The SXSW Film Festival remains one of the most underrated film festivals in the US, with a wide number of interesting and intriguing films to choose from each year. We’ve decided to help you figure out what to catch from the festival (or after, if you aren’t making it down to Austin) with our selections of the 10 most interesting films.
What it is: Basically a feature film length version of the opening Turing Test scene in Blade Runner, Ex Machina focuses on the latest experiment of Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac), the CEO of a Google-like mega-giant tech company. Bateman has created a startlingly powerful AI and in order to test it, he has launched a competition providing the winning (un?)lucky programmer from his company the opportunity to come out to his estate and get some hands on experience with the AI.
Why we’re excited: The plot is a little overdone, sure, but given that this is the directorial debut of Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Sunshine), we trust that it will be a little more crafty than the summary lets on. Add in Oscar Isaac, who has yet to be properly tested himself since Inside Llewyn Davis, and you’ve got a rare SXSW headliner that might have a shelf life beyond the festival. This will also be the film’s North American Premiere, so there’s the added bonus of this being a chance to either catch a bold new film before it blows up the box office or get in early enough to warn your friends if it doesn’t quite live up to its pedigree.
Screens Saturday, March 14th at 8 pm at the Paramount and Friday, March 20th at 9:15 at the Topfer
What it is: The Road Warrior on BMX Bikes, The FP with vision instead of fratboy humor, Turbo Kid shares some DNA with some interesting post-apocalyptic works, but it looks utterly unique and gonzo. Following hero The Kid, a lone wanderer with a comic book obsession, as he is forced to become a little more heroic once he meets bad ass fellow wasteland wanderer APPLE and they take on big baddie Zeus and try to clean up the wastes.
Why we’re excited: It looks completely unhinged. While the character designs have trace elements of The Road Warrior and Fallout, there’s also a lot of comic book influence in the colorful outfits the leads rock, and Zeus and his crew are decked out in Greek warrior wear mixed with off-road equipment. There is also a tremendous amount of creative weaponry, making it clear that if nothing else, this is bound to be one of the most entertaining films at SXSW.
Screens Tuesday, March 17th at midnight at the Ritz, Wednesday, March 18th at midnight atthe South Lamar Drafthouse and then again at the same time and place on Friday, March 20th.
Theory of Obscurity: A Film About The Residents
What it is: A documentary about the forty year history of rock’s most mysterious group, Theory of Obscurity likely won’t reveal the identities of the eyeball masked avant rockers, but it should provide a fascinating glimpse at the bizarre history of these legends.
Why we’re excited: The Residents are one of the most fascinating groups in music history, and they have been pioneers of everything from music videos to mash-ups to video games. Even if the documentary is short on answers about who they really are, getting more of a peek behind the curtain at the band is more than worth it.
Screens Saturday, March 14th at 1:00 pm at Violet Crown, Thursday, March 19th at 4:45 pm at Stateside and Friday, March 20th at 1:30 pm at Marchesa.
What it is: A lost film of sorts, this 1982 work has been newly restored and presents the original vision of Neil Young (yes, that Neil Young), who brought together Dennis Hopper, DEVO, Dean Stockwell and others to depict the last day on earth for a small town living in the shadow of a nuclear power plant.
Why we’re excited: As a committed fan of The Forbidden Zone as well as all things DEVO, this film is like Christmas come early. The film has been difficult to see since the day it was released, but this new director’s cut promises to be the definitive experience. And while its artistic success might be questionable, it still serves as a rare look into the odder end of Neil Young’s ‘80s output as well as DEVO in their prime.
Screens Thurday, March 19th at the Paramount at 5:00 pm.
What it is: A New Zealand horror film that seems to carry on the proud tradition of Peter Jackson’s early works, specifically Braindead, Deathgasm has two clueless metal enthusiasts accidentally summoning demonic forces through a possessed piece of sheet music. So naturally they have to save the world from the evil beings they’ve welcomed into it.
Why we’re excited: Anyone who misses Peter Jackson’s goofy yet massively gory early work should be excited for this, and not just because it’s also got New Zealand roots. The trailer shows that the filmmakers are adept at making some grotesque gore but also maintaining the oddly goofy feel Jackson also brought to those early films. Plus, it has a literally killer soundtrack.
Screens Saturday, March 14th at 11:45 pm at the Ritz, Sunday, March 15th at 11:50 pm at the South Lamar Drafthouse and Friday, March 20th at 9:30 pm at the Ritz.
