Best Art-House Cinema 2023 | Tower Theater | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times
Photo courtesy of Tower Theater

We're not given to bestowing "Best" honors to shuttered establishments, but consider this the exception that proves the rule. Tower Theater opened its doors in 1926. In 2023 those doors were closed after the City of Miami abruptly terminated the theater's contract with Miami Dade College, which had been managing the historic property since 1992. Navigating from the silent era to the streaming age is no easy feat, and it's worth celebrating the variety of films that screened at the now-imperiled Tower during its 97-year history. From its two screens, Spanish subtitling, and topnotch programming in collaboration with the Miami Film Festival, the Tower is special. Its absence leaves a hole in the region's contemporary art-house scene. With Tower Theater dark, the Coral Gables Art Cinema, the Bill Cosford Cinema at the University of Miami, O Cinema South Beach, and Savor Cinema in Fort Lauderdale are the last screens standing.

Cinépolis Luxury Cinemas photo

The CocoWalk multiplex is in its glow-up era. A decade ago, the old CocoWalk movie theater reeked of sweat and was in desperate need of a face-lift. Cinépolis took over the property in 2015 and has since performed so much nipping and tucking that the space is nearly unrecognizable: comfy reclining leather seats, updated screening technology, a sleek new bar and lounge, and a menu of gourmet food and drink that can be delivered to your seat during screenings. As the shopping complex completes its upgrades with some of the best restaurants and cocktail bars in Coconut Grove, the addition of Cinépolis Luxury Cinemas again marks the Grove as the go-to spot for dinner and a movie.

AP Photo/Steve Helber

Miami's homegrown Rakontour crew (Billy Corben, Alfred Spellman, and David Cypkin) is at it again with another wild story that once again confirms that there's always a Florida connection. This time the documentarians behind the Cocaine Cowboys craziness teamed up with Adam McKay and Todd Schulman to create the most-watched documentary on Hulu to date. In the nearly two-hour film, Miami's own Giancarlo Granda, a former pool boy at the Fontainebleau, shares intimate details about his seven-year love affair with Becki Falwell, the wife of prominent Republican evangelist and then-president of Liberty University Jerry Fallwell Jr. If you weren't already shaking your head, you will be by the time Granda reveals that Falwell encouraged his wife's affair. The documentary incorporates interviews, archival footage, text messages, and audio and video recordings to explore the influence of evangelism on U.S. politics and the implications the Falwell affair had on the 2016 presidential election of Donald Trump.

Carla Forte photo

In September, filmmaker Carla Forte released Miki Maniaco, a dark, twisted vision of exile, celebrity, and South Florida. The feature film by the Venezuelan-born director is a made-in-Miami nightmare that's hard to watch yet impossible to turn away from. Forte's dark comedy expertly combines dance, theater, and cinema to depict a suffocating, wet, manic world. By the film's end, you'll be relieved it's over but already itching to lose yourself once again in the filmmaker's eagle-eyed vision.

Photograph by Alicia Vera/HBO Max

After finding viral success on YouTube, Issa Rae made the leap to television with her hit HBO series Insecure. Over five seasons, the series explored Black womanhood and friendships and the existential dread that has come to define the millennial experience. After the series wrapped in 2021, the question quickly became: What would Rae do next? The answer arrived the following year with the premiere of Rap Sh!t on HBO Max (now Max), a series that follows two women as they attempt to scale the ladder of success in Miami's rap industry. Rae is a native of Los Angeles, and there's reason to be skeptical of any outsider's ability to portray this town accurately. But Rae and her writing team were more than up to the task. Aida Osman and KaMillion bring their characters of Shawna and Mia to life as their story unfolds over eight episodes as they hustle and scheme their way to the top. Crucially, the series was shot on location, including scenes in Liberty City, Little Haiti, and Miami Beach. We were sad to learn that the second season will see Rap Sh!t's storyline move to California — thanks to a generous tax credit, the likes of which our state is unwilling to offer. But Miami should still thank Rae for the most accurate fictional portrayal of Miami thus far. Seduce and scheme forever!

