Spend enough time on the festival circuit and certain films just keep coming back around – but fortunately, they’re usually good ones we’re happy to see again. As the first big film festival of the year, Sundance often features some of the best independent films that people like us Rejects will be jawing about for months to come. SXSW offers the chance for cinephiles to catch a bevy of films that other people have been carrying on about for weeks and weeks, thanks to both their regular programming and their ever-clever Festival Favorites section, which is packed with (you can probably guess) films that have played recently at other festivals that the SXSW crowd will eat right up.
After the break, get reacquainted with ten films we saw, reviewed, and (in some cases) loved back in January in snowy Park City, Utah. All ten are playing at this month’s (let’s be real, this week’s) SXSW Film Festival in Austin, our very own hometown film fest. Luckily enough, some of our favorite Sundance films pop on this list, including one I enjoyed so much that I am going to see it again in Austin.
Sleepwalk With Me
Man, could Mike Birbiglia’s adaptation of his own comedic biography (comedic in the sense that it’s funny and also in the sense that Birbigs is a comedian) have been terrible. Talk about self-indulgent! Writing about yourself, then writing a movie based on that, then directing yourself as you star as (kinda) yourself! Except, well, it’s not – Sleepwalk With Me is indeed very funny, but it’s also quite charming and frequently disarming, and Birbiglia isn’t afraid to look like an ass, which only makes me weirdly relatable. In my Sundance review, I called it “one of the unexpected delights of the Sundance Film Festival – part relationship drama, part hardcore comedy, part workplace dramedy, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable and engaging film that should appeal to a surprisingly large audience.” I’ll be seeing it again.
John Dies at the End
The long-awaited adaptation of David Wong’s (Jason Pargin) novel of the same name, the John Dies At the End played to somewhat mixed reviews at Sundance. In her review, Allison revealed that the film “is definitely not for everyone” and she had took issue with its scattered nature, but she wrapped things up with a weirdly ringing endorsement, calling it “escapism at its best.” But while there were many people who were on the fence about it, the people who loved it, really loved it. Perhaps this one is due for another spin in front of FSR eyes.
Shut Up and Play the Hits
For fans of LCD Soundsystem, Shut Up and Play the Hits is a must-see. Allison called it “a moving rock-doc.” Chronicling the end of the band, “the film takes its cue from the title and focuses on the music while directors Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace also lace in interviews and quiet moments with front man James Murphy off-stage.” It was a big crowdpleaser at Sundance, and I expect it will pull a similar encore at SXSW.
Horror anthology V/H/S was, without question, the most fun I had at Sundance. In my review, I summed it up by declaring that the film “has something for every horror fan – jump scares, beasts, mythology, blood, technology monsters, gore, kills kills kills, haunted houses, ghosts, twists, turns – along with a wicked sense of humor to go along with it. Everyone will walk out of the theater with a favorite short.” You’re going to have a good time with this one.
We roped in former writer Kevin Kelly to pen some reviews at the ‘dance – and he was rewarded with a couple of truly painful experiences, including The Comedy. Kevin’s review was more warning than upbraiding, as he wrote that he wanted to “spare you from 90 minutes of pain where the only Comedy is the feeling that the filmmakers are laughing at you behind your back.” Oof. However, even Kevin found an upside to his distress, writing that “this is the first time I’ve seen an indication that Tim Heidecker is actually a fantastic actor.”
My favorite film of Sundance, and one sure to fire up more controversy during its SXSW outing. I watched Craig Zobel’s film open-mouthed, aghast, revolted, disturbed, and absolutely enthralled. I wrote in my review that the film “is an exceedingly well-made interpersonal drama that hinges on the limits (and, oftentimes, depths) of human nature and people’s response to certain carefully calibrated psychological tricks.” You’ll be talking about this one – I still am, and I cannot wait to have even more people to discuss it with.
I’ll leave it to Allison’s review to sum this one up: Indie Game is “a moving documentary that not only sheds light on what exactly it means to be an independent game creator, but how that experience can be both rewarding and isolating. Both video game fans and casual gamers should find this documentary not only interesting, but compelling as you watch these real life stories unfold and experience the various emotions that come with creating something from scratch and then releasing it into the world.” A must-see for gamers and creative types, Indie Game will likely be a SXSW darling.
Safety Not Guaranteed
I might have spoken a touch too soon in my review of Safety Not Guaranteed. While I called it a low-fi charmer, I also said “Plaza and Duplass have a wonderful chemistry with each other, and their ease with each other feels natural and right; it’s just lovely to watch them grow into each other. Yet, Safety Not Guaranteed never quite reaches its full potential – though it’s short, certain parts drag and, while it’s lovely and sweet, it never feels significant.” Which doesn’t explain why I’m still thinking about it and why I’m trying to find time for a SXSW rewatch.
Under African Skies
We dispatched life-long Paul Simon fan Robert Levin to see Under African Skies, and he wasn’t disappointed. In his review, Robert wrote that “above all, this is a movie about the magical, transcendent music that Simon and his colleagues made, an unlikely harmonious blend with lyrics that in their own abstract way evoke the human condition.” Not enough? He couldn’t even think of a downside to the film.
Uh, it’s The Raid, what else do you want to hear? How about that, in between amazing action sequences, Allison uncovered some emotional depth in the break-out hit. This movie will make you so happy that you’ll want to beat up a hallway full of drug dealers, mules, criminals, freaks, and losers.
Have you been tracking these films since Sundance? Which are you most excited to see?