Preview: Chicago Critics Film Festival

Though the heyday of Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel has passed, Chicago boasts a strong showing in film criticism these days. The guys (because it’s mainly guys) who make up the Chicago Film Critics Association work hard across outlets to cover film releases and happenings around the city.

On Friday, their fifth annual Chicago Critics Film Festival kicks off a week of screenings at Chicago’s classic Music Box Theater. A small festival by any measure – no galas, no panels, no frills – it’s big where it matters: the movies. More than twenty features will screen over the course of a week, and for those of us keeping track of these kinds of things, they’re two dozen great films.

With such a fantastic line-up heading to a theater within walking distance (a long walk, but still), my plans include at least one film a day (and one day with three!). Here’s what I’ll be seeing:

The Little Hours – The festival’s opening night premiere, it’s the raunchy, dirty comedy that stars Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie and Kate Micucci as repressed, wickedly funny nuns intent on corrupting their deaf-mute hired hand (Dave Franco). Screens Friday, May 12. Plaza, Micucci and director Jeff Baena will be in attendance.

Patti Cake$ – A Sundance premiere that opened to solid praise, Patti is a Jersey bartender and aspiring rapper, trying to earn enough to pay her Nana’s medical bills and producer her album, if only she can find the right producer. Screens Friday, May 12.

Band Aid – Zoe Lister-Jones makes her directorial debut with this original narrative about a married couple on the rocks who decide to turn their fights into songs for the band they form. As you do. Screens Saturday, May 13.

The Force – This timely documentary focuses in on the current conversation around police brutality by chronicling the Oakland Police Department as a new chief – green, idealistic and optimistic – attempts to right the ship of damaged community relations. Screens Sunday, May 14.

The Hero – Sam Elliott stars as an aging movie star confronting mortality in the second feature from filmmaker Brett Haley. Touted as a moving, poignant celebration of life and legacy, it co-stars Nick Offerman, Laura Prepon and Krysten Ritter. Screens Sunday, May 14. Director Brett Haley will be in attendance.

Berlin Syndrome – A thriller among dramas and comedies, Berlin Syndrome sees Clare, on holiday, cross paths with Andi, a local. After a one-night-stand, she wakes up to find that Andi has locked her in his apartment, and doesn’t plan on letting her out. Screens Sunday, May 14 and Tuesday, May 16.

Dina – The Grand Jury Prize winner at Sundance last January, Dina follows its titular character as she navigates the final weeks before her impending wedding, a day she’s waited 48 years for. Overcoming obstacles, tragedy and in-laws, she’s a force to be reckoned with. Screens Monday, May 15.

Take Me – Taylor Schilling continues to stretch her non-OITNB muscles as a client for Ray’s specialty service: high-end, staged abductions. Only this gig is not at all what it seems. Screens Monday, May 15. Filmmaker and star Pat Healy will be in attendance.

Person to Person – It doesn’t get much more hipster than Michael Cera and Abbi Jacobson in a Brooklyn-set caper. Multiple city stories collide – a record collector on the hunt, a reporter solving a murder, a heartbroken roommate, on and on – in the film by Dustin Guy Defa. Screens Tuesday, May 16.

Columbus – Mononymous filmmaker Kogonada debuts with the story of a young man stuck in Columbus, Indiana when his architect father falls into a coma. So much about this one intrigues me: why Columbus? Hoosiers know its architectural significance, but does anyone else? And how does a first-time filmmaker already rock a single name? Screens Tuesday, May 16. Director Koganada will be in attendance.

The Incredible Jessica James – Jessica Williams, of The Daily Show and Two Dope Queens fame, stars as a struggling playwright who meets someone new (Chris O’Dowd) not long after a break-up. The two embark on an unlikely courtship in a millennial’s social-media-driven NYC. Screens Wednesday, May 17. Director Jim Strause and star Noël Wells will be in attendance.

Mr. Roosevelt – Emily is a lost 20-something who hasn’t quite made it in Los Angeles. When an illness in the family beckons her home to Austin, where she’s confronted by everything she’d left behind – an old boyfriend, his intimidatingly awesome new girlfriend and a hometown full of her past life. Screens Wednesday, May 17 and Thursday, May 18. Filmmaker/star Noël Wells will be in attendance.

Menashe – I’d often come across Hasidic Jews as I went about my days in Williamsburg; sort of like encountering the Amish in the midwest, it’s entirely ordinary and yet notable. The film goes deep inside the community as it follows a widower sorting out exactly how to rebuild his life within the structure of his religion and culture. Screens Thursday, May 18.

A Ghost Story – CCFF saves the best for last with David Lowery’s latest starring Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck. When he dies before his time, Affleck’s ghost finds its way back to his home with Mara, observing her grief as a spectral figure hooded by a white cloth. Screens Thursday, May 18.