A list of this year’s SXSW films I believe to be the most watchable and why.
Song to Song (5/10)
Faye, a musician we never see making music, goes out with Cook, a music mogul, to boost her career. Then she meets BV and falls in love, meanwhile Cook starts dating Rhonda and marries her. At the same time, BV and Faye break up and he goes out with Amanda, but she leaves as quickly as she appeared. At no point does the viewer learn the names. Also, the timeline is not linear and does not offer any clues about the order of events. As a result, the actors seem just as confused about their characters as the viewer is.
Terrance Malick’s new movie is a pretentious, confusing and badly written movie that looks like there was never a plan beyond the pitch. It never makes any sense and the viewer has no clue what’s going on or the names of the protagonists on the screen. The only thing that makes this movie watchable is Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography. The triple Oscar winner’s virtuous wide-angle shots give the film a fresh and modern look but ultimately cannot save this experiment of a movie.
The Disaster Artist (10/10)
Not gifted with any talent for acting or filmmaking, Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero move to LA and make a movie the press will call “The Citizen Kane of bad movies.” Tommy’s eccentric behavior jeopardizes not only the movie but also his friendship to Greg.
James Franco delivers his best career performance thus far on both sides of the camera. His adaptation of the book ‘The Disaster Artist – My Life inside The Room” from Greg Sistero and Tom Bissell gives insights to the crazy production history of the trash masterpiece”The Room,” directed by Tommy Wiseau. Hilariously written and brilliantly acted, this movie features plenty of stars in smaller and larger roles. This movie will be mentioned in the coming award season, so don’t miss it!
The Hero (9/10)
The aging western star Lee Hayden makes his money now with voice-overs for commercials and has descending hopes of getting invited to a casting again. Estranged from his divorced wife and daughter, he spends most of his time on his drug dealer Jeremy’s couch. But when he meets the enigmatic comedian Charlotte, his life takes an unexpected turn.
This is drama about an aging hero is tailor-made for Sam Elliot and his smoky voice. His performance honors his outstanding career and he leads the cast through the movie – he’s in almost every scene. Beautifully shot and with marvelous performances by the supporting actors, there’s hardly anything to criticize about this film. It’s an emotional journey with relatable characters, a grounded story that surprises, but never escapades. The director Brett Haley, who also co-wrote the script, presents his take on the old hero – a theme that is universal but never boring. If you have the chance, go watch this movie!
Small Crimes (8/10)
When the disgraced ex-cop Joe gets released from prison, his problems only grow bigger. Both his former friends and enemies are after him, and the whole town seems to despise the ex-con. Only his parents and the nurse Charlotte socialize with him, and Joe needs to choose his friends wisely if he doesn’t want to go back to prison.
Evan Katz directed and co-wrote this neo-noir thriller, and he created a dark and gritty tale about betrayal, vengeance, and atonement and doesn’t make any compromises. While the story is great, some characters are just stereotypes. Robert Forster and Jacki Weaver play Joe’s parents fervently, they tell a whole story just with their eyes. The principal cast delivers convincing performances, especially “The Kingslayer” Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. “Small Crimes” is a brutal movie without any true heroes, but it’s real and honest. It takes itself very seriously; so don’t expect something a la Tarantino but rather a bloody “Maltese Falcon.”
Kim Dotcom: Caught in the Web (7/10)
Kim Dotcom from Munich takes the world by storm. After his first conviction for cyber-crimes in the late 90’s, the young hacker goes into business and quickly becomes a billionaire in the tech-bubble. It’s only when he revolutionizes hosting services and file sharing that he makes a powerful enemy, the Unites States of America, driven by a panicking entertainment industry on a crusade against piracy. Dotcom, now living in New Zealand, gets pulled into a decade-long legal battle that ultimately only sees losers instead of winners.
This is a highly interesting documentary about the German internet-entrepreneur who got caught up in a legal battle against the USA over illegal file sharing. I was aware of parts of the story, but the full extent of it is truly shocking and reveals how powerless individuals can be when a whole industry decides to crack down on them. I also enjoyed the mass of footage that was shown. Dotcom provided hundreds of hours of personal videos to enrich the documentary. At times a little too bit biased, this documentary is highly entertaining and Dotcom’s charm is compelling as well.
