By Steve Greene | Indiewire March 18, 2013 at 12:49PM
As the dust settles on another eventful film program at South by Southwest (SXSW), we asked the critics listed in Indiewire's Criticwire Network who attended the festival this year to list their favorites from the program. This year's poll featured ballots from 23 Criticwire members. As usual, results varied but a few titles stood out from the rest.
Among the big winners, it seems that there's at least one film that audiences and critics were in agreement in their support: Destin Cretton's "Short Term 12." The drama follows life at a foster care center through the eyes of one of its younger staff members, a depiction that drew critical praise for its grounded, honest details. But if that doesn't initially strike you as the stuff of immediate SXSW legend, take it from our critic Eric Kohn, who wrote on his ballot, "Don't trust a bad description. 'Short Term 12' didn't sound like much on paper, but..."
The other SXSW premiere that fared well in the overall poll response was "Drinking Buddies," the latest entry in the ever-expanding filmography of prolific director Joe Swanberg. Like Cretton, the positive response to the film netted Swanberg multiple mentions among critics voting for Best Director at the festival. On the other side of the camera, "Drinking Buddies" leads Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson and Anna Kendrick anchored the cast, which walked off with the Best Ensemble prize.
Critics were also asked to vote for Best First Feature, a category that was topped by E.L. Katz' "Cheap Thrills," which also garnered Pat Healy a solid amount of acclaim for his lead role (even among those who weren't fans of his eerie turn in "Compliance"). Multiple critics stressed that the film's best shocking, twisted moments are best left undiscussed, but with four different performances getting votes among the festival's best and the runaway Best First Feature nod, this one will be heard from again.
Not all of our poll respondents were able to attend both Sundance and SXSW, so there was a bit of an overlap between some top vote-getters at Park City and Austin. "Before Midnight" and "Upstream Color," two of the most celebrated and discussed films following their premieres two months ago, managed to capitalize on a second wave of critical exposure. TIFF 2012 vet "Much Ado About Nothing" also made ripples of its own, cracking the top five in the Best Ensemble category.
Most of the top performances benefited from being integral to the success of some of the festival's best films. In the Lead Performance column, Brie Larson's turn in "Short Term 12" came out on top, followed by Wilde, Healy and a pair of Sundance alumn: Lindsay Burdge in "A Teacher" and Amy Seimetz from "Upstream Color." The Supporting Performance responses were a tad more spread out, but with one clear winner at the top: "Spring Breakers" cartoonish gangster James Franco. John Gallagher, Jr. in "Short Term 12," Kendrick, and Sara Paxton (who made appearances in both "Cheap Thrills" and "The Bounceback") rounded out the runners-up.
With the SXSW edition of our traditional end-of-fest poll, we added a few new categories that haven't been present in past versions. For the first time, we offered critics a chance to single out their Best Scenes from SXSW films. Perhaps the best news for those who couldn't make it to Texas for the festivities is that crowd pleaser "Spring Breakers," featuring the aforementioned Franco performance and available for viewing outside festival screenings, received the most number of mentions.
The feedback for documentaries was widespread enough to avoid having a clear consensus, but "William and the Windmill," "Milius" and "Our Nixon" were the trio that sat atop the premieres. The latter of the three took multiple mentions in the Best Scene category, both for its depiction of former president Richard Nixon and the effect that those instrumental in prompting his resignation had on the public.
This time, critics were also invited to list the films they were unable to see in Austin but hoped to catch at some point further down the line. While films like "Before Midnight" and "Short Term 12" did well there, our critics pointed to another pair of documentaries among the SXSW premieres: "12 O'Clock Boys" and "Rewind This!" If even those who made the journey down to Texas are anticipating many of these SXSW 2013 films, don't expect the buzz from this year's festival to go away anytime soon.