Last Sunday, “King Richard” (starring Will Smith as the father of Venus and Serena Williams) played at the Music Box Theater in Wrigleyville as part of the 57th annual Chicago International Film Festival. As the credits rolled, not only did the film celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Black Perspectives program — it also signaled the end of the 2021 edition of the fest.
The 12-day event screened 89 films and 10 collections of shorts across multiple competitions. On Friday, CIFF honored the best of the fest with an online awards ceremony.
The festival’s top prize, the Gold Hugo, was presented to “Memoria,” starring Tilda Swinton and directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. The film is Weerasethakul’s English-language debut and follows one woman’s quest in the jungles of Colombia to uncover the source of a sound only she can hear. Like “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” and “Cemetery of Splendor” before it, the film is sure to be another slow, pensive and mystical work from the acclaimed Thai auteur. But good luck seeing it.
Another award winner was Japan’s Ryusuke Hamaguchi, who took home the Silver Hugo for “Drive My Car” as well as the Silver Q-Hugo (in the Out-Look Competition for LGBTQ+ films) for “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy.” Meanwhile, Kasper Tuxen won Best Cinematography for his work on “The Worst Person in the World,” which I reviewed just last week.
The Audience Award will be announced in the coming days on the festival’s website.
For my own personal closure, I’ve decided to finish my coverage of CIFF by definitively ranking every film I saw. But before I dive in, here are some I couldn’t catch: “Flee,” an animated documentary about one man’s escape from Taliban rule in Afghanistan; “The Hand of God” by Paolo Sorrentino; Audrey Diwan’s “Happening,” which won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival; “Parallel Mothers” by Pedro Almodóvar; and “Passing,” the directorial debut of Rebecca Hall. Other films like “The French Dispatch,” “Dune” and “The Last Duel” opened in theaters mere days after their screenings, so I don’t feel bad that I missed them, too.
1. “The Worst Person in the World”
The final film in Norwegian director Joachim Trier’s “Oslo trilogy” follows a woman (the impeccable Renate Reinsve) on the brink of 30 who doesn’t know what she wants. Hilarious and heart-rending in equal measure, this “anthem to restlessness” calls Greta Gerwig to mind. But it’s so much more than that.
2. “The Power of the Dog”
Jane Campion’s assured return to feature filmmaking stars a deliciously wicked Benedict Cumberbatch as a farmhand in 1920s Montana who preys on the wife and child of his brother. A psychosexual drama disguised as a Western, Campion has fashioned a deliberate thriller about the shifting nature of masculinity.
3. “Petite Maman”
“Portrait of a Lady on Fire” mastermind Céline Sciamma returns to the festival with a sweet, short, but soulful examination of the deep bonds formed between mothers and daughters.
Kristen Stewart stars as Diana, Princess of Wales in Pablo Larraín’s spiritual sequel to 2016’s “Jackie.” While the film doesn’t quite reach the heights of its predecessor, it’s handsomely made and beautifully performed.
5. “C’mon C’mon”
“Beginners” and “20th Century Women” writer-director Mike Mills turns his attention from parents to children in this compassionate film starring Joaquin Phoenix. Similar to “Spencer,” it’s not as good as Mills’ previous work, but that’s a damn high bar.
Andrea Arnold makes her documentary debut in this film about the life and times of a dairy cow, told from the cow’s perspective. Arnold’s craftsmanship is unmatched, but there’s a contradiction at the heart of the film that’s hard to shake.
Sure to win Best Picture for all the wrong reasons, this wildly uneven autobiography from Kenneth Branagh doesn’t know how to strike a good balance between its oppositional tones.
8. “Mayor Pete”
Alas, the documentary about loyal son of South Bend, Pete Buttigieg, comes in last on my list. The film is never boring, but it’s also never stimulating; it’s a puff piece that offers little insight into the life or the campaign of the presidential hopeful.
And with that, my work here is done. I’ll see you at the movies.
This article was originally published on October 26, 2021 in The Observer, the daily newspaper of the University of Notre Dame. You can read it here.