SXSW 2014: The Best 5 Films

Hey there –

I’ve been mostly unable to watch new TV in the past month or two, and am now currently on a big catch-up, so I’ll hopefully be able to get back to doing new episode reviews very soon. In the meantime, I figured I’d talk a bit about the films I saw at the South By Southwest Film Festival this year. These are the five best films I saw in early March, and the plan is to have some short thoughts on the other eight films I saw in another post very soon.

(And just so you know, these thoughts are non-spoilery – take a look and keep an eye out for these movies in the coming months. And uh, everyone go see The Raid 2 in theaters on Friday, April 11th. You won’t regret it)

1. Boyhood (dir. Richard Linklater)

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Richard Linklater’s twelve-year exploration of what it means to grow up in the early 21st century easily stands as my favorite film of the year so far. Quite unlike almost any other film out there – with the exception of Linklater’s other temporally-ambitious endeavor (the Before trilogy) – the seamless and fluid story of young Mason’s adolescence is extraordinarily moving, funny, and unforgettable. The obvious temptation for a film like this would be to simply present a slideshow sequence of different years – I certainly entered the Paramount Theatre dreading the idea of twelve title cards screaming each particular year. Instead, Mason’s years bleed together with remarkable consistency and aside from a blatant haircut or two, the extraordinary maturation of this boy is presented in the most humble and selfless manner possible. The assured and understated performances from Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, and Ethan Hawke manage to squeeze an astounding amount of drama and emotion from the minutiae of everyday life, and by the time the audience arrives at this ordinary boy’s high school graduation, the weight of an entire decade is fully realized and appreciated. This is a truly special piece of work, and I can’t wait to revisit it.

Boyhood will be in theaters July 11th

2. Print the Legend (dir. Luis Lopez & J. Clay Tweel)

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This documentary – focusing on three key companies involved in the 3D-printing market – proved to be one of the most exciting and well-executed movies that I saw at the festival this year. The companies – an obsolete pioneer company, a rapidly-expanding company “of the people,” and an ambitious (and naïve) startup – each illustrate complex and difficult phases of power. Somehow, Lopez and Tweel craft their story so skillfully that they’re able to portray the struggles of corporations at an astonishingly human and emotional level. In particular, the focus on MakerBot CEO – Bre Pettis – charts his entire journey from being an enthusiastic visionary to a dictatorial and ruthless executive (the film’s fantastic poster portrays Pettis’ profile on a coin with “In Steve Jobs We Trust” inscribed). Additionally, the fascinating ethical issues brought forth by the ability to 3D print firearms give the film a topicality bonus, which elevates it beyond simply being a history of 3D printing – this portion of the film is largely enhanced by the soundbites contributed by Cody Wilson, an incredibly charismatic, goofy, articulate, (and arguably dangerous) young anarchist. Completely engaging material and delivered in wholly satisfying fashion.

Print the Legend hasn’t been picked up for distribution yet and has no release date currently

3. The Raid 2: Berandal (dir. Gareth Evans)

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Gareth Evans’ follow-up to 2012’s The Raid: Redemption is simply one of the best action films I’ve ever seen. The levels of violence and intensity throughout are unlike anything else on the action landscape currently, and the energy in the Paramount that night was truly a privilege to witness. The two and a half hour sequel is far less accomplished than its predecessor on a narrative level, but its scope and execution on a formal/technical level is an absolute marvel. Others have complained that the gallery of new villains introduced is simply too bland, but I found the majority of the mob bosses to be quite charismatic, and the physical menace embodied by Andi, Baseball Bat Man, and Hammer Girl worked for me completely. Evans’ action direction completely thrives in the expanded canvas that Jakarta provides, and the car chase that takes place in the film’s final act is truly astounding; there is one particularly unbelievable camera movement that actually made me twitch in my seat, and after seeing how it was achieved in a behind-the-scenes feature, I’m absolutely dying to see whatever else Evans decides to do next. No spoilers, but I feel that it’s worth mentioning that the choreography of the final fight sequence is so brutally and violently staged that it almost ceases to be fun by the end – for the first time in either of these films, it feels like there are true deadly stakes, and the potential for Rama to not walk away alive feels very real. Joseph Trapanese’s accompanying score throughout the sequence (“Showdown” on the official soundtrack) brings the intensity to an all-time high, and good lord, I cannot wait to see this movie again in a week.

The Raid 2 will get a wide release April 11th

4. DamNation (dir. Ben Knight & Travis Rummel)

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Having had very little knowledge (or interest) in the mechanics of dams for twenty years, I was more than a little surprised by how impressed I was by the documentary DamNation. Early narration by the director details how thousands of dams came to populate the United States, and these clumsy voiceovers initially felt problematic. However, as the director begins to immerse himself further in the war to tear down America’s plethora of dams, the pacing and immediacy of the film makes for a very thrilling experience. The stunning nature photography clashes with grainy guerilla footage of civil disobedience in a manner that kept me thoroughly engaged, and the ending left me completely satisfied. There is plenty to learn from this film – whether it’s the necessity of protecting the migration habits of salmon, or the vast array of harmful effects that dams impose on surrounding ecosystems – and the filmmakers deserve an immense amount of credit for making such an education so compelling.

DamNation hasn’t been picked up for distribution yet and has no release date currently

5. Creep (dir. Patrick Brice)

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I went into the Stateside Theater knowing absolutely nothing about Patrick Brice’s Creep, and I would highly recommend that others take the same route before seeing the movie for themselves. Although I’m fairly weary of the ubiquitous found-footage aesthetic, the format proved instrumental in providing this film with many layers of creepy intimacy that largely enhanced the entire story. Mark Duplass’ fantastic work as Josef was unlike any of his past performances, and he deserves a serious amount of credit for being able to mostly make me forget the roles I’ve known him best for. Like Prince Avalanche last year, I was surprised by the emotional impact of such a small film with a drastically reduced cast, and the easygoing chemistry between Duplass and Brice really made it easy to get invested in this unsettling and simple narrative. This movie is small, sweet, funny, and pretty damn disturbing at times – give it a shot.

*Unrelated, but I met and shook hands with Duplass before the screening started, and it was only there that I realized he was one of the few celebrities at the festival who had me truly starstruck. After telling him I was a fan of his work, he very graciously said thank you and subsequently made fun of my rain jacket. Pretty sure my response wasn’t actual English and I hurried away immediately after. Cool.

Creep hasn’t been picked up for distribution yet and has no release date currently

Check back in soon – there were some other really strong films at the festival, along with some really bad ones that I feel strongly about…


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