In two days, over 70,000 attendees will descend upon downtown Austin, Texas for the South by Southwest Film Festival. Or as its friends call it, SXSW. If you’re a longtime reader of Film School Rejects, you’ll note that we’ve been covering SXSW for a long time – long before we made Austin our home base in 2009. In 2008, we made the 21-hour drive from Cleveland, Ohio to Austin to see films such as the Sean William Scott/John C. Reilly comedy The Promotion, the devastating documentary Dear Zachary and Dreams with Sharp Teeth, a portrait of the great Harlan Ellison.
2015 marks our eighth consecutive year covering the festival, this year returning both myself and our Chief Film Critic Rob Hunter to the streets of Austin where SXSW will screen a total of 150 feature films, 102 of which are World Premieres. This year’s slate features 62 first-time directors and 10 carefully curated short film programs. In total, 256 films were selected from nearly 7,500 submissions. As is the case with any major film festival, it is a tremendous undertaking for a tireless and continually impressive staff of wonderful people. We can call them wonderful, as we’ve come to know the folks at SXSW quite well over the years. They always put on a great show, this year undoubtedly being no exception.
The massive schedule does pose one problem to anyone attending the week-long film love-fest: there’s no way to see them all. In fact, there’s probably no way to see even half of the feature films playing this year’s festival. Which means you need people like us: obsessives who have combed through the entire lineup, have seen a number of films at previous film festivals, spent sleepless nights watching screeners in advance and perhaps even used a little dark magic to cull together a list of the must see movies of SXSW 2015.
First, ten picks from the ever-studious Rob Hunter:
7 Chinese Brothers
Larry (Jason Schwartzman) is a sad alcoholic passing the days working at a Quick-Lube pining for his boss Lupe, but can he get his act together in time to win her heart? There are few actors as aggressively compelling and believable at playing loser assholes as Schwartzman, and while his career highlight may well end up being last year’s excellent Listen Up Philip I’ll watch him embody a shmuck any day of the week. And if that’s not your thing, this low-key comedy also features Schwartzman’s own French bulldog.
Ted is nine years old and living at the resort motel run by his depressed, widowed father (David Morse), and as the solitude feeds his growing sociopathy a stranger (Rainn Wilson) arrives to push them both past the point of no return. The premise of this dark-sounding tale reminds me of Iain Banks’ brilliant debut novel, The Wasp Factory, but even without that connection the two adult leads are more than enough of a reason to look forward to this one.
I don’t know what this one’s about. I don’t know who made it or who’s in it. I don’t know what genre this falls under. But come on, the goddamn movie is called Deathgasm.
The Final Girls
Max (Taissa Farmiga) is a teenager with a once-famous Scream Queen for a mother, but when she’s transported into one of her mom’s slasher films from the ’80s she’s forced to fight for her life alongside her mom’s character. The post-Scream era has seen several filmmakers take a stab at meta-horror – last year’s Stage Fright being the most recent example – but the premise of this one sounds irresistibly fun as Max comes face to face with the tropes and character types that populated an entire genre.
A woman running from her past finds a new home working at a remote desert motel, but the trouble she’s hiding from is soon dwarfed by the troubles that find her. Further plot details are unknown, but it’s enough to bring images of Blood Simple and Red Rock West to mind. It sounds like the setting will be as much of a character as the actual characters, and that hints at the film being an atmospheric thriller worth watching.
The Grief of Others
Four members of a family deal with the unexpected loss of their newest member in various ways, but it isn’t until a mysterious visitor arrives that they truly begin to process and recover from their grief. Most of the movies on my list are thrillers of one kind or another, but this one appears to be more of straight drama. (Although I’m holding out hope that it’s a surprise remake of Takashi Miike’s Visitor Q complete with necrophilia and excessive lactation.) Grief is a difficult emotion to capture in movies as they too frequently need to move the plot forward, so it should prove interesting seeing a film focus on the subject so explicitly.
Will’s wife left abruptly after the loss of their young son, but two years later she’s returned with a new husband in tow, a dinner invitation for Will and mysterious intentions. I’m interested in this Midnighter selection based on the plot alone, but I’m also looking forward to seeing a new feature from director Karyn Kusama. This is her first film since 2009’s troubled but unfairly maligned Jennifer’s Body, and it’s good to see her behind the camera again for another genre effort.
One & Two
A mysterious farmhouse, siblings with unusual abilities and dark family secrets… this is a mystery I’m looking forward to exploring. It also exemplifies the biggest joy of film festivals – walking into a movie knowing next to nothing and often walking out thrilled with what you’ve just seen.
Tippi Hedren spent years on a large compound filming the interactions of her family (including daughter Melanie Griffith), friends and dozens of large cats – lions, tigers, panthers, cheetahs, etc – and the result is a film that promises to be a showcase for pure chaos as the beasts run rampant over the human cast. This is a bit of a cheat for this list as the film is showing as a special screening outside of the proper SXSW channels, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s one of my most anticipated.
We Are Still Here
A grieving couple move to a quiet New England town only to discover that their new home is haunted by violent ghosts. The setup may seem at first glance to be fairly generic, but there looks to be more going on beneath the surface. Even if that weren’t the case though the film’s abundance of old school practical effects make a compelling argument for inclusion on this list. Add in Barbara Crampton and it becomes a must-see.
And five more choices from yours truly:
This one is a cheat, as we reviewed it at Sundance in January. Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling play a young couple that has just moved into a hip L.A. neighborhood and is looking to make friends. They meet an odd, but charming couple (played by Jason Schwartzman and Judith Godreche) who spends an evening wooing them into increasingly strange situation. It’s all played with prosthetic penises (penii?) great heart and even greater laughs. It’s the kind of film that will end up in indie theaters soon, but don’t let that stop you from seeing it with a festival crowd.
This doc by producers turned directors David Friendly and Mick Partridge explores the vibrant, often dangerous cultural niche of sneaker collectors. From the appropriation of street culture by suburban kids to riots over the latest Nike Air Jordans, Sneakerheadz explores the global phenomenon that goes beyond the intersection of sports and fashion. It also taught us all about the concept known as “To Rock or To Stock,” which is a thing people decide with their shoes.
Ron Perlman plays a CIA agent who heads to London in search of Stanley Kubrick, where he hopes to have the famous director fake the moon landing. Instead of Kubrick, he ends up with Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) as a seedy band manager trying to pull off the greatest con of all-time. This one might get moon landing truthers all riled up, but it’s clearly more farce than history. Apparently energetic, hilarious farce, at that.
Hello, My Name is Doris
This is the movie about Sally Field hitting on Max Greenfield (Schmidt from New Girl) that you never knew you wanted. But you want it. It’s directed by Wet Hot American Summer co-writer and The State alum Michael Showalter and it has an insane cast (Stephen Root, Kumail Nanjiani and Wendi McLendon-Covey to name a few). Plus, did I mention the part about Forrest Gump’s mom romantically pursuing Schmidt?
GTFO: Get the F% Out
There’s a 20 billion dollar industry in our world that is riddled with discrimination and misogyny. You may know of video games and you may have heard of GamerGate, but you may not have seen such a deep dive as Shannon Sun-Higginson’s directorial debut promises to deliver. SXSW has a track record for programming a lot of great docs and making a concerted effort to stay on the forefront of prominent social issues. GTFO seems like the kind of doc that will be this year’s big conversation starter.
You can read all of our SXSW coverage here. As the week moves along, we’ll have reviews, interviews, features and notes from the streets of Austin.