With the Chicago International Film Festival celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Indie Outlook is highlighting 50 of the most enticing titles scheduled to screen during the fest’s two-week run (from October 9th to the 23rd). Though some of these movies were already on my most anticipated list of 2014, and are scheduled to arrive in theaters in the coming months, the pictures I find most thrilling are the out-of-nowhere surprises that may never receive a U.S. release, making their appearance here all the more vital. To honor the festival’s half-century-long legacy, there will be a larger-than-usual number of retrospective screenings this year, giving audiences a rare opportunity to view both treasured classics and lost gems as they were originally intended to be experienced: on the biggest screen possible.
I’ve separated my picks into the following categories: Oscar Hopefuls, Indie Favorites, Starry Nights, Festival Flashbacks, Shots in the Dark and Critic’s Choices. To find tickets and showtimes for a particular film, just click on its title and you’ll be directed to its official page on the CIFF site.
5 OSCAR HOPEFULS
Michael Keaton makes a comeback in Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s show business satire.
Benedict Cumberbatch’s timely fact-based thriller was the audience choice at Toronto.
Bill Murray lends his cantankerous deadpan persona to this comic charmer.
The Dardenne Brothers cast Marion Cotillard in their latest socially conscious drama.
Reese Witherspoon hikes through the desert in search of her own McConaissance.
5 INDIE FAVORITES
Kris Swanberg, wife of Joe and a superb filmmaker, has an entry in “Shorts 1: City & State.”
Mark Duplass stars in Patrick Brice’s debut film promising multitudes of creepiness.
Maika Monroe, so good in “The Guest,” is back in David Robert Mitchell’s paranoid thriller.
Stephen Cone (“The Wise Kids”) turns his wonderful short, “Support,” into a feature.
Mira Nair helms one of nine shorts tackling religion and spirituality around the world.
5 STARRY NIGHTS
After lighting up the screen in “Belle,” Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays a pop superstar.
Juliette Binoche plays an aging actress, though seriously, folks, Binoche is ageless.
Anna Kendrick sings her way through a breakup musical not involving cups.
John Hawkes and Elle Fanning star in a biopic on jazz pianist John Albany.
Liv Ullmann will be here IN PERSON to present her adaptation of August Strindberg’s play.
10 FESTIVAL FLASHBACKS
Oliver Stone presents his extended, preferred version of his much-maligned 2004 biopic.
Lars von Trier’s shattering 1996 epic features a galvanizing performance by Emily Watson.
Ingmar Bergman’s sprawling 1982 family portrait is among his most acclaimed works.
Jan Troell’s black-and-white coming-of-age yarn won the Gold Hugo at CIFF in 1967.
A 1939 Hitchcock curiosity that’s far from his best, but cinephiles should flock to it anyway.
Milos Forman’s 1975 anti-conformist classic earned boisterous applause at its CIFF debut.
Michael Moore’s 1989 landmark offers a master class in the art of editing.
Judy Garland is flat-out astonishing in George Cukor’s wrenching 1954 musical.
Highlighting this year’s Isabelle Huppert retrospective is Claire Denis’s shocking 2009 drama.
A 1929 silent film starring CIFF co-founder Colleen Moore is unearthed and restored.
10 SHOTS IN THE DARK
The photography alone makes this noir-drenched descent into debauchery worth a look.
Irene Gutiérrez’s documentary centers on an old man living in an abandoned hotel.
Documentarian Chuck Workman takes on the formidable life of cinema’s eternal boy genius.
The synopsis of Jean-Pierre Ameris’s drama is evocative of “The Miracle Worker.”
The tale of a woman refusing to evacuate her village is told in long tracking shots.
A series of characters rotate through a single room in Igor Ivanov’s ensemble piece.
“Dragon Tattoo”’s Niels Arden Oplev explores the impact of pornography on a ‘70s-era youth.
The sexual awakening of a 15-year-old girl is “portrayed on a cosmic scale.”
Danish films are darker than most, and this teen revenge pic looks like no exception.
Up-and-coming German talent Liv Lisa Fries plays a terminally ill woman facing mortality.
15 CRITIC’S CHOICES
Scary movies are rarely scary these days, but Jennifer Kent’s spookfest has earned raves.
Aristocratic Western Europe as seen through the glistening eyes of three lovers.
Winner of Berlin’s top prize, Diao Yinan’s piece of Chinese pulp fiction looks frostily cool.
Justin Simien’s comedy has been one of the most talked-about films on the festival circuit.
Ruben Ösland comedically chronicles the impact of an avalanche on a vacationing family.
György Pálfi’s latest promises some of the most surreal imagery at this year’s festival.
An excruciatingly prolonged Israeli divorce could also be titled “The Long Long Goodbye.”
“Cloud Atlas”’s beguiling Doona Bae plays a policewoman who bonds with an abused girl.
A teacher forms an unnatural fixation on her remarkably gifted five-year-old student.
Joshua Oppenheimer’s follow-up to last year’s devastating doc, “The Act of Killing.”
Laughed out loud when I saw the official photo for this oddball equestrian comedy.
14 chapters, each captured in a single take, follow a young woman’s journey of faith.
Abderrahmane Sissako’s stirring ode to the defiance of Mali in the face of militants.
Maya Vitkova’s film about a woman without a bellybutton sounds flat-out fascinating.
Though it put some to sleep, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s drama won the Palme d’Or at Cannes.