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20 films we’re looking forward to at SXSW

Matthew Odam

“Awful Nice” (Narrative Competition/World Premiere)

One of just eight films selected to be in competition in the narrative film category this year, Todd Sklar’s new comedy finds two estranged brothers reuniting in Branson, Mo., after their father dies and wills them the dilapidated home they were raised in. All they had to do to get us in the door was list Yakov Smirnoff (who is now an actual Brandon resident) as a cast member. –Matt Shiverdecker

“Before Midnight” (Festival Favorites)

We last heard from star-crossed lovers Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) almost a decade ago. We catch up with the couple in Greece, where the two once again engage in a discursive conversation about love, marriage and life. The screenplay – a collaboration from the actors and director Richard Linklater – is full of beauty and pain and deserves an Oscar nomination. –Matthew Odam

“Before You Know It” (Documentary Spotlight/World Premiere)

Austin’s PJ Raval chronicles a year in the life of gay senior citizens living in three different retirement homes. Shining a spotlight on an issue that is seldom explored in popular culture, this is on our list of can’t miss documentaries at the festival this year. –M.S.

“Finding the Funk” (24 Beats Per Second/World Premiere)

Filmmaker, journalist, cultural critic and taste-maker Nelson George goes on a journey to uncover the roots, influence and legacy of funk music. The film, narrated by The Roots Questlove, bounces from coast-to-coast and from decade-to-decade, with appearances by George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, the Beastie Boys Mike D and many more. –M.O.

“Good Ol’ Frida” (Documentary Spotlight/World Premiere)

Freda Kelly was the personal secretary of The Beatles for 11 years and also ran their official fan club. Her story has remained largely untold until now. Director Ryan White has earned the rare approval to include four songs from the legendary band on its soundtrack at a much discounted rate. –M.S.

“Good Vibrations” (Narrative Spotlight)

“Good Vibrations”: Richard Dormer plays Terri Hooley, the son of a Belfast socialist, who goes on to help energize the Northern Ireland punk scene by opening an unusual record shop and starting a record label called Good Vibrations. Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Layburn direct, putting the punk scene in the context of the nation’s ethno-political conflicts called The Troubles. –Charles Ealy

“I Am Divine” (Documentary Spotlight/World Premiere)

The success of Midnight movies in the 1970s was, in large part, thanks to the outrageous on-screen antics of drag performer Divine in cult classics like “Pink Flamingos” and “Female Trouble.” Director Jeffrey Schwarz gets insight on Divine’s life and career from friends and collaborators John Waters, Ricki Lake, Tab Hunter and Divine’s late mother Frances Milstead, who passed away shortly after shooting her final interview for the film. –M.S.

“Milius” (Documentary Spotlight/World Premiere)

For a while there, John Milius was a Hollywood force, a screenwriter on “Apocalypse Now” and “Dirty Harry,” director of “Conan the Barbarian” and “Red Dawn” pal of powerful peers such as George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. His personality was big enough to inspire two immortal Hollywood characters, John Milner in “American Graffiti” and Walter Sobchak (the John Goodman character) in “The Big Lebowski.” He also came off as kind of right-wing and more than a little bonkers. Can’t wait. – Joe Gross

“Mud” (Festival Favorites)

Austin filmmaker Jeff Nichols spins a Twain-ian yarn about adolescence, love and the fallibility of grown-ups through the eyes of a teenage boy (Ty Sheridan) in Arkansas. Matthew McConaughey stars in the titular role, but Sheridan owns the film, proving his performance in “The Tree of Life” was the beginning of a career and not a one-off. –M.O.

“Muscle Shoals” (24 Beats Per Second)

The small city that produced the big sound, Muscle Shoals, Al., is an integral part of the history of American music. Rick Hall’s FAME Studios brought musicians as diverse as the Rolling Stones and Paul Simon in to record and helped shape a sound that would have an influence that endures. The movie offers testimony from Bono, Alicia Keys, Stevie Wonder and dozens more. — M.O.

