20 2013 SXSW Films We're Excited About

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The SXSW film festival grows in size and importance every year. Paste’s film editor Michael Dunaway landed in Austin last Thursday for the 2013 edition, and here, in alphabetical order, are the 21 films that has him most excited so far.

1. And Who Taught You To Drive?
The Category: SXGlobal
The SXSW Synopsis: Driving through traffic at home is already stressful enough. Now imagine driving a car in a completely foreign country. Mirela, moving from Germany to India, Jake moving from the USA to Japan and South Korean Hye-Won living in Germany are facing the same problem. They are all forced to obtain a new local driver’s license. Driving lessons soon become lessons of life when it starts to dawn on our protagonists that getting through the day will involve much more than just obeying the rules of the road in their host country. A cultural comedy about accepting that it’s difficult but fun to be different from each other.
The Key Players: Director Andrea Thiele
The Draw: We’ve previewed this one, and it’s absolutely hilarious in that dry, droll way. Sitting in a theater full of festivalgoers discovering an underdog comedy is a great experience. Highly recommended. —Michael Dunaway

2. Bayou Maharaja
The Category: 24 Beats Per Second
The SXSW Synopsis: Bayou Maharajah: The Tragic Genius of James Booker explores the life, times and music of piano legend James Booker, who Dr. John described as “the best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced.” Booker was an unparalleled musician whose eccentricities and showmanship belied a life of struggle and isolation. Triply-marginalized by his race, sexuality, and physical disability, he still managed to excel as a musician in New Orleans and Europe in the turbulent 1960-70s, fusing secular, sacred, pop and classical traditions in breathtaking new ways. A brilliant stylist of soaring imagination, Booker personified the agony of genius in a time of paradigmatic change.
The Key Players: Director Lily Keber; Harry Connick Jr., Hugh Laurie, Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas, Charles Neville, Douglas Brinkley
The Draw: If the title and the Dr. John quote alone don’t draw you in, that collection of commenters should. Irma Thomas alone is worth the price of admission.—Michael Dunaway

3. Before Midnight
Before Midnight.jpg
The Category: Festival Favorites
The SXSW Synopsis: We meet Celine and Jesse nine years after their last rendezvous. Almost two decades have passed since their first encounter on a train bound for Vienna, and we now find them in their early forties in Greece. Before the clock strikes midnight, we will again become part of their story.
The Key Players: Director Richard Linklater; Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
The Draw: Before Midnight concludes one of cinema’s great trilogies—assuming it stays a trilogy. Director Richard Linklater and stars Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke have built a beautiful study of life and love, each chapter of which stands on its own while adding emotional resonance to the other two. The series’ trademark intense, thoughtful and personal conversations remain. An early scene holds on one perfectly acted two-shot in a car for 13 minutes. The discussions are often as hilarious as they are engaging. Hangups, regrets and doubts have have become a greater part of Jesse and Celine’s lives, and the film reflects that. But it also reminds us what made the couple such a lovable pair that they could hold our interest for 20 years.—Jeremy Mathews

4. The Bounceback
The Category: Narrative Feature
The SXSW Synopsis: Breaking up is hard to do. Desperate and lonely, Stan (Michael Stahl-David) learns that his ex, Cathy (Ashley Bell), will be in Austin for the weekend and hops on a flight to the Lone Star State in hopes of “accidentally” running into her. But, another breakup crisis greets him in Austin between his friends Jeff (Zach Cregger) and Kara (Sara Paxton), who are hell-bent on keeping Stan and Cathy apart. Cavorting through Austin’s honkytonks, nightclubs, and a cutthroat air-sex competition, Stan and Cathy find bouncing back from their heartache to be unexpectedly complicated. An outrageous and heartfelt comedy, THE BOUNCEBACK is Bryan Poyser’s follow-up to the hit Sundance film, LOVERS OF HATE.
The Key Players: Director Bryan Poyser; Ashley Bell, Marshall Allman
The Draw: Poyser’s got a lot of heat right now after Lovers of Hate was so well received; it will be great to see if he continues to move forward in this follo-up. And we’re big fans of Marshall Allman, who was so great in last year’s surprise SXSW hit Blue Like Jazz. —Michael Dunaway

5. Coldwater
The Category: Narrative Spotlight
The SXSW Synopsis: Brad Lunders is a teenager forcefully taken from his home in the middle of the night by his parents consent, to a harsh wilderness reform facility. There is no contact with the outside world and the retired war colonel in charge prides himself on breaking an inmates spirit to correct delinquent behavior. As we learn of the tragic events that led to Brad’s arrival, unforeseen circumstances also threaten to tear the reform facility apart…forcing Brad to confront not only his fellow inmates and the personnel in charge, but finally his own sense of what is right and what is wrong.
The Key Players: Director Vincent Grashaw
The Draw: Paste was on the train early for Bellflower, and people are still coming up to us to thank us for turning them on to the film. Writer/Director Evan Glodell hasn’t given us a followup yet, but producer Vincent Grashaw is premiering his directorial debut Coldwater at SXSW this year. If the trailer is any indication, it’ll have all the darkness and intensity of Bellflower. —Michael Dunaway

