I’m not sure I’ve ever had a more purely enjoyable festival experience than I did at last year’s Miami International Film Festival. The location alone obviously takes some beating, but the convivial, celebratory atmosphere of proceedings, coupled with some imaginative programming (particularly of Latin American fare unlikely to be seen elsewhere), made it rather special. Cannes may have its attractions, but a relaxed press brunch with Darlene Love, for example, is not among them.
The lineup for this year’s festival was announced recently, and it’s a similarly flavorful mix of highlights from other fests — including a couple of Sundance hits from last month — and less exposed works from newcomers and familiar names alike. Things kick off on March 7 with the North American premiere of “Elsa and Fred,” a golden-years romantic comedy starring Oscar winners Shirley MacLaine, Christopher Plummer and Marcia Gay Harden. A remake of an Argentinian hit from 2005, about two elderly neighbors who fall reluctantly in love, the film is directed by Michael Radford — an Oscar nominee back in 1995 for “Il Postino.” “20 Feet from Stardom” kicked off the festival on an upbeat note last year, so here’s hoping this does the same.
The festival’s Awards Night gala, meanwhile, is a world premiere, “Rob the Mob” — a crime caper that reteams Andy Garcia with his “City Island” director Raymond de Felitta. I thought their last collaboration rather charming, with an unexpectedly deep ensemble; this one also stars Michael Pitt and Tony winner Nina Arianda.
Last year, it was Lasse Hallstrom who received the festival’s Career Achievement Tribute; this year, they’ve opted for actor-writer-director John Turturro, whose presentation will be followed by a screening of his new comedy “Fading Gigolo.” A Toronto premiere last year, opening Stateside in March, is stars Woody Allen as, and I quote, “a late-blooming pimp to Turturro’s middle-aged junior-florist-turned-hustler.” There’s a logline you don’t read every day. Other galas include “The Devil’s Violinist,” the latest historical drama from the prolific Bernard Rose, and the Elijah Wood-Sasha Grey (!) thriller “Open Windows.”
Among the more known quantities in the lineup, the minimal, unnerving Chilean thriller “To Kill a Man” — which won Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize in the world cinema strand — is one of 10 Latin American films selected for in the festival’s Knight Competition. The parallel documentary competition includes another buzzy Sundance title, “The Overnighters” — the doc I was most aggrieved to miss in Park City last month.
There’s plenty else besides, but I’m particularly glad to see a handful of my favorite 2013 festival films getting another well-deserved showcase. Among them Lukas Moodysson’s delightful return to form “We Are the Best!,” Robin Campillo’s “Eastern Boys” and James Gray’s “The Immigrant” — hopefully the last festival stop on the latter’s long, long, long road to release.
The Miami International Film Festival takes place from March 7 to 16.