Five Must-See Films at the Miami International Film Festival This Weekend

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Whittling down a film festival of close to 100 films to only 10 seems rather cruel. But, let's face it, this is Miami, and who really wants to spend 10 days in dark theaters all day long?

If you have to choose a smattering of movies to catch at the 31st Miami International Film Festival, the following are five must-see screenings chosen by Florida Film Critics Circle member Hans Morgenstern. All of the following films will play the first weekend of MIFF 31. With multiple screenings, none of these films overlap, so you could theoretically see them all.

For those truly committed, we dare you to see all five during the festival's opening weekend.

See Also: Catch MIFF Director Jaie Laplante's Favorite Picks, Tickets on Sale

The Congress

Back in 2008, Israeli director Ari Folman made a huge splash in the art film world with Waltz With Bashir, a documentary animated with Flash. He interviewed soldiers involved in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, animating battles, their nightmares and the men themselves. More than five years later, Folman returns with the Congress, a partly-animated feature presenting a surreal metanarrative of what happens when the aging actress Robin Wright sells her image to a movie studio. Wright plays herself in a future world that is coming ever closer to reality as digital effects continue to grow more and more seamless and cyber reality has already begun to re-wire the brains of humanity. Showing Friday, March 7, 9 p.m. at Regal Cinema South Beach; and Sunday, March 16, at 7:45 p.m. at Paragon Grove. Tickets.

The Immigrant

Fresh off Oscar-nominated work in the Master and Her, Joaquin Phoenix stars in The Immigrant. Here, he plays a man who pimps out a Polish immigrant played by Marion Cotillard in 1920s New York City. This marks the fourth film in a row director James Gray has put Phoenix in as a starring role. They have never failed to deliver literate, potent works, so this film not only offers star power (it also features Jeremy Renner), but it should also deliver some of the better performances you will see at the film festival. Showing Saturday, March 8, at 1:15 p.m.; and Saturday, March 15, at 9:15 p.m. at Regal Cinema South Beach. Tickets.

The Sacrament

Let's face it, it's not easy to do horror movies, and MIFF's Mayhem series hasn't always delivered the goods. Well, here comes Ti West, who may be the genre's greatest talent since Eli Roth and happens to be the titular producer in his latest film, the Sacrament. Inspired by the infamous Jonestown massacre of the 1970s, one should expect an extra layer of depth from the director who gave us the House of the Devil and the Innkeepers. If he doesn't deliver, you can tell him yourself, as he will be present for the premiere. Showing Saturday, March 8, at 7:15 p.m.; and Sunday, March 9, at 9:45 p.m. at Regal South Beach. Tickets.

Locations: Looking For Rusty James

Indulge me with a totally biased, personal favorite: Locations: Looking For Rusty James. It's not a feature or a documentary, but a film essay about another film. Chilean author/film critic/director Alberto Fuguet has composed a beautiful appreciation for Francis Ford Coppola's 1983 cult classic Rumble Fish. Rumble Fish is not only his favorite film of all time but this writer's favorite film of all time as well (see my essay in AFI). You do not necessarily need to have seen Rumble Fish to appreciate this film, but you will want to look it up afterward. Fuguet travels to Tulsa, OK., to find the locations where Coppola shot the film based on the S.E. Hinton novel. Shooting in the similar black and white of Rumble Fish and using the film's original score by Stewart Copeland and a dash of Radiohead's "Pyramid Song," Fuguet scans ghostly landscapes while intercutting patches of the film. He offers his own narrative coupled with testimonials from other Chilean filmmakers to reveal a cult-like influence. Rumble Fish left an immense impression on Chilean youth when the film took over theaters in the 1980s with an historic run unparalleled by its middling appearance in the U.S. There's no over-analysis or conspiracies pulled out of perceived subtexts, just an appreciation for a youth-oriented film that never condescended its audience. Showing Sunday, March 9, at 7 p.m.; Monday, March 10 at 9:30 p.m. at Regal South Beach; and Saturday, March 15, at 4 p.m. at Paragon Grove. Tickets.

Young and Beautiful

One of the great things about foreign films is how deep and explicit they get about sex. While Hollywood seems to find more comfort in regressing to childish fantasy worlds of magic, super heroes and cartoons, France continues to push the limits of sex in cinema. François Ozon returns to MIFF with a film that follows a bored 16-year-old girl who decides to prostitute herself to older men via the Internet. Soon after the film's premiere at Cannes, Ozon had to answer to a female journalist from the Hollywood Reporter to which he said, "It is a fantasy of many women to do prostitution ... You speak with many women, you speak with shrinks, everybody knows that. Well, maybe not Americans!" Well, this is a MIFF crowd, a truly international, open-minded and enlightened bunch - right? If anyone in America can "get" this kind of film, it is one from Miami, and not because it's some sort of sex destination. Showing Sunday, March 9, at 6:30 p.m.; and Sunday, March 16, at 6:45 p.m. at Regal South Beach. Tickets.

Follow Hans Morgenstern on Twitter @HansMorgenstern.

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