Previewing the Chicago Critics Film Festival

Audiences lined up and packed the Music Box Theatre’s massive, 800-seat main auditorium to see David Wain’s They Came Together. You wouldn’t believe that this festival was only in its second year. You also wouldn’t believe how much it thrived from its first outing.

I was there for it. It took place in Rosemont, an outskirt suburb of Chicago, in one of the state’s largest multiplexes. Designed as a faux cathedral and enlaced with luxury, reclining seating fit for two human beings, it wasn’t the ideal setting for a festival designed to highlight independent cinema. The opening night film, Sarah Polley’s moving documentary, Stories We Tell, saw the director in attendance for a Q&A filled to 20% capacity. Same goes for James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now, a major coup for the festival, that saw an even larger theater with fewer than 30 people in attendance for a post-film Q&A. 

But the films were there. Much like the Gene Siskel Film Center’s European Union Film Festival, you gather that the members of the Chicago Film Critics Association carefully curate the schedule, looking for the most intriguing festival titles of the year. In its fourth year, their third at the Music Box Theatre, the festival already feels like an institution, providing Chicago moviegoers with a unique festival setting of vetted and ambitious works. From its meager beginnings, the festival has surpassed any and all expectations, becoming an annual event that draws in the crowds – the few that were in attendance during those early screenings would’ve never anticipated this kind of growth. 

I’ll be covering the festival throughout its run from May 20 to the 26th. For a complete schedule of films and additional ticket information, please see the Chicago Film Critics Festival’s official site here. Below you'll find a selection of capsule reviews for films screened during the festival.