Milwaukee movie fans, rejoice! The best two weeks of the calendar year are back, as the 2023 Milwaukee Film Festival is back on a big screen near you April 20 through May 4. For ticket and pass info, click here – and we'll see you at the movies!
We've finally made it to another reel of the Milwaukee Film Festival, the best thing to hit Brew City big screens each and every year. (OK, except for that one year with "Cats.") And hopefully by now, you've fully perused the massive film festival lineup, highlightering and mapping out your two-week extravanganza of movie-watching ... with maybe a few minutes break in between films for the occasional meal and walk outside to remind yourself what the sky looks like.
That being said, there are more than 200 movies big and small packed across three locations between April 20 and May 4 – and that's not even including virtual options as well as all of the in-person off-screen events taking place around the Oriental, Times and Avalon bringing the cinematic experiences to life outside the four walls of a film frame. It can all be ... intimidating. So, to help formulate the finest Milwaukee Film Festival experience possible, no matter if you're a Letterboxd-obsessed cinephile or you have no idea what that phrase means, here are the 18 movies that I'm most excited about at this year's event. Whether you're big on shorts, a world traveler from the comfort of your seat cushion, a film nerd, a fan of horror freakiness, in search of the big-name stars, craving true crime stories or just really want to see a hundred man-sized man-hunting beavers, there's something for you on this list – and at the Milwaukee Film Festival.
Here are 18 movies to feast on at the Milwaukee Film Festival. To buy tickets to these – or any other fest selections – click here. And for even more movies to check out, visit our entire MFF 2023 schedule or the festival's full online guide. And we'll see you at the movies!
"A Disturbance in the Force"
It's a Life Day miracle! Indeed, the closing night of the Milwaukee Film Festival just happens to fall on Star Wars Day, aka May the Fourth – so what better way to celebrate the "Star Wars" franchise than with a big screen autopsy of its greatest failure! No, not "Rise of Skywalker" but the infamous Christmas special from 1978, aired and then launched out of pop cultural memory with a proton cannon. Or so George Lucas and company thought. Much like the Empire, this bizarre TV broadcast lives on and refuses to disappear, becoming a hate-loved piece of "Star Wars" lore decades later thanks to VHS rips and nerdy legend.
So how did this baffling disaster – the second greatest miscalculation in "Star Wars" history after making the exhaust vents the Death Star's self-destruction button – get made? This star-studded documentary from the guys behind fellow MFF alum "Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made" has the out-of-this-world answers. Get your tickets now so you don't fear missing out on this special "Star Wars" screening. Because as we all know, fear leads to anger. Anger leads to ... well, you know how it goes.
"A Disturbance in the Force" will screen on Thursday, May 4, at 7:15 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre.
"Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret"
When it comes to these pre-film festival recommendation lists, I tend to leave off big studio names because, well, you've got 365 days to see those kind of movies on the big screen while the Milwaukee Film Festival and its special collection of docs, indies and iconic oldies only lasts for about two weeks. And can "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret" really qualify as a "must-see" if you can see it just about anywhere starting April 28?
Yes. Yes, it really can qualify. When you've got a coming-of-age dramedy adapting one of the most iconic books of all time, featuring a terrific cast led by Rachel McAdams, you qualify. And if you're concerned about the book-to-big screen transition that's ruined many a classic (and career), this Judy Blume adaptation comes from writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig, who last created one of great modern coming-of-age movies with 2016's tragically underseen "The Edge of Seventeen." So while puberty and growing up may be an awkward mess, I'm feeling good that this "It's Me, Margaret" adaptation should be anything but.
"Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret" will screen Monday, April 24, at 5:30 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre.
"Beyond Human Nature"
Even since "Making a Murderer," I break out in hives anytime I see the words "true crime" and "Wisconsin" in the same sentence. But I'll stay happily hive-less for "Beyond Human Nature," an intriguing Cream City Cinema documentary about a 1992 murder case from Green Bay that, more than 30 years later, still has unanswered questions according to the victim's brother. Tackling the strange minute details of the workplace case while also looking toward the bigger questions of truth, time and the limits of evidence, "Beyond Human Nature" appears to go beyond the usual true-crime tabloid fodder bombarding our streamer libraries.
"Beyond Human Nature" will screen Saturday, April 29 at 12:30 p.m. at the Times Cinema as well as Monday, May 1 at 9:15 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre.
