In just a few days, the 2017 version of the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival will commence in Austin, TX. While many people come and fill the streets and bars of the live music capital of the world to see and hear their favorite bands performing at venues across the city, there is also a pretty great film component that happens. Running from March 10 through March 18, SXSW features world premieres of exciting new movies, as well as a chance for other festival favorites to be shown to more audiences. In preparation for those eager to check out the scene, here are nine promising films and one eagerly anticipated TV series debut that are worth seeking out.
“Baby Driver” is the new film by Edgar Wright. That statement alone should be enough to get people excited to see this flick, as Wright has consistently delivered amazing genre reinventions in his previous four movies. Taking a cue from works like Walter Hill’s “The Driver” and Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive,” the story centers around a special getaway driver with tinnitus who has to listen to music as he pilots the curves of a shadowy and dangerous underworld. Wright has packed this film (which he also wrote) with some great talent such as Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Kevin Spacey, Sky Ferreira and others. It’s guaranteed to be a fresh look at pulp storytelling that’s jam-packed with amazing music while turning clichés on their head.
Speaking of spinning genre conventions into something previously unseen, Alice Lowe’s “Prevenge” looks to take the murderous romp of a slasher film and inject it with pitch black humor. The film concerns a pregnant woman who, following the death of her boyfriend, listens to her “baby’s voice” and begins committing heinous atrocities across the land. Lowe previously worked on Ben Wheatley’s “Sightseers,” which was another dark comedy about murder, and this looks to be another successful entry in that very niche subgenre. A cross between “Inside,” “Behind the Mask” and “Juno,” “Prevenge” seems like the perfect midnight movie to soon attain cult status worldwide.
“The Big Sick”
For years, Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon have entertained people all over the world with their comedy. Whether through their TV shows and specials or the podcast they host together, the married couple has produced untold hours of unique moments of honesty and hilarity. Now they have adapted their story of how a Pakistani immigrant and a woman raised in a strict religious upbringing in the south came together with “The Big Sick.” A huge hit at its premiere at Sundance, the film looks to be a heartwarming if surprising tale of two people seeing past their differences to find true love – all told with a lot of humor. Michael Showalter (“Hello My Name is Doris,” MTV’s “The State”) directs from a script by Nanjiani and Gordon, with the film featuring performances by Nanjiani, Holly Hunter and Zoe Kazan. “The Big Sick” promises to be a very special type of rom-com that defies convention by being heartfelt and wickedly funny.
Ben Wheatley has bounced around different genres and blended multiple different ones together to create a wild filmography full of incredible, signature tales. His latest looks very simplistic, but perhaps that’s where the beauty lies. In an arms sale gone wrong, several different groups begin engaging in combat over money and guns. The trailer looks bug-nuts awesome, and it features some incredible actors like Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Sharlto Copley and Cillian Murphy. “Free Fire” looks like a full-throttle action film that is all killer and no filler as the filmmaker finds a way to take the intensity of a standoff and sustain it for 90 minutes.
The only TV series on this list (though there are some other interesting ones showing off their pilots at the festival), this one deserves special recognition for a few reasons. First, it’s based on an excellent book by beloved nerd avatar Neil Gaiman about the ancient gods of old battling against their new counterparts that wish to dethrone them. Secondly, it stars Ricky Whittle, Ian McShane, Emily Browning, Pablo Schreiber, Jonathan Tucker, Gillian Anderson and many more talented actors. And last of all, but far from the least, it’s being shepherded onto television screens from the incomprehensibly brilliant mind of Bryan Fuller, who previously gave the world “Pushing Daisies” and “Hannibal.” If anyone can tackle the fanciful and mythical realm with the darkness and horror inherent in Gaiman’s works, it’s Fuller. This very well may become your new TV obsession, so why not get your first hit early?
While SXSW offers a lot of great documentaries every year, many of which end up surprising audiences with tales previously uncovered, “Stranger Fruit” is the only one to make this list. Jason Pollock, who studied under Michael Moore, seeks to bring a blistering (and probably incredibly frustrating and depressing) look at what happened in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 when a young black man was gunned down by a police officer. At a time when racial divides, encroaching segregation and racism, and a deep distrust of the system is rapidly increasing, Pollock’s film will be another good documentary, along with works like “I Am Not Your Negro” and “13th,” that explores and exposes that which so many people hope to keep hidden.
This is a bit of a cheat, as I already saw “Colossal” at Fantastic Fest 2016, but that means I can easily, honestl, and wholeheartedly recommend this truly amazing film from writer/director Nacho Vigalondo. Anne Hathaway plays a complete drunken mess of a person who stumbles back to her hometown after parting ways with her boyfriend (Dan Stevens of “Legion”). She gets reacquainted with old friend Jason Sudeikis and happens upon the stunning fact that she somehow controls a gigantic kaiju monster that occasionally terrorizes downtown Seoul. The film is ridiculously fun and absurdly funny while maintaining its heart and offers a great look at a few familiar archetypes in life that not many other filmmakers have explored in such an interesting (and clever) way before. Seek this one out as soon as you can, even if you miss SXSW.
Director Joe Lynch started out in the horror genre trenches with “Wrong Turn 2” which, given its predecessor, has no right to be a good movie and yet is an awesome and gory good time. After a debacle with his sophomore effort (long story) and a fan film about Spider-Man villain Venom, Lynch returned with the one-location badassery of “Everly.” Now, Lynch is directing a script by Matias Caruso about a lawyer (played by Steven Yeun of “The Walking Dead”) who is framed and fired from his firm the same day a deadly virus breaks out that makes people act on their worst impulses. This could be a great descent into violent, midnight debauchery as Yeun and Samara Weaving fight to survive and escape their new corporate hell.
“Song to Song”
Terrence Malick spent most of his career barely making films, obsessing over each shot, take and line reading before occasionally releasing a movie. Since “The New World,” though, Malick has been cranking out movies at a normal rate (for most directors, anyway) with uneven results. “The Tree of Life” was amazing, “Knight of Cups” was fairly dreadful, and “To the Wonder” seemingly split the room. His latest takes place in Austin, TX and features a murderers’ row of talent with Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender, Rooney Mara, Natalie Portman, Holly Hunter, Benicio Del Toro, Val Kilmer, Cate Blanchett and more. The story concerns two love triangles colliding in the music scene of the Texas capital and could be a return to form for the visionary filmmaker who has gifted the world with some of the most exquisite images and human stories in film.
SXSW ends with this popcorn thriller that appears to be a combination of Ridley Scott’s “The Martian” and “Alien,” as astronauts encounter a microscopic proof of extraterrestrial life on Mars. Soon the microscopic grows up and becomes a real threat not just to the crew of the international space station but potentially all of mankind if it hits Earth. Director Daniel Espinosa has previously done workman-like quality with his films “Child 44” and “Safe House,” but hopefully the great cast, which includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, and Hiroyuki Sanada, can elevate this familiar story into a gripping thriller that is grounded enough to strike fear in the hearts of audiences.