In Movies & TV

"Marriage Story" may not be in the program book, but it needs to be on your to-see list.

11 Milwaukee Film Festival must-sees

The Milwaukee Film Festival is finally here – with 300-some movies of all shapes and sizes in tow. There's Oscar favorites and silent era masterpieces, a screening of a Hitchcock classic and a screening of a shlock classic, documentaries about music legends from all genres – including the genre of "impersonating Jimmy Page" – and horror movies about everything from an evil wind storm to an evil snow storm and, sure, an evil dress. There's quite literally something for everyone at the film festival.

As always, though, the easy part is drooling over all the incredible movies headed to Milwaukee screens across the final two weeks of the month. The hard part is trying to figure out how you'll try to cram as many of these great selections as you can into just 15 days. Even though there's a documentary about John DeLorean at the film festival, there's unfortunately no time-traveling DeLorean on standby, and nobody signed by online petition to temporarily change our typical 24-hour days into 57-hour days. Also, apparently five out of five doctors recommend eating and sleeping every day, so you should probably make time for that too – but what do doctors know.

So it seems the only decision left is to make some hard decisions – and to help make those tough picks, and make the most of your film festival journey, I've highlighted eleven movies (though it could've easily been 79 films long) you should definitely seek out at the 2019 Milwaukee Film Festival, starting Thursday night and running through Oct. 31.

1. "Marriage Story"

Arguably the most exciting movie in the Milwaukee Film Festival program book ... isn't in the Milwaukee Film Festival program book. The latest from Noah Baumbach ("The Squid and the Whale," "Frances Ha") may have been too late to make the printer – but better late than never for this highly buzzed family drama starring Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver as a married couple on the rocks. A seemingly simple premise, but that's all you need from Baumbach, who's proven to be a master of incisive character studies that are brutally funny and cutting at the same time. And according to the festival buzz, everyone involved here – from its two leads to the always welcome Laura Dern – is at the top of their game, to the point of making many awards prognosticators short lists for Oscar nominations.

Sure, the movie will end up on Netflix in early December since it's produced by the streaming service. But one of the best reviewed movies of the year deserves to be seen in the best possible way: on the big screen, laughing and crying with a crowd all doing the same. I mean, the early reviews say Kylo Ren sings Sondheim; if that's not worthy of the big screen, I don't know what is.

"Marriage Story" will screen on Tuesday, Oct. 29 at 6:45 p.m. at the Jan Serr Studio Cinema as well as on Thursday, Oct. 31 at 3:30 p.m. at the Broadway Theater Center.

2. "Parasite"

I normally avoid recommending festival movies that are almost certain to come to theaters afterward. You've got 300-some films to choose from, many of which never to be seen on Milwaukee screens ever again; why waste a viewing on something coming back to town in a week?

Not in the case of "Parasite," though. See this thing as soon as you freaking can.

The latest from the genius, unpredictable mind of director Bong Joon-Ho ("The Host," "Snowpiercer"), "Parasite" follows a pair of families – one very rich, one very not – as they get entangled together in ways I choose not to spoil because I'm not a monster. The less you know, the better, but know this: Bong Joon-Ho is one of the most creative and exciting filmmakers out there, playing with tones like a glorious madman and taking his stories in directions you never expect – or forget. The movie's received incredible festival raves to the point of getting Best Picture notices – a rarity for a foreign language film – and it grossed a record amount of money in its limited three-theater opening weekend.

In short, "Parasite" is going to be a big deal, and it's almost certainly coming to Milwaukee theaters sooner than later. But you get to see it before anyone else. Take advantage and experience "Parasite" before someone spoils it for you.

"Parasite" will screen on Wednesday, Oct. 30 at 4:30 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre.

3. "The Passion of Joan of Arc"

Carl Dreyer's 1928 silent masterpiece about the trial of Joan of Arc is one of cinema's most indelible works, a movie filled with unforgettable imagery, truly inventive filmmaking – its smartly assembled close-ups and frenetic edits were revolutionary then and now – and one of the finest, most moving performances ever recorded by a camera. On its own, "The Passion of Joan of Arc" would be worth witnessing on the big screen – but the Milwaukee Film Festival managed to outdo a masterpiece by not just screening the great movie but booking composer George Sarah to bring his original soundtrack to the showing, performed by local musicians, creating a once-in-a-lifetime cinematic event.

If you've never seen "The Passion of Joan of Arc," I can't imagine a better way to watch it for the first time. And if you have, well, I can't imagine a better way to watch it again and feel like you're seeing it with new eyes and ears.

"The Passion of Joan of Arc" will screen on Friday, Oct. 18 at 6 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre.

4. "Who Let the Dogs Out"

Bad news: You're going to have "Who Let the Dogs Out" by the Baha Men stuck in your head all day now. The good news? It'll be worth it for this unusually intriguing behind-the-scenes story about the infamous 1998 one-hit wonder, which ends up being about a whole lot more than a party that was nice and pumping where everybody was having a ball. No, "Who Let the Dogs Out" ends up actually weaving an unexpectedly complicated tale about influence, race, legal nightmares and more.

It promises to be a fascinating story – as well as the perfect retort to anybody who says film festivals only have high-falutin pretentious arthouse stuff. (Also: Does this mean there's hope for my Tal Bachman documentary idea?)

"Who Let the Dogs Out" will screen on Monday, Oct. 21 at 3:45 p.m. at the Jan Serr Studio Cinema; Sunday, Oct. 27 at 3:45 p.m. at the Times Cinema; and Monday, Oct. 28 at 6:30 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre.

