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15 Must-See Movies at SXSW Film Festival 2015

From micro-indie comedies to music docs, these are the Austin fest’s flicks that have us buzzing

SXSW

Scenes from 'Sir Doug and the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove' and 'Moonwalkers.'

Van Brooks; Moonwalkers

Every year, critics and cinegeeks head to Austin, Texas, to sample a smorgasbord of lo-fi indies, thought-provoking docs, psychotronic midnight movies and oh-so-much-more at the annual SXSW Film Festival. From March 13-21, festgoers will have their pick of early sneak peeks at upcoming releases (the Will Ferrell/Kevin Hart comedy Get Hard, the Brian Wilson biopic Love & Mercy), choice Sundance offerings (Rodney Ascher's The Nightmare, the extraordinary Kurt Cobain portrait Montage of Heck) and dozens of works from potential next-big-thing directors to check out in between queso-filled meals.

The question, however, is: what are the ones you simply can't afford to miss? After scanning the schedule and breaking down players' stats, we've come up with the 15 movies that SXSW-ers have to catch during their time in the Lone Star state's unofficial capital. These are the all-over-the-map music documentaries, the micro-budgeted flicks and the indescribable mind-blowers that have us ready to mess with Texas.

Bone in the Throat

‘Bone in the Throat’

Based on celebrity-chef-turned-globetrotting-TV-personality-turned-crime-novelist Anthony Bourdain's book, first-time director Graham Henman's adaptation transports the Little Italy action involving an up-and-coming sous chef (Gossip Girl's Ed Westwick) and his Mob boss uncle (Tom Wilkinson) across the pond to London's East End. But the end result looks to be the same: culinary tough-guy pulp, hardboiled for maximum effect and served bloody. We'll happily bite.

Breaking a Monster

Ethan Palmer

‘Breaking a Monster’

Maybe you've vaguely heard of the Brooklyn metal trio Unlocking the Truth, comprised of three middle schoolers  armed with nothing but power chords, preteen angst and a $1.8million contract with Sony. Now find out their story, as documentarian Luke Meyer (Darkon) traces the band's journey from garage-rock beginnings to possible Next Big Thing — and whether a band whose members are still going through puberty can handle the pressure of having to live up to the hype. Get those devil horns in the air, people!

Creative Control

Adam Newport Berra

‘Creative Control’

Beware, tech-savvy Brooklynites who use your "Augmented Reality" glasses to construct a life-like double of your best friend's girlfriend, the one you've been pining for since forever: meddling in bleeding-edge computer science Pygmalion-style will always end in disaster. The fact that comedian/genius Reggie Watts has a supporting role plays highly in this indie's favor, and if director Benjamin Dickinson's futuristic satire skewers outer borough hipsters with as much vigor and venom as his 2012 debut First Winter, we're in for a treat.

Danny Says

Danny Fields Archive

‘Danny Says’

That'd be Danny Fields, the magazine editor who'd go on to be Factory cohort of Andy Warhol's, a publicist for the Doors, help get the Stooges signed to a major label, and manage the Ramones. It's a lot of ground to cover, rock & roll history-wise; thankfully, documentarian Brendan Toller has designed what sounds like a nice Fields 101 primer on the man who almost undoubtedly helped shape the sound of whatever music you are listening to right now.

808

808

‘808’

Because it's all about that bass: Alexander Dunn's documentary on the Roland TR-808 charts the rise and fall of the legendary drum machine whose boom-bastic low end helped give birth to hip-hop and modern EDM. Everyone from Phil Collins to Li'l Jon weighs in on the significance of this clunky "Rhythm Composer" black box, with plenty of party people attesting to how the presence of its electro-funky beats could get folks up out of their seats and make their bodies sway.

GTFO

‘GTFO: Get the F% Out’

You don't have to have a scholarly knowledge of GamerGate to know that the video game industry — and gaming culture at large — has a bit of a misogyny problem. Filmmaker Shannon Sun-Higginson dives headfirst into the issue, exploring how the conversation changed after critics like Anita Sarkeesian and Leigh Alexander starting receiving harassment, publicized personal-info dumps and death threats. Here's hoping this doc outlines a few ways we can start combating the toxicity and spark a dialogue before things go even more south.

Heaven Knows What

Radius

‘Heaven Knows What’

A minor sensation on the festival circuit (and premiere or not, a smart SXSW programming pick), Joshua and Benny Safdie's look at life on NYC's streets — courtesy of author-actress Arielle Holmes' own semi-autobiographical story — does not paint a pretty picture. But it does possess a grittiness and immediacy that brings to mind the early Seventies tales of junkies and hustlers trying to survive concrete jungles, and this movie confirms that the brothers who've been quietly insinuating themselves into the Amerindie scene are indeed major talents.

