The 24th SXSW Film Festival begins its run tomorrow and the Austin-based fest boasts a lineup of 125 feature films including a handful of Sundance and Toronto Film Festival favorites (some of which we have seen) such as The Big Sick, Patti Cake$, Lemon, The Hero, Walking Out, Free Fire, Paris Can Wait, and more. But the premiere slate for SXSW is bubbling over with 85 World Premieres including the opening night film, Terrence Malick’s Song to Song as well as Edgar Wright’s highly anticipated Baby Driver. Still, there’s a whole lot to sort through. That’s why the Tracking Board has done the work for you and created a list of films and programs that should be on your must-see list if you’re headed to Austin for the fest.
It’s been a while since we have seen a film from Edgar Wright — four years to be exact. His last film, The World’s End brought us on a pub crawl with aliens and frequent collaborators Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. For Baby Driver, it seems like a different direction for the wildly imaginative director — meaning, Pegg and Frost aren’t in it (not that we know of). Nonetheless, the flick is stacked with an all-star cast including Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, and Ansel Elgort as the titular character, a young getaway driver who is convinced to work for a crime boss. He then must face the music after a doomed heist threatens his life, love, and freedom. With Wright’s brand of storytelling, this title is definitely at the top of our list.
Admittedly, Malick films are an acquired taste and there is a certain sense of duty for cinephiles to watch his work when it comes out. His films are certainly picturesque and without a doubt, when you’re watching a Malick film, you know it’s a Malick film. With his latest, Song For Song, it seems like a continuation of his previous Knight of Cups, but considering it’s a film about the Austin music scene and it’s premiering at one of the biggest film/music festivals in the world, the stars may align and the pic may be one of his best works to date.
Any time Charlize Theron steps into a role of a badass, you better believe people will drop what they’re doing and rush to the theater (case in point: Mad Max: Fury Road, Snow White and the Huntsman, and Young Adult — yes, that last one counts). As a last-minute addition to SXSW’s lineup, Atomic Blonde has the Oscar winner playing MI6’s most lethal assassin as she tries to stay alive on an impossible mission. With Deadpool 2 director David Leitch helming, Atomic Blonde fills SXSW’s action-thriller requirement.
Closing out this year’s SXSW is Daniel Espinosa’s Life starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, and Ryan Reynolds. The three A-listers fulfill their Hollywood “acting in an outerspace” requirement as they star as a team of scientists aboard the International Space Station whose mission of discovery takes a turn when they find a mysterious life form on Mars that poses a threat to them and all life on Earth. Checks all the boxes of a top-notch sci-fi thriller.
A couple of fun facts about Fits and Starts director/writer Laura Terruso: she directed the short film that inspired last year’s indie hit Hello, My Name is Doris (which she produced) and directed a film titled The Foxy Merkins. The combo of the two is certainly enough to pique your interest for her latest which stars stand up comedian Wyatt Cenac as a struggling writer who can’t escape his wife’s literary success.
Two X-universe actresses, Alexandra Shipp (X-Men: Apocalypse) and Brianna Hildebrand (Deadpool) star in Tyler MacIntyre’s twist on the slasher genre about two budding teenage sociopaths who use their online show about real-life tragedies to send their small midwestern town into a frenzy, cementing their legacy as modern horror legends. It’s so twisted that we wouldn’t be surprised if it happened in real life.
Upon researching the work of director Joe Lynch and writer Matias Caruso, Mayhem is a Grade A movie with a B-movie sheen that is right up their alley. Starring The Walking Dead‘s Steven Yeun and Aussie actress Samara Weaving, Mayhen is in the same vein as The Belko Experiement and follows attorney Derek Sho who is forced to literally fight for his job and life after being framed for corporate espionage on the same day that a mysterious virus is unleashed on his company.
The adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s award-winning novel is probably one of the most-anticipated series among Gaiman-o-philes. With super-producer Bryan Fuller as the showrunner and David Slade in the director’s chair, it seems like a likely success even if you have no idea what this novel is about. But for those of you who don’t, the series follows Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) and Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) in a magical world where a battle is brewing between the Old Gods and the New Gods.
