The movies not to miss at the 2018 Florida Film Festival

Getting Naked: A Burlesque Story
Getting Naked: A Burlesque Story

Here are some of the flicks we’re most looking forward to seeing at this year’s Florida Film Festival

American Animals

7 p.m. Friday, April 6

This year's opening night film is an intriguing docu-drama from English director Bart Layton, following the true story of four college guys who plan and execute a heist involving rare books held at Lexington, Kentucky's Transylvania University. This is Layton's first feature, but he cut his teeth on true crime documentaries for television. The merging of documentary and narrative styles in American Animals has garnered significant praise, including a nod from the Hollywood Reporter as one of the best films at this year's Sundance Film Festival. – TM

Back to Burgundy

1:30 p.m. Saturday, April 7

One of the festival's two food features, Back to Burgundy (or Ce Qui Nous Lie, literally "what binds us" in French) focuses on fine wine and the struggles of running a family vineyard, but it appeals just as much to the heart as to the palate. Like a grapevine, the story – three siblings searching for meaning in their lives following their father's death – needs some heavy pruning. But, like wine, it also requires time and space to breathe, and writer-director Cédric Klapisch certainly gives us more than enough time to indulge. – CM

The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales ...

11:30 a.m. Saturday, April 7

Co-director Benjamin Renner helped adapt this family-friendly animated film from his own graphic novel. Fans of his previous film Ernest & Celestine are sure to enjoy this whimsical take on three tales presented as a stage play put on by anthropomorphic animals. It's presented in French with subtitles, but younger audience members should be able to pick up on the plot through the action alone. – TM

Borg McEnroe

8:30 p.m. Sunday, April 8; 3 p.m. Sunday, April 15

Directed by Janus Metz, Borg McEnroe focuses on the rivalry between the famous Swedish and American tennis players, and, specifically, the 1980 Wimbledon finals. Like the sport itself, the film is dramatic and beautiful. Tennis has simply never looked better on the big screen thanks to sublime cinematography and a career performance by Shia LaBeouf as McEnroe. (Sverrir Gudnason and Stellan Skarsgård are also excellent as Borg and Borg's trainer, respectively.) Nevertheless, the events are embarrassingly hyped, and the script plays fast and loose with the facts. But if you don't know the real story, the cinematic interpretation will be an intriguing and mostly satisfying experience. – CM

The Cakemaker

4 p.m. Monday, April 9; 7:30 p.m. Sunday, April 15

A truly international film, this story about a gay German baker who has an affair with a married Israeli man takes place in both Jerusalem and Berlin. After the Israeli man dies, the titular cakemaker travels to Israel and ends up working in his deceased lover's wife's café while concealing his romantic relationship with her husband. – TM

Dark Money

7 p.m. Monday, April 9; 4:15 p.m. Friday, April 13

This documentary from director Kimberly Reed takes a look at the role of "dark money" – campaign contributions that can't be easily traced to their source – in our current political quagmire. Specifically, the film looks at the struggles of Montana's Commissioner of Political Practice as he tries to uncover the secretive interests using campaign contributions to exploit the state's natural resources. – TM

Getting Naked: A Burlesque Story

9:15 p.m. Sunday, April 8; 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 11

Following the careers of four different performers in New York City's burlesque scene, this documentary examines each woman's motivations for getting nearly naked in front of strangers. The film is a mix of behind-the-scenes interviews and fly-on-the-wall access, along with dazzling performances. Screenings are preceded by the short documentary Taobao, which looks at the lives of Chinese fashion models who frequently model more than 100 outfits per fashion shoot. – TM

Ghost Stories

11 p.m. Friday, April 13; 11:30 p.m. Saturday, April 14

Co-writer-directors Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman present this anthology film of three ghost stories tied together by a skeptical professor (Nyman) who delights in debunking the paranormal. Also starring the ubiquitous Martin Freeman, the film blends gothic chills and dry, British humor, making it an apt pick for the Midnight Movies category. – TM

