2019 Chicago Critics Film Festival



Highlights include
40th Anniversary
screening of “Alien”,
Chicago premiere of
Danny Boyle’s “Yesterday”,
guests Jay Duplass,
Tatiana Maslany,
Tom Skerritt, Jim Gaffigan

The Chicago Film Critics Association (CFCA), the Chicago-area print, online and broadcast critics group that celebrates the art of film and film criticism, today announces the complete lineup, schedule and special guests expected for the seventh annual Chicago Critics Film Festival, May 17-23 at the Music Box Theatre.

Featuring over two-dozen programs selected with care by some of the most respected film journalists in the city, this year’s Chicago Critics Film Festival selections are all Chicago premieres.

Among them are Danny Boyle’s Yesterday, about a young Brit who discovers he’s the only one who’s ever heard of The Beatles; and a 40th Anniversary screening of Alien with actor Tom Skerritt scheduled to attend.

The festival opens with a screening of Saint Frances, a Chicago-set film by Alex Thompson and Kelly O’Sullivan (both of whom will be in attendance) and closes with Paul Harrill’s Light From Light, starring Jim Gaffigan (Harrill and Gaffigan, a Chicago-area native, will also be in attendance).

The program includes three documentaries (Cold Case Hammarskjöld, Life Overtakes Me and Our Time Machine) and three highly-anticipated genre premieres (Greener Grass, The Nightingale and Netflix’s upcoming original The Perfection) ; and two short film programs screening on Saturday, May 18 and Monday, May 20.

The festival welcomes Rotten Tomatoes as a new festival sponsor this year. Annually, the event features a selection of acclaimed films chosen by members of the organization, a combination of recent festival favorites and as-yet-undistributed works from a variety of filmmakers, from established Oscar winners to talented newcomers.

The best way to ensure access to every aspect of the week-long event is to secure a festival pass, just $150 and available online here. Visit the CFCA website here. Follow the festival on Twitter at @chicagocritics and on Facebook here.


The Farewell
The Farewell, the runaway Sundance Film festival hit starring Awkwafina (Crazy Rich Asians) about a Chinese family who plans a wedding rather than let their matriarch know she only has a short time left to live; writer/director Lulu Wang is scheduled to attend the festival.

Yesterday, the story of a struggling musician who realizes he’s the only person on Earth who can remember The Beatles; from a script by Richard Curtis (About Time, Love Actually) and directed by Danny Boyle (T2 Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire).

Light From Light, a single mom moonlights as a paranormal investigator and travels to Tennessee with her son to take on a new case; filmmaker Paul Harrill and co-star Jim Gaffigan, a native of the Chicagoland area (who also stars in Them That Follow), are scheduled to attend.

Alien (40th anniversary screening on 35mm) Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi classic about a space merchant vessel and its crew, as they discover a mysterious new lifeform intent on spawning a new generation; actor Tom Skerritt is scheduled to attend.

The Nightingale, Jennifer Kent (The Babadook) returns with the story of a young Irish convict woman out for revenge against a British officer who wronged her family; star Aisling Franciosi is scheduled to attend.

Our Time Machine, when an artist learns of his aging father’s Alzheimers diagnosis, the two collaborate on a haunting, magical, autobiographical stage performance called “Papa’s Time Machine”; one of three documentaries screening at this year’s festival.

Pink Wall, the debut feature film from actor Tom Cullen (“Knightfall,” “Orphan Black”), Jay Duplass and Tatiana Maslany star as a couple navigating live, love and all that comes with it over the course of six tumultuous years; Cullen, Duplass, and Maslany are all scheduled to attend.

Additional special guests include filmmaker Gurinder Chadha and actor Viveik Kalra with Blinded By The Light; Alex Thompson and Kelly O’Sullivan with Saint Frances; an d Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe with Greener Grass.


