The Best Films of the 2017 SXSW Film Festival

 

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The 2017 SXSW Film Festival was extremely impressive this year. I didn’t hate any of the 12 films I saw this year, and save for maybe one or two I ended up loving almost every single one of them. No film ended up being what I thought it was going to be. Some films  blew me away, exceeded expectations, or gave me something almost entirely than what I thought I was going to get. While doing lists of films aren’t necessarily my favorite, I feel it’s appropriate to let you know what are the best films from SXSW. Before I get to the top ten, there’s a few honorable mentions that I want to get out-of-the-way.

 

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Stranger Fruit

I felt that it wouldn’t be fair to rank this film. It would be disrespectful to Michael Brown’s memory as well as his family. While I had a few minor problems with Jason Pollock’s film (I would’ve preferred it if the director didn’t appear on-screen or as the narrator), this is still a very powerful and important story that people need to see to understand what happened in Ferguson, Missouri on that hot August day. The film made headlines when it debuted new footage that contradicts what the Ferguson Police Department has been telling us, as well as other information that I wasn’t personally aware of. I’m not sure when Stranger Fruit will be released, but I hope it’s soon. This is an important story that everybody needs to see to understand the pain that this family had to go through, and that black lives do in fact matter. Powerful stuff.

 

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May it Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers 

Judd Apatow‘s documentary on the wildly popular Americana band was a genuine crowdpleaser when I saw the film last week. It ended up winning the Audience Award for the 24 Beats Per Second category, and it’s deserving of that title. This personal love letter to the band and their music has all the heart and passion that the brothers put into their music that they perform for their fans. It also didn’t hurt that the band ended up doing an impromptu mini-concert right after the screening. May it Last will debut on HBO later this year, and you don’t even have to be a fan of the band to appreciate this doc. I wasn’t too familiar with the band going in, but I came out a fan. It’s a nice little music doc that will find a base of fans (primarily of Avett Brothers fans).

Let’s get onto the list.

 

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10. The Disaster Artist

James Franco‘s highly anticipated adaptation of Greg Sestero‘s book was definitely worth the 3-plus hour wait in line. The Disaster Artist tells the story of the making of The Room, one of the greatest cult-classic “comedies” of all time. Franco could’ve easily slipped into parody with his performance as Tommy Wiseau, but the Oscar-nominated actor ends up delivering a nuanced, heartfelt and very funny performance. Franco’s little brother Dave is great is Greg Sestero, Wiseau’s best friend who co-starred in The Room. Their friendship is what drives the movie, and all the hilarious cameos and appearances by Hollywood’s funniest people are just the icing on the cake for this hilarious send-up to Hollywood, show business, and dedication to your craft. The Disaster Artist currently has no planned release date, but judging by the response at the premiere last week that should change pretty quickly.

 

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9. The Hero

Sam Elliot gives what may be the best performance of his career in Brett Haley’s beautiful character study of an aging movie star in The Hero. There are some good supporting performances by Nick Offerman, Krysten Ritter, Laura Prepon, and Katharine Ross, this is Elliot’s film and it’s a performance for the ages. His performance, which can be just as heartbreaking as it can be funny, makes up for some of the film’s few flaws and nitpicks. The Hero will be opening in limited release in June, so make sure to check that one out later on.

 

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8. Infinity Baby

Bob Byington‘s latest film is one of the strangest comedies from the festival, and I think that’s why I enjoyed it so much. Shot in black-and-white, Infinity Baby imagines a dystopian future where abortion is illegal and companies can manufacture babies that can never age. It’s a bizarre concept for a comedy, but the surreal/frighteningly realistic concept on top of the talented and funny cast make this somehow work. This is by no means a commercial film, and the film is okay with that. It’s weird, and it might even make some people feel a little uncomfortable. I think that’s why I probably liked the film as much as I did.

 

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7. Nobody Speaks: Trials of the Free Press 

Brian Knappenberger‘s wildly entertaining and frightening look into the Hulk Hogan v. Gawker sex tape trial is maybe the most important film to have made the film festival rounds this year. Not only does this film look into Hogan’s shocking trial that resulted in the bankruptcy of Gawker, but it also looks into the story behind the mysterious acquisition of The Las Vegas Review Journal by Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson and then covers the rise of Donald Trump and how his distain for the media helped him get elected and his influence on the world now. The media and the press are under heavy scrutiny now, and this film attempts to fight back and prove that if we continue to stick to the facts and hold every person in power accountable, no matter their political party, then the press will be fine. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen for a while. Nobody Speaks will be available on Netflix later this year.

