After a full week of non-stop fun/work, the 2016 SXSW Film Festival is now in the books. In a matter of a week, I’ve seen 11 movies, done a few panels, and covered 4 red carpets. Its been a lot of fun, but all things must pass. Luckily, there will be another year of SXSW, which means as much, if not more, fun than the last. But this has arguably been the best year of SXSW Film that I’ve seen. Granted, this is my first year of being press, but it was still very impressive. I saw a lot of cool, smaller movies, and a lot of really big and exciting films. And with the exception of one film (which you’ll find here), they were all great, and they’re on this list. I usually do a top five best of list, but I saw so many great films that I’ve decided to expand the list to 10. I hope that once you read this list, you decide to go out and see these films, whenever they’ll be released. Let’s begin!!
10. Richard Linklater – dream is destiny
Louis Black and Karen Bernstein’s documentary on the legendary Texas filmmaker was a nice love letter to the films of Richard Linklater and of the man himself. It didn’t blow me out of the water like the other films on this list did, but it was still a solid entry in the SXSW Film year. dream is destiny is planned to air on PBS later this year, so be sure to check it out then. (review here)
9. The Smart Studios Story
An exciting and heartfelt love letter to the titular gateway to some of the most important music of the 90s, Wendy Schneider’s documentary was one of the highlights of the SXSW Film Festival. Premiering toward the beginning of the music portion of the fest, it’s a stellar music documentary about Butch Vig and Steve Marker’s baby before they went on to garner great success with Garbage and other acts. Smart Studios just began the festival circuit route, so be sure to be on the lookout for this one in the near future if you missed the SXSW screenings. (review here)
8. The Trust
A quirky buddy-cop/heist movie ended up being one of the biggest surprises of the festival for this year. Featuring a terrific performance by Elijah Wood and an absolutely brilliant performance by Nicolas Cage (and an underused but always welcome Jerry Lewis), The Trust is one of the funniest and most intense films from this year’s festival. While the film starts to fall apart (at least for me) in the last 15 minutes, the moments leading up to that moment are so brilliant and funny that its forgiven. The Trust will be released in limited release on May 13th. (review here)
7. Miles Ahead
While not the best biopic of the fest (that one is coming up soon…) Don Cheadle’s long-awaited film on the life and times of Miles Davis is one that’s definitely worth checking out. Part buddy film (with Ewan McGregor playing a Rolling Stone journalist) and part character study, Miles Ahead is an unconventional but very entertaining and well done movie, and one that really works thanks to Cheadle’s brilliant performance as the titular trumpet player. Miles Ahead will be in limited release on April 1st, and I highly recommend that you go and check that one out. (review here)
6. Born to be Blue
A film that features quite possibly the finest performance of Ethan Hawke’s career, Born to be Blue is yet another unconventional biopic of a legendary jazz trumpet player. Instead of the focus being Miles Davis (who is a minor character in this film), the focus is on Chet Baker, and his struggle with heroin and his inability to play the trumpet after getting his teeth beaten in. While not the most accurate of biopics (Carmen Ejego’s character didn’t even exist), the structure of the film, being a tragedy of the late trumpet players life, makes the film all the more compelling and beautiful. Born to be Blue was easily the best narrative drama I saw at SXSW this year. The film will open in limited release on March 25th. (review here)
5. Sausage Party
Yes, Born to be Blue is technically a better movie, but I put Sausage Party over that film just because of all the fun I had watching this one. From the twisted minds of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg comes this raunchy R-rated CGI-animated comedy that’s like Toy Story but with more weed and sex jokes. The screening, which featured animation that wasn’t even finished, was easily the craziest, rowdiest, and most fun I’ve ever had at a SXSW screening. There came a point toward the end of the film where I was laughing so hard, and the audience around me was laughing so hard, that the 100-year-old Paramount Theater almost fell on top of us like the first episode of HBO’s Vinyl. Sausage Party opens on August 12th, and I will definitely be seeing this one again to see all of the animation (and the batshit crazy sequences) fully realized. (review here)
4. A Song for You: The Austin City Limits Story
Easily the best music doc I saw at the festival this year (and one of the best music docs I’ve seen in recent memory), A Song for You is a beautiful and expertly made love letter about the greatest music television show of all time, Austin City Limits. Featuring interviews with Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Jerry Jeff Walker, and many more staples of the television show along with archival footage of some of the most memorable tapings in the show’s history, this is a movie that is essential viewing for anybody whose grown up loving this show or just loves music in general. I honestly don’t have a bad thing to say about this film. A Song for You unfortunately doesn’t have a release date currently, but that should change pretty soon judging by how good this film is, and how big the reaction has been from the people who’ve seen it. (review here)
3. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
I really fell in love with Taikia Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople at SXSW this year. It was a hilarious and a surprisingly very moving and heartfelt adventure. Featuring Sam Neill in one of his best performances, and newcomer Julian Dennison as our film’s protagonist, Wilderpeople is just a wonderful viewing experience from beginning to end. Everything from the film’s cinematography, to the acting from every performer to the film, and especially the screenplay and direction from Waitiiti makes Hunt for the Wilderpeople destined to become a classic a la any Spielberg children’s film from the 70s/80s. Hunt for the Wilderpeople unfortunately doesn’t currently have a release date in the United States, but judging by the buzz this film is getting at all of these festivals, I wouldn’t be shocked if that changes very soon. (review here)
2. Everybody Wants Some!!
One of the best college party films ever made, Richard Linklater’s long-awaited “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused is a masterpiece of debauchery from beginning to end. However, what separates this film from the lowbrow National Lampoon comedies of yesteryear is how enduring and strong the characters are in the piece. I genuinely cared for these characters, and I enjoyed their company as they hung out with one another. This is easily Linklater’s funniest film since Dazed, and arguably his best film since that cult-classic. I highly recommend checking this one when it hits theaters in April. (review here)
This wasn’t the easiest or most exciting premiere at SXSW, but it was the most important, not just of the festival but of the entire year. Kim Snyder’s documentary on the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut is some of the most powerful and moving filmmaking I’ve ever seen. I cried throughout the entire movie, as did the entire audience. Hell, I’m even getting a little misty-eyed writing about this film just because it gets to me every time. Its a film that’s not for the faint of heart, but is essential viewing to any American in this country, especially one whose angry that Washington the rest of our leaders our failing us when it comes to passing any gun control legislation to prevent anything like Sandy Hook ever happening again.
I gave a few standing ovations to certain films and individuals at SXSW this year for their work, but the only standing ovation I gave this was worth something was for Abbey Clements, her daughter Sarah, and Nicole Hockley. Abbey was a school teacher at Sandy Hook the day the shooting occurred but her classroom was one of the lucky ones. Nicole is the mother of Dylan, one of the children whose life was unfortunately taken too soon because of this shooting. Those three women are now heroes of mine, and after viewing Newtown, they will easily be yours too. Newtown currently has no release date, but I expect that to change, and I wouldn’t be shocked if this film becomes the frontrunner for the Best Documentary Oscar next year. (review here)
And there you have it. SXSW 2016 is officially in the books. Did you go the festival this year? What were your favorite movies?