This year’s slate of films at South By Southwest seemed to have an amazingly common thread of accessibility. Almost all of the movies I saw were layered and thoughtful with a thread that every audience member could connect to woven into the fabric of the film. These eleven are just a small cross section of what was available at the festival, and we’ll be bringing you more on all of them.
Chef – Jon Favreau’s return to indie features is a welcome breath of fresh air. A winning combination of foodie flick, road movie, and a healthy dose of humanity make Chef a must see. Favreau’s performance is both honest and refreshing in a way that feels like you’re getting reacquainted with an old friend. The social media connected filmmaker applies Twitter to his movie in a way that feels engaged and relevant. In Chef, Favreau has created a unique piece of Americana that will serve as a snapshot of life in the technology infused two-thousand teens for years to come. The only possible complaint one could find with this movie is the overlong nature of some of the cooking scenes, but the nature of a foodie movie almost makes them a requirement. So, fair play to Favreau. Chef is the spiritual sequel to Swingers for which Favreau fans have been waiting. Everything his audience has come to hope for and expect from his films. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a creator be so honest with his audience, through his art, about a subject that in anyone else’s hands could have come off as cocky and selfish. Favreau has captured our modern culture beautifully in a love letter to the road trip and cooking. It also asks a question to which we all come at some point: Are you doing what makes you happy?
The Raid 2 – Compelling characters elevate Gareth Evans follow up to his tour de force Raid: Redemption. Rama is once more forced into a life or death scenario as he goes undercover to stop the criminal underworld at it’s most powerful. More than just a martial arts movie, the creativity on display in every fight and more refined moment build to one of the best payoffs in recent cinema history. A breakthrough performance from Yayan Ruhian as Prakoso will leave you wanting more from the man who once played a mad dog.
Bad Words – Jason Bateman’s directorial debut wonderfully showcases the man’s talents in front of and behind the camera. When a fully-grown, gruff man enters a spelling bee designed for middle schoolers, all hell breaks loose in an intense character study on obsession and vocabulary. A tight script from Andrew Dodge contains every expletive imaginable while maintaining a unique and intelligent vision. Kathryn Hahn and Rohan Chand give outstanding performances in support of Bateman’s charming yet acerbic lead. In a description the movie would appreciate, it’s fucktacular.
That Guy Dick Miller – From Roger Corman’s “stable” to his memorable turn in Gremlins, you may not realize it, but chances are you’re a fan of Dick Miller. This documentary takes a fun and balanced look at the character actors life. A thoroughly engaging cast of characters fill us in on the ins and outs of Dick’s life and career. This is must-see entertainment for anyone who wishes to carry the moniker cinephile.
Wetlands – A graphically honest and surreal film about a young woman carving her own path, while also dealing with hemorrhoids and her own self destructive nature. The queasy visuals and overt sexuality on display paint a portrait of a truly original voice. Don’t watch it with anyone you want to make eye contact with afterwards. The humor, discomfort and humanity on display in Carla Juri’s performance are your anchor in this sometimes frankly gross movie. This could have easily been called Trigger Warning: The Movie, and that’s a good thing.
Warning: There is graphic content in this trailer:
Veronica Mars – After far too long an absence from the screen, but not our hearts, Kristen Bell is back in the leather jacket. After her ex-boyfriend Logan is accused of murder, Veronica has to return to Neptune to face corrupt cops, overprotective fathers and, even worse, bitches from high school. The film has as much mystery, humor and heart as you Marshmallows were hoping for. Almost everyone is back and the characters still fit like gloves. The movie’s only weak spots are a lack of anything cinematic enough to warrant a trip to the theater and bit of an info gap for viewers who haven’t watched the show (as discussed in Witney’s Veronica Mars review). The movie plays like a long episode of the series, but it is a damn good episode with all the wit, in-jokes, and Dick you can handle.
Neighbors - Seth Rogen and Zac Efron face off as a new father and the president of the frat that’s moved in next door. The film has some truly hilarious moments and is well worth the price of admission for fans of Rogen and the Apatow extended family. A surprisingly engaging performance from Dave Franco keeps the film anchored in some semblance of reality, but a lackluster ending leaves you walking away from this otherwise strong comedy with a bad taste in your mouth.
Oculus – Karen Gillan and a talented cast give committed performances in this indie horror film picked up by Blumhouse. A young woman and her brother square off against a supernatural enemy that ruined there lives in their youth. A simple conceit and a cleverly slow burn through the first 45 minutes lulls you into a false sense of complacency before the third act puts its foot on the gas and pushes through to a ballsy, memorable ending.
We’ll Never Have Paris – Simon Helberg’s incredibly rich, witty script (based on his actual quest to propose to his wife) is the basis for one of the best romantic comedies to reach screens in years. When his perfect proposal is interrupted a hopeless romantic is confronted by the potential of new love, but quickly realizes his long time girlfriend is the only one for him. In a series of ridiculous and laugh inducing antics our hero must brave traveling to France to win back his lady love. Thoroughly human performances from an engaging cast make this a must see. The laughter and pain balanced in this movie make it wholly relatable. Helberg’s insecure charm makes him one of the best leading characters since Lloyd Dobler. I know that’s a loaded statement, but trust me if you have a love for the often maligned genre of romantic comedies you will want to see this one.
Godzilla – In the only 35mm screening of SXSW, Gareth Edwards presented the masterwork that is the original 1954 Godzilla. Well ahead of its time, the original Kaiju film still feels relevant and engaging. Oh yeah, then there was that ridiculously bad ass footage of 2014’s Godzilla. Bridging the past and present, the evening had at the Alamo Ritz was truly memorable.
Space Station 76 – One of the most unique pitches at the fest, ’76 examines the lives of the crew of a deep space refueling station through the lens of the future as imagined in the 1970s. The production design and acting are spectacular in this one, especially Patrick Wilson as the put-upon closeted gay captain. The film has an engaging cast and some memorable characters. Doctor Bot is a fun addition to the sci-fi android pantheon. Unfortunately, the unwillingness to commit to being either a drama or a comedy is confusing and leaves the whole experience kind of empty. I get what the filmmaker was trying to do and it was a noble effort, but making this a dramedy seems to have weakened both elements. The dour ending kills any goodwill the film had built up and ultimately left me scratching my head as to what the point was.
We’ll have more from Jon Favreau, Jason Bateman, the cast of Veronica Mars, Space Station 76, Oculus and Neighbors soon. So, bookmark Nerdist.com, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for the latest in relevant-to-your-interests news.