20 Movies We Can’t Wait to See at SXSW 2018 – Rolling Stone
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20 Movies We Can’t Wait to See at SXSW 2018

From a definitive doc on Lynyrd Skynyrd to lo-fi sci-fi thrillers, everything you need to see at the Austin, Texas film fest

20 Movies We Can't Wait to See at SXSW 2018

20 films you need to see at SXSW 2018: from a definitive doc on Lynryrd Skynyrd to lo-fi sci-fi thrillers and a look at Bill Murray's Zen escapades.

Has the SXSW Film Festival really been around for 25 years? It feels like just yesterday that this addendum to the venerable Austin, Texas music gathering (which kicks off March 9th) began programming scrappy microbudget indies and a multitude of rock docs for curious visitors. Now, of course, this cinematic offshoot of what’s become a multi-tentacled beast filled with comedy shows, TV-show previews, panels and powwows on bleeding-edge tech, gaming demos, guest speakers and oh-so-much more – a veritable hipster one-stop shop, this – has carved out a nice niche for itself in the film-fest world. Yes, you still get to see some big-ticket items (The Disaster Artist premiered here last year). But you go for a peek at the shape of things to come. This was the festival that had first shown a spotlight on Lena Dunham and Barry Jenkins and It Comes at Night‘s Trey Edward Shults. The future may be lurking in its eclectic lineup.

And this year’s programming once again presents a hodge-podge of movies that run the gamut from marquee-name Hollywood movies (Paramount’s spring thriller A Quiet Place starring Emily Blunt is the opening-night selection) to mash notes from the digital underground, music docs on Southern rockers and free-jazz legends and a Mississippi native named Elvis, the usual midnight-movie psychotronica and a whole lot of beautifully unclassifiable missives from the margins. And should you somehow think, well, this all sounds so conventional – there’s also a futuristic, free-form frontier tone poem from Neil Young and Daryl Hannah. Here are 20 films we’ve singled out from SXSW’s everything-under-the-Lone-Star-sun roster. Keep Austin weird. And keep this film festival even weirder.

Michael Palmieri

‘The Gospel of Eureka’

Go to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and you’ll see plenty of evangelical Christians. You’ll also find a large drag-queen and LBGTQ presence – along with, per the fest’s programming note, “gospel drag shows and passion plays” designed to spread the good word about tolerance. Narrated by Justin Vivian Bond, a.k.a. one half of the legendary cabaret duo Kiki & Herb, this doc on what we can assume is both a culture clash and the ultimate testament to we-are-family values.

Emerson Loew

‘If I Leave Here Tomorrow: A Film About Lynyrd Skynyrd’

Say the words “Southern rock,” and chances are good you hear the three-guitar attack and Ronnie Van Zant’s voice; next to the Allman Brothers, no other band better personified that Seventies strain of below-the-Mason-Dixon boogie than Lynyrd Skynyrd. Veteran music-documentarian Stephen Kijak (Stones in Exile, Scott Walker: 30 Century Man) takes on the legend and legacy of the group, detailing everything from their first demos to the death of Van Zant and others in a fatal 1977 plane crash. There’s concert footage, wild-time anecdotes (those boys could hellraise with the best of them), some ambivalence about how the star-and-bars became associated with them – and a harrowing blow-by-blow account of the accident from surviving members. P.S.: The first person to yell “Play Freebird!” at a screening will get a beer poured on his or her head.

Merrick Morton/Netflix

‘The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter’

Danny McBride and longtime collaborator Jody Hill enlist Josh Brolin into their particular brand of Southern-fried, gonzo-dude lunacy, with the Sicario star playing a hunter named Buck Ferguson (!) who’s renowned for turning his popular how-to videos into a mini-empire. So, naturally, what better way for Buck to bond with his preteen son than to take the kid on an adventure in the Great Outdoors, complete with cameraman (McBride) in tow? Why, no, things don’t go as planned and, yes, some of these characters do act like idiots! 

SXSW Movies 2018 what to watch

Jake Meginsky

‘Milford Graves Full Mantis’

There would be no point in trying to make a straightforward portrait on drummer Milford Graves – this free-jazz musician who’s played with Bill Frisell, Albert Ayler, Sonny Sharrock and John Zorn, among others, is one of those guys who literally marches to his own beat. Thankfully, documentarians Jake Meginsky and Neil Young (no, not that one) figured this out early, and simply made a movie about Graves’ life and work that’s similar to his percussive style: unpredictable, out-of-sync yet somehow rhythmically right on, jagged and likely to zig when you think it’s going to zag. (Name another music doc that devotes screen time to its subject recording irregular heartbeats.) “Full mantis” refers to the drummer’s interest in a style of martial arts which he felt that, in order to learn it, required going straight to the source. That’s as good a metaphor for this look at an avant-garde luminary as any.

‘Most Likely to Murder’

Fans of Adam Pally and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend‘s Rachel Bloom – let’s call them Pally-Walsies and Bloomers, shall we? – should dig this manchild-comedy about a thirtysomething loser (Pally, but you probably guessed that) who returns home to the suburbs for Thanksgiving. He’s hoping to hook up with his actually-completely-sane ex-girlfriend (Bloom), who’s moved on to dating the town’s creepy pharmacist (Mad Men‘s Vincent Kartheiser). Then our doobie-smoking hero thinks he sees this new beau killing someone late one night, and decides he’d better investigate further. The program notes describe this as “like Rear Window for stoners,” which, yeah, sounds about right.

