Tonight, the 51st Chicago International Film Festival kicks off and it is a festival near and dear to my heart. I first attended the festival in 2008, where I got to see Darren Aronofsky’s masterpiece “The Wrestler”. I was also lucky enough to meet Mr. Aronofsky after the screening and talk to him about wrestling and filmmaking, which, for a 20 year old film student, was mind-blowing. I have attended the festival every year since and my favorite thing about the Chicago International Film Festival is the diversity in the films that they show. In one day, I can see a star-studded prestige pic, a bizarre and ambiguous foreign film, and film made by a Chicago local. I have seen movies at this festival over the years that only hundred of people around the world have seen. Here is a list of my favorite films that you have probably never heard of.
Oh, and you’re welcome in advance.
5 – A Lonely Place to Die (Julian Gibley, 2011)
I remember the night I was going to see this movie, I almost skipped it. It was towards the end of the festival and I was exhausted from long festival days, little sleep, and working my full-time job at the time. I decided to give it a half hour and choose then if I was to stay or leave. Boy am I glad I stayed. The film follows a group of hikers who discover a kidnapped girl and are then hunted by the captures. It is a heart-racing two hour chase sequence, as we watch the hikers get shot at and attacked by the captors. It also has some breath-taking cinematography. This one is available on Netflix, so definitely check it out.
4 – F*ckload of Scotchtape (Julian Grant, 2012)
The title alone should intrigue you. Director and Chicago native Julian Grant made a musical Neo-Noir unlike anything I have ever seen before. The film centers around a patsy named Benji (Graham C. Jenkins) who is set up to take the fall for a kidnapping that led to a murder, but has the money he was owed stolen and goes on a rampage of revenge. Benji deals with gangsters, hitmen, and strippers on his revenge path while also belting some grizzled, soulful rock blues tunes. It is a dirty, bloody, pulp novel and a unique film-going experience, especially for genre loving cinephiles.
3 – Trust (David Schwimmer, 2010)
If there is one movie on this list you may have heard of, it’s probably this one. This is a tough, realistic message movie directed by Ross from “Friends”. That’s right, David Schwimmer made one of the more socially relevant movies of this decade by showing us what happens to a teenage girl (Liana Liberato) and her family after she is the victim to a sexual predator. Liberato, who was only 15 when she made this movie, is a revelation, giving one of the decades best performances as the naive teen. She gives us a complex look at the teenage mindset during this hard time and does a better job than most actresses would have. Clive Owen and Catherine Keener are also very good as her parents who deal with the situation differently. Schwimmer hasn’t directed a movie since “Trust”, but whatever his next project is, you can color me excited.
2 – Rabies (Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, 2011)
Most people have heard of Keshales and Papushado’s brilliant 2013 crime thriller “Big Bad Wolves”, but most do not know about their debut film which literally launched the horror genre in Israel. When a woman is trapped by a psychotic killer, her brother must try feverishly to save her before it’s too late. During his rescue attempt, a group of tennis players, a ranger and his dog, and a few police officers are all inadvertently intertwined in the mission and people start dying. What starts off as a typical slasher flick quickly veers another direction and has you guessing the whole movie. The characters aren’t cliche, the violence is shocking, and the movie is darkly funny. Like “Big Bad Wolves”, “Rabies” is as unconventional and is brilliant.
1 – The Defiled (Julian Grant, 2010)
This is one of the most mind-blowing cinematic experiences I have ever had. Made on an extremely micro-budget, director Julian Grant made a nearly wordless zombie flick that is one of the great horror movies of the 2010’s. In the near future, a virus has turned almost everybody into mindless cannibals. When one of them (Brian Shaw) finds a newborn baby, he uses what little mind he has left and partners up with an uninfected woman (Kathleen Lawlor) to protect the baby from the other cannibals. “The Defiled” is a mixture of old-school Romero meets “28 Days Later” with a little Buster Keaton mixed in. Dialog is said through grunts, moans, body language, and a lingering, haunting score. The blood, gore, and terror never let’s up. This is a film I will never forget. It’s also available on YouTube right HERE, so watch it.
Check these movies out and all of my coverage of this year’s Chicago International Film Festival over the next weeks.
Images courtesy of YouTube.