Hold my calls, I’ll be in Austin. Yes, tomorrow marks the start of the 2015 SXSW Film Festival, one of the most purely enjoyable weeks of the movie year (and, no small side plus, a welcome blast of sunshine after a particularly miserable winter). With a remarkable 145 features in this year’s fest — from a record 2,385 submissions — there’s no way to even come close to seeing everything that looks interesting, or striking, or fun. But here are a few of the movies we’re looking forward to seeing, either in Austin or soon thereafter.
Jamie Babbit is one of those filmmakers who, by all rights, should be a household name by now; though she directed the terrific 1999 “gay cure” comedy But I’m a Cheerleader, she’s spent most of her subsequent career directing for television (and she’s no slouch there — her credits include Girls, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Bunheads, and 18 episodes of Gilmore Girls). Her latest concerns codependent sisters who work as hotel maids, with said sisters played by Judy Greer and Natasha Lyonne. And if that’s not enough to get you worked up, check out this supporting cast: Fred Armisen, Molly Shannon, Michael Hitchcock, Ron Livingston, Allison Tolman, and Aubrey Plaza.
Fresno isn’t Plaza’s only appearance at SXSW. In fact, she may have met her deadpan spirit animal, since she’s starring in the latest from Hal Hartley — the conclusion of the oddball, unlikely film trilogy he began with Henry Fool and Fay Grim. And if you’ve seen either of those films, you know what you’re in for here: absurdist action, sprung humor, and (best of all) Parker Posey.
Ever since Bridesmaids rocked SXSW 2011, igniting a buzz-wave that it rode all the way through the spring, the fest has carved out a niche as a testing ground for Apatow-produced and Apatow-related comedy. And thus, the filmmaker is bringing his latest picture — and his first collaboration with writer/star Amy Schumer — as a “work-in-progress” screening, well in advance of its summer release. Considering how much material Apatow shoots, and how much tinkering he does during editing and previews, there’s a decent chance the SXSW audience could see a very different version of this film than the one everyone else sees this summer.
Hello My Name Is Doris
Though a State alumni and one of the minds behind Wet Hot American Summer, Michael Showalter has only directed one previous feature: the ingenious and underrated romantic-comedy spin The Baxter. A full decade later, he’s back with his follow-up, in which a 60-year-old loner (Sally Field — way overdue for indie reinvention) goes to work at a Brooklyn clothing company and finds that, per the SXSW blurb, “her authentic retro style thrusts her into the spotlight of the local hipster social scene and she soon gets caught up in the world of chocolate bar haikus and rooftop knitting clubs.” Showalter’s got the right sensibility to skewer the hipster scene, and with Max Greenfield as Field’s romantic interest and a supporting cast that includes Stephen Root, Elizabeth Reaser, Wendi Mclendon-Covey, Tyne Daly, and the suddenly (thankfully) ubiquitous Natasha Lyonne, this one’s got real potential.
Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut was not exactly warmly received when it premiered at Cannes last year, and its SXSW programming is oddly evasive. He’s doing one of their “conversation” panels, but it’s scheduled for Friday afternoon, before the festival’s opening night. The film is only screening once — and that screening isn’t even at one of the premium venues. Those “oh yeah, sure, come to the festival, um, we’ll just put you over here” moves have, frankly, only got this viewer more interested in the picture in question; is it really the disaster it seems like, or merely a way-out oddity that nobody, from distributors on down, is quite sure how to deal with? Either way, Gosling will be in Austin, and he sure is dreamy.
The biggest surprise about this modern Western is that it’s the only movie at a high-profile film festival with James Franco in its cast. The draw is that it’s the latest from SXSW fave Robert Duvall — who not only stars but directs, his third time in the chair (after 1997’s Oscar-nominated The Apostle and the rather less enthusiastically received 2002 film Assassination Tango). And like fellow icons-of-a-certain age Clint Eastwood and Tommy Lee Jones, he tends to bring to filmmaking the no-nonsense style that makes his acting so effective, which has got us eager to see what his latest looks like.
GTFO: Get the F&#% Out
With its high stakes, cultural currency, and real-world tension, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we’re already getting our first #Gamergate documentary. Director Shannon Sun-Higginson takes a look at the recent call for, and rise in, diversity in the gaming industry and player community — and the scary backlash to that movement. There’s plenty to chew on here, and we’re sure that everyone involved will receive the film in the proper spirit of thoughtful conversation and spirited debate… hahaha I almost got through that with a straight face.
Reggie Watts is one of the names whose association with just about anything will make your film editor perk up a bit and presume that I should check that thing out, whatever it may be. He’s a supporting player — along with Das Racist’s Heems — in this intriguing fusion of sci-fi and rom-com, which imagines a world where your crushes can be (perhaps dangerously) brought to virtual life via “Augmented Reality glasses.” With its stark black-and-white photography, lo-fi feel, and love-triangle narrative, this could be the Pi/Jules and Jim mash-up we’ve all been waiting for.
Made in Japan
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering the concurrent music festival that you might’ve heard of, that SXSW Film boasts such a rousing slate of music-related documentaries in its “24 Beats Per Second” sidebar. And perhaps the most intriguing of those is this oddity from director Josh Bishop, profiling Tomi Fujiyama, the ﬁrst female Japanese country music star. She played the Grand Ole Opry all the way back in 1964; Bishop’s film shadows her and her husband as they trek across the US in the hopes of playing that gig one more time.
Breaking a Monster
Last summer, everyone went bananas for the story of Unlocking the Truth, the Brooklyn trio of black 12- and 13-year-old metal musicians whose viral performance video resulted in a $1.8 million deal with Sony. Here, director Luke Meyer tags along for the extraordinary journey of the “eighth grade metal band,” to see what happens after the hype fades — and these barely-teenagers have to deliver on it.