Sept. 26--Choosing movies to see from among the 241 feature and short films being shown at the fifth annual Milwaukee Film Festival, which starts Thursday and runs through Oct. 10, need not be daunting.
After all, the programmers say they curated the festival to offer the cream of the crop of available films, many of them voted audience favorites at other festivals. So, in theory, it can be as easy as closing your eyes and pointing at the schedule.
But veteran fest-goers know picking a film requires a little research, a little guess work and a little blind faith.
That's how I compiled the list of 10 recommended festival films below.
Seeing is believing, and believe me, they are worth seeing. Screenings are at the Oriental Theatre, 2230 N. Farwell Ave.; the Downer Theatre, 2589 N. Downer Ave.; and Fox-Bay Cinema Grill, 334 E. Silver Spring Drive, Whitefish Bay.
What: 'Break Up Man (Schlussmacher)'
Why: It's the opening-night film. After making the festival-goers suicidal in 2011 with the downbeat "Blue Valentine," the festival found its groove in more audience-friendly fare. This year's German-language mismatched-buddy comedy is in the tradition of the French-Canadian "Starbuck," which has been remade with Vince Vaughn.
When & where: Thursday, 6:30 p.m., Oriental
What: 'Spinning Plates'
Why: Documentary about a struggling Mexican restaurant, a family-style community landmark and the nouvelle cuisine of Chicago's Alinea, voted one of the best restaurants in the world, whose chef was stricken with a cancer that threatened his senses of taste and smell. What starts out as a foodie film ends up a portrait of struggle, perseverance and triumph.
When & where: Oct. 5, 4 p.m., Oriental; Oct. 9, 7:45 p.m. Fox-Bay
What: 'Brothers Hypnotic'
Why: Documentary about the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, a jazz and funk group -- made up of eight sons of three mothers by jazz legend Phil Cohran -- whose principles lead them to define success on their own terms. Celebrates the paternal, the fraternal and the musical principle of simplicity known as "long tones." They bring their industrial-strength sound to the festival's opening-night party starting at 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Discovery World, 500 N. Harbor Drive.
When & where: Friday, 7:30 p.m., and Monday, 1 p.m., Oriental; Tuesday, 5:15 p.m., Fox-Bay
What: 'Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me'
Why: Big Star recorded one perfect album before the paths of singer-songwriters Chris Bell and Alex Chilton diverged. This documentary is disappointingly lacking in music or performance. It is at its best when looking at that album, called "Number One Record." But what happened before and after will appeal to hard-core fans only.
When & where: Oct. 6, 8 p.m., Fox-Bay; Oct. 9, 4:45 p.m., Downer
What: 'The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete'
Why: This R-rated portrait of two young boys who spend a summer alone navigating the perils of housing-project life more resembles an episode of "The Wire" than an after-school special. Director and Milwaukee native George Tillman Jr., who will appear at the screening, coaxes terrific performances from his young actors. Screenwriter and Milwaukee native Michael Starburry is also scheduled to appear, as are actors Skylan Brooks and Ethan Dizon.
When & where: Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Oriental
What: 'The Act of Killing'
Why: Appalling yet compelling and strangely beautiful documentary in which Indonesian gangsters, who with paramilitary groups still in power killed 1 million Chinese "communists" in 1965, re-create their crimes as surreal movie scenes that reveal the haunted corridors of their subconscious and the self-hatred behind their dead eyes.
When & where: Oct. 6, 8 p.m., Downer
What: 'Ain't Them Bodies Saints'
Why: "Bonnie & Clyde" tale with Casey Affleck as an escaped con who will do anything to reunite with his true love, played by Rooney Mara, who has moved on with her life and their child. Stylish and atmospheric feature debut reminiscent of Terrence Malick by writer-director David Lowery, a Waukesha native, who will appear at the screening.
When & where: Oct. 9, 6:30 p.m., Oriental
What: 'August: Osage County'
Why: Hollywood adaptation of the Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play with Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts is a likely Oscar nominee. The one-night screening is sold out, but rush tickets may be available at the box office.
When & where: Oct. 7, 7:30 p.m., Oriental
What: 'Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me'
Why: Documentary about life and career of stage and screen legend Elaine Stritch, portrays her public and unseen personal life. Stritch -- who received an Emmy for her role as Alec Baldwin's mother on "30 Rock" -- is scheduled to appear at the one-night-only screening.
When & where: Sunday, 7 p.m., Oriental
What: 'Beyond the Hills'
Why: Hungarian director's Cristian Mungiu's tale, reminiscent of "The Crucible," is set in a monastery where a spartan and orthodox community of nuns find their beliefs challenged by a disruptive intruder from the outside world.
When & where: Saturday, 9 p.m., Fox-Bay; Wednesday, 4:30 p.m., and Oct. 5, 6:45 p.m., Downer
The Journal Sentinel is a presenting sponsor of the 2013 Milwaukee Film Festival.
Keep up with the festival on Dudek's blog, The Dudek Abides (www.jsonline.com/dudek), and on Twitter (@TheDudekAbides).
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