The 10 Films to See at the 2017 Chicago International Film Festival

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October 9, 2017 9:00 am

This week, film fans will descend on the 53rd annual Chicago International Film Festival.

Since it’s impossible to catch all of the 200-plus international films, documentaries and shorts in competition, we went ahead and dug up the ones worth seeing.

Because date night, anyone?

From Elizabeth Moss in an absurd Swedish art-world satire to the fascinating true story of the sci-fi dome city in Minnesota that was never built, here are the 10 can’t-miss flicks at this year’s CIFF.

Pass the popcorn.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (USA)

The Pitch: “A roughneck Frances McDormand swearing for two hours with an A+ supporting cast (Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Peter Dinklage).”

The Fine Print: In this movie directed by Martin McDonagh (In Bruges), a mother (Frances McDormand) — seeking closure for the unsolved rape and murder of her daughter — takes justice into her own hands by painting three billboards on the edge of her small Missouri town. Add in Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell and you’ve got a film primed for Oscar season.

The Screening Details: Saturday, 10/21, 8:00 p.m.

I, Tonya (USA) 

The Pitch: “The biggest sports scandal in U.S. history! Margot Robbie plays Tonya Harding.” 

The Fine Print: The cry that was heard around the world. This tragicomedy biopic — also meant to be a searing commentary on Tabloid culture — follows Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) during the events leading up to the 1994 Winter Olympics.

The Screening Details: Tuesday, 10/17, 6:00 p.m.

The Square (Sweden)

The Pitch: “An unhinged art-world satire that took home the highest honors at Cannes this year. And hey, it’s Elizabeth Moss.”

The Fine Print: From Swedish director Ruben Östlund, the director behind 2014’s sleeper hit Force Majeure, comes an absurd satirical drama centered around a contemporary museum curator and the publicity (where a journalist played by Elizabeth Moss arrives) surrounding a new conceptual installation, The Square, where anyone who enters has equal rights and responsibilities. Pretension and buzzwords ensue, while boundaries of artistic liberties are hung about for all to examine.

The Screening Details: Friday, 10/13, 8:15 p.m. and Sat, Oct 14, 5:15 p.m.

The Experimental City (USA)

The Pitch: “In the ‘60s, someone tried to build a domed city in the woods of Minnesota to fight urban sprawl and pollution. True story!”

The Fine Print: The remarkable true story of American scientist Athelstan Spilhaus’s quest to build the Minnesota Experimental City (MXC), a self-sufficient, wildly sustainable domed metropolis. Spoiler alert: it never got built, but almost did. The documentary is a part of the Spotlight: Architecture series in partnership with the Chicago Architecture Biennial.

The Screening Details: Wednesday, 10/18, 8:00 p.m. and Thursday, 10/19, 12:45 p.m.

Lady Bird (USA)

The Pitch: “The low-budget coming-of-age indie flick you need every once in awhile.”

The Fine Print: The directorial debut from Greta Gerwig, the mumblecore vet and frequent collaborator of Chicago filmmaker Joe Swanberg (see: Hannah Takes the Stairs and Nights and Weekends), Lady Bird follows the misadventures of a rebellious highschooler (Saoirse Ronan) as she drifts through her senior year and tries to figure it all out.

The Screening Details: Wednesday, 10/18, 8:00 p.m.

The Ballad of Lefty Brown (USA)

The Pitch: “Bill Pullman in an homage to all sidekicks from your favorite Western films.”

The Fine Print: In this revisionist Western flick, Lefty Brown (Bill Pullman) is a 63-year-old sidekick who’s ridden with legendary gunslinger Eddie Johnson (Peter Fonda) for his whole life. Bad things happen, and Lefty, a “man who never got anything right in 60-odd years,” is left to take the reigns.

The Screening Details: Monday, 10/23, 8:00 p.m.

Faces Places (France)

The Pitch: “An unlikely buddy documentary that celebrates artistic intent and the photographic arts.”

The Fine Print: Familiarizing yourself with the work of Belgian arthouse icon Agnès Varda makes watching Visages Villages (French for “Faces Places”) all the more entertaining. Here, Varda shares directing credit with French street artist JR, as the two drive around France for JR’s Inside Out Project, a roving global art project in which the Parisian photographer makes life-sized portraits of the people he meets.

The Screening Details: Friday 10/13, 5:30 p.m. and Saturday 10/14, 2:45 p.m.

Let the Sunshine In (France)

The Pitch: “A sophisticatedly dark romantic comedy with the woman from The English Patient … Uh, your lady will dig it?”

The Fine Print: The 2017 film festival season’s unexpected favorite that stars Juliette Binoche as a recently divorced 50-something woman living alone in Paris trying to find happiness with suitors who range from a banker to a young, strapping actor.

The Screening Details: Sunday, 10/22, 5:45 p.m. and Monday, 10/23, 5:45 p.m.

Blow Up (Italy)

The Pitch: “A counterculture cult classic from the ‘60s with a soundtrack from jazz great Herbie Hancock.”

The Fine Print: For cinematography lovers, a special screening of Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 English-language debut set in Swinging London about a fashion photographer who believes he’s captured a murder on film.

The Screening Details: Monday, 10/16, 2:30 p.m. and Tuesday, 10/17, 5:30 p.m.

The Rape of Recy Taylor (USA)

The Pitch: “The forgotten true story of a black woman who refused to be silenced, and consequently helped pave the way for the Civil Rights movement.

The Fine Print: The first cinematic telling of a 24-year-old African-American wife and mother who was gang raped by seven white men in 1944 rural Alabama that’s being deemed a controversial must-watch. From Richard Brody’s review in the New Yorker: “… I hope that the film gets a theatrical release and is widely seen, because what’s good about it is more than good, it’s essential, which is what makes its shortcomings all the more conspicuous and frustrating.”

The Screening Details: Wednesday 10/18,  5:45 p.m. and Thursday, 10/19, 3:15 p.m.

Nota bene: More? You want more films? Check out the InsideHook Fall Movie Guide.

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