There's a reason the simple, unpretentious show "Willy Ronis: Paris" drew hordes of gawkers during Art Basel 2012. Ronis, who was a contemporary of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau, created images of postwar France that were controversial to contemporaries but have since proven to be timeless. At the Dina Mitrani Gallery, Ronis' black-and-white pictures of common street life showed working-class people in a country humbled by poverty and wracked by social unrest while the war-ravaged nation was in the process of reconstruction. The tightly curated exhibit featured 25 classic gems, including the infectiously exuberant Le Petit Parisien (1952), depicting a young boy wearing shorts and a vest as he skipped giddily along a street while lugging a baguette almost his size. Mitrani collaborated with Santa Monica dealer Peter Fetterman to organize the exhibit last December, proving that for lovers of both contemporary and classic photography, her Wynwood space is a must-visit.

Manny Prieres' gothic-inspired solo show, "Lock Them Out and Bar the Door. Lock Them Out Forevermore," borrowed its quixotic title from William S. Burroughs and a phrase he uttered while narrating the 1968 re-release of Häxan, a 1922 movie by Danish filmmaker Benjamin Christensen. The Dane's celluloid scream was originally outlawed because it portrayed sacrilegious rituals and demonic possessions, not to mention imagery of self-flagellation, forbidden sexual gestures, and Inquisition-sponsored torture. Tearing a chapter from the banned and profane, Prieres re-created the covers of more than 30 once-outlawed books by employing elements of drawing, graphic design, silk-screening, and printmaking to craft his elegant opuses. The Miami-based talent's illicit covers ranged from Animal Farm to Slaughterhouse-Five, Tropic of Cancer, Brave New World, and Lolita, reminding us of an age before Twitter and Facebook vanquished the evils of censorship in the West.

Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami
Courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art

"Liber Insularum," Bill Viola's first major U.S. museum survey since 2003, demonstrated the power of art to uplift the spirit. His sprawling video installations at the Museum of Contemporary Art also marked the first time since his 1997 Whitney Museum retrospective that his most important works had been corralled under one roof. At MOCA, Viola's sensory-engulfing installations were inspired by a 15th-century Florentine cleric's tome called The Book of the Islands of Archipelago, which records six lonely years he spent wandering the Aegean. Viola, who typically explores concepts of death and regeneration while embracing both Eastern and Western mystical and spiritual traditions, departed from the cleric's peripatetic wandering to convey his own notion of a conceptual journey across a constantly transforming global landscape. The exhibit transported viewers to a space where universal notions of suffering, joy, and peace combined in a meditative experience of the unconquerable strength of the human soul.

Operated by Adler Guerrier, Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova, and Frances Trombly, Dimensions Variable has been filling a void in an ever-more commercial local scene since 2009. The gallery is also a pioneer of the exodus from the Design District and increasingly unaffordable Wynwood to downtown Miami. Since relocating to the downtown Arthouse building last year, Dimensions Variable has continued expanding its brand of conceptually provocative and experimental offerings, drawing not only art lovers but also other local talent to join them in the neighborhood. This season, DV has hosted "Cut Outs," an exhibit of new works by Jenny Brillhart and Carolyn Salas that tinkered with notions of form and balance while questioning the source of the objects the duo created. Another show that commanded attention at DV was "A Rake's Progress" by London-based artist Julie Hill. She presented a contemporary adaptation of William Hogarth's 18th-century satirical work of the same name, skewering the global financial implosion by featuring a roomful of ambiguous open letters, shattered credit cards, and financial ephemera suggesting the onset of panic. Dimensions Variable has also been involved with international and national artist residencies, workshops, and a slew of community outreach initiatives as part of its ongoing mission to advance cultural discourse in South Florida.

Miami Beach Cinematheque

Next time you're ready to hold a Viking funeral for cinema — probably after seeing Transformers 5 on the schedule right after Baby Geniuses 7 at your local multiplex — take a deep breath and a leisurely walk along Washington Avenue. There, surrounded by the worst excesses of SoBe club culture, is the Miami Beach Cinematheque (MBC). The venue, which started in a tiny niche on Española Way, has transformed into a cultural anchor in its new home, the towering former Miami Beach City Hall. What sets MBC apart from other art houses is the amount of civic outreach. Consider some of MBC's recent speakers: Ben Cohen (of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream fame), speaking about Ingredients, a documentary about the food industry; Emmy winning documentary filmmaker Marian Marzynski, presenting Never Forget to Lie, which explores his childhood wartime experiences; and Brontis Jodorowsky, son of legendary cult horror filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, headlining a Q&A about El Topo, his dad's bizarre Western. Just to top it off, MBC offers a sophisticated yet relaxed environment with a bookstore, library, outdoor seating area, and café. Just laugh off that multiplex schedule. Cinema is alive and well on Washington Avenue.

