thus, here is my list of personal recommendations.

(This list only includes feature length films and documentaries. And of the feature films, the “classics” are not included. Check out the festival website for more details.)

St. Vincent

Date: Wednesday October 15 @ 8:15 PM
Director: Theodore Melfi, USA
Length: 103 minutes

When a recently divorced single mother (Melissa McCarthy) leaves her 12-year-old son under the watch of her retired scoundrel of a neighbor, Vincent (Bill Murray), the two develop an unexpected friendship as Vincent takes the boy with him through his daily routine full of drinking, strippers and gambling. Also, Naomi Watts stars as the pregnant stripper.

A heartfelt comedy with the now archetypal dynamic of “old man helps boy to mature, boy helps old man to see the error in his cynical ways.” Yes, we’ve seen it before…but this one has Bill Murray.

Free Fall (Szabadesés)

Date: Thursday October 16 @ 2:30 PM
Director: György Pálfi, Hungary (Hungarian with subtitles)
Length: 80 minutes

An elderly woman falls from the rooftop of her apartment building, somehow survives, and proceeds to drag herself back up the stairwell. On her way up, she witnesses a series of horrific, comedic, and surreal vignettes involving her neighbors in Hungarian director György Palfi’s unique new film.

Read that description. Now read it again. Pálfi’s film seems to appeal to the human fascination with the morbidly bizarre. Although it may not be for everyone, it will surely be a wonderful and weird experience you won’t forget.

1001 Grams 

Date: Thursday October 16 @ 6:15 PM and Wednesday October 22 @ 2:30
Director:  Bent Hamer, Norway (French with subtitles)
Length: 88 minutes

Anna’s life consists of precise measurements, concrete data, and mostly being alone. However, after her father suffers a heart attack, it throws everything in Anna’s world out of order. In an attempt to regain sense of her life, Anna travels from Norway to France and back in this witty and touching film from Bent Hamer.

1001 Grams looks to be a pleasant, fun film that engages the audience with humor while speaking to them on a more intimate, personal level with the idea that there are many things in life that we can’t control – and that sometimes the only thing you can do is let go and live your life.

The Imitation Game (featured image)

Date: Thursday, October 16 @ 8:00 PM
Director: Morten Tyldum, UK/USA
Length: 113 minutes

The Imitation Game tells the story of Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) – the British mathematician responsible for cracking the German Enigma Code and aiding the Allies in their victory during WWII. Turing was later prosecuted by the UK government in 1952 for illegal homosexual acts.

Oh hey look, Benedict Cumberbatch? And Keira Knightley? And Mark Strong? AND Charles Dance??

But mostly Benedict Cumberbatch.

A fascinating WWII tale where a hero falls victim to intolerance within his own country. The only thing more tragic is how recent and relevant it is.

Black Coal, Thin Ice (Bai ri yan huo)

Date: Friday, October 17 @ 12:00 PM
Director: Diao Yinan, China/Hong Kong
Length: 106 minutes

A film reminiscent of classic noir, Black Coal, Thin Ice follows an ex-cop and his partner as they investigate a series of horrific murders. But not everything is as it seems. Set in modern-day China, Yinan’s film won top prize at this year’s Berlin Film Festival.

Move over, Chinatown.

Black Coal, Thin Ice is the new, modern example of film noir (and it actually takes place in China). A vividly photographed genre film with a story full of twists and turns, Black Coal will bring you back to a world where “there are no real heroes or villains, only various states of compromise” (Variety).

Dust on the Tongue (Tierra en la lengua)

Date: Friday October 17 @ 4:00 PM, Monday October 20 @ 7:00 PM and Tuesday October 21 @ 6:00 PM
Director: Ruben Mendoza, Colombia (Spanish with subtitles)
Length: 89 minutes

The two grandchildren of a cruel and dying family patriarch travel with him through the mountains after he offers them all of his worldly possessions if they fulfill his one request: killing him. However, the youths have other ideas. The narrative traces a wild road trip as the story of a family’s twisted relationships unfolds.

