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Our must-see SXSW films and panels

Five movies and five panels that should guarantee a good SXSW

Chris Garcia

More than 100 movies will be clamoring for your eyeballs during the South by Southwest Film Festival, running Friday through March 20 at seven venues across Austin.

Major titles include ‘The Runaways' (with Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett ), Tim Blake Nelson's ‘Leaves of Grass,' the Hollywood action spoof ‘MacGruber,' Steven Soderbergh's documentary about Spalding Gray ‘And Everything is Fine,' Michel Gondry's family portrait ‘Thorn in the Heart,' Bill Murray and Robert Duvall's crime drama ‘Get Low' and two films starring indie queen Chloë Sevigny, ‘Barry Munday' and ‘Mr. Nice.'

In a dubious exercise, we've picked a mere five movies from about 40 that have piqued our curiosity (as well as five panels at the conference). Besides being good bets, they embody the type of big-hearted, small-budget movies that are the bedrock of SXSW.

Five killer films:

1. ‘Cyrus.'In this Sundance hit by former Austinites Mark and Jay Duplass, a woebegone guy (John C. Reilly) falls for a single mother (Marisa Tomei). All's bliss until he meets her hyper-possessive son Cyrus (Jonah Hill) and finds he has to compete for her attentions. Imagine dating Jonah Hill's mom and you get the picture: funny, annoying, heartbreaking. With the Duplasses, Reilly and Hill in attendance. 9:30 p.m. Saturday, the Paramount Theatre.

2. ‘Lemmy.' Last year at SXSW, Iron Maiden's concert film rocked the Paramount Theatre. The 95-year-old venue survived. We fear for it now with this rock doc about the baddest, growliest elder statesman of metal, Motörhead leader Lemmy. The movie tails the chain-smoking, whiskey-guzzling legend around the world with his band, revealing the sage sexagenarian behind the bearded scowl. Will Lemmy be there? We're afraid to ask. 6:45 p.m. Monday and 9:15 p.m. March 19, Paramount. (Motörhead performs Wednesday at Austin Music Hall.)

3. ‘Lovers of Hate.' Two brothers love the same woman in Bryan Poyser's creepy-funny indie that beguiled Sundance crowds. Set in a multi-story house, this tale of sibling rivalry plumbs the passions and pathologies of the human heart with uncomfortable honesty. 11 a.m. Monday, Paramount. (Starting Monday, it will also be available on-demand on Time Warner Cable.)

4. ‘American: The Bill Hicks Story.' Comedian Bill Hicks died, at 32, before he could conquer the world, but he did a pretty good job at leaving a mark anyway. In the '80s and early '90s, Hicks won cult status in Austin (and beyond) for his barbed iconoclasm and profane rants about American religion, politics, media and social values. He had a fiery style lit by uncompromising passion. He meant it. Word is that this documentary does the very funny man justice. 9 p.m. Friday, G-Tech Theater at the Austin Convention Center; 4 p.m. Monday and 9:30 p.m. March 20, Paramount.

5. ‘Trash Humpers.' Bad-boy provocateur Harmony Korine (‘Gummo') revels in the creep-out. With a punky, found-art aesthetic, he makes freakish worlds populated by humans only Cripsin Glover could love. The films are funny, deeply disturbing, hypnotic. His latest follows ‘the debased and shocking actions of a group of true sociopaths the likes of which have never been seen before.' That's our boy. 7:45 p.m. Friday, 10 p.m. Tuesday and 2:45 p.m. March 19, Alamo Ritz.

Five killer panels:

(All at the Austin Convention Center)

1. ‘Directing the Dead: Genre Directors Spill Their Guts.' A dialectic bloodbath, as charter members of the dismemberment club cavil about kills and bicker over beheadings. It's a voluble group of naughty boys who refuse to grow up, all of them superstars in cinema's Hell of Fame: Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Ruben Fleischer (‘Zombieland'), Neil Marshall (‘The Descent'), Ti West (‘House of the Devil'), Matt Reeves (‘Cloverfield' and ‘Let Me In,' the remake of ‘Let the Right One In'). 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Room 18ABCD.

2. ‘The Kids Are Alright: Jay & Mark Duplass Plus.' Or: Austin pals make good. Former hometownies Jay and Mark Duplass (‘Cyrus') and current Austinites Bryan Poyser (‘Lovers of Hate') and Geoff Marslett (‘Mars') join actor-director Katie Aselton (‘The Freebie'), who happens to be Mark Duplass' wife. They'll conduct a friendly confab about being shooting stars in American indie film. True DIYers, the filmmakers are collaborative cross-pollinaters, as you'll see in their movies, all screening at the festival. 2 p.m. Saturday, Room 16AB.

3. ‘Jeffrey Tambor's Acting Workshop.' If you want a chair, come early for this master class in extemporaneous whimsy. Tambor — the tall, bald, strange man from ‘The Larry Sanders Show' and ‘Arrested Development' — puts two actors and himself through the paces, thrilling overflow crowds who've made this show an annual smash. 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Room 16AB.

4. ‘How to Defuse a Bomb and Other Life Lessons from the Cast of "MacGruber." ' ‘Saturday Night Live' writers and performers Will Forte, Kristen Wiig, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer, plus Ryan Phillippe, blab about their Hollywood action-comedy, tell lots of inside jokes and make themselves laugh ... all the way to the bank. 11 a.m. Tuesday, Room 16AB.

5. ‘Nobody Wants to Watch Your Film: Realities of Online Film Distribution.' This one's the broccoli of the bunch — bitter but necessary in turbulent times for indie distribution. It's about transitioning. It's about viewing movies on tiny screens. It's about growing pains. Efe Cakarel (The Auteurs), Peter Becker (The Criterion Collection), Graham Leggat (San Francisco Film Society) and Sara Pollack (YouTube) discuss the new realties. Wincing allowed. 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Room 18ABCD.

— Chris Garcia