10 highlights from the SXSW Film Festival

From left, Rooney Mara, Michael Fassbender and Ryan Gosling star in Terrence Malick’s “Song to Song.” Contributed by Van Redin / Broad Green Pictures

Joe Gross:

Oddly, the visceral dislike I experienced at “Song to Song” was a South by Southwest highlight for me.  Rarely have I gotten so angry at a film so quickly, and rarely has a film continued to build on that which is generating the rage. It is gorgeous, but, boy howdy, is it not ever about Austin or musicians. I suspect the movie was a bit rage-inducing for anyone who takes music seriously, but, hey, your mileage may vary.

For the exact opposite feeling, there is Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver.” Yes, it is a trifle, but it’s one of the better movies you will see this year about the centrality of music in people’s lives. Look for it in theaters in August.

I also thoroughly enjoyed (if that is the appropriate word) Jennifer Brea’s documentary “Unrest,” a fascinating look at a woman (Brea herself) struggling with myalgic encephalopathy, the condition formerly (and somewhat dismissively) known as chronic fatigue syndrome. I was especially taken with the other stories Brea and her team gathered, from the athletic young man whose condition has reduced him to a husk and the young woman in Denmark who was forcibly removed from her family and institutionalized against her will.

Perhaps my very favorite moment came at the very end of Leonard Maltin’s interview with Frank Oz, when a gentleman in the audience asked Oz about an article in Salon called “How the Muppets created Generation X”  and how the piece suggests that a lot of the values that Gen-Xers tend to have in common were communicated by the various Muppet venues. “Tell me in your opinion what those values are,” Oz said.

“Acceptance, tolerance, curiosity, enthusiasm for diversity,” the gentleman said.

“You could just say one word for that, and that’s Jim,” Oz said. “That’s what we learned. He never shared his philosophy verbally, he just was who he was and we followed him because all those words and more were Jim’s moral compass.”

Amen.

Charles Ealy:

It’s known as a film festival, but some of the biggest highlights of this year’s event were the TV premieres.

The most-anticipated one for Texans was AMC’s premiere of the first two episodes of “The Son,” based on the epic Texas tale by Austin’s Philipp Meyer. It stars Pierce Brosnan as patriarch Eli McCullough, who is kidnapped by Indians and grows up to found a cattle and oil empire. It starts showing on AMC on April 8 and will last for 10 episodes. Five seasons are tentatively planned, depending on ratings.

“American Gods,” which will premiere April 30 on Starz, was also a hit with SXSW crowds. It’s based on the book by Neil Gaiman — and it is WAY out there, with incredible visuals and inventive storytelling. It stars Ricky Whittle as Shadow Moon and Ian McShane as Mr. Wednesday.

And then there was Justin Simien’s “Dear White People,” a timely take on race relations in America, told from multiple perspectives of various students at a fictional Ivy League university. It will be on Netflix, but a release date has not yet been announced.

Evan Rodriguez:

As the sun set on the long, arduous yet fun journey that was SXSW 2017, some films truly rose above the fray.

Elijah Bynum’s “Hot Summer Nights” should be the sexy and scintillating summer film of 2017. Through an auteur’s lens, Bynum subverts the summer romance/coming-of-age-drama formula and delivers a dark, smart, well-crafted hard-truth love story set to a killer soundtrack.

John Carrol Lynch’s “Lucky” is a refreshing existential meditation with Harry Dean Stanton, which has the potential to reach beyond fanboys and the initiated with its thoughtful musings.

While I struggled with James Franco’s work-in-progress “The Disaster Artist,” I ultimately cannot deny its odd allure and the Franco brothers’ organic on-screen dynamic, and especially James Franco’s performance as the bizarre Tommy Wiseau.

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