With so many films and TV shows playing at the 2014 SXSW Film Festival, there is only so much one person can see — and these are the ones I’m most looking forward to!
Director: Nicholas StollerScreenwriters: Andrew J. Cohen, Brendan O’Brien
One of the best features of SXSW is that it welcomes tiny indie films alongside a selection of mainstream studio movies. Case in point, this comedy, starring Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne (with her native Australian accent!) as a young married couple whose party-hardy lifestyle has suddenly mellowed thanks to their newborn baby — only to have a frat house headed by Zac Efron move in next door. This won’t arrive in theaters for another two months, so Universal is showing a lot of faith in the film by premiering it so early at SXSW.
2. Veronica Mars
Director: Rob ThomasScreenwriters: Rob Thomas, Diane Ruggiero
I’ve never seen an episode of the beloved series that inspired this film, but I do love me a forthright female protagonist who fights crime. So I’m hoping that makes me an ideal candidate for how well this Kickstarted feature will play for those outside its devoted Marshmallows fan base — like, basically, everyone else on the BuzzFeed Entertainment team. I expect witty banter and red herrings!
3. Silicon Valley
Isabella Vosmikova / HBO
Director: Mike JudgeScreenwriters: Episode 1 written by Mike Judge & John Altschuler & Dave Krinsky; Episode 2 written by Carson Mell
Ever since Lena Dunham debuted the first three episodes of Girls at SXSW two years ago, the festival has slowly expanded its television premieres, this year launching a brand-new section to the festival called Episodic and devoted just to TV. There are many offerings — click here for all of them — but the one I’m most available and interested to see is Mike Judge’s comedy about tech nerds striving to launch their own startup.
4. Space Station 76
Space Station 76
Director: Jack PlotnickScreenwriters: Jack Plotnick, Jennifer Cox, Sam Pancake, Kali Rocha, Michael Stoyanov
This independent satire of 1970s sci-fi is the definition of “under the radar”: Veteran character Plotnick (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Wrong) was able to shoot the film with actors Patrick Wilson, Liv Tyler, Matt Bomer, Jerry O’Connell and 2001: A Space Odyssey’s Keir Dullea with pretty much no one realizing it even existed before he’d wrapped — a remarkable feat in Hollywood these days. Also: There are robots! I will be first in line.
Open Road Films
Director: Jon FavreauScreenwriter: Jon Favreau
OK, in truth, I’ve already seen this movie, which launches the SXSW Film Festival on Friday night, and it’s a lovely, leisurely ode to great food, the importance of good parenting, and the vital nature of social media. There’s even a section set in Austin. Just writing about it is making me hungry for BBQ, and I just ate some BBQ.
6. COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey
Directors: Brannon Braga, Bill PopeScreenwriters: Ann Druyan, Steven Soter
I’ve also seen the stunning first episode of this follow-up series to Carl Sagan’s seminal exploration of interstellar science, this time with renown astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson at the helm — quite literally. It premieres on Fox on Sunday (at 9 p.m. ET), but it will have its world premiere Friday night at SXSW.
7. Lady Valor: The Kristin Beck Story
Herzog & Co. / CNN Films
Director: Sandrine Orabona, Mark Herzog
This documentary follows Beck, who came out last year as trans after retiring from serving for 20 years as a U.S. Navy SEAL, shattering stereotypes of trans women in the process. Her story should continue to expand the gratifyingly bright spotlight on trans people over the past few months.
Future You Pictures
Director: Neil Berkeley
Yes, that’s really Community creator and on-again-off-again-on-again executive producer Dan Harmon, captured here in what promises to be an unusually revealing documentary about his cross-country tour of his podcast. I’m not ruling out nudity, and I am not sure how I feel about that.
9. Break Point
Director: Jay KarasScreenwriters: Gene Hong, Jeremy Sisto
A washed up pro tennis player (Jeremy Sisto, who also co-wrote the script) convinces his estranged brother (David Walton, currently of NBC’s About a Boy) to be his new pairs tennis partner. I am a fan of tennis, tennis movies, and these actors, but the presence of “a unique 11-year-old named Barry” in the film (according to its official SXSW synopsis) has me wary of unnecessary cuteness. Sisto and Walton in tennis shorts should be enough, I think.
10. A Night in Old Mexico
Phase 4 Films
Director: Emilio AragónScreenwriter: William D. Wittliff
Robert Duvall has been playing grizzled-yet-bemused old coots for a while now, granted, but he is so enjoyable in that gear. Plus, what better place to see a film about a Texas rancher on one final bender with his grandson than in the state’s capital?
11. The Great Invisible
The Great Invisible
Director: Margaret Brown
This documentary promises to explore exactly happened when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, and what happened to the people (literally) closest to it after the media spotlight dimmed and disappeared.
John Estes / Lasser Productions
Director: Mike FlanaganScreenwriter: Mike Flanagan, Jeff Howard
Horror and SXSW go together like BBQ and beer, and this film — about an antique mirror that appears to kill those who own it — should be right at home in Austin. Full disclosure: I’m friends with one of the film’s associate producers. Fuller disclosure: Given the late hour of its premiere screening (11:45 p.m.), the early-ish hour of my next screening the following morning, and the fact that I generally do not seek out horror films because I have enough free-floating anxiety in my life as it is, I may not actually see this movie. But I shall try!
Director: Richard LinklaterDirector: Richard Linklater
This is one of the films I missed at Sundance, and given the raves for its unusual story of one boy told — and shot — over 11 years of the actor’s actual life, it is the one Sundance film I’m most eager to see!
14. Obvious Child
Director: Gillian RobespierreScreenwriter: Gillian Robespierre
About a New York stand-up comedian (Jenny Slate) and her messed up life, this film earned universal raves from every one of my colleagues who saw it at Sundance. I missed it there, but I shall see it in Austin!
15. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Director: Wes AndersonScreenwriter: Wes Anderson
Yes, I know, this movie is already in theaters, but how many of those theaters will have Anderson (pictured above, with actors Tony Revolori and Saoirse Ronan) on hand for an extended Q&A after the film? The sui generis filmmaker, and Texas native, has been pegged as an eccentric, but I’ve always found him to be a delightfully frank and thoughtful person, especially about his own work.