No one would begrudge Milwaukee Film if they mailed it in for the 2018 festival. As it turns out, opening an entire year-round movie theater, housed in a century-old historic Milwaukee institution that’s beautiful but also in need of repairs, is quite the endeavor. Takes a little time and effort – who knew?! So, in all honesty, I wouldn’t have been surprised if maybe this year’s lineup was solid if unspectacular.
Instead, Milwaukee Film delivered arguably one of its best collections of movies. I can’t believe I ever doubted you guys.
The easy part, however, is drooling over the literal hundreds of movies of all shapes, sizes and genres at your perusal. The hard part is figuring out how you’re going to fit them all into your schedule. Unfortunately, Doc Brown isn’t real, so time travel is out of the question, and the gods of science and religion refuse to accept my bribes and add just a few more hours to the day. Also, you should probably make time for eating and sleeping. Turns out they’re not optional – despite my attempts to prove the opposite.
So it’s time to make some hard choices – and to help make those tough picks, I’ve selected the ten movies you should definitely seek out at the 2018 Milwaukee Film Festival, starting tonight and running through Nov. 1.
1. "Support the Girls"
No one goes to a roadside breastaurant – yes, real word to describe real eateries like Hooters, Tilted Kilt and Twin Peaks – for high cuisine. (I’m sure you also read Playboy for the articles, too.) But apparently you can find high art there – at least, that’s the case with indie favorite Andrew Bujalski’s "Support the Girls." The critically acclaimed workplace dramedy isn’t there to oogle, condescend or objectify; it’s there to tell the stories of the women there just trying to make a living and find dignity and worth in an occupation that doesn’t invite it.
Throw in some terrific performances from a cast of constantly underrated actresses (Regina Hall of "Girls Trip," Haley Lu Richardson from MFF2017’s "Columbus," Dylan Gelula of "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt") and you’ve got a low-key comedy delight that you’ll want to make reservations for – no guilt or shame walking in necessary.
"Support the Girls" is showing on Monday, Oct. 22 at 7 p.m. at the Oriental; Thursday, Oct. 25 at 1 p.m. at the Times Cinema; and Thursday, Nov. 1 at 6:30 p.m. at the Times Cinema.
2. "Love, Gilda"
"SNL" great Gilda Radnor finally receives the documentary treatment her incredible life and career deserves – and who better to tell her story than the powerhouse performer herself. That’s the goal of Lisa D’Apolito’s documentary "Love, Gilda," paying tribute to Radnor’s bright comedy as well as her life of lightness and dark via her audio tapes, home videos and diary entries – experiences read by her "SNL" disciples (Bill Hader, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph) and shared by her partners in comedy (Martin Short, Chevy Chase).
It’s a cliché, but in the case of "Love, Gilda," it’s true: You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll probably go home and YouTube a bunch of Roseanne Roseannadanna segments.
"Love, Gilda" is showing on Thursday, Oct. 25 at 7:15 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre; Saturday, Oct. 27 at 9:15 p.m. at the Fox Bay Cinema Grill; and Thursday, Nov. 1 at 6:45 p.m. at the Jan Serr Studio Cinema.
German director Christian Petzold ended his last film, "Phoenix," on an almost literal mic drop, one of the finest final scenes of the past decade and beyond. (The 93-minutes before it were pretty terrific too.) Thankfully for us, though, Petzold didn’t stop there, taking three years to put together his follow-up, "Transit," another simmering drama of mistaken identity in post-war Europe as a man fleeing Nazi Germany for Mexico takes on a dead author’s identity – until to run into that author’s now widowed wife.
Petzold is a modern master, so support a cinematic genius – plus Das Kino, one of the Milwaukee Film Festival’s newly created categories for 2018 – and take a trip to "Transit" over the next two weeks.
"Transit" is showing on Sunday, Oct. 21 at 7:15 p.m. at the Avalon; Wednesday, Oct. 24 at noon at the Jan Serr Studio Cinema; and Friday, Oct. 26 at 4 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre.
4. "Madeline’s Madeline"
Movies about acting and art can be, well, insufferable. (Looking at you, "Birdman"!) "Madeline’s Madeline," the buzzy Josephine Decker drama that’s scored raves since its debut at this past Sundance Film Festival, is not that, a delirious project about performance and the tricky, testy marriage of character and actor. As with most film festival movies – and, really, most movies, period – the less you know going in, the better, so let "Madeline’s Madeline" surprise you. And then stick with you well after the credits roll.
"Madeline's Madeline" is showing on Tuesday, Oct. 23 at 6 p.m. at the Times Cinema and Thursday, Nov. 1 at 3 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre.
For a moment, it looked like we might never see "Bodied" on the big screen. The much-anticipated hit from last year’s Fantastic Fest – about an ambitious grad student who gets lost in the world of battle rap while controversy swirls – was already aggressively anti-PC, stirring up love-it-or-hate-it reactions as it made its way around the festival circuit. Then it was purchased by YouTube, which seemed to doom it to a small-screen release (with maybe a theatrical run in the big fancy cities that get everything, the jerks).
