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25 Movies We Can’t Wait to See at SXSW 2016

From docs on D&D masters and Burt Reynolds to Pee-wee’s latest big adventure, our top choices for the Austin-based film fest

Pee-wee; The Other Half; The Bandit; Silicon Cowboys; In a Valley of Violence

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty, Everett, Glen Wilson/Netflix

Austin, Texas, is known for a lot of things: breakfast tacos, extraordinary live music, the miraculous disease-curing magical goo that the locals call "queso." But for film fanatics, the appeal of the Lone Star State's bastion of wonderful weirdness can be boiled down to one specific thing: the SXSW Film Festival. (And also queso — it's really a year-round pleasure.) From March 11-19, the annual movie-geek get-together rolls out a stellar showcase of micro-indie dramas, midnight psychotronica flicks, a sidebar of music docs on everyone ranging from Gary Numan to hip-hop superproducers Organized Noize, and — just for good measure — premieres of a long-awaited new Pee-wee Herman movie and the latest Richard Linklater joint. Here are our 25 picks for the must-see movies at this year's edition.

Collective Unconscious

Dagmar Weaver-Madsen

Dagmar Weaver-Madsen

‘Collective Unconscious’

Five emerging directors adapt each others' dreams into short films. The results are hypnotically senseless and often unshakably strange: a gorgeous sketch about a woodland sniper drifts into a Malick-esque portrait of an ex-con's first day of freedom; a gym teacher prepares his class for a volcano drill; a young mother who’s giving birth to an elemental monster; the grim reaper hosts a TV show about murdered black children. It's like nothing you’ve ever seen with your eyes open. DE

Don’t Think Twice

‘Don’t Think Twice’

There are very few things more agonizing than watching an improv comedy show, but walking through the second-floor window of a La Quinta Inn is probably one of them. Mike Birbiglia — whose autobiographical Sleepwalk With Me was a hit at SXSW 2012 — is someone who knows what it feels like to suffer for a laugh, so we expect that his new film about an UCB-style troupe torn asunder by one member's sudden fame will mine such pain for maximum humor. Plus Keegan-Michael Key and Gillian Jacobs co-star, which is always a good thing. DE

Dwarvenaut

Photo courtesy Josh Bishop.

Photo Courtesy of Josh Bishop

‘The Dwarvenaut’

When he was a kid, Stefan Pokorny was obsessed with role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons; later, he founded Dwarven Forge, a company devoted to making "pre-painted miniature terrain" for RPG enthusiasts. Now he's mounting a Kickstarter campaign to fund his most ambitious project yet: a huge art project that Pokorny hopes will inspire peace, love and harmony around the world via all-out fantasy geekitude. Something tells us this doc is going to roll a 20 in dexterity with this festival crowd. DF

Everybody Wants Some

Left to right: Glen Powell plays Finnegan, Wyatt Russell plays Willoughby, Blake Jenner plays Jake, James Quinton Johnson plays Dale Douglas and Temple Baker plays Plummer in Everybody Wants Some by Paramount Pictures and Annapurna Pictures.

Paramount/Annapurna

‘Everybody Wants Some!’

Richard Linklater had been teasing that his first post-Boyhood movie would be a "spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused" — and this tale of a rookie college baseball player (Blake Jenner) getting to know his fellow teammates does indeed feel like a distant cousin of that modern hanging-out classic. Based very loosely on the director's own experience, this is the type of movie that considers party first and foremost a verb and plays to Linklater's strengths, i.e. a casual attitude towards plot and the ability to turn rambling conversations into a cracked poetry. And like that earlier movie, it reminds you that the dude has a great eye for young talent; if this film doesn't do for Glen Powell what Dazed did for Matthew McConaughey, we'll take a fastball to the family jewels. DF

Gary Numan; Android in La La Land

CANADA - OCTOBER 11: Gary Numan (Photo by Boris Spremo/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Boris Spremo/Toronto Star/Getty

‘Gary Numan: Android in La La Land’

We all know that Gary Numan scored a big hit in 1979 with "Cars" and his paranoid-android take on electronic music; what you might not know is that he suffered from Asperger's syndrome, which — along with a trouncing from an insensitive music press — presaged a long "where is her now?" phase of his career. Directors Steve Read and Rob Alexander detail the rise, fall and phoenix-like return of an alt-music pioneer. We assume that Numan's friends contributed some talking-head testimonials here — the question is, were they electric? DF