Mumblecore pioneer Joe Swanberg teams with frequent collaborator Jake Johnson for Win it All, which follows a small time Chicago gambler who agrees to watch a duffel bag for an acquaintance who is heading to prison. When he finds out that there is a bunch of cash in the bag, he makes a plan to win even bigger despite the advice from his gambling sponsor. A SXSW film fest would not be complete without a Swanberg flick.
The TV adaptation of Justin Simien’s indie hit Dear White People is already causing a stir at Netflix — which means that it is already doing its job without having even premiered. The satirical take on a “post-racial” America at a fictitious university comes to a small screen with a bevvy of young talent and with Simien at the helm. This series will definitely have some bite in today’s social climate and I, for one, can’t wait to eat it up.
I Love Bekka & Lucy is the first digital series to ever be featured in the episodic category at SXSW — so it’s kind of a big deal. Written and directed by Rachael Holde, the series stars a diverse cast of talent including Jessica Parker Kennedy (Black Sails), Tanisha Long (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), Christopher Nicholas Smith (Paranormal Activity 3), and Alexis Denisof (How I Met Your Mother). The comedy follows the titular best friends and their lives in L.A.’s neighborhood Eagle Rock. They live together, keep to themselves while tending to their backyard chickens, but things change when a new neighbor moves in next door and Lucy’s boyfriend unexpectedly proposes. Sounds kind of like Girls but in L.A…and with more color.
Directing/screenwriting duo Ian and Eshom Nelms have assembled an impressive A-list acting team including John Hawkes, Anthony Anderson, Octavia Spencer, and Robert Forster for a crime thriller about an alcoholic ex-cop that finds the body of a young woman and, in an act of self-redemption, becomes hellbent on finding the killer. While doing so, he puts his family in danger. If the likes of Hawkes and Spencer are working with these up and coming directors, they have to be doing something right…right?
If a film is categorized under the “Visions” section at SXSW, it is more than likely a very conceptual movie. In other words, it might be weird. That doesn’t seem far off base for director Bob Byington and writer Onur Tukel whose film Infinity Baby is described as a “comedy about babies that don’t age.” It already sounds oddly hilarious but with a cast that includes Kieran Culkin, Nick Offerman, Martin Starr, Megan Mullaly, Noel Wells, and Stephen Root, I’m intrigued and on board.
Remember when Hunger Games made archery popular for a hot minute? Well, get ready for a resurgence of the bow and arrow —— but with a cool juvenile correctional facility twist! From director Valerie Weiss and screenwriter Casey Schroen, The Archer, as the title suggests, has a whole lot of archery fun for the audience as it follows an archery champ who escapes a corrupt juvenile correctional facility with a fellow inamte. But hot on their heels is a desperate warden who wants to hunt them down so that his dark secrets stay hidden.
Breaking Bad‘s Giancarlo Esposito posts up in the director’s chair for an unsettling drama starring himself, Josh Duhamel, Famke Janssen and James Franco. The film is an examination of the obsession with reality TV, public arguments, and scandals via a disturbing hit game show that has its contestants ending their lives for the public’s enjoyment. Based on our society’s trajectory, it sounds about right.
For his second feature director/writer Jared Moshé continues his frontier storytelling with an aging, crotchety 63-year-old sidekick Lefty Brown (Bill Pullman) who has been ridden with Eddie Johnson (Peter Fonda) his entire life. But when Eddie is killed, Lefty is forced to step out of the role of sidekick and into the role as frontman as he must confront the ugly realities of frontier justice.
Tommy O’Haver has an affection for telling true crime stories that don’t have a very happy ending. Then again, he also directed Ella Enchanted, so I don’t know what to think of that. In any case, he helmed An American Crime, which followed the true story of a housewife who kept her daughter locked in a basement. He continues that sort of sentiment with Most Hated Woman in America starring the acting juggernaut Melissa Leo as the real-life Madeline Murray O’Hair, who was known as an outspoken atheist. The film follows her rise in the ranks as an atheist activist and her untimely murder.