But the movie gods have smiled on us, with the Milwaukee Film Festival serving as their angels on earth. But that’s as close to heaven "Bodied" gets, as Joseph Kahn’s (Taylor Swift’s director on-call) film sends its characters to hell, putting art, success, culture and everything under its brash microscope. No matter what, you’re sure to walk out with an opinion – which isn’t that the point of a film festival movie, anyways?
"Bodied" is showing on Wednesday, Oct. 24 at 9 p.m. and Wednesday, Oct. 31 at 9:30 p.m., both at the Oriental Theatre.
Coming in at 160 minutes, "Burning" is the longest film showing at the 2018 Milwaukee Film Festival – and admittedly, that can make it a tough one to pick. With about 300 other movies to choose from, it’s hard to block off more than two and a half hours and make room for it in your screening schedule.
But heed my advice: Take the risk and blaze a trail toward this Korean mystery.
Based on a short story from famed Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, this slow burn (I had to, sorry) thriller follows a small-time worker who takes a seemingly mundane gig cat-sitting for an old high-school classmate that takes a turn when she returns with a mysterious new friend (Steven Yeun, "The Walking Dead") who may not be trustworthy. Scoring rave reviews out of the Cannes Film Festival, "Burning" takes its time, but it won’t waste a minute, slowly yet surely ratcheting up the tension until you’re sweating in your seat as if you’re sitting next to a furnace in full effect.
So make the time. "Burning" may be the longest pick on Milwaukee Film’s list this year, but it might also be the best. It is, what the kids would call, fire. (awful, just awful; I’ll leave now.)
"Burning" is showing on Friday, Oct. 19 at 5:30 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre, as well as on Saturday, Oct. 27 at 6:30 p.m. at the Jan Serr Studio Cinema.
7. "A Page of Madness"
The film festival is always packed with special screenings and rare opportunities to see movies that otherwise Milwaukee would likely never get to see on the big screen. But when the Alloy Orchestra comes to town to play with a classic silent treasure, it’s always goes beyond merely rare and qualifies as a truly once-in-a-lifetime movie moment not to be missed.
This year, the silent selection is "A Page of Madness," a 1926 Japanese horror film co-written by Nobel Prize winner Yasunari Kawabata and once considered lost to audiences more than four decades until it was rediscovered and reclaimed its place as a classic. The story follows a man who takes a job at an asylum with a master plan to free his wife, but soon he finds his own sense of reality and sanity pushed to the limits. It’s an unsettling concept that’s inspired almost a century of cinematic insanity – and with a live score provided by the innovative and unpredictable Alloy Orchestra, this screening may boggle your brain like never before.
"A Page of Madness" is showing on Saturday, Oct. 20 at 4 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre.
8. "The Guilty"
A woman is kidnapped by her violent ex-husband, leading to a race against the clock to find her and save her from the trunk of his car. The premise may sound like a "Law & Order" episode or a typical January or September thriller, but it’s the execution of "The Guilty" that makes it special: The entire film takes place at the desk of an emergency phone operator, cranking up the intensity as we never leave his distant place of helplessness and horror. Snuck into the dense Worldviews category, it’s the kind of film festival movie that can be easily overlooked with all of the big-name spotlight selections, classic screenings and premieres on the schedule, but don’t let this tricky thriller pass you by – or you will feel very guilty, indeed.
"The Guilty" is showing on Tuesday, Oct. 23 at 4 p.m. at the Fox Bay Cinema Grill; Thursday, Oct. 25 at 6 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre; and Sunday, Oct. 28 at 7 p.m. at the Jan Serr Studio Cinema.
9. "Cold War"
Writer/director Pawel Pawlikowski scored a Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2015 for his beautiful haunted, black-and-white road trip movie "Ida," filled with gorgeous and unexpected compositions that can feel austere and breathy all at once. It was one of the best movies of that year, filled with unforgettable images – it even nabbed a Best Cinematography nomination, a rare moment of a foreign film getting appreciation outside of its own ghettoized category – and emotion.
So yes, I am excited for his follow-up to that: "Cold War," another black-and-white beauty returning to post-war Poland, this time telling an intimate epic of a mismatched couple in love, following their romance from tip to bittersweet tail. There’s only one screening of this Spotlight Selection at the Milwaukee Film Festival, and even though I’d bet it’ll make its way back to Milwaukee at some point (it should be a Best Foreign Film contender this year) is that a risk you’re willing take? I thought not. So snag your tickets now – or else you’ll feel blue about missing this black-and-white wonder.
"Cold War" is showing on Sunday, Oct. 28 at 1 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre.
10. "Pick of the Litter"
I’ve recommended a lot of serious and important movies, so let’s end this on a light note: PUPPIES! Don Hardy and Dana Nachman’s doggo documentary delight follows several adorable pups as they go on the intense and intensive journey to become guide dogs for the blind. Which of our caring canines will pass the test? Which pooches will come up short? And who’s a good boy?!
"Pick of the Litter" is showing on Saturday, Oct. 20 at 7 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre; Tuesday, Oct. 23 at 1:30 p.m. at the Jan Serr Studio Cinema; and Saturday, Oct. 27 at 2:30 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.