See 30 movies in nine days, and it’s only natural that some of the movies start blending together in your head. (Especially when so many of those movies seem to center on the malaise of twenty- or thirtysomething Brooklynites.) But seeing four or five (or the holy grail of six) movies in a day is what SXSW Film is all about. Last year, I came up with seven picks that stood out from the pack, and when I looked back at the 30 films I saw this year, once more I found seven flicks that left me with indelible impressions even weeks after the festival ended.
1) Veronica Mars
Admit it: You knew this would be No. 1. Rob Thomas and Co. couldn’t have done a better job when it came to delivering a movie that fans would adore. I can’t wait to read more about Veronica’s adventures in her new book and (fingers crossed) another movie. Also, this has nothing to do with the movie at all, but at the Paramount screening, the lovely Chris Lowell (aka Piz, who is currently starring on the CRIMINALLY underrated Fox comedy “Enlisted”) said “Cool shirt” to my husband when he passed him on the stairs. (O’Husband was wearing a Ninja Turtles shirt.)
2) Obvious Child
Dubbed “the abortion rom-com” at Sundance earlier this year, “Obvious Child” is exactly what I wish more female-driven movies were—funny, sweet, raunchy, vulnerable, hopeful and, above all else, honest. Jenny Slate’s Donna is a beautifully flawed and realistic protagonist, a hilarious stand-up comedian and someone you’ll find yourself rooting for as she gears up for the worst Valentine’s Day ever. “Obvious Child” was written and directed by Gillian Robespierre in her feature debut, and I can’t wait to see what she does next. (And seriously, find me one girl who doesn’t wish Gaby Hoffman was her best friend.)
3) Take Care
The first feature from former “Sex and the City” scribe Liz Tuccillo, “Take Care” is the story of a woman who gets hit by a car and then finds that no one in her life is willing to help take care of her. Unable to do it alone, she end up coercing her hated ex-boyfriend (“The Newsroom”‘s Thomas Sadoski) into helping her. Given those circumstances, Frannie could’ve easily been unlikable or at the very least shrewish, but Leslie Bibb’s performance as a woman wounded by more than the car who hurt her is grounded and understated, and her chatty chemistry with Sadoski is adorable.
4) The Guest
There are hot guys, and then there’s Dan Stevens in “The Guest.” Even if he never ruffled your petticoats as the late Matthew Crawley on “Downton Abbey,” Stevens shows so much movie-star charisma in the action flick “The Guest” that if you don’t find yourself falling in lust with him you might just be lacking a pulse. This genre-bending movie, which borrows heavily from the ’80s, comes from “You’re Next” collaborators Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett and kicks off when perfectly mannered former soldier David (Stevens) shows up on the doorstep of the Peterson family claiming to be the close friend of their son who was killed in action. But, of course, things aren’t as they seem, and soon townspeople are mysteriously dying.
5) Break Point
First off, you’re watching “About a Boy” on NBC, right? Good, so you already know how ridiculously charming David Walton is. In “Break Point,” Walton and Jeremy Sisto (who co-wrote the script) play estranged brothers and former doubles partners who are both floundering in their lives and ultimately decide to reunite to make a run at a prestigious tennis tournament. When a movie description includes “help from a precocious 11-year-old,” that can sometimes elicit a groan, but here Joshua Rush’s Barry knocks all those other precocious movie kids out of the water through his wardrobe alone. This warm, wily and witty movie also stars JK Simmons, Amy Smart, Chris Parnell and Adam DeVine.
It’s not SXSW without a Duplass-related movie, and this year’s flavor is “Creep,” co-starring, co-produced and co-written by Mark Duplass. His collaborator here is co-star, co-writer and director Patrick Brice. Largely improvised from an outline and shot in turns by the two lead actors, “Creep” follows a cinematographer (Brice) who answers an online ad placed by the enigmatic Josef (Duplass) that offers $1,000 for one day of filming. By turns, awkward, funny, intense and—yes—creepy, “Creep” is a slow burn that will you leave you guessing until the very end.
Horror movies are not my thing. I typically avoid them at all costs, but since Midnighters make up a sizable chunk of the offerings at SXSW, I saw quite a few of them during the festival. My favorite of the bunch was definitely the super-creepy “Oculus,” starring “Doctor Who” alum Karen Gillan. The story centers on a haunted mirror called the Lasser Glass that two siblings believe was responsible for the deaths of their parents when they were children. Now adults, the siblings try to prove that the mirror is evil while attempting to outwit and destroy it in the process. And, because I feel like it needs to be said, yay for smart leading ladies in horror movies!
“Oculus” opens in theaters this month, and hopefully these other films will soon have release dates so you can see them around town, but if not, look for them to possibly crop up on Netflix later this year.