By Renee Lorenz Special to Published Sep 07, 2012 at 3:33 PM

The 2012 Milwaukee Film Festival is just a few weeks away. Its holy grail, the program book, debuts tomorrow. As one of the lucky few who got an early glimpse of what's inside, I can tell you two things: the lineup is as amazing as ever, and I'm pretty sure I'm replacing sleep with movie-watching Sept. 27-Oct. 11. And that's not a bad thing.

So after much deliberation, here's my list of 10 can't-miss Milwaukee Film Festival movies (in no particular order).

1. "Blackmail" with the Alloy Orchestra
I'm still kicking myself for missing this music/film pairing when the orchestra came to perform with Fritz Lang's "Metropolis." Lucky for me, I can redeem myself this year when they return to accompany Hitchcock's "Blackmail" at the Oriental. Classic film, classic theater and classic(al) music? Sign me up.

2. "321...Frankie Go Boom"
After finally getting around to watching "Sons of Anarchy," it's going to be weird to see Charlie Hunnam and Ron Perlman in this raunchy comedy. Good weird, I'm sure – it follows Frankie (Hunnam) on his quest to squash a viral video of a one-night stand his brother (Chris O'Dowd, "Bridesmaids") posted on YouTube. Oh, and Perlman is a post-op transsexual hacker, so there's that.

3. "The Sapphires"
Chris O'Dowd (one of my new favorite movie people, by the way) makes another appearance in this inspired-by-a-true-story music comedy about an Australian Aboriginal girl group that goes on tour to entertain U.S. troops in 1968 Vietnam. Despite its war-centric setting, "The Sapphires" promises laughs and upbeat music and dance numbers – and a little unconventional flair to add to this summer's more mainstream musical movie offerings.

4. "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry"
Part of the festival's "Passport: China" programming, this film gives viewers an inside look into the artist's struggle for free expression in modern China. Ai got some local coverage last spring when the Milwaukee Art Museum presented "Summer of China" around the same time the artist was arrested – again – for acting against the Chinese government. With this documentary, audience members can get an intimate look at the many obstacles Ai has had to face for the sake of pursuing his art, as well as how much he's been able to accomplish both in spite of and as a result of them.

5. "High Tech, Low Life"
Another "Passport: China" presentation, "High Tech, Low Life" also covers the conflict between free expression and Chinese rule, but this time through the eyes of two of the country's first citizen reporters. The award-winning documentary follows them across China as they creatively combine their tech skills to skirt the country's Internet censorship and chronicle true news and social stories not covered by the traditional Chinese media.

6. "Five Star Existence"
A look at technology's influence from the other side of the transmission (and the other side of the world), Finnish filmmaker Sonja Linden's feature debut explores people's degree of dependence on today's various media gadgets. It includes expert commentary about computers, video cameras and other high-tech tools' influence on people's lives, plus analysis on how all this technology has changed how people live day to day.

7. "Quartet"
Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly and Michael Gambon star in Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut. That sentence alone sold me. The fact that this comedy centers around a collection of old rivals-turned-residents in an old folks home for retired opera singers (Seriously, is that a thing?) is just icing.

8. "The Sessions"
John Hawkes (Winter's Bone) stars in this adaptation of journalist and poet Mark O'Brien's autobiographical writings. Having spent almost his whole life in an iron lung, 38-year-old O'Brien decides he wants to lose his virginity. He enlists the help of a "sex surrogate" (Helen Hunt) and the counsel of a priest (William H. Macy) to accomplish his goal. This Sundance darling and early Oscar contender serves as the festival's closing night spotlight presentation.

9. "Beauty is Embarrassing"
Have you ever wanted to explore the mind of the designer behind "Pee-wee's Playhouse"? I, for one, am more than intrigued, and will certainly take the opportunity with this clever and colorful doc. Not only is the festival providing the film, which explores what makes him tick on-screen with commentary from Matt Groening, Paul Reubens and other collaborators, they're bringing White himself to Alterra on Prospect after the Sept. 30 screening at the Oriental.

10. Shorts: "With a Little Help From My Friends"
There are six films in this themed shorts program, which is just one of several showing over the course of the festival. "The Extraordinary Life of Rocky," "Frozen Stories (Opowiesci Z Chlodin)," "I Still Love Them (Je Les Aime Encore)," "Jim & Frank," "The North London Book of the Dead," "Old Friends" and "The Paris Quintet in Practice Makes Perfect" make up a collective that covers all kinds of friendships, be them great, small or just a little off-kilter. It's like they know me or something.

Bonus selection! Shorts: "Whodunit?"
Eighty-nine minutes, seven movies and six little words: who, what, when, where, why and how. That, plus some cryptically brief and mysterious plot snippets, is how the festival has billed its "Whodunit?" shorts program. I say it a lot, but I love a good intrigue – so much so that I just couldn't bring myself to leave this off my list.

Want to set your Milwaukee Film Festival game plan? Get your program book at the Backyard BBQ in Cathedral Square Park this Saturday, or keep an eye out around town starting Sunday.

Renee Lorenz Special to

Contrary to her natural state of being, Renee Lorenz is a total optimist when it comes to Milwaukee. Since beginning her career with, her occasional forays into the awesomeness that is the Brew City have turned into an overwhelming desire to discover anything and everything that's new, fun or just ... "different."

Expect her random musings to cover both the new and "new-to-her" aspects of Miltown goings-on, in addition to periodically straying completely off-topic, which usually manifests itself in the form of an obscure movie reference.