CAPSULE REVIEWS: My slate from the 50th Chicago International Film Festival

This year's historic 50th Chicago International Film Festival finished its anniversary schedule with the Closing Night gala screening of "Wild," starring Reese Witherspoon from the director of "Dallas Buyers Club" on October 23rd.  I was lucky enough to be in attendance for that big finish and it's time to collect what I covered and saw from the entire festival event.  Wish as I may, with over 200 films spanning multiple screens and multiple venues over the last two weeks, it was impossible to see them all.  I had to pick and choose my spots.  I chose quality over quantity.  

With press credentials granted to me through my work on to cover the event, more doors were opened to see more films, but Special Presentation big names like "The Imitation Game," "St. Vincent," or "Birdman" still required me to pay my own way.  Only so many films allowed for separate press and industry screening opportunities, and even those required too much hooky time from one's day job.  However, I think I took in a pretty good haul.

In accordance with the rules placed on me with my press credentials, I am not allowed to publish and post full reviews of the films I saw until their official U.S. distribution and release date.  For some movies, that's happening now with the festival itself and for others that holding stretches into 2015.  I would love to lay out everything, but I can't and you have to be patient.  What I am allowed put out are capsule reviews: brief takes and short critiques that offer a taste of the full meal.  Here are capsules for all of the films I attended from the 50th anniversary schedule.  Each are listed with their anticipatory U.S. release dates for when you will find my review.  (Photos below courtesy of Alejandro Riera and the Chicago International Film Festival)

"MISS JULIE"-- The Opening Night Gala film was one film that I was able and allowed to write and publish fully because the festival itself counted as a debut while the film waits for a full U.S. distributor.  My full review can be found here.  It's a dark and difficult movie to recommend.  Low recommendation.  

"RUDDERLESS"--  William H. Macy's directorial debut opened domestically in a concurrent limited theatrical release and Video On Demand release on October 17th, less than a week after its festival screenings.  My full review will be coming soon, since it's clear to post.  Moderate recommendation.  

"ST. VINCENT"-- Bill Murray's immense coolness saves the day from a movie that would otherwise be way too sentimental to be taken seriously.  He's the man and we all know it.  "St. Vincent" has debuted in U.S. theaters, there's no wait, meaning my full review can be found right here.   Highly recommended.  

"BIRDMAN"-- Even better as a lead performance than Bill Murray is Michael Keaton in "Birdman."  Visually and technically marvelous, this film will make and maybe even lead a lot of lists as one of the best films of the year.  As of October 17th and 24th, "Birdman" has made its way into theaters, where I don't need a capsule.  My full review is will be coming soon.  Highest recommendation.  

"THE IMITATION GAME"-- This new film continues the building coronation of Benedict Cumberbatch as the next great British actor.  He and the film are phenomenal for its depiction of both the historical implications of British code-breaking efforts during World War II and also the internal smarts and struggles of its subject Alan Turing.  This film is polished and pristine and is tailor-made for Oscar contention.  In my eyes, it's better than "The King's Speech" in both quality and Oscar hopes.  Highest recommendation.  (Coming November 21, 2014)

"WILD"-- The new Reese Witherspoon film from the director of "Dallas Buyers Club" was the Closing Night film for the 50th Chicago International Film Festival on October 23rd.  The film won't be released until December, so my quick take is this.  Without being overtly feminist, I must say that "Wild" redefines a new notion of being a "chick flick."  This is a flick for chicks, but with purpose and a message.  With a powerful story of discovery and survival, this really and truly is a movie that every woman should see instead of wasting their time with bad Lifetime TV movies or the latest Nicholas Sparks novel adaptation.  The effect of this movie for women is and will be powerful.  Highly recommended.  (Coming December 5, 2014)

"THE LAST 5 YEARS"-- Of all of the films I saw at the 50th Chicago International Film Festival, this one entertained me the most.  This will be the one I talk up the most and recommend to friends.  "The Last 5 Years" is a musical from writer/director Richard LaGravenese and stars It Girl Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan as a married couple reminiscing on their courtship while faced with breaking up.  Let it be known.  I hate movie musicals.  They are annoying to me, but this one blew my socks off.  Wonderful, catchy music and breezy romantic performances.  Kendrick is an amazing untapped talent that is blossoming before our eyes.  She is so good that I wish this musical performance film for her could come before her Disney turn in the upcoming "Into the Woods" ensemble so that audiences can really see what she can do on her own.  This will be a perfect Valentine's Day weekend date movie next year.   Highest recommendation.  (Coming February 13, 2015)

"CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA"-- This was a film going into the festival that I knew nothing about.  I saw Oscar winner Juliette Binoche in the lead role and knew it would be worth seeing.  Binoche plays a renowed theater actress who has found Hollywood success returning to her mentor's most successful play that discovered her twenty years later, but now in the supporting and older role of the two volatile female leads.  Young star Chloe Grace Moretz plays the Millennial pop star other actress and "Twilight" series star Kristen Stewart plays Binoche's personal assistant.  This film snuck up on me for how good it was.  This is an extraordinary film for examining the inside of the acting process as Stewart helps Binoche prepare for this role.  "Clouds of Sils Maria" houses fine acting and is a story even our mainstream audiences can follow and appreciate.  Highly recommended.  (Coming March 2015)

"THE SALVATION"-- According to its IMDB page, the Chicago International Film Festival is the first stateside place this film has played.  It does not have a firm release date or distributor, so this one might be coming second after "Miss Julie" where a review is possible.  I will just have to check ahead.  In the meantime, this is a phenomenal homage to American westerns from Danish filmmakers.  Stars Mads Mikkelsen, who American audiences will recognize from TV's "Hannibal" and as the main villain from "Casino Royale," gives a tough and steely lead performance alongside Jeffery Dean Morgan as a speechifying black hat villain.  It's a shame that American filmmakers can't makes westerns this good anymore, but "The Salvation" is outstanding nonetheless.  Seek it out where you can find it.  Highly recommended.   (Unknown U.S. release)

"TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT"--  In a very minimalist French film from the Dardenne brothers, Oscar winner Marion Cotillard plays a woman who is on the verge of being fired from her family's bread-winning job.  She has the movie title's amount of time to convince her fellow employees to vote for her job to remain.  One by one, she travels to face them all in person and the camera follows her through those ups and downs.  In Hollywood's hands, this would be bloated into some swooping and overproduced redemption story with crescendos and forced happy ending.  In this smaller scale, the story is far more intimate, affecting, and emotional.  Cotillard is brilliant, as always.  Moderate recommendation.   (Coming December 24, 2014)

"WINTER SLEEP"-- Like "The Salvation," Chicago was the first U.S. festival that the prestigious Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or winner has played at and a limited general theatrical release is planned for late December.  Like the film itself, there will be no rush.  It is 196 minutes of slow-evolving character study surrounding a former Turkish stage actor that richly runs a resort hotel and is owed favors and money by his fellow locals.  There are some great scenes of this character being shamed for what and who he is, but at over 3 hours, there's too much inconsequential extra stuff in the way.   For some reason, movies this intimate and long get loved by critics.  I wasn't impressed.  It was just too much.  For strict foreign film fans only.  Low recommendation.  (Coming December 19, 2014)