 

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6. Ramblin’ Freak 

Parker Smith‘s Ramblin’ Freak was the biggest surprise of the fest. The concept sounded really interesting, and it helped that Parker and I kind-of know one another so that gave me another stipulation to go see the film. But after seeing his film, I was a bit of an emotional wreck. I didn’t know his story or really a whole lot outside of the synopsis, but I was kind-of blown away. It’s such a small and simple little documentary that Parker shot exclusively on old camera equipment, but the tragedy that Parker goes through in this film that motivates this story and the journey that he goes on pushed it over the edge for me. It was a remarkable little movie, and I was glad to have been able to have seen it as the last film of SXSW for me. Ramblin’ Freak currently has no release date, but I’ll let you know first thing I know about any news concerning the film.

 

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5. Becoming Bond 

As a huge James Bond fan, I kind-of loved Josh Greenbaum‘s documentary/narrative hybrid about the life and times of George Lazenby. The stranger than fiction story of how a male model ended up succeeding Sean Connery as 007 was a story that had been begging for a film adaptation, and Greenbaum’s way of telling this story was a bit of a creative leap of faith and it ended up working out so wonderfully. George Lazenby himself guides us through the story of his life, with Josh Lawson playing Lazenby in the reenactments of these life stories, as well as other noticeable faces in the film. The film is also a wild ride, but it was oddly heartfelt and a little emotional at times. Hulu is airing this film on May 20th, and I highly recommend checking this wildly fun film out.

 

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4. Baby Driver

Edgar Wright‘s latest was maybe his finest work to date as a filmmaker. This quasi musical/action-comedy hybrid sounds almost too bizarre for it to work, but thanks to Wright’s signature style, his quippy/snappy screenplay, and great performances all around from the cast, Baby Driver ends up being a real winner. The film is just as funny as it is exciting, and I really hope that the film finds an audience when it’s released in theaters this summer. Of the headliners that premiered this year, this was by far the best one (there’s a reason it won the Audience Award for headliners). Baby Driver will be released on August 11th.

 

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3. Disgraced

I loved Pat Kondelis‘s Disgraced as much as it made me angry. The documentary on the murder of former Baylor basketball player Patrick Dennehy in 2003 is one that Baylor has tried to swipe under the rug for years up until this documentary, which will no doubt open up a can of worms that Baylor is probably not ready for. This true-crime documentary is compelling, fascinating, angering, and jaw-dropping at times. This is my favorite documentary from SXSW, and I hope you’ll understand me when Disgraced premieres on Showtime on Friday, March 31st.

 

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2. Mr. Roosevelt  

Noël Wells became a big-time movie star during this year’s SXSW Film Festival, and her directorial debut Mr. Roosevelt allows her to showcase her talents both in-front of and behind the camera. This was such a delightful and very funny little film, and I loved it so much that I almost considered going to the additional buzz screening for the film (which I couldn’t make since I was going to the Infinity Baby screening, another film that Wells is in). Shot almost entirely in Austin, Mr. Roosevelt is a hilarious little indie that is already making shockwaves around the industry. Noël was/is a wonderful person, she’s wonderful in this movie, and her movie is wonderful. Mr. Roosevelt currently has no release date, but I expect that to change in the coming weeks.

 

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  1. The Big Sick 

I fell in love with this movie so damn quickly. The semi-fictionalized story of how Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon met can be just as heartbreaking/emotional as it is funny, and this film is very, very funny. The screenplay, written by Kumail and Emily, is one that deserves awards attention, as does Kumail’s performance and Zoe Kazan’s as Emily in the film. Michael Showalter directs and the Bridesmaids duo of Judd Apatow and Barry Mendel produce, and I’m hoping that this film has a similar following like that film did. This is a really remarkable movie, and one that I continue to be speechless about when writing about how good it is. The Big Sick comes out in June and expands in July.

That’s going to do it to me. SXSW is over. Back to writing movie reviews sporadically until the next film festival comes along. Have a good one everybody.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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