Goodnight Brooklyn

(Oliver Ackermann) - Courtesy of "Goodnight Brooklyn - The Story Of Death By Audio"

Photo Courtesy of Goodnight Brooklyn

‘Goodnight Brooklyn: The Story of Death by Audio’

When underground Brooklyn music venue Death By Audio was shuttered in November 2014, its demise signaled the end of an era for Williamsburg's music scene; the space had played an instrumental role in launching bands like A Place to Bury Strangers and Dirty on Purpose. Fortunately, DBA cofounder Matthew Conboy had the good sense to film just about everything that happened between news of the warehouse space's closing and its raucous final night. Filled with killer concert footage, this rock doc bottles that brief moment in time when the neighborhood was suspended between a history of gentrification and a future of corporation. DE

I Am Belfast

Christopher Doyle

Christopher Doyle

‘I Am Belfast’

Filmmaker, film historian and peerless first-person-essayist Mark Cousins (The Story of Film) delves into the backstory of his Northern Irish hometown, here personified as an elderly woman. (Technically, it should be called She Is Belfast, but we ain't quibbling.) Imagine a travelogue mixed with free-form musings, much wandering about and a deep dive into how this particular city has played a part in the country's identity crisis, and you're about halfway there. DF

In a Valley of Violence

Lewis Jacobs

‘In a Valley of Violence’

Deviating even further from the slow-burn horror that's positioned him as the heir apparent to Wes Craven, Ti West (The Innkeepers) branches out with a Western revenge saga about a drifter (Ethan Hawke) who blows into a small frontier town with a fedora, a dog, and a serious thirst for revenge. Eventually joined by two sisters who run the local inn (Taissa Farmiga and Karen Gillan), our hero's quest for vigilante justice is sure to be accented with an unholy smattering of the red stuff. DE

Miss Stevens

Photo Courtesy of SXSW

‘Miss Stevens’

American Horror Story veteran Lily Rabe is an emotionally paralyzed high school teacher who's forced to chaperone three of her students on a trip to a drama competition. As the titular professor begins to form an uneasy bond with one of the teen thespians (the electric Timotheé Chalamet, who first made noise in last year's SXSW hit, One & Two), this delicate, unassuming drama finds a way to thread a coming-of-age story with some decidedly more adult matters. DE

My Blind Brother

Photo Courtesy of Tethered Films LLC.

‘My Blind Brother’

Robbie (Adam Scott) is a blind swimmer whose handsome looks have become an ironically crucial part of his identity. Bill (Nick Kroll) is the decidedly less sexy sibling who has always been there to point his brother in the right direction. Rose (Jenny Slate) is the woman they both trip over themselves for. Adapted from her short of the same name, Sophie Goodhart's feature debut uses one of SXSW 2016's most star-studded casts to tell a story about the bumps and bruises of of the ties that bind. If she's able to sustain the darkly comic energy that made the original so special, this will be the ruefully touching breakout film of the fest. DE

Orange Sunshine

Rich Schaefer

Rich Schaefer

‘Orange Sunshine’

Back in the 1960s, a collective of surfers, psychedelic explorers and straight-up hippy-dippy freaks dubbed themselves the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. Their mission: expand the world's consciousness through LSD. The result: numerous bad trips, a few doors of perception kicked open, and a how-to blueprint for the modern drug trade. Filmmaker William A. Kirkley (Excavating Taylor Mead) spells it all out for you, maaaaan. DF

The Other Half

‘The Other Half’

It's only a matter of time before Orphan Black star Tatiana Maslany becomes a big-screen force to be reckoned with, and this desperate romance could be the thing that sparks her explosion. Acting opposite her longtime boyfriend (Tom Cullen, who was the toast of SXSW when Weekend premiered there in 2011), the actress plays a bipolar woman in love with a self-destructive guy who’s never recovered from the disappearance of his little brother. It’s hardly the first hyper-intense drama about two lost souls scraping each other away from rock bottom, but this one should course with chemistry and conviction. DE

Pee-wee’s Big Holiday

Pee-wee's Big Holiday

Glen Wilson/Netflix

‘Pee-wee’s Big Holiday’

Seventeen years is a long time to wait for a new Pee-wee Herman movie — but everything about the manchild in the grey flannel suit's return to big- and small-screen glory (this is a Netflix joint, after all) suggests that the wait will have been well worth it. After meeting a hunky actor named Joe Manganiello (played by hunky actor Joe Manganiello), our hero is forced to leave his hometown for the first time and venture cross-country to New York. Cue roadside encounters with a Faster Pussycat trio of tough chicks and the Amish, dream sequences, musical numbers, much candy consumption and some primo balloon fart noises. Even the trailer will make you giddy.

