Tens: Movies I’m Excited to See at the Miami International Film Festival

Miami International Film Festival 2015

The 32nd annual Miami International Film Festival, South Florida’s premiere film event (produced, presented and owned by Miami-Dade College), kicks off today with a star-studded premiere of the Oscar-nominated Argentinean comedy Wild Tales at the Gusman Center for Performing Arts. Wild Tales might be the most high profile film to play at the festival this year but what about the rest? With more than 120 films from over 40 countries playing as part of the festival lineup over the next 10 days, sorting through the list was a daunting task. The following list isn’t a ranking of the very best the festival has to offer—how could I with such a massive lineup? Instead, it’s a list of films I’m most excited for based on their pedigree and reception at other film festivals.

Photo: Miami International Film Festival

Photo: Miami International Film Festival

10.
HOT GIRLS WANTED

USA; English

Directors: Jill Bauer, Ronna Gradus

The Gist of It:
Executive produced by Rashida Jones, this intimate documentary looks at what happens to a group of young women seeking adventure in Miami’s amateur porn industry.

Why I’m Excited:
Directed by former Miami Herald staffers Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus, Hot Girls Wanted, which Netflix nabbed the distribution rights to last month, is a peek into the lives of young women (many of them Miami natives) who left their families behind for a potential lucrative career into the world of amateur porn. Using 19-year-old Tressa as their guide , the filmmakers explore the evolution of the porn industry and how it seems poised to crossover into the mainstream.

Screening Dates:
Monday March 9th @ 7:00pm REGAL South Beach
Wednesday March 11th @ 9:30pm REGAL South Beach

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Photo: Miami International Film Festival

Photo: Miami International Film Festival

9.
INNOCENT KILLERS

Spain; Spanish with English subtitles
Director: Gonzalo Bendala

The Gist of It:
A handsome college student gets involved in a twisted game of murder for-grades with his professor in this pulse-pounding Spanish thriller.

Why I’m Excited:
One of two world premieres on my list, Innocent Killers has been dubbed by MIFF Executive Director Jaie Laplante as a “sleek” and “fast-paced, high-concept thriller with startling twists and turns.” The boilerplate for this Spanish thriller reads like a cross between Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train and a Brian De Palma film. That alone has me intrigued.

Screening Dates:
Tuesday March 10th @ 9:45pm MDC’S TOWER THEATER
Wednesday March 11th @ 9:45pm MDC’S TOWER THEATER

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Photo: Miami International Film Festival

Photo: Miami International Film Festival

8.
DAWG FIGHT

USA; English
Director: Billy Corben

The Gist of It:
From the filmmakers behind Cocaine Cowboys and The U, this gritty documentary looks at the illicit world of South Florida backyard fighting and its colorful characters.

Why I’m Excited:
Filmmakers Billy Corben and Alfred Spellman are titans of the local Miami filmmaking scene who have yet to make a bad film. Dawg Fight, which is the first narrative-styled documentary from the Miami-based duo, promises to be another thoroughly-researched and penetrating look into a rarely-seen world. In his review of the film, the Miami Herald’s Rene Rodriguez stated, “The matches in Dawg Fight might make you wince and groan, but what the movie makes you remember the most are the men who are willing to risk a beating — but hopefully dole out one of their own — and, in the process, discover their lives have real meaning after all. This one’s a knockout.” Yea, that sounds like something worth getting excited about.

Screening Dates:
Thursday March 12th @ 7:00pm O CINEMA MIAMI BEACH

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Photo: Miami International Film Festival

Photo: Miami International Film Festival

7.
THEEB

Jordan, Qatar, UAE, UK; Arabic with English subtitles
Director: Naji Abu Nawar

The Gist of It:
Two Bedouin brothers embark on an epic journey across the Arabian Desert, for a mighty adventure, as the events of WWI shatter their former peaceful existence

Why I’m Excited:
Naji Abu Nawar’s Theeb is a gorgeously-shot adventure that enfolds along the backdrop of the British-Ottoman enmity during World War 1. Deliberately slow-paced but never less than engrossing, Theeb is at once, a coming-of-age story and a survivalist thriller about the encroachment of technology on the old ways of life.

Screening Dates:
Friday March 13th @ 6:30pm MDC’S TOWER THEATER
Sunday March 15th @ 6:45pm REGAL 18

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Photo: Miami International Film Festival

Photo: Miami International Film Festival

6.
A HARD DAY

South Korea; Korean with English subtitles
Director: Kim Seong-hun

The Gist of It:
A handsome homicide cop’s life and career unravel when he takes off into the night with a dead body in the trunk of his car.

Why I’m Excited:
Korean cinema has been at the forefront of Asian cinema for more than a decade now and filmmakers like Park Chan-wook, Bong Joon-ho and Kim Jee-woon are making some of the most exciting films in world cinema. A Hard Day, which premiered as part of the Director’s Fortnight selection at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, has been described by The Hollywood Reporter as a film “loaded with smart plot twists, dark humor and high-gloss visuals.” That description should come as a welcome relief for those festival goers looking for something other than dark and depressing dramas.

Screening Dates:
Saturday March 14th @ 7:00pm CINEPOLIS

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Photo: Miami International Film Festival

Photo: Miami International Film Festival

5.
BEING EVEL

USA; English
Director: Daniel Junge

The Gist of It:
Oscar-winning filmmaker Daniel Junge explores the life and legend of Evel Knievel with spectacular stunt footage and candid testimony.

