No rest for the wicked: we’ve barely gotten over our Oscar-night hangovers, and yet already the next major event of the movie calendar is upon us. After a few quiet weeks on the film festival circuit, Friday sees the kick off of Austin’s all-encompassing, multi-platform mega-party SXSW Film Festival, which kicks off this evening with Jon Favreau‘s “Chef” and runs until March 15th.
The fest has become increasingly important over the last few years thanks to some high-profile premieres (“Bridesmaids,” “Cabin In The Woods“), and key discoveries (“The Puffy Chair,” “Tiny Furniture,” “Attack The Block,” “Monsters,” “Short Term 12“), and we’re hopeful that this year’ll be no different—just from glimpsing the line-up, you can see plenty of promise. If you’re heading Austin-wards, or just if you’re keen to keep your finger on the pulse from afar, we’ve picked out some of the films we’re most looking forward to: take a look below, and let us know what’s catching your eye to in the comments section.
“Before I Disappear”
Synopsis: At the lowest point of his life,
Richie gets a call from his estranged sister, asking him to look after
his eleven-year old niece, Sophia, for a few hours.
What You Need To
Know: Remember the indie-rock band Stellastarr* from the early aughts?
Well, singer/guitarist founder Shawn Christensen turned into filmmaker a
few years ago. In case you think he’s a dilettante dabbling in different
arts, “Before I Disappear” is based on his 2013 Academy Award® winning
short film “Curfew” (yes, you read that right; there’s not that many
Oscar-winners at SXSW alongside all that mumblecore). His short film
“Brink” was also an official selection at the Tribeca Film Festival in
2011, so you’re probably getting the idea that he is the real deal. To
boot, aside from starring Christensen and newcomer Fatima Ptacek, the
movie also stars Emmy Rossum, Paul Wesley, Ron Perlman and Richard
Schiff. Not bad.
Synopsis: A documentary
about “the mind, body and soul” of the teen movie in its modern-day
golden age between “Clueless” in 1995 and “Mean Girls” in 2004, digging
into classics, and questionable classics, like “The Craft,” “10 Things I
Hate About You,” and “Euro Trip.”
What You Need To Know: “I’d like
to see you make a movie!” goes the common refrain from the angry
commenter to the critic. Our usual response is to say that you don’t
need to be a chef to know that someone pissed in your soup, but
blogger/journalist Charlie Lyne‘s was more dignified: he went and made a
movie. The disgustingly precocious young mastermind behind the
excellently irreverent UK site Ultra Culture has put his money where his
mouth is for this documentary that’s “part adolescent fever dream, part roving
visual essay,” and has some impressive names on his side—teen fave
Fairuza Balk lends her gravelly tones to narrate the film, and UK indie
favorites Summer Camp have provided the soundtrack. From his writing,
Lyne’s a smart, funny and talented guy, and there’s every reason to hope
that he’s going to deliver a defining cinematic statement on the
post-John Hughes teen flick.
Synopsis: An out-of-work schlub named Aaron (played by
co-writer/director Patrick Brice) takes on an odd online gig. For $1000 a
day, he’s needed for filming services, with discretion appreciated. He
takes the gig, driving to a remote cabin in the woods, since that isn’t
ominous or sinister or anything, to meet Josef (Mark Duplass), his
filming subject. As the day goes on and Aaron keeps filming, he begins
to suspect that Josef is not what he seems. And terror was certainly not
advertised on the online ad.
What You Need To Know: While this is
Brice’s directorial debut, he’s assisted by Duplass, who co-wrote the
script and produced the movie alongside current king of horror Jason
Blum (“Paranormal Activity,” “The Purge“). This project seems to be one
of the odder and less commercial movies that Blum has produced, which
actually a good sign because it seems that the less distributed or
talked about, the better the movie (like Barry Levinson‘s barely
acknowledged multimedia riff on “Jaws,” “The Bay“). Last year, the Blum produced and polarizing “Lords of Salem” made the trip to SXSW and ended up being one
of the more talked about screenings. Hopefully this year, “Creep” will
offer a repeat performance. Not even the fact that the movie is yet
another found footage film can make us temper our excitement.
Synopsis: The parents of a young woman in a cult hire a
deprogrammer to return their daughter to them, but she proves to be a
more difficult nut to crack than he was expecting.
