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22nd of March 2018


20 Movies We Can't Wait to See at SXSW 2018

Has the SXSW Film Festival really been around for 25 years? It feels like just yesterday that this addendum to the venerable Austin, Texas music gathering (which kicks off March 9th) began programming scrappy microbudget indies and a multitude of rock docs for curious visitors. Now, of course, this cinematic offshoot of what's become a multi-tentacled beast filled with comedy shows, TV-show previews, panels and powwows on bleeding-edge tech, gaming demos, guest speakers and oh-so-much more – a veritable hipster one-stop shop, this – has carved out a nice niche for itself in the film-fest world. Yes, you still get to see some big-ticket items (The Disaster Artist premiered here last year). But you go for a peek at the shape of things to come. This was the festival that had first shown a spotlight on Lena Dunham and Barry Jenkins and It Comes at Night's Trey Edward Shults. The future may be lurking in its eclectic lineup.

Related Neil Young, Daryl Hannah Western Movie to Premiere at SXSW

'Paradox,' directed by Hannah, stars Young, Willie Nelson and sons Micah, Lukas

And this year's programming once again presents a hodge-podge of movies that run the gamut from marquee-name Hollywood movies (Paramount's spring thriller A Quiet Place starring Emily Blunt is the opening-night selection) to mash notes from the digital underground, music docs on Southern rockers and free-jazz legends and a Mississippi native named Elvis, the usual midnight-movie psychotronica and a whole lot of beautifully unclassifiable missives from the margins. And should you somehow think, well, this all sounds so conventional – there's also a futuristic, free-form frontier tone poem from Neil Young and Daryl Hannah. Here are 20 films we've singled out from SXSW's everything-under-the-Lone-Star-sun roster. Keep Austin weird. And keep this film festival even weirder.

'Ali & Cavett: The Tale of the Tapes'

Once upon a time, late-night was more than just children's birthday games and political-screed monologues – they also featured long, intelligent conversations with the figures of the day. And few mano a mano chats were more reliable than Muhammad Ali's regular appearances opposite Dick Cavett. This doc looks back at how the old-school talk-show format and the friendship between these men didn't just make for great TV; it also brought out the best in both of these hyperverbal, media-savvy celebrities, especially when Cavett questioned the champ's religious and political convictions and Ali took the opportunity to take white America to task. 

'Alt-Right: Age of Rage'

Documentarian Adam Bhala Lough (The New Radical, that great Lil Wayne doc The Carter) embedded himself with both antifa members and several luminaries of the "alt-right" – that rancid, P.R.-friendly euphemism used to describe white supremacists, neo-Nazis and other racist rat-bastard scumbags – to trace the rise of both factions during the Trump era. In particular, he focuses on Daryle Lamont Jenkins, a leading anti-fascist activist who's tracking efforts predate our current nightmarish moment; Richard Spencer, he of getting-punched-in-the-face fame; and the lead-up to last year's showdown in Charlottesville, Virginia, that ended in chaos and tragedy.

Back to Top 'The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned From a Mythical Man'

You never know when the Zen prankster we mere mortals call Bill Murray may show up – in the left-fielder position during your softball game, crooning during your late-night karaoke sessions, crashing your bachelor party with some sage advice, etc. (Whole books have been written about this phenomenon!) Documentarian Tommy Avallone is determined to get to the bottom of the how, when and why of it all – while first-person docs tend to give us strained muscles due to chronic eyerolls, we're willing to sit through an endless amount of self-indulgence to watch footage of His Murrayness turning mundane events into bona fide happenings.

Back to Top 'Brothers' Nest'

Two men ride down a country road on bikes. They approach a ranch-style house that, frankly, could use some work. They're brothers, and are about to commit a crime – one which is very personal in nature. And like so many best-laid plans, their scheme is about to go seriously awry. Australian actor-director Clayton Jacobson and his sibling Shane Jacobson take a pulpy story of family, memories and murder and craft a funny, messed-up and moving tale that's part Greek tragedy, part character-driven theater piece. This could (and should) be the sleeper hit of the fest.

Back to Top 'Elvis Presley: The Searcher'

Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has re-entered the building, courtesy of this two-part, three-hour doc on the King that spans from Sun Records session-ing to mega-stardom to His Majesty shuffling off this mortal coil. Everyone from Tom Petty to Bruce Springsteen to Presley's widow Priscilla weighs in on what promises to be a portrait of both the rock icon and the man (ex-Rolling Stone contributor Alan Light wrote the doc's script), with more mouth-watering performance footage than you could swing your censored-by-CBS pelvis at. We plan on wearing our patented '68 Special black-leather suit to the premiere.