Why I’m Excited:
Being Evel was one of the most buzzed about documentaries at January’s Sundance Film Festival. Produced by Johnny Knoxville, Daniel Junge’s documentary is a warts-and-all take on famed stuntman and American icon Robert “Evel” Knievel—chronicling his fiery rise to infamy as well as his equally explosive downfall. As Drew Taylor of Indiewire states, “The documentary, like its subject, is unapologetically dazzling. A wild, wooly strut through a period in American history when the country rallied around a man who would probably, at the end of the broadcast, be lying unconscious at the end of the runway, ready to get up and do it again the very next night.”

Screening Dates:
Friday March 6th @ 7:00pm O CINEMA MIAMI BEACH

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Photo: Miami International Film Festival

Photo: Miami International Film Festival

4.
BEST OF ENEMIES

USA; English
Director: Morgan Neville

The Gist of It:
Sworn enemies Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley changed the course of television when they debated at the 1968 political conventions in Miami Beach and Chicago. Co-director Morgan Neville (20 Feet From Stardom) will present additional archival footage not seen in the film, in an extended Manifesto conversation with programmer Thom Powers following the screening.

Why I’m Excited:
The last time director Morgan Neville brought a crowd-pleasing Sundance-premiering documentary to the Miami International Film Festival (20 Feet From Stardom), he went on to win the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. His follow-up feature revisits a pivotal chapter in American history—the 10 debates between neo-conservative William F. Buckley and novelist Gore Vidal, both who were renowned for their quick wit.

Screening Dates:
Sunday March 8th @ 1:00pm & 3:00pm CORAL GABLES ART CINEMA

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Photo: Miami International Film Festival

Photo: Miami International Film Festival

3.
THE SALT OF THE EARTH

Italy, France; French, Portuguese with English subtitles
Director: Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado

The Gist of It:
Directors Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado profile renowned photographer in this globe-trotting film that is a 2015 Oscar nominee for Best Documentary Feature.

Why I’m Excited:
Come for Wim Wenders’ masterful filmmaking, stay for Sebastião Salgado’s stunning photography. As Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times stated in his review, “Whether you’re familiar with Salgado’s name and work or not, The Salt of the Earth will be a revelation. The film deals with two kinds of journeys the photographer made. The outward one may have literally taken him to the furthest corners of the Earth and resulted in the stunning images the film features, but it is the inward journey that paralleled it that completely holds our attention.”

Screening Dates:
Sunday March 8th @ 1:00pm O CINEMA MIAMI BEACH
Sunday March 15th @ 9:00pm REGAL 17

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Photo: Miami International Film Festival

Photo: Miami International Film Festival

2.
A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE

Sweden, France, Norway, Germany; Swedish with English subtitles
Director: Roy Andersson

The Gist of It:
Masterful, absurd and surreal comedy about the way human beings behave with one another. Winner of the Golden Lion at the 2014 Venice Film Festival.

Why I’m Excited:
Winner of the Golden Lion at 2014 Venice Film Festival, absurdist filmmaker Roy Andersson’s A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence has been described as the final installment of a trilogy “about being a human being.” If that perplexes you, wait until you read the film’s official plot description on the MIFF website. For many, just the thought of watching this film this would be a turn-off but to me, it’s just the type of absurd picture that film festivals were meant to highlight.

Screening Dates:
Friday March 6th @ 9:30pm CORAL GABLES ART CINEMA
Sunday March 15th @ 4:00pm CINEPOLIS

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Photo: Miami International Film Festival

Photo: Miami International Film Festival

1.
WHITE GOD

Hungary, Germany, Sweden; Hungarian with English subtitles
Director: Kornél Mundruczó

The Gist of It:
A young girl’s cross-breed dog becomes public enemy #1 after it leads hundreds of unwanted dogs into an angry revolution against the violent men that abuse them.

Why I’m Excited:
The one-sentence description above may not be much but every review I’ve read of White God since it won the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes last year has made me more excited to see it. And while it wasn’t very high when I was originally compiling this list, it skyrocketed all the way to the top after reading the review of my friend and colleague Rene Rodriguez IN the Miami Herald: “White God is the rare sort of movie in the era of computer-generated special effects where you can’t believe your eyes, because what you’re looking at is real… Realism is critical in order to keep you from rolling your eyes at the screen, which explains why the film is at times unbearably brutal. But it all pays off with an astounding, extended climax that is as rousing and exciting as it is frightening — one of the most surreal experiences I’ve ever had watching a movie. After seeing White God, you’ll never take the phrase “man’s best friend” for granted.” I don’t know how I couldn’t put this at the top of my list after this. WOW!

Screening Dates:
Friday March 6th @ 9:30pm REGAL 18
Saturday March 14th @ 9:30pm REGAL 18

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HONORABLE MENTIONS:

CITY OF GOLD
The Gist of It:
The enjoyment of fine cuisine and down-home eats, with everything in between, only gets better under Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Jonathan Gold’s free-ranging taste tour of one of America’s great food cities.

Screening Dates: 
Saturday March 7th @ 3:30pm REGAL 18

 
KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK
The Gist of It:
The first fully authorized portrait of the rock legend Kurt Cobain includes footage, music and art from Cobain’s for the first time by Cobain’s family.

Screening Dates:
Friday March 6th @ 9:30pm O CINEMA MIAMI BEACH
Monday March 9th @ 9:30pm MDC’S TOWER THEATER

MAGICAL GIRL
The Gist of It:
A troubled father will do anything within his power to grant his child her last dying last wish in this thrilling Spanish neo-noir.

Screening Dates:
Saturday March 7th @ 9:15pm MDC’S TOWER THEATER

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