Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU
Photo courtesy of Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU

The pandemic has left people feeling disconnected in various ways. Disconnected from their friends and family, disconnected from the world, and disconnected from their history. In a word: unmoored. That's why places like the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU are more important than ever. The museum's mission is to tell the story of Miami's Jewish history, and that comes through in its exhibits as well as its location. Visitors to the museum, which is housed in what was once a set of synagogues in Miami Beach, will feel an immediate connection to its religious roots. The permanent "MOSAIC: Jewish Life in Florida" exhibit comprises a winding tapestry of Miami's Jewish movers and shakers from the past 200 years while also shining a light on pioneer families and the immigrant experience. People you may not have known were Jewish or even connected to Miami are all enshrined here in a series of pictures that present a gestalt of the city's history. The exhibit is getting a facelift, so expect an even grander display once the museum (currently closed because of the pandemic) is back up and running. JMOF also hosts traveling exhibitions, which in 2018 famously included a collection of paintings by Tennessee Williams. During its closure, the museum has continued to present virtual programming, accessible on its website.

Coral Gables Art Cinema
Courtesy of Coral Gables Art Cinema

In the midst of a global pandemic and all the road bumps that came with it, the Coral Gables Art Cinema was the first local arthouse to reopen its doors. In addition to avirtual screening room, Gables Cinema has been offering in-person screenings of the kind of programming they're known for, from classics like Meet Me in St. Louis and Hausu to new releases like Let Him Go, Martin Eden, and On the Rocks. Plus, the theater's new seat-selection system and reduced capacity make for quite the refreshing update in the COVID era, allowing patrons to navigate how far they can safely sit from others while also enjoying the feeling of being back at the theater with an audience.

Still from T.
Photo courtesy of Keisha Rae Witherspoon
Still from T.

Anyone who has witnessed Keisha Rae Witherspoon's stunning 13-minute directorial debut, T, knows exactly why she is our choice this year for "Best Film Director." Her playful, experimental short — a futuristic faux documentary that follows three grieving participants in the annual T Ball, a fictional Liberty City event where people who lost a loved one assemble to model R.I.P. T-shirts and costumes to honor their dead — has toured a number of festivals and even won the Golden Bear for Best Short Film at Berlinale this year. It's the kind of debut that highlights the filmmaker's visionary eye and her ability to offer the audience an intimate portrait in a short period of time. That's not all. Witherspoon was the inaugural recipient of the Lynn Shelton "Of a Certain Age" grant this year, the final iteration of her film 1968 < 2018 > 2068 is set for its virtual premiere this winter, and she's already working on an untitled feature she describes as "a post-alien-abduction black sci-fi drama set in Opa-locka." We can't wait to see what's next.

Swap Shop
Photo by Jesse Scott

All hail the drive-in theater! In an era when going to the cinema might result in your death, drive-ins are a veritable lifesaver. And if you think the trend is tacky or dated, you clearly haven't been to the Swap Shop & Thunderbird Drive-In Theater in Fort Lauderdale. Throughout the pandemic, the drive-in has been providing us with a cinematic experience we can enjoy from our very own vehicles, not via glaring LED screens but with actual projectors. Not only do you not have to endure pesky teens texting and old folks answering calls from their grandkids, but you can control the audio from your car radio while enjoying any number of new releases (or the occasional classic) at the sweet, sweet price of $7 per person ($2 per kid 11 or younger; kids under 4 get in free). Even when you're watching a new movie, catching a movie at the Swap Shop feels like a timeless experience.

Best Movie Shot on Location
Photo courtesy of Neon and Vice

At the end of Harmony Korine's 2019 vaudeville comedy The Beach Bum, a reporter asks Moondog, the titular bum played by Matthew McConaughey, for his secret to life. "I like to have fun, man," Moondog answers. "It's why I like boats, I like the water, I like the sunshine, I like beautiful women, a lot. Man, I get all these things going — man, they're all turning me on. My wires are connecting upstairs and I start to hear music in my head, you know?" Against the backdrop of Miami, Hollywood, and the Florida Keys, freewheelin' poet Moondog bounces from boat to boat and woman to woman in what can only be described as a stoner fairytale. Life comes at him fast, leading to his eviction from a waterfront mansion in Miami and sending him to a homeless encampment underneath the Julia Tuttle, a short stint in county jail, and up to one of Broward's dime-a-dozen addiction-recovery homes. But through it all, Moondog remains buoyant, treating it all as just another adventure. The Sunshine State is his playground, and landmarks including the Miami Marine Stadium, the Hollywood Broadwalk, and Key West's Schooner Wharf bar become all the more beautiful through the lens of cinematographer Benoît Debie, who splendidly depicts Florida just as it is: a sunny place for shady people. Moondog, a most lovable deadbeat, savors every minute of it. "This life gig's a fucking rodeo," he says, "and I'm gonna suck the nectar out of it and fuck it raw-dog till the wheels come off."

