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20 Must-See Movies to Catch at SXSW 2017

From Charlize Theron kicking ass to music docs, midnight movies and the making of ‘The Room’ – what to see at the Austin-based film fest

Film-geek auteur projects, psychotronic fanboy-friendly blockbusters, over-the-top midnight movies, under-the-radar indie dramas and more music documentaries than you can shake a D.A. Pennebraker-approved stick at – the annual SXSW Film Festival (kicking off on March 10th) has always specialized in a sort of eclectic, lo-fi-meets-high-art-for-a-Shiner-Bock vibe when it comes to their programming. And this year is no different: You can dip into docs on David Lynch, West Coast hip-hop, Baltimore pest-control and Internet outlaws. Or check out a Big Star & Friends concert movie. Or watch Charlize Theron kick ass. There’s even a poignant character study of a small-town ape. Here are 20 films that attendees should consider must-sees, and that the rest of us not heading to Austin should keep our eyes peeled for.


Courtesy of Theo Anthony

‘Rat Film’

It starts as a look into the professional and amateur pest-controllers (two words: rat fishing) who work Baltimore’s streets and somewhat neglected neighborhoods. Then Theo Anthony’s extraordinary essay-film-cum-social-issue doc begins delving into the city’s early racist urban-planning set-up, the use of dodgy eugenics in vermin extermination and how a video game that becomes an existential rumination on the universe – and suddenly you’ve been plunged into one of the most compelling, food-for-thought nonfiction movies of the past few years. Do not miss it.

‘Small Town Crime’

Drunk, disgraced – and did we mention drunk? – ex-cop Mike Kendall (John Hawkes) is hoping to redeem himself one day and rejoin the force. Then he stumbles across a body on the side of the road after driving home from a blackout bender, and decides that, rather than go to his old coworkers, he’ll track down whoever is responsible all by his lonesome. If you like neo-noirs with just a touch of Coenesque quirk and a lot of character actors/familiar faces (Octavia Spencer, Robert Forster, Michael Vartan, Anthony Anderson), this one’s for you. And if, like us, you’ve often wondered whether the Deadwood star and equally rangy costar Clifton Collins Jr. had every been photographed in the same room together, we now have concrete proof that they indeed have and are two separate people.

Van Redin

‘Song to Song’

Mileage may vary on Terrence Malick’s output since he went from being cinema’s J.D. Salinger to one of the more prolific American directors working today. But a new Malick movie is still a big deal, full stop, and his latest is set in what should be a fertile landscape for soul-searching: the Austin music scene. Rooney Mara, Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender and Natalie Portman are folks caught up in an art vs. commerce conundrum; everyone from Iggy Pop to John Lydon, Patti Smith to Florence Welch, Iron and Wine to the Arcade Fire allegedly show up as themselves. The trailer suggests the agony and the ecstasy we’ve come to expect from the man’s late-career work.

Eric LaPlante

‘Sylvio’

Sylvio works for a debt-collection company, spending his days shredding paperwork and fielding follow-up payment calls. At night, he glumly eats his TV dinner and films hand-puppet shows featuring a balding, middle-aged salesman. A chance appearance on a Baltimore public-access talk show, where he breaks things on the set, turns him into an unlikely local celebrity. Also, he is an ape who wears sunglasses. Directors Kentucker Audley and Albert Birney take a one-joke premise and wring every ounce of mumble-goof absurdity possible from it, as well as some choice po-faced digs at showbiz phoniness and unexpected poignancy. If SXSW was smart, they’d announce a “surprise screening” of Kong: Skull Island and show this in that slot instead.

Lindsey Byrnes

‘Thank You, Friends: Big Star’s Third Live … and More’

You can’t throw a rock at the current/former indie-rock contingent without hitting a Big Star fan – Alex Chilton’s band is considered by many to be the greatest power-pop ensemble of all time. Which is why, when Chilton suddenly passed away two days before the group was supposed to play SXSW in 2010, it wasn’t surprising that a ton of famous fellow musicians and disciples came to Austin to join the surviving members onstage. This recording of the event finds members of Yo La Tengo, Wilco, R.E.M., the Posies and countless others ripping through Big Star tunes and collectively mourning the music world’s loss. Be prepared to tear up.

‘This Is Your Death’

Where does Reality TV have left to go, you wonder? According to actor-director Giancarlo Esposito’s scabrous, pitch-black satire, the answer is: televised competitive suicides. And yes, of course the show is a hit! We were curious to see what the once-and-future Gus Fring chose for a follow-up to his underrated behind-the-camera debut Gospel Hill (2008), but we have to admit that “surprisingly more relevant-than-ever take on our nation’s obsession with their 15 minutes of fame” would not have been our first guess. Brace yourself for this one.

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