25 Movies We Can’t Wait to See at SXSW 2019 – Rolling Stone
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25 Movies We Can’t Wait to See at SXSW 2019

From docs on Lil Peep, Johnny Cash and a Japanese Jimmy Page tribute artist to the world premiere of Jordan Peele’s ‘Us.’

Claudette Barius/Universal Pictures (US); Atsushi Nishijima/NEON (The Beach Bum)

It’s got premieres of rom-coms, raunch-coms, fem-coms, a few regular ol’ coms, a WTF movie starring a rum-soaked Matthew McDonaughey and the single most anticipated second film since Pulp Fiction. You like music docs? How about a whole sidebar of ’em, including ones on Lil Peep, Johnny Cash, boy-band impresario Lou Pearlman, CREEM Magazine, a legendary rock photographer and a guitarist who’s devoted his life to playing like Jimmy Page? Follow-up question: How does the idea of walking out of an early preview of a Hollywood blockbuster-to-be, the kind that features A-list stars, and then walking a few blocks to see a movie that was filmed on a phone and cost about as much as a weekend bar tab?

This is what you’ll get when you go to the 2019 edition of SXSW, the Austin, Texas-based film festival that began as an offshoot of the multi-tentacled music/tech/interactive/etc. event and has, over the years, transformed itself into the sort of destination fest you plan vacations around. There’s still a lot of lower-than-lo-fi Amerindies and the sort of midnight schlock-and-awe psychotronica that’s been the main bread and butter of the film fest, now in its 26th year. But over the last decade, bigger names have begun to realize that the festival is the perfect place to unveil certain types of projects (SXSW audiences are particularly friendly to comedy and horror). Up-and-coming filmmakers who’ve been nurtured here have come back with bigger, bolder works or provided keynote addresses. The chance for discoveries beyond the rough, raw $500,000-and-under character studies that characterized a lot of the early programming has risen exponentially. It’s grown into something that’s the best(-ish) of many worlds now.

And this year’s festival, which runs from March 8th to the 17th, is no different. Below are 25 movies we’re looking forward to seeing, or have seen and can’t wait to share, at SXSW 2019. It’s going to be a very good year.

‘Adopt a Highway’

An ex-con (Ethan Hawke) gets out of the joint after a two-decade stretch. You might say that the outside world he returns to is more than a little different than the one he left behind, to put it mildly; as if adjusting to 2019 was not rough enough, he also finds himself in charge of an infant he rescued from a dumpster. The recently Oscar-robbed star has been on a role lately, and given this is the directorial debut of the always-intense actor Logan Marshall-Green (Upgrade), we’re more than a little curious to see how this drama plays.

‘The Beach Bum’

Seriously, how has it taken this long for Oscar-winner/naked bongo player Matthew McConaughey to collaborate with auteur/trash humper Harmony Korine?! It’s a match made in some alternative Four Loko-soaked version of heaven! The Spring Breakers filmmaker dresses up the movie star like a Parrothead pirate and drops him into a Key West filled with ne’er-do-wells, scallywags, hedonists, hash-smokers and Snoop Dogg. “High” jinks ensue, we assume. What is there left to say but “Alright” x 3?

‘Bluebird’

It was a small space with a bar, nestled in the middle of a strip mall in Nashville and best known for being too damned noisy. Then the owners decided to start booking a weekly night devoted solely to showcasing local songwriters. They also let artists play in the middle of the room (the better to keep the crowd quiet); a little later, they started having Sunday morning auditions so unknowns might be able to nab a slot. And suddenly, the Bluebird Cafe became the best place in the U.S. of A. to play if you were a country or Americana singer-songwriter. This doc on the intimate live-music hotspot charts how it became a club where you might see a Nashville legend play a surprise set or watch tomorrow’s superstars get their sea legs — just ask Garth Brooks, Jason Isbell or Taylor Swift, two of whom have a history with the venue and all of whom play gorgeous versions of hit songs here.

‘Booksmart’

Amy (Justified‘s Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Lady Bird scene-stealer Beanie Feldstein) have been honor-roll MVPs throughout their high school tenure. And as graduation night approaches, these academic goody-two-shoes suddenly realize that they’ve neglected to live out their teenage right to go crazy and use “party” as a verb. But not to worry, they’ve come up with a solution: cram four years’ worth of bad behavior into a single night. Like, what could go wrong? Olivia Wilde makes her directorial debut with this girls-gone-wild–ish raunch-com; she’s also stocked the cast with the likes of Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte, Billie Lourd and Mr. Olivia Wilde (a.k.a. Jason Sudeikis). We’ve got a good feeling about this one.

