Top 10 Must-See Films from SXSW 2013
South by Southwest, or SXSW as those who enjoy capital letters sometimes refer to it, is known largely as a music festival but its movie profile has raised considerably over the years, fitting in nicely between Sundance and Cannes, and showcasing movies that aren't just Oscar or year-end-list hopefuls. Comedy and horror both get a lot of play at the festival, and the 2013 line-up is typically eclectic. Some of its selections are days from release; others aren't yet on the calendar. Plenty of both sound like must-sees for adventurous moviegoers.
10. Cheap Thrills
Pat Healy is no stranger to provocation, having appeared as the catalyst figure in last year's disturbing COMPLIANCE. Here he's on the other side of sadism as an unemployed family man desperate for money who plays right into the hand of a couple (David Koechner and Sara Paxton) with money, and possibly cruelty, to spare. The twisty, tense result was the first pickup of the festival, with Drafthouse Films buying up the rights.
9. Pit Stop
It doesn't have the big names or hooky premise that will attract eyeballs to some of the other movies on this list, but PIT STOP could be a low-key sleeper. It tells the intersecting stories of two gay men in the same Texas town. At a time when directors known for their attempts at naturalism are going a little bigger and starrier (see DRINKING BUDDIES at number 5), it's nice to see directors, like PIT STOP's Yen Tan, unafraid of going small and intimate.
8. Some Girl(s)
Like several other distinctive female directors who broke through in the mid-nineties indie boom, Daisy von Scherler Mayer has been doing a lot of polished TV work in recent years. SOME GIRL(S) brings her back to the big screen for the first time in a decade, directing a Neil LaBute script about a writer (Adam Brody) on a HIGH FIDELITY-ish tour of past exes. Those exes include Kristen Bell, Zoe Kazan, and Emily Watson, and maybe LaBute's script will have less of his stock discomfort with a talented lady directing the action this time.
The original V/H/S just came out theatrically last fall, but following a cheapie-slasher template, the sequel (inexplicably not titled D/V/D) is already done. As with the uneven-by-default but largely entertaining first film, a variety of indie and genre directors have signed up to make found-footage shorts which, if the original is any indication, will be linked by a tedious framing device that doesn't make a lot of sense. Still, this is where you can get the new movies from Gareth Evans (The Raid), Eduardo Sanchez (The Blair Witch Project), and Jason Eisner (Hobo with a Shotgun) in one creepy place.
6. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
SXSW is one of the better film festivals if you want to premiere a flat-out broad comedy; it's a genre that the New York, Toronto, and Cannes festivals tend to eschew. In the tradition of MACGRUBER, I hope (although the filmmakers are probably aiming higher), comes the feature debut of 30 ROCK director Don Scardino, starring Steve Carell – back to comedy after doing some time in dramedy land – as a flailing magician trying to get back on top. Most promising, his Mindfreak-ish rival is played by Jim Carrey, who hasn't done a comedy since the wonderful and woefully underseen I LOVE YOU, PHILIP MORRIS (for these purposes we shall not count MR. POPPER'S PENGUINS as a comedy). Plus, BURT WONDERSTONE opens wide right now, while the festival is still going, so you can buy a ticket and pretend you're part of the festival crowd!
5. Drinking Buddies
Joe Swanberg, the prolific and divisive mumblecore filmmaker, seems to have pulled a Duplass Brothers with his latest film: just as Mark and Jay Duplass placed John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill, Marisa Tomei, Ed Helms, and Jason Segel within their usual shaky-slacker aesthetic in CYRUS and JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME, Swanberg has enlisted Jake Johnson (of TV's NEW GIRL), Olivia Wilde (of about half the love-interest roles of the last three years, including BURT WONDERSTONE), and Anna Kendrick for his naturalistic comedy about friends-or-possibly-more working at a micro-brewery.
4. Evil Dead
While Sam Raimi's family-friendly OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL hits theaters, he's also shepherding a remake of his first movie as a director – this time as a producer only, with young writer-director Fede Alvarez taking over the director's chair and, well, no one taking over the Bruce Campbell role, because Bruce Campbell is irreplaceable. It's a neat bit of torch-passing (anyone up for a OZ/DEAD double feature?), and given how many mainstream studio pictures aren't screened for the press at all, that Raimi and company brought EVIL DEAD to SXSW suggests a fair amount of confidence.
You know how every teenager basically has access to some kind of video camera and you imagine that they mostly use it to record their favorite bullying and/or get their amateur pornography careers started early? Well, some of them have loftier goals: fourteen-year-old Laura Dekker used her camera to chronicle her attempt to become the youngest person ever to sail around the world on her own. Jillian Schlesinger follows Dekker's journey with a mixture of footage of and by her subject, and seems almost guaranteed to make you feel like you haven't accomplished jack. But probably an interesting way. Kids today, man.
2. Spring Breakers
Then again, some teenagers are still just going on Spring Break and, in fits of ambition, committing some straight-up robbery. Like Swanberg down at number 5, Harmony Korine targets his widest audience ever in this...comedy? Action movie? Hallucinatory reality show? Even some of the reviews aren't entirely clear. What is clear: a bunch of ex-Disney stars don bikinis, guns, and bank-robber-style masks in service of a cornrowed James Franco (available for a hell of a Franco double feature with OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL). All of Korine's movies have been discussed in arthouse circles; this one should get even more people talking and/or watching with their mouths hanging open in disbelief. The movie jumped straight from SXSW into limited release on March 15th, with a semi-wise release following on March 22nd.
1. Upstream Color
It already premiered at Sundance in January, but interest in Shane Carruth's long-awaited-by-certain-nerds follow-up to PRIMER should be reaching a fever pitch now that it's played a second fest en route to a self-distributing theatrical release in April 5th. It sounds, if anything, more elliptical and less user-friendly than the interesting but somewhat remote PRIMER (a time-travel movie harder to follow for its flat affect than its technical jargon). Here's what we know: it's about a man and a woman who are "drawn together" by an unseen force, and it has been described as a romance, a thriller, and a sci-fi piece. Obviously you'll have to see it to figure out which, if any, of those genres are remotely accurate.