Back to Top 'Family'

Sure, Kate (Orange Is the New Black's Taylor Schilling) isn't crazy about kids. But she owes her brother a favor, which is why this socially awkward workaholic finds herself playing babysitter to her prepubescent niece (Bryn Vale). Then out of the blue, the kid runs away ... to become a juggalo. Stellar comics like Kate McKinnon, Atlanta's Brian Tyree Henry and Veep's Matt Walsh costar, but to be perfectly honest, they kind of had us "at runs away to become a juggalo."

Back to Top 'Friday's Child'

Ah yes, another one of those old, stalwart young-man-on-the-verge-who's-gotta-make-a-choice dramas – only this one has a few extra things to recommend it. For starters, it has Tye Sheridan, the promising actor from The Tree of Life, Mud and the soon-to-be-released Ready Player One, playing the film's conflicted twentysomething who may or may not have committed a crime out of desperation. (Three Billboards/Get Out's Caleb Landry Jones plays his morally dubious, somewhat sleazy buddy, because of course he does!) It also has Imogen Poots and Jeffrey Wright as a love interest and a police detective, respectively, which are always good things. And it's written and directed by A.J. Edwards, a filmmaker who's mastered the Tex-istentialism of his mentor/collaborator Terrence Malick to a tee. We have a good feeling about this one.

Back to Top 'Galveston'

Speaking of Lone Star loners and pulpy criminal endeavors: How about an indie involving a professional killer (Ben Foster, who tends to excel at charming psychotics; see Hell or High Water) and a call girl (Elle Fanning), both on the run and ending up in the title's Texas town? And their past is about to catch up with them, in a major – and we assume fairly violent – way? It's based on the novel by True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto; even more tantalizing is the fact that this adaptation was written and directed by Melanie Laurent, the French actress (she was Shosanna in Inglorious Basterds) who's slowly been making a name for herself as a formidable filmmaker. We're in.

Back to Top 'The Gospel of Eureka'

Go to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and you'll see plenty of evangelical Christians. You'll also find a large drag-queen and LBGTQ presence – along with, per the fest's programming note, "gospel drag shows and passion plays" designed to spread the good word about tolerance. Narrated by Justin Vivian Bond, a.k.a. one half of the legendary cabaret duo Kiki & Herb, this doc on what we can assume is both a culture clash and the ultimate testament to we-are-family values.

Back to Top 'If I Leave Here Tomorrow: A Film About Lynyrd Skynyrd'

Say the words "Southern rock," and chances are good you hear the three-guitar attack and Ronnie Van Zant's voice; next to the Allman Brothers, no other band better personified that Seventies strain of below-the-Mason-Dixon boogie than Lynyrd Skynyrd. Veteran music-documentarian Stephen Kijak (Stones in Exile, Scott Walker: 30 Century Man) takes on the legend and legacy of the group, detailing everything from their first demos to the death of Van Zant and others in a fatal 1977 plane crash. There's concert footage, wild-time anecdotes (those boys could hellraise with the best of them), some ambivalence about how the star-and-bars became associated with them – and a harrowing blow-by-blow account of the accident from surviving members. P.S.: The first person to yell "Play Freebird!" at a screening will get a beer poured on his or her head.

Back to Top 'The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter'

Danny McBride and longtime collaborator Jody Hill enlist Josh Brolin into their particular brand of Southern-fried, gonzo-dude lunacy, with the Sicario star playing a hunter named Buck Ferguson (!) who's renowned for turning his popular how-to videos into a mini-empire. So, naturally, what better way for Buck to bond with his preteen son than to take the kid on an adventure in the Great Outdoors, complete with cameraman (McBride) in tow? Why, no, things don't go as planned and, yes, some of these characters do act like idiots! 

Back to Top 'Milford Graves Full Mantis'

There would be no point in trying to make a straightforward portrait on drummer Milford Graves – this free-jazz musician who's played with Bill Frisell, Albert Ayler, Sonny Sharrock and John Zorn, among others, is one of those guys who literally marches to his own beat. Thankfully, documentarians Jake Meginsky and Neil Young (no, not that one) figured this out early, and simply made a movie about Graves' life and work that's similar to his percussive style: unpredictable, out-of-sync yet somehow rhythmically right on, jagged and likely to zig when you think it's going to zag. (Name another music doc that devotes screen time to its subject recording irregular heartbeats.) "Full mantis" refers to the drummer's interest in a style of martial arts which he felt that, in order to learn it, required going straight to the source. That's as good a metaphor for this look at an avant-garde luminary as any.

Back to Top 'Most Likely to Murder'

Fans of Adam Pally and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's Rachel Bloom – let's call them Pally-Walsies and Bloomers, shall we? – should dig this manchild-comedy about a thirtysomething loser (Pally, but you probably guessed that) who returns home to the suburbs for Thanksgiving. He's hoping to hook up with his actually-completely-sane ex-girlfriend (Bloom), who's moved on to dating the town's creepy pharmacist (Mad Men's Vincent Kartheiser). Then our doobie-smoking hero thinks he sees this new beau killing someone late one night, and decides he'd better investigate further. The program notes describe this as "like Rear Window for stoners," which, yeah, sounds about right.