Dubbed as one of the worst films in cinematic films in history, The Room has become a cult classic because it is that bad. So bad that James Franco decided to assemble an all-star cast to make a comedy based on the story of the making of this God awful film. It sounds like a better experience than actually watching The Room.
Director Aaron Katz goes from the brotherly comedy of his indie hit Land Ho! to a Hollywood thriller with Gemni. Following the story of a personal assistant and her Hollywood starlet boss, the film follows how their relationship is tested after a brutal crime. Mozart in the Jungle‘s Lola Kirke stars alongside Zoe Kravitz and John Cho in this story about a personal assistant/celebrity story that probably would be frightening without the brutal crime element.
Noël Wells is probably best known as Rachel, Aziz Ansari’s girlfriend on Master of None. For Mr. Roosevelt she not only stars, but also wrote and directed it. As her debut feature, the film tells the story of a struggling LA-based comedian who returns to Austin when a loved one falls sick. Low on funds, she ends up staying with her ex and his intimidating new girlfriend. This proves to be very self-reflective, yet extremely awkward as she tries to shut the door on her past.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine actress Stephanie Beatriz takes a dramatic turn in The Light of the Moon where she plays a successful architect who gets sexually assaulted and then keeps it a secret from her long-time boyfriend. As she tries to get back to a normal life, things get complicated and her relationships begins to crack as she represses her secret. Sounds like a game-changing role for Beatriz.
There’s nothing that pumps suspense through your veins like a good ol’ fashioned suburban thriller set in the ’80s. In Ben Young’s Hounds of Love, a 17-year-old is randomly abducted from the streets of suburbia by a couple. When she finds out that the couple is disturbed and unhinged she attempts to get in between them in order to survive.
Director Luke Korem follows the life of 62-year-old Richard Turner, one of the world’s greatest card magicians — and he’s blind. The documentary puts a spotlight on Turner, his troubled childhood, which is when he began losing his vision. As a magician, his blindness may be seen as a weakness, but it may be his biggest strength. So basically he’s doing magic without sight, making him twice as talented as any other magician out there.
Hot on the heels of 13th, Jairus McLearly’s documentary looks at the country’s prison system from a different, more intimate
angle. Set inside a single room in Folsom Prison in Northern California, The Work follows three men from outside the prison, as they participate in a four-day group therapy retreat with level-four convicts. Over the course of the retreat, each man reveals in-depth details about their past. The raw and revealing process that the incarcerated men undertake exceeds the expectations of the free men, ripping them out of their comfort zones and forcing them to see themselves and the prisoners in unexpected ways. It definitely changes the perspective on how the public approaches inmates and rehabilitiation.
With shows like Louie and HBO’s Crashing, the world of stand-up comedy seems to be going through a renaissance on television. With the Jim Carrey-produced Showtime series I’m Dying Up Here, we are transported to the ’70s, a very different time of stand-up comedy. Starring Melissa Leo, Ari Graynor, Michael Angarano, and Clark Duke, the series digs deep into the era of L.A. stand-up where inspired and damaged psyches are the foundation of a business that makes audiences laugh.
Cheap Thrills Director Evan Katz continues his knack for dark comedy with Small Crimes starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Jacki Weaver, and Robert Forster. The tale follows a disgraced ex-cop who was recently let out of prison after a six-month sentence for attempted murder. Looking to get some redemption, he returns home only to find out that he is still stuck in the mess he left behind.
Created by MADtv alum Michael McDonald and Ben Falcone, Nobodies is cut from the same comedy cloth as Mike Birbiglia’s Don’t Think Twice. The TV Land series is inspired by the real lives of Hugh Davidson, Larry Dorf, and Rachel Ramras (who also star in the show), who watched as their friends from The Groundlings broke into the business and starred in blockbuster comedies and win Oscars. All the while, they were left behind waiting for their big break. It may sound way too familiar for many, which is why it sounds brilliant.
Dino-Ray Ramos | Staff Writer