Hello, My name Is Doris

‘Hello My Name Is Doris’

Welcome back, Sally Field! The Norma Rae star returns as a sheltered sixtysomething woman who finds herself all turned around after her mother passes away; the fact that she's head over heels for a hot young coworker (New Girl's Max Greenfield) isn't helping stabilize things. A former member of the sketch group The State and the comedy trio Stella, writer-director Michael Showalter has shown a knack for both parodying romcoms and doing them justice (see his have-your-genre-cake-and-deconstruct-it-too movie The Baxter), so we're intrigued by what sounds like a quirky take on some Harold and Maude material. Mostly, we've just missed Ms. Field. We've really, really missed her.

Made in Japan

Made in Japan

‘Made in Japan’

The legacy of country music in Japan can often be summed up in one name: Tomi Fujiyama, the country's first big C&W star and one of the few from the land of the rising sun to ever sing in the Grand Ole Opry. This look at her life and successful career as a recording artist also follows the septuagenarian as she and her husband travel to the U.S., in hopes of performing at that iconic Nashville venue one more time. Expect laughter, tears, picking, grinning and yodeling. Lots of yodeling.

Mavis

Miikka Skaffari

‘Mavis!’

She helped popularize gospel and turn it into a music-industry bonanza, along with her father and siblings, in the 1950s; she provided the spiritual soundtrack for the civil right movement in the 1960s; and as part of the Staple Singers, she was a Top 40 staple throughout the 1970s. Director Jessica Edwards' doc shines the spotlight on Mavis Staples, paying tribute to her musical-pioneer past and making sure people pay attention to the soulful work the 75-year-old artist is doing today. Hallelujah indeed.

Moonwalkers

‘Moonwalkers’

We've all heard the one about how the moon landing was allegedly faked and Stanley Kubrick supposedly shot the whole thing on a soundstage in London. Famed French commercial director and Guinness World Record-holder Antoine Bardou-Jacquet imagines that a C.I.A. agent (Sons of Anarchy's Ron Perlman) had tried to recruit the reclusive director for the faux-space travel gig — and ended up concocting a caper with a rock-band manager (Harry Potter regular Rupert Grint). What's the Gallic word for madcap again?

Raiders

Kurt Zala

‘Raiders!’

In which three 11-year-olds obsessed with the inaugural adventure of Indiana Jones spend most of their childhood trying to do a shot-for-shot remake of their favorite movie — and end up producing one of the most beloved fan-made masterpieces ever. Filmmakers Jeremy Coon and Tim Skousen tag along as the now-grown creators finally try to nab the one scene they never got: Indy's battle over a Nazi fighter plane. Nothing could go wrong with their plan, right? Right? (Hey, as long as no snakes are involved, everything should be a-ok.)

'Sir Doug and the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove'

Van Brooks

‘Sir Doug and the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove’

Doug Sahm was a hippie, a rhythm & blues fanatic, a roots rocker, a psychedelic cowboy, a favorite of Bob Dylan's, a child prodigy who played with Hank Williams Sr. and, according to experts, the musical "King of Texas." The story of this Lone Star longhair who helped cross-breed genres several times over is a long and complicated one; thankfully, documentarian (and former Rolling Stone contributor) Joe Nick Patoski is going to lay it out for us in nice, broad strokes and school us in the ways of Sahm. Listen, any excuse to hear more Texas Tornados songs with a crowd is fine by us.

Theory of Obscurity

The Cryptic Corporation

‘Theory of Obscurity: A Film About the Residents’

We've already waxed poetic about this doc dedicated to the San Francisco band who've embraced anonymity almost as much as wearing giant eyeball heads and using video to complement their wonderfully eccentric tunes. With testimonies from fans and fellow iconoclastic musicians, archival clips of the avant-garde band at work and more offbeat time signatures per capita than you can shake a gingerbread man at, we simply can not wait to see it. Or, for that matter, watch a host of festivalgoers fall in love with a weirder-than-weird band we've been going nuts over for decades.

We Like it Like That

‘We Like It Like That’

It came from the barrio, this combo-platter sound of American soul and Cuban mambo — and it managed to keep hips shaking and feet moving throughout the 1960s. This is the history of boogaloo, the genre that gave us the Joe Cuba Quintet's classic "Bang Bang" and gave the era's Latin culture a voice, with stars like Johnny Colon and Joe Bataan testifying to the music's origins and impact. Please put out a soundtrack album stat.

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