From comedy to drama to action to all-out insanity, South by Southwest has a lot going on in 2017.
What is the key to having a successful festival? In the case of South by Southwest (SXSW), the annual film, interactive, music, sports, gaming, comedy, podcasting, eco, education, activism, etc. x 1000 conference and festival in Austin, TX, sometimes “not dying” is a good end result. This year more than ever, SXSW is jam-packed with things to do, brand activations to explore, and yes, maybe even some movies to watch. It’s all part of the spring’s most sprawling, innovative, and overwhelming week.
To assist our beloved readers and intrepid festival-goers in finding the right events, we’re here to count down our most anticipated films/events of SXSW 2017. Before you get in line and wait for a long time, you should give this list a read and create your own prioritized agenda. Because in the end, that’s what will help you survive SXSW: priorities.
These are our priorities.
22. Win It All
Neil Miller: I’m here for Jake Johnson movies. After Drinking Buddies, I’m especially here for the movies in which Jake Johnson (of New Girl fame) collaborates with Joe Swanberg. Johnson and Swanberg co-wrote the story of Eddie Garrett, a small time gambler who gets into trouble related to a duffle bag full of cash and a very large amount of debt. It’s a different look for the actor, who stands to add a little extra drama to his ouvre.
21. IT and Annabelle 2
Neil Miller: It’s possible that by helping promote something like this, we’re assisting SXSW in turning into Comic-Con, but that’s fine by me – it’s far less expensive to travel when all I have to do is get in my car and drive downtown. But Warner Bros. is bringing filmmakers Andrés Muschietti (It) and David F. Sandberg (Annabelle 2) in for a panel on Saturday, March 11 to talk about and show off some footage from their upcoming films. To my knowledge, this will be the first time the public will get a look at the upcoming Stephen King adaptation. It’ll likely be footage that drops online soon after, but the conversation with the filmmakers should be interesting.
20. La Barracuda
Fernando Andrés: Shot here in Austin, it’s hard for us to remain unbiased in our excitement for Julia Halperin and Jason Cortlund’s La Barracuda, a tale of two sisters who see their bond tested against the backdrop of country bars and the Texan landscape. As a thriller, it seems poised to take that bond to its very limits and present a portrait of a family truly unraveled. Alison Tolman, who stole the show on the first season of Fargo, stars.
Neil Miller: The cheat here is that I’ve seen Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal and can assure you that both Jason Sudekis and Anne Hathaway are delightful in what can easily be described as a kaiju life crisis comedy. It’s quite funny, severely off-kilter, and charming. If you can’t get into the bigger opening night movie (Song to Song), this one is a fantastic consolation prize.
18. Like Me
Fernando Andrés: Perhaps no narrative film at SXSW appears to be as in tune with the youth of today as this one. Like Me is about a lonely young woman who takes to broadcasting herself going on a crime spree online; as she amasses a large social media following, an internet troll and a paint-huffing outsider are pulled into her circle of chaos. Not enough films are being made today about the relationship between social media and teenagers, the generation it most affects. Its thrilling plot aside, one should also be excited for the debut of Robert Mockler, who is writing and directing.
Fernando Andrés: Despite being held in the heart of Texas, SXSW has showcased many electric debut films from New York filmmakers, including Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture and John Magary’s The Mend. With a simple premise and an edgy millennial sensibility to boot, Peter Vack’s Assholes may be next. The film follows the misadventures Adah and Aaron, two recovering addicts who meet (and fall in love) in their psychoanalyst’s waiting room. The film’s trailer promises a litany of filth and vulgarity and I, for one, cannot wait.
16. Ghost in the Shell – Outdoor Screening
Neil Miller: One of the more interesting repertory screenings at SXSW this year is an outdoor screening of the 1995 anime Ghost in the Shell presented by the folks at Anchor Bay and Mondo, with special gifts from Paramount and Tiny Pies. It is in celebration of the upcoming re-release of the anime film on Blu-ray and the upcoming live-action remake. They will be handing out goodies and most importantly, showing the anime in its newly remastered form (free of what I’m told were some terrible CGI graphics added later).
