The Top Five Films of SXSW 2013

27 Mar

As was previously mentioned, David and Lara were both extremely busy with the SXSW Film Festival this year, and both saw a ridiculous amount of movies despite (or perhaps because of) that.  Well, here is your chance to find out what the best films they saw were.  You will know which movies you need to keep a watchful eye out for, and your curiosity can finally be satisfied.  They didn’t see all of the same films, so their lists will be different for that reason, in addition to the fact that they generally disagree on most things.

One final note, neither David nor Lara saw Spring Breakers at the festival.  So, don’t take the fact that its missing from this list as a criticism.  We will definitely be talking about it in the near future.


David’s List

5.  Much Ado About Nothing


My first thought here was, “What?  Another version of this?  But the Kenneth Branagh version is just so good!”  And then I heard this was by Joss Whedon (The AvengersBuffyFirefly).  And then I heard he had filmed it in just 12 days in his own home, and casting his friends as all of the leads.  Now I was interested.  This sounded like something that could be worth watching.

And it is.  Everyone involved in this knocks it out of the park.  The beautiful black and white compliments the simple but layered story that we all know and love.  And the physical humor that the actors display is a perfect touch to help this version of the story stand on its own.  I was in love with this movie within ten minutes, so when Nathan Fillion finally showed up as Dogberry, I was completely sold.  This is a charming, perfectly done adaptation of the Shakespeare classic.

4.  The Act of Killing


I’ve been hearing about The Act of Killing for a while.  Its being distributed by Drafthouse Films, so working in one of their theaters means you hear about these movies.  Plus, having Werner Herzog and Errol Morris sign on to a film as executive producers after seeing a rough cut means people are going to talk.  So, I went into this movie with high expectations, but without much knowledge of what it was about.  And I was blown away.

This is one of the most powerful documentaries I have ever seen.  Director Joshua Oppenheimer went to Indonesia and got the men who carried out the mass killings in the 60s to discuss their involvement by having them perform reenactments of the torture and execution sessions they participated in.  These are men who did unbelievably horrible things, and are still celebrated as heroes for it in their own country.  And this film is probably the first time any of them have honestly thought about what they did.  Equal parts disturbing, thought-provoking, and humorous, The Act of Killing is unlike any film I have ever watched.

3.  Milius


I have loved John Milius for years.  Conan the Barbarian and Red Dawn were both important films in making me who I am today.  But I had no idea the kind of impact and legacy this man actually had.  He was involved with so many things that I love.  Whether it was writing specific scenes for Stephen Spielberg to make his films that much better, or rewriting Sean Connery’s dialogue so that he’ll agree to be in a movie.  This man had his fingers in just about everything that I love.

And directors Zak Knutson and Joey Figueroa tell one of the most interesting life stories I have ever watched.  It would be hard to make a film boring when its about the man Walter Sobchak (The Big Lebowski) was based on, but they did a fantastic job here.  Extensive interviews with Spielberg, Lucas, Coppola, and many more make this one of the most interesting documentaries about show business that I’ve had the pleasure of watching.

2.  12 O’Clock Boys


My favorite documentaries are the ones that tell me a story that I have never even heard about before.  That’s part of what attracted me to the other docs on this list, but that is absolutely what hooked me about 12 O’Clock Boys.  I had no idea that there were illegal urban dirt bike gangs in downtown Baltimore.  The idea had never even occurred to me that ex-gang members would evade police while doing wheelies on their four wheelers.  The thought almost seems ludicrous.  But it is very real, and it is completely fascinating.

This is a subject that would have been very intriguing on its own, but director Lotfy Nathan decides to focus on one thirteen year old and his mother, and makes the story personal.  We watch for three years as the young man grows up, tries to join the 12 O’Clock Boys, fights with his mother, loses family members, and figures out who he really is.  Its fascinating, its beautiful, and its compelling.  What more can you ask for in a documentary?

1.  Short Term 12


Short Term 12 is, quite frankly, one of the best films I’ve seen in the last several years.  I watched it twice during the festival, and I can’t wait for it to be released so I can watch it again.  It completely blew me away.  And I was not expecting it to at all.

The synopsis went something like this:  A look at the lives of the people who inhabit a short term foster care center for children who have violence in their histories, both the residents and workers.  I read that and thought, “Well, this sounds boring and depressing.”  But I could not have been more wrong.  It has been years since I have been so affected by characters in a film.  I felt like I knew them after watching the film, and they were all people that I would actually love to know.  The dialogue is amazing, the acting is incredible (especially Brie Larson, that girl is fantastic).  The cinematography is beautiful.  Writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton deserves all the praise he is getting.  And more.

I don’t even know how to explain how much I loved this movie.  The story is so small and simple, but the characters are so very, very real.  The emotion of what is happening to them is so beautiful.  I laughed out loud and cried while watching this film.

Please go see this movie at your first opportunity.


No trailer yet (or official poster), unfortunately.

Honorable Mentions:  Los Wild OnesDon JonMaidentripMilo, and The Crash Reel.

Lara’s List

5.  Rewind This!


A documentary about the vitality of VHS, both as a medium and as an art form. Filmmakers, archivists, programmers, collectors, and rental store owners revisit the excitement of going to a rental store on a Friday night, the ability to rewind an awesome clip over and over again, bootlegging, brilliantly bad straight-to-video films, the porn industry (yay.), phenomenal box art, and the joys of a movie collection. Rewind This! perfectly encapsulates the decade or so of modern history in which we could physically own a movie, but the world of film was not yet a simple click away.

4.  Prince Avalanche


This film is not hysterical, tragic, nor perfect, but it is fun, sweet, and good. That may not sound like the best recommendation, but I swear it is a great, character-driven watch. A dramedy that takes place in the ‘80s, starring Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch, and directed by David Gordon Green. Need I say more?


No official poster or trailer for Prince Avalanche as of yet.

3.  The New Public


Having worked in education for several years myself, this documentary is both inspiring and agonizing. Documenting the first and fourth years of BCAM, an inner-city, public high school in New York, The New Public shows the ups and downs of experimental education. This intimate look into the lives of administrators, teachers, and students starts out with an ardent bang, and soon is muddled down with reality and tribulation. I found myself gasping, laughing, crying, and cheering for the real-life characters of BCAM. A truly compelling education doc.

2.  Short Term 12


After a week of screening an assortment of depressing, poorly written tripe, the idea of a narrative about a group home for mentally unstable teens was less than appealing. Short Term 12 took me by surprise. It is poignant, funny, inspirational, and REAL. The film follows Grace (Brie Larson), a woman in her twenties who oversees foster kids suffering from various mental illnesses, which both hinders and helps her cope with her own troubled adolescence. Perfectly written, with great acting and an array of engaging characters, it is no wonder this film won SXSW’s Grand Jury and Audience Awards. SIGH, I almost wish that Before Midnight hadn’t been released the same year as this gem so I could make it #1.

Still no poster or trailer for Short Term 12.

Still no poster or trailer for Short Term 12.

1.  Before Midnight


(Full review to come soon). The third installment in “the lowest grossing films to ever be a franchise, or… a trilogy,” as Richard Linklater put it, is as superb, if not better than the two films that preceded it. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing this film three times already, and every viewing I take something new from this latest glimpse into the lives of Celine and Jesse. Nearly perfect and well worth the 9-year wait.

No official poster or trailer here either.

No official poster or trailer here either.

Honorable Mentions:  MiloI Am DivineBullyGo For SistersThe RamblerMuch Ado About Nothing.


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