In case the Milwaukee Film Festival wasn't enough of a gift to Brew City cinephiles, there's this treat for film geeks: "Ennio," a deep-dive documentary into the life and iconic career of movie composer Ennio Morricone. Even if you haven't heard that name before, you'ver certainly heard his work – most famously in "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly," setting the perfect tense and triumphant tone for the spaghetti western and so much more afterward. Don't believe me? Listen to the stars gathered to talk about Morricone's scores – including fellow cinema giants like Quentin Tarantino, John Williams, Dario Argento and more – in this doc worth dorking out over.
"Ennio" will screen on Sunday, April 30, at 12:15 p.m. at the Avalon.
"Ernest and Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia"
A decade ago, a hand-drawn French animated charmer about a gruff bear and a friendly mouse becoming best friends despite, you know, the whole bears-eating-mice situation won over audiences and even a Best Animated Film nomination. Now the mismatched pair are back for another animated journey – quite literally, as their sequel takes them traveling to Ernest's home city where a musical revolution against their literal one-note rule is fighting the joyful fight. With gorgeous storybook animation and charming characters, "Ernest and Celestine 2" looks like an all-ages winner – as well as the rare sequel at the film festival. It's very cute – so we'll allow it.
"Ernest and Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia" will screen Sunday, April 23 at 11 a.m. at the Oriental Theatre as well as Saturday, April 29 at 10:15 a.m. at the Times Cinema.
"How to Blow Up a Pipeline"
One of the buzziest movies of the year thus far will blow up the Milwaukee Film Festival big screen with this indie thriller, following a bunch of eco-warriors as they plot to – take a wild guess – blow up an oil pipeline. The latest from "Cam" director Daniel Goldhaber, this festival favorite earned critical acclaim thanks to its debates about the murky ethics of fighting the current climate crisis – all while delivering zippy and intense small-scale but high-stakes heist-ian thrills. (Call it "Save the Oceans 11" ... or actually don't, that's terrible, I'm so sorry.) Anyways, I'm very excited to finally get to see the movie causing Film Twitter to explode into debate and divisiveness – though, in fairness, that's just about any movie.
"How to Blow Up a Pipeline" will screen Monday, April 24 at 9:30 p.m. at the Oriental as well as Wednesday, April 26 at 6:45 p.m. at the Times Cinema.
"Hundreds of Beavers"
Sometimes movies have cryptic, metaphorical titles .... and sometimes a movie called "Hundreds of Beavers" is just about a woodsman battling hundreds of beavers. But as eye-catching as the title is, the movie itself looks even more mesmerizingly one-of-a-kind. Created by the mad geniuses behind the zany pastiche "Lake Michigan Monster," the Cream City Cinema selection plays like a live-action black-and-white "Looney Tunes" episode, complete with kooky slapstick and man-sized animal nemeses. Safe to say you won't find anything else at the Milwaukee Film Festival like "Hundreds of Beavers" – and that should always be your mission: to find movies and films that you'd never be able to find otherwise.
"Hundreds of Beavers" will screen on Friday, April 28 at 9:30 p.m. and Tuesday, May 2 at 9 p.m., both at the Oriental Theatre.
In a festival lineup featuring unicorn wars, eco-terrorism, body horror, Madonna at her controversial peak and whatever wild nastiness the late-night shorts will provide, the most daring movie of the bunch may just be this humble character drama. Despite scoring rave reviews and being the first film from Pakistan to earn official selection status at the Cannes Film Festival as well as to earn an Independent Spirit Award for Best International Film, "Joyland" has been essentially banned in its native country due to its subject matter, following a young man who takes a job as a back-up dancer and sparks a relationship with the show's outspoken trans star, causing a ripple effect through his conservative family. "Joyland" can sound on paper like a typical Important Movie Of The Moment, but the glowing reviews all say it's far from preachy, pat or conventional, telling its emotional saga with lightness, humanity, romance and verve that makes its specific yet universal story of acceptance, understanding and defying one's rigid assumed roles an exciting must-see.
"Joyland" will screen on Saturday, April 22 at 10 p.m. and Wednesday, April 26 at 8:30 p.m. – both at the Oriental Theatre.
