But there were a couple of categories on this particular go-around that we haven't featured in past editions. This time, critics were invited to send in their picks for their favorite scenes of the festival. Unlike the film/performances categories, where the choices can speak for themselves, our critics had to elaborate a little bit on what in particular stood out among their selections.
The Best Scene page has links to all 23 ballots and also excerpts a few critics' responses. In looking at the results, it's interesting to see how critics managed to skirt around specific details when describing the various scenes they chose. By now, the Britney Spears-centric sequence in "Spring Breakers" has picked up traction with festival-goers and those who saw the film after it opened last week. But there are moments in these films that present a challenge: explaining what makes them great would be to take away some of the magic of experiencing them for the first time.
Here are the stripped-down, minimalist ways that some critics described those scenes (with titles omitted, in case even this is too much information):
In some ways, I find these little snippets more effective than a trailer in generating some excitement about these titles. Even if someone in print described these scenes in more detail, the visual aspect of seeing these moments unfold would still be preserved, something that a trailer can't exactly guarantee. It's also an effective way to single out the films that might not be as uniformly great as the award winners, but would have moments strong enough to merit a trip to the theater.
And Best Scene is a designation that can also be applied to documentaries, too. The Ellsberg moment referenced above comes from "Our Nixon," a film focusing on the personal video footage shot by White House staffers in the former president's administration. A Sundance doc that resurfaced in Austin, "Twenty Feet from Stardom," interviews some the music industry's most notable backup singers. Two different critics singled out the film's moment with Merry Clayton, the voice behind the chilling moments of the Rolling Stones song "Gimme Shelter."
Equally as enticing are the Biggest Surprises, another category new to the SXSW poll. We left this open to films, performances, or overall festival trends, since some noteworthy aspects of the festival don't neatly fit into the other categories. Critics could single out the things that caught them off guard, both positive and not-so-positive.
One of the top surprises from SXSW for multiple critics? David Koechner, who appears in "Cheap Thrills," one of the festival's sneaky hits. Both he and Olivia Wilde, who starred in Joe Swanberg's "Drinking Buddies," drew votes for being able to find projects that fully took advantage of their acting strengths. By highlighting certain performers in that space, there's the added signal that even those who might be averse to a particular performer/filmmaker might find something worthwhile. Festivals have a way of generating certain expectations, but this is a reminder that some of the best films, performances and moments are ones that keep you on your toes.
So for those who, like me, are high-grade spoilerphobes, would categories and evaluations like this be the optimal middle ground between trailers and reviews? Or is festival buzz just inherently a double-edged sword that piques interest while oversharing? Either way, we've got some of our critics' favorites on those two pages if you're adventurous enough to look.
For the results of all the other categories from the SXSW Poll, including Best First Feature, Best Ensemble and Best Performances, check out the entire list here.