By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Apr 11, 2024 at 8:56 AM

It's time to roll film (quite literally, in the case of some of their big screen selections) as the 2024 Milwaukee Film Festival will start two of the best weeks of the year on Thursday night. 

As always, the annual Brew City big-screen-a-thon has brought us an embarrassment of riches from near and far, showcasing more than 300 films across all sorts of genres, interests and beyond. From intriguing international movies, to powerful political documentaries, to award-nominated animated adventures, to stellar sports films, to dynamite retrospective showings, to a movie straight-up called "Booger" (take a wild guess which program that's in; you guessed it, the wondrously wild Cinema Hooligante section), this year's Milwaukee Film Festival has options for all interests ... except for people who don't find anything interesting. Sorry, you're out of luck – again. And in between all of those movies debuting, this year's festival also will debut a whole movie theater to go along with the Oriental, Avalon and the Times Cinema: the Downer, which will glow back to life for the film festival – and beyond – after an all-too-long hiatus. 

Of course, with literally hundreds of movies on its slate to choose from, it can be overwhelming trying to decide between all this cinematic excellence. There's no such thing as a bad Milwaukee Film Festival – but to guide you to potentially some of the best, most exciting options on its big screens, here are two touchdowns worth of films that I can't wait to get my eyes and ears on these next two weeks. (As always, there's so many excellent-looking movies that I could've comfortably selected seven times this amount – but my editor cautions me that telling people 98 films they should see in just 15 days is not that helpful and actually more stressful.) And to buy tickets and passes for them all – and to find your own most anticipated options – be sure to check out the Milwaukee Film Festival's website

"All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt"

"Talk to Me." "The Iron Claw." "Everything Everywhere All At Once." Esteemed indie studio A24 released some of its biggest box office smashes in recent years. "All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt" was not one of them, barely given a real theatrical release this past year – in no fault of its own considering the lyrical and lush Southern drama earned rave reviews as well as nods from the National Board of Review and the Independent Spirit Awards. Thanks to the Milwaukee Film Festival, though, director Raven Jackson's buried gem feature debut – produced by Oscar winner Barry Jenkins – will finally reach our eyes. It's an example of what the organization can do best: bring movies to Brew City big screens that film fans here could otherwise miss out on. 

"All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt" screens Wednesday, April 17 at 3:30 p.m. and Saturday, April 20 at 8 p.m. – both at the Times Cinema – as well as Thursday, April 25 at 3:30 p.m. at the Downer.


There's no shortage of art in display at the Milwaukee Film Festival – yes, literally, with more than 300 films showing at the two-week cinema spectacular but also with several selections spotlighting artists from across dance, acting, food, modeling, children's books, music and ... is synchronized swimming art? Sure, even synchronized swimming too. But for an artist portrait that truly works as a piece of art in its own right, check out "Anselm," the latest from three-time Oscar nominee and "Wings of Desire" mastermind Wim Wenders, blending its subject Anselm Kiefer, his life and his art into something as visually mesmerizing as the pieces themselves. And to make this showing even more special and one-of-a-kind, it's screening in 3-D – thoughtfully used 3-D too, not that half-hearted "Clash of the Titans" cornea-harming crud that ruined it.

"Anselm" screens Saturday, April 13 at 12:30 p.m. at the Oriental. 

"The Beast"

2024: the year of the dragon and apparently of Lea Seydoux in lauded science fiction adaptations? After popping up for a few scenes and unsettling everyone in "Dune: Part Two," the talented French actress now stars in this time-hopping indie saga as a woman in multiple eras falling in love with that guy from "1917" amidst rapidly changing science and societies. Mix a little sci-fi, a little dread-inducing horror and a little romance with a lot of terrific reviews out of the Toronto, New York and Venice Film Festivals, and I'll follow where Seydoux leads here (as long as it doesn't end with me getting entrapped and tested with one of those creepy neck needle things). 

"The Beast" screens Monday, April 15 at 7 p.m. at the Downer as well as Thursday, April 18 at 9 p.m. at the Oriental.

"The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari"

One of the most exciting selections at the 2024 Milwaukee Film Festival ... isn't from 2024. Or 2023. Or the past 100 years, actually. Sure, the shiny new titles tend to get all the attention at film festivals, but don't overlook one of the most unique-looking movies in cinema history – even more than a century later – in a utterly unique screening complete with the Anvil Orchestra returning to town to perform a live score alongside the German expressionist icon. If you're never seen this dark twisted fantasia before, I can't imagine a better way to experience it for the first time – and if you have seen "Dr. Caligari" before, well, I still can't imagine a better way to experience it, period.

