It’s South by Southwest Film Festival time, which means hundreds of movies, episodic programs, short films and more competing for your eyeballs. Here are 20 that caught our critics’ attention before the start of the fest.
“The World Before Your Feet.” Thirty-seven-year-old Matt Green is determined to walk every block of every street in New York City. That’s about 8,000 blocks. All I want to know is what kind of shoes he wears. (11 a.m. March 10, Alamo Ritz 1; 1:30 p.m. March 11, Alamo Lamar A; 2:45 p.m. March 14, Alamo Lamar A)
“Hereditary.” A critical smash at Sundance, “Hereditary,” starring a murderer’s row of Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Ann Dowd, Alex Wolff and Milly Shapiro, looks to be a story of a recently departed grandmother who just refuses to stay dead. Or something. Will it be the horror masterwork of 2018? (11:45 p.m. March 11, Alamo Lamar E; 11:55 p.m. March 11, Alamo Lamar D)
“Barry.” A new HBO sitcom from Alec Berg, who produced “Silicon Valley” with Mike Judge, concerns Bill Hader (who also wrote, directed and co-created the program) as the titular character, a small-time hitman who takes a job in L.A. and falls in with aspiring theater actors. Who doesn’t like Bill Hader? (6 p.m. March 9, Alamo Ritz 1)
“Sorry To Bother You.” The increasingly-fantastic Lakeith Stanfield (Darius on “Atlanta,” the first victim we see in “Get Out”) stars as a telemarketer with an interesting secret. Written and directed by Boots Riley (frontman of the Bay Area hip-hop act the Coup) and starring Tessa Thompson (“Thor: Ragnarok,” “Annihilation”), Armie Hammer, Danny Glover and Terry Crews, with music from Tune-Yards. Lord, this looks dope. (4:30 p.m. March 11, Zach; 7 p.m. March 14, Stateside)
“Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story.” You might remember that the story of “Frank Sidebottom,” the strange British comedian with a giant papier mâché head, was turned into the feature film “Frank” back in 2104. Here is a documentary about the same dude by Steve Sullivan, a fellow who worked with him, “him” being artists Chris Sievey, the man under the head. (9 p.m. March 13, Alamo Ritz 1; 4:15 p.m. March 14, Stateside; 11:30 a.m. March 17, Alamo Ritz 2)
“Profile.” A London journalist named Amy Whitaker (Valene Kane) wants to investigate the online recruitment of women to be the brides/lovers of jihadists, so she creates a fake identity as a radicalized Muslim and gets the attention of an ISIS recruiter. The film, directed by Timur Bekmambetov, takes place entirely on computer screens. And if that sounds off-putting, then you might want to know that the film won the Panorama Audience Award at the recently completed Berlin International Film Festival. (8:45 p.m. March 11, Vimeo; 6:30 p.m. March 12, Vimeo; 9 p.m. March 14, AFS; 3:30 p.m. March 15, Paramount).
“People’s Republic of Desire.” If you’re looking for a theme at this year’s film festival, you might want to consider life online. Like “Profile,” “People’s Republic of Desire” takes place primarily online, where virtual relationships are replacing one-on-one, face-to-face real-life ones. Hao Wu directs this documentary about two online stars in China who have discovered that they can earn as much as $200,000 a month if their showrooms attract the attention of millions of people. (4:15 p.m. March 10, Alamo Ritz 1; 4:15 p.m. March 11, Alamo Lamar A; 5:30 p.m. March 14, Alamo Lamar A).
“Lean on Pete.” Charlie Plummer, who caught moviegoers’ attention as J. Paul Getty III in “All the Money in the World,” stars as a lost but sweet young man who has grown up without his mother and has recently relocated to Portland, Ore., with his father. While running one day, he notices that his ramshackle home is near a quarterhorse racetrack, where he gets a part-time job with a crusty trainer/owner (Steve Buscemi). The young man gets along fine with the horses, especially one named Lean on Pete. But when he discovers that Pete is destined for the slaughterhouse, he decides to take action. Plummer won the best young actor award at the 2017 Venice Film Festival. You’ll want to see why. Andrew Haigh (“Weekend”) writes and directs. (5:45 p.m. March 9, Alamo Lamar D; 6:15 p.m. March 11, AFS; 2:15 p.m. March 14, Alamo Lamar C).
“Wild Nights With Emily.” Poets are not normal people, in case you didn’t know that. And some folks might think the poet Emily Dickinson was reclusive — a wallflower, a spinster; you know, all those sexist things people say about women who don’t get married. But this movie posits that she was a wild woman, romantically, with — gasp — another woman! Believe it or not, there’s some merit to such a revisionist biography. Molly Shannon stars as the surprising Emily. (3 p.m. March 11, Paramount; 11:15 a.m. March 13, Rollins; 5:30 p.m. March 16, Zach).
“Jinn.” Islam is complicated. So is Christianity. So is Judaism. But “Jinn” explores the Muslim side, and that doesn’t happen a lot on the big screen in America. Nijla Mu’min writes and directs this film about a what’s been called “a shape-shifting, pepperoni-loving, black teenage Instagram celebrity” who explores her identity and sexuality as her mother converts to Islam. This might be one of the sleeper films of this year’s festival. It stars Zoe Renee as Summer, the curious teen who’s exploring boundaries. (11:15 a.m. March 11, Stateside; 11:45 p.m. March 12, Alamo Lamar C; 2:30 p.m. March 15, Alamo Lamar E).
