The 2019 Chicago International Film Festival has come to a close featuring a myriad number of films from around the world. While the winners have been announced (chicagofilmfestival.com/festival/festival-award-winners/), the buzz is more about the big films that are soon to be released in theaters in the coming weeks in hopes of an Oscar nod.

Several of these films premiered at prestigious festivals such as the Sundance and Toronto International Film Festivals including “Ford v Ferrari,” “Jojo Rabbit,” “A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood,” “Clemency,” and “Knives Out,” all a part of my previous “Best of the Fest” articles, but now included on that list are several other films: “Just Mercy,” “Waves,” “The Irishman,” and “The Aeronauts.”

“Just Mercy,” based on the book by Bryan Stevenson, tells the dramatically true story of one man, Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), who is falsely accused of murder and is sentenced to death row before his trial. Another man’s fight for justice, attorney Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), opens the doors of hope, standing up for those who cannot.

This is one of the most compelling films of the year, revealing the intricacies of the law, its flaws, and the injustices revolving around prejudice. Rarely can a film compare to a book and while the screenwriters sparingly use amalgams of characters and events, the emotional and factual elements remain.

It’s a stunning legal story of humanity and compassion that will change your perceptions of our penal system and understanding of one another and ourselves. (Opens Jan. 10, 2020)

Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones star in the “The Aeronauts,” a story of a female aeronaut and a discredited scientist trying to prove that weather prediction is possible. Calling himself a meteorologist, the two fly into new territory, breaking records, gathering information, but there’s a price to pay.

It’s a non-linear story giving us integral information about their backgrounds and what compels them to do what they do. This is breathtaking with its cinematography and stunts and I found myself actually screaming aloud and gasping, much to the chagrin or entertainment of the critic sitting next to me.

Jones has a chance to shine, showcasing her character’s vibrant and daring personality and Redmayne finds a natural rhythm portraying a determined yet awkwardly uncertain young man. “The Aeronauts” is spellbinding. (Opens Dec. 20)

“The Irishman” is one of the most highly-anticipated films of the year and rightfully so. Directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci among many others, these legends in the film world give us a compelling story with riveting performances as we learn about a familiar story in a refreshingly new way.

Based on the book “I Heard You Paint Houses” by Charles Brandt, mafia fixer Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran recalls his life and his involvement in the mob and relationship with Teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa. It’s a road trip film and we, the viewer, are invited along as Sheeran reflects upon his personal life and his “work.”

Scorsese pulls us into the film, his cinematic style creating a sense that we are in the room witnessing the events at hand. De Niro, Pacino and Pesci bring their lifetime of skills and experiences to the game, demonstrating their best work perhaps ever.

While it is 3 ½ hours, and some editing might have been beneficial, this is a masterpiece of a character study, telling a story about loyalty, family, and betrayal. (Opens in Chicago Nov. 8, streaming on Netflix Nov. 27)

“Waves” is one of those films that pushes you to feel the emotions of the film more than trying to follow a narrative arc. The story focuses upon a young black man who has the world before him, opportunities abound, but a tragic event occurs to derail this positive trajectory.

The film stars Kelvin Harrison Jr. (“Luce”) in the first part of this two-part story, coping with the effects of his domineering yet well-meaning father. His sister, Emily (Taylor Russell), is impacted by her brother’s issues as they all attempt to move forward, heal and live.

This is a story told in a manner not seen before with its bold risk in style. The evocative performances, dizzying cinematography correlating to the emotional situations at hand, and a musical score punctuates it all, presenting this visceral cinematic experience written and directed by Trey Edward Shults. (Opens Nov. 14)

The 2019 lackluster year in film is starting to shine, and CIFF offered some of the best films the year has to offer. The race for Oscar has begun.

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