Best Miami Documentary
Photo courtesy of Kareem Tabsch

Everyone in Miami knows and loves Walter Mercado (1932–2019), the extraordinary astrologist and television personality who helped us all become a little more spiritually aware. Kareem Tabsch, Cristina Constantini, and Alex Fumero's delightful documentary, Mucho, Mucho Amor, titled after his perfect catchphrase — "Sobre todo, mucho, mucho amor" — shows what an icon Mercado was from start to finish. Beyond getting to hear him talk about his life and sensibilities in his own words, the film also lovingly highlights his impact on Hispanic and queer communities, culminating with History Miami's tribute to him.

Miami City Ballet

The Miami City Ballet is one of the top-ranked ballet companies in the nation, but connecting with its home city remains a priority — just look at its reimagined A Midsummer Night's Dream set in the waters of South Florida (there's even a dancing manatee). This year, with theaters and studios shuttered, the company had to find new ways to bring the arts to its community, and it rose to the challenge. MCB experimented with virtual classes, launched an emergency fund to help support its artistic staff through uncertain times, and premiered a new piece honoring medical professionals and essential workers, choreographed entirely via Zoom. It also took up residence at a pop-up location on Lincoln Road so audiences could watch the dancers train through the window. This month, MCB performs The Nutcracker outdoors in Downtown Doral Park, so audiences can safely enjoy the holiday tradition.

Best Theater
Photo by Justin Namon

This was to be a triumphant tenth-anniversary season for Zoetic Stage. The theater company, whose productions are presented at the Adrienne Arsht Center, has spent the last decade putting on intriguing and enjoyable productions for South Florida audiences. But like most arts groups that bring people together, Zoetic had to hit the pause button in 2020. Let's hope the vaccine arrives soon, because the plays now pushed back to 2021 seem especially enticing to Miamians. Hannah Benitez's Gringolandia tells the story of a family of Cuban exiles returning to their homeland to collect an old heirloom. And Our Dear Dead Drug Lord, by Alexis Scheer, has this tempting tagline: "Four teenage girls gather in a Miami tree house to summon the ghost of Pablo Escobar." Here's to you, Zoetic, and the next ten years.

Best Theater Director
Photo by Jody McClean

Director Victoria Collado knows Cuba. In the past year, the Miami native has directed two local stage productions, both of which dealt with the Cuban experience. Collado reprised her role as director when Vanessa García's The Amparo Experience was revived and expanded from a short 20-minute set to a full-length immersive theater experience in mid-2019. The production ran for eight extremely successful months in an event space in downtown Miami. Then, in early 2020, Collado worked with some of her Amparo actors again in playwright Michael León's Colony Theater debut, The Cubans. One show told the story of the Cuban experience from the perspective of the older generation, who dealt firsthand with their island being overtaken by Communist rule, while the other shone a light on what it's like growing up Cuban-American and living with parents who fled their country in search of a better life. Two uniquely Cuban stories, one powerhouse Cuban-American director.

Best Play
Photo by Joan Marcus

All jokes about Lin-Manuel Miranda aside, the arrival of Hamilton at the Adrienne Arsht Center this spring was a huge moment in the history of live theater in the Magic City. It elevated our cred as Broadway-blockbuster hub thanks to the Arsht Center's increasingly popular Broadway in Miami series, and the political nature of the story couldn't have come to the swing state of Florida in a more pertinent year. There's no matching the electric energy of the original Broadway production, but the touring Hamilton company did an impressively solid job throughout the run. Although that run was shortened by the coronavirus in mid-March, attendance was still heavy as stay-at-home orders loomed at the onset of the pandemic.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®