On screen, the truth about Miami is often complicated. Amid the visual signatures of a city like no other – Art Deco skyscrapers and Atlantic sunsets – directors have always been drawn to Miami as the backdrop for elaborate crime stories and volatile romances.
Of course, it is also an active city of almost half a million inhabitants. But you don’t put your movie in Miami without putting Miami in your movie as well. In the movies at least, it’s a symbol of good times and uncertain motives – the place where a story comes to the far reaches of America.
Where to start if not with the baron of the gangster Tony Montana, the character forever associated with a certain infamous vision of Miami? âThe world is yoursâ read the slogan on the Pan-American airship that Tony of Al Pacino watched across the night sky – and the first and last in this world was the city. The 1983 film – a film that, violence aside, lets you feel the buzz of nightlife and a damp crackle in the air – was both a definitive Miami film and a nifty fake (shot in part on the west coast). But only the real city could provide the scenes of Ocean Drive and Tony’s contemptuous presence at the Fontainebleau Hotel.
Yes Scarface was a feverish Miami dream, Chief (2014) felt much closer to reality. Star and director Jon Favreau played a successful high-end chef caught in a crisis of confidence, returning to his hometown to rediscover his roots and the food that first inspired him to cook. Favreau is originally from New York and his research has involved multiple visits to the fruiterias and coffee stalls on Calle Ocho in Little Havana. A particular pillar of Latin life duly inspired and appeared on screen – the legendary Versailles restaurant, whose Cuban sandwich has also become a point of intrigue.
One step away from the cheap and churned 1980s TV series 2006 Miami vice The film was directed by archi-stylist Michael Mann. The result was a plot as tangled as any 1940s noir, but also a dazzling postcard in motion. Clearly captivated by its location, Mann offered an elegant digital panorama of pink-blue sunsets, neon lights, and the dark ocean at night, ablaze with endless lightning on the horizon.
Some like it hot
Movies are always sleight of hand. So this is one of the great Miami movies – Billy Wilder’s. Some like it hot (1959) – was filmed in California. The Seminole Ritz in which Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis hide in drag with Marilyn Monroe for company? In fact, the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego. I know – the subterfuge. But isn’t there something fitting too, that this film of all films would in itself be a great act of identity theft? And one way or another, he still stands as a timeless example of Miami in the movies. After all, what was the line? Nobody is perfect.
The broken hearted child
Where to watch: available at DVD
The scenario of Some like it hot started in Chicago; in The broken hearted child (1972), the journey south began in New York. But this time – in another glorious comedy, directed by Elaine May and written by Neil Simon – the wait for Miami was real, a honeymoon spot of fierce sun and wandering attention. History tapped into the city like a bottle full of potential geniuses – a bored groom finding all of America gathered on the beach, the future changed before he even returned to the Doral Hotel .
Alfred Hitchcock was never going to be able to resist a place as filled with intrigue as Miami. The first act of his heady thriller Popular (1946) duly co-starred the city, introduced directly after Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant: A Skyline Scene Seen from the Sea. âMiami, Floridaâ reads the caption. âThree twenty hours, the twenty-fourth of April, nineteen hundred and forty-six.â Such precision quickly gave way to the courthouse scandal, and then – of course – to a wild party.
The Miami of the Oscar winners Moonlight (2016) is an unreleased movie in any of the other movies on this list – or anywhere in the theaters. The sea and the sunset are the same elementary presences. But the location is Liberty City, the hardscrabble neighborhood away from Ocean Drive. This is where director Barry Jenkins was born and raised, and his groundbreaking film is the story of a boy growing up here in three indelible acts. The result is a revelation, a film entirely tied to Miami – but a suddenly and unforgettable Miami devoid of typography.
Any great Miami movies that we missed? Share them in the comments below
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