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Festivalspotting, from Filmspotting!

Each week on Filmspotting -- available via iTunes and on WBEZ, Chicago -- hosts Adam Kempenaar and Josh Larsen offer in-depth discussions of the latest film releases and their trademark Top 5 lists. What are the all-time best Chicago International Film Festival movies? Adam and Josh reveal five personal favorites. Learn more about Filmspotting here!

 

The Devil’s Backbone (2001)
Josh:
 I came to Guillermo del Toro a bit late, but it would have been even later if it wasn’t for the Festival, which screened his third feature, The Devil’s Backbone, in 2001. A ghost story set in an orphanage in the wake of the Spanish Civil War? That’s all I needed to hear to be interested. But then I experienced del Toro’s unique blend of genre tropes and invasive fantasy. I was hooked.

 

Roger Dodger (2002)

Adam: I moved to Chicago from Iowa City in mid-September 2002, just in time for my first Festival. Former Filmspotting host and now producer Sam Van Hallgren and I were intrigued by writer/director Dylan Kidd’s debut solely because it starred Campbell Scott, who we liked from Singles, Big Night and other films. As the titular Roger -- an immature, misogynistic, cynical, motor-mouthed ad copywriter -- Scott gives his defining performance. Sample widsom: “You can't sell a product without first making people feel bad” … “You drink that drink! Alcohol has been a social lubricant for thousands of years. What do you think, you're going to sit here tonight and reinvent the wheel?” Jesse Eisenberg, in his first film role, plays Roger’s naive, sex-obsessed nephew from Ohio looking for a good time. One of my all-time favorite ‘overlooked’ movies.

 

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)

Adam: I showed up late to this Festival screening and got stuck in the second row, never the best seat in the house. But the proximity to the screen actually enhanced my experience, adding to the sense of disorientation I felt being ‘locked in’ to the point of view of Jean-Dominique Bauby, the editor-in-chief of French Elle magazine who suffered a major stroke and awoke to find he was fully mentally aware but physically paralyzed. Director Julian Schnabel takes us inside Bauby’s still furtive mind, visualizing his memories and fantasies -- his, and our, only escape. How Bauby managed to write his memoir while in this state may be one of the most amazing, heartbreaking tales of human perseverance ever.

 

The Impossible (2012)

Josh: Adam and I had one of our liveliest debates on the show over this Oscar nominee, which first came to Chicago at last year’s festival. Director Juan Antonio Bayona dramatizes a British family’s struggle to survive in the wake of the 2004 tsunami in Thailand. With this and El orfanato (The Orphanage), Bayona has proven himself a master audience manipulator, yet what struck me about The Impossible is how the large-scale disaster is experienced in such an intimate way -- through this specific family and their particular relationships.

 

Something in the Air (2012)

Adam: Olivier Assayas’ semi-autobiographical portrait of the artist as a young revolutionary was my favorite film from the 2012 festival, and stands as one of my favorite films of 2013 so far (it opened in Chicago and select cities in May). I’m a sucker for films about artists and the artistic process in general, so I got to geek out on the debates we see various characters engage in about the role of the filmmaker and proper (political) aesthetics. Gilles (Clément Métayer) is ablaze with passionate fervor, but more for art itself than for using art as an instrument for change.  Assayas reveals how easy it is to conflate the two, especially coming of age in France, as he did, in the wake of the civil unrest and student riots of May 1968.