16 Great SXSW Films to Keep on Your Radar in 2017
Dozens of movies play at the SXSW Film Festival every year, making it impossible to see all of them in just eight days. Even if you attended the annual insanity in Austin last week, chances are pretty high that you missed at least a few good movies. And if you’re a cinephile who skipped the fest entirely, you might be wondering which films are worth putting on your radar. Lucky for the sleepless and the well-rested alike, we’ve put together this handy list featuring some of the best films from SXSW 2017.
Sure, I spent a day playing paintball and eating BBQ with Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley and director Ben Wheatley, but that was after I saw Free Fire, so you can’t accuse me of being biased here. The latest film from Wheatley (Kill List, A Field in England) is his first all-American production, a (pistol) whip-smart shoot ’em up that takes place almost entirely in a warehouse, where an illegal arms deal goes hilariously awry. Like all Wheatley films, this one is fascinated with the fragility of male ego, but Free Fire is perhaps the most literal of the bunch. There’s nothing subtle about a bunch of men (and one woman) engaging in an absurd, feature-length gun fight.
See If: You love Brie Larson, the films of Ben Wheatley, and small-scale genre films.
Avoid If: You hate the sight of blood, violence, or Sharlto Copley.
Release Date: April 21
The latest indie from Cold Weather director Aaron Katz stars Lola Kirke as Jill, a personal assistant whose dedication to her famous actress boss, played by Zoe Kravitz, is tested by a violent crime. This stylish neo-noir subtly tips its hat to predecessors like Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr. Jill’s twisted path to uncover the truth unfolds over several days in Los Angeles, and brings her face to face with a hilariously jaded screenwriter, a narcissistic and “edgy” famous ex, her boss’ new love interest, and a tenacious detective (played by John Cho).
See If: You’re a fan of late ’80s and early ’90s thrillers (including the criminally-underseen Curtis Hanson film Bad Influence), you want to hear the best line of dialogue at SXSW 2017.
Avoid If: You don’t like humor in your neo-noir.
Read More: Our full Gemini review from SXSW
Release Date: TBA, but Neon acquired Gemini out of SXSW, so look for it sometime (relatively) soon.
The Big Sick
The Big Sick has something for almost everyone. Directed by Michael Showalter, The Big Sick tells the story of how co-writers Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon became a real-life couple. Despite the subject matter, this poignant and hilarious rom-com is far from self-indulgent; it’s a really specific story that succeeds in also being incredibly relatable. Nanjiani plays himself in the film, which also stars the great Zoe Kazan as Emily, and Holly Hunter and Ray Romano (at the top of their respective games) as her parents. To list all the other reasons you should see it (including every member of the cast list) would take approximately 1,000 more words.
See If: You love: Emily Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani, unexpected rom-coms, and films directed by Michael Showalter. Or, if you think Zoe Kazan is the reigning queen of empathetic acting and you don’t have a problem with the runtimes of Judd Apatow movies.
Avoid If: You are a sociopathic monster incapable of feeling.
Release Date: June 23
That image above is taken from one of the coolest scenes in the new film from John Wick co-director David Leitch (who’s also directing Deadpool 2), starring Charlize Theron as a Cold War-era spy who is, as I explained in my review, more Bond than Blonde Wick — but that’s kind of a good thing. While the scene teased in the above image is more about style than function, and though the ratio of spy stuff to action sequences is skewed toward the former, rest assured that when Atomic Blonde goes off it really goes off, and features one of the best single-take fight scenes in recent memory.
See If: Charlize Theron slaying like a total queen is your kind of thing.
Avoid If: You’re easily annoyed by needle drops, the idea of using ’Til Tuesday’s “Voices Carry” in a spy film is too on-the-nose for your taste, or you thought John Wick glorified gun violence.
Read More: Full Atomic Blonde review from SXSW
Release Date: July 28
Former SNL star Noel Wells returned to her hometown of Austin to make her directorial debut, which centers on a struggling comedian who also returns to her hometown of Austin — for a much different reason. When Emily (Wells) must deal with a loved one’s illness, she crashes on the couch of her ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend, and finds herself at the all-too-familiar crossroads where past and present meet. “The city is like another character” is a tired trope, but Wells refreshes it by using Austin as a metaphor for Emily’s own trajectory.
