My favorite -- and un-favorite -- films so far.
The glitz and glamour of opening night and the first weekend has come and gone, with much fanfare and a number of notable guests. After five days of the festival I find myself a third of the way through my planned 33 film binge watching spree. So it seems like a good time to step back and rate my favorite films so far.
I’ve seen 11 movies, and missed one because of a scheduling issue (Foodies on Sunday night). As those that attend multiple films will find, it’s easy to start to memorize the opening trailers (“the Wi is free, the Fi is $6.95”). The sponsor trailer consistently draws applause and laughter from the crowd, and is clearly the best trailer in recent years (dogs and cats are clear crowd pleasers).
The 11 films I’ve seen offer a wide range of subjects and styles. Without further ado, here are my rankings and a few short notes about each film.
- The Great Alone (documentary) – I joked in my preview that I have no idea what would make someone want to race sled dogs over 1,000 miles through freezing temperatures. I still don’t know, but documentary subject Lance Mackey sure makes it look easy and the film is a winner. The documentary includes stunning visual images, moves at a steady space and does a good job exploring the topic. Added bonus: Mackey and his dog Ampe were in attendance for the showing on Saturday night.
- I Can Quit Whenever I Want (comedy) – This Italian comedy is clearly inspired by Breaking Bad, but it’s sufficiently different to not make you compare the two at every twist and turn. The film would definitely lose a step if it were played by English actors. The ending is bizarre, but it’s an enjoyable ride none the less.
- The Russian Woodpecker (documentary) – Count me now in the camp of Chernobyl conspiracy theorists. This film examines the link between the famed nuclear meltdown and a radio broadcasting tower. Very intriguing. I also greatly enjoyed that the film’s subject, Fedor Alexandrovich, is not only still alive, but was in attendance for the two screenings this weekend.
- A Girl Like Grace (drama) – Wow, this film is surprisingly dark. Film star Ryan Destiny delivers a strong performance, as does Meagan Good. The plot — a coming-of-age story about a Haitian-American teen — is a little underdeveloped at points, but still provides for a number of gut wrenching scenes.
- Youth (drama) – It’s not for everyone, which does make me wonder a bit why it was the opening night pick. I enjoyed it though, so I suppose that’s all that counts. The film is very similar to director Paolo Sorrentino‘s Oscar-winning The Great Beauty. In the end I think I liked The Great Beauty more, but this film – with Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel playing characters dealing with old age — was still enjoyable for it’s stunning cinematography, musical score and seemingly randomly assembled plot.
- Cartel Land (documentary) – This documentary nails the ending, bringing everything full circle in a clever way. It’s steady throughout as it follows an Arizona border patrol citizens’ militia responding to a drug war, with perspectives from both sides of the border.
- 7 Chinese Brothers (comedy) – Jason Schwartzman delivers a great performance, but the pieces don’t come together around him. It’s funny at times, but mostly you’re left waiting for this slacker comedy to go somewhere which it never does. The short that runs before it, Seth, is deranged and quite funny. Seth director Zach Lasry was in attendance at my showing, as well as a sizable contingent of his family and friends including father and Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry as well as Bucks coach Jason Kidd and general manager John Hammond.
- British Arrows Awards (shorts, comedy) – Television commercials for products not even for sale in the United States. A weird, but strangely enjoyable concept. A fun respite from many of the serious dramas and documentaries. The audience in the theater seemed to enjoy it.
- In A Perfect World (documentary) – A powerful documentary about growing up with a single mother, which includes filmmaker Daphne McWilliams turning the camera on herself. I would have ranked the film higher, but it gets a bit repetitive.
- Wisconsin’s Own (documentary) – A showing made up of two films that total 85 minutes. The first film, Old Fashioned: The Story of the Wisconsin Supper Club, is well done, features a number of clubs and includes surprise narration from my high school English teacher Tom Eastman (who has likely printed this and corrected any errors in red ink). The second film, Tale of the Spotted Cow, is more like an extended commercial for New Glarus Brewing and owner Deborah Carey. I walked out of that one after about five minutes.
- Court (drama) – The Indian judicial system appears to be a corrupt joke. This film took the longest and slowest way possible to illustrate that. The rest of the audience seemed to enjoy it more than me. It’s well made, but really slow.
Do you agree? And what have you seen? Did you love it? Hate it?
The Remaining Schedule
- Last Night – September 29th – 3:45 p.m. – Oriental Theatre
- 30 Seconds Away – September 29th – 6:30 p.m. – Oriental Theatre
- Dreamcatcher – September 30th – 1:00 p.m. – Times Cinema
- Breaking a Monster – September 30th – 3:45 p.m. – Downer Theatre
- Call Me Lucky – September 30th – 9:30 p.m. – Downer Theatre
- He Named Me Malala – October 1st – 4:15 p.m. – Downer Theatre
- Unbranded – October 1st – 6:30 p.m. – Oriental Theatre
- Welcome to Leith – October 1st – 9:15 p.m. – Oriental Theatre
- The Milwaukee Show II – October 2nd – 6:30 p.m. – Oriental Theatre
- The Glamour and the Squalor – October 2nd – 9:15 p.m. – Oriental Theatre
- Most Likely to Succeed – October 4th – 12:15 p.m. – Oriental Theatre
- King Georges – October 4th – 4:00 p.m. – Avalon Theater
- Just Eat It – October 4th – 7:00 p.m. – Fox Bay Cinema Grill
- Havana Motor Club – October 5th – 4:15 p.m. – Downer Theatre
- Sex(ed): The Movie – October 5th – 6:45 p.m. – Oriental Theatre
- Cincinnati Goddamn – October 5th – 9:30 p.m. – Oriental Theatre
- Eden – October 6th – 6:30 p.m. – Avalon Theater
- Super Secret Member’s Screening – October 7th – 7:30 p.m. – Oriental Theatre
- Station to Station – October 8th – 1:00 p.m. – Downer Theatre
- Stockholm Stones – October 8th – 4:00 p.m. – Times Cinema
- Raiders! – October 8th – 7:00 p.m. – Oriental Theatre
Milwaukee Film Festival
Drive-In Movies Kick Off Film FestivalSep 9th, 2020 by Jeramey Jannene
‘Cold Case Hammarskjöld’ a SurpriseOct 28th, 2019 by Jeramey Jannene
‘Black Licorice’ a Milwaukee-Made ThrillerOct 25th, 2019 by Jeramey Jannene
4 thoughts on “Milwaukee Film Festival: Power Rankings”
Thank you! I loved the supper club movie but hated the spotted cow tale. I thought I was the only one! I wish I would have walked out. I also enjoyed I Can Quit Whenever I Want, partly because I’m married to a tenure-track professor so it rang uncomfortably true. 😉
Did you see Theeb or ZouZou?
I am glad I am not the only one who walked out of the Spotted Cow advertis–documentary.
I loved The Russian Woodpecker, and had also seen it previously with a talk by the filmmaker and Fedor Alexandrovich from Ukraine. Russia is very different from the U.S., and what we know here as conspiracy theory is often just typical behavior there! I thought Fedor was very brave to be the subject of this film and to come to the U.S. and speak about what’s going on there!