“Museum Hours” (SXGlobal)

This is the second narrative feature from director Jem Cohen, perhaps best known for the Fugazi documentary “Instrument” and his other impressionistic docs. When Anne, a visitor to Vienna, Austria, encounters Johann, a guard at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, the two forge an interesting bond. I will always be interested in whatever Cohen puts his hand to. — J.G.

“Rewind This!” (Documentary Spotlight/World Premiere)

Once upon a time, the VCR was perhaps the most important device in film. For the first time, average consumers could see classic films over and over again in the comfort of their own home. This locally produced doc takes a look at why the format was important and the people who are doing their level best to keep it alive. – J.G.

“Spectacular Now” (Festival Favorites)

Shailene Woodley, who showed so much promise in 2010’s “The Descendants,” co-stars with Miles Teller in this tale of teens dealing with adult problems. The performances won the young actors a special jury prize for acting at the Sundance Film Festival. Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter called the movie “a sincere, refreshingly unaffected look at teenagers and their attitudes about the future.” — M.O.

“Spring Breakers” (Headliners)

The executives at Disney probably had a collective heart attack when they saw the poster for this film starring (former) squeaky-clean stars Vanessa Hudgens and native Texan Selena Gomez, both of whom have had much face time on the Disney Channel. Here they play part of a troubled quartet of bad girls who end up in jail after robbing a store to pay for their spring break exploits. A skeevy James Franco lends them a hand, but he want something from them in return. Should be pretty gonzo. –M.O.

“The Punk Singer” (Documentary Spotlight/World Premiere)

In the early 1990s, Bikini Kill was, as a fellow musician once put it, the most important band in North America and Kathleen Hanna was its frontwoman, one of the most charismatic, galvanizing and controversial figures in music, the very embodiment of third-wave feminism for a generation of men and women. But in 2005, after making three albums with the electronic music act Le Tigre, Hanna virtually vanished from public life. This doc explores what Hanna meant to people then and now and what she’s been up to all these years. – J.G.

“The Retrieval” (Narrative Feature Competition/World Premiere)

Austinite Chris Eska won the John Cassavetes Award at the Independent Spirit Awards in 2008 for his film “August Evening.” He follows up his feature debut with this handsome and wicked period-piece drama about a bounty hunter sent to capture a man during the Civil War. It looks to be a bold step forward for the rising filmmaker.

“Twenty Feet from Stardom” (Festival Favorites)

On the edge of the spotlight, back-up singers toil in relative obscurity. They help provide depth, complexity, harmony and soul to music, often without much recognition. This Sundance hit documentary gives a group of singers their long-overdue time on center stage. Hopefully, audiences will be treated to a little a cappella performances from some of the film’s stars after screenings. — M.O.

“Upstream Color” (Festival Favorites)

Dallas filmmaker Shane Carruth is an uncompromising filmmaker of unique vision. His latest has drawn varied and vehement responses from critics, with some assailing the confusing narrative but almost everyone celebrating the visual and technical brilliance of this science fiction love story. When people are throwing out names like Terrence Malick and “2001: A Space Odyssey,” as I heard from one audience member at Sundance, you know something powerful is going on. — M.O.

“We Always Lie to Strangers” (Documentary Competition/World Premiere)

Branson, Mo., has a population of about 10,000 people, is home to about 50 theaters and hosts about 7.5 million(!) visitors a year. Filmmakers AJ Schnack (“Kurt Cobain About a Son,” “Convention”) and David Wilson (co-founder of the excellent True/False documentary film festival) take a look at the tightly knit groups of performers who entertain in this odd little city, the world capital of “family friendly” entertainment. – J.G.

“Zero Charisma” (Narrative Spotlight/World Premiere)

A movie that feels very Austin-centric, and not just because it was filmed here, this comedy stars Sam Eidson as a down-on-his-luck schlub who lives with his grandmother and works at a donut shop. But he has another life, a role-playing fantasy world in which he is a master of the universe. When his world is shaken by the intrusion of a much cooler outsider, Eidson’s nerd must summon his courage to do battle. — M.O.