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The Top 10 Film Selections of South By Southwest 2014

The Best of SxSW 2014!
by Jason Whyte

The 2014 edition of South By Southwest Film was another outstanding year of amazing films, reconnecting with old friends and finding true discoveries left and right. The festival gets busier and busier every year and there is a lot of waiting in lines and it is worth every moment. Having attended South By Southwest Film since 2007, I have felt it all with this festival over the years and see it grow into something that words can't describe. And even though it can get overwhelming at times, I was in line many times ever day to sample what SxSW had to offer, and wound up seeing 46 feature films over the course of Friday to the following Saturday morning from March 7th to the 15th. I saw lots of world premieres, indie discoveries and even got to shake the hand of Nicolas Cage. So I was doing something right.

The following picks reflect the best of South By Southwest from my own, humble opinion and only based on what I could see over the week. This all comes from my perspective of covering the fest every year. If you have a top picks list, please feel free to email or Tweet me at the link below and discuss. Without further ado...

The Top 10 Films of SxSW 2014:

#1. Boyhood (USA, dir. Richard Linklater)

Whenever you see a movie that takes place over the course of years, or decades, of course you think about the lengths the filmmakers will go to to make it look accurate on screen. You think of how Christian Bale went through makeup and costumes in “Empire of the Sun”, or even more recently where face capture technology made Chris Pine look younger in the new “Jack Ryan” movie. BOYHOOD throws that all away and takes on a life of its own by Austin's own Richard Linklater, no stranger to pushing cinema's envelope. Filmed over the course of thirteen years, Linklater uses the exact same cast and crew over this entire time by filming portions of the story over all of these years. The movie focuses on a lower-income family as they grow up in Texas and is almost entirely seen through the eyes of young Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as we watch him mature and adapts from the age of 6 to 18, and how his life takes on unpredicable changes as he gets older. Running at an epic three hours, this unbelievable feature from Linklater is literally a coming of age story in more ways than one and featuring lots of telling signs of our culture since the early 2000 decade. A great film I urge you to seek out when it is released later this year.

#2. The Guest (USA, dir. Adam Wingard)

An outstanding followup to Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett's YOU'RE NEXT (my #10 selection on my Top 10 list last year), THE GUEST veers in a totally different direction then the indie horror hit. Returning from a war overseas, David (Dan Stevens) introduces himself to a family where he claims their son was killed in action, and in turn becomes a guest of their house and an immediate friend to the family. Yet is David all he seems, and what is his real reason for being there? This premise is somewhat familiar at the start but it is fueled by Simon Barrett's strong writing and attention to character, and Dan Stevens absolutely nails it as a tough-as-nails soldier who becomes a friend and questionable father figure to the son and daughter in the movie. That it also has a beautiful atmosphere, a thumping 80's era soundtrack and takes big twists in the final act makes it all the more enjoyable. THE GUEST is a polished second feature from Wingard and Barrett that deserves to be seen on the biggest screen and loudest sound system possible. Totally awesome.

#3. Fort Tilden (USA, dir. Charles Rogers & Sarah Violet Bliss)

A film that divided much of its audience in Austin this year, Grand Jury Award winner FORT TILDEN showed to me that ironic humour, millennial angst in your 20's can be insanely funny when you have two brilliant comedic talents backing up the premise. A simple idea taken to bizarre heights, we see what happens when Harper (Bridey Elliot) and Allie (Clare McNulty) get invited to a beach party, and the resulting trip that it takes to get there from their New York apartment. As always, it's my favorite genre of the journey being more important than the destination type of storyline, and the people that Harper and Allie run into, including (but not limited to) a bike being stolen, an overreacting hit & run incident and an iced coffee incident all amount to giddy, giggling delight for this viewer. I laughed my ass off for 95 minutes straight even when the movie takes some dark turns, and it's a true testament to the film that both of its stellar leads, Bridey Elliot and Clare McNulty, went to great, dizzying lengths to make me laugh. These girls are movie stars in every sense of the word and comedic talents purely designed to make me laugh. It may not be for everyone, but FORT TILDEN matched my whacked out sense of humour and I loved every bizarre second of it.

#4. Big In Japan (USA, dir. John Jeffcoat)

The type of movie I travel to film festivals to see and enjoy. John Jeffcoat, who directed the sublime fish out of water OUTSOURCED in 2006, returns with another beautiful tale of what happens when a small Seattle band named Tennis Pro temporarily moves to Tokyo to make it big and develops a small cult following in Japan. The pure joy of the movie is the journey and simply watching the band interact with culture as they play gigs and eventually get a record deal (Jeffcoat himself in a funny cameo) that comes with a huge deal-breaker. Filmed totally do-it-yourself (Jeffcoat along with a tiny crew of less than five) with a stunning look and a thumping soundtrack to match, this was by far the most entertaining movie I saw at SxSW.

#5. The Raid 2 (Indonesia, dir. Gareth Evans)

A bigger, bolder and more badass sequel to 2012's sleeper hit “The Raid”, Gareth Evans' followup goes for broke featuring legendary fight scenes and action, and quite possibly the highest level of violence I have ever seen in a motion picture. The story continues shortly after the first RAID movie leaves off and goes for a much bigger scope than the original's lone setting, with Rama (Iwo Uwais) exposing corruption and more bad guys; many of whom are more than a little miffed that Rama was able to take out so many people before and will stop at nothing to bring him down. There are fight sequences, great baddies (in particular Hammer Girl drew cheers at my screening) and enough dark humour to satisfy any action fan. My only minor gripe is that the movie could have used a bit of tightening as the 149 minute run time can feel excessive at times, but the overall action and fight scenes, led by the charismatic Uwais in a stunning performance more than makes up for it. This movie will definitely earn its cult status and make you want to get the Blu Ray to watch the fight scenes on repeat.

