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SXSW preview: films to look forward to in Austin

SXSW preview: films to look forward to in Austin

SXSW preview: films to look forward to in Austin
February 03
23:37 2014

Preston Barta // Film Critic

When it comes to the world of independent cinema, it’s tough to follow in the footsteps of the Sundance Film Festival each year, but the South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival tends to just about match the festival juggernaut with its incredible and diverse mix of features, shorts and documentaries.

According to the announcement from last Thursday, 115 films will screen over the course of nine days, including 68 features from first-time filmmakers, 76 world premieres, 10 North American premieres and seven U.S. premieres.

The films were selected from a record 2,215 feature-length film submissions, composed of 1,540 U.S. and 675 international films.

The Austin-based festival, running March 7 to 15, already announced a handful of its heavyweights back in early January, such as “Veronica Mars” and Jon Favreau’s “Chef.” Now, SXSW has unveiled its main line-up.

Headlining films worth the trip

There are a handful of headlining films that promise to bring the star power to Austin when SXSW takes over, and unlike last year’s headlining selections, such as “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,” this year’s picks all look like festival gold.

The first of these heavy hitters is the opening night film, Favreau’s aforementioned world premiere of “Chef.” With its powerful cast, including Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman and Robert Downey Jr., the comedic story follows a chef (Favreau) who loses his job and starts a food truck business in hopes of reestablishing himself. “Chef” might be a promising start to a great festival.

This year, director David Gordon Green (“Prince Avalanche,” 2013) returns to the capital with “Joe,” starring Tye Sheridan (“Mud,” 2013) and the enigma formally known as Nicholas Cage. Spinning a wild story of friendship, violence and redemption, “Joe” could very well be a festival favorite.

Festivalgoers were hoping to see “22 Jump Street” on the lineup since the original held its world premiere at SXSW in 2012. But with directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord putting out two films this year – the other being “The Lego Movie” – the prospects were doubtful, plus we half-expected that the Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum sequel would miss the cut. In its place is Seth Rogen and Zac Efron’s college-comedy, “Neighbors.”

Shaping up to be the laughing-stock of SXSW, the film tells of a couple (Rogen and Rose Byrne) with a newborn baby who face unexpected difficulties when they are forced to live next to a fraternity.

Rounding off the headliners is a “Minority Report”-esque futuristic thriller titled “Predestination,” starring Ethan Hawke, and the return of Kristen Bell in the Kickstarter TV-to-movie project, “Veronica Mars.”

Sundance leftovers ready to be reheated and served again

Then again, who needs all the big Hollywood stuff when there are plenty of hidden gems to discover coupled with movies coming in with obvious buzz? Some of the major features rolling in are from Austin filmmakers that have already made a big splash at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah last month, including Richard Linklater’s ambitious “Boyhood,” Kat Candler’s “Hellion” and “No No: A Dockumentary”— yes, that’s how it’s spelled.

Of these three Sundance favorites, Linklater’s “Boyhood” should catch most of the festival’s attention. Best known for making three films that followed the same characters over 18 years (“Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset” and last year’s “Before Midnight”), Linklater decided to tell the ultimate coming-of-age tale in “Boyhood.”

Shot annually for 12 years, the film tracks the youth of a boy named Mason (Ellar Coltrane), who is just five in his first scene and 18 in the last. “Boyhood” is the kind of patient and innovative filmmaking that you don’t see that often. Thankfully, Linklater is making a trip home with this time-lapse life story.

Also making an appearance at SXSW is Sundance favorite “Frank,” directed by Lenny Abrahamson. Hitting theaters some time during the summer, the offbeat comedy stars Domhnall Gleeson, who plays Jon, a wannabe musician who finds himself out of his depth when he joins a pop band led by the enigmatic Frank (Fassbender).

A trailer for “Frank” has yet to be released. Sundance did, however, release a two-minute long clip that appropriately captures the film’s unconventional tone, while also showing just how affecting Fassbender (“12 Years a Slave,” 2013) can be while encased in a papier-mâché head. It’s going to be a strange film, but a fun one nonetheless.

In the narrative and documentary spotlight

For the narrative and documentary feature competitions, there are eight films in each category looking for awards and recognition, including the documentary “Impossible Light,” about a small team of visionaries who make their dreams a reality by creating the world’s largest LED light sculpture.

One of last year’s great films was “Short Term 12,” which was written and directed by Destin Cretton, a talent no one had recognized until that point. It’s because of SXSW that a number of these virtually unknown filmmakers get put on the map. In fact, Cretton is in negotiations to direct Lionsgate’s “The Glass Castle,” starring Jennifer Lawrence.

Of the features on this year’s roster, Zachary Wigon’s “The Heart Machine,” with John Gallagher, Jr. (“The Newsroom”) has caught our eyes. The upcoming film about a man (Gallagher, Jr.) who sets out to find a woman (Kate Lyn Sheil) whom he met online is the MTV series “Catfish” thrown into a narrative. If you’ve ever seen the show, you may have thrown away countless hours of your life because of its addictive nature. So color us excited for “The Heart Machine.”

To cover all the exciting screenings would require a whole Daily issue. To research the entire lineup visit sxsw.com/film.

The Midnight Features selection and Short Film program will be announced this Wednesday, while the complete Film Conference program and final schedule will be released Feb. 12th.

Feature photo: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Fassbender and Domhnall Gleeson star in “Frank,” a film about a musician who never takes off his large cartoon-face head. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

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