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Founded by dancer and choreographer Pioneer Winter, the Pioneer Winter Collective is a wholly inclusive dance company. Its mission: to celebrate queerness, humanity, and vulnerability. Winter welcomes everyone, and believes that every body is a dance body. The company's latest work, Birds of Paradise, marked the collective's return to performing after the COVID-19 shutdown. Since its 2021 debut, the 75-minute performance has constantly evolved, undergoing at least iterations, all of which explore the theme of rebirth.

Photo by Magnus Stark

In 2021, after the passing of Joseph Adler, GableStage tapped Bari Newport to lead the company into the future. Newport, who'd served as artistic director of the Penobscot Theatre Company in Bangor, Maine, for nine years, took over with the specter of the pandemic still looming over everything. Even then, she pulled off a well-received debut season with productions of Authur Miller's The Price, Claudia Rankine's The White Card, and Tanya Saracho's Fade. Newport flexed her theatrical muscles for the 2022-23 season, introducing South Florida audiences to We Will Not Be Silent by David Meyers, Lucas Hnath's A Doll's House Part 2, and El Huracán by Charise Castro Smith. The company recently announced its 2023-24 season — also its 25th anniversary — which will feature August Wilson's How I Learned What I Learned, the Miami premiere of Jon Marans' Old Wicked Songs, and the premiere of Alexis Scheer's Laughs in Spanish. With a lineup like that, a $180 to $360 season pass is more than worth it.

Photo by Maria Rodaz

As associate artistic director of Area Stage Company, Giancarlo Rodaz is a risk taker, unafraid to challenge his audiences, actors, and even plays. Take for instance the tale as old as time where Rodaz used his magical touch to transform Disney's Beauty and the Beast into a work that might've impressed Walt himself. Realizing that if he was going to go big, he couldn't go home, Rodaz moved his vision from Area Stage's small South Miami home base to the Adrienne Arsht Center's Carnival Studio Theater Center. Rather than sit in theater seats, Rodaz cast the audience as guests at wooden benches and long tables, from which actors not only sang and traded dialogue, but danced, ran, jumped and leaped all around them. B&B was the third in a series of reinventions wherein Rodaz reinterpreted big-scale musicals with abandon: In 2018, he stripped down Shrek The Musical, ditching the green ogre and donkey personas, among others, and presenting human characters (Shrek was distinguishable by a green clown nose) struggling with modern problems. In 2021, his immersive Annie featured eight adult actors in all roles — no kids. Rodaz's minimalist approach launched these fairy tales to new heights. Next, he'll take on The Little Mermaid — we can only imagine how he'll render "under the sea."

Photo by Vanessa Díaz with Furiosa Productions

Create Dangerously and its nonlinear storyline may not precisely fit the standard format of what a play should be. At one point, one of the characters even tells the audience in all honesty, "This isn't really a play." But it does make for good theater. It's an adaptation of the book Create Dangerously by Miami national treasure and multi-award-winning Haitian-American novelist Edwidge Danticat. Miamian Lileana Blain-Cruz (the current resident director at Lincoln Center Theater in New York) was recruited by Miami New Drama to write and direct the adaptation. During the 90-minute production, six actors portray multiple roles as Danticat's prose rolls off their tongues. It's reminiscent of generations of storytelling, and it offers the audience perspective, reflection, and the opportunity to live inside someone else's stories.

Photo by Camilo Buitrago Gil

Gabriell Salgado wins this category three times over. In the past year, he has been seen in almost every local professional theater production that calls for a good-looking Latino. But casting directors don't just want him for his body. The 2019 New World School of the Arts grad made his professional debut at Zoetic Stage in 2021's Frankenstein, proving himself a talent to be reckoned with as a hideous creature, skinny, contorted, and covered in makeup that rendered his body and face in scars and stitches. This season, he turned in a gold medal-worthy performance as professional swimmer Ray in Ronnie Larsen's production of Red Speedo the Foundry in Wilton Manors and made his GableStage debut playing comical dual roles in El Huracán. But wait — there's more! As Juan Julian in Miami New Drama's production of Nilo Cruz's Anna in the Tropics, he commanded the stage alongside veteran actors in a play that won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Let's just hope Salgado doesn't flee the subtropical nest too soon — South Florida theater needs him.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®