By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Sep 13, 2018 at 12:36 PM

The temperatures may be dropping but the lead-up to the Milwaukee Film Festival (celebrating a decade of stellar cinema this year!) is just heating up. Earlier this week, the fall event announced its Cine Sin Fronteras selections – and now the festival added some of its most high-profile picks: the Spotlight Presentations program. (OnMilwaukee is a proud co-sponsor of the category.) 

And this year's movies again live up to the bright spotlight they'll receive – including a Sundance Film Festival audience award winner, several films you'll be hearing about come Oscar season, accomplished projects from Milwaukee filmmakers, Oscar winners on screen (Octavia Spencer, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem) and off (writer/directors Asghar Farhadi and Pawel Pawlikowski) and, of course, "Stop Making Sense." Because it just wouldn't be the Milwaukee Film Festival without "Stop Making Sense."

Oh, and puppies! Yay puppers!

"I am immensely proud of this year’s festival lineup," said Milwaukee Film CEO and artistic director Jonathan Jackson in a press release. "The Spotlight Presentations program is full of rich, important, and beautiful films that are sure to resonate with audiences and spark discussions to last far beyond the cinema screening. The local ties of our opening night and closing night films are a testament to the deep talent in Milwaukee’s filmmaking community and a signal to the broader industry that Milwaukee is poised to be a leader in film culture and production."

Here are the opening, closing, centerpiece and spotlight selections for this year's Milwaukee Film Festival, running this year from Oct. 19 through Nov. 1. So start asking off on those days now – and start buying festival six-packs and passes at Milwaukee Film's website

Opening night selection

"Science Fair"

After scoring the Festival Favorite audience award at this year's Sundance Film Festival, this feel-good documentary – co-directed by Milwaukee native Cristina Costantini – about young students competing for a life-changing prize at the International Science and Engineering Fair will now open the Milwaukee Film Festival, complete with the directors scheduled to be in attendance. 

Centerpiece selection

"Wild Nights with Emily"

Everything you thought you knew about the great poet Emily Dickinson is about to be changed after "Wild Nights with Emily," a raucous and warm comedic take on the author not as an awkward recluse but as a witty and passionate woman finding true love with her sister-in-law, played by Molly Shannon. (Yes, that Molly Shannon.)

Closing night selection

"Back at the Staircase"

Five family members find themselves trapped together in a cabin after their matriarch takes a hard fall that leaves her in a coma in the hospital – and leaves them growingly and intensely at odds with one another as issues old and new begin to bubble over. The Slamdance Film Festival selection comes from local filmmaker Drew Britton – who is also scheduled to be attendance for the festival-closing screening. 

Spotlight selections

"A Kid Like Jake"

In this star-studded family drama from director Silas Howard ("This Is Us," "Transparent" and "Pose"), two loving parents (Claire Danes and Jim Parsons) find themselves in a dilemma when their young child's gender-fluid status suddenly becomes key in getting into an exclusive and competitive private school. Oscar winner Octavia Spencer and "Handmaid's Tale" scene-stealer Ann Dowd join in this thoughtful drama. 

"A Page of Madness"

Once assumed lost for decades, this 1926 Japanese silent classic – about a man who takes a job at an insane asylum only to find his own sense of reality fraying as time goes by – roars back to life on the big screen, complete with the help of Alloy Orchestra, which will provide a live score for the cinematic treasure. 

"Cold War"

Did you see the hauntingly gorgeous, Oscar-winning drama "Ida" from director Pawel Pawlikowski? No? Well, watch that – and then meet us at the Milwaukee Film Festival for his latest black-and-white beauty, this time about two mismatched lovers kindling a romance in post-war Poland. And if you have seen "Ida," well, then you know to get tickets for this one ASAP.

"Everybody Knows"

Two-time Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi (Best Foreign Language Film triumphs "A Separation" and "The Salesman") returns to the big screen with this star-studded Spanish-language thriller about a woman (fellow Oscar winner Penelope Cruz) whose return to her small hometown goes off the rails when her eldest child goes missing. Javier Bardem, yet another Oscar winner, joins in the mystery as tensions between family and friends escalates. 

"The First Patient"

In this world premiere, Milwaukee filmmaker Chip Duncan – who is also scheduled to be in attendance – follows a group of first-year medical students as they prepare for a famed rite of passage amongst doctors: their first patient, a human cadaver to be dissected.

"Freaks and Geeks: The Documentary"

"Freaks and Geeks" was easily one of the most influential television shows to last just one season, introducing the world to future stars like Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Martin Starr, Linda Cardellini and James Franco and serving as the launchpad for Hollywood comedy kings Judd Apatow and Paul Feig. So what better way to pay tribute to this small-screen cult success than with a big-screen documentary chronicling the show's short stint but large impact – complete with the film's director scheduled to attend!

"Pick of the Litter"

Puppies! But these puppers aren't just here to be cute and cuddly, as Dana Nachman and Don Hardy's documentary follows a litter as they grow up and undergo an intense two-year training program to become guide dogs for those in need. Who will pass the test? Who will come up short? And who's a good boy?!

"Stop Making Sense"

One of the Milwaukee Film Festival's most festive traditions returns for yet another year. In the rare case you've somehow forgotten, the late great Jonathan Demme's 1984 iconic concert film follows the Talking Heads through their deliriously energetic performances. It's an essential music film – and speaking of essential, you best bring your dancing shoes for this celebration of cinema and song. 

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.