You won’t hear as much about it, what with the president showing up and the high-profile music shows and the tech people going insane, but there’s this whole film festival happening at SXSW, and it’s reliably fabulous. (And that’s not just because of the barbecue and breakfast tacos. Though they don’t hurt!) Looser than Sundance or Toronto, thanks in no small part to the generally genial vibe of the city – as well as the lack of press and industry screenings, meaning critics see every movie with an enthusiastic festival crowd – it’s become a more desirable debut spot for comedies, genre pieces, and daring indies. Here are a few of the movies we’re looking forward to most.
Everybody Wants Some!!
As 10 Cloverfield Lane pops up in theaters, another “spiritual sequel” unspools at SXSW: Richard Linklater’s freewheeling follow-up to Dazed and Confused, this time focusing on a group of college baseball players, circa early 1980s. Will they have to sign a no-drugs pledge? Will there be hazing? Do they have thoughts on Martha Washington and/or Gilligan’s Island? Will the ’80s turn out to be radical? We don’t yet know, but we do know this: when you read the title, it’s pretty much impossible not to hear David Lee Roth singing it in your head.
Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs, Chris Gethard, Kate Micucci, Tami Sagher, and Mike Birbiglia in “Don’t Think Twice.”
Don’t Think Twice
Sure, I’ve got some personal interest in this one: I did a day’s work as an extra on it last summer, an experience that credibly disputed the theories about a movie set being the most boring place on earth. But that was mostly because of who was there being funny: Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs, Chris Gethard, Tami Sagher, Kate Micucci, and writer/director Mike Birbiglia, crafting a follow-up to his wonderful Sleepwalk With Me set in New York’s improv comedy scene.
Since his modest but remarkable debut film Shotgun Stories back in 2007, writer/director Jeff Nichols has quietly become one of the most interesting voices in independent film, with each subsequent picture (Take Shelter in 2011, Mud the following year) increasing in ambition and power. His latest is a play for Spielberg-style sci-fi drama, with his regular leading man Michael Shannon joined by Kirsten Dunst, Joel Edgerton, and Adam Driver. Early buzz is off the charts; this could be the movie that finally makes this terrific filmmaker a brand name.
Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday
Thirty-one years after Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (and 27 after the less-discussed and rather less-beloved Big Top Pee-Wee), Paul Reubens brings his signature creation back to the big screen – well, briefly, as the film will debut on Netflix a scant few hours after its Austin premiere. But he’s put his legacy in good hands, with longtime fan Judd Apatow on board as producer, The Heart, She Holler helmer John Lee directing, and a supporting cast that includes Joe Manganiello, Alia Shawkat, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Stephanie Beatriz (whom you might not recognize, what with all the grinning).
Ethan Hawke in “In a Valley of Violence.”
In a Valley of Violence
The name Ti West inspires full-on awe among a certain kind of horror movie fan, those who’ve come to appreciate and love the slow-boil patience and classical aesthetic exhibited in his features The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers, as well as his explorations of found footage in The Sacrament and his segment of V/H/S. So the idea of him walking away from horror would be mildly upsetting – were he not doing so to try his hand at making a Western. And, bonus, increasingly reliable genre star Ethan Hawke is along for the ride.
Michael Peña and Alexander Skarsgård in “War on Everyone.”
War on Everyone
John Michael McDonagh’s work hasn’t quite achieved the cult success of brother Martin’s (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths). But he’s cutting a fascinating figure through the indie world – his first film, The Guard, turned the buddy movie on its head, and its follow-up Calvary was an unexpectedly serious examination of faith and forgiveness. His latest is a story of bad cops in the Southwest, featuring the enviable ensemble of Alexander Skarsgård, Michael Peña, Tessa Thompson, and Theo James; considering The Guard’s smart and far from simple take on the thin blue line, this could be a memorable (and timely) piece of work.
Burt Reynolds and Hal Needham in “The Bandit.”
SXSW is a desirable destination for movies about movies, and this one looks like a pip: director Jesse Moss (of the decidedly more serious The Overnighters and Full Battle Rattle) takes an affectionate look at the long friendship and professional partnership of superstar Burt Reynolds and stuntman-turned-director Hal Needham, who helmed films like Smokey and the Bandit that made Burt a superstar, and films like The Cannonball Run Part II that ended his reign.
If Tangerine garnered an inordinate amount of press thanks to its shot-on-an-iPhone-5s backstory, director Matthew Cherry’s latest does that movie one better: it was shot entirely on an iPhone 6s, and in 4K resolution, no less. And the story matches the style, spending one long New Year’s Eve alongside an Uber driver as he transports a steady stream of revelers.
Still image from “Sausage Party.”
Sausage Party / Keanu
Over the past few years, SXSW has made a fair amount of noise debuting semi-mainstream comedies, from 2012’s Bridesmaids through last year’s Trainwreck, Spy, and Get Hard. Bridesmaids and Trainwreck had the added draw (and wiggle room) of debuting as “works-in-progress,” like a big, rowdy preview screening for a particularly interested audience, and two big 2016 comedies debut this year under that designation. Sausage Party was a late addition to the slate, a Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg-hatched animated comedy about “one sausage’s quest to discover the truth about his existence,” and yes, they thought it up when they were high; pals James Franco, Jonah Hill, Paul Rudd, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, and Danny McBride are among the vast voice cast. Keanu came into the festival even later, a special after-midnight preview of the movie that will hopefully make Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele into an honest to God big-screen comedy team.