What You Need To
Know: For a guy who’s only made short films to date, there’s a
relatively good chance you know the name Riley Stearns. His
non-feature length films have managed to build up a decent audience
online, thanks in part to the presence of Stearns’ wife, “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World”
and “Smashed” star Mary Elizabeth Winstead, in them. The pair reunite
for his first full-length film as director, and it’s already earned accolades ahead of its premiere, with Stearns’ script placing high on last
year’s Black List, an impressive achievement for a screenplay that was
already in production. Winstead’s joined in the film by an impressive
array of character actor favorites including Leland Orser, Beth Grant,
Lance Reddick and Jon Gries, while indie producer Keith Calder (“The
Wackness,” “You’re Next“) put the film together. From his shorts,
Stearns appears to be an accomplished and unique voice, and while
“Martha Marcy May Marlene” and “Sound Of My Voice” are the obvious
immediate comparison points, we’re expecting something more blackly
comic from this.
Synopsis: Amidst quarter-life crises, Allie struggles to prepare for the Peace Corps, while Harper awaits checks from her father to fund her artistic dreams. But the two friends quickly shun responsibilities for the day when a pair of good-looking guys invites them along for a carefree Fort Tilden afternoon. As the two young women board their bikes and embark on a lengthy journey to the beach, they quickly realize that, akin to their confusing, transitioning lives, they neither know where they’re going nor how they plan to get there.
What You Need To Know: Co-directors Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers are making their feature debut here, but have paid their dues helming shorts, and taking on jobs far and wide on indie films ranging from editing to working in the electrical department. They’ve both rubbed shoulders with James Franco (helming segments of his upcoming omnibus efforts “Tar” and “Black Dog, Red Dog”) and Bliss even took an intern gig on Michel Gondry’s “The We And The I.” But now the pair are striking out on their own with a movie that chronicles two young women forced to face a future they’re perhaps not ready to deal with. It’s promising material from two filmmakers who have worked up their way the ladder, and one to keep an eye on.
“The Heart Machine”
Synopsis: A man begins to suspect that his
long-distance girlfriend, whom he met online but has never met in
person, has been living in the same city the whole time and sets out to
What You Need To Know: OK, yes, potentially precious
indie-quirky premise alert. We certainly get that. But the lead cast has
two of our favorite up and coming actors: John Gallagher Jr. (HBO’s
“The Newsroom,” “Short Term 12“) and Kate Lyn Sheil (who impressed in
both “Sun Don’t Shine” and her stint on Season 2 of “House Of Cards“).
So he lives in Brooklyn, she lives in Berlin, and they’ve never met in
person. Looking for clues, the man starts to doubt his
girlfriend and in the process oversteps boundaries of privacy in the
desperate quest for his answers, and while that sounds sad and funny and
what it potentially says about the growing trend of online relationships
hopefully is insightful. Directed by Zachary Wigon (his latest short
“Someone Else’s Heart” a won a Hammer To Nail contest last year, and
featured Libby Woodbridge who also just appeared in “House of Cards”),
“The Heart Machine” is the filmmaker’s directorial debut (he’s also a
film critic for the Village Voice, Slant and other film sites, which will
be a fun one for him to negotiate), but top-notch actors signing up for this one leads us to believe there’s something possibly special
Synopsis: Young newlyweds Paul and Bea travel to remote lake country for their honeymoon where the promise of private romance awaits them. Shortly after arriving, Paul finds Bea wandering and disoriented in the middle of the night. As she becomes more distant and her behavior increasingly peculiar, Paul begins to suspect something more sinister than sleepwalking took place in the woods.
What You Need To Know: Ygritte from “Game Of Thrones” (aka Rose Leslie) may be enough to get some people in the door, but this has more to offer than a connection to the hit HBO show. Harry Treadaway—twin brother of Luke Treadaway—has been forging his own path and 2014 could be a big year for him, as he’s also bagged a part in the upcoming Showtime series “Penny Dreadful.” And “Honeymoon” could be another another showcase for the rising actor. And with the debut by director Leigh Janiak nabbing the Midnight slot at SXSW, this tale of romance turned sinister could be a surprise.
“I Believe in Unicorns”
Synopsis: An imaginative teenage girl runs away from home with an older punk rock drifter.
You Need To Know: Yes, the title is tres precious and yes, it’s about a
teenage girl who escapes into her imagination when times get tough and
that means stop motion-animation of unicorns, dragons, underwater
acrobatics and other “My Little Pony”ephemera, but early buzz on this
one is still strong (plus the Kickstarter trailer is enchanting).
Directed by Leah Meyerhoff, a Student Academy Award nominated director,
her NYU short “Twitch” won the Grand Jury Prize at the Slamdance Film
Festival in 2005 and received a lot of acclaim. Moreover, the movie features
Julia Garner (“Electrick Children”) Amy Seimetz (“Upstream Color”) and
we’ve heard good word on its two teenage leads Natalia Dyer (“The
Healer”) and Peter Vack (“I Just Want My Pants Back”). It’s always possible
the lyrical filmmaking is a little too much, but we have to say, we’re
already intrigued. Check out our exclusive clip from the film right here for a taste.
