No rest for the wicked: we've barely gotten over our Oscar-night hangovers, and yet already the next major event of the movie calendar is upon us. After a few quiet weeks on the film festival circuit, Friday sees the kick off of Austin's all-encompassing, multi-platform mega-party SXSW Film Festival, which kicks off this evening with Jon Favreau's "Chef" and runs until March 15th.
The fest has become increasingly important over the last few years thanks to some high-profile premieres ("Bridesmaids," "Cabin In The Woods"), and key discoveries ("The Puffy Chair," "Tiny Furniture," "Attack The Block," "Monsters," "Short Term 12"), and we're hopeful that this year'll be no different—just from glimpsing the line-up, you can see plenty of promise. If you're heading Austin-wards, or just if you're keen to keep your finger on the pulse from afar, we've picked out some of the films we're most looking forward to: take a look below, and let us know what's catching your eye to in the comments section.
“Before I Disappear”
Synopsis: At the lowest point of his life, Richie gets a call from his estranged sister, asking him to look after his eleven-year old niece, Sophia, for a few hours.
What You Need To Know: Remember the indie-rock band Stellastarr* from the early aughts? Well, singer/guitarist founder Shawn Christensen turned into filmmaker a few years ago. In case you think he’s a dilettante dabbling in different arts, “Before I Disappear” is based on his 2013 Academy Award® winning short film "Curfew” (yes, you read that right; there’s not that many Oscar-winners at SXSW alongside all that mumblecore). His short film "Brink" was also an official selection at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2011, so you’re probably getting the idea that he is the real deal. To boot, aside from starring Christensen and newcomer Fatima Ptacek, the movie also stars Emmy Rossum, Paul Wesley, Ron Perlman and Richard Schiff. Not bad.
Synopsis: A documentary about "the mind, body and soul" of the teen movie in its modern-day golden age between "Clueless" in 1995 and "Mean Girls" in 2004, digging into classics, and questionable classics, like "The Craft," "10 Things I Hate About You," and "Euro Trip."
What You Need To Know: "I'd like to see you make a movie!" goes the common refrain from the angry commenter to the critic. Our usual response is to say that you don't need to be a chef to know that someone pissed in your soup, but blogger/journalist Charlie Lyne's was more dignified: he went and made a movie. The disgustingly precocious young mastermind behind the excellently irreverent UK site Ultra Culture has put his money where his mouth is for this documentary that's "part adolescent fever dream, part roving visual essay," and has some impressive names on his side—teen fave Fairuza Balk lends her gravelly tones to narrate the film, and UK indie favorites Summer Camp have provided the soundtrack. From his writing, Lyne's a smart, funny and talented guy, and there's every reason to hope that he's going to deliver a defining cinematic statement on the post-John Hughes teen flick.
Synopsis: An out-of-work schlub named Aaron (played by co-writer/director Patrick Brice) takes on an odd online gig. For $1000 a day, he's needed for filming services, with discretion appreciated. He takes the gig, driving to a remote cabin in the woods, since that isn't ominous or sinister or anything, to meet Josef (Mark Duplass), his filming subject. As the day goes on and Aaron keeps filming, he begins to suspect that Josef is not what he seems. And terror was certainly not advertised on the online ad.
What You Need To Know: While this is Brice's directorial debut, he's assisted by Duplass, who co-wrote the script and produced the movie alongside current king of horror Jason Blum ("Paranormal Activity," "The Purge"). This project seems to be one of the odder and less commercial movies that Blum has produced, which actually a good sign because it seems that the less distributed or talked about, the better the movie (like Barry Levinson's barely acknowledged multimedia riff on "Jaws," "The Bay"). Last year, the Blum produced and polarizing "Lords of Salem" made the trip to SXSW and ended up being one of the more talked about screenings. Hopefully this year, "Creep" will offer a repeat performance. Not even the fact that the movie is yet another found footage film can make us temper our excitement.
Synopsis: The parents of a young woman in a cult hire a deprogrammer to return their daughter to them, but she proves to be a more difficult nut to crack than he was expecting.
What You Need To Know: For a guy who's only made short films to date, there's a relatively good chance you know the name Riley Stearns. His non-feature length films have managed to build up a decent audience online, thanks in part to the presence of Stearns' wife, "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World" and "Smashed" star Mary Elizabeth Winstead, in them. The pair reunite for his first full-length film as director, and it's already earned accolades ahead of its premiere, with Stearns' script placing high on last year's Black List, an impressive achievement for a screenplay that was already in production. Winstead's joined in the film by an impressive array of character actor favorites including Leland Orser, Beth Grant, Lance Reddick and Jon Gries, while indie producer Keith Calder ("The Wackness," "You're Next") put the film together. From his shorts, Stearns appears to be an accomplished and unique voice, and while "Martha Marcy May Marlene" and "Sound Of My Voice" are the obvious immediate comparison points, we're expecting something more blackly comic from this.
Synopsis: Amidst quarter-life crises, Allie struggles to prepare for the Peace Corps, while Harper awaits checks from her father to fund her artistic dreams. But the two friends quickly shun responsibilities for the day when a pair of good-looking guys invites them along for a carefree Fort Tilden afternoon. As the two young women board their bikes and embark on a lengthy journey to the beach, they quickly realize that, akin to their confusing, transitioning lives, they neither know where they’re going nor how they plan to get there.
What You Need To Know: Co-directors Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers are making their feature debut here, but have paid their dues helming shorts, and taking on jobs far and wide on indie films ranging from editing to working in the electrical department. They’ve both rubbed shoulders with James Franco (helming segments of his upcoming omnibus efforts “Tar” and “Black Dog, Red Dog”) and Bliss even took an intern gig on Michel Gondry’s “The We And The I.” But now the pair are striking out on their own with a movie that chronicles two young women forced to face a future they’re perhaps not ready to deal with. It’s promising material from two filmmakers who have worked up their way the ladder, and one to keep an eye on.