When it came to driving the discussion about SXSW 2014, if you weren’t Lady Gaga, Edward Snowden or Grumpy Cat, you probably didn’t hit the trending list on Twitter. But let’s be honest with ourselves: we weren’t there to drive discussions online by taking selfies with a sad cat. We were there to watch movies and share them with all of you, our beloved readers who may not have been able to meet us in downtown Austin. Don’t worry though, you saved what amounts to hundreds of dollars in parking fees and we did all the work for you. In total, the programming team at South by Southwest selected over 130 films from over 2,000 submissions this year. It was a lot to take in, but we feel confident that we’ve narrowed our own list down to the 8 best films that played this year. To do so, each of the FSR writers who attended the festival each picked two films to highlight.
That list, the definitive guide to SXSW films you should keep up with as they move on to potential releases, can be found herein. While you read it, we’ll still be trying to sleep off the late nights. Yes, we realize SXSW ended a week ago. Stop judging us.
What We Do In The Shadows
Just like the idea of an immortal, undead person, this movie seems like an impossibility. Mockumentaries had run their course for a while, and they’ve tended not to ever work that well with fantastical subject matter anyway. And vampire satire/parody had also been way past overdone. Yet Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s documentary style ensemble piece about a group of vampires living together is one of the smartest and silliest and surprisingly most all-the-way hilarious comedies of the year.
The Heart Machine
Part obsessive detective story, part cynical online dating drama, Zachary Wigon’s debut feature is the latest entry in what we should be calling the rom com genre. Powered mainly by great performances from (but little chemistry between) Kate Lyn Sheil and John Gallagher Jr., the movie is also a fresh, clever exploration of commitment and space in this new era of digitally based relationships. It’s like Her but with a real woman.
Predestination is a surprisingly emotional time travel film. The Spierig brothers’ elaborate narrative is both thought-provoking and dramatically compelling. While their last film, Daybreakers, was a good deal of fun, Predestination is a major step up.
Jimi: All Is By My Side
John Ridley’s (12 Years a Slave) Jimi: All Is by My Side is a bio movie that avoids most bio film pitfalls. Rather than stuffing Jimi Hendrix’s whole life into two hours, Ridley says everything he needs to about Hendrix in this condensed drama focused on a small but important time of his life. There’s no idolizing or demonizing here, just an observant look at a complicated character.
Space Station 76
One of the best things about film festivals is discovering new films that probably wouldn’t survive the public marketplace simply because they don’t quite fit the norm. Jack Plotnick’s feature directorial debut is one of those movies. Part screwball comedy, part sci-fi satire, part suburban drama, the film continually keeps viewers off balance as it moves from broad comedy to serious commentary on ’70s era parenting. It’s unexpected and intelligent, and well worth discovering.
A Wolf at the Door
Child abduction dramas usually go in standard directions, but this Brazilian thriller finds new avenues of humanity as the story of a kidnapped little girl unfolds. It delivers suspense and mystery, but the core tale concerns the evils between adults and the tragedies they can lead to.
The Raid 2
If we’re honest with ourselves, we knew this was going to happen. We reviewed Gareth Evans’ epic action sequel glowingly at Sundance in January and have not stopped talking about it since. It almost feels slightly disingenuous to place a film on this list that didn’t actually debut at SXSW. But whether it was the first or fiftieth fest, leaving The Raid 2 off of the ‘Best of’ list feels wrong. The action sequences are monumental, the stunt work is undeniably impressive and the film itself leaves audiences simultaneously cheering and breathless, if that’s even possible (it is). It will be in theaters soon, so you won’t have long to wait if you live near the right city, and we can’t recommend it highly enough if you’re looking to get blood splattered on you.
Considering the excellent work he did on his previous documentary Beauty is Embarrassing, it should come as no surprise that director Neil Berkeley’s latest venture is entertaining, endearing and full of humanity. What’s surprising is that the subject of the doc — Community creator Dan Harmon and his podcasting tour of characters — is sort of a wildcard proposition. What we expected was for Harmon and his cohorts to be funny. What we didn’t expect was a documentary that was equal parts great road movie and on-screen therapy session. Into the depths of the tortured genius it goes, pulling back the curtains on a most volatile and brilliant mind. Berkeley’s lens finds all kinds of heart in the story of one of the web’s most popular podcasts, including a number of great moments from its less titular cast members. Yes, we mean you Spencer the Dungeon Master. You are a hero and your story would be worth it alone.
Did you attend SXSW this year? If so, what was the best movie you saw?