Top Films at SXSW

South by Southwest is a world renowned festival that showcases a variety of films. Some are small indie films whose filmmakers are looking for distribution and others are sold-out, world premieres of movies from directors including Steven Spielberg and Wes Anderson.

Story by Maya Coplin

This festival is known for showcasing various genres, playing comedy movies and uniquely elevating them to the same level as a serious drama. Here are some of ORANGE Magazine’s favorite movies at the festival. Make sure to catch them when they are released later this year.

 

“Blockers”

  Photo courtesy of 97.9 WRMF.

Photo courtesy of 97.9 WRMF.

Blockers is a raunchy comedy starring John Cena, Leslie Mann and Ike Barinholtz who play three helicopter parents. The story follows their three daughters who have been best friends since kindergarten and are now high school seniors. The girls made a pact to have sex on prom night but when their parents find out about their plan, they spend the night trying to derail it. Hilarity ensues as they chase their daughters from prom to after-parties back to the hotel.

While the film was over the top and far from the average high schooler’s prom night, the way women were portrayed in this film was different from many other comedies of this nature. The girls are in control of themselves and their bodies. Unlike many films, the boys treat the girls with respect, setting a standard for how these situations should play out. The girls call the shots throughout the film and are never portrayed as ditzy, slutty or innocent. They are in charge of their own destiny.

This year at South by Southwest, over half of the films were directed by women, “Blockers” included. Kay Cannon brings a specific lens to the movie because she is a woman directing a comedy, a genre usually dominated by men. Many times, there is a stigma around women directing R-rated comedies but Cannon takes on the challenge and tells a lesser-told story.

Grade: A

Release: April 6, 2018

 

“American Animals”

  Photo courtesy of IMP Awards.

Photo courtesy of IMP Awards.

Written and directed by Bart Layton, this film played for the third time worldwide at South by Southwest on the first night of the film festival. Following the red-carpet photo shoots, long lines and light rain, actors and festival-goes filed into the Paramount Theater.

The movie follows four college students from Transylvania University in Kentucky who are bored with their lives and searching for an adventure to inspire them. The search leads them to plan an art heist. After the movie, the director explains that he was intrigued by the story because the only problem propelling the protagonist forward was that he felt as though he had no problems, nothing like the struggling artists he aspired to be.

Viewers first see “this is not a true story” written on screen but the “not” is dropped from the sentence, leaving them wondering about the backstory. The film flips from present day interviews with the “real” people in faux documentary-style interviews to the action of the story at hand. The commentary adds to the absurdity of the scheme and reflects on all the bad decisions made along the way.

Even though the movie is based on a true story, the actors had little contact with the people they were portraying so as to give the characters on paper a life of their own. The script was primarily inspired by letters written by the real people while they were in prison. Truth is stranger than the fiction and was pieced together from unmatching narratives.

Grade: A

Release: June 1, 2018

 

“6 Balloons”

  Photo courtesy of Seat42F.

Photo courtesy of Seat42F.

Written and directed by Marja-Lewis Ryan, this film tells the story of a heroin addict’s journey to a detox center. The movie takes place over one night and follows the cyclical relationship between Seth (the heroin addict played by Dave Franco) and his sister Katie (portrayed by Abbi Jacobson). Katie has repeatedly tried to help Seth quit and then he relapses. She is constantly upset with her brother but drawn back because of his lovable personality and her familial obligation to help him. Throughout the movie, she struggles to keep her life with her brother separate from her life with her friends, boyfriend and parents. Seth has a two-year-old daughter who watches her father lose his ability to take care of her.

Movies about opioids were popular at South by Southwest this year as it is a relevant issue. This one specifically drew people in because of the actors. During the Q&A after the premiere, one attendee commented that she had no idea what the movie would be about but went to see it because Dave Franco and Abbi Jacobson are in it. These actors are typically in comedies or lighter dramas but it was the first time for either of them to be in a movie dealing with such serious topics. The director said she chose Jacobson because she wanted someone who would be thrown into a terrible situation but would still be herself. As a comedian, she was able to play a serious role but still have her own personality without being completely transformed by the situation she was in. Ryan chose Franco because he is lovable. If the audience wasn’t rooting for him to get better, then the movie would not have been as successful.

The story was based off of the director’s friend who went through the same situation with her brother. While writing and producing the movie, the director looked to the real family for guidance in making the story as accurate as possible. However, the movie and characters do not depict actual events.

Grade: A+

Release: April 6, 2018 on Netflix

 

“Jinn”

  Photo courtesy of blackfilm.com.

Photo courtesy of blackfilm.com.

Recommended by Berry Jenkins and sold out at every screening, “Jinn” tells the story of a young black girl during her senior year of high school. She struggles with the challenges of being a senior, college applications, boys and dance routines, but her greatest challenge is her mother’s recent conversion to Islam after her parent’s divorce.

The director Nijla Mu’min is a black woman who grew up in an Islamic household but whose mother slowly strayed from the religion. While the movie was loosely based on her own experiences, the characters took on a life of their own. Mu’min chose to have the protagonist, Summer, exposed to the religion as a 17-year-old rather than be brought up in the faith. This choice allowed the viewer to be entranced by the community, clothing, traditions and food. This movie shows a slice of life depicting Summer’s struggle to fit into a new religion while trying to keep her old life.

In an earlier panel with Mu’min, she explained the difficulties for women of color to get their films shown in mainstream festivals as well as get distribution and funding for their films. She is part of a group called Femme Fatales which is a community of women filmmakers who connect one another to the resources they need to not only make their movies but also to have an audience to see them. To fund this film, she crowd-sourced and is currently working on distribution with her producer.

Grade: A+

Release: TBA

 

“Ready Player One”

  Photo courtesy of IMDB

Photo courtesy of IMDB

The schedule read “buzz screening,” 9:30 p.m. at the Paramount Theater. People debated their interpretations of this sign: could it be “Deadpool 2” or “Ready Player One,” or would Steven Spielberg be in Austin to premiere his newest movie?

On Saturday, the “buzz screening” on the schedule changed to “Ready Player One” and people were ecstatic. Lines started at 11:30 a.m. for the 9:30 p.m. movie. Everyone wanted to be near one of the most legendary filmmakers in the business.

“Ready Player One” is based on the book by Ernest Cline. It is a sci-fi movie that follows teenager Wade Watts as he struggles with the deaths of his parents and finds refuge in a video game. The story takes place in 2044, when most people live in the Oasis (the video game where people live as their character). While this allows people to be whoever they want to be, they rarely have face-to-face human interaction and instead their best friends live anywhere in the world. 

To win the game and get all the wealth, players must find all three keys that the creator left behind in the game before his death. Spielberg’s requested “no spoilers” as to how the plot progresses, but it will be opening in theaters in a month.

Throughout the movie there are references to ‘80s video games as well as old Spielberg movies making the movie an Easter egg hunt for the viewer. It is the type of movie that could be watched multiple times before finding all the cultural references. Spielberg introduced the movie by saying you can look forward through the windshield and follow the story or you can get distracted looking through the windows to see all the icons.

Mid-movie, the sound cut out giving Spielberg the “greatest anxiety of his life” but viewers cheered the movie on as people backstage worked to fix the problem. By the third try, the movie was back and running, giving the audience a chance to discuss what they thought so far, grab some snacks or run to the restroom.

While this movie is not the most noteworthy of the year, it was fun and enjoyable to watch.

Grade: A

Release: March 29, 2018