Meth storm: Arkansas USA (8/10)
This HBO-documentary explores the methamphetamine wave that takes whole towns by storm. In Arkansas, the filmmakers follow a local Drug Enforcement Administration agent who has to arrest his former classmates, and also Veronica and her family, all long-time meth-users. Both groups granted the filmmakers unlimited access so we follow the protagonists on high-speed car-chases, police raids, prison visits, family time or rummaging the trailer home for old, but usable syringes. It’s a shocking and depressing film that leaves the viewer with a feeling of helplessness, but as inconvenient as it is, it would be wrong to look away from this harsh reality. This movie deeply humanizes the protagonists of the war on drugs and gives insights that enrich the growing discussion in this country on how to battle addiction and the drug epidemic. It is hard to watch but definitely recommended.
The Most Hated Woman in America (9/10)
This is the true story of Madalyn Murray O’Hair, an American atheist activist that successfully banned prayers from schools. One day she, her son and her granddaughter disappear without a trace, but with all the enemies she made in her life, hardly anyone cares to find her. One of her co-workers and a reporter start to look into the case.
Oscar winner Melissa Leo is unstoppable! She is the true star of this biopic and plays the belligerent atheist poster-girl as she debates, rants and scolds through the decades, becoming the titular most-hated woman in America. There’s also a number of A-listers starring in supporting roles: Josh Lucas, Vincent Kartheiser, Juno Temple, Adam Scott and Rory Cochrane all deliver compelling performances. Writer and director Tommy O’Haver combines a well-written script with a very detailed production design, leading to a time travel from the sixties to the nineties. An interesting story not many people have heard of. Watch it now on Netflix!
This is your Death (7/10)
While hosting his “Bachelor”-like TV-show, Adam Rogers has to witness one of the contenders go crazy and shoot people in front of the cameras. Whil deeply disturbed by this event, he notices the spark of interest in the viewers. To give people’s death meaning, he, along with producer Ilana Kat, develops a new kind of reality TV, where candidates can end their lives to raise money for their families. Meanwhile caretaker Mason loses his job and has no idea how to support his family, so he makes the drastic decision to go on the show.
Director Giancarlo Esposito, well known as drug-lord Gus Fring from Breaking Bad, delivers an unsettling outlook at the TV landscape. It is an important film with a strong message: even if what you do has good intentions, it doesn’t guarantee a good outcome. It also carries a sharp criticism on voyeurism via social media. The movie discusses morals in our modern media landscape, a topic that is sadly underrepresented in our culture. It encourages a debate that is inconvenient, but needs to be discussed, or else this film will turn from a warning into a prediction.
The Work (9/10)
‘The Work” is an intimate and extremely powerful documentary about a group therapy program at Folsom Prison in California. A number of inmates join people from outside the jail who also seek therapy. These sessions are really intense and not only humanize the inmates, but also give an interesting insight into the criminal justice system. People being locked away ultimately intensifies their psychological problems. However, with the right kind of therapy, re-socialization seems possible: this program has a great success rate and none of the inmates had a relapse into crime after they got out on probation.
It is so intense to hear the stories of the men, and how they overcome racial and gang barriers to participate. A white supremacist cries on the shoulder of a Black Panther, and Blood and Crip members help each other to overcome their personal trauma. This documentary is a plea for humanity, but it also shows that second chances don’t come for free. Highly recommended and it won the SXSW Grand Jury Award for Documentary Feature, and that won’t be the last award for this great film!
The Relationtrip (4/10)
Two people hate relationships, they bond over that and go on a road trip. And guess what happens? A predictable and often too eager romantic comedy that surely has its moments, but overall was the most boring movie I saw all week. It felt more like a contest of quirkiness, worse than Seth Cohen on mollies. The script seems to over trump every line and it feels more like a race than a dialog. On the other hand the directors C. A. Gabriel, who also co-wrote the screenplay, and Renée Felice Smith deliver a well-made film with many creative ideas. I believe this movie has its audience, but surely I’m no part of it.
Infinity Baby (3/10)
This movie suffered from elevated expectations, caused by an excellent cast: Nick Offerman, Kieran Culkin, Megan Mullaly, Martin Starr and Stephen Root who do their best but don’t stand a chance against a screenplay that desperately wants to be satire. The fact the movie is black and white is another example how the filmmakers try to achieve a certain thing, but in the end get the opposite: instead of creating their own world, they alienate the audience from the movie. It felt like the filmmakers had a completely different vision and weren’t able to fulfill it. I didn’t get into it at any point and the best part was when I decided to take a quick nap. Can’t recommend this one.
I didn’t get to see this movie, but my wife did. She really enjoyed it and I like her taste. It also won the SXSW Audience Award for Narrative Spotlight and I heard many good comments about it. If you get the chance to see it, go for it and thank me later.