Preview: 47th Chicago International Film Festival, Part Three

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CHICAGO – Illness has kept us from truly screening a majority of the films left to screen at the 47th Annual Chicago International Film Festival but there are three that we did get around to in the last month that are definitely worth your time, plus a handful of highlights that we wish we could have gotten to see that might draw your interest.

Here’s the best of the last-third of the fest, films debuting October 15th-20th.

There’s only three but two are among the best films of the year and the third is a very-interesting curiosity — “The Artist,” “The Descendants,” and “Sleeping Beauty.”

The Artist
The Artist
Photo credit: The Chicago International Film Festival

“The Artist”
October 20th, 7pm

You’re going to be reading a LOT about this year’s Closing Night Presentation in the coming months as The Weinstein Company is going to put all of their Oscar weight behind this lovely gem of a film, one of those rare movies that defies categorization. “The Artist” is not only about the silent film era but it is itself a silent film. In a sure-to-be-nominated lead performance, Jean Dujardin (from the “OSS 117” movies) plays the legendary George Valentine. As the world of silent movies gives way to the talkie, he watches the starlet he found (Berenice Bejo) take his place on the national stage. The film features supporting work from Penelope Ann Miller, John Goodman, Missi Pyle, and James Cromwell and won Dujardin the acting prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Oscar nods for Picture, Actor, and several tech categories seem virtually guaranteed. You can say you saw it before the bandwagon got crowded. Consistently inventive, heartfelt, and mesmerizing, “The Artist” reminds one of the visual power of the medium. It’s always been about the moving picture and “The Artist” is an amazing love letter to cinema, old and new.

The Descendants
The Descendants
Photo credit: The Chicago International Film Festival

“The Descendants”
October 18th, 8:45pm

Alexander Payne hasn’t released a film since “Sideways” and early reports out of Toronto and Telluride were that his first effort since that Oscar winner didn’t live up to the standards of its filmmaker’s resume. Nonsense. This is one of Payne’s best films, one that history will prove should stand beside his best work. George Clooney delivers arguably the best performance of his career as a man whose wife ends up on life support and forces him to reassess his own. Not only does he need to get closer to his daughters (including a stellar breakthrough performance from Shailene Woodley) but he learns that his wife was cheating on him. Meanwhile, he’s forced to decide what to do with massive amount of family land that his cousins want to sell. Payne, Nat Faxon, & Jim Rash’s stellar script is the real star here, gently telling the story of a man faced with major life decisions. There are several scenes here, including more than one at the hospital and an amazing one in which Clooney first confronts his wife’s lover, that stand among the most well-crafted of the year. Delicate without being melodramatic, “The Descendants” is a beauty. One of the most memorable films of 2011.

Sleeping Beauty
Sleeping Beauty
Photo credit: The Chicago International Film Festival

“Sleeping Beauty”
October 16th, 8:10pm
October 17th, 8:30pm

Speaking of memorable, you won’t soon forget Julia Leigh’s controversial “Sleeping Beauty,” a disturbing take on the classic legend. Emily Browning (“Sucker Punch”) gives a daring performance as a woman who finds employment with a company that provides, well, unique sexual services. At first, she is merely the wine pourer at parties where old men chat over dinner as half-naked women bring them food. After doing well enough in that position, she graduates to a new one. As needed, she is drugged, stripped, and put to sleep in a lavish bedroom. What happens then is up to the client but penetration is not allowed. Some just want to sleep next to a beautiful woman. Some want to do much worse. “Sleeping Beauty” isn’t a perfect film and I wish it was directed by a filmmaker who could have brought it a bit more personality (it’s surprisingly sterile), but it will provide ample food for thought and discussion after you see it. In some respects, that’s what we go to a film festival for — something to talk about.

Click to the next page for unscreened highlights — films we wish we could see in the final week of the fest.

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