The Godfathers of Hardcore

9 p.m. Saturday, April 7; 8 p.m. Friday, April 13

Critically lauded doc takes a look deep inside the New York hardcore (NYHC) scene of the early '80s, through the eyes of Vinnie Stigma and Roger Miret of hardcore hellraisers Agnostic Front. Far from just a look back, the film is also a deeply human look at what it means to age and stay creative in the punk rock underground. Plus, singer Miret will be in attendance for the first screening. – MM

Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami

6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 12; 9 p.m. Saturday, April 14

Long overdue look at the life and art of cyborg diva and singer-supermodel-actress Grace Jones. Director Sophie Fiennes wisely stands back and lets Grace be Grace, and the results are Bowie-level stunning, whether it's gorgeous performance footage or a hypnotic close-up scene of Jones applying makeup and talking about the necessity of being "a high-flying bitch." – MM

The Guilty

6:30 p.m. Friday, April 13; 9:30 p.m. Saturday, April 14

Combining Sorry, Wrong Number's radio-drama appeal and Locke's claustrophobic tension, The Guilty might be the best film of this year's festival. This compelling, twisty Danish thriller is helmed by first-timer Gustav Möller and stars Jakob Cedergren as a police officer in an emergency call center. Relying on one simple set, a stunning and sympathetic performance by Cedergren, a well-crafted and socially relevant story, and the audience's own imagination, The Guilty is the story of a flawed man desperate to save the life of a person he doesn't know and, by doing so, prove his own worth. – CM

King Cohen

10:15 p.m. Friday, April 13; 9:45 p.m. Sunday, April 15

Whatever your feelings toward so-called exploitation cinema, you're bound to admire the industriousness and sheer chutzpah on display in this profile of writer-director-producer Larry Cohen, oddball auteur of everything from It's Alive to Black Caesar to Q: The Winged Serpent. "Every movie is exploitation. So what?" challenges Cohen early on, and that emancipatory philosophy undergirds the ensuing filmmaking war stories – many of which involve Cohen midwifing spectacle on the cheap by causing mayhem on the busy streets of New York without warning or permission. Befitting its subject, King Cohen is bold, brazen and an absolute ball to watch. – SS

Lean on Pete

6:30 p.m. Saturday, April 7

One of the festival's most anticipated Spotlight films, Lean on Pete is a bleak and unexpectedly complex story of despair, perseverance and, ultimately, survival. Directed by Andrew Haigh (45 Years), it's the tale of Charlie, a 15-year-old whose life goes from comfortable to chaotic when family tragedy strikes. Determined to make it on his own, he chooses as his companion a horse (Pete) destined for a Mexican slaughterhouse. The film is structured more like three movies than a single, cohesive narrative, but it's powered by a strong animal-rights message and great performances by Charlie Plummer (Boardwalk Empire) as Charlie, Steve Buscemi as the horse's owner and Chloë Sevigny as a jockey. – CM

A Mediocre Documentary With Tom & Dan

4:45 p.m. Sunday, April 15

BDMs will want to be sure to add this documentary to their itinerary. Director Kirk Murray takes a look at local heroes Daniel Dennis and Thomas Vann to get the inside story about how they started their hit podcast, their conflicts with their former radio employers, and how they amassed a legion of fans. – TM

Mole Man

9:15 p.m. Monday, April 9; 1:15 p.m. Friday, April 13

Ron Heist, a 66-year-old autistic man, has spent his life creating an intricate network of tunnels and rooms using whatever scrap he can find. But when his mother dies, his siblings have to figure out how to provide for his future. This documentary takes a look at outsider art, aging and the importance of family. – TM

The Power of Glove

2 p.m. Saturday, April 7; 9 p.m. Tuesday, April 10

Only '90s kids will remember the Power Glove, Mattel's groundbreaking – if unsuccessful – early attempt at incorporating a virtual reality-like interface for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System. This documentary looks at the behind-the-scenes story of its development, along with its influence on pop culture with interviews with musicians, artists and collectors who still believe in its (ahem) power. – TM