‘The Boy Band Con: The Lou Pearlman Story’

If you loved the Backstreet Boys or NSYNC back when they were selling gajillions of CDs, you have Lou Pearlman to thank. The Queens-born, Orlando-based businessman helped groom both groups into chart-toppers; he also signed them to record contracts that played squarely in his favor. Executive produced by Lance Bass, this look at the man behind the boy-band craze follows his rise and precipitous fall after being arrested for fraud. You get the good (he gave us Justin Timberlake!), the bad (a long history of shady business deals, insurance scams and Ponzi schemes) and the very ugly (numerous insinuations of untoward behavior involving some of his young, male singers).

‘Boy Howdy: The Story of CREEM Magazine’

It came from Detroit in the late 1960s, an underground music publication courtesy of a man who ran the hippest record store in town; soon, he added a 19-year-old rock fanatic to the roster and promoted him to editor, as well as an unkempt writer who’d change rock criticism forever. They called it CREEM Magazine, dubbing it “America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine.” [Clears throat EXTREMELY LOUDLY] This documentary on the late, lamented monthly that gave Dave Marsh and Lester Bangs their first big breaks examines the impact that its irreverent journalism, reverence for hard rock and early championing of punk had on generations of future scribes, as well as the way the mag counteracted (and occasionally contributed to) the industry’s inherent sexism. It also doubles as a portrait of CREEM’s complicated founder Barry Kramer — and yes, it gets into the whole Rolling Stone rivalry thing, too.

‘The Day Shall Come’

Miami, 2013. A preacher (Marchánt Davis) is in danger of losing his house and seeing his family living on the street. Thankfully, a guardian angel appears and offers a financial solution to all of his problems. The bad news: Said angel may be an FBI agent who’s setting the man who is setting up the man with some fairly revolutionary ideas to be a fall guy. If you’ve seen any of writer-director Chris Morris’s previous works — be it his legendary U.K. comedy TV series Brass Eye or the 2010 cult classic Four Lions — you know you’re dealing with a genuinely subversive, scalpel-sharp satirist. And it costars Anna Kendrick, Jim Gaffigan and Orange Is the New Black‘s Danielle Brooks.

‘Everybody’s Everything’

Here’s a sentence we never thought we’d see: “The Lil Peep documentary that’s executive-produced by Terrence Malick.” Yes, the man who gave us The Tree of Life is one of several folks responsible for this look at the late SoundCloud rapper, who was on the verge transforming several musical genres when he tragically overdosed at the age of 21. Expect a lot of concert clips, candid moments and an overall sense that this young man was just getting started when he self-destructed. No word on whether there are any clips of folks walking through a field of wheat, their hands gently brushing the tops of reeds, as well.

‘The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash’

It was what his momma called that basso profundo voice of young John’s, the glorious earth-shaking rumble he was blessed with after puberty: “the gift.” And given what the Arkansas native went through as a kid — you’ve seen Walk the Line — there was no way in hell he was going to let that divine present go to waste. Director Thom Zimny, who’s made more Springsteen docs than any man alive (he was responsible for those incredible making-of-album Bruce profiles The Promise and The Ties That Bind), takes on the legend and the legacy of the country-music standard-bearer, from his first Sun Records hits to his Rick Rubin-produced final recordings. Both the Boss and the Zen Master with the Beard weigh in via voiceovers, as do Cash’s children and collaborators. It’s a beautiful, lyrical look back at the Man in Black.

‘Good Boys’

Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg — you remember those guys — are two of the producers on this comedy about a trio of sixth-graders (including Room‘s Jacob Tremblay) who have to replace a broken drone and get into some dodgy shenanigans involving first kisses, narcotics, grand theft auto, police on their back, etc. We mention the pedigree because if you just thought, “This kind of sounds like a prepubescent Superbad,” well, you might not be that far off. Big, broad raunch-coms play well at SXSW, so the screening should be raucous as hell, to say the least.

‘The Highwaymen’

We know the story of bank robbers/folk heroes Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow — now let’s hear about the men that nabbed them. (And by “nabbed,” we mean “shot down the killers in a hailstorm of hot lead.”) Kevin Costner is Frank Hamer, the retired Texas Ranger who helped lead the hunt for the gang; Woody Harrelson is Manny Gault, his right-hand man who also pulled the trigger on Barrow & Co. in May, 1934. Director John Lee Hancock has tackled real-life subjects ranging from Walt Disney (Saving Mr. Banks), fast-food godhead Ray Kroc (The Founder) and the Alamo (The Alamo). It should be interesting to see what how he handles these two law-enforcement legends.