Cinépolis Coconut Grove

For far too long, Miami's moviegoers have had to endure a series of horrifying obstacles to see the latest incarnation of Iron Man. Terrifying teenage punks eyeing you from the snack bar. Being forced to watch the antics of Adam Sandler while totally sober. Pushing pregnant women and the elderly aside to avoid a front-row, eyeball-assaulting seat. But no more. Here, at the Paragon Grove, you can choose your seats online in advance, saunter into the theater on Cuban time, and get a buzz with a Heineken or a glass of vino. And if popcorn and nachos don't cut it, you can nosh on Bavarian pretzel sticks or a barbecued Texas burger, delivered to your lap by eager minions. At $11.50 a pop (or $13.50 for premier VIP), it's not the cheapest ticket in town, but for booze, comfy seats, and an absence of screaming kids, it's worth every penny. So take a seat in a back row, don those 3-D glasses, and get your grub on. This is how movies are meant to be seen.

Tower Theater
Photo courtesy of Tower Theater

Little Havana's treasured Tower Theater outdid itself in the lead-up to this year's Miami International Film Festival. It celebrated MIFF's milestone 30th anniversary by screening a film from each year in the festival's history: 29 straight days of genre-hopping nostalgia. It began with a screening of, reportedly, the only English subtitled print in the world of Pedro Almodóvar's Dark Habits, a movie that's out of print on DVD and is also the best film ever about nuns shooting heroin. It continued with rarely screened goodies such as Landscape in the Mist, a powerful ramble from Greece about children searching for their deadbeat father; El Mariachi, Robert Rodriguez's microbudget breakthrough; Suture, an underrated, moody noir mystery in glorious black-and-white; and Audition, Takashi Miike's twisted torture-porn odyssey. Sarah Jessica Parker and Jeremy Piven even stopped by for a screening of Miami Rhapsody. The fact that nearly all of these titles were projected in their original, vanishing 35mm format was only the icing on a scrumptious cinematic cake.

In Free Angela and All Political Prisoners, director Shola Lynch tells the story of civil rights activist Angela Davis in a captivating documentary that critics hailed as one of the best docs of 2013. But savvy Miami film buffs had already experienced the movie's charms. Free Angela opened the Women's International Film Festival (WIFF) in March earlier that year, launching a strong lineup of female-written, lady-directed, woman-focused storytelling on the big screen. In five days, WIFF screened 50 such films, tackling serious issues like breast cancer and sexual assault, and more lighthearted topics like aging and romance. Audiences recognized celebrities such as Oscar-nominated actor Sally Kirkland and artist Renee Cox. In February, Halle Berry and her The Call costar Morris Chestnut stopped by a WIFF-sponsored screening. By launching showings of lady-friendly films outside of its annual five-day run, WIFF has joined more established Miami film festivals like the Miami International Film Festival and Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in expanding its influence and diversifying South Florida's movie landscape. And it's doing it all from an undervalued but much needed female perspective. You go, girls.

Dexter Morgan first sank his scalpel into the face of a terrified, plastic-wrapped victim on TV screens across the country seven years ago. Since then, Dexter has kept audiences simultaneously creeped out, fascinated, and strangely rooting for its serial killer with a heart of gold. Have there been ups and downs? Of course. No TV series runs for seven seasons without making a few mistakes. But even as reality-TV programs about the underbelly of South Florida continue to multiply, Dexter is still the best illustration of that old saying about Miami: "Sunny days, shady people." Loyal viewers of Dexter have watched plot lines about strippers, mobsters, and religious zealots. They've gotten to know drug addicts, corrupt politicians, and crooked cops. They've seen murders on Ocean Drive, in the Everglades, and even at Jimbo's. And in its final season, which begins June 30, anything could happen. There's a vacuum of power at the Miami Police Department after the death of Capt. Maria LaGuerta; Dexter's sister Deborah, who discovered her brother's "dark passenger" last season, is still dealing with icky yet fascinating romantic feelings for him; and of course, there's the issue of the dozens of people Dexter has killed throughout the series. Will he finally be made to pay for his crimes, or will America's best-loved murderer get the ultimate free pass? One thing is certain: It'll be fun finding out.

"That's it. That's good. It hurts. I know it does. That's it. Get it." Michael Bay's whole career has been leading up to those words. In Pain & Gain, the director's film based on Pete Collins' series of Miami New Times stories about a bodybuilding heist gone horribly wrong, those words come out of sensitive man-mountain Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson, and they're aimed at a wicked beefy Mark Wahlberg. The guys aren't fighting mammoth evil machines or saving the world from a giant asteroid. They're pumping iron in a poorly lit budget office somewhere in Miami, looking stressed, defeated, decidedly antiheroic, and impossibly, incredibly entertaining. That line could also be used to describe the roller coaster of emotions Miamians are feeling about this latest effort. The director's flashy style, which can read as cheesy when paired with typical action movie fare, feels strangely fitting for this tale of low-level Miami gym rats dreaming of making it big. That's it. That's good. And it hurts, we know it does, especially those who wrote Michael Bay off as a money-hungry bullshit artist with a talent for CGI spectacle. But this pet project of his feels equal parts hilarious and fascinating, with just the right level of cheesy indulgence. Get it?

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®