The South By Southwest (SXSW) Festival has come and gone from Austin, Texas once more. The festival once known only for it’s music portion, has expanded to be a full on music, film and tech experience where products are debuted, films are screened and music is discovered. In the film portion, 145 feature films were screened this year which was an all-time high for the festival. They even took the time to screen Furious 7 just before its worldwide release which is not the norm for the festival, as they tend to not screen or premiere major blockbuster types. Many other films and documentaries also made their world premiere here, and the buzz on them escalated rapidly once people left the screening rooms.
Now, there were MANY great clicks shown at SXSW, but in the end there were a few that really stood out to audiences in a very strong way, and they are worth your time and attention. Here are our picks for the 7 Best Films from SWSX 2015…
Ever since her Oscar-nominated breakout performance in Bridesmaids, Melissa McCarthy has had a hard time finding a movie that matches her comedic talents. But that looks to change with Spy which reteams her with director Paul Feig and has her playing a deskbound CIA analyst who teams up with top agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham) to infiltrate a deadly arms dealer’s lair and prevent a global disaster. But while it looks like McCarthy she will be playing the female version of Mr. Bean, her character turns out to be a really good spy who thinks fast in tough situations. As a result, Spy feels more inventive than you might expect it to be, and it also allows Statham to have some fun with his tough guy action star image for a change.
Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine
Currently riding high on his Scientology documentary Going Clear, filmmaker Alex Gibney gives us another fascinating expose, this time on the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs. You can always count on Gibney to leave no stone unturned as he examines the various contradictions of this iconic man who he shows to be as human as anyone else. Keep in mind, Gibney is the same man who gave us such fascinating documentaries like Taxi to the Dark Side, The Armstrong Lie and Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. He’s not one to leave a single detail out, and Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine is the latest example of that.
While the latest film from Judd Apatow was presented at SXSW as a work in progress, audiences still got a big kick out of what they saw which bodes well for its July release. Trainwreck also represents the first film Apatow directed that he didn’t write the screenplay for. The screenplay was instead written by Amy Schumer who stars as a commitment phobic career woman who refuses to accept monogamy as being a realistic concept for her. But that all changes when she meets a successful sports doctor named Aaron Connors (Bill Hader) whom she falls for, and she begins to wonder if a romantic commitment might be in the cards for her after all.
This year’s winner of the Grand Jury prize, and coincidentally adapted from the SXSW Special Jury award-winning short film from 2014, Trey Edward Shults’ film takes the overly familiar scenario of a dysfunctional Thanksgiving holiday and turns it into an incredibly visceral thriller. Krisha Fairchild, Shults’ aunt, plays the title character who returns home for the holidays to a family she has been estranged from for some time. Shults went out of his way to cast family members here, and knowing that gives the proceedings a truly authentic feel. Whereas most holiday movies are designed to be comical, this one is more of an anxiety-inducing nightmare with a brilliantly unnerving sound design.
Winner of the Jury Prize for Best Documentary Feature, Scott Christopherson’s and Brad Barber’s film could not be timelier. It focuses on former Utah Sheriff Dub Lawrence who formed the state’s first ever SWAT team and of how he confronted it 30 years later after his son-in-law was killed in a standoff with them. Peace Officer takes a close look at the increasingly militarized police state of America, something that has reared its ugly head in places like Ferguson, Missouri.
Filmmakers love playing around with the realm of artificial intelligence, and Ex Machina may prove to be one of the most memorable films to deal with it. Written and directed by Alex Garland, the screenwriter of Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, it stars Domhnall Gleeson as Caleb, a young computer programmer who gets to work with the brilliant but reclusive scientist Nathan (Oscar Isaac) on a breakthrough experiment involving a breathtaking A.I. android named Ava (Alicia Vikander). But just as Harrison Ford did with Sean Young in Blade Runner, Caleb ends up falling for Ava and becomes determined to help her escape when he learns her mind is to be erased.
Yes, this is smart science fiction at work here, so keep a close eye out for this film when it arrives in theatres.
Manson Family Vacation
While dealing with the crazy lunatic that is Charles Manson here might seem exploitive, watching this movie is far more preferable to seeing him get a marriage license. This comedy-drama marks the directorial debut of J. Davis and follows two brothers, Nick (Jay Duplass) and Conrad (Linas Phillips), who decide to visit all the Charles Manson murder sites. Despite the dark subject matter at the film’s surface, Manson Family Vacation is really about the importance of family and of how old wounds can be so easily reopened. It’s also a great that Davis as a director isn’t afraid to subvert expectations and give us something that’s actually quite touching.