Chicago International Film Festival Preview 2013

Toronto, Sundance, New York and now Telluride get all the love.

Those North American festivals have been covered to death in this Oscar season that’s come (and been declared finished) all too early, and the focus moves so fast that the media neglects to appeal to the millions in the Midwest and elsewhere who never get to see those buzzy movies with that tiny fraction of the film loving community.

But I call Chicago home, and so do thousands of other film lovers. Our Chicago International Film Festival is in its 49th year, and although Harvey Weinstein didn’t think to premiere his awards bait movies here, we get a diverse line-up of films and crave guidance, recommendations and coverage just like anyone else.

This year’s lineup, which runs October 10-24, is now available for sale to the general public and can be viewed in full here, seems especially strong, and my lineup is fairly stacked with a handful of near schedule conflicts. So if you’ve got a Festival Pass, here’s a little who’s who of 35 of this year’s CIFF movies.

*Films marked with an asterisk represent films on my personal schedule

*12 Years a SlaveSpecial Screening

Steve McQueen’s third film unflinchingly depicts American slavery and the true story of a free black man forced into servitude. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender are reportedly locks for Oscar nods, and as the most hyped about film of the year, it’s a must see.

At Berkeley

Noted documentarian Frederick Wiseman’s latest is a four hour feature about a semester at the University of California, Berkeley and the students struggles during rough economic times.

*August: Osage CountySpecial Screening

John Wells’ film based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play could be huge Oscar bait. After a death in the family, a woman played by Julia Roberts returns to her rural Oklahoma home and spars with her scene-chewing mother played by Meryl Streep.

Blue is the Warmest ColorSpecial Screening

The winner of the Palme D’Or is making its way to Chicago. The film is now being pegged as a steamy lesbian drama between two teenage girls, but early fest reviews saw this epic as something much more than just erotic.

*Closed Curtain

Following up his illegal “This is Not a Film” from last year, “Closed Curtain” is part fiction and part autobiographical documentary about strangers who break into a writer’s home.

Despite the Gods

This “Hearts of Darkness”-like documentary about David Lynch’s filmmaker daughter Jennifer shows her struggling to make a massive Bollywood film.

*Domestic

Probably the best oddball film worth taking a chance on at this year’s festival (I’m doing so) is this Romanian home life comedy about three neighboring families and something involving how they all eat their pets.

Dracula 3-D

Dario Argento, known for his exploitation “giallo” films in the ‘70s, is scheduled to attend with his latest film “Dracula 3-D.” A ridiculous poster adorned with Argento’s name and a woman with enormous cleavage plus a hilariously bad 3.7 on IMDB suggests the film is everything you would expect. Hopefully it is amazingly awful in a late Saturday screening.

Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me

This documentary on famed Broadway legend Elaine Stritch features interviews with Stephen Sondheim, Nathan Lane and “30 Rock” collaborator Tina Fey.

The ImmigrantSpecial Screening

Just announced on Friday, James Gray will be in attendance at the Chicago Theater opening night with “The Immigrant,” in which he reteams with “We Own the Night” collaborator Joaquin Phoenix. The film follows a Polish woman (Marion Cotillard) forced into prostitution upon arriving to America.

The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete

Director George Tillman Jr. is being honored at this year’s fest with his Sundance hit starring two “American Idol” alums Jennifer Hudson and Jordin Sparks along with Anthony Mackie and Jeffrey Wright.

Heli

Winner of the Cannes prize for Best Director, “Heli” turned a lot of heads as a shockingly graphic portrayal of the drug and violence cycle in Mexico. Director Amat Escalante has been referred to as a disciple of Carlos Reygadas, who had a film at CIFF last year.

In the Name Of…

This Polish film about a priest struggling with a dark past and his homosexuality has a quite riveting trailer and won a pair of prizes at the Berlin Film Fest.

*Inside Llewyn DavisSpecial Screening

The Coen Brothers will be closing out the festival with their film about a folk singer in ‘60s Greenwich Village. Oscar Isaac earned rave reviews for his performance at Cannes, and he will be in attendance.