See If: You’re into charmingly real and low-key (but not quirky) indies, you have lived in Austin for all or most of your life — or at least long enough that you’ve earned the right to resent our mascot, the crane.
Avoid If: You’ve lived in Austin just long enough that you can’t remember a time when it was better, and actually, you think it’s fine the way it is, and maybe there aren’t enough condos with frozen yogurt shops and Orange Theory fitness centers on the bottom.
Release Date: TBA
Edgar Wright is (finally) back with what might be the most Edgar Wright film yet. Baby Driver is a musical ode to classic heist films like Heat, Point Break, and Straight Time, and stars Ansel Elgort as a skilled getaway driver who gets pulled back in for one last job that threatens to upend his blossoming romance with a local waitress (Lily James). Co-starring Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, and Kevin Spacey, Baby Driver is — as you might expect from Wright — far from conventional. It’s a musical in which the music is all diegetic, where showy song and dance numbers are replaced by action sequences and smaller moments set entirely to the beat of the title character’s personal playlists. It is, in a word, sublime.
See If: You love Edgar Wright, you’re itching to see Jon Hamm break bad, you’ve been skeptical about this Ansel Elgort kid, or you thought La La Land was a little too basic.
Avoid If: I honestly can’t think of a single reason to avoid this movie. You’d have to really, really, really hate Edgar Wright — in that case, I hope someone is worried about you.
Read More: Full Baby Driver review from SXSW
Release Date: August 11
Most Beautiful Island
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature at SXSW, Most Beautiful Island is a dizzying psychological thriller that explores a day in the life of an undocumented immigrant named Luciana as she retreats from her past and struggles with the empty promise of the American dream. Shot on 16mm, Ana Asenio’s directorial debut (in which she also plays the lead role) is a visually stunning and harrowing film that signals incredible things to come from its creator.
See If: You’re interested in (and want to support) emerging female filmmakers and valuable perspectives, you find the real world more scary than any movie.
Avoid If: You’re clinically terrified of cockroaches and spiders.
Release Date: TBA
Nacho Vigalondo’s follow-up to Open Windows takes several of that film’s ideas (of which there were a lot) and distills them into something far more meaningful and effective. A kaiju movie for the social media age, Colossal centers on a woman (Anne Hathaway) who returns home to get her life in order after her boyfriend (Dan Stevens) dumps her for partying too hard. Soon this party monster discovers a strange psychic connection to an actual monster terrorizing Seoul, which sounds interesting enough, but Vigalondo takes his film in a surprisingly poignant direction when Hathaway’s relationship with a childhood friend (Jason Sudeikis) takes an insidious turn.
See If: You’ve always believed Anne Hathaway is more than some stereotypical theatre kid who gives good cry, or you’re intrigued by a kaiju movie in which the real monster is male entitlement.
Avoid If: You’re expecting Pacific Rim.
Release Date: April 7
After seeing the film, you might be surprised (like I was) to learn that Tragedy Girls was written and directed by a couple of dudes. That’s really only shocking in that this coming-of-age horror comedy truly captures the spirit of teen girlhood and friendship, and belongs on a shelf next to films like Jennifer’s Body and Ginger Snaps. Brianna Hildebrand (aka Negasonic Teenage Warhead from Deadpool) and Alexandra Shipp (aka young Storm from X-Men: Apocalypse) star as a pair of narcissistic teens who take their murder obsession to the next level in an effort to boost traffic to their local true-crime blog in this film that is as much about a co-dependent friendship as it is about our toxic relationship with social media.
See If: You like the idea of what happens when Nightcrawler meets Edge of Seventeen.
Avoid If: You’re not into female-centric horror comedies and / or blood-soaked coming-of-age narratives.
Release Date: TBA
Hounds of Love
This feature debut from Australian director Ben Young is a demented and subversive thriller that’s destined to inspire some interesting post-viewing discussions. When a young woman is kidnapped and held hostage by a violent couple, her determination to survive forces her to become even closer to her captors in an effort to drive them apart.
See If: You want something in the vein of Justin Kurzel’s 2011 Aussie crime thriller The Snowtown Murders.
Avoid If: You definitely do not want that.