The Nightingale

Tuesday, May 21 @ 9:45pm
Director: Josephine Mackerras | 103 mins
After discovering that her husband’s addiction to escorts has left their family penniless, Alice finds herself drawn into the world of high-end prostitution as a means of caring for herself and her child.


Saturday, May 18 @ 6pm with star Tom Skerritt in attendance
40th Anniversary Screening (presented on 35mm)

Director: Ridley Scott | 116 mins
After a space merchant vessel perceives an unknown transmission as a distress call, its landing on the source moon finds one of the crew attacked by a mysterious lifeform, and they soon realize that its life cycle has merely begun.


Sunday, May 19 @ 4:45pm
Director: Riley Stearns | 104 mins
A dark comedy set in the world of karate. After a random attack on the street, Casey (Jesse Eisenberg), enlists in a local dojo led by a charismatic and mysterious Sensei (Alessandro Nivola) in an effort to learn how to defend himself. What he uncovers is a sinister world of fraternity, violence and hypermasculinity and a woman (Imogen Poots) fighting for her place in it. Casey undertakes a journey both frightening and darkly funny that will place him squarely in the sights of his enigmatic new mentor.


Wednesday, May 22 @ 7:15pm with filmmaker Gurinder Chadha and star Viveik Kalra in attendance
Director: Gurinder Chadha | 114 mins
Blinded by the Light t ells the story of Javed (Viveik Kalra), a British teen of Pakistani descent growing up in the town of Luton, England in 1987. Amidst the racial and economic turmoil of the times, he writes poetry as a means to escape the intolerance of his hometown and the inflexibility of his traditional father. But when a classmate introduces him to the music of Bruce Springsteen, Javed sees parallels to his working-class life in Springsteen’s powerful lyrics. As Javed discovers a cathartic outlet for his own pent-up dreams, he also begins to find the courage to express himself in his own unique voice.


Saturday, May 18 @ 3:30pm
Director: Paul Downs Colaizzo | 103 mins
Brittany Forgler is a funny, likeable, 27-year-old hot mess of a New Yorker whose trashy nightclub adventures and early-morning walks of shame make her late for work every day. But when she stops by a Yelp-recommended doctor’s office in an attempt to score Adderall, Brittany gets handed a series of diagnoses instead—elevated heart rate, high blood pressure…the list goes on. Suddenly forced to get a grip, Brittany laces up her Converse sneakers and runs one sweaty block. The next day, she runs two. Soon she runs a mile. Brittany finally has direction—but is she on the right path? Brittany Runs A Marathon is a film as entertaining as it is inspirational, the tale of how a woman known for being the life of the party finds real friends—and a real life—by taking control of her herself, one city block at a time.


Wednesday, May 22 @ 9:45pm
Director: Mads Brügger | 128 mins | Documentary
In 1961, United Nations secretary-general Dag Hammarskjöld’s plane mysteriously crashed, leaving no survivors. It’s understood that because Hammarskjöld was, at the time, advocating for Congo’s independence, the “crash” was an assassination. With the case still unsolved fifty-plus years later, Danish journalist, filmmaker, and provocateur Mads Brügger leads viewers down a wild investigative rabbit hole to unearth the truth. Scores of false starts, dead ends and elusive interviews later, Brügger begins to uncover a critical secret that could send shockwaves around the world.


Monday, 5/20 @ 7:15pm with writer/director Lulu Wang in attendance
Director: Lulu Wang | 98 mins
In this funny, uplifting tale based on an actual lie, Chinese-born, U.S.-raised Billi (Awkwafina) reluctantly returns to Changchun to find that, although the whole family knows their beloved matriarch Nai-Nai (grandma) has been given mere weeks to live, everyone has decided not to tell Nai Nai herself. To assure her happiness, they gather under the joyful guise of an expedited wedding, uniting family members scattered among new homes abroad to surreptitiously say their goodbyes.


