South by Southwest Film Festival won't be in the can, as it were, until "Pet Sematary" makes its world premiere Saturday. But here are 10 movies that played the fest already getting some buzz. Look out for them in the months to come.
1. “Us.” From star Lupita Nyong’o’s stunning and unsettling performance to director Jordan Peele’s hilarious introduction to a legitimately scary, brutally smart horror movie from a director who has yet to make a wrong move (on TV or movies), “Us” was a staggeringly great kick-off to a strong film festival. It opens March 21 in Austin theaters.
2. “Booksmart.” Viewers raved about first-time filmmaker/longtime actress Olivia Wilde’s coming-of-age comedy about two young, nerdy ladies who want to shed their born-to-be-mild image before heading off to college. In theaters May 24.
3. “Knock Down the House.” SXSW crowds can be notoriously easy to please, but this documentary about four women candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives who made primary challenges to sitting (older, male, centrist) Democrats got a long, deserved standing ovation in the screening I attended, followed by another ovation for two of the four candidates who ran, as well as the directors. The candidate who won her race, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, was absent, but her presence sure was felt. The film is headed to Netflix and is absolutely worth your eyeballs.
4. “Mr. Jimmy.” One of the smartest, most respectful movies I have ever seen about art and obsession, “Mr. Jimmy” follows a Japanese guitarist who has devoted his life to playing guitar like Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, recreating the man’s on-stage work down to the last detail. Someone would do well to pick up this savvy doc.
5. “Teen Spirit.” As our critic Eric Webb put it about this “A Star is Born”-style teen-pop feature, “Violet, played by the always graceful Elle Fanning as a raw nerve in a track jacket, has a voice like a burning bush, and when it crackles out its revelations through a bar-stage cover of a Tegan and Sara deep cut, you understand where that angst comes from. ... Despite its well-worn arc, it still feels like a precious gem.”
6. “Running with Beto.” Take 700 hours of footage and one of the most covered (and donated to) candidates in recent memory, and you have this HBO doc on Beto O’Rourke, directed by David Modigliani and worked on by many a Texas filmmaker. It's a fascinating, behind-the-scenes look at a political story that didn’t turn out the way the candidate wanted (though he has since announced his candidacy for president).
7. “Boyz in the Wood.” As our critic Charles Ealy put it, “Four troubled teenage boys are sent on a two-day trek in the Scottish Highlands by their schools.The boys are total misfits. And the Highlands are filled with strange, menacing older people like the Duke (Eddie Izzard). If you get a chance and enjoy absurdist humor, this one’s for you.”
8. “For Sama.” The SXSW award for best documentary went to Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts’ film about al-Khateab’s life during five years of the uprising in Aleppo, Syria.
9. “The River and the Wall.” Ealy also calls this documentary from Austin director Ben Masters, which follows five people who decide to travel the length of the Rio Grande by bicycle and canoe until they reach the Gulf Coast, “one of this year’s must-see movies” and “a thrilling and gorgeous tale of adventure, with humor and flat-out wonder at nature’s beauty.”
10. “Daniel Isn’t Real.” This horror movie seems to be generating a tremendous amount of Twitter buzz. Austin screenwriter Robert Cargill called it “a movie so perfectly crafted, elegantly constructed and beautifully realized that I wish I'd been the one to write it.”
11. "Stuber." This screened as a work in progress at SXSW, but it's a rock solid, 1980s-style action-comedy starring Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista. While Bautista isn't given anything to do that matches his comedic turn as Drax in the "Guardians of the Galaxy" movies, he and Nanjiani make a winning duo. Nanjiani is excellent as a harried Uber driver whose fare, a cop played by Bautista, takes him on the ride of his life.
12. "The Boy Band Con: The Lou Pearlman Story." This Lance Bass-produced documentary tells the story of the infamous mastermind behind 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys. According to our critic Matt Shiverdecker, the film's "a wild cautionary tale for young artists and musicians that only gets weirder after we leave the pop world behind." It's out on YouTube on April 3.