“Leave the World Behind”
Synopsis: A behind-the-scenes look at the
electronic dance phenomenon Swedish House Mafia as they embark on their
worldwide farewell tour, appropriately titled One Last Tour.
Need To Know: A couple of years ago LCD Soundsystem doc “Shut Up and
Play the Hits” played at SXSW and people were literally
dancing in the aisles. The same thing should happen when “Leave the
World Behind” screens. The similarities don’t end there: like LCD
Soundsystem, Swedish House Mafia (composed of deejay/producers Axwell,
Steve Angello and Sebastian Ingrosso) were at the top of their game when
they decided to call it quits. The documentary thoughtfully examines
why they chose to disband, along with showing you just what the tour
looked like, in all of its giant-LCD, lasers shooting into the crowd
glory. Even those who can’t quite grasp the cultural importance of the
current dance music craze will likely get transported by the colorful,
surprisingly emotional “Leave the World Behind;” it’s like “Shut Up and
Play the Hits” with an adorable Swedish accent.
The Mainstream Movies To Catch: “Veronica Mars,” “Chef” “Neighbors”
You Need To Know: SXSW in recent years has had trouble procuring big,
decent mainstream movies and has been relegated with debuting whatever’s
big coming out in March and April (see recent duds like “Burt
Wonderstone”). This year is much the same. The “Veronica Mars” movie is
buzzed about because of its Kickstarter campaign, but it’s a wonder if
it’ll even make back the $7 million it made in donations given that it’s
going to be a limited release/VOD movie. Maybe more interesting is Jon
Favreau’s “Chef,” which finds the writer/director/actor leaving the
tentpole land of “Cowboys & Aliens” behind for his roots in character
based drama and comedy. Co-starring Sofia Veraga, Scarlett Johansson,
Dustin Hoffman, John Leguizamo, Robert Downey Jr. and Bobby Cannavale
among others, Favreau directs, writes and stars in a story about a
failing chef who starts up a food truck in an effort to reclaim his
creative promise, while piecing back together his estranged family. The
most promising of the lot, at least on a mainstream comedy level is
“Neighbors,” a Nicholas Stoller/Seth Rogen comedy (Stoller was behind “The
Five-Year Engagement” and “Get Him To The Greek”) that looks and smells
like a Judd Apatow-comedy, but actually is those same dudes on their
own (they’ve left the nest, but seemed to have kept the template
intact). Co-starring Zac Efron and Rose Byrne, it’s about a 30-something
couple with a newborn baby whose life is thrown into turmoil when a
rowdy fraternity moves in next door. It could be amusing.
“A Night in Old Mexico”
Synopsis: Having been edged off his ranch,
cantankerous oldster Red Bovie rejects the idea of moving to a trailer
park in favor of hopping into his Cadillac with his newfound grandson
and road tripping to Mexico for a little debauchery, adventure and
What You Need To Know: All you really need to
know is that this is the long-dearly-held passion project for Robert
Duvall, who stars along with Jeremy Irvine, in a movie that reteams him with
“Lonesome Dove” screenwriter William D. Wittliff. Which is not to say
the Cuban-born Spanish director, Emilio Aragon, doesn’t have a good
story too—the actor/composer/director is the son of a famous clown, and
was himself a TV presenter in the ’90s before moving into TV production,
acting and even co-founding a TV station. This is his second
directorial feature, and comes a full nine years after Duvall first
attached himself to this project calling Bovie “one of the best
characters I’ve had in my life.”
Synopsis: Described as a “21st Century ‘Rear
Window,'” “Open Windows” is the tale of a man (Elijah Wood) who scores a
date with the world’s hottest actress (Sasha Grey) after winning an
online contest. At the last minute he gets a call that his date has been
canceled but the voice at the other end gives him an equally
tantalizing option: spy on her for the rest of the night. He agrees to
the voice’s suggestion. And then things go horribly wrong.
Need to Know: “Open Windows” is the third film directed by the
ridiculously talented genre contortionist Nacho Vigalondo. His first
film as a writer/director, “Timecrimes,” was an ingenious low budget
time travel thriller that was equal parts Terry Gilliam and Brian De
Palma, while his second film, “Extraterrestrial,” played like a
post-apocalyptic Woody Allen film. This new film seems to fully indulge
his love of De Palma and, obviously, Alfred Hitchcock, with a divinely
simple set up and, we’re assuming, full commitment from his two leads.
Wood, in particular, has grown into a fine genre performer in things
like this year’s exemplary “Grand Piano.” While “Extraterrestrial”
didn’t exactly deliver the kind of follow-through we expected from the
creator of such a twisty-turny gem as “Timecrimes,” this seems like it
could be a tantalizing return to form.