‘I Am Richard Pryor’

There have already been a million biographies, documentaries and deep-dive breakdowns on the man some say is the single greatest stand-up comic of all time. [Raises hand in agreement] But what, you think we’re going to pass up another chance to see clips of the master performing his blistering, no-holds-barred material one more time? Or shrug off the opportunity to hear fellow comedians praise Richard Pryor for being the person who refined the art of “turning pain into comedy”? Jesse James Miller’s docuportrait lets ex-wives, managers, friends, peers and admirers weigh in on the man’s legacy, his win-lose battles with personal demons and why his reputation as a singular American voice is still inspiring comics to keep it raw and real.

‘It Started As a Joke’

Once upon a time, stand-up comic Eugene Mirman was sitting in a bar with some friends after a set. You know those comedy festivals? he asked. What if I did one dedicated to mocking them? And thus was born the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival, a highly meta affair which gave him and fellow alt-comics/absurdists an annual showcase. It then became a highly successful event that went on for 10 years and allowed patrons to see a generation of future funny people before, and slightly after, they got famous — so the joke was on you, sir! This doc collects a decade’s worth of memorable clips (like the time Ira Glass got blackout drunk onstage), gives you a sense of why Mirman was one of the few who could pull this off and how his personal life partially led to him pulling the plug on the shindig.

‘Kathy Griffin: A Hell of a Story’

Kathy Griffin has had a kooky few years — perhaps you’ve heard. This concert film captures her touring 80-minute response to all of the death threats, federal investigations, lost gigs, forced apologies (and then retracted apologies) and overall sturm und drang she faced when she took a picture that Trump and his minions did not take kindly to. Don’t worry, she does her usual “hey, so this celebrity, and like, how about that celebrity” smack-talking, but this should be the most politically minded version of her stand-up you’re ever likely to see.

‘Long Shot’

She (Charlize Theron) is a former Secretary of State who’s throwing her hat in the ring to be elected as the next Commander-in-Chief. (Too soon, people!) He (Seth Rogen) is schlubby journalist who she used to babysit as a kid way back when. When they happen to unexpectedly reconnect at a party, the Presidential hopeful mentions that she needs a better speechwriter for her campaign. Why, her old reporter pal can help her out! We smell some rom-com goofery, A-list movie star style.

‘Mr. Jimmy’

Maybe you really, really love Jimmy Page. You still probably don’t love him as much as Akio Sakurai. As a kid, this son of a kimono designer wandered in to a screening of The Song Remains the Same and became entranced by the Led Zeppelin guitarist’s playing and presence. And as an adult, he will transform himself into “Mr. Jimmy” — someone so obsessively devoted to replicating not just Page’s sound and fashion style that he can tell the difference between a 1969 live version of Dazed and Confused and ’77 arrangement. Then one night Sakurai meets the real deal, and everything changes. An incredible take on identity, artistry, projection, passion and trying to inspire others to follow an impossible dream of second-hand perfection.

‘The Peanut Butter Falcon’

Zak (Zack Gottsgen) is a young man with Down’s Syndrome who’s obsessed with pro-wrestling. He knows he’ll never joins the ranks of his suplex-dealing heroes if he stays at the nursing home where he lives, however. So he runs away, embarking on a whirlwind adventure that will involve quirky strangers, the consumption of whiskey, laughter, tears and an offbeat look at our modern American landscape. We’re not sure the comparisons to the literature of Mark Twain in the press notes is doing this movie any favors, to be honest, but check out the supporting cast: Shia LeBeouf, Dakota Johnson, Jon Bernthal, Bruce Dern, Mick Foley, Yelawolf (!), John Hawkes, Thomas Haden Church. Not to mention that “the Peanut Butter Falcon” is possibly the best name for a celebrity wrestler since the Iron Shiek.

‘Red 11’

He financed part of his groundbreaking debut El Mariachi by testing the effects of drugs for a medical research facility — it’s a key part of director Robert Rodriguez’s D.I.Y origin story. So it’s no surprise that the indie-film veteran would return to his experience decades later, or that, given his love of genre flicks, he’d mine his days as a “human lab rat” for horror-movie fodder. A young man named Rob (Robby Attal) signs up for a 30-day experiment to chart the side effects of new pharmaceuticals; if you just guessed that things quickly take a turn for the weird and fucked-up, we applaud your extraordinary precognitive abilities.

