It’s now an annual tradition that in early September, I wonder about how the Milwaukee Film Festival could possibly outdo their line-up from the previous year … and then they proceed to do exactly that.
The 2013 set list, released this morning, is a spectacular collection of 240 flicks for adults and kids, hardcore cinephiles and those whose knowledge of film extends as far as knowing about that one movie with that guy in it (you know … that one).
You want comedy? They have that. You want drama? They have that. You want a movie about a guy whose girlfriend rejects his jumbotron marriage proposal because his, uh, manhood is too small, sending him on a globetrotting journey to discover if size really matters? Well, that’d just be ridicu … OH WAIT, THEY HAVE THAT!
Basically what I’m trying to say is that if can’t find one or two or ten movies that pique your interest, you probably don’t like anything, and I feel bad for you. But if all you need is a little guidance – and with 240 films, it’s easy to be a little intimidated – here are the ten selections I’m most excited about (my editor wouldn’t let me do 50) [Editor's note: That's a lie!].
Perhaps no movie this year has received more acclaim and praise then Joshua Oppenheimer’s "The Act of Killing." The documentary follows Oppenheimer as he challenges former Indonesian death squad leaders to reenact their horrific crimes against humanity in whatever film genre they would like. According to those who’ve seen it, the results are terrifying, gripping and even life-changing.
I doubt it’ll be an easy watch, but any movie that comes with words like "masterpiece" attached has my attention … and my butt in a seat.
As I’ve proclaimed on this website before, "2001: A Space Odyssey" is one of my favorite science fiction movies. It’s a fascinating sensory experience combined with a tense space-based horror flick, put together as only the master Stanley Kubrick could’ve done it. So if it was that kind of overwhelmingly hypnotic mind-trip on a TV in my basement, I can’t even imagine what it’ll be like on the big screen on a beautiful 35 mm print. Actually, I can imagine it, and it makes me very, very, ridiculously happy.
Sarah Polley’s documentary "Stories We Tell" follows the young actress-turned-director as she dives into intimidating material: her own family’s past. The Oriental and Downer teased at getting the very personal – as well as very acclaimed – film earlier this year, so it’s nice to see the festival snag it for Milwaukee. Take the family, and maybe afterward have a chat about your own family’s stories.
The Dissolve: The State of Cinema
Okay, so this isn’t an actual movie, but for me, this is one of the most exciting things the festival has planned. Tasha Robinson, Scott Tobias, Keith Phipps and Nathan Rabin of The Dissolve, Pitchfork’s new film website, will be coming to town to take part in a roundtable discussion on the state of cinema and present one of their favorite films, Brian De Palma’s 1981 "Blow Out."
If you haven’t checked out The Dissolve yet, do so now. Its writers are doing some of the best writing about film out there. They write like the spirit of Roger Ebert divided equally amongst them, delivering mind-opening insight while never being above amusing and relating to their readers, film nerds and noobs alike. I have no doubt they’ll be the same way in person.
The Milwaukee Film Festival’s centerpiece presentation of "Earth," a classic 1930 Russian silent film from Aleksandr Dovzhenko, exemplifies why I think the festival is one of the best things the city of Milwaukee does. It’s art, education and entertainment combined into one amazing evening.
For film nerds, it’s a chance to see a rare 35 mm (that’s right, actual film!) print of a classic, if uncommon, movie. For casual film fans who don’t know their Dovzhenkos from their Eisensteins, it’s a chance to experience seeing a silent film on the big screen with live musical accompaniment (provided by Milwaukee’s own Altos). Basically, if you’re a human being in the city of Milwaukee in early October, you should probably seek out "Earth."
Contrary to what some may believe, not everything at the film festival is all pretentious hoity-toity drama and bizarre experimental movies. There’s also plenty of tense action, smartly crafted gunplay and taut criminal underworld drama to put most of Hollywood’s action offerings to shame. That’s where Johnnie To’s "Drug War" comes into the picture. To has earned a reputation as one of the best foreign action directors currently in the business, and from the looks of it, "Drug War" is only going to further cement that.
Here’s a bonus recommendation: For those who like their intense criminal underworld action with a bit more of a Nordic flavor, "Northwest" should fit the bill quite nicely.
Meryl Streep. Julia Roberts, Benedict Cumberbatch. Chris Cooper. Sam Shepard. Ewan McGregor. No, that’s not some kind of Screen Actors Guild-sponsored version of "The Avengers." That’s the cast of "August: Osage County," the new dark comedy based on the award-winning (both Tony and Pulitzer) play by Tracy Letts. Expect a lot of Oscar buzz when it gets a wide release come Christmas Day. Also expect a lot of jealous glares when you tell your friends that you already saw it two months ago at the film festival.
Every year, the Milwaukee Film Festival usually serves up a delicious meal of some of the finest film documentaries on the menu. "Spinning Plates" and "Mussels in Love" are 2013’s main courses, but the one I’m looking forward to the most focuses on not on what’s on the plate, but what’s in your glass: wine.
"Somm" follows four men attempting to pass one of the hardest tests in the world – the Master Sommelier exam – and become masters of merlot … and every other wine on the face of the Earth as well. I wouldn’t recommend watching this one without a tasty refreshment on hand.
Ben Wheatley has only made three feature films (his fourth, "A Field in England," is set for release early next year), but he’s already built a solid reputation on making films that twist genres, plots and moralities into something fascinatingly new. "Sightseers" seems no different, following a happy couple (the boyfriend is played by Steve Oram, last seen as the motorcycle cop in "The World’s End") on a road trip that gets … complicated. Violently complicated.
I’ll leave the details to a minimum because, as fans of Wheatley’s last film "Kill List" know, the less you know going in, the better. In case you need another reason to check out "Sightseers," though, writer-director Edgar Wright serves as an executive producer. He knows a thing or two about movies, namely of the good variety.
A "Flight of the Conchords" movie sadly seems out of the picture for the time being. "The History of Future Folk," however, looks like it might nicely tide over fans of the New Zealanders’ quirky sense of musically-enhanced humor. The film follows a duo of aliens who originally planned to destroy our planet, but instead decided to make a charming bluegrass band and tour New York City. I’m pretty sure that’s how "War of the Worlds" went too.
And that’s just scratching the surface. The official program book will be released tomorrow from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the East Town Farmers Market in Cathedral Park Square, so pick one up and check out what the festival has to offer. Then plan to kiss your family, friends and co-workers goodbye for two weeks at the end of the month. Unless, of course, they want to come too.
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