By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Jan 15, 2021 at 7:01 PM

The Oriental Theatre may be closed, and the film fesival may be over, but Milwaukee Film has still found a way to bring excellent new movies to you during this strange time: Sofa Cinema.

Found at Milwaukee Film's website, Sofa Cinema is a virtual theater, offering a number of indie gems to stream on your screens at home while their screens at the Oriental are temporarily dark. Best of all, your digital rentals not only provide you with quality cinema but also provide support for Milwaukee Film during these unusual and strained times, as each purchase splits a significant percentage of the proceeds with the Brew City cinephile nonprofit.

So the next time you're looking for an escape from the news and quarantine life, and you've already binge-watched that sitcom 17 times from beginning to end, try one of the following Sofa Cinema options. It's some good entertainment that helps fund an even better local cause – and right now, it's one of the closest and safest things we've got to going to the movies.

"Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan"

Using a blend of brand new archival footage from family and bandmates, as well as animation from iconic illustrator Ralph Steadman (most famous for his gonzo collaborations with Hunter S. Thompson), "Crock of Gold" pays raucous, rollicking tribute to famed Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan and the musical cocktail of traditional Irish music and punk rock rebellion and fervor that he helped pioneer. A fine way to ring in St. Patrick's Day a few months early. (Hey, it's a pandemic; we deserve it.)

"The Reason I Jump"

Another return from the past Milwaukee Film Festival, "The Reason I Jump" is unlike just about any other documentary out there, taking a visceral and sensory approach to showing the world through the eyes, thoughts and feelings of nonspeaking autistic individuals. An uniquely experiential documentary that won the audience award for World Cinema - Documentary in the past year's Sundance Film Festival. Also available with audio description. 

"Finding Yingying"

Yet another second chance courtesy of the 2020 Milwaukee Film Festival, this documentary standout follows the case of Zhang Yingying, a young University of Illinois student who disappeared shortly into her time at college. "Finding Yingying" tells a tense and thrilling true crime story – but without ever forgetting the tragic loss at its center as well as the humanity of its title character and her shaken family and friends. A tribute as much as it is a true crime tale. 

"The Weasels' Tale"

From the director of the Oscar-winning suspense mystery "The Secret in Their Eyes" comes this comedic thriller about a gaggle of aging show business friends – a director, a writer, an actress and her husband – whose peaceful late-life revelry gets interrupted by some unexpected guests: a young couple that seems sweet and innocent at first but actually has nefarious plans for the estate. Juan Jose Campanella's latest effort is part comedy, part tense character drama, all ideally entertaining way to pass a winter's night in. 

"2020 NY Cat Film Festival"

Forget Christmas, it's time for Catsmas with this cuddly compilation of short films about cats and their human counterparts. One clip tells the story of a couple who turned their farmhouse into a senior living space for older cats. Another follows a pet owner with two incredibly sneaky jail-breaking cats. And then there's an all-too-real mockumentary about "feline paralysis," aka when you can't move because your kitten's on your lap. No matter if you've got a house full of cats or you're allergic to the four-legged friends, there's something to love in this purr-fect collection. (Sorry, I had to.)

"2020 NY Dog Film Festival"

Why must cats have all the fur-ocious film festival fun?! Indeed, for the more pupper-passionate, there's this canine-centric collection of chihuahua-sized shorts – from a gorgeous tale of a dog training to be an avalanche rescue pup to the kooky world of purebred trainers and much more, including at least one dog flying in a helicopter and wearing a vest and tie like a little gentleman. If that's not charming enough to get you to tune in, than I don't know what's wrong with you.

World of Wong Kar Wai collection

Wong Kar Wai is one of the most respected and profound directors still working today, making sumptuous movies of atmopshere, romance, yearning and humanity. And now seven of his most notable works are getting the treatment deserving of a cinema icon, with gorgeous new 4K restorations now available of "As Tears Go By," "Days of Being Wild," "Fallen Angels," "Happy Together," "The Hand" and his two most famous works, "Chungking Express" and "In the Mood for Love."

"Another Round"

Apparently some scientists believe human beings are supposed to have a certain amount of alcohol in their blood streams to better open their minds. That's definitely a hypothesis I can get behind – and one that four friends (including "Casino Royale" and "Hannibal" villain Mads Mikkelsen) decide to actually test by getting drunk every day, all day. Wow, what brutal commitment to science. Hard to believe, but their drunken quest goes off the rails – but also might discover something new about themselves and all of humanity. A intoxicating premise with a chaser of pathos to make it go down great, give "Another Round" a shot.

"76 Days"

Who needs a break from all the news? Well, pop on this critically acclaimed documentary about ... oh, the first 76 days of the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown in its epicenter, Wuhan. OK, so "76 Days" is definitely not escapsim, but it is a harrowing, intense and intimate look inside one of the most impactful crises in modern human history, captured right at the beginning – and hopefully teaching us lessons as we optimistically approach something resembling the end.

"Zappa"

It's been quite a year for Alex Winter. First, he made a most excellent triumphant as William S. Preston, Esq. in the charming "Bill and Ted Face the Music," and now he's released a similarly rocking documentary, "Zappa." Scouring through the personal archives of the esoteric and politically active musician and artist, Winter's rock doc provides thrilling behind-the-curtain access to one of American pop culture's most idiosyncratic figures plus a journey into his ear-bendingly original music. Excellent! (*plays air guitar riff*)

"Collective"

Get ready for the Romanian "Spotlight" – except this time, you're right there alongside the real people breaking the news and holding the powerful acccountable. That's the story in the critically acclaimed documentary "Collective," following the real reporters of the Romanian newspaper Gazeta Sporturilor as they attempt to break a horrific scandal involving massive healthcare fraud, a deadly 2015 fire and corruption at the very top of the country's government and high society.

"White Riot"

You can't go to any concerts right now, so why not virtually attend a bunch of great star-studded antifacist punk and reggae shows from the '70s? That's what "White Riot" offers, taking audiences inside the Rock Against Racism movement that took London by storm, gig by gig spreading their message against the growing racism, nationalism and neo-Nazi sentiments infiltrating the country. And the whole doc comes soundtracked by the punk icons of the era, like the Clash, Steel Pulse and many more.

"City Hall"

Got four and a half hours, and want to escape into impecccably captured competence? Don't we all these days. Luckily, infamously meticulous documentarian legend Frederick Wiseman is here for you with "City Hall," a non-fiction epic taking the audience through all the hallways, meetings, nooks, crannies and nuances of Boston's local government as officials and citizens deal with the issues of the day. The mundane becomes mesmerizing in his lens, and for those who love deep dives and dense detail, no one would ever accuse Wiseman of giving a topic short shrift. Just ask the, I repeat, four-hour running time. "City Hall" is a commitment – but a worthy investment. Sure better than watching another 20 hours of election news not change!

"Fantastic Fungi"

Last we saw mushrooms on the big screen, they were serving as an unusual relationship aid in "Phantom Thread." In this hit documentary, though, we see this fascinating fungi fully take the spotlight in its natural habitat as experts (and narrator Brie Larson of "Captain Marvel" fame and "Room" acclaim) teach us about these remarkable organisms, their complicated place in the ecosystem, their incredible medicinal qualities and their unique, gorgeously shot beauty. So make room for 'shrooms – the cinematic kind, I mean, not the psychedelic – in your schedule this week!

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.