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Festival Preview: The 10 Best Special Presentations of the Upcoming 55th Chicago International Film Festival

The Talent and Prestige of Scorsese, Malick, Norton, and More Descend on the Windy City From October 16-27

Photo courtesy of Cinema/Chicago
The official banner of the 55th Chicago International Film Festival
Banner courtesy of Cinema/Chicago

For the 55th year, the excellent and eclectic of national and international cinematic art descends on the Windy City for a fall conclave. The 55th Chicago International Film Festival begins on Wednesday, October 16th with the Opening Night bow of Edward Norton’s period crime drama Motherless Child and continues until October 27th with the Closing Night documentary premiere of The Torch chronicling the life of blues legend Buddy Guy. Norton’s film leads an eleven-day showcase of 21 different themed programs containing over 120 films.  

Tickets are available online from their website or at the central box office hosted the AMC River East location downtown. Chicago-based Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic and 25YL staff writer Don Shanahan has credentials to cover the festival for our website. Check back here for future coverage and capsule film reviews throughout the rest of the month.

Motherless Child is the first of several Gala and Special Presentation headliners gracing the festival schedule this year.  They may carry an extra charge, but attendees will be among the first to see these films anywhere in the country.  Here are the top 10 big-name films to catch at this year’s 55th Chicago International Film Festival.


This is the biggest “get” of the bunch.  Ever since its premiere at the New York International Film Festival, the bouquets have been flying towards the newest from Martin Scorsese bankrolled by Netflix.  With few likely opportunities to see this one on the big screen, this Gala Presentation becomes a truly special event.  


Perennially during “awards season,” the Audience Award winner coming out of the Toronto International Film Festival is an immediate Oscar frontrunner.  That is indeed the case with director Taika Waititi’s steep satire. Enjoy an early look at its salacious snickers before it arrives in theatres in November.


This star-studded murder mystery has been anointed the Festival Centerpiece of the 55th Chicago International Film Festival.  Director Rian Johnson will be appearing on the red carpet and leading a post-film discussion. See the movie’s ripe surprises before its Thanksgiving release.


More than mechanical muscle appears to be on display with the combination of Christian Bale and Matt Damon for Logan director James Mangold.  This zippy historical drama promises brawn and style and was a late addition to this festival slate.   


With a wide release date not until mid-January 2020, the newest feature from director Deston Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12) stands as the most advance acquisition on this top-ten list. The Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan vehicle has Oscars on its mind.  See it way before the rest in Chicago.  Director of Photography Brett Pawlak and actors Karan Kendrick and Tim Blake Nelson are scheduled to be in attendance.


Like The Irishman, Marriage Story from noted filmmaker Noah Baumbach will someday be very accessible as a Netflix release.  The big screen is still the best place to absorb the marital challenges between Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. Early reviews have the two of them in the acting races for the Academy Awards.


Speaking of Adam Driver, the talented actor also wowed critics and audiences back at January’s Sundance Film Festival with this scandalous thriller based on true events surrounding post-9/11 terrorist containment and treatment.  Director Scott Z. Burns’ expose will continue to draw attention with every festival stop it makes.  


Director Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou, Talk to Me) will be in attendance to present her hotly anticipated biopic.  Cynthia Erivo from Widows plays the titular Underground Railroad heroine.  Chicago will be graced with the lauded filmmaker for a talkback.


The Shia LeBeouf resurgence is in full swing after this summer’s Peanut Butter Falcon. Honey Boy, however, stands to be his opus.  He wrote this autobiographical story of a young actor (played by Noah Jupe and Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges at different ages) pulled by many troubling influences and stars as his own father. 


Always bubbling to the top of the pedigree department is the equally revered and misunderstood Terrence Malick.  His ominous and newest epic (which is surprisingly only the second-longest film on this list after The Irishman) set in World War II Austria makes its Chicago debut well before its mid-December release.

Written by Don Shanahan

DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing here on Film Obsessive as the Editor-in-Chief and Content Supervisor for the film department. He also writes for his own website, Every Movie Has a Lesson. Don is one of the hosts of the Cinephile Hissy Fit Podcast on the Ruminations Radio Network and sponsored by Film Obsessive. As a school teacher by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Indie Critics and a voting member of the nationally-recognized Critics Choice Association, Online Film Critics Society, North American Film Critics Association, International Film Society Critics Association, Internet Film Critics Society, Online Film and TV Association, and the Celebrity Movie Awards.

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