SXSW 2013 ended ten days ago, but the memories live on thanks to the great friends we met, delicious food we ate and fantastic movies we had the pleasure of seeing. (Our intrepid interviewer, Jack, also has a strange rash to remind him of the dangers of 6th Street after dark.) You can catch up on our coverage of the films and the talents, but as a final goodbye to this year’s fest we want to highlight some of the movies we enjoyed the most.
Rather than simply list the best of the fest though we’ve chosen to look at our favorites as lessons learned, things we discovered and/or talking points that other filmmakers could probably learn from as well. It’s worth noting that my personal favorite of the fest was Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color, but since it was already my #1 film at this year’s Sundance I decided to highlight two other excellent movies instead.
Keep reading to see what Jack Giroux, Kevin Kelly, Neil Miller, Luke Mullen and I learned about the movies of SXSW 2013.
1. Who Needs a Script When You Have Editing Skills and a Crazy Talented Cast?
Joe Swanberg isn’t exactly the first name you think of when it comes to laugh out loud comedy or emotionally affecting drama, but that didn’t stop him from crafting my favorite discovery at SXSW. His latest, Drinking Buddies, stars Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde as friends and co-workers at a brewery whose relationship is one of mild flirting and even milder sexual tension.
Add in Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston as their respective significant others, and you have one of the year’s most entertaining quartets. Especially when you realize they worked without a script and instead simply built their characters on a general idea and direction from Swanberg. The result is a very funny, surprisingly emotional and incredibly honest look at the unfortunate boundaries of friendship. – Rob Hunter
2. They Really Can Make a Decent Remake of a Horror Classic
Step 1: pay just enough reverence to the film you’re remaking so that we know you’ve seen and respect it. Don’t go overboard and completely ape every moment.
Step 2: make the rest of the film your own. Show us new things, surprise us even, just keep the tone the same.
Step 3: cover every frame in as much blood as possible. Remaking any film is never easy, let alone a horror classic as ingrained in pop culture as The Evil Dead.
LuckilyFede Alvarez delivers a dark, unflinching Evil Dead that is awash in blood and gore. It’s easily one of the goriest studio horror films I’ve ever seen. While it’s by no means perfect, it’s the rare remake that should please most fans. – Luke Mullen
3. William Shakespeare Is Right at Home In the Whedonverse
Everyone was surprised when it was first announced that Joss Whedon had secretly filmed an adaptation of one of William Shakespeare’s most beloved plays without anyone outside of the production even knowing. What’s equally surprising, although it probably shouldn’t be, is that Much Ado About Nothing is an absolute delight.
Filmed at his own house over the course of two weeks with a cast consisting of more Shakespeare virgins than not, the movie moves the action to the present day while retaining the Bard’s exact words. Whedon and his friends bring the laughs, romance and duplicity to glorious b&w life, and while they retain Shakespeare’s verbal wit, they add even more of their own on the visual front. – Rob Hunter
4. Improv Everywhere was almost a bad network TV show
In the new doc We Cause Scenes, director Matt Adams follows the journey of Charlie Todd from his mediocre acting career to random subway pantslessness to founding a group that has become one of the most popular comedy entities of the digital generation. The group, Improv Everywhere, is seen not only as a large body of people doing silly things in public, but a digital pioneer — one of the first and most prominent entities to find popularity on YouTube.
The film also shows the fateful moment when Todd was tasked to put together a pilot for a reality show that would have found him running Improv Everywhere stunts through NBC network execs. Lucky for us, it was never picked up, and the internet’s favorite pranksters have soldiered on with independent spirit. Said spirit is captured with verve in Adams’ upbeat, engrossing documentary. – Neil Miller
5. The Director of The Sitter Has Still Got It
Former indie darling David Gordon Green took his lashings for Your Highness, a movie that wasn’t as satisfying as Pineapple Express, but admirably bizarre for a 50+ million dollar comedy. What followed that box office dud was a movie Green’s harshest critics were spot on about: The Sitter, the Jonah Hill vehicle that had Green’s touch nowhere to be found.
Prince Avalanche thankfully brings back that fresh, honest, and hilarious voice Green is known for. – Jack Giroux
6. Sometimes Putting Up with Rob Hunter’s Jokes is Worth It
When walking out of The Retrieval, Rob joked, “Talk about Django Restrained, amIright?” I didn’t see that joke coming…nor did I see one of the best films of the fest being The Retrieval.
The film was on my radar, but I walked in with little expectations, and I came out rather moved. It’s a beautiful movie with three terrific performances and graceful direction that definitely snuck up on me. – Jack Giroux
7. There is still hope for your career after starring in a Transformers movie
Megan Fox might have been ousted from Michael Bay’s retina-blasting CGI series, but Josh Duhamel stuck it out to the bitter end. Just as we had started to worry about his career (When in Rome, anyone?) he goes and does something extremely unlikely: he shaves his head into a mohawk and starred with Dan Fogler in Scenic Route.
Who would have ever thought that these guys would have more chemistry together onscreen than Duhamel and Kristen Bell? And just to prove we’re not total Bell haters, we did indeed toss some money at the Veronica Mars movie Kickstarter project, so back off.
But Fogler and Duhamel manager to convince us that they are best friends who both love and hate each other to an extreme degree while stranded in the desert. That’s what happens when you take a part in a film for love and not for glory. If they ever remake The Man Who Would Be King, let’s hope that someone will pair them up again. – Kevin Kelly
8. Sometimes Programming a film from 2 years ago works out just fine
While you may have heard of You’re Next way back in 2011, chances are you haven’t actually seen it yet. SX made an interesting move programming a buzz title from 2 years ago, but with a wide release from Lionsgate set for August 23, the timing was perfect. This was my second chance to see the bloody brainchild from Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett and despite the hype, it failed to disappoint.
Sharni Vinson shines in the lead role, an impressive feat amongst a cast that includes fest favs A.J. Bowen and Amy Seimetz, filmmakers Joe Swanberg and Ti West and horror mainstay Barbara Crampton. It’s a fast, fun and violent ride that delivers the goods for horror fans. – Luke Mullen
9. In case you were wondering, hipsters are still douchebags
It’s almost been 30 years since Revenge of the Nerds gave the geeks of the world something to cheer about, mostly by allowing the socially challenged dorks in that movie the opportunity to spy on nude coeds via technology. But where’s the rallying cry from the nerds of today, and who will they square off in battle against? Hipsters, obviously.
While less triumphant for the dweebs, Zero Charisma paints one of the most accurate and loving portraits of nerdery that has ever been put to film. Star Sam Eidson carries most of the film on his back through his fantastic performance, but geeks around the world will instantly identify with his band of misfits who campaign their way through a swords and sorcery role-playing game together.
When a newcomer hipster (played by the also talented Garrett Graham) threatens to tear them apart, the ensuing battle that pits nerds vs. hipsters might not be epic, but it’s been a long time coming. – Kevin Kelly
Read all of our SXSW 2013 coverage here.