"The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" screens Thursday, April 18 at 5:30 p.m. at the Oriental.

"Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World"

It may be called (*takes deep breath*) "Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World," but I'm expecting quite a bit from this sprawling Romanian bit of modern absurdity, tracking a production assistant on the city-spanning mission from hell. First of all, it comes from writer-director Radu Jude of international award-winning "Aferim!" and "Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn" (which is exactly as madcap as it sounds). Second, it's got terrific German actress Nina Hoss of "Tar," "Phoenix" and "Barbara" fame. And last, all it's done since its debut is rack up critics' raves, with several calling it one of the year's finest. With all that, I expect to see all my fellow Milwaukee movie nerds at these surreal screenings. 

"Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World" screens Wednesday, April 17 at 6 p.m. at the Oriental as well as Sunday, April 21 at 4 p.m. and Tuesday, April 23 at 7:15 p.m. – both at the Downer. 

"Evil Does Not Exist"

The Oscars get a lot of guff for being too long and nominating bad movies and letting actors full-windup slap their fellow actors on stage – but these recent years have resulted in some spectacular (and unexpected) Best Picture nominees. For instance, we live in a world where the deeply philsophical, meditative three-hour international film "Drive My Car" was up for the industry's top prize – and maybe critically acclaimed director Ryusuke Hamaguchi's latest project, the tense drama "Evil Does Not Exist" about a family dealing with the impact of a nearby campsite infringing on their home and land, will share the same impressive fate. That certainly seems like it could be the case considering the rave response from critics out of film festivals around the globe – soon to include Milwaukee. 

"Evil Does Not Exist" screens Monday, April 22 at 5 p.m. at the Oriental and Thursday, April 25 at 6 p.m. at the Times Cinema. 

"Gasoline Rainbow"

2020: safe to say no one's favorite year. There were a few fond memories, though, such as when I watched the terrific documentary "Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets," capturing the final night of a legendary Vegas dive bar and all the disparate characters calling it their regular hideout at a time when we couldn't visit many of our own beloved watering holes. The doc immediately announced the Ross Brothers as filmmakers to keep my eyes on – so I can't wait to get my eyes on their follow-up, this time trying out a natural take on narrative fiction as they follow five teens celebrating their high school graduation with a rowdy and ramshackle trip to the West Coast. And thankfully I don't have to anymore, as after debuts at South By Southwest and the Venice Film Festival, "Gasoline Rainbow" now reaches Milwaukee – hopefully rewarding audiences with a cinematic pot of gold at its end. 

"Gasoline Rainbow" screens Tuesday, April 16 at 5:15 p.m. at the Downer as well as Saturday, April 20 at 2:15 p.m. and Wednesday, April 24 at 9 p.m. – both at the Times Cinema.

"Menus-Plaisirs Les Troisgros"

Ready for the ultimate cinematic feast? Make a reservation to dine on all four delectable hours of "Menus-Plaisirs Les Troisgros." (My alternate title, "Bigger Night," was unfortunately rejected.) The latest in-depth doc will take a Guy Fieri-sized bite into the world of restaurants – not just any restaurant, either, but the prized French restaurant La Maison Troisgros, a holder of three Michelin stars for almost as long as non-fiction phenomenon Frederick Wiseman has crafted his thorough, immersive and detailed portraits of societies big and small. The selection may seem long, but considering it's a great filmmaker setting his lens on great food and great chefs, Wiseman's latest seems like it's worth savoring.

"Menus-Plaisirs Les Troisgros" screens Sunday, April 14 at 11 a.m. at the Downer.

"The Milwaukee Show I"

The two "Milwaukee Show" short film presentations are always a tremendous display – of both local talent on screen and local pride in the auditorium. You can't go wrong with either of this year's editions (the second show takes the Oriental's main house on Monday, April 15) but if a movie-loving Milwaukeean really wants to experience so much civic pride they become a one-person Bucks Finals Deer District viewing party, they should seek out a spot at "The Milwaukee Show I." Showcasing eight Milwaukee-born shorts in one of Milwaukee's greatest landmarks (the Oriental Theatre) surrounded by your fellow cheering Milwaukeeans on the most Milwaukee-est day of the year: April 14, aka 414 Day, you can't get much more Milwaukee than that ...  beyond maybe getting the Milverine to tattoo the Brewers ball-and-glove logo on your arm while drinking a Miller High Life at Wolski's and debating The Hop. 