International Fugitive Nelson Tony Yester

‘Operation Odessa’

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: A Miami hotshot, a Moscow-based gangster and a Cuban spy decide to team up for what seems like a lucrative deal with some friends of Pablo Escobar. The goal: to procure a Russian submarine for the Colombian Cartel so they can move cocaine better. The big question: “Do you want the submarine with missiles or without missiles?” (Which is ridiculous, because really, who wants a sub without missiles?!) This documentary on one of the more audacious criminal cases of the 20th century – which became dubbed “Operation Odessa” by the customs agents, Feds and law-enforcement task force members trying to bust this holy trinity – details every holy-shit-are-you-kidding twist and turn of what truly sounds like a stranger-than-fiction scam.

SXSW Movies 2018 what to watch

Daryl Hannah / Adam CK Vollick)


So here’s what we know about the feature-length directorial debut from Splash/Kill Bill star Daryl Hannah: It’s described as both “a whimsical Western” and a “Loud poem”; her significant other Neil Young is in it; he performs in full old-timey frontier garb with the band Promise of the Real; Willie Nelson drops by as well; and there are characters named the Particle Kid, Jail Time and the Man in the Black Hat. Everything else is up for grabs, but whether this is a masterpiece or a magnificent, flaming car wreck, the chance of us being bored is exactly zero-point-zero percent.


A British reporter (Valene Kane) poses as a young, brand-new convert to Islam, creating a fake Facebook profile to lure in ISIS recruiters for a story on social media and jihadism. No sooner has she hit “Save” then a man named Bilel (Shazad Latif) starts chatting her up online, sussing her out as a potential terrorist. [Cue: Status change to “It’s Complicated.”] Whether director Timur Bekmambetov is the right guy to take on journalistic ethics and Islamophobia is questionable – no one is expecting nuance from the guy who built an entire action movie around Angelina Jolie “curving” bullets – but given that he’s borrowing the gimmick from Unfriended (the whole things takes place on a computer screen), we’re intrigued.


This year’s SXSW seems to be a magnet for potentially mindbending, mindblowing lo-fi sci-fi – we’ve definitely got our eyes on you, aliens-give-a-teen-extraordinary-powers YA project First Light and the Bluebeard-fable-meets-techno-thriller Elisabeth Harvest. But the one entry in this fertile subgenre that we’re most curious about is Zeek Earl and Chris Caldwell’s story of an interstellar prospector (Transparent‘s Jay Duplass), his teenage kid (Sophie Thatcher), a moonscape that’s apparently dripping with resources and some fellow miners out to get rich or commit murder while tryin’. Game of Thrones’ Pedro Pascal and The Wire‘s Andre Royo costar. We’re a sucker for movies about father-daughter relationships and ones involving space madness, so put the two together and, like, can we get in line for this now?

SXSW Movies 2018 what to watch

Paramount Pictures© 2017 Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved

‘A Quiet Place’

A man (director John Krasinski), a woman (Emily Blunt) and two kids (including Wonderstruck‘s Millicent Simmonds) have somehow managed to survive some sort of genuinely awful, earth-shattering event. How do they manage to avoid whatever it is out there that’s lurking about in the postapocalyptic landscape, you ask? Well, they forage among abandoned townships, maintain a vigilant watch on the outside – and stay very, very quiet. Right, so what if one of them does make a sound? Did we mention this is a horror film? If this largely dialogue-free opening-night selection is half as tense as its trailer, we expect the audience to make up for all that silence with a shitload of screaming.

SXSW Movies 2018 what to watch


‘6 Balloons’

We know that, as one half of the duo behind Broad City, Abbi Jacobson is funny as hell; now it’s time to see her show off her dramatic chops. Marja-Lewis Ryan’s day-in-the-life character study casts the comedian as an Angeleno balancing the planning of her boyfriend’s surprise birthday party, picking up her niece and dropping her recovering-addict brother (Dave Franco) off at a rehab center. Except the facility can’t take him, and he’s going into serious withdrawal – which kicks off an odyssey around town that’s keeps getting more frantic and tolerance-testing by the minute.

Ryan Green

‘Support the Girls’

The man practically invented the genre (or at least set down the basic template) for what we once, in our youthful haze, called “mumblecore” – so of course writer-director Andrew Bujalski is making a movie about the employees of a popular “breastaurant.” (You all saw this one coming, right? By which we mean no one saw this coming at all.) The filmmaker behind such lo-fi treasures as Funny Ha Ha and Computer Chess returns to SXSW for an Amerindie about the manager of a curves-fixated chain eatery called Double Whammies and her efforts to shield her staff from all sorts of shenanigans. Girls Trip‘s Regina Hall plays the boss; Columbus MVP Haley Lu Richardson and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt‘s Dylan Gelula play two of her “girls” who, if the title is accurate, are in need of support. This one should be a hoot(ers).

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