As this piece is published, your humble correspondent is en route to Austin, Texas for the 33rd annual SXSW Conference and Festivals – specifically, the 26th edition of the SXSW Film Festival, which has always been one of my favorite places to see exciting new genre movies, documentaries, and crowd-pleasers. SXSW stands out on the festival circuit in one major way: while most film fests offer visiting critics the opportunity to see their movies at press and industry-only screenings, SXSW insists that we see all the movies with the rest of the festival-goers. And that spirit of unity and camaraderie – and the rowdy atmosphere when one is really going over – is part of what makes this festival such a pleasure to attend and cover.
This year’s slate is full of exciting premieres and chances to check out faves from the festival circuit; here are a few I can’t wait to see.
This year’s Opening Night selection is one of the most feverishly anticipated pictures of the year: writer/director Jordan Peele’s follow-up to his Academy Award-winning, commercially and culturally groundbreaking hit Get Out . Based on its trailer, this one looks like a sharp-edged examination of black identity in the Trump era. Or it could just be a really freaky thriller. That’s fine too! Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, and Tim Heidecker star.
What We Do in the Shadows
Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s documentary-style vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows is unquestionably one of the funniest movies of the decade, and it seems like we’ve been waiting forever for more; we first got word of a film sequel back in 2015, and then a spin-off series the following year. But we now have a full-fledge television version, set in Staten Island but continuing the story of vampire roommates; the SXSW event will screen episodes of the series followed by a Q&A with the cast and crew, including Waititi and Clement.
The Beach Bum
Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers was the must-see movie of SXSW 2013, but he’s only directed a couple of music videos since then (though he’s done a fair amount of acting, including appearances in David Gordon Green’s Manglehorn and on the television adaptation of The Girlfriend Experience). The Beach Bum is, by all accounts, very much in the Spring Breakers spirit, and honestly, the cast and character list tells you about all you need to know: Matthew McConaughey stars as “Moondog,” with Snoop Dogg as “Lingerie,” Isla Fisher as “Minnie,” Martin Lawrence as “Captain Wack,” and Jimmy Buffett as himself.
Sasheer Zamata is one of the most talented members of the current Saturday Night Live ensemble, but she hasn’t been terribly well-served by movies thus far – her most noteworthy appearance was a wasted turn in the unfortunate I Feel Pretty . That will hopefully change in the hands of Stella Meghie, whose Jean of the Jonses was one of the highlights of SXSW 2016. Her latest casts Zamata as a single stand-up whose attempt to engage in a grown-up, friendly weekend visit with an ex goes very, very wrong.
Olivia Wilde turned in one of the best performances of last year’s SXSW with A Vigilante (and, come to think of it, of SXSW 2013 in Drinking Buddies). So it seems like the right place to debut her first feature as a writer/director, a wild high-school comedy from Gloria Sanchez Productions, the female-friendly offshoot of Adam McKay and Will Ferrell’s Gary Sanchez shingle. And she’s got a cast to die for, including Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams, Billie Lourd, Jason Sudeikis, Lisa Kudrow, and Will Forte.
The Day Shall Come
Director Chris Morris’s Four Lions, which was the closing night selection for SXSW 2010, is a miracle of a movie, approaching (literally) dead-serious subject matter with wit, intelligence, and absurdity. His long-awaited follow-up sounds much in the same mold, a multi-character, multi-story exploration of “the dark farce at the heart of the homeland security project.” The cast includes Marchánt Davis, Anna Kendrick, Danielle Brooks, Denis O’Hare, and Jim Gaffigan.
This winter’s CAM offered up a fascinating (and, unsurprisingly, voyeuristic) examination of the world of “cam girls” and online sex workers – fertile territory that looks to be further harvested by writer/director Numa Perrier. She tells the story of Tiffany (Tiffany Tenille), whose older sister introduces her to the world of online sex work – which soon becomes both a source of much-needed revenue and escape, but also a complication in their sibling relationship.
Sword of Trust
We’ve been singing the praisesof Lynn Shelton for years now, as she’s turned out a steady stream of engaging and personal comedy/dramas, including Your Sister’s Sister, Laggies, and Humpday. Between those features, she’s kept busy with lots of television work, including Marc Maron’s 2017 Netflix special Too Real and episodes of his series Maron and GLOW. So it was probably just a matter of time before they made a movie together, and this one finds the WTF host as a cranky pawnshop owner who finds himself immersed in the world of Civil War conspiracy theories when two women (Jillian Bell and Michaela Watkins) try to sell him an antique sword from the war.
When Austin’s own Robert Rodriguez burst onto the indie scene back in 1992 with El Mariachi, his backstory was as compelling as his movie: he financed the $7,000 action picture by serving as a “lab rat” for a month-long medical study. Now he’s come full circle; his latest feature, Red 11, concerns a college kid who undergoes a medical study to make a quick seven grand, though his adventure takes a more fantastical turn than Rodriguez’s. And, in another wink, the director made Red 11 for $7,000, albeit with much more advanced tools than he had in the early ‘90s; before the movie’s premiere at SXSW, he’ll conduct a live “Robert Rodriguez Film School” (longer than the five-minute versions that fans know from the special features of his DVDs) to explain how to do it.
SXSW has a long history of debuting mainstream comedies as “works in progress” – not official premieres, mind you, but the movies are usually basically done (usually) and give their studios the chance to get some early buzz going. This year’s entry in this tradition (which includes Bridesmaids, Knocked Up, The Disaster Artist, Neighbors, Trainwreck, Spy, and, um, Get Hard) sounds like something of a comic riff on Collateral, with Kumail Nanjiani as an Uber driver whose passenger (Dave Bautista) is a cop in pursuit of a killer.
We’ll have coverage from Austin and a wrap-up after, and you can keep up with yours truly during the festival on Twitter.