5. "Long Day's Journey Into Night"

3-D is typically a dirty word for cinephiles – but "Long Day's Journey Into Night" might just change that. Directed by MFF alum Bi Gan ("Kaili Blues"), this noir-ish drama follows a man's return home, which sends his mind back to the death of his friend and the disappearance of a lost love. It's all captured with Bi Gan's signature style – which somehow manages to outdo his last film's 40-minute long take by including a climactic 59-minute one-take (59 MINUTES!) shot in 3-D for maximum immersion. It's enough to possibly make you a believer in 3-D again – and certainly a believer in Bi Gan's abilities as a time-blending filmmaker and one-of-a-kind cinematic storyteller.

"Long Day's Journey Into Night" will screen in 3-D on Saturday, Oct. 19 at 1:45 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre, as well as in 2-D on Thursday, Oct. 24 at 12:30 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre.

6. "Burning Cane"

This award-winning festival favorite – starring Wendell Pierce ("The Wire") as a preacher tasked with helping a woman's alcoholic son while battling his own set of demons – comes courtesy of Phillip Youmans, a 19-year-old director who started working on this intimate Ava DuVernay-approved family drama when he was just in high school. So that makes me feel like I've accomplished nothing and wasted my life! But, more importantly, it makes me want to see "Burning Cane" and witness what appears to be the start of a fresh and fascinating new voice in film. And then, afterwards, think about my life choices and wonder if maybe I should've spent my high school years doing more than YouTube-ing funny videos and eating Cheez-Its.

"Burning Cane" will screen on Saturday, Oct. 26 at 4 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre; Sunday, Oct. 27 at 6:30 p.m. at the Jan Serr Studio Cinema; and Thursday, Oct. 31 at 1:30 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre.

7. "Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project"

Most of us lost our old VHS tapes or chucked them in the trash. Marion Stokes, however, kept all of her tapes – and considering she recorded her television for 24 hours a day for more than three decades, she had a whole lot of tapes. But what sounds like some bizarre hoarder-esque hobby has turned into a fascinating anthropological experiment as her recordings capture how the country evolved over the years, along with its news and what it consumed as viewers. And that's not even including Marion Stokes herself, a unique and unusual individual in her own right. It's an absorbing topic, a true story of obsession that you might end up obsessed with yourself.

"Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project" will screen on Monday, Oct. 21 at 4:30 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre; Thursday, Oct. 24 at 6:45 p.m. at the Times Cinema; and Wednesday, Oct. 30 at 1 p.m. at the Broadway Theater Center.

8. "Shadow"

Four words: umbrella made of blades. That should be all you need to know to get you into a seat for "Shadow." But in the rare case you somehow require more information than "blade umbrella," this gorgeous martial arts epic comes from Zhang Yimou, the legendary Chinese director behind beautiful dramas like "Raise the Red Lantern" and "Coming Home" as well as the equally beautiful martial arts operas "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers." The guy even made the Matt Damon monster-masher "The Great Wall" look good! So if all of that – a great director doling out jaw-droppingly pretty images alongside intense action and grandiose storytelling – still doesn't sell you on "Shadow," well, maybe movies just aren't your thing.

"Shadow" will screen on Friday, Oct. 25 at 8:45 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre, as well as on Wednesday, Oct. 30 at 9:30 p.m. at the Jan Serr Studio Cinema.

9. "In Fabric"

A cursed dress makes its lethal way from customer to customer. Hollywood, always telling the same old stories, amirite? But this isn't just some standard goofy horror ridiculousness, though. Instead, it's another beautifully bizarre trip into throwback genre-movie bliss from writer-director Peter Strickland ("Berberian Sound Studio"), creating a bonkers giallo seemingly ripped out of the '80s and teleported to today, dressed to kill. Even with all those references and genre influences, considering Strickland's past work, I feel pretty confident saying you won't see another movie like "In Fabric" – either at the Milwaukee Film Festival or anywhere else.

"In Fabric" will screen on Friday, Oct. 18 at 10 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre; Saturday, Oct. 26 at 10 p.m. at the Avalon; and Wednesday, Oct. 30 at 8 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre.

10. "Cold Case Hammarskjöld"

A movie that might just turn you into a crazy conspiracy theorist with a whole wall of photos and newspaper clippings tethered together with yarn and dark connections, "Cold Case Hammarskjöld" follows its director Mads Brügger (the madcap documentarian behind the MFF alum "The Ambassador") as he digs around the 1961 plane crash that killed UN General Secretary Dag Hammarskjöld – and the theory that it was shot down by mercenaries. It's just crazy enough to be real – or maybe it's just crazy. But no matter the case, the investigation – and Brügger's signature undercover approach – should make for a fascinating and entertaining watch.

"Cold Case Hammarskjöld" will screen on Wednesday, Oct. 23 at 4:30 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre, as well as on Thursday, Oct. 31 at 7:15 p.m. at the Broadway Theater Center.

11. "The Lodge"

It's Halloween season so it only makes sense to recommend a scary movie from the Milwaukee Film Festival. And what a scary movie it is as "The Lodge" follows Grace, a young woman (Riley Keough of "Mad Max: Fury Road" and "Logan Lucky" fame) stuck in a lodge during a snowstorm with her boyfriend's two prickly kids. Not great! And in case that wasn't rough enough, weird stuff's starting to happen around the cabin that's unsettling Grace and awakening some repressed memories that would be best left repressed. Even more not great! But what is great is getting another atmospheric and creepy horror flick from the directing duo behind the slow-burning Austrian freakout "Goodnight Mommy." Because who needs sleep!?

"The Lodge" will screen on Wednesday, Oct. 30 at 10 p.m. at the Avalon.

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