"Little Richard: I Am Everything"
There's no shortage of eye-opening and ear-opening rock docs at the Milwaukee Film Festival – including thoughtful portraits of Karen Carpenter, James Cotton, The Zombies, Indigo Girls and many more that should get you tapping your toes to the ticket booth. But only one of these star-studded spotlights earned the film festival's brightest stage: "Little Richard: I Am Everything." Serving as the fest's centerpiece selection, the biographical doc tries to capture everything that made Little Richard such a rock legend – and everything that makes him both a giant in the genre but also somehow underappreciated. A larger-than-life personality with a larger-than-life sound merits the festival's largest showcase – so here's to "I Am Everything" being everything come centerpiece night.
"Little Richard: I Am Everything" will screen Saturday, April 29 at 6:15 p.m. at the Oriental as well as Thursday, May 4 at 1:30 p.m. at the Avalon.
"Madonna: Truth or Dare"
The bad news: The film festival's annual "Stop Making Sense" screening/dance party isn't happening this year as the iconic concert film gets an A24 anniversary update. The good news: You'll still have an excuse to boogie in the aisles of the Oriental as the MFF will screen "Madonna: Truth or Dare" in its place, a fellow iconic rock doc following the global superstar's 1990 "Blond Ambition" tour on and off stage. Come for the timeless pop hits playing at full stadium-level blast, stay for the influential approach to capturing a larger-than-life pop cultural persona at her height. (As opposed to now, when she mostly makes people confused online and at awards shows.)
"Madonna: Truth or Dare" will screen Saturday, April 29 at 9:15 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre.
If you've never seen Fritz Lang's 1927 mesmerizing silent masterpiece – all about a futuristic society on the brink of revolt and also dancing temptress robots – there's no better time than this year's Milwaukee Film Festival, remastered and back on the big screen in a gorgeous space built the same year of "Metropolis" complete with The Anvil Orchestra providing a booming, one-of-a-kind live score. And if you have seen Fritz Lang's 1927 mesmerizing silent masterpiece (after all, this marks its third MFF visit after 2010 and 2016) then you KNOW there's no better way to witness this hallmark of cinema history that's still remarkable, still modern and still invigorating almost a century later. Some classics can admittedly feel like homework – but "Metropolis" with a live score is recess.
"Metropolis" with The Anvil Orchestra will screen Thursday, April 27, at 7:30 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre.
"Mom and Dad's Nipple Factory"
The Milwaukee Film Festival is always a terrific place to see something new, something that you've likely never seen before – and this year's edition will start on exactly that note with the heartwarming, emotional story of ... a mom-and-pop artificial nipple business? It sounds too strange to be true, but this world premiere documentary is not only real but right from our backyard, telling the true story of two Eau Claire parents who worked on perfecting the plastic nipple after one of them fought through breast cancer. A wholly unexpected story that comes with an even more unexpected emotional punch with its saga about the power of family, the only thing expected about "Mom and Dad's Nipple Factory" is that the Milwaukee Film Festival always picks a winner to kick off its two weeks of big-screen bliss.
"Mom and Dad's Nipple Factory" will screen on Thursday, April 20 at 6:30 p.m. and Friday, April 21 at 12:30 p.m. – both at the Oriental Theatre.
Jafar Panahi is one of the most essential directors of the 21st century – despite tyrannical politicians' best efforts. The "This is Not a Film" director continues to make self-reflexive masterpieces all while regularly getting imprisoned by the Iranian government and banned from filmmaking due to his films' critical content. (In fact, he wasn't able to attend this movie's Venice Film Festival premiere because he was one of several directors arrested for speaking out once again against the government.) And yet, he and his art prevails – including with his latest, "No Bears," starring Panahi as a filmmaker who finds his film and himself embroiled in local scandal. Reflecting harsh realities as only he can, "No Bears" looks like another gripping achievement from one of cinema's most insistent and defiant voices.
"No Bears" will screen Saturday, April 22 at 7 p.m. and Monday, April 24 at 3:30 p.m. – both at the Times Cinema.
