The 12 Best Films of SXSW 2011

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SXSW has grown into much more than just a music festival. Interactive attendees outnumbered the Music crowd for the first time ever, and Film continues to attract great talent. Here are 10 narrative films that caught our attention this year.

12. Fubar: Balls to the Wall
The title says it all in this “Wayne’s World meets the McKenzie brothers” mockumentary about two slackers, Terry and Dean, who head to the Northern oil fields for big money and heavy drinking. It’s stupid, it has no redeeming value, and if 10 seconds went by without hearing the word “fuck,” I didn’t notice. But I’ve put the original 2002 Fubar on my watch list and am effing ready to see a Fubar III.—TB

11. Paul
Shaun of the Dead’s Nick Frost and Simon Pegg return in this erratic, but still funny ode to our favorite alien movies as the two play geek-driven, Comic-Con fans who’ve jumped the Atlantic puddle to visit alien tourist traps like Area 51 and Roswell. They stumble upon Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), an alien who’s become humanized under Army guard for the past 60 years. While not of the caliber of Shaun, it works better than their last duo-done flick Hot Fuzz.—TB [Read Josh Jackson’s full review

10. Another Happy Day
First, get past the worst thing about this film—the well-worn story of a dysfunctional, extended family meeting up for a wedding (think Robert Altman’s A Wedding or Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married). Then, enjoy some clever dialogue delivered by a who’s who list of Hollywood stars from the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and aughts, like George Kennedy, Ellen Burstyn, Ellen Barkin, Demi Moore, Thomas Haden Church and Kate Bosworth. Though he’s got a ways to go before he gets compared to Altman, Demme or his father Barry, it’s enough to want to know what’s next from writer/director Sam Levinson.—TB

9. A Bag of Hammers
This is a movie that can’t quite decide whether it wants to be a madcap comedy or an intricate drama, and that turns out to be a very good thing. Most films marry their comedic and dramatic elements by watering down each to create a somewhat consistent tone. But A Bag of Hammers repeatedly juxtaposes sharp, quick-cutting wisecracks with sober treatments of some truly heart-rending issues. The back-and-forth could give you whiplash in an inferior movie, but first-time director Brian Crano makes it work in spades. In fact, it’s one of the most moving comedies in years. It doesn’t hurt that he draws such wonderful performances from his actors. Rebecca Hall — who will win an Academy Award someday — is superb, and Jake Sandvig is an excellent comedic sidekick. Carrie Preston gives the film an incredible anchor with a heartbreakingly desperate performance. But Jason Ritter is the story here. He’s hilarious, he’s charismatic, he’s effortless on screen. When he has a run of physical comedy midway through the film, you can almost feel the audience fondly remembering his father. And his father would be proud, of this movie and of his rising star of a son.—MD

8. Fambul Tok
People of the African nation of Sierra Leone practice an ancient ritual of family talk called Fambul Tok in this incredible documentary. Citizens whose lives were horrifically changed by civil war, where family members became killers of their own families, where torture and cruelty were every day occurrences, demonstrate a remarkable amount of tolerance and forgiveness as they gather to heal the emotional scars of war. Even though the fighting was over, rapists and murderers would walk among the victims and victims’ families with impunity. But instead of imprisonment, the perpetrators would be reconciled with the citizenry through Fambul Tok. Sierra Leone, we learn, has a saying that sums it up best. “There is no place to throw away a bad child.”

7. Sound of My Voice
Much has been made of comparing Sound of My Voice to the other Sundance film that Brit Marling co-produced, co-wrote, and co-starred in, Another Earth. And understandably so: that’s a stunning accomplishment for anyone, let alone a relative newcomer like Marling. But the comparisons and contrasts shouldn’t obscure the fact that Zal Batmanglij’s first feature is remarkable on its own merits. It’s a film that keeps the viewers, like its protagonists, on their toes constantly, never providing the answers they crave, even to the very end. The central plot revolves around a hipster couple attempting to infiltrate and expose a cult led by a woman who claims to come from the future. But that mission will test their relationship, their view of themselves, and even their view of the possible. It’s a film that will keep you thinking long after you’ve left the theater.—MD

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