With the 50th Chicago International Film Festival coming to a close, we’ve ran out of chances to catch the films from around the world that will define the next year of cinema. Here’s our favorites from this year’s CIFF:
10. The Babadook
Directed by Jennifer Kent
See it: November 28, 2014
From the sound design that enlivens every object with a deep thumping or high-pitched buzzing, to the wonderfully creative cinematography, to young Wiseman’s truly disturbing performance, “The Babadook” is the year’s must-see horror film.
9. National Gallery
Directed by Frederick Wiseman
United States of America
See it: TBA, late 2014-early 2015
Frederick Wiseman’s long-form, observational style of documentary filmmaking may appear to be an assemblage of footage with no traditional “story,” but, like the great works of art living in London’s National Gallery, Wiseman’s work is full of intent, structure, and drama waiting to be unlocked by the willing viewer.
8. Two Days, One Night
Directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
See it: December 24, 2014
This enormously satisfying neorealist domestic drama exposes working class hardship without sentimentality and is The Dardenne Brothers’ most compelling film since 2005’s Palme d’Or winner “L’enfant.”
7. Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem
Directed by Ronit Elkabetz, Shlomi Elkabetz
See it: Early 2015
Earnest performances from veteran actors make this a compelling, immersive experience that will leave you reeling against traditionalism.
6. Black Coal, Thin Ice
Directed by Yi’nan Diao
See it: Early 2015
Neon-lit streets, an eerie ice-skating rink, and the “Daytime Fireworks Club” are among the locales in which the threads of this measured and complex Chinese thriller are wound. Director Yi’nan Diao (“Night Train”) uses classic noir elements and a splash of pulp to craft an irresistible mystery, and won the top prize at the Berlin International Film Festival for his efforts.
5. The Way He Looks
Directed by Daniel Ribeiro
See it: November 7, 2014
At the Chicago International Film Festival, I overheard a few volunteers mention that “The Way He Looks” had received a rare, nearly unanimous “5 out of 5” from the audience. As a critic, this film is such easy work: I’ll take it exactly as it is. “The Way He Looks” is Brazil’s submission to the 87th Academy Awards, and a near perfect romance.
4. Force Majeure
Directed by Ruben Östlund
See it: November 21, 2014
Östlund’s film is raising questions on masculinity and moral responsibility that audiences can’t stop arguing about – a wonderful bright spot for anyone disillusioned by binge-and-forget TV culture. Östlund is committed to our entertainment and delivers on every level – providing comedy and drama that actively invites the audience to contribute their point of view. It’s both slickly presented and deeply considered.
3. Echo of the Mountain
Directed by Nicolás Echevarría
See it: TBA
This penetrating, lyrical documentary by Nicolás Echevarría (“Cabeza de Vaca”) follows the great Huichol artist Santos de la Torre while he participates in spiritual rituals in preparation for a new piece. Echevarría becomes part filmmaker part anthropologist with this beautiful portrait piece that’s as ethnographic as it is an artistic achievement in its own right.
2. Winter Sleep
Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
See it: December 19, 2014
Is there a more brazen act of pure artistic achievement this year than “Winter Sleep” winning the Palme d’Or? After all, Nuri Bilge Ceylan (“Once Upon a Time in Anatolia”) didn’t end up with a 196-minute character study by thinking about box office figures and public approval. No, Ceylan was going to make “Winter Sleep” whether anyone liked it or not. But while an audience is always to be found at the intersection of artistic integrity and technical brilliance, it’s a special relief to see “Winter Sleep” take the top prize at Cannes, guaranteeing its success in the cinephile community and jump-starting its campaign representing Turkey at the Academy Awards in February of 2015.
1. Stations of the Cross
Directed by Dietrich Brüggemann
See it: TBA, late 2014 – early 2015
“Stations of the Cross” is one of the most arresting pieces of work, of any medium, I’ve ever seen. It’s a powerful indictment of religious extremism that’s as provocative as it is deeply upsetting. Brüggemann isn’t condemning religion altogether here, making this a must-see discussion piece for viewers of all faiths. Just don’t bring a fundamentalist – by the end they’ll have big problems with the film and you’ll have big problems with them.
To view all of our reviews from the 50th Chicago International Film Festival, including the ones that weren’t so great, return to the archive at the link below. Thanks for reading!Return to CIFF 2014 Coverage