Five Must-Sees at Miami International Film Festival 2011

This year's Miami International Film Festival is replete with enough films to blow your independent film loving ass clean off with 100 films from 40 countries including Oscar nominated films, international films, an animated film (for adults!), the requisite local-focus films, and rapper 50 Cent starring as a football star with cancer.

MIFF will also feature 15 documentaries from 10 countries with topics that range from the dying newspaper industry to a Liberian warrior who fought bare-ass in battle. With so many flicks to choose from, we give you five films you should make sure to pencil in to watch at this year's MIFF. Hurry up, tickets are on sale now.

1. Chico & Rita

Filmmaker Fernando Trueba brings old Havana to life with this stylishly animated film featuring an exceptional jazz-and-blues soundtrack. The story follows Chico, a talented jazz pianist who falls madly in love with Rita, a beautiful and sultry vocalist. The two begin an on-again-off-again whirlwind love affair that spans from Cuba to New York. The film is awash in tropical colors and features loving cameos (albeit, animated) by jazz greats like Woody Herman, Charlie Parker and Dizzie Gillespie. There's even a pseudo-fictional retelling of Latin Jazz great Chano Pozo's murder in a Harlem bar. Chico & Rita is an amiable, sexy film and a beautiful tribute to the Latin Jazz movement. (Spanish with English subtitles)

Opening Night, March 4 at 7 p.m., Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, 174 E. Flagler St., Miami; 305-374-2444

2. Microphone

Ahmad Abdalla's Microphone tells the tale of Khaled (Abol Naga), an Egyptian expat who returns home after years abroad and discovers the underground art and music scene that has gallantly emerged in Alexandria. The film explores Khaled's frustrated attempts to produce a concert featuring the talented rappers, rock bands, graffiti artists and filmmakers he's befriended since returning home.

An oppressive government, religion and ingrained antiquated thinking clash with the artists, who simply and freely wish to express their art and be heard. Khaled's plight and each of the artists' stories are dramatically told with handheld shots and documentary-style angles that give the film a rich composition. Microphone is an exceptional film that highlights a people's defiance through music and art and features an amazing Arabic-rock and rap soundtrack.

March 4 at 10 p.m., Regal Cinemas South Beach, 110 Lincoln Rd., South Beach; 305-674-6766; March 5 at 6:30 p.m., Bill Cosford Cinema, University of Miami 2nd Floor, Memorial Bldg., Coral Gables; 305-284-4861

3. Mooney vs. Fowle

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Pioneering director James Lipscomb's documentary about the 1961 state football championship game between rivals Miami High and Miami Edison unapologetically delves into the stark brutal reality of high school football where young men were forced to carry the burden of winning and losing on their young, impressionable shoulders. Deemed too controversial to air at the time, there are depictions of players getting severely injured in practice but forced back into practice anyway. There are also scenes where the players get an earful from a driven coach about how this game would cement their legacies as winners or losers for the rest of their lives.

Not much has changed in the ultra-competitive world of high school football in South Florida since 1961 (save for the fact that schools are integrated now). But Mooney vs. Fowle is a captivating time capsule, showing a bygone era in the city of Miami's rich history.

March 9 at 7:00 p.m., Bill Cosford Cinema

4. Small Town Murder Songs

Peter Stormare turns in a subdued but outstanding performance as the taciturn born-again Walter, an Ontario Mennonite farming town's police chief investigating the brutal murder of a young woman. Walter puts the investigation in jeopardy when his violent past clashes with his struggle to remain faithful to his religious calling, his buried obsession for his old flame and his hatred for her new lowlife boyfriend. Meanwhile, his current diner waitress girlfriend, played wonderfully by Martha Plimpton, tries to keep Walter on the straight and narrow while inadvertently pushing him over the edge.

The film's bleak colors and winter setting gives the story a stark and desolate feel as Walter labors for his redemption while an explosive Gospel soundtrack by Canadian indie rock band Bruce Peninsula provides the story with a sort of Greek Chorus of traditionals. At just 75 minutes, Small Town Murder Songs is a tad on the short side, but it's a fantastic character study with superb performances and a crisply paced story.

March 6 at 4:30 p.m., Regal Cinemas South Beach; March 11 at 7:30 p.m., Tower Theater, 1508 SW 8 St., Little Havana; 305-642-1264; March 13 at 9:30 p.m., Bill Cosford Cinema

5. Magic City Memoirs

With three months left to graduate, Mikey, Manny and Angel Jr. are three private school buddies living the fast life of sex, drugs and hip hop in Miami. The story is narrated by Mikey, who is a top baseball prospect torn between living a clean life to better his chances of making something of himself, and the fast and loose lifestyle he and his friends engage in. Angel has a troubled relationship with his father, the mayor of Coral Gables, and Manny is the son of a convicted drug dealer. The three boys breeze through life as they try and figure out what lies in their future.

Executive produced by Andy Garcia, Memoirs is director Aaron J. Salgado's love letter to the city of Miami. Salgado's aerial shots of Biscayne Bay and the Miami skyline, as well as shots of Coral Gables during sunsets brings the beauty out of the city in lush and romantic colors. Miami has never looked so effervescent on film. Salgado and cinematographer Gustavo Penna prove that they have an eye for what makes Miami such a tropical paradise. There isn't much substance in the film, but Magic City Memoirs is a decent movie that should at least be seen for its radiant depiction of our city.

March 11 at 6:45 p.m., Gusman Center for the Performing Arts

The 2011 Miami International Film Festival runs from March 4 through 13. Call 305-405-6433 or visit

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