Best Film Festival or Series
rThe Reader's ChoiceEuropean Union Film Festival
This seems like overkill, because we've been featuring the EU fest in Movies all month. But without the Chicago Documentary Festival—which postponed its 2008 festival to this spring and has now canceled it altogether—the Gene Siskel Film Center's annual March series of recent European releases is the city's best bet for catching great new movies. All 27 EU nations are represented in this year's festival, which includes 59 feature films, all of them Chicago premieres. In just the last five years, the EU fest has also brought the Chicago premieres of Jan Hrebejk's Beauty in Trouble, Marco Tullio Giordana's The Best of Youth, Laurent Cantet's The Class, Lars von Trier's Dogville, Fatih Akin's The Edge of Heaven, Jose Luis Guerin's In the City of of Sylvia, Theo van Gogh's Interview, Philip Gröning's Into Great Silence, Danny Boyle's Millions, Jean-Luc Godard's Moments Choisis des Histoire(s) du Cinema, Alain Resnais' Private Fears in Public Places, and Guillaume Canet's Tell No One. See our regular Movies section for info on the final screenings of this year's edition, or visit siskelfilmcenter.com. aGene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State, 312-846-2600. —J.R. Jones
&Our readers' choiceChicago International Film Festival
a Thu-Wed 10/8-10/21, chicagofilmfestival.org.
rThe Reader's ChoiceSteve James and Peter Gilbert
Apologies to Harold Ramis, a dyed-in-the-wool Chicagoan whose track record of clever, expertly paced comedies (Caddyshack, National Lampoon's Vacation, Groundhog Day, Analyze This, The Ice Harvest) makes him the best writer-director of the SNL/SCTV generation after Christopher Guest. (Ramis's latest feature, produced by Judd Apatow and scheduled for release in June, is The Year One, starring Michael Cera and Jack Black as a couple of primitive hunter-gatherers.) But only producer-director Steve James and producer-director-cinematographer Peter Gilbert of the documentary institution Kartemquin Films can point to a trio of accomplishments like Hoop Dreams (1994), Stevie (2002), and last year's At the Death House Door. The first film, which tracked the fortunes of two young basketball hopefuls over seven years, and the second, which recorded the trials of a downstate man who as a child had gotten James for a Big Brother, are both notable for their length, depth, and social sweep. At the Death House Door is more impressive for its punch, profiling a Texas minister who counseled nearly a hundred inmates on their way to the death chamber. In their movies James and Gilbert have doggedly focused on the powerless, turning out films unimpeachable in their authenticity. —J.R. Jones
&Our readers' choiceJoe Swanberg
Best Film Made in Chicago, Ever
rThe Reader's ChoiceNorth by Northwest
It's hardly celebrated as a "Chicago film"—most people remember it for the crop-duster sequence, shot in northern Indiana, and the climax on Mount Rushmore. But nothing else shot in Chicago really approaches the classic status of Alfred Hitchcock's 1959 thriller, which includes scenes at the Ambassador East and Midway Airport. It's the big CTA bus blocking the lane, but behind it sits an impressive line of steamed motorists: Arthur Penn's Mickey One (1964), Haskell Wexler's Medium Cool (1969), George Roy Hill's The Sting (1973), Paul Brickman's Risky Business (1983), John McNaughton's Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986), Brian De Palma's The Untouchables (1987), Harold Ramis's Groundhog Day (1993), Steve James's Hoop Dreams (1994), and Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight (2008). The last film, with its spectacular use of the city's steel and glass, may be the most dramatic rendering of Chicago architecture in movies—though as an authentic Chicago story nothing touches Hoop Dreams, which enlarged people's sense of who lives in Chicago and what their lives mean. —J.R. Jones
&Our readers' choiceThe Dark Knight
Best Library Branch for Borrowing Videos
rThe Reader's ChoiceHarold Washington Library Center
OK, it's not a branch, and technically neither are the regional libraries with big video collections (Sulzer on the north side with 14,531 titles, Woodson on the south with 3,937). But if you're patient you can have any of the library system's 13,079 DVDs or 25,880 VHS tapes transferred to your local branch. If you're not, you might want to check out chipublib.org for an index of the 556 titles you can download for home viewing. Many of these are PBS specials and the like, but you can also find plenty of classic dramas and comedies, among them The Kid (1921), Nosferatu (1922), Steamboat Bill Jr. (1927), Metropolis (1927), A Star Is Born (1935), My Man Godfrey (1936), Love Affair (1939), His Girl Friday (1940), Meet John Doe (1941), The Man With the Golden Arm (1955), Little Shop of Horrors (1960), Night of the Living Dead (1968), and Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972); more contemporary fare includes Perfect Blue (2000), Super Size Me (2004), and The World's Fastest Indian (2005). aHarold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State, 312-747-4300, chipublib.org/search/movies.
&Our readers' choiceHarold Washington Library Center