Just a Sigh

Starring Emmanuelle Devos and Gabriel Byrne, “Just a Sigh” is a French film that seems reminiscent of “Before Sunrise.”

The Last of the Unjust

Claude Lanzmann, the famed documentarian of the nine-hour “Shoah,” has a new film, “The Last of the Unjust,” which revisits interviews of a Jewish Council Elder. Don’t worry; it’s only three and a half hours long.

*Like Father, Like Son

From Japanese director Kore-eda Hirokazu, “Like Father, Like Son” has been deemed somewhat lighter fare for the director, despite a plot about a family meeting their biological son after a hospital mix-up six years earlier when he was born.

*The Missing Picture

And the award for potentially most depressing film at this year’s fest goes to “The Missing Picture,” a Cannes winning documentary that utilizes clay sculptures to depict the director’s personal experience during the Cambodian genocide.

*The Motel Life

Chicago filmmakers Gabe and Alan Polsky’s melodrama about two poor brothers living on the run stars Emile Hirsch, Stephen Dorff, Kris Kristofferson and Dakota Fanning.

*My Sweet Pepper Land

“My Sweet Pepper Land” is a drama from Iraq, France and Germany about a couple seeking order for their Kurdish village after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The film premiered at Cannes earlier this year.

*NebraskaSpecial Screening

This year’s Centerpiece film will feature an appearance by Bruce Dern, a serious Best Actor contender at the Oscars. Alexander Payne’s film is a black and white road trip comedy about an old man who believes he won the lotto.

The Nun

Based on a classic French novel by Denis Diderot, “The Nun” was nominated for the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and is the chronicle of a girl forced to join the convent at 16.

Of Good Report

“Of Good Report” is a steamy noir from South Africa (where it was banned) about a high school teacher getting involved with a student. The trailer involves a lot of sex and a lot of tango.

*PhilomenaSpecial Screening

Stephen Frears’ “Lay the Favorite” was the disappointing Surprise Screening at last year’s festival, but this year he has serious Oscar bait in the form of Judi Dench playing a mother forced to give away her son born out of wedlock.

Pieces of Me

French film “Pieces of Me” also stars “Blue is the Warmest Color” breakout actress Adele Exarchopolous in a role as a teenager documenting her friends and family with a video camera.

*Salvo

An impeccably made Italian thriller that first premiered at Cannes, “Salvo” is about a hitman turned protector for a blind woman.

Stranger by the Lake

This Cannes holdover won the “Queer Prize” at Cannes along with the Un Certain Regard Directing Prize for Alain Guiraudie.

Stray Dogs

“Stray Dogs” is a Taiwanese film about a father and his two children living meagerly in Taipei. The film has already earned some rave reviews and won the Grand Special Jury Prize at Venice.

A Thousand Times Good Night

In this Norwegian film, Juliette Binoche plays a war photographer injured in a suicide bombing. She’s now forced to choose between her family and her work.

Under the Rainbow

Writer/Director Agnes Jaoui won Best Screenplay at Cannes in 2004 for her film “Look at Me.” “Under the Rainbow” is her latest, a modern romantic reimagining of classic fairy tales.

*The Unknown Known

Errol Morris’s latest documentary profiles Donald Rumsfeld through a series of Rumsfeld’s own Secretary of Defense memos. Unfortunately as I discovered a day after I purchased my ticket, Mr. Morris will NOT be attending the festival.

Viva La Libertá

Toni Servillo (“Il Divo”) stars in this Italian political farce directed and written by Roberto Ando, who also wrote the novel on which it is based.

*Walesa: Man of Hope

Andrzej Wajda is the big auteur for this year’s festival. His latest is a biopic on Polish solidarity leader Lech Walesa.

*Le Week-End

Roger Michell’s last few films have been disappointing, but Jim Broadbent, Jeff Goldblum and this tweet from Lisa Schwarzbaum about Lindsay Duncan’s character give me hope about this old-age marriage comedy.

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

This Taiwanese film is a colorful comedy about a married man’s confused sexual orientation that originally premiered at Tribeca earlier this year.

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