Friday, May 17 @ 9:30pm with filmmakers/stars Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe in attendance
Directors: Jocelyn DeBoer, Dawn Luebbe | 101 mins
Greener Grass is a deliciously twisted comedy set in a demented, timeless suburbia where every adult wears braces on their straight teeth, couples coordinate meticulously pressed outfits, and coveted family members are swapped in more ways than one in this competition for acceptance. The film is a twist on everyday suburban life, both a love letter and an “FU” where the characters make life-altering decisions on a whim and being polite is held to a highest standard, even if it means going too far.


Saturday, May 18 @ 11:59pm
Director: Peter Strickland | 118 mins
A lonely woman (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), recently separated from her husband, visits a bewitching London department store in search of a dress that will transform her life. She’s fitted with a perfectly flattering, artery-red gown which, in time, will come to unleash a malevolent curse and unstoppable evil, threatening everyone who comes into its path. From acclaimed horror director Peter Strickland comes a truly nightmarish film, at turns frightening, seductive, and darkly humorous. Channeling voyeuristic fantasies of high fashion and bloodshed, In Fabric is Strickland’s most twisted and brilliantly original vision yet.


Sunday, May 19 @ 11a with filmmakers Kristine Samuelson and John Haptas in attendance
Director: Kristine Samuelson, John Haptas | 40 mins | Documentary
Over the past fifteen years, hundreds of refugee children in Sweden have become afflicted into Resignation Syndrome, withdrawing from the world into a coma-like state for months, or even years. The families of these children have been subjected to severe trauma in their home countries, followed by the anxiety of a lengthy asylum process and an uncertain future. Intercut with sweeping Swedish landscapes, Life Overtakes Me follows three families for over a year. Viewers are immersed in their lives as the anguished parents struggle to care for their sick children.


Thursday, May 23 @ 8:30pm with filmmaker Paul Harrill and star Jim Gaffigan in attendance
Director: Paul Harrill | 81 mins
Single mom Shelia, gifted with sometimes prophetic dreams, moonlights as a paranormal investigator while working at a car-rental service counter and raising her teenage son, Owen. After her appearance on a local radio program, she’s contacted by Richard, a recent widower who thinks his departed wife may be “haunting” his East Tennessee farmhouse. Agreeing to help, Shelia brings along Owen and his classmate Lucy in hopes of understanding the mystery.


Thursday, May 23 @ 6pm
Director: Julius Onah | 109 mins
Seventeen-year-old Luce (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) is a star athlete and debate-team captain in his suburban Virginia high school. Raised by loving adoptive white parents Amy and Peter (Naomi Watts, Tim Roth), the African-born teenager is worlds away from his former incarnation as a war-torn child soldier in Eritrea. But Luce’s idealized image as star pupil and immigrant success story is challenged when his teacher Mrs. Wilson (Octavia Spencer) discovers fireworks in his locker and incendiary political views in an assigned essay. When Wilson confronts Luce’s parents, an intense debate is ignited—and a different side of Luce is revealed. A masterful social thriller on race and identity from writer-director Julius Onah (The Cloverfield Paradox) featuring a breakout turn by Harrison (It Comes at Night), Luce exposes unsettling tensions at the intersection of race, class, gender and power, threatening to upend all that we hold dear in our homes, communities and institutions.


Sunday, May 19 at 10pm and Wednesday, May 22 @ 3pm
Director: Alejandro Landes | 102 mins
In a remote mountaintop setting somewhere in Latin America, a rebel group of teenage commandos bearing noms de guerre like Rambo, Smurf, Bigfoot, Wolf and Boom-Boom perform military training exercises while watching over a prisoner (Julianne Nicholson) and a conscripted milk cow for a shadowy force known only as The Organization. After an ambush drives the squadron into the jungle, fracturing their intricate bond, the mission begins to collapse. Director Alejandro Landes (Porfirio, Cocalero) examines the chaos and fog of war from the unique perspective of adolescence, banding together a diverse young cast of seasoned professionals and untrained neophytes thrust into an unforgiving, irrational and often surreal environment where anything can happen—even peace.


