Confession: though I love Sundance and know it’s the preeminent domestic film festival, etc., my heart belongs to SXSW. It’s a warmer (literally — Texas in March is immeasurably more pleasant than Utah in January), friendlier, more relaxed and enjoyable fest, and the food doesn’t even compare. But that’s not what we’re there for, of course; what matters is the movies, and as usual, this year’s SXSW Film Festival offers a wide variety of studio fare, thoughtful indies, gutsy genre pics, and general weirdness. Here are just a few of their selections that you’ll be hearing more about in the weeks and months to come:
Marshmallows unite! A decade after its TV debut and seven years after it was unceremoniously yanked by those heartless bastards at “The CW” (like that’s even a thing), the Kickstarter campaign heard ‘round the world yields the cinematic follow-up its fans were literally willing to pay in advance for. Expect either breathless hyperbole or Arrested Development-style disappointment to hit your Twitter feed around 5pm CST on Saturday, but luckily, you won’t have to wait long to judge for yourself; the movie hits select theaters and digital platforms one week from today.
As an actor and filmmaker, Jon Favreau started out small. His breakthrough film Swingers, which he wrote and starred in, cost $200,000 — in other words, about 1/800th of the cost of Cowboys & Aliens, his last directorial effort, which flopped back in 2011. So, like so many have before him, Favreau is going Back To His Roots for his latest effort, a small-scale comedy/drama about, significantly enough, an artist (this time a chef) who goes back to his roots (a food truck) “in an effort to reclaim his creative promise.” Chef is the opening night movie, so we’ll see if either Favreau or his protagonist manage to pull that off.
The Dance of Reality
Alejando Jodorowsky was the toast of the ‘70s midnight-movie circuit, thanks to his trippy, disturbing, and brilliant head favorite El Topo (and, to a lesser degree, its follow-up The Holy Mountain). He hasn’t directed a movie in nearly a quarter of a century, since 1990’s compromised The Rainbow Thief, but he’s having a hell of a spring; Jodorowsky Dune, the acclaimed documentary about his aborted (and insane-sounding) attempt to adapt Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic, hits theaters this month, and this surreal, autobiographical portrait (in which Jodorowsky both directs and co-stars) follows suit in May. In addition to presenting its SXSW screening, Jodorowsky will also headline one of the festival’s “Conversation” events, which should be… interesting.
This dark comedy from director Joel Potrykus concerns a deadbeat scam artist on a rampage in Detroit (and I’m quoting from the press release here) “armed with nothing but a pocket full of bogus checks, a grotesquely modified Nintendo Power Glove and a bad temper.” Buzzard makes its premiere at SXSW before playing the New Directors/New Films Festival in NYC and hitting theaters later in the year via Oscilloscope Pictures.
One of the buzziest movies of this year’s Sundance fest pops up as part of SXSW’s “Festival Favorites” line-up — a nice bit of circularity, since the SXSW music fest features prominently in the film. It’s the story of a band of eccentric musicians, featuring Scoot McNairy, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Michael Fassbender with a giant papier-mâché mask over his head. (Yes, seriously.)
The once-promising director David Gordon Green disappeared into something of a rabbit hole a few years back, moving from elegiac indie portraits to the likes of Your Highness and The Sitter. Nicolas Cage made a similar transition years ago, basically turning into a parody of himself. But Green started down the road to rehabilitation with last year’s well-received Sundance/SXSW selection Prince Avalanche, so maybe this collaboration will bring out the best in these two talented but, um, problematic artists.
Jimi: All Is By My Side
What do you do when you want to make a Jimi Hendrix movie but you can’t get access to any of his classic songs? Easy — you make an origin story, set during his pre-fame period as a struggling unknown in New York and London. The idea of a Hendrix biopic with no Hendrix songs certainly sounds like a recipe for disaster, but the pedigree here is strong: the film is written and directed by John Ridley, who just picked up an Oscar for his 12 Years a Slave screenplay, and the role of Mr. Hendrix is being filled by another multi-talented, outsized music personality: Andre Benjamin of Outkast.
This comedy is already being written off in some quarters as yet another Girls variation — and, in all fairness, it does concern a pair of young female Brooklynites who are (quoting from the press release again) “directionless, privileged, and just a tiny bit damaged.” But the wild card here is co-star Bridey Elliot, yet another member of the Elliot Family Comedy Dynasty (her father is Get a Life and Late Night with David Letterman icon Chris, and her sister is SNL’s Abby), whose Funny or Die presence reveals yet another weird and refreshing comic talent.
The Heart Machine
Last year’s SXSW sensation, winning both the Audience and Grand Jury prizes, was Dustin Cretton’s moving Short Term 12; this year, Short Term co-star John Gallagher Jr. (also familiar from The Newsroom) returns with this intriguing story of long-distance romance, and its complications in the digital age.
Those of us who first spotted him on Felicity (no shame, we know who we are) have been waiting a decade and a half now for Michael Peña to become a star — and it doesn’t seem like it should have taken this long, considering how great he’s been in projects as varied as End of Watch, Observe and Report, World Trade Center, and Everything Must Go. Hopefully that will change with the help of this acclaimed biographical portrait of the labor organizer and civil rights activist from actor-turned-director Diego Luna (Y Tu Mama Tambien).