Ira Sachs knows how to break a heart. If you've seen his previous wonders "Keep the Lights On," "Love Is Strange" and "Little Men," the writer-director is a master at carefully chronicling the cracks that form and foment in tender relationships big and small, old and young, earning the tears that sneak up on you by the end credits. So yeah, maybe brace yourself (and your pocket Kleenex packet) for the critical favorite's latest, "Passages," about a long-committed couple (Franz Rogowski of "Transit" and "Great Freedom" along with Ben Whishaw, aka Paddington and Q) suddenly at a crossroads when the former starts an affair with a new woman (Adele Exarchopoulos of "Blue Is the Warmest Color" fame). Winning over earlier festival crowds with its tricky questions about relationships and sexuality without falling into melodrama, expect another fascinating and small-scale but largely-felt Ira Sachs character story ... and also expect to probably walk out with red teary eyes.
"Passages" will screen Friday, April 21 at 1 p.m. as well as Sunday, April 30 at 8:45 p.m. – both at the Avalon.
"Rise and Rebuild: A Tale of Three Cities"
Get used to the name Sam Pollard at this year's Milwaukee Film Festival, as the prolific director has his name attached to four movies at this year's event. Terrible news for Pollard's free time over the past year, I imagine – but great news for filmgoers, as the Oscar-nominated Pollard creates incredible in-depth portraits of nuanced figures and topics, such as "Sammy Davis: I've Gotta Be Me" and "MLK/FBI."
Any of his four projects this year – the co-directed "Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power" and "Max Roach: The Drum Also Waltzes" as well as "Bonnie Blue: James Cotton's Life in the Blues," which he produced – would be worth your film-festing time. My pick, however, would be "Rise and Rebuild," Pollard's co-directed documentary about three American cities that saw Black wealth and success destroyed and how they continue to rebuild, three non-fiction stories that look to combine the past, present and future in fascinating, infuriating, thoughtful and hopeful ways.
"Rise and Rebuild: A Tale of Three Cities" will screen Saturday, April 29 at 12:15 p.m. at the Avalon as well as Wednesday, May 3 at 3:45 p.m. at the Times Cinema. It will also be available virtually.
"Shorts: Grab Bag 2023"
Short on running time but long on memorable filmmaking, the shorts feature some of the Milwaukee Film Festival's best work – and, in the case of this year's "Grab Bag" compilation, some of its biggest names. "The Last of Us" breakout star Bella Ramsey, "Roma" star Yalitza Aparicio in an all-too-rare post-nomination role, Jaz Sinclair aka Rosalind from "Chilling Adventures of Sabrina," character actress Katie Aselton and more can all be found in this genre-hopping, topic-bounding assortment. The shorts are all like little film festivals INSIDE a film festival – so seek this one out, or one of the other compelling collections.
"Shorts: Grab Bag 2023" will screen Friday, April 21 at 4 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre as well as Monday, April 24 at 1 p.m. at the Times Cinema.
"Smoking Causes Coughing"
The Milwaukee Film Festival has a new movie from the guy who made the cult surreal horror comedy about a murderous telepathic tire! But wait ... it's a superhero movie? Oh no, don't tell me he's sold out! (*watches the trailer featuring a super-team of five "Power Rangers"-esque heroes with cigarette-themed names kicking villains so hard they explode into disgusting goo, a talking oozing horny rat puppet that one of the human heroes has the hots for, and cult hero John Waters's enthusiastic approval*) Never mind, we're all good: Quentin Depieux is still a weirdo – and I can't wait to see what bizarre demented nonsense he's got up his spandex-clad sleeve. Cheers to the perfect alternative for superhero movie fatigue: a superhero movie.
"Smoking Causes Coughing" will screen Saturday, April 29 at 10 p.m. at the Oriental as well as Tuesday, May 2 at 8:45 p.m. at the Times Cinema.
It's a golden age for documentaries, with streaming services all desperate for content and plenty of viral stories out there to mine for views. But if you've watched stuff like "Making a Murderer," "Tiger King," "Bad Vegan" and more, and wondered with a raised eyebrow if this golden age is far less golden for its exploited subjects and stories, well, have I got the film festival pick for you. A documentary about documentaries, "Subject" chats with the real people involved with recent documentaries, discovering the consequences of their specific – and often painful – stories suddenly becoming everyone's story, for better and for worse. Basically, it sounds like "The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker" ... but if it was good and actually thought about its subject matter.
"Subject" will screen Friday, April 21 at 1:30 p.m. at the Times Cinema as well as Sunday, April 23 at 10 a.m. at the Avalon. It will also be available virtually.
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.