Sunday, May 19 @ 7pm with star Aisling Franciosi in attendance
Director: Jennifer Kent | 136 mins
Set in 1825, Clare (Aisling Franciosi), a young Irish convict woman, chases a British officer (Sam Claflin) through the rugged Tasmanian wilderness, bent on revenge for a terrible act of violence he committed against her family. On the way she enlists the services of an Aboriginal tracker named Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), who is also marked by trauma from his own violence-filled past.


Sunday, May 19 @ 2:45pm and Tuesday, May 21 @ 3pm
Director: Jeremy Teicher | 85 mins
In the Athlete Village at the Olympic Winter Games, Penelope (Alexi Pappas), a cross-country skier, befriends Ezra (Nick Kroll), a volunteer dentist, after a disappointing finish in her race. Penelope and Ezra share a special but limited time together. Filmed on location in the actual Olympic Village at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.


Sunday, May 19 @ 12:30pm with filmmaker S. Leo Chiang in attendance
Director: S. Leo Chiang, Yang Sun | 86 mins | Documentary
When influential Chinese artist Ma Liang (a.k.a. Maleonn) realizes that his father Ma Ke, an accomplished Peking Opera director, is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, he invites his father to collaborate on his most ambitious project to date—a haunting, magical, autobiographical stage performance featuring life-size mechanical puppets called “Papa’s Time Machine.” Through the creation of this play, the two men confront their mortality before time runs out and memories are lost forever.


Tuesday, May 21 @ 7:15pm with filmmaker Tom Cullen and stars Tatiana Maslany and Jay Duplass in attendance
Director: Richard Shepard | 89 mins
The most buzzed-about movie at last year’s Fantastic Fest, The Perfection i s an elegant and terrifying suspense ride filled with unexpected twists and turns. When troubled musical prodigy Charlotte (Allison Williams) seeks out Elizabeth (Logan Browning), the new star pupil of her former school, the encounter sends both musicians down a sinister path with shocking consequences. Overflowing with dizzying horror and sly dark humor, The Perfection is directed by Richard Shepard (The Matador, Dom Hemingway, “Girls”), and written by Eric C. Charmelo, Nicole Snyder and Richard Shepard.


Friday, May 17 @ 11:59pm and Monday, May 20 @ 3pm
Director: Tom Cullen | 85 mins
Pink Wall is a modern day romance, following the six year relationship of Jenna (Tatiana Maslany) and Leon (Jay Duplass). Intimately told through defining moments along their journey together, the film explores how both friendship and resentments grow as the pressures of adult life confront them.


Thursday, May 23 @ 3:45pm
Director: Claudio Giovannesi | 105 mins
A gang of teenage boys stalk the streets of Naples armed with hand guns and AK-47s to do their mob bosses’ bidding.


Friday, May 17 @ 7pm with director Alex Thompson and writer/star Kelly O’Sullivan in attendance
Director: Alex Thompson | 106 mins
At the start of the summer, Bridget (Kelly O’Sullivan) has an abortion just as she lands a much-needed job in an affluent Chicago suburb: nannying six-year old Frances (played by the scene-stealing Ramona Edith-Williams). With no time to recover, she clashes with the obstinate Frances and struggles to navigate a growing tension between Frances’ moms. As her personal relationships suffer, a reluctant friendship with Frances emerges, and Bridget contends with the inevitable joys and shit-shows of becoming a part of someone else’s family.


Tuesday, May 21 @ 5pm and Thursday, May 23 @ 1:30pm
Director: Ani Simon-Kennedy | 90 mins
For teenage Nola (Sabrina Carpenter), home is the open road. Her self-reliant father (Steven Ogg) s her anchor in a life of transience. The pair criss-cross the United States in a lovingly refurbished RV, making ends meet through odd jobs while relishing their independence. A shocking rupture, though, casts Nola out on her own. She makes her way to Albuquerque, New Mexico in search of a mother she never knew, only for her motorhome to break down unexpectedly. But after forging a bond with an auto body shop owner (Danny Trejo). Nola senses the possibility of mooring her ship in this storm.