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Snap Stills/REX/Shutterstock (1933418e)Meg Ryan, Billy CrystalWhen Harry Met Sally - 1989

‘Romantic Comedy’

A documentary about the history of the rom-com, complete with clip montages and commentary? You had us at “hello”! Just because writer-director Elisabeth Sankey is a self-proclaimed superfan of these films, however, doesn’t mean that she’s blind to how they affect our collective notions of amore. So she’s also recruited a voiceover chorus to weigh in the good, bad and ugly way these movies color what we talk about when we talk about love. In other words, you get to have your genre cake and critique it too!

‘Running With Beto’

Very few people knew who Beto O’Rourke was when the then–45-year-old Texan started running against incumbent Ted Cruz for the state’s Senate seat in 2018. Sure, he’d been a U.S. representative for six years at that point, but the man was not a household name. By the time he was narrowly defeated this past fall, however, the handsome guy with the 1000-watt smile was being hailed as the Democratic Party’s Great White Hope and a possible candidate for the 2020 Presidential election. Documentarian David Modigliani had been tagging along with O’Rourke as his campaign went from local concern to national cause célèbre, which means we get a grounds-eye view of a political Cinderella story in the making.

‘Shangra-Lai’

He gave us the final word(s) on back-up singers and Mister Rogers; now Morgan Neville (20 Feet From Stardom, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?) takes on record producer/musical Svengali/facial-hair pioneer Rick Rubin. The documentarian and co-director Jeff Malmberg (Marwencol) present a work-in-progress portrait of Rubin as he tools around his home studio named Shangra-Lai — the place where everybody from Johnny Cash to Neil Diamond to the Avett Brothers have recorded some of the most stripped back, memorable songs.

‘Show Me the Picture: The Story of Jim Marshall’

Jim Marshall had a knack for being at the right place at the right time. The shutterbug was there when the beatniks were hanging out in San Francisco’s North Beach; when jazz legends like John Coltrane and Miles Davis came through town; when a young Bob Dylan was bopping around Greenwich Village; when the Civil Rights movement and the anti-war movement were changing America; when the Bay Area became the ground zero for 1960s counterculture and Johnny Cash plays Folsom prison and Hendrix set Monterey Pop on fire. Alfred George Bailey’s portrait of the famed photographer reminds you that Marshall didn’t just shoot some of the most iconic rock & roll pictures but chronicled the times he lived in. It also doesn’t shy away from what a walking contradiction he was: a Haight Ashbury hippie with anger issues, a mercurial man who was equally fascinated with peace signs and firearms.

‘Sword of Trust’

Cynthia (Jillian Bell) shows up to collect on the inheritance from her late, great Southern grandfather — which turns out to be, er, a sword. Not just any saber, mind you: A genuine-article Confederate sword from the American Civil War. And, as the woman, her best friend (Michaela Watkins), a pawn shop proprietor (GLOW‘s Marc Maron) and his employee (Jon Bass) quickly discover, it’s actually a much-sought-after item. That, and the notion that certain sectors of our country have never really come to terms with that conflict’s outcome. This is the kind of character-based, potentially quirky indie dramedy that tend to clutter festivals like SXSW. The fact that Lynn Shelton (Humpday, Your Sister’s Sister, too many great TV shows to count) is calling the shots, along with this cast, is enough to get our attention.

Lupita Nyong'o in 'Us.'

‘Us’

It’s only, I dunno, the single most anticipated movie of 2019? Jordan Peele has been remarkably cryptic about what his follow-up to Get Out is actually about. There’s a family, led by Black Panther‘s Winston Duke and Lupita Nyong’o; they’ve taken their son and daughter on a joint getaway trip with Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker; a quartet of folks who are near-exact doubles of the parents and kids show up, with some sort of sinister plans in mind; shit gets really weird. Scissors and bunnies play a part in the proceedings as well. If it’s even one-ninth as creepy and terrifying as its trailer, this is going to be the scariest movie of the year.

‘Villains’

When you run out of gas on a rural, near-deserted road right after you’ve robbed a gas station — that’s bad luck. So you take refuge in the nearest place you can find, which turns out to be a well-kept, expensive-looking house with no one at home — ok, that’s good luck. Only it turns out that said domicile is the sight of some twisted-as-fuck goings-on, and you suddenly find yourself in way over you head in in the weirdness department once the owners come back — we don’t know what kind of luck that constitutes, frankly. Maika Monroe and ol’ Pennywise himself, Bill Skarsgård, are the outlaw couple; Jeffrey Donovan and Kyra Sedgwick are their Ward and June Cleaver-ish hosts. Remember: Never go in the basement, folks. Never.

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