6. The Crash Reel
The Category: Festival Favorites
The SXSW Synopsis: This eye-popping film, stunningly edited from 20 years of verité footage, follows champion snowboarder Kevin Pearce and exposes the fatal allure of extreme sports. An escalating rivalry between Kevin and his nemesis Shaun White in the run-up to the 2010 Olympics culminates in Shaun winning Gold and Kevin in a coma following a training accident. Kevin’s family help him rebuild his life as a brain injury survivor, but when he insists he wants to return to the sport he loves his eloquent brother David, who has Down syndrome, intervenes. As an elite athlete, Kevin was a professional risk-taker but now his skills are impaired and a small blow to the head will kill him. How much risk is too much?
The Key Players: Director Lucy Walker; Kevin Pearce, Shaun White
The Draw: Even for those of us who have no interest in snowboarding or winter sports, The Crash Reel provides a remarkable story about family. What could have easily been a by-the-numbers recovery story about a niche sport is constantly compelling in the hands of one of our most talented young documentarians—Oscar-nominee Lucy Walker. It’s striking how different each of Walker’s movies are in both subject matter and feel, yet she’s remarkably consistent. She finds the right story and the right tone every single time.—Michael Dunaway

7. Don Jon’s Addiction
DJ Addiction.jpg
The Category: Festival Favorites
The SXSW Synopsis: Jon Martello (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a strong, handsome, good old fashioned guy. His buddies call him Don Jon due to his ability to “pull” a different woman every weekend, but even the finest fling doesn’t compare to the bliss he finds alone in front of the computer watching pornography. Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson) is a bright, beautiful, good old fashioned girl. Raised on romantic Hollywood movies, she’s determined to find her Prince Charming and ride off into the sunset. Wrestling with good old fashioned expectations of the opposite sex, Jon and Barbara struggle against a media culture full of false fantasies to try and find true intimacy in this unexpected comedy written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
The Key Players: Screenwriter/Actor/Director Joseph Gordon-Levitt; Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza
The Draw: Joseph Gordon-Levitt has come a very long way since Third Rock From the Sun (and a rich career as a child actor that preceded even that). He’s shown an amazing range in films like Hesher, Mysterious Skin and his recent run of blockbusters. And he stretches himself further in his first directorial effort, Jon Don’s Addiction, playing a New Jersey Don Juan whose routine involves his car, his gym, his club, his church, his women and his porn. It’s an interesting—and hilarious—look at both how men objectify women and how women objectify men. His seemingly irredeemable character finds redemption in surprising ways.—Josh Jackson

8. The East
The East.jpg
The Category: Festival Favorites
The SXSW Synopsis: In “The East”, Sarah Moss (Brit Marling) is a brilliant operative for an elite private intelligence firm whose top objective is to ruthlessly protect the interests of their A-list corporate clientele. She is assigned to go undercover to infiltrate an anarchist collective known for executing covert attacks upon major corporations. Living amongst them in an effort to get closer to their members, Sarah finds herself unexpectedly torn between two worlds as she starts to fall in love with the group’s charismatic leader, finding her life and her priorities irrevocably changed.
The Key Players: Screenwriter/Director Zal Batmanglij; Producer Ridley Scott; Screenwriter/Actor Brit Marling; Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page, Julia Ormond, Patricia Clarkson
The Draw: Director Zal Batmanglij and Actress Brit Marling join forces again as co-writers in their fast-moving followup to 2012’s Sound of My Voice. The East is the story of a private-firm intelligence agent (Marling) looking to infiltrate a shadowy group of anticorporate terrorsists. Marling is wonderful as always, Alexander Skarsgaard is appropriately mysterious as the leader of the group, and Ellen Page turns in her best performance in years. The film was produced by Ridley Scott, and the Hollywood pedigree shows; Batmanglij seems to be making his bid for the brass ring here, and he should get it.—Michael Dunaway

9. Go For Sisters
Go for sisters.jpg
The Category: Narrative Spotlight
The SXSW Synopsis: Bernice Stokes and Fontayne Gamble grew up the closest of friends. After high school Bernice got into social services and corrections work, Fontayne just got into trouble. Twenty years later Bernice is assigned as parole officer for Fontayne- just released from prison and fighting a drug habit. But Bernice’s son Rodney, has gone missing on the Mexican border, his shady partners in hiding or brutally murdered. Fontayne, through a prison girlfriend, enlists Freddy Suárez, a disgraced, near-blind ex-LAPD detective once known as ‘the Terminator’, to help them find Rodney. Outlaws on a noble quest, they are lured into a potentially deadly cat-and-mouse game with mysterious Chinese smugglers.
The Key Players: Director John Sayles; Edward James Olmos
The Draw: We’re on board for pretty much anything John Sayles does. —Michael Dunaway

10. I Am Divine
I am divine.jpg
The Category: Documentary Spotlight
The SXSW Synopsis: “I Am Divine” is the story of Divine, aka Harris Glenn Milstead, from his humble beginnings as an overweight, teased Baltimore youth to internationally recognized drag superstar through his collaboration with filmmaker John Waters. Spitting in the face of the status quos of body image, gender identity, sexuality, and preconceived notions of beauty, Divine was the ultimate outsider turned underground royalty. With a completely committed in-your-face style, he blurred the line between performer and personality, and revolutionized pop culture. “I Am Divine” is a definitive biographical portrait that charts the legendary icon’s rise to infamy and emotional complexities.
The Key Players: Director Jeffrey Schwarz; John Waters, Ricki Lake, Mink Stole
The Draw: The biggest personality of this year’s SXSW is sure to be an actor who passed away far too soon. Divine was John Waters’ friend and muse, as Waters puts it, and he was so over-the-top and entertaining that it would probably be fun just to watch him talk on camera for an hour and a half. —Michael Dunaway

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