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Chicago Critics Film Festival 2023 preview

May 2, 2023


It’s hard to believe that 10 years has passed since the very first Chicago Critics Film Festival! The inaugural event took place one weekend in May at what used to be called the Muvico theater in Rosemont, Illinois, with guests such as directors Sarah Polley, James Ponsoldt, and William Friedkin. The year after that, the CCFF stretched out it’s length to a week and took residency at the legendary Music Box Theatre in Chicago, which is where it’s been since and where it’s returning this week.

From Friday, May 5th through Thursday, May 11th, the festival will be showcasing some of the standout films that have been shown at various festivals within the past year, such as the New York Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival, the Sundance Film Festival, and the South by Southwest Film Festival. The goal has always been to bring the experience from those festivals to Chicago, curated by certain Chicago film critics (and members of the Chicago Film Critics Association) who’ve attended them, which has made CCFF the only film festival created by film critics.

Indeed, the best part of CCFF has always been the lineup of films that film enthusiasts will be able to see. For those of us, myself included, who can’t make it to those aforementioned festivals, it’s a treat to see them at a nearby theater. That and the special guests, such as filmmakers and actors, that appear to promote and discuss their films, make for some of the most memorable moments of the festival. Some of those filmmakers have had more than of their films in the lineup over the years. CCFF has also become a place to discover spend time with fellow film enthusiasts and embrace the fellowship that has cultivated over the years.

Not only is CCFF a great place to discover new films before their official release, it’s also a place to get reacquainted with films with classic or cult status. In its first year, CCFF showed Friedkin’s “Sorcerer” from 1977 with the director conducting an entertaining discussion afterwards. In recent years, there’s been anniversary screenings of “Alien”, “Jurassic Park”, “Thief” and “Boogie Nights”. This year, there will be a 25th anniversary screening of Alex Proyas’ “Dark City” and a 40th anniversary screening of Philip Kaufman’s “The Right Stuff”, two films that made Roger Ebert’s “best of” year-end lists during the respective years they were released. Both of these films will be shown in 35mm.



This year’s Opening Night kicks off with “BlackBerry” and if you didn’t know the drama surrounded the meteoric rise and catastrophic fall of the titular handheld device, well, this film is for you. The Canadian biopic directed by Matt Johnson (who co-wrote with producer producer Matthew Miller, adapted from Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff’s book Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry) has an unexpectedly contagious pace to it thanks to some energetic editing that accents the comedy in this dramedy. Jay Baruchel gives a career-best performance and is matched by Glenn Howerton, both of whom are assisted by some great veteran character actors: Saul Rubinek, Cary Elwes, and Michael Ironside. Johnson will be there for a discussion of the film afterwards.

During the festival’s opening weekend, viewers will be able to catch films from a variety of genres, some from recognizable directors and some making their feature debuts! You can catch “Afire”, the latest from Christian Petzold (“Phoenix” and “Transit”) on Saturday and Paul Schrader’s new film “Master Gardener” (which completes a trilogy he started with “First Reformed” – also screened that year at CCFF – and “The Card Counter”) on Sunday.

Not to be missed are two impressive programs of Short films that will be offered at the start of the lineup for Saturday and on Monday evening as well. These are put together by friend and fellow critic, Collin Souter, each year and each program is like watching a creatively curated mix tape come to life.



The highlight for me is getting a chance to hear from and meet the special guests, who are there to promote their films. There’s really nothing like seeing a filmmaker take the Music Box stage to a packed audience just after their film has been screened. Check out the image above for a look at the talented artists who will be gracing the stage this year!



The Closing Night of the festival has a double feature lineup that should be quite interesting…Law Chen’s documentary from the Slamdance Film Festival, “Starring Jerry as Himself” that follows how one family’s immigrant father Jerry, a recently divorced and retired Florida man, was recruited by the Chinese police to be an undercover agent. Then there’s this comedy hit from Sundance, which is bound to be a crowd-pleasing closer. Directed by Molly Gordon and Nick Leiberman, “Theater Camp” is about the eccentric staff of a rundown theater camp in upstate New York called the AdironACTS, as they band together with the beloved founder’s bro-y son (Jimmy Tatro) to keep the camp afloat, when she (Amy Sedaris) falls into a coma right before the summer session is set to begin. Sounds like a blast!

Indeed, the Music Box will be bustling with film enthusiasts, critics, and special guests, thanks to CCFF offering plenty of films to experience.

The full lineup can be found here, along with ticket info. Come join us!


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