“1985.” Austin-based director Yen Tan has expanded his award-winning short film into a feature about a young man named Adrian (Cory Michael Smith) living in New York during the early days of the AIDS crisis who is returning home to Texas for Christmas. After keeping his sexuality a guarded secret from his conservative family (Virginia Madsen and Michael Chiklis), he struggles to reconnect and be honest with them for the first time. (6:30 p.m. March 9, Zach; 6:30 p.m. March 10, AFS; 7:15 p.m. March 13, Rollins; 9 p.m. March 15, Stateside)
“Chi-Town.” This documentary follows Keifer Sykes, a talented young basketball player from Chicago. Coming from a poor neighborhood plagued with gang violence, he still manages to rise through the ranks as one of the best college players in the country. Director Nick Budabin chronicles the hard work and devotion of Sykes as he tries to make his dreams of becoming an NBA player a reality. (1:45 p.m. March 11, Alamo Ritz 1; 12:15 p.m. March 12, Alamo Lamar A; 8:15 p.m. March 14, Alamo Lamar A)
“Hearts Beat Loud.” Nick Offerman (“Parks and Recreation”) stars in this musical Sundance hit from Brett Haley (“I’ll See You In My Dreams”). He plays a hipster dad from Brooklyn who connects with his daughter by recording some tunes with her before she heads across the country to go to college, songs that almost instantly earn them internet buzz. Loaded with original songs that were written for the film by Keegan DeWitt, this dramedy will be released later this year by upstart distributor Gunpowder & Sky. (7 p.m. March 14, Paramount)
“Pass Over.” An updated retelling of “Waiting for Godot” with two homeless men, this acclaimed play by Antoinette Nwandu was quietly filmed by legendary director Spike Lee when it was being performed at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre last fall. Look for this one to eventually turn up streaming from Amazon Studios, making SXSW a rare opportunity to see it on the big screen. (9:30 p.m. March 10, Alamo Ritz 1; 7:30 p.m. March 15, Alamo Lamar B)
“Sadie.” Melanie Lynskey (“Togetherness”) and Danielle Brooks (“Orange Is The New Black”) star in this drama from Megan Griffiths. The title character of the film (played by relative newcomer Sophia Mitri Schloss) is a teenager who is very close to her father, who has frequently been away from home serving in the military. She apparently becomes very distressed when her mom begins dating a new man and does her best to sabotage their relationship to save her family. (4:15 p.m. March 10, Stateside; 12:15 p.m. March 11, Alamo Lamar B; 4:30 p.m. March 14, Alamo Lamar E)
“Isle of Dogs.” Wes Anderson’s newest stop-motion animated film features the voices of Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Greta Gerwig and so many more. After all the dogs in Megasaki City are exiled to Trash Island, 12-year-old Atari Kobayashi begins the journey to retrieve his dog Spots and meets some interesting canine friends along the way. Only together can they work to save the city. Directed by Anderson (“Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox”) and produced by Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steve Rales and Jeremy Dawson. (8 p.m. March 17, Paramount)
“Eighth Grade.” A coming-of-age story that follows Kayla (Elsie Fisher), a lonely eighth-grader trudging through her last week of middle school. Amid all the awkward teens, cool guys and social media struggles, the eighth grade hasn’t exactly been great, but Kayla wonders if somehow high school could be better. Directed by Bo Burnham (directorial film debut) and produced by Eli Bush, Lila Yacoub and Christopher Storer. (8:45 p.m. March 9, Alamo Lamar D; 2:15 p.m. March 12, Zach; 4:45 p.m. March 14, Alamo Ritz 1)
“Won’t You Be My Neighbor.” A documentary that shines a light on the life of Fred Rogers, the cherished host of the classic children’s TV program “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood.” From his own childhood beginnings to the legacy he left, the film examines the interesting life of a man so many have welcomed into their homes over the years. Directed by Morgan Neville (“Twenty Feet From Stardom,” “Best of Enemies”) and produced by Caryn Capotosto and Nicholas Ma. (4:45 p.m. March 12, Alamo Ritz 2; 1:45 p.m. March 13, Zach)
“Most Likely to Murder.” Rachel Bloom and Adam Pally star in this comedy about an ex-cool kid who comes back to his hometown only to find that the girl he loves is dating the town’s former outcast. Of course, there’s only one solution to fix this situation — prove that the guy is a murderer. Directed by Dan Gregor (directorial film debut) and produced by Petra Ahmann, Gregor, Doug Mand, Pally and Bloom. (7 p.m. March 12, Stateside; 6 p.m. March 13, Alamo Lamar D; 9:45 p.m. March 14, Alamo Lamar E)
“Final Portrait.” Geoffrey Rush and Armie Hammer star in this period piece about the friendship between Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti and American writer James Lord. Set in 1964, highlighting a brief moment in time when Lord sat for a portrait done by Giacometti, the film is based on Lord’s memoir. Directed by Stanley Tucci (“Blind Date”) and produced by Gail Egan, Nik Bower and Ilann Girard. (6 p.m. March 9, Stateside; 9 p.m. March 10, AFS)