15. The Secret Screening
Neil Miller: Usually I’d warn against getting too excited about a Secret Screening at a festival such as SXSW, as it’s usually (a) a movie that’s about to come out in theaters and (b) sometimes an unfinished workprint. But after SXSW dropped a screening of Furious 7 last year, I’m even more intrigued as to how they will follow it with this year’s Sunday night secret. On the silly side, I’d say something like Power Rangers might be in play. On the unfinished and/or very early sneak side, perhaps something like A24’s It Comes At Night or Ana Lily Amirpour’s The Bad Batch. The latter two would be fantastic. The former might be interesting. Of course, these are all wild speculation on my part – I don’t actually have any insider information.
14. Going to Brazil
Fernando Andrés: In what appears to be a French remake of Bridesmaids by way of Tropic Thunder, Patrick Mille’s sophomore feature Going to Brazil could not sound more exciting. A comedy about a group of female best friends who reunite at a wedding in Rio, things are set in motion when one of them accidentally kills a man at a party. All hell breaks loose from there, and the film seems poised to deliver on its promise of “guns, bikinis and caipirinhas.”
13. This Is Your Death
Fernando Andrés: This Is Your Death centers on a disturbing hit game show in which contestants end their own lives for the audience’s enjoyment, in an unsettling look at reality television, a medium that has made ever-present in our world today. It is also the directorial debut of Giancarlo Esposito, best known to readers as Gus Fring on Breaking Bad. With his history of collaboration with such great directors as Spike Lee, we can’t wait to see what he does in the director’s seat. Oh, and James Franco is in this, too.
12. Song to Song
Neil Miller: Terrence Malick shot this movie in Austin, TX, home of SXSW, in 2012. And in true Malick fashion, it’s ready for release 5 years later and many of the actors who participated in the filming probably have no idea whether or not they made the cut. We’ve been told that Christian Bale didn’t make it this time around, but hopefully he had a good time. Based on the first trailer, it’s possible that Ryan Gosling saves jazz again or something. Other people who might be in this movie, which is about “intersecting love triangles” and “the Austin music scene”: Natalie Portman, Michael Fassbender, Cate Blanchett, Val Kilmer, Benicio del Toro, Iggy Pop, and Rooney Mara.
11. Muppet Guys Talking
Neil Miller: Frank Oz, best known as the voice of Miss Piggy, but also known as the director of Little Shop of Horrors and Bowfinger – I’m kidding, he’s best known as Jim Henson’s right hand guy in the creation of some of the most iconic puppet characters in the history of cinema. Including, but not limited to Yoda, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, and Sam the Eagle. He’s bringing to SXSW a new documentary he directed that brings together some of the original muppet performers to tell stories about Jim Henson, show off rare behind the scenes footage, and give insight into how the world of The Muppets was built. For nerds of pop culture history, this appears to be a can’t miss documentary.
10. The Strange Ones
Neil Miller: Two of the best shorts I have ever seen happen to be Cigarette Candy and The Strange Ones, directed by Lauren Wolkstein and Christopher Radcliff, respectively. Now, the two have united to deliver a feature version of the latter short – a film centering around the underlying secrets between two brothers as they make their way through a remote American landscape. With a score from Krisha’s Brian McOmber and a leading man in Alex Pettyfer (Magic Mike), The Strange Ones looks to be a bold and exciting entrance for Wolkstein and Radcliff.
9. Atomic Blonde
Neil Miller: It’s been bandied about on Twitter (by yours truly) as “Furiosa Wick,” but John Wick director David Leitch’s new film starring Charlize Theron as a badass MI6 agent set in Cold War Berlin is much more: it’s a preview of Leitch’s solo directing skills that will ultimately be on display when he sits in the director’s chair for Deadpool 2. It’s also… well, a movie in which Charlize Theron basically plays John Wick. Who doesn’t want that? Even the people who were made that they made the Ghostbusters girls will be into that, I’d wager.
Fernando Andrés: The fiction/documentary hybrid is an elusive genre that is seldom attempted, which is why Kristoffer Borgli’s Drib seems especially enticing. Well, that and its fascinating yet true premise: in 2014, a well-known energy drink company attempted a violent marketing scheme before it all came crashing down. Featuring Adult Swim comic Brett Gelman as well as the real-life people involved with the catastrophe, Drib should be an enticing look at the murky area between art and commerce.