"The Milwaukee Show I" screens Sunday, April 14 at 7 p.m. at the Oriental.


For anyone with feelings and emotions, Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda is a serious Milwaukee Film Festival favorite – just ask the film fest showing of his quietly lovely and soul-destroying "Shoplifters" I attended back in 2018, practically sold out despite screening during a Packers game. (In fairness, it was that terrible 6-9-1 season that murdered the Mike McCarthy era – but still!) The master of gentle yet deeply felt human melodrama returns to the festival with "Monster," another knotty look at interpersonal and intergenerational relationships – this time about a mother trying to come to grips with a violent school incident involving her teen son. The drama missed Milwaukee when it got a limited release late last year – so don't miss it now that's finally arrived. Better late than never!

"Monster" screens Tuesday, April 16 at 8 p.m. at the Downer; Friday, April 19 at 6:45 p.m. at the Times Cinema; and Monday, April 22 at 2 p.m. at the Oriental.

"Robot Dreams"

It may be the last movie on the Milwaukee Film Festival schedule, but the delightful-looking "Robot Dreams" is certainly not the least of the fest's film selections. Selected as the festival's closing night showcase, this animated charmer follows a lonely dog living in 1980s NYC who solves his isolation by buying a friend: a mail-order robot. Full of color, whimsy and a non-zero percent change of tears, "Robot Dreams" is worthy of its festival spotlight selection – but don't take my word for it. Take the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' word, as they nominated the bright ode to friendship for Best Animated Film. Overshadowed by names like Miyazaki and Spider-Man, it lost – but it sure looks like a winning way to end this year's fest.

"Robot Dreams" screens Thursday, April 25 at 7:30 p.m. at the Oriental.

"Shari & Lamb Chop"

This year's Milwaukee Film Festival will open the cinema-palooza with a Throwback Thursday thanks to "Shari & Lamb Chop," a warm-hearted documentary about the baaah-loved children's TV character and the woman who dreamed the sweet sock puppet lamb into reality for generations of children. (That's right, Gen Zers: All we needed for televised entertainment in our day was a sock puppet.) Simultaneously hitting audiences with nostalgia for the past and excitement for the rest of the film festival to come, "Shari & Lamb Chop" should make for a fabulous first impression in 2024 – and that's before we even mention the post-film Q&A with director Lisa D'Apolito (of previous retro-focused MFF alum "Love, Gilda") and the opening night party just down the street at Villa Terrace!

"Shari & Lamb Chop" screens Thursday, April 11 at 6 p.m. at the Oriental as well as Friday, April 12 at 12:30 p.m. at the Downer. 

"The Taste of Things"

Planning on feasting on all four hours of "Menus-Plaisirs Les Troisgros"? Well, fanatics for both food and film, be sure to save room for the marvelous and mouth-watering "The Taste of Things." Following the relationship and roasts between a renowned French chef and his exceptionally talented cooking partner (played by Benoît Magimel and Juliette Binoche), "The Taste of Things" is absolutely gorgeous visually – drool-worthy whether it's capturing a meal or simply our main characters – as well as emotionally, telling a moving tribute to appreciation, whether it's food, the care that goes into it or the loved ones in our lives. The romance was one of the best movies of the past year ... unless you're on a diet, which in that case it's one of 2024's most grueling watches. Seriously, save dinner for afterward at your own risk.

"The Taste of Things" screens Sunday, April 14 at 4 p.m. at the Downer; Wednesday, April 17 at 2 p.m. at the Oriental; and Friday, April 19 at 4:30 p.m. at the Downer.


The word is out: Audiences love elder fraud! First the action flick "The Beekeeper" became a surprise January hit with its saga of Jason Statham getting bloody revenge on sleazy phone scammers, and now the Milwaukee Film Festival has not one but two note-worthy selections about older folks navigating the terrors of techno-savvy tele-scammers.

The Bulgarian drama "Blaga's Lessons" is the more tough, grounded and serious-minded take on the topic – and still very much worth your while. My eye, however, is on "Thelma," which comes to Milwaukee with a splashy crowd-pleasing Sundance debut and – most importantly – with 94-year-old June Squibb (Oscar-nominated for "Nebraska") doing her best Ethan Hunt impression, on a mobility-scootering mission to reclaim what's been stolen from her. For those looking for a little lightness between some of the film festival's heavier documentaries and dramas, "Thelma" is a call I look forward to picking up.

"Thelma" screens Sunday, April 14 at 4 p.m.; Monday, April 15 at noon; and Thursday, April 18 at 7 p.m. – all at the Oriental.

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

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.