Back to Top 'Operation Odessa'

Stop us if you've heard this one before: A Miami hotshot, a Moscow-based gangster and a Cuban spy decide to team up for what seems like a lucrative deal with some friends of Pablo Escobar. The goal: to procure a Russian submarine for the Colombian Cartel so they can move cocaine better. The big question: "Do you want the submarine with missiles or without missiles?" (Which is ridiculous, because really, who wants a sub without missiles?!) This documentary on one of the more audacious criminal cases of the 20th century – which became dubbed "Operation Odessa" by the customs agents, Feds and law-enforcement task force members trying to bust this holy trinity – details every holy-shit-are-you-kidding twist and turn of what truly sounds like a stranger-than-fiction scam.

Back to Top 'Paradox'

So here's what we know about the feature-length directorial debut from Splash/Kill Bill star Daryl Hannah: It's described as both "a whimsical Western" and a "Loud poem"; her significant other Neil Young is in it; he performs in full old-timey frontier garb with the band Promise of the Real; Willie Nelson drops by as well; and there are characters named the Particle Kid, Jail Time and the Man in the Black Hat. Everything else is up for grabs, but whether this is a masterpiece or a magnificent, flaming car wreck, the chance of us being bored is exactly zero-point-zero percent.

Back to Top 'Profile'

A British reporter (Valene Kane) poses as a young, brand-new convert to Islam, creating a fake Facebook profile to lure in ISIS recruiters for a story on social media and jihadism. No sooner has she hit "Save" then a man named Bilel (Shazad Latif) starts chatting her up online, sussing her out as a potential terrorist. [Cue: Status change to "It's Complicated."] Whether director Timur Bekmambetov is the right guy to take on journalistic ethics and Islamophobia is questionable – no one is expecting nuance from the guy who built an entire action movie around Angelina Jolie "curving" bullets – but given that he's borrowing the gimmick from Unfriended (the whole things takes place on a computer screen), we're intrigued.

Back to Top 'Prospect'

This year's SXSW seems to be a magnet for potentially mindbending, mindblowing lo-fi sci-fi – we've definitely got our eyes on you, aliens-give-a-teen-extraordinary-powers YA project First Light and the Bluebeard-fable-meets-techno-thriller Elisabeth Harvest. But the one entry in this fertile subgenre that we're most curious about is Zeek Earl and Chris Caldwell's story of an interstellar prospector (Transparent's Jay Duplass), his teenage kid (Sophie Thatcher), a moonscape that's apparently dripping with resources and some fellow miners out to get rich or commit murder while tryin'. Game of Thrones' Pedro Pascal and The Wire's Andre Royo costar. We're a sucker for movies about father-daughter relationships and ones involving space madness, so put the two together and, like, can we get in line for this now?

Back to Top 'A Quiet Place'

A man (director John Krasinski), a woman (Emily Blunt) and two kids (including Wonderstruck's Millicent Simmonds) have somehow managed to survive some sort of genuinely awful, earth-shattering event. How do they manage to avoid whatever it is out there that's lurking about in the postapocalyptic landscape, you ask? Well, they forage among abandoned townships, maintain a vigilant watch on the outside – and stay very, very quiet. Right, so what if one of them does make a sound? Did we mention this is a horror film? If this largely dialogue-free opening-night selection is half as tense as its trailer, we expect the audience to make up for all that silence with a shitload of screaming.

Back to Top '6 Balloons'

We know that, as one half of the duo behind Broad City, Abbi Jacobson is funny as hell; now it's time to see her show off her dramatic chops. Marja-Lewis Ryan's day-in-the-life character study casts the comedian as an Angeleno balancing the planning of her boyfriend's surprise birthday party, picking up her niece and dropping her recovering-addict brother (Dave Franco) off at a rehab center. Except the facility can't take him, and he's going into serious withdrawal – which kicks off an odyssey around town that's keeps getting more frantic and tolerance-testing by the minute.

Back to Top 'Support the Girls'

The man practically invented the genre (or at least set down the basic template) for what we once, in our youthful haze, called "mumblecore" – so of course writer-director Andrew Bujalski is making a movie about the employees of a popular "breastaurant." (You all saw this one coming, right? By which we mean no one saw this coming at all.) The filmmaker behind such lo-fi treasures as Funny Ha Ha and Computer Chess returns to SXSW for an Amerindie about the manager of a curves-fixated chain eatery called Double Whammies and her efforts to shield her staff from all sorts of shenanigans. Girls Trip's Regina Hall plays the boss; Columbus MVP Haley Lu Richardson and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt's Dylan Gelula play two of her "girls" who, if the title is accurate, are in need of support. This one should be a hoot(ers).

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