A confession: nothing against Sundance or any of our other regulars, but SXSW is probably our favorite film festival to attend. The warm weather is a nice respite from late-winter NYC, there’s a relaxed and chatty vibe in the lines, and Tex-Mex and BBQ are always within reach. Oh, and the movies are great. If you’re headed down to Austin, we’ve got plenty of cool events for you to check out. And for those of you who plan to spend your days shotgunning as many movies as possible (as your film editor will), here are a few of the flicks we’re eager to take in.
Some filmmakers would take a nice long break after making a movie on the scale and budget of The Avengers. Joss Whedon, on the other hand, went off and made another movie. He and his wife decided to forgo their planned vacation to make an adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic comedy, casting their friends and shooting in their home. “It was not necessarily the best idea for a vacation,” he said at SXSW last year, “except I had a better time than I’ve ever had on any vacation or possibly in my life.”
We were as skeptical as anyone when we started hearing about this surely unnecessary remake of Sam Raimi’s lo-fi horror classic. And then we got a look at those trailers. Holy cow. Director Fede Alvarez has, as promised, jettisoned the jokey tone of Raimi’s sequels and focused instead on the pure horror angle, and all we can say is, if the movie can sustain a tone half as creepy as its trailer, we’re not sure we’ve got the nerves for it.
Director Joe Swanberg (LOL, Hannah Takes the Stairs) gets props for productivity if nothing else; he has credit as either sole or co-director on six different 2011 films, for example. But he’s also a smart and engaging filmmaker with a real ear for 21st-century dialogue and interactions, and Drinking Buddies marks his first shot at crossover recognition, thanks to its impressive cast (Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, and Ron Livingston) and relatable premise.
Neil LaBute (In the Company of Men, Nurse Betty) was carving out a pretty interesting career before he hopped the train to Cage Crazytown, and it’s taken him a while to recover. But this adaptation of his play features another ensemble of our favorite people (Zoe Kazan, Emily Watson, Jennifer Morrison, Adam Brody, and Kristen Bell, who we’re always hoping will be in good movies). Intriguingly, it’s helmed not by the writer, but by Party Girl director Daisy von Scherler Mayer, so it should be interesting to see what happens to the words of LaBute (often accused of misogynistic writing) when viewed through the prism of a female filmmaker.
Writer/director Dan Mazer, whose previous credits are mostly collaborations with Sacha Baron Cohen, goes (somewhat) less confrontational with this look at a handful of couples in their first year of marriage. Another good cast — Rose Byrne, Anna Faris, Simon Baker, Minnie Driver, and Stephen Merchant — and our “trials and tribulations of young love at SXSW” trilogy will be complete.
Few figures in modern film hold the fascination and mystique of Harry Dean Stanton, the prolific (184 credits and counting) character actor for whom Roger Ebert famously coined the “Stanton-Walsh Rule” (“No movie featuring either Harry Dean Stanton or M. Emmet Walsh in a supporting role can be altogether bad”). Director Sophe Huber’s intimate documentary profiles the 86-year-old legend, both as an actor and musician, via clips and interviews with his collaborators (including David Lynch, Wim Wenders, and Sam Shepard) and the man himself.
Another documentary profile of one of our favorite cult film figures — this time the late Harris Glenn Milstead, aka Divine, the muse of John Waters and seminal figure in 1970s underground cinema. Divine’s story is fascinating, and we have yet to see a documentary that wasn’t made exponentially better by copious amounts of John Waters talking.
If you haven’t noticed, SXSW is particularly heavy on movies about movies this year — a smart play, considering the festival audience’s natural interest in the subject. We’re not sure how much crossover appeal Josh Johnson’s valentine to the golden age of the video store holds, but for those of us who came up in that era, good gravy does it look like a blast.
Movie geeks aren’t getting the run of the joint, though; the fest is loaded with music documentaries we’re drooling over (including Muscle Shoals, Finding the Funk, Born in Chicago, and not one, but two Green Day docs). Chief among them is Sini Anderson’s The Punk Singer, an up-close-and-personal look at Bikini Kill/Le Tigre lead singer and feminist icon Kathleen Hanna, from punk stardom to her recent hiatus from the spotlight.
This Beatles fan thought he knew pretty much all there was to know about the Fab Four, but I’m unfamiliar with the specifics of Freda Kelly, the early fan who became their secretary and friend for the duration of the band’s run. She hasn’t told her story before, but she tells it here to director Ryan White in this documentary from executive producer Jeffrey Blitz (Spellbound).
Those are the movies we’re looking forward to at SXSW — what about you?