There are 130 films this year at Austin’s SXSW, and 60 of them being world premieres. When you scroll down the list of the films showing there, 99% of them you’ve never heard of before. Only a handful stick out that you actually know about or have eagerly (or mildly…) been anticipating. The films at the fest that currently are the most exciting for us are also the most high profile. That’s not to say there won’t be far superior little known flicks playing there – there most definitely will be – but the big ones showing are always the early attention grabbers.
We’ll be running a bigger and more comprehensive list of SXSW must-sees closers to the fest, which is basically when we’ll have more info on the films there that aren’t being released by Universal or Summit. But as of right now, here are a few features that already got our excitement on high. As for those of you interested right now in knowing more about those 130 films, check out the full list here.
It’s pretty much a well-known fact in the online world that Duncan Jones’ debut film, Moon, is fantastic. Now, the question is: Will Source Code live up to his breakout indie film? Hard to say, but the trailer was certainly promising. Jones has described this Groundhog Day actioner as more of a thriller than sci-fi, and that seems well represented in its rather cool trailer. The concept itself is filled with wonderful possibilities. And although I generally dislike the “I gotta save the girl-I-barely-know! routine,” since it’s Michelle Monaghan, I’ll let that slide just this once.
Director James Gunn has a deserved online following. His web series PG Porn was fun and creative, but it’s his twisted monster love story, Slither, that showed he’s a filmmaker definitely to stick with. Considering it’s been almost five-years since that comedic-horror tale, it’s nice to see his name back up on the big screen with this dark, funny and bloody anti-hero film. The buzz and reviews out of its Midnight Madness premiere at Toronto was strong. There’s a more than reliable cast here, and really, who doesn’t want to see Rainn Wilson bashing heads open with a wrench and the lovable Ellen Page not acting so lovable?
Forgive me, but I really don’t give a damn about Mel Gibson’s personal life. To me, he’s Martin Riggs. He’s Mad Max. He’s the guy who shouted “FREEEEEDOM!” wonderfully in Braveheart. We all know Gibson has a PhD in kicking ass onscreen, but we haven’t seen his impressive dramatic chops on display in quite some time. From the looks of it, Jodie Foster – who’s directed good work in the past – seems to have let Gibson express those old acting muscles. The trailer sold it as the typical type of heartwarming drama, but hopefully, it’s a little more than that. From what I’ve heard about the fantastic sounding ending, it just might be.
The trailers for Paul haven’t been anything special, but most of the responses out of Universal’s test screenings imply there’s far more to this road comedy than the trailers have been promising. Director Greg Mottola and leading duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are pros when it comes to buddy comedy films. Paul seems right up their wheelhouse. Even if it’s half as good as what they’re capable of, Paul will still work. And come on, Seth Rogen voicing an alien? Obviously a genius idea.
Writer-Director Thomas McCarthy is so upbeat in his outlook he should be annoying. McCarthy has such a hopeful feel to his films that he almost makes Cameron Crowe look like that Goth kid who really hates life. There’s always something so incredibly endearing and lovable about the man’s sense of happiness. While his films certainly have realistic conflicts, McCarthy still manages to find nothing but goodness and good people in crappy situations. There’s nothing fake about his films. Hopefully his latest drama, Win Win, lives up to the excellent work he’s delivered so far and the fantastic reviews out of its recent Sundance premiere.
Joseph Kahn’s directorial debut, Torque, is a tremendous comedy. Anyone who thinks that film is played for seriousness is on all kinds of drugs. It has a hipster federal agent wearing Chuck Taylors (played by frickin Adam Scott!), what could be more intentionally funny than that? Kahn, a very good music video director, hasn’t made a film since then. Considering the troubles he had on Torque, that’s not much of a surprise. But with Detention, he’s back to (hopefully) deliver more enjoyable insanity. The fact that it’s from “The Visionary Director That Brought You Torque” makes it a must see of the fest.
Mike Mills’ Thumbsucker is a great film. I haven’t seen any of his other work, but that one film alone has got me on the bandwagon of anticipation for Beginners. The film stars Ewan McGregor as a loner, Christopher Plummer as McGregor’s recently out-of-the-closest father, and the lovely Mélanie Laurent (yes, Shosanna from Inglourious Basterds). Focus Features released a trailer not too long ago, and while it’s difficult to pin down what exactly it’s about, it was a wonderfully cut trailer. Despite the fact that Ewan McGregor had a rough couple of years not too long ago, he’s been on a roll lately with work that almost makes you forget that movie no one can remember or saw with Hugh Jackman. Hopefully, Beginners is another step in the right direction for him.
It has been over a year since Hesher’s Sundance premiere. You’d think with Natalie Portman and Joseph Gordon-Levitt getting bigger by the day we’d actually hear about a release date, but we haven’t… and we may not for a while. This seems to be one of those films stuck in release date limbo, so that’s why it’s exciting to hear more people will finally get to see it after all this waiting. The initial response from the fest last year was good, not great, but good enough to cause a little anticipation. So far the members of Blue-Tongue Films have been delivering some of the best films out there in the past year, so lets hope director Spencer Susser’s Hesher will live up to the very high bar set by both Animal Kingdom and The Square.
Red Riding Hood
No, I am not a fan of Twilight. No, I did not like that Twilight-style trailer for Red Riding Hood. But I do actually like Catherine Hardwicke. Yes, even with her last two features being crushingly bland. Thirteen and Lords of Dogtown showed great promise, and Hardwicke has also done some excellent Production Design work in the past. There was really nothing but cheese present in that first released trailer, Red Riding Hood is already looking far superior to Twilight. While that’s not exactly a difficult standard to reach, Red Riding Hood does seem to be one lavishly shot film. And I’m also truly hoping to see some Gary Oldman badassery in this, aka him wrestling werewolf would be cool.
Honorable Mentions: Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, The Innkeepers, Bellflower, Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey, and Sound of My Voice.