I feel like on the Monday after SXSW that the entire city breathes a collective sigh of relief. At the downtown Whole Foods this afternoon, everyone was smiling, relaxing and soaking up the sunshine on the patio. Life just seems a little easier when parking is plentiful and getting through the light at Cesar Chavez and South First isn’t an epic undertaking.
That said, those eight days of lines and gridlock and out-of-towners are totally worth it. With my SXSW Film wristband, I got in to see 19 movies (in addition to the narrative shorts program) over the course of the festival. Sadly for me, that total does not include Joss Whedon’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” which I spent a total of six hours waiting in line for during its three screenings without getting into any of them. (The closest I got was seeing the Bus Ado parked behind the Convention Center and catching a glimpse of Fran Kranz sprinting down Sixth Street on Friday night, presumably toward the “Evil Dead” screening at the Paramount. Sigh.) Throughout the festival, there was some disgruntlement among wristband holders about this year’s line protocol as opposed to previous years. I was shut out multiple times at the 1,200-seat Paramount, which is something I didn’t anticipate.
But I still got to see a lot of fun, challenging, innovative movies, and these were my seven favorites:
1. Short Term 12
This movie wasn’t even on my radar before the festival, which is probably because the first line of the description (“Grace is a a twenty-something supervisor at a foster-care facility for at-risk teenagers”) sounds like the setup for a Hallmark movie. It won both the Jury Prize and the Audience Award in the Narrative Feature Competition, and it’s easy to see why. The film (which starred festival MVP Brie Larson, who was in no fewer than four movies at SXSW) is the perfect mix of funny and sad, beautiful and terrible. I can’t recommend this one enough.
2. Sound City
In all honesty, Dave Grohl is one of the reasons I started playing guitar, so when he makes his directorial debut with a doc about the legendary LA studio that shaped him and dozens of other amazing bands and then follows that with an honest and hilarious Q&A that preached the power of music and collaboration, of course I’m going to fall in love with all of it. Seriously, if you like music at all, see “Sound City.”
3. Before Midnight
We find Celine and Jesse at 41, the parents of twin girls and on the final night of a summer sojourn in Greece. It’s a pivotal night for them as a couple, but what’s always been so great about these collaborations between Austinite director Richard Linklater and actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy is that tough conversations and situations are never played for melodrama. Everything said and done is so earned and so realistic that it makes your heart hurt. Also, this installment of the series just confirms for me that Julie Delpy’s Celine is one of the most authentic and complex women we’ve seen on screen over the past two decades. Here’s hoping we get to check in on them in another nine years.
4. Don Jon
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in, wrote and directed this dramedy, which explores how easy it is to get trapped in one-sided relationships and how hard it is to truly connect with someone. Also, there is lots of porn. And Tony Danza.
5. Scenic Route
I totally thought this movie was going to be terrible. Josh Duhamel and Dan Fogler on a road trip gone wrong? I was the wrong one. With a searing script by Texan Kyle Killen, “Scenic Route” is a tight and heavily affecting (and at times, very funny) meditation on lapsed friendships and regret.
6. Zero Charisma
It’s always exciting to see a hometown entry do well, and “Zero Charisma” did just that, beating out heavyweights (including “Much Ado About Nothing”) in the crowded Narrative Spotlight category for the Audience Award. Written and directed by Katie Graham and Aaron Matthews, the movie is essentially a humorous character study of a 30-something game master in a D&D-like tabletop game, but it also thoughtfully examines the areas where geek and hipster cultures collide and how those intersections might not always be pretty.
7. Drinking Buddies
Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson play the titular drinking buddies, but she’s with Ron Livingston and he’s with Anna Kendrick, so their semi-platonic relationship has always had a tinge of will-they-won’t-they to it. What really made this movie for me was the Q&A afterward when director Joe Swanberg said he envisioned the story as focusing more on Jake Johnson’s character and his decisions throughout the course of the film instead of on Olivia Wilde’s character, who is actually the main character of the movie. (I’m not sure if that unwieldy sentence made any sense, but I don’t want to spoil the end of the movie.) That gave me an entirely different outlook on the movie and made me like it much more.
In the narrative shorts program, I really enjoyed “It’s Not You It’s Me,” “Dotty” and “Ellen Is Leaving,” the latter of which won the Jury Prize. Here’s an excerpt from that New Zealand-based short, which told the story of a girl leaving for a year-long journey and attempting to find her boyfriend a new girlfriend before she departs:
And that’s a wrap. Did you see any movies at SXSW? If so, which ones did you like? If not, which are you looking forward to seeing on Netflix or at the movie theater?