South By Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas is truly a unique festival and 2013 was my first full experience despite living here for the past few years. You’ll hear the horror stories of long lines, tough venue locations, overpriced concessions, and the traffic, oh the traffic. Fortunately there are more positives than negatives thanks to the amazing opportunities afforded by a film festival with such a vast range of genre, excellent weather and tacos.
We had the opportunity to see movies about magicians, horror remakes, Disney actresses snorting cocaine off naked bodies, documentaries about punk bands, a Big Ass Spider, and the new Shane Carruth flick which I am still processing. That’s just a taste of what this year’s lineup offered. It’d be a little difficult to only showcase seven films from an overall excellent year, so I’ve taken the TOP 7 Most Memorable Moments of SXSW 2013 whether it be trends, performances, or individual experiences.
7. Austin Film Presence
Call it home-court advantage if you want, but the reality is that Austin is one of the independent film capitals of the country. SXSW is known for its wide variety of movies including wide releases, documentaries, independent dramas, comedies, midnight horror, and of course, locally-produced films from Austin. The local crop from this year, oddly enough, represents the same kind of variety with quirky, niche documentaries such as Rewind This! to the moody and risque subject matter of A Teacher. A film like Grow Up, Tony Phillips, directed by Emily Hagins, hides the strange characteristics of Austin in favor of telling a more universally relatable coming of age story while Geoff Marslett’s Loves Her Gun embraces the weird but cool aspects in addition to highlighting the dark portal of potential craziness the city attracts. Just being in Austin isn’t a cure-all for your problems as shown in Pit Stop and award winner Zero Charisma, the city won’t necessarily fix you but it could represent a second chance. There was a little something for everyone this year with a great overall selection. Could this be the start of the next big wave of Austin indies breaking through? Only time will tell but I’m certainly hopeful.
6. Tears Will Flow
I expected the usual suspects this year at SXSW. Bad traffic, no parking, long lines, delayed screenings, and an apocalyptic 6th street filled with drunks, weirdos and the stench of old weed. Unlike some who absolutely love to revel in the troubles that SXSW can sometimes bring, I find the excellent and eclectic slab of films far more worthy of the attention. This year was no different in delivering some gut busting tear jerkers that will destroy general audiences (hopefully) later this year. Whether it’s a festival favorite like Short Term 12 or the inspirational and humorous look at former Hollywood heavyweight writer John Milius in the documentary Milius I was fighting back tears for what felt like most of the fest. Take into account the more realistic, and unfortunately in some ways more relatable, films such as The Spectacular Now and Before Midnight, I was basically a sobbing, weepy mess by the end of most nights. Sure, some of it is cinematic manipulation but I’ll be damned if these films didn’t succeed in showing the triumph and possibility of the human spirit, not to mention the fragility of life and consequence of reality. I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff (ask me about about Life As a House or Big Fish sometime and watch me ball like a baby) and SXSW 2013 certainly brought the goods.
5. Britney Spears Montage in “Spring Breakers”
If you would have told me earlier this year that a montage featuring the music of Britney Spears as sung by James Franco would have made any top list of mine for 2013 I would have told you to kindly “fuck off.” Well here we are, James Franco singing Britney Spears and me telling my past self to kindly “fuck off.” The sequence is as ludicrous as it sounds and we all benefit from the sheer insanity of director Harmony Korine and the absolute dedication from all those involved. Gorgeous and bizarre, it’s likely to be one of the most talked about movie moments of the year.
4. Brie Larson
Holy hell Brie Larson. I mean I knew she was pretty good. After funny roles in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and 21 Jump Street, the actress proved she had some comedic chops but Short Term 12 is a whole different beast. Larson is emotionally devastating as one of the faculty members running a group care home for damaged kids. She takes every single difficult life issue these kids face every day and attempts to help them, even if it’s only for a moment while at the same time dealing with deep-seeded personal problems she is also facing with regards to her own life. The film, and consequently Larson, could have easily just made her into an inspirational heroic figure for the kids with a Dead Poets Society type of characterization but instead it opts for the more difficult task of a realistic portrayal of a human being helping other human beings despite whatever other bullshit they might be going through. It’s a courageous performance that highlights the unsung heroes of the current generation. There are many who would say the youth of today are hopeless and lazy individuals with no goals or aspirations that extend past the computer monitor. Brie Larson completely embodies that small contingent of people who matter most, those who give their time and love to a group of kids who never had it to begin with. We sometimes forget they exist but they do and in some ways Short Term 12 is a beautiful tip of the hat to those making a real difference in the lives of others.
3. The cast of “Cheap Thrills Cast”
In his directorial debut, E.L. Katz succeeds in not just creating a darkly humorous and brutal look at modern society but also manages to get career best performances out of each of the lead actors. Pat Healy, who you might have seen in a menacing role from last year’s Compliance, has been right on the cusp of breaking out for years. Cheap Thrills sees Healy pushing himself farther than he’s ever gone before with some truly degrading tests that will challenge every moral fiber of his character, Craig, as he does everything he can to help his family. An unrecognizable Ethan Embry crawled out of whatever cave he was in to deliver a powerful performance that seems to reflect the current state of his career as someone who simply disappeared and suddenly reappeared, clearly more aged than before. That youthful, energetic presence from Can’t Hardly Wait and Empire Records is gone, replaced by the need for something deeper, more primal. And finally Dave Koechner. You might think you know what you’re getting with Koechner going in and you’ll be horribly off base. Unlike his typical supporting gross out comedy roles, Koechner proves he’s suitably sinister with a performance that shows he’s not all laughs and how evil he can go when pushed. Cheap Thrills will make you laugh, think and at times shock you to your core but it’s because of these actors that you believe any of it at all.
2. The End of the “Before” Series?
Here we are nine years later and we’re checking back in on Jesse and Celine after that fateful night in Paris. Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight is the latest entry into his romantic “Before” trilogy. Up until now the series has dealt with the possibility of romance and an emerging love that never had the time to fully grow. Before Midnight is a decidedly more adult affair with complicated topics that are less philosophical and more realistic. The film will inspire, devastate, and move you to tears in ways that might be a little to close to home for some. If this is truly the end to the series, it’s a lovely way to send off to one of the most important cinematic romances of all time. Bring tissues.
1. James Franco
Alien from Spring Breakers is the most quotable and charismatic personality since Ron Burgandy. Yes, he’s funny, ridiculous and Franco does his best to milk every little bit of insanity he can but there’s more to Alien. Franco does something truly special with what could be a one-joke parody by turning Alien into a fully realized experience for the audience. After a while it’s clear that every single line of dialogue that comes out of Alien’s mouth is completely 100 percent serious. We begin to believe that he believes everything he says. He loves these girls and is willing to do whatever it takes to protect them and keep them with him. Franco never allows it to go too far and it’s the scenes in the last third of the movie that really showcase the character’s more human characteristics. He disappears into the role becoming a cinematic force of nature commanding every ounce of attention. It’s a masterful performance with enough depth and bravado to warrant serious awards talk.