While the SXSW Film Festival hasn’t achieved the same notoriety as its musical older brother, it’s carved out a niche of its own among film festivals in recent years – making it one of the most anticipated among film fans.
Positioned shortly after Sundance and a month before Tribeca, SXSW Film has developed a reputation as the coolest film festival around, partly because it takes place in Austin and partly because it screens a mix of high-profile studio flicks, low-budget genre efforts and under-the-radar indies…
From R-rated animation with Sausage Party, to eerie yet realistic internet-age thriller Teenage Cocktail, here’s our eclectic pick of the 10 best films coming out of SXSW this year.
Everybody Wants Some
Director: Richard Linklater
Richard Linklater opened SXSW with his anticipated follow-up to Boyhood, Everybody Wants Some, which he billed as a “spiritual sequel” to his cult classic Dazed and Confused.
Set in the world of ’80s college life, the movie follows a group of college baseball players as they navigate the strangeties of newfound adulthood. Certain things are expected of a film directed by Linklater that also takes its name from a Van Halen song (epic frat-house shenanigans, bittersweet nostalgia, hormones in overdrive and characters discussing the meaning of human existence) – Everybody Wants Some delivers them all.
Don’t Think Twice
Director: Mike Birbiglia
Standup comic-turned-filmmaker Birbiglia is premiering his second feature following 2012’s well-received Sleepwalk With Me. This time, he’s broadening his gaze with a focus on friendship and improvisation.
The premise is simple: a veteran improv group faced with the impending closure of their theater struggle to stay together when one of their own is cast in Weekend Live (the movie’s trademark-dodging equivalent to Saturday Night Live). Faced with the overnight success of a dear friend, the other members of the group battle swiftly rising resentment…The world of comedy is no laughing matter.
Director: Seth Rogen
It took 17 years, but Sausage Party is finally the R-rated animated comedy we’ve been waiting for since the South Park movie.
From Seth Rogen and Evan Goldenberg, it’s an R-rated flick eight years and a whole lot of weed in the making, starring Rogen as a sausage who becomes self-aware of life beyond the checkout counter. After falling out of a shopping cart, he embarks on a perilous journey through the supermarket to get back to his aisle before the 4th of July sale.
Distinctly non-Pixar territory, the trailer at one point sees a Jewish bagel voiced by Edward Norton shout: “Run for your fucking lives!” and Salma Hayek feature as a lesbian taco…In short, it’s vulgar comedy about food wanting to screw ferociously. We like it. And that scares us.
The Alchemist Cookbook
Director: Joel Potrykus
Cookbook promises a story that’s uniquely odd and quite possibly very dark.
In the flick, young outcast Sean has isolated himself in the woods with his cat Kaspar as his sole companion. Filled with disdain for authority, he’s fled the daily grind and holed up in a trailer, escaping a society that has no place for him and setting out on all kinds of alchemic pursuits. When he turns to black magic, things go awry.
The film hails from writer-director Potrykus, whose previous films include his ferociously weird Animal Trilogy – Buzzard (SXSW, 2014), Ape (winner of Best Emerging Director at the Locarno Film Festival, 2012), and Coyote (2010).
Director: Keith Maitland
Documentarian Keith Maitland’s ambitious entwining of creepy archival footage, first-person testimonies, and rotoscope animation may make some Austin natives a little uncomfortable as it depicts the mother of all mass-shootings: Charles Whitman’s 1966 random killing of 16 people from his perch atop the University of Texas Tower.
Maitland crafts an interesting account of the circumstances surrounding the massacre for others to dissect, building surreal feelings as a normal Texas day turns into a waking nightmare.
Director: Kim Sang-chan
Making a wacky genre film in the halls of South Korea’s favorite pastime is a good start, but looking at the intricate characters and plot for this flick and suddenly Karaoke Crazies begins to sound very interesting.
“Addiction Karaoke” is a joint run by Sung-Wook. When business is slow, he hires two female helpers – singer Ha-Suck and bubbly Na-Ju. But just when everything starts turning for the better, we find out that a serial killer is on the loose and wants something in the karaoke. Amusingly, some of film’s context is delivered by an energetic policeman who pops into the bar now and again.
Director: Jeff Nichols
Indie stalwart Jeff Nichols (Mud, Take Shelter) returns with his first stab at sci-fi, Midnight Special, following its unveiling at the Berlin Film Festival in February.
In the sci-fi thriller, a father played by Michael Shannon (who played a man haunted by apocalyptic visions in Take Shelter) goes on the run with his son, whose special powers make him a target of government agents.
Nichols is making a concerted effort to stake his claim as a hitmaker, a director who can appeal to a wide audience with a timeless adventure. He’s even talked about how it’s essentially a homage to both E.T. and Close Encounters.
Director: Adam Pinney
The Arbalest – which took home the top prize at this year’s SXSW – follows a famous toy inventor, Foster Kalt (Mike Brune), who reflects on his lifelong obsession with a woman, Sylvia Frank (Tallie Medel), who hates him. From his first meeting with Sylvia in a New York Hotel Room in 1968, to years later when he is stalking her from a cabin in the woods, the puzzle pieces of Kalt’s obsession come together to form his latest, shocking invention.
Pinney’s tale of obsession is sprinkled with moments of pitch-black humor, a highly stylized evocation of ’70s aesthetic, and a seriously bizarre revelation in the third act.
In a Valley of Violence
Director: Ti West
Among the genre premieres, the major standout is In a Valley of Violence, the latest from indie horror film-maker Ti West. It marks his highest-profile picture to date thanks to its cast, headed by Ethan Hawke and John Travolta.
In the flick, Hawke plays a drifter who arrives in a small town, seeking revenge on the thugs who murdered his friend. Sisters Mary Anne and Ellen, who run the town’s hotel, help Paul in his quest for vengeance.
Since gaining recognition for 2009’s The House of the Devil, an effortlessly cool horror that harked back to the best genre efforts of the ’80s, filmmaker Ti West has stuck to his calling card…And we’re stoked.
Director: John Carchietta
Teenage Cocktail has the potential to be one of the most talk about SXSW entries, just based on its provocative premise: it centers on two teenagers who go into webcam modeling to escape their humdrum smalltown lives – and of course bad things happen.
Carchietta takes the dangers of webcamming far beyond the girls just getting humiliated by their peers, though. Still in need of more cash so they can ditch their small town and finally move to NYC, they accept the middle-aged Frank’s proposal to meet up in person. It’s here that the flick moves from teen drama to sleazy crime flick.