Prison Logic

2 p.m. Saturday, April 7; 9 p.m. Tuesday, April 10

Written, directed by and starring Romany Malco (Weeds, The 40 Year Old Virgin), this narrative feature follows an ex-convict determined to become a motivational speaker using the lessons he learned in prison. Malco himself will be on hand at the festival for the premiere of his film, appearing for a Q&A with both screenings of Prison Logic. – TM


7 p.m. Saturday, April 14

An extraordinary person regardless of your political leanings, Ruth Bader Ginsburg gets the documentary she deserves in RBG. Directed by Julie Cohen and Betsy West, the film is nothing less than a life-defining document of the Supreme Court justice, but it also illuminates the entire gender-equality movement that Ginsberg has championed since the 1960s. As with similar bio-docs, it's occasionally too predictable, too reliant on talking heads and too in love with its subject. But after seeing the film, you'll likely also find yourself in love with the woman one interviewee calls "the closest thing to a superhero." Eat your heart out, Marvel. – CM

Samantha's Amazing Acro-Cats

Noon Sunday, April 8; 4 p.m. Thursday, April 12

Turns out, herding cats is just like ... herding cats. Especially when you're traveling the country with them in a cramped truck so they can perform circus tricks for paying audiences. Samantha's Amazing Acro-Cats doesn't shrink from the suggestion that feline wrangler Samantha Martin might have chosen such a life for herself because she has problems with human intimacy. Gradually, though, the documentary reveals her to be an avatar for our new emotional economy, in which social networks of fans and well-wishers are taking the place of traditional family. And hey, it leaves more room for pets. – SS

Savage Youth

4:30 p.m. Saturday, April 7; 9:15 p.m. Tuesday, April 10

This latest feature from director Michael Curtis Johnson had its premiere at this year's Slamdance Film Festival. Based on real life events, the film deals with six small-town teenagers and their struggles with love, drugs and hip-hop. Johnson utilizes an unnerving, edgy visual style to push the narrative forward to an inevitably violent conclusion. – TM

Shorts No. 5: Animated Shorts

6:45 p.m. Wednesday, April 11; 8:30 p.m. Friday, April 13

Despite a nice variety of styles, the overwhelmingly dark Animated Shorts program (which is NOT for kids) isn't as strong as in past years. Still, five of the 14 films deserve commendation: the Barack Obama-inspired Fired Up; the semi-documentary The Velvet Underground Played at My High School; the lonely, dreamlike Weekends; the surreal, hand-drawn Fundamental; and the best of the bunch, The Driver Is Red, a hand-drawn interpretation of the 1960 capture of Nazi monster Adolf Eichmann. – CM

Summer of 84

11:59 p.m. Friday, April 13

From the team behind the underground retro-futuristic hit Turbo Kid comes this nostalgiafest. Instead of VHS sci-fi, Summer of 84 takes on the slasher genre. When a serial killer stalks a suburban town, a group of intrepid kids investigate the possibility that a local police officer is the culprit. Perfect fodder for nostalgia geeks stuck in a holding pattern until the next season of Stranger Things. – TM

Sunspots: New Visions of the Avant-Garde

9:30 p.m. Saturday, April 14

For the first time, the Florida Film Festival devotes an entire shorts block to experimental film, and it looks like they've chosen a splendid assortment. From Animal Cinema, a compilation of up-close-and-personal clips of various animals interacting with cameras, to the symbolic deconstruction of a late-night phone call in OK, Call Me Back, to the pure visual experimentation of Dot Matrix, Sunspots showcases plenty of variation in what experimental film can be. Plus, look for Orlando ex-pats Anna Wallace and Timothy Murray (Moon Jelly) in Holy Pink: Fragrant. – TM


9:30 p.m. Monday, April 9

Possibly one of the most anticipated films to screen at this year's festival is this comedy from director Jason Reitman, reuniting with screenwriter Diablo Cody for their third feature together. Tully takes a look at modern motherhood as a beleaguered mom (Charlize Theron) develops a bond with her night nanny, Tully (Mackenzie Davis, Halt and Catch Fire). Early reviews indicate that Reitman and Cody have hit the sweet spot between pitch-black humor and bitingly sharp commentary. – TM


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