Monday, May 20 @ 9:45pm
Director: Guy Nattiv | 120 mins
After a difficult childhood drives him into the grasps of a white supremacist gang, Bryon (Jamie Bell, delivering a visceral, explosive performance) tries to escape to a new life, all the while questioning whether he’s capable of undoing – and repenting for – the evil he’s done. Guy Nattiv makes his English-language feature debut with this galvanizing story of transformation, inspired by actual events. His short film, Skin, won the 2018 Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film.


Wednesday, May 22 @ 5pm
Directors: Britt Poulton, Dan Madison Savage | 98 mins
Snake handlers are spiritual renegades belonging to an obscure sect of American Pentecostalism: part of a century-old tradition of worshipping with venomous snakes during church services. Seeing themselves as the vanguards of salvation in a morally bankrupt world, believers put their lives on the line, each and every week, to prove themselves before God. Set deep in the hills of Appalachia, Them That Follow explores this unseen way of life —telling the story of a pastor’s daughter whose forbidden relationship forces her to confront the dangerous traditions of her father’s church.


Saturday, May 18 @ 11am
Director: Tom Harper | 100 mins
Jessie Buckley delivers an unforgettable, star-making performance as Rose-Lynn Harlan, a rebellious country singer who dreams of trading the working-class streets of Glasgow for the Grand Ole Opry of Nashville. Fresh out of prison, Rose-Lynn precariously juggles her menial job, two children, and committed mother (expertly portrayed by Oscar-nominee Julie Walters) as she pursues her bold ambition of a one-way ticket to musical stardom. With the support of her boss (Sophie Okonedo), Rose-Lynn embarks on a life-changing journey that challenges her sense of self and helps her discover her true voice. Complete with an electrifying soundtrack performed exclusively by Buckley, Wild Rose is a joyous human story steeped in music, courage, family, and achieving your dreams—no matter how far away they may appear


Saturday, May 18 @ 9:30pm
Director: Danny Boyle | 112 mins
Jack Malik (Himesh Patel, BBC’s “Eastenders”) is a struggling singer-songwriter in a tiny English seaside town whose dreams of fame are rapidly fading, despite the fierce devotion and support of his childhood best friend, Ellie (Lily James, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again). Then, after a freak bus accident during a mysterious global blackout, Jack wakes up to discover that The Beatles have never existed … and he finds himself with a very complicated problem, indeed.


About the Chicago Film Critics Association
The Chicago Film Critics Association supports and celebrates quality filmmaking that has something to say about our world, our lives, and our society. In the past, while the CFCA’s priority was to support and fight for the continued role of film critics in the media, the CFCA’s public interaction was limited to the announcement of its annual film awards. In recent years, the CFCA has expanded its presence on the Chicago arts scene, promoting critical thinking about cinema to a wider base through several initiatives, including the re-launch of a late-winter film awards ceremony; CFCA-hosted film screenings throughout Chicagoland; and a Young People’s Film Criticism Workshop at Facets Multimedia. The annual Chicago Critics Film Festival further builds on the organization’s goal to be an active part of the Chicago film landscape.

About the Music Box Theatre
For more than 30 years, the Music Box Theatre has been the premier venue in Chicago for independent and foreign films, festivals and some of the greatest cinematic events in Chicago. It currently has the largest cinema space operated full-time in the city. The Music Box Theatre is independently owned & operated by the Southport Music Box Corporation. SMBC, through its Music Box Films division, also distributes foreign and independent films in the theatrical, DVD and television markets throughout the United States. For more information, please visit www.musicboxtheatre.com

Send your festival updates to Reel Chicago Editor Dan Patton, dan@reelchicago.com.