The 12 Best Movies of SXSW 2012

By  · Published on March 23rd, 2012

This year’s SXSW may be over, but it’s certainly not forgotten. Another week of barbeque, buddies, beer, and – oh yeah – movies down, and we’re still recovering, both in terms of remembering everything we saw and attempting to pry ourselves out of our stretchiest of pants. As with any film festival, the stunning depth of films available to watch has resulted in a solid handful of serious favorites. This time around, our twelve favorite films of the festival include big studio comedy, intimate documentary, the best action film in years, true independent features, and even a picture made entirely on cell phones. Take a look at our twelve favorites from this year’s SXSW after the break.

21 Jump Street

Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s spin on the classic (sure? okay?) television series is, as Jack told us, the comedy to beat this year. Clever, amusing, self-reflexive, timely, giddy, smart, it’s ten times better than some of the dumb raunch we’ve been subjected to lately. It even has crossover appeal! (Read: my mom liked it.) — Kate Erbland (Read our full review)

Beauty is Embarrassing

The slight-in-length Wayne White documentary, Beauty is Embarrassing, was another film that made my initial schedule but got moved around so much during the week that I almost didn’t see it. A hilarious look into the artist most famous for his work on PeeWee’s Playhouse and Beakman’s World, White invited cameras into his life for a year while he reflected on his past art work and his current switch to snarky word art painted over thrift store landscapes. His goal is to infuse high art with humor, which the documentary presents as his most creative expression. Beauty is Embarrassing does what a solid documentary should, give you just enough taste of the subject matter that you’ll want to begin your own investigation. I left feeling inspired to create my own art and hunt out a Wayne White exhibit opening near me at the end of the month. — Gwen Reyes (Read our full review)

The Cabin in the Woods

Five friends head to a remote cabin for a good time and death, terror and hilarity ensue. This one has been a long time coming as evidenced by its presence on our Most Anticipated Movies list published January 3rd of 2011, but thankfully it was well worth the wait. Director Drew Goddard co-wrote the film alongside Joss Whedon, and together they’ve created a sensory love letter to horror films and fans. They take a beloved but well worn genre synopsis and turn it into blood-spattered cinematic gold with characters and a story that move well beyond what we’ve come to expect while still honoring and respecting all that has come before. See it with friends, see it with a theater full of strangers, just see it. — Rob Hunter (Read our full review)

Crazy Eyes

Much of the less buzzed-about indie fare at SXSW ultimately disappointed me (look no further than my reviews of Nature Calls, Small Apartments, or Somebody Up There Likes Me for further clarification on that point), but Adam Sherman’s Crazy Eyes not only did not disappoint, it bizarrely charmed me. Lukas Haas stars as a rich playboy with a panache for drinking and seducing women across Hollywood – but all of that changes when he meets the one girl who is not interested in his sexual advances (Madeline Zima). A more gentle Leaving Las Vegas, it’s a twisted love story that doesn’t take the easy way out. — Kate Erbland (Read our full review)

Electrick Children

Before I left for the great city of Austin, I laid out my schedule for SXSW like a champion. I wanted to make sure I made all the screenings I needed to make, and consumed all the possible free booze imaginable. I had goals. Well, during the course of planning Rebecca Thomas’s debut film, Electrick Children, was always on my radar but almost didn’t make the final cut. Thankfully I ran into a friend at the Film Opening Night party who raved about the film and demanded I switch things around (while she was standing there) so I could see it the following morning. And thank goodness she did. The film’s quiet tension allows for Rachel’s (Julia Garner) story to take flight. You have to leave any disbelief that a young, fundamentalist Mormon woman could get pregnant by a cassette tape at the door, but that’s what makes it so wonderful. A film that could have taken a dark, Mysterious Skin like turn, actually has a huge heart and so much whimsy it’s nearly impossible to walk out not smiling; or also get knocked up by the catchy cover of The Nerve’s “Hanging on the Telephone.” I know it infested my soul for the rest of the week. — Gwen Reyes

