The 12 Best Films of SXSW 2011

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6. Page One: Inside the New York Times
Like the paper it’s documenting, the creators of Page One manage to be in the right place at the right time. When a New York Times editor takes a call from WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange the cameras are there to catch a discussion on what secrets the Times might print. It’s also a moment representative of the problems plaguing the publishing world—how to disseminate the news in a fluid state of technology. The always entertaining Times reporter David Carr could easily have been the focus of the entire film but director Andrew Rossi smartly uses Carr as an appropriate voice of experience. The grizzled journalist is a film editor’s dream as he speaks in sharp, insightful, and seemingly effortless sound bites.

5. Source Code
SXSW isn’t just about indie films. And while having all the signs of being another soulless, time-travelling dud, Source Code is surprisingly gripping. An inventive script and some brilliant performances from Jake Gyllenhall, Vera Farmiga and Michelle Monighan provide this sci-fi thriller with what The Adjustment Bureau lacked: life.—TB

4. Bellflower
Someone whose name I didn’t catch on a Sundance bus gave me what turned out to be the perfect description of Bellflower. “It’s like 500 Days of Summer,” she said, “except if, once the girl leaves the guy, instead of getting sad and mopey, he starts burning and blowing stuff up and the movie turns into an acid trip.” That’s pretty much it. But although it shares some plot similarities with 500 Days and the anarchistic spirit of Hesher’s main character, Evan Glodell’s debut is much more daring and experimental than either of those two films. It experiments with timelines, unreliable narrators, and with different film stock and filters. Plus it has flamethrowers and a home-customized muscle car that shoots fire from a pair of elevated exhaust valves. And an opening quote from Lord Humungous. If you’re not dying to see this film by this point in the review, maybe it’s best you just stay away. Bellflower rocks.—MD

3. Win Win
Films like Little Miss Sunshine and Win Win have often been referred to as dark comedies. But it’s a misnomer; they should just be called everyday, real-life, flawed-family comedies—you know, like what most of us have. Here, Paul Giamatti plays an attorney and high-school wrestling coach whose law practice, and his team, have hit on hard times. His solutions to both, however, lead to some unforeseen and complicated results. This is Giamatti at his best: a floundering underdog and a redeemable sinner. Amy Ryan (Holly in The Office) as the attorney’s skeptical spouse and newcomer Alex Shaffer are just part of a dynamite supporting cast.—TB

2. Hesher
One of the breakout hits of Sundance last year, Spencer Susser’s Hesher was immediately acquired but went through over a year of distribution limbo before hitting the festival circuit again in 2011. Joseph Gordon-Levitt must be especially anxious for this film to see the light of day, because his performance as the title character is award-worthy, a complete inhabiting of as unique a personality as you’ll encounter in film. Rainn Wilson is also excellent as a man paralyzed by overwhelming sadness, and the presence of Natalie Portman should ensure that ticket sales are no problem. Hesher manages to be at once a sober and bighearted look at grief and loss, and a hilarious ride with the most enjoyably anarchistic character in ages.—MD

1. Beginners
As 2011’s first deserving candidate for best director and screenplay, Beginners sets the bar high. Based on the story of writer/director Mike Mill’s own father, the film follows Oliver (Ewan McGregor) as he deals with the death of his father (Christopher Plummer) and the beginnings of a serious relationship. Through flashbacks we learn that his father, after his wife’s death, reveals that he’s gay and completely ecstatic about living a lifestyle that had been unavailable during his 40 years as a faithful husband and loving father. While Plummer is wonderful as always, it’s McGregor who gives one of the best performances of his career—with an assist from a little dog.—TB

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