Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Previewing The 2024 South By Southwest Film Festival (SXSW)

The 2024 edition of the SXSW Film & Television Festival begins this Friday, March 8th, 2024. Last year was my first time attending the festival, and what a time it was! The city of Austin was buzzing for both the big star-filled premieres and the micro-indie oddities. This year’s festival once again presents an eclectic mix of films across multiple genres, ranging from big-budget action extravaganzas like David Leitch’s “The Fall Guy” to low-budget genre experiments like Alice Lowe’s “Timestalker.” Big-name documentary subjects such as Diane Warren and The Black Keys sit in the schedule alongside a group of artist friends who created a 750-square-foot apartment in the middle of a mall that no one noticed for years. No matter what kinds of films you enjoy, SXSW has you covered, and chances are you’ll find something outside your usual interests that you’ll enjoy, too. These are the films, big and small, that most intrigue us in this year’s lineup.

Civil War While we won’t be in town for the premiere of Alex Garland’s latest provocation, at least we won’t have to wait very long to see it for ourselves. Garland remains one of the most compelling original voices in cinema, and “Civil War” represents what may be his most ambitious film to date. Garland has presented the film, which follows a group of journalists traveling across the country amid the United States’ second Civil War, as a “sci-fi allegory for our currently polarized predicament,” but the distance between the allegory and what’s happening in the world is razor-thin these days. Will there be enough distance for “Civil War” to provoke discussion without becoming a polemic? We can’t wait to find out with a cast that includes Kirsten Dunst, Cailee Spaeny, Wagner Moura, Stephen McKinley Henderson, and Nick Offerman as the President.

Desert RoadThe premise is straight out of a “Twilight Zone” episode: A young woman crashes her car in the middle of a desert with only one road. No matter which way she walks, she ends up back at her car. Can she escape by nightfall, or is she trapped forever? Writer-director Shannon Triplett attracted a stellar cast for her debut feature: Kristine Froseth, one of our most intriguing young actors, plays the central character, but the cast list also includes Beau Bridges, Rachel Dratch, Frances Fisher, and D.B. Woodside. Since the film’s official synopsis is so concise, the presence of so many other name actors promises something exciting and mysterious; how do they figure into this classic thriller premise? It’s always impressive when films do a lot with a little, and “Desert Road” seems to be exactly that.

The Fall GuyDavid Leitch has had his name on some of the best action films in recent memory — “John Wick,” “Atomic Blonde,” and “Deadpool 2” — but “The Fall Guy” may turn out to be the film the former stuntman was born to direct. An adaptation of an all-but-forgotten ’80s television series, the film stars Ryan Gosling as action choreographer and former stuntman Colt Seavers, who’s working on a film directed by his ex, Jody (Emily Blunt). When the film’s star (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) goes missing, it’s up to Colt to not just stand in as a double for him as he did years ago but also to find him and save Jody’s film. This is a world Leitch knows intimately, and Gosling is the perfect vessel for this brand of action comedy. Every film festival deserves one big glitzy Hollywood blockbuster, and this looks like it will fit that bill quite nicely.

Grand Theft HamletThis most improbable documentary comes from the very small subset of people out there into both Shakespeare and the Grand Theft Auto video game series. While the UK was in its third lockdown in January 2021, two actors — single, lonely Mark and married Sam — found an abandoned theater in an online game of Grand Theft Auto and decided to stage a production of “Hamlet” within the game. How did they go about accomplishing this? Documentaries about creative ways through the pandemic lockdowns could very well become commonplace in the next few years, especially if films like this do well. But, even if more follow in its wake, it’s hard to imagine a weirder, cooler pandemic activity than this.

I Wish You All The BestTrans actor Tommy Dorfman makes her debut as a writer-director with this adaptation of Mason Deaver’s novel about a non-binary teen thrown out of their home and forced to move in with their estranged sister. While non-binary characters and actors have made strides in TV series, it’s incredibly difficult to think of a film with a non-binary lead. The more we see stories from different perspectives onscreen, the less strange these different perspectives become, so films like this are incredibly important. With a cast that includes Alexandra Daddario, Lena Dunham, Amy Landecker, and Cole Sprouse, hopefully, enough people will see “I Wish You All The Best” so that stories like this won’t be so rare in the future.