God Bless America

Darkly comedic, subversive, rage-filled and infinitely charming. Director Bobcat Goldthwait builds on the momentum he started with World’s Greatest Dad three years ago with the story of a man who has had enough of our American pop culture disease. Like the personification of a rant from deep within the twisted head of the likes of Lewis Black, Goldthwait unleashes Frank (Joel Murray), a hapless loser who just can’t take it anymore, upon caricatures of pop culture’s most annoying faces. And then he kills them with the help of a spunky 16-year old, played by the delightfully devious Tara Lynne Barr. It’s one for the bleeding hearts, and/or anyone with the power of reason. It’s also one for anyone who loves some delicious violence. – Neil Miller (Read our full review)

Killer Joe

William Friedkin’s film is either for you or it isn’t. I find it hilarious, but there will be those who’ll say anyone who finds this material funny is insane. I’ll take that label, especially taking into account how much fun Killer Joe is. The film can play as both a straight B-movie or a dark, thematically rich love story. The characters here aren’t the sharpest, and when they make bad decisions, things get entertainingly bad, plot-wise. The only character who has something resembling a brain is the one played by Matthew McConaughey who adds a suave, disturbing, and funny charm to the film as a whole. — Jack Giroux (Read our full review)

King Kelly

A young woman with an iPhone represents America’s worst traits as she embarks on a nocturnal adventure of self-involvement even as violence, chaos, heartbreak and betrayal swirls around her. Writer/director Andrew Neel’s narrative feature debut is a smart take-down of a society that makes stars out of Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton. Kelly thrives on attention and documents her life on camera (the film is shot almost entirely on iPhones), but when her selfishness leads to a wildly unpredictable night (tonally akin to Doug Liman’s Go) her expectations and reality diverge. Lead Louisa Krause is talented, sexy and hilarious, and you can’t help but hate and love her simultaneously. It’s a sad, funny must-see film. — Rob Hunter (Read our full review)

The Raid: Redemption

Despite the fact that I wasn’t present for every single screening of SXSW 2012, I find it hard to believe that any film in the festival line-up did to a crowd what Gareth Evans’ The Raid: Redemption did to a packed house at the Paramount Theater on Sunday night. It wasn’t just oohs and aahs, it was cheers and triumph. This simple tale of a small police force trying to take down a well-fortified bad guy has been called a milestone for action cinema. Yes, by me. It is also an expertly crafted explosion of good old fashioned hand-to-hand-to-machete-to-fist-to-head-to-wall brilliance. Again, I said that. It’s all so true, and it doesn’t even begin to describe how much fun it really is. The campaign of The Raid won’t stop with this “best of” list, it will most likely carry on until we write our lists for best of the year. — Neil Miller (Read our full review)

Safety Not Guaranteed

A want-ad appears in a Seattle paper looking for a partner willing to travel back in time, but when a trio of journalists investigate expecting a simple, humorous story for their magazine they get far more than they expected. Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly’s feature debut is a comedy that finds a near perfect blend of big laughs and genuine, romantic sweetness. Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass (as the eccentric guy behind the ad) have spectacular chemistry together with Plaza going beyond her usual range to find real emotion and depth, and Jake Johnson also brings an inordinate amount of the funny. Listen, I’m a cynical bastard, but this is the most wonderfully hopeful film of the past few years. — Rob Hunter (Read our full review)


Sinister isn’t your average horror movie. It doesn’t provide the basic thrills or catharsis you generally get from a haunted house movie. Our lead, a writer played by Ethan Hawke, isn’t a hero and is a bit of an empathetic dick. And there is no loud and banging score to tell you how creepy it is when a character sees something he shouldn’t be seeing. Sinister is an atmospheric and idea-driven horror movie, the kind that works best with time versus a knee-jerk reaction. — Jack Giroux (Read our full review)

Sleepwalk with Me

Mike Bribiglia’s take on his own material was a pleasant surprise at Sundance, and a second watch at SXSW sealed that it’s an accomplished and amusing work about quarter-life crisis ennui and how we move past it, even if it’s just sort of messy and weird. Not self-indulgent, not glossy, but constantly funny and appropriately touching, it’s a bonafide winner. — Kate Erbland (Read our full review)

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