The Seer

Two Birds Film

Two Birds Film

‘The Seer’

He's a Southern man, a socially conscious author, a dedicated back-to-the-land activist and a prime proponent of civil disobedience — and Laura Dunn's docu-profile of Wendell Berry suggests that there's still more to this agrarian spokesman than a lifetime of fighting the good fight. If you're familiar with the Kentucky native's essays, you know he's as eloquent as he is ecologically passionate and profound; if you've never read any of his stuff before (and you should), prepare to have your eyes opened. DF

Silicon Cowboys

Photo Courtesy of SXSW

‘Silicon Cowboys’

Sure, the Bay Area is considered by many to be ground zero for the Our Glorious Home-Computing Revolution — but as anyone who's watched Halt and Catch Fire can tell you, Texans were doing their part to bring PCs to the masses. Specifically, the good folks at Compaq, the Houston company who took on IBM and tried to produce affordable proto-laptops back in the early Eighties. Filmmaker Jason Cohen traces the rise and fall of these unsung hardware pioneers. Yee-control-alt-delete-ha! DF

A Song for You

Scott Newton, Courtesy of KLRU/Go-Valley

Scott Newton/KLRU/Go-Valley

‘A Song for You: The Austin City Limits Story’

For 40 years, the PBS series Austin City Limits has been bringing everything from C&W legends to No Depression alt-country acts, hard rockers to bluegrass pickers to TV sets around the States; now you can find out how this Texas-based show went from modest endeavor to the longest running music program on the air. One of two docs that Keith Maitland has at the fest (see also Tower), this stem-to-stern look at the institution centered in the "Live Music Capitol of the World" traces the entire history of ACL — and oh yes, there will be concert footage guaranteed to make you salivate. DF

Tony Robbins; I'm Not Your Guru

Photo Courtesy of Tony Robbins: I'm Not Your Guru

‘Tony Robbins: I’m Not Your Guru’

Documentarian Joe Berlinger has chronicled the stories of everyone from Metallica to the Memphis Three and Whitey Bulger — and now he turns his camera on bestselling author and celebrity motivational speaker Tony Robbins. The subtitle suggests that the portrait is designed to debunk the myth that the gentle giant is a self-help godhead, though the fact that the award-winning filmmaker got all access to Robbins' annual "Date With Destiny" mega-seminar also hints that we're about to see just how thirsty this man is offstage. Of all the fly-on-the-wall docs at the fest, this is the one we're looking forward to catching the most. DF

Tower

Go-Valley

‘Tower’

Early on the morning of August 1st, 1966, University of Texas student and former U.S. marine Charles Whitman killed his wife and mother, then headed to campus with a virtual arsenal's worth of firearms. He took residence in a tower and, for close to 90 minutes, randomly fired upon passerbys until he was shot by a policeman. Documentarian Keith Maitland uses first-person testimonies from witnesses to recreate Whitman's killing spree from various ground-level perspectives; he also uses rotoscoped animation to lend the entire proceedings a creepy, surreal feeling of distance as a normal Texas day turns into a waking nightmare. DF

The Trust

Saban Films/Lionsgate

Saban Films/Lionsgate

‘The Trust’

Nicolas Cage, playing a corrupt Las Vegas cop who's tempted to steal from his precinct's evidence locker, stars alongside Elijah Wood and Jerry Lewis (!) in a crime comedy directed by the bros behind Justin Bieber’s "Where Are U Now" video. Our sincerest respect to anyone who has the strength to resist that offer. Cage may be in a James Brown-level funk right now, but don't forget that he pulled himself out of his last creative tailspin by reinventing Bad Lieutenant — so we've got high hopes for any movie that gives him a badge, a mustache, and a license to scream at civilians. DE

War on Everyone

Bankside Films

Bankside Films

‘War on Everyone’

From the deviant mind that brought you The Guard comes another jet-black screwball comedy about a pair of cops (Alexander Skarsgård and Michael Peña) who are just as crooked as the perps they bring to "justice." Set along the arid border between New and old Mexico, John Michael McDonagh’s warped crime flick follows our acidic heroes as they shakedown a local strip-club owner — only to end up in a bind when their attempted extortion reveals a crime too grim for them to ignore. Co-starring Paul Reiser and Creed actress Tessa Thompson, this has cult potential written all over it. DE

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