ImmaculateSydney Sweeney is fast becoming Hollywood’s new It Girl. She’s already received an Emmy nomination for her performance on the buzzy teen soap “Euphoria,” her Christmas rom-com with Glen Powell (“Anyone But You“) grossed over $100 million, and she just endured the ignominy of starring in 2024’s biggest flop so far (the live-action Sony Spider-Man spinoff “Madame Web“). Next up, she’s entering her scream queen era in a new film from Michael Mohan, who previously directed Sweeney in the buzzy erotic thriller “The Voyeurs.” Sweeney plays a devout American nun offered a place at an illustrious, remote convent in Italy. When she becomes pregnant, and the convent’s faith is tested, she realizes there may be more to her new home than meets the eye. With her big eyes and rich voice, Sweeney perfectly fits the role of a horror heroine. “Immaculate’s” trailer is thick with atmosphere, and the religious imagery feels both horrifying and beautiful — a tricky thing to accomplish.

Monkey ManThe trailer for Dev Patel’s directorial debut, “Monkey Man,” had everyone buzzing, thanks to its kinetic action and striking use of color. The film is about a poor young man earning a living at an underground fight club by putting on a monkey mask and losing who finds a way into high society to exact bloody revenge on the men who took everything from him; this almost feels like a dark, warped version of the film that made Patel a star in Hollywood (Best Picture winner “Slumdog Millionaire”). The intense action feels reminiscent of the “John Wick” films, but the trailer also showcases a wicked sense of humor. Patel pulls triple duty here, having co-written the screenplay in addition to directing and starring. If he pulls this off, is there anything he can’t do?

MusicaFrom the mind of former Vine sensation Rudy Mancuso comes this semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story about Rudy (Mancuso), a young man living with his Brazilian mother in New Jersey whose brain takes all the sounds of everyday life and turns them into music all the time. Mancuso has a distinctive comedic voice, and the fantasy musical sequences in the film’s trailer feel like real crowd-pleasers. Of all the films playing this year’s festival, this one may just be the most SXSW-coded of all of them, with two genuine stars in Camila Mendes (as Rudy’s love interest) and JB Smoove, quirky humor, and a focus on music. Watch out for this one; we suspect Prime Video has a sleeper hit lying in wait.

Omni LoopSome actors have such perfectly complementary screen personas that they seem destined to perform opposite each other. Ayo Edebiri and Mary Louise Parker are perfect examples of this, and the fact that both of them signed on to Bernardo Britto’s sophomore feature speaks highly of his screenplay. Parker plays Zoya, a 55-year-old who is living the same week of her life over and over again. According to doctors, she has a black hole in her chest that will kill her in a week. After who knows how many times living this week, she finally meets Edebiri’s Paula, a university student studying time. Together, Zoya hopes they can find a way to break her out of this time loop once and for all. Time loop stories can easily go wrong, but having these two performers in the lead roles is a good sign.

Road HouseYeah, yeah, yeah, Jake Gyllenhaal looks more ripped and crush-worthy than ever in the Patrick Swayze role in Doug Liman’s ’80s remake, “Road House.” Yeah, Liman has said he will boycott the film’s premiere over not getting a theatrical release (and then it was revealed that Amazon gave him the option of going theatrical if he agreed to a smaller budget, which he turned down), and that Gyllenhaal supposedly gives an Oscar-worthy performance. That’s all well and good, but the big takeaway from that rock’ em-sock ’em trailer was Conor McGregor as the film’s big bad. The famed former UFC Featherweight and Lightweight Champion is going all in for his big-screen debut, flaring his nostrils and screaming his lines in the way of the most over-the-top ’80s action villains. If the rest of the film plays at the same pitch, this could be one hell of a rowdy good time.

Secret Mall ApartmentIf this hadn’t actually happened, any film with this plot would have been ridiculed as too far-fetched: In 2003, eight artist friends created a hidden apartment in the Providence Place Mall in Rhode Island, tapping into the mall’s electricity and smuggling in furniture, as well as more than two tons of cinderblock to build a wall. They lived there for four years, filming everything that happened. The story sounds wild enough on its own, but 2024 feels like a prime moment to reflect on this story of friendship, isolation, and sticking it to the man. Director Jeremy Workman previously made the delightful “Lily Topples The World,” so he knows how to make a crowd-pleasing documentary; and, with this story, it’s hard not to imagine streamers starting a bidding war.

TimestalkerAlice Lowe, the mad genius behind the deranged “Prevenge,” is back with another killer concept: Agnes (Lowe) falls for the wrong guy, dies a terrible death, and comes back a century later, only for the same thing to happen again. Lowe displayed a singular voice in “Prevenge,” and her vision of womanhood in that film seems like it will dovetail nicely with this similarly horror-tinged sci-fi pseudo-romance. She has also attracted a killer cast that includes Jacob Anderson, Aneurin Barnard, and Nick Frost.

What are you most looking forward to at this year’s SXSW Film Festival? Anything you’d specifically like to hear our take on when we attend? Please let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.

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Dan Bayer
Dan Bayer
Performer since birth, tap dancer since the age of 10. Life-long book, film and theatre lover.

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