This one sounds straight up intriguing, particularly because not much is known about the story other than that the premise seems to set up an intensely dramatic path for the characters. You can count on there being amazing landscapes, an engrossing story, complex and sinister characters, and musical numbers. Well ok, probably not musical numbers.


Date: Friday October 17 @ 2:30 PM, Sunday October 19 @ 2:30 PM, and Tuesday October 21 @ 5:45
Director: Lea Fazer, France (French with subtitles)
Length: 84 minutes

Maestro is a romantic comedy that tells the tale of a young actor’s transformation under the mentorship of a cinema superstar into a true cinema artist and lover. The film takes a behind-the-scenes approach and is influenced by French New Wave filmmaker Eric Rohmer, as well as American filmmaker Woody Allen, providing a comedic look at the differences between the old and young, the classic and modern, and the art of filmmaking.

This sounds like a fun one for serious movie-lovers. Cinema is an art. An examination of it doesn’t need to be done objectively; let cinema celebrate itself. Maestro looks wildly entertaining, funny, and like a pleasant tribute to the form.


Date: Friday October 17th @ 6:00 PM and Sunday October 19th @ 12:15 PM
Director: Alton Glass, USA
Length: 85 minutes

Four former high school best friends reunite 15 years after graduation; an event that causes buried trauma to resurface and dark secrets to be revealed. The film tells a story of guilt and redemption, friendship, and forgiveness. CRU won five awards at the American Black Film Festival, including Best Film.

Judging by the description given, CRU looks like a film containing themes that will resonate with all of its viewers. Already adorned with accolades, this will be a film with one powerful story.

Ne Me Quitte Pas

Date: Friday October 17 @ 9:00 and October 21 @ 4 :45 PM
Director: Sabine Lubbe Bakker, Niels van Koevorden, Netherlands/Belgium (French and Dutch with subtitles)
Length: 107 minutes

After being left by his wife, the depressed Marcel finds refuge in the healing powers of alcohol. Along with his equally inebriated friend Bob, Marcel ventures through the lovely Belgian countryside in this non-fiction dark comedy “bromance”.

Hell yeah, bro. Ne Me Quitte Pas (“Don’t Leave Me”) should be raucous fun that may ultimately end with some lame sentiment about friendship and the importance of sobriety. But at least all the stuff before that point will be cool though. Shotgun some beers beforehand and save the gushy bromance for after.

The Piano Room (Soba so pijano) 

Date: Saturday October 18 @ 4:45 PM and Sunday 19 @ 12:45 PM
Director: Igor Ivanov, Macedonia (Macedonian/German/Russian/Turkish/Serbo-Coation/Hebrew with subtitles)
Length: 103 minutes

Only one room still functions in an old, dingy hotel, but it is home to lifetimes of stories. Occupants come and go in The Piano Room and drama unfolds within every tumultuous relationship and every new generation. Their stories are artfully interwoven in a film that combines romance and comedy in this look at what connects people’s lives, past and present.

Telling a story that spans generations, this multicultural film will explore the paradox of the human condition – that no matter how different we are from each other, we are all the same.

As a result, some things never change no matter how much time may pass.


Date: Saturday, October 18 @ 7:30
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu, USA
Length: 119 minutes

An aging actor attempts to revive his career by producing, directing, and starring in a new Broadway theatre production. A former Hollywood superhero, Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) must prove to his peers, his family, and himself that he is a legitimate talent and a true artist. Also starring Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, and Emma Stone.

That cast. That story. That reference to Michael Keaton playing Batman in the past.

This film is set up to be oh-so solid. Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Babel, 21 Grams, Biutiful) directs an all-star cast in an emotionally powerful film with provocative themes that will most likely prove to be an incredibly awesome piece of cinema. Watch the trailer, get excited, and go see this film.

Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles 

Date: Sunday, October 19 @ 4:45
Director: Chuck Workman, USA
Length: 93 minutes

The life of Orson Welles is chronicled by Oscar-winning filmmaker Chuck Workman through a collection of sources, interviews with Welles, and reflections from the likes of Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, and more. The documentary pays tribute to one of cinema’s greatest directors, from childhood through his brilliant and legendary career as an actor and filmmaker.

Orson Welles: the man, the legend. The director and star of what is widely considered to be the greatest film ever made, Citizen Kane, this documentary details the life of a man who made an everlasting impact in both theatre and film.

Dear White People

Date: Monday October 20 @ 6:00
Director:  Justin Simien, USA
Length: 108 minutes

The film follows four black students and their stories after a riot breaks out over a popular ‘African American’ themed party thrown by a white fraternity at the fictional Winchester University. Dear White People explores racism that still lingers in our supposedly “post-racial” America with a campy, comedic approach.

Between this film’s poignant message delivered in a tongue-and-cheek way and all of the civil rights issues resurfacing lately out of Missouri, Dear White People couldn’t be coming out at a more relevant time.

The Deep (Djúpið)

Date: Monday October 20 @ 8:45
Director: Baltasar Kormákur, Iceland (Icelandic with subtitles)
Length: 93 minutes

Gulli “The Human Seal” Fridporsson’s fishing boat capsized in the North Atlantic Ocean in 1985. Miraculously, Fridporsson swam for six hours…and survived. This film tells the true story of one man living through a disaster and overcoming all the odds, along with the mixed feelings that came as a result.

Not quite a documentary, not quite a superhero movie, but something in between. This will be an epic tale of triumph, taking a true story and giving it a dash of the fantastic, making for what will certainly be a very compelling movie-going experience.

The Babadook

Date: Tuesday October 21 @ 8:30 PM
Director: Jennifer Kent, Australia
Length: 95 minutes

While coping with the recent, violent death of her husband, a grieving mother must also deal with her ill-mannered son. As if that wasn’t enough, a terrible two-dimensional monster has come forth from a sinister picture book to make their lives even worse.

Yup. A two-dimensional monster from a picture book terrorizes a mother and her son. While it sounds out there, the high ratings The Babadook is receiving suggests an entertaining and well-executed horror movie.

Life Itself

Date: Wednesday October 22 @ 8:00 PM
Director:  Steve James, USA
Length: 120 minutes

Life Itself, from director Steve James and executive producers Martin Scorsese and Steven Zaillian, is a documentary that celebrates the life of renowned film critic Roger Ebert. Based on Ebert’s memoir of the same name, the film gives a truthful examination of Ebert’s legacy as a Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic with the Chicago Sun-Times and one of America’s most influential voices in social and cultural commentary.

A highly regarded and influential voice of film criticism, Roger Ebert’s memoir is brought to life by three of the world’s finest living filmmakers. Life Itself is a must-see for any self-proclaimed cinephile.


Date: Thursday October 23 @ 7:00 PM
Director:  Jean Marc Vallee, USA
Length: 115 minutes

Director Jean-Marc Vallée and screenwriter Nick Hornby give the Hollywood treatment to author Cheryl Strayed’s story of adventure, survival, and reconciliation during her hike of over a thousand miles along the Pacific Crest Trail. Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) ventures forth on her own on a voyage to recover from years of personal strife in the hopes that at the end of a journey full of trials she will find strength and peace.

After directing both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto in Oscar-winning performances for Dallas Buyers Club, there is no doubt that Jean Marc Vallee’s film adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild will see Reese Witherspoon in what could possibly be the finest performance of her career. Wild is one woman’s story of adventure and survival – a cinematic testament to humanity’s resilience, strength of will, and limitless potential.

The Chicago International Film Festival is presented by Cinema/Chicago and runs from October 9-23, 2014. Unless stated otherwise on the ticket website, the Chicago Film Festival screenings are all located at AMC River East

For more information visit the website at

Written by: Nick Finger

(Featured image courtesy of