The TV Presentations
What You Need To Know: SXSW is embracing TV in a
big way in 2014, with six hotly-anticipated series set to get their
premieres in Austin, something almost unprecedented for a big film
festival. The Seth MacFarlane-produced, Neil deGrasse Tyson-presented,
visual-effects-packed reboot of Carl Sagan‘s space series “Cosmos” is
first up. Then, there’s the pilot for AMC‘s “Halt And Catch Fire,” a
drama starring Scoot McNairy and Lee Pace set in the 80s Texan computing
world that’s hoping to be the next “Mad Men,” followed by the first
look at the series adaptation of hometown hero Robert Rodriguez‘s “From
Dusk Til Dawn,” which begins airing soon on Rodriguez’s own El Rey
network. Following that, and perhaps most hotly anticipated of all,
there’s the first episode of “Penny Dreadful,” the Gothic horror show
from “Skyfall” creators Sam Mendes and John Logan, and starring Josh
Hartnett, Eva Green, Timothy Dalton and more, which doesn’t hit Showtime
until June. And finally, there’s the first couple of episodes of
“Office Space” creator Mike Judge‘s hotly anticipated HBO comedy
“Silicon Valley,” and the first glimpse at a new Brad Pitt-produced Hulu
series about a medium starring Tyler Labine called “Deadbeat.” Yeah,
that one’s less exciting on paper, but still.
A fast-paced Texas thriller in which the lives of James, a
directionless college dropout, and Webb, a career criminal with his back
against the wall, violently collide.
What You Need To Know:
Starring up-and-coming actor James Landry Hébert (“Gangster Squad,”
“Seven Psychopaths,” “Looper“) as the unhinged criminal, this one evidently screened early for a select few and already gained some good
Twitter buzz (yes, we actually just wrote that). Short filmmaker and
video director Alex R. Johnson makes his debut here, which he also wrote and it also features Beth Broderick, Skyy Moore, Jason Douglas and
Ashley Rae Spillers. Equally intriguing, and potentially
counter-intuitively savvy for a thriller, is a score by Andrew Kenny, the
founder of the slo-core group The American Analog Set and its more
countrified successor The Wooden Birds. And this teaser clip looks
pretty good too.
Synopsis: When an old neighbor in a rent-controlled apartment dies, Barri suspects foul play. Her fiance disagrees, so she recruits her roommate Jean to join her in an investigation that will ultimately uncover just as much about the other occupants of the building—and her flat—as it does about the central mystery.
What You Need To Know: Looks like we picked the wrong week to give up using the word “hipster” but this Brooklyn comedic film noir has a few things going for it, especially a promising cast including Alia Shawkat, Annie Parisse, Jason Ritter and Kevin Corrigan, along with husband and wife team Lawrence Michael Levine and Sophia Takal, with Levine directing for the third time. His last time at bat was the well-received indie “Gabi on the Roof in July,” starring Lena Dunham and Amy Seimetz, among others and we also warmly reviewed “Green” in which he starred with Takal directing, in 2011.
Honorable Mentions & More: Wait! We may have already seen these, but they are worth tracking down if you’re on the ground in Austin: Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood”; the outsider-art psych-rock comedy “Frank” starring Michael Fassbender; Jim Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive”; the “You’re Next” filmmakers new midnight film, “The Guests“; David Gordon Green‘s “Joe“ starring Nicolas Cage; Jason Bateman‘s directorial debut “Bad Words“; the drama “Hellion“ with Aaron Paul; “Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter“ starring Rinko Kikuchi; Michael Pena as “Cesar Chavez“ and “The Raid 2.” Click on the links folks for our reviews, but yes, if you haven’t yet seen those they are all (ok mostly all) worth seeing.
Other films that sound interesting (and there are lots) include ”Starry Eyes,” the documentary about ‘80s pop band Spandau Ballet, “Soul Boys Of The Western World”; the Edwyn Collins doc about the former Orange Juice frontman and solo artist, “The Possibilities Are Endless”; the documentary “That Guy Dick Miller” about character actors Dick Miller (who you’ll recognize from Roger Corman and Joe Dante films especially). We hear good things about “She’s Lost Control,” which screened in Berlin, which we missed. Also sounding intriguing are “Predestination” a time travel thriller that reunites Ethan Hawke with the sibling directors of “Daybreakers”; the Australian black comedy “The Mule” which features a supporting turn by Hugo Weaving; “The Mend” starring Josh Lucas; “Break Point” with Jeremy Sisto, and “Doc of the Dead: The Definitive Zombie Culture Documentary” (from the guy that brought you “The People Vs. George Lucas”) to name just a few. SXSW almost always has to live in the shadow of Sundance, but it’s hard to argue that there’s an eclectic slate every year that usually has something for everyone.