As the music portion of SXSW is in full swing, the interactive is already done and film has practically winded down as well. I’ve seen seven films at this years festival, the same amount of what I saw last year (which is shocking since a couple of weeks ago I didn’t think I was going to do a whole lot for SXSW this year). I’ve seen some great documentaries and one great narrative film. I won’t beat around the bush too much, as I’m going to give you a countdown of what I thought were the 5 best films I saw at SXSW this year. As you have probably guessed, I didn’t see any of the big premieres like Trainwreck or Spy, so if you don’t see those films on this list, you’ll know why. Before we begin the top 5, let’s start with an honorable mention:
Honorable Mention: Mavis!
I really dug Jessica Edwards’ documentary feature debut of Mavis Staples, one of the most influential and all around great musicians of the last 50+ years. What’s even crazier than the influence that Staples has had on the music community in those decades is that she’s still going strong, and has no intention of stopping anytime soon. Mavis herself was at the world premiere and gave a small concert shortly after the screening, and even though it was just her voice and the guitarist from her band playing, it was still powerful, and proves that Mavis still has it after all these years. If you were a fan of 20 Feet From Stardom, I think you’ll really dig Mavis!, and I hope that Mavis! has success similar to 20 Feet.
Now, on to the top 5:
5. Ned Rifle
The first film I saw at the Festival was one of the more interesting films I’ve seen in a while. Ned Rifle, from writer-director Hal Hartley, is the third in a trilogy of films, with this third film involving the titular Ned going on a journey to kill his father, who is responsible for his mother being in prison. All the performances are great, but Aubrey Plaza steals nearly every scene she’s in as this mysterious and sexy woman who Ned finds on his way to Washington to kill his father. I’ve been a fan of hers since Parks and Recreation, and she’s grown into not only one of the best comedic actresses working today, but has the potential to become one of the best actresses working today, period. I look forward to whatever work she does next.
4. All Things Must Pass
The directorial debut of actor Colin Hanks is one of the best docs about the music business that I’ve seen in a long time. Hanks chronicles the rise and fall of Tower Records, which in 1999 the record chain was worth one billion dollars, and 6 years later filed for bankruptcy and went out of business. It’s a fascinating and terrifically done documentary about a piece of American culture from the 20th century that meant a great deal to people, with some of those people being interviewed in this documentary, like Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl, Elton John, and many more. All Things Must Pass may not break any new ground in terms of documentary filmmaking, but its a really terrific and wonderful rise and fall tale of a retail giant, and how all of that came crashing down. I look forward to seeing this film again in the near future.
3. Steve Jobs: Man in the Machine
Director Alex Gibney tackles one of the more taboo public figures in recent memory, Steve Jobs, in this fascinating and entertaining-as-hell documentary on the life of the infamous founder of Apple. Gibney tackles everything from his cruelness to his strive to perfection in his products, that ultimately had him lose a lot of friends in the long run. Gibney is arguably the best documentary filmmaker working today, and if you’re as big a fan of his work as I am, Man in the Machine is right up you alley, and is a terrific way to get ready for Gibney’s Scientology doc, Going Clear, which will premiere on HBO next Sunday. Man in the Machine doesn’t have a release date yet, but expect it to be released around the time of Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs film.
I immediately fell in love with Raiders! once the credits were finished rolling. Documenting the story behind the Raiders of the Lost Ark fan film from the 80’s, it documents that story as well as the process of the men behind the fan film trying to film one last scene for their adaptation, something that’s been apart of their lives since they were 12. Raiders! was inspiring, funny, emotional, and a love letter to cinema and the people who love it. I’ve heard about this fan film for years and thought that it was a joke, and while I’ve yet to see it, I have nothing but the utmost respect for the three men who made this film for most of their childhoods. Raiders! doesn’t have a release date yet, but I’ll let you know when it does.
1. Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
Easily the most emotional and heartbreaking documentary of the festival, Montage of Heck is the long-awaited authorized documentary about the life of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, and features home video footage of Kurt as a kid, to when Kurt was struggling with his heroin addiction with his wife Courtney Love. It’s not your run-of-the-mill documentary with talking head interviews mixed in with concert footage. While it has that, this is a lot more personal and intimate than most rock docs. Along with the home videos, you see these animated sequences of the art and drawings the Cobain made, as well as animated sequences that help visualize Cobain’s audio recordings that he made. These are some of the more memorable parts of Montage of Heck, which is a must see if you’re a fan of music, and required viewing if you’re a die-hard Nirvana fan.
So those are my favorite films from SXSW. If you went this year, what were some of your favorites?