What it is: A documentary exploring the darker parts of the web, specifically the digital black markets springing up through the Silk Road and the epic crime saga of the Silk Road’s founder, Ross William Ulbricht.
Why we’re excited: Alex Winter has made a sort of second career as a web documentarian, with last year’s Downloaded chronicling the rise and fall of Napster, so he’s especially well suited to a documentary navigating this dark terrain. But as cyberterrorism and online privacy concerns loom large in the national consciousness, this documentary also stands out as being extraordinarily topical as well as dramatic, like some web version of The Godfather or The Departed.
Screens Sunday, March 15th at 6:15 pm at Vimeo Theater, Monday, March 16th at 5:00 pm at the Slaughter Drafthouse and Wednesday, March 18th at 11:00 am at the Stateside.
What it is: A sort of gender swapped take on A History of Violence, The Frontier stars Jocelin Donahue of House of the Devil and Insidious fame who ends up in a small desert town while on the run from the law. She is taken in by the proprietor of The Frontier, a lonesome motel, but as is usual with these kinds of stories, her past catches up with her.
Why we’re excited: The Frontier is already garnering some buzz, and Donahue is an actress who is worth keeping an eye on. These tense, stripped down films tend to be some of the better works at SXSW and while there isn’t a trailer to view or too much info on the film, the premise and the strength of the cast have us intrigued.
Screens Sunday, March 15th at 8:30 pm at the South Lamar Drafthouse, Tuesday, March 17th at 6:00 pm at Violet Crown and Wednesday, March 18th at 7:45 pm at the South Lamar Drafthouse.
What it is: Starring Al Pacino as AJ Manglehorn, a lonely small town locksmith, Manglehorn is a story of twilight years romance and cautiously mapping out a future.
Why we’re excited: That synopsis may not make Manglehorn seem all that notable, but that’s because David Gordon Green’s dramas kind of defy plotting. Last year’s Joe was an excellent and underrated work from the director that brought out Nicolas Cage’s best performance in years, and Manglehorn seems poised to do the same for Al Pacino, who has been in self-parody mode for far too long. A quiet, intimate film like this should serve as a welcome showcase for the quieter side of the actor’s range and if anyone can pull that out of him, it’s Green.
Screens Saturday, March 14th at 2:00 pm at the Paramount.
They Will Have to Kill Us First
What it is: A documentary examining the extreme lengths Mali musicians have to go through to pursue their art, They Will Have to Kill Us First is both a document of the toll of religious fanaticism in Mali, where Islamic fundamentalists have banned music altogether, and of the bonds of music.
Why we’re excited: For all the talk we hear about how Spotify and downloading are killing music, it’s often difficult to remember the revolutionary power music can have. They Will Have to Kill Us First is a reminder of the lengths some musicians have to go through just to be heard. The trailer is also hopeful, though, showing how many of these musicians have been able to create their greatest art and find their best collaborators as a result of the strife, and the documentary should also serve as a powerful showcase for their music.
Screens Monday, March 16th at 6:15 pm at the Stateside, Tuesday, March 17th at 4:30 pm at Marchesa and Friday, March 20th at 7:00 pm at Vimeo.
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
What it is: An innovative documentary basically telling Kurt Cobain’s story through his own words and images, as well as interviews with the important figures in his life, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck has already received a healthy amount of buzz, with some saying it is the definitive portrayal of the troubled musical legend.
Why we’re excited: The documentary is directed by Brett Morgen, who was also behind The Kid Stays in the Picture, another documentary focused on a larger than life figure that utilized interesting animation to tell its crazy story. Even two decades after his death, Cobain remains an incendiary and controversial figure, and while it’s unlikely that his messy life can ever be properly condensed into a feature length story, Morgen’s use of cut up techniques and abstract segments at least seems closer to the kind of storytelling Cobain himself would admire and respect.
Screens Wednesday, March 18th at 5:30 pm at the Paramount, Friday, March 20th at 6:45 pm at Marchesa and Saturday, March 21st at 11:00 am at Stateside.
Morgan Davis sells bootleg queso on the streets of Austin in order to fund Loser City. When he isn’t doing that, he plays drums for Denise and gets complimented and/or threatened by Austin’s musical community for stuff he writes at Ovrld, which he is the Managing Editor of.