The 2021 Chicago International Film Festival kicks off this week and it is a film festival that I love with all my heart. This was the first festival that I attended back in 2008 and it is one I have attended every year since. This is a truly great festival that does not get the love and attention of some higher-profile festivals, but one that deserves to be mentioned as one of the best film festivals in the United States. It highlights so many unique movies from all around the world and showcases some of the best filmmakers working today. Last year’s festival was done completely online, but this year is taking place online and in-person, which is very exciting. This year’s festival has some of the biggest and buzziest titles of 2021, so narrowing it down to ten was a tough task. Here are my picks for the most exciting movies playing at the 2021 Chicago International Film Festival.
You can find all the films playing at the 2021 Chicago International Film Festival here.
What It’s About: A young boy and his working-class family experience the tumultuous late 1960s. (per IMDb)
Why I’m Excited: Kenneth Branagh’s latest won the coveted People Choice Award at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, which has previously gone to films like Nomadland, Jojo Rabbit, and Green Book, two of which (Nomadland and Green Book) went on to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Branagh’s love letter to cinema and his home country of Ireland is the frontrunner to win this year.
DRIVE MY CAR
What It’s About: Nishijima Hidetoshi (Yûsuke Kafuku) is a stage actor and director happily married to his playwright wife. Then one day she disappears. (per IMDb)
Why I’m Excited: Driver My Car got a lot of good buzz coming out of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where the film won Best Screenplay. Though the film’s runtime clocks in at three hours, nobody has said anything about the runtime dragging, and instead have praised the pacing along with the drama, story, and thrills of it.
What It’s About: Flee tells the extraordinary true story of a man, Amin, on the verge of marriage which compels him to reveal his hidden past for the first time. (per IMDb)
Why I’m Excited: Flee is a film that has been making it around film festivals since its premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and it now makes a stop in Chicago and I hope everyone attending the festival has the opportunity to see it. It is a powerful, beautifully animated first-hand account of the immigrant experience that will blow you away. It is brilliant in every way and one of the very best movies of the year.
THE FRENCH DISPATCH
What It’s About: A love letter to journalists set in an outpost of an American newspaper in a fictional twentieth-century French city that brings to life a collection of stories published in “The French Dispatch Magazine”. (per IMDb)
Why I’m Excited: Wes Anderson is one of my favorite filmmakers working today. His movies always boast all-star casts, stunning sets, and quirky humor and The French Dispatch looks like one of Anderson’s most exquisite movies to date.
What It’s About: Rahim is in prison because of a debt he was unable to repay. During a two-day leave, he tries to convince his creditor to withdraw his complaint against the payment of part of the sum. But things don’t go as planned. (per IMDb)
Why I’m Excited: There is no denying that director Asghar Farhadi is one of the great directors we have working today. With a resume that includes films like A Separation, The Past, and The Salesman, one could make the argument that he might be the actual best. A Hero got raves out of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where it took the Grand Prix prize (second place). Sounds like Farhadi has another winner on his hands.
What It’s About: A look at how tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams became who they are after the coaching from their father Richard Williams. (per IMDb)
Why I’m Excited: I’m a sucker for a good, inspirational sports drama and the early buzz on King Richard is that it is exactly that. But the most intriguing aspect of the is that this could possibly be the film that gets Will Smith an Oscar. Smith has been one of our great movie stars for decades now and has given awards-nominated performances before, but could this be the one to take him to the top? I can’t wait to find out.
What It’s About: A corroded diving bell descends amidst a ruined city and the Assassin emerges from it to explore a labyrinth of bizarre landscapes inhabited by freakish denizens. (per IMDb)
Why I’m Excited: This full stop-motion animated film is the love-child of director Phil Tippett, the legendary visual effects artist who worked on RoboCop, Jurassic Park, and Starship Troopers. This is Tippett’s feature directorial debut after making a number of short films, including three Mad God shorts, and I’m excited to see what this master does as a director.
What It’s About: The story of two mothers who give birth the same day. (per IMDb)
Why I’m Excited: It’s almost impossible to not get excited about a Pedro Almodovar film, especially one starring Penelope Cruz. Almodovar’s films are always visually sumptuous, deeply emotional, and masterfully made and I can’t imagine Parallel Mothers being any different.
THE POWER OF THE DOG
What It’s About: Charismatic rancher Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch) inspires fear and awe in those around him. When his brother brings home a new wife and her son, Phil torments them until he finds himself exposed to the possibility of love. (per IMDb)
Why I’m Excited: The Power of the Dog marks the first film Jane Campion has directed since 2009’s Bright Star and word has it that she is back with a fury. The film looks gorgeous, the score is by the great Johnny Greenwood, and the film features a talented and intriguing cast Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, and Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Thomasin McKenzie.
What It’s About: During her Christmas holidays with the royal family at the Sandringham estate in Norfolk, England, Diana decides to leave her marriage to Prince Charles. (per IMDb)
Why I’m Excited: If Kristen Stewart playing Princess Diana doesn’t make you intrigued by this movie, I don’t know what will. And did I mention the film is directed by Pablo Larraín? The same Pablo Larraín who directed Natalie Portman to an Oscar nomination for playing Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in Jackie, one of the great performances of the last ten years? I can’t wait to see what Larraín does with this one.
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