#6. Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter (USA/Japan, dir. David Zellner)

To these eyes, KUMIKO is a “sort of” sequel to FARGO; inspired by the true story of a down on her luck Japanese woman (Rinko Kikuchi) who loves treasure hunting, she still believes the million dollars in a suitcase in FARGO is real and sets out on a journey to Minnesota to find it. Finding amusing characters along the way, this is a true fish out of water story and KUMIKO has wit on both sides of the continent to spare, and the second movie after BIG IN JAPAN at SxSW to feature American and Japanese cultures clashing in amusing ways. Directed by Austin native David Zellner (who works with his brother Nathan on all of his movies), he shows total compassion for Kumiko who may or not be just a little nutty, and the movie ends in a simply perfect moment that left me smiling for hours after it ended.

#7. Home (USA, dir. Nicolas McCarthy)

Along with THE GUEST, HOME was among the standouts from Jarod Neece's midnight programming at SxSW this year. Featuring a haunted house, possible demonic posession, a scary pregnancy and all sorts of atmosphere, Nicolas McCarthy's HOME is not a movie for the weak of stomach and is also a movie that rewards all of its pleasures towards the finale. The less you know about it going in, the more wonderful it is in the end. Even the director was coy about the movie in our recent interview (“You get scared of movies about the devil?  This one's weird and fucked up and you should see it.”) and after seeing it I now know why.

#8. Take Me To The River (USA, dir. Martin Shore)

By far my favorite documentary at the fest this year, TAKE ME TO THE RIVER is this year's 20 FEET FROM STARDOM in terms of how a music documentary can inspire the viewer. The subject in RIVER is the Memphis-slash-Mississippi River music scene and the impact it has had on current music in all shapes and sizes, and how all of current popular music can be traced back here. Featuring a huge assortment of fun interviews with the likes of Terrence Howard, Snoop Dogg, Otis Clay along with fun, lively music performances, this is by far one of the best documentaries I have seen on music in quite some time. The biggest wonder if the movie is young Lil P-Nut, who has the most crowd pleasing moment performing a rap song early in the film. At nine years old the kid is beyond his years and is someone who is going to be big one day.

#9. Chef (USA, dir. Jon Favreau)

The opening night movie of SxSW Film this year was also one of the most satisfying of the festival. Writer/Producer/Actor Jon Favreau (taking a major depature from directing the likes of IRON MAN and COWBOYS & ALIENS) plays Carl, a chef who quits his job at a top food eatery in LA after getting a bad review from a critic (played here by Oliver Platt, who also served on the SxSW jury this year) and winds up opening a food truck in Miami...specializing in some of the most beautifully photographed sandwiches I have seen in the cinema. The mere set up is fun, but what sets it apart is the beautiful relationship between Carl and his son Percy (Emjay Anthony, a true find) as they travel across the country in the food truck and the bonding that develops. As much as I love Favreau's studio films, it is refreshing to see him return to his roots and creative a lovely story that I know will please audiences when the film comes out in May.

#10. 10,000KM (Long Distance)

One of the best movies I have ever seen about long distance relationships, Carlos Marques-Marcet's debut feature hits a little too close to home at times but is nevertheless a fascinating watch. Sergei (David Verdaguer) and Alexandra (Natalia Tena) are a happy couple living in Barcelona and plan to get married, but their relationship is put to the test when Alexandra is offered a job in California. Using modern tech like Google Maps and Skype the couple see each other online rather frequently...until the relationship starts to wander after technology is no longer as intimate as they want it to be. Giving no easy answers and refusing to take the easy out, 10,000KM is a telling drama that will hit close to home for anyone who has ever been this situation of keeping love going strong from afar.

Other great films worth mentioning at SxSW this year include the harsh and unforgiving drama JOE featuring some of the best work from Nicolas Cage and director David Gordon Green in years; Shawn Christensen's auspicious feature drama BEFORE I DISAPPEAR which was based on Christensen's Oscar winning short; Alejandro Jodorwosky's much anticipated THE DANCE OF REALITY which was a joyous two hour farce that I never wanted to end, the loud-and-proud Swedish House Mafia documentary LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND by Christian Larson; Joel Potrykus' harsh and yet darkly funny BUZZARD featuring a stellar lead performance by Joshua Burge; Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch's great indie horror feature STARRY EYES which is a love letter to the dark side of LA and actor culture; and the wonderful documentary MANNY about the unbelievable rags-to-riches story of world famous boxer Manny Pacquiao.

Also while they were understanably busy at the festival, I wish to thank SxSW runners Janet Pierson, Jarod Neece, Rebecca Feferman and Claudette Godfrey for their tireless efforts at the festival this year, and of course to all the SxSW venue managers, volunteers and staff at SxSW. True professionals in every sense of the word, they make my trip down from Vancouver Island a joy every year. It was great to see you, SxSW 2014! See you in line next March in Austin.

The 2014 edition of SXSW took place in Austin, Texas between March 7-15. For more information on the films at the festival and other news that happened at the festival this year, point your browser to

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jasonrcwhyte

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originally posted: 03/22/14 08:23:10
last updated: 03/22/14 09:01:45
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