Neil Miller: Repertory screenings at film festivals are often just a chance to get the gang back together – like the Sundance screening this year of Reservoir Dogs, which gave Quentin Tarantino a chance to go back to Park City and wax poetic about his breakout film. The way SXSW executes this repertory programming is uniquely brilliant in that it often combines the old with the new. Ridley Scott and members of the Alien: Covenant cast will be on hand to talk about the original, but also show some footage of the new film to the SXSW audience. That makes it special. And very much worth seeing, just as it did when George Miller brought Mad Max: Fury Road footage a few years back.
6. Dear White People
Neil Miller: Justin Simien’s film of the same name as his new Netflix show is what launched both his and Tessa Thompson’s career. And while she’s on the cover of Entertainment Weekly standing next to Thor, Simien is coming to Austin with the pilot episode of the Netflix series. We’re excited to find out how the show will be different, how it will draw on the same very stylisth vibes. With the filmmaker on hand for a Q&A, we may also learn some things about what to expect for the series going forward.
5. Small Crimes
Fernando Andrés: After the hilariously grisly Cheap Thrills (which won the Midnighter Audience Award back in 2013), E.L. Katz is back for more. Similar to his debut, Small Crimes will center around a disgraced man who finds himself in a nightmarish situation. After returning home from a six year prison sentence, a former police officer resorts to desperate measures to get himself out of the mess he left behind. The cast is stacked with such names as Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones), Jacki Weaver (American Hustle) and Macon Blair (Blue Ruin) and comes from a screenplay co-written by Blair. Sign us up.
4. Mr. Roosevelt
Neil Miller: The world fell in love with Noël Wells en masse with her supporting role in Aziz Ansari’s Netflix series Master of None. It will now have the opportunity to do the same with Noël Wells the filmmaker. She makes her feature debut with Mr. Roosevelt, the story of a 20-something struggling to find her way in Los Angeles before she’s whisked back to Austin due to a sick loved one. There she find herself in a battle of wits with her ex-boyfriend’s new flame. It’s got a bit of a twee plot, but we’re counting on Wells’ incomparable charm to pull it off.
3. Baby Driver
Neil Miller: Edgar Wright is here this year. With his new movie about a talented getaway driver (Ansel Engort) who hangs out with Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm, among others. The cast is great. The Edgar Wright is great. The premise sounds like The Transporter: Origins, but with a better cast. All of this sounds great.
2. Easy Living
Fernando Andrés: In Easy Living, a self-destructive makeup saleswoman hopes for a fresh start, but her life take a turn for the worse. If director Adam Keleman’s short films are anything to go by, this is an excellent premise for him to work with; his short Long Daysis an exceptional portrait of a woman with her own way of taking charge. With an exceptional cast headlined by Elizabeth Marvel (House of Cards, Fargo) and Caroline Dhavernas (Hannibal), Keleman’s work seems to have been cut out for him. Here’s to seeing what he’s come up with.
1. Free Fire
Neil Miller: We’ve had the privilege of seeing a number of great action movies over the years at SXSW. From clips of Mad Max: Fury Road to Spring Breakers to The Hurt Locker to Furious 7 – oh right, and The Raid – South by always brings the ruckus. This year’s big potential breakout is Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire, which screened to giddy audiences at festivals late last year and is billed as a wicked shoot-em-up. If there’s one thing SXSW audiences love, it’s a film with a ton of energy. We’re looking to Free Fire to bring it when it debuts on Saturday night.
Special Shout-out: A Storm of Spoilers Live!
It would be a little odd for us to place the Storm of Spoilers Live podcast recording on this list, as our own Neil Miller co-hosts that show alongside Thrillist’s Dave Gonzales and Vanity Fair’s Joanna Robinson, so we’ll tack it on at the end as an honorable, albeit shameless mention. For the first time this year, SXSW is hosting a number of podcasts on its Podcast Stage and the A Storm of Spoilers crew is very honored to be on the bill alongside our friends from The Ringer and many others. If you’re not doing anything on Sunday afternoon around 12:30p, stop over at the podcast stage and watch our boss completely bomb.