Release Date: TBA
Mommy Dead and Dearest
In a fascinating article published by BuzzFeed last August, titled “Dee Dee Wanted Her Daughter To Be Sick, Gypsy Wanted Her Mom To Be Murdered,” reporter Michelle Dean explored the bizarre and fascinating case of Gypsy Rose and her mother, Dee Dee Blancharde. Even those familiar with the story — a young woman is driven over the edge by a mother with Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (or MSbP) — will find Erin Lee Carr’s documentary totally compelling from start to finish. You know you’re in for a wild ride when, after almost a full hour of crazy footage and interviews, the documentary subject says, “…And then it got weird.”
See If: You’re a true crime fanatic with access to HBO (or your parents’ HBO GO password).
Avoid If: You’re easily triggered by mental illness and graphic images (however brief) of violence.
Release Date: Look for it on HBO in May.
The Disaster Artist
James Franco’s meta-textual cinematic retelling of the making of The Room was a hit with critics and movie fans alike at SXSW. For the most part, even those that hadn’t seen Tommy Wiseau’s bonkers midnight cult favorite found The Disaster Artist to be a hilarious and empathetic portrait of a singular human being — one who is completely oblivious to his lack of talent and yet still feels compelled to share his art with the world. (So basically, the real Tommy Wiseau was James Franco all along, or vice versa.)
See If: You’re a fan or a “fan” of The Room, you’ll watch anything Seth Rogen and James Franco make, you own a copy of the book written by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell.
Avoid If: You hate James Franco’s “art projects.”
Release Date: TBA — but most likely sometime this year.
Evan Katz’s follow-up to the bleakly hilarious Cheap Thrills is more bleak than hilarious, but still carries that unmistakably wry mean streak. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau stars as a former cop who returns home following a six-year prison stint and finds that the life he hoped to leave behind has no intention of letting him go so easily. Co-starring Molly Parker, Robert Forster, Gary Cole and Jacki Weaver, Small Crimes is a solid neo-noir that may not take you where you want to go, but hopefully you’ll appreciate the trip there.
See If: You loved Cheap Thrills, you like Robert Forster in stories about crooked men trying to get straight, you want to watch a new movie without leaving the house (it’ll be on Netflix).
Avoid If: You’ve seen enough movies and shows featuring deeply flawed, handsome men doing bad things. I get it.
Release Date: April 28, exclusively on Netflix.
The most talked-about documentary at SXSW, and one sure to be discussed and written about at length by year’s end, was The Work. Winner of the jury prize for Best Documentary, Gethin Aldous and Jairus McLeary’s documentary is set inside Folsom Prison — more specifically, one room inside the prison, where three civilian men will spend four days in intensive group therapy with convicts from Level 4, which houses the prison’s most dangerous offenders.
See If: You need a movie to restore your faith in humanity, you believe (or want to believe) that even those who have committed the most heinous acts can be redeemed and that empathy is our most valuable virtue.
Avoid If: You’re out of tissues.
Release Date: TBA
Win It All
Joe Swanberg’s latest collaboration with co-writer and star Jake Johnson continues to showcase his evolution from mumblecore darling to grown-up director. Johnson stars as Eddie, an aimless gambling addict who falls for a single mother at the absolute worst time: A local heavy on his way to prison (idiotically) left a bag full of cash with Eddie for safekeeping…you will totally believe what happens next. Johnson and Swanberg (with the help of co-stars Aislinn Derbez, Joe Lo Truglio and Keegan-Michael Key) take a worn-out story and turn it into a really entertaining experience.
See If: You like all the names mentioned above, you want to see some really hilarious reaction shots from Johnson.
Avoid If: You’re tired of movies about loser guys who get their s—t together because they met a woman who is way too amazing for them.
Release Date: April 7, exclusively on Netflix Instant.
Ridley Scott’s next installment in the franchise will be hard to miss when it hits theaters, but if you weren’t a fan of Prometheus, then you might have intentionally kept this one off your radar. That might be a mistake, and if the footage Scott presented at SXSW is any indication, then Alien: Covenant is a must-see based on cinematography alone — oh, and some truly bonkers horror scenes, which involve juvenile xenomorphs and prove that they aren’t just bursting out of chests anymore.
See If: Current politics haven’t crushed your soul entirely to the point where you still have at least enough optimism to believe that maybe Ridley Scott found a way to combine the best of Alien and Prometheus into one good movie — or, at the very least, a thoroughly entertaining and visually stunning s—t show.
Avoid If: You really hated Prometheus that much. It’s fine, I get it.
Release Date: May 19