We’re just a few short days away from the start of the annual South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas, and just like the 17 years of action-packed programming that have come before it, this year is no different. Some fun food for thought for fact fans: This year, there will be 132 feature films playing at 10 venues, 12 hours a day for nine days. There are 74 world premieres, 17 North American premieres and 11 U.S. premieres, with 58 films by first-time directors, all of which were selected from some 5,271 submissions, a 7 percent increase over last year.
Impressed yet? We’ve been poring over the official SXSW schedule for weeks in an effort to highlight the most noteworthy and buzzworthy films in this year’s lineup, narrowing the list from 132 to the five films we anticipate being the biggest crowd-pleasers. In no particular order, here are five films that are sure to have people talking:
“Cabin in the Woods”
All you really need to know about this film is that it comes from the brain of Joss Whedon and that it’s a genuine horror movie. The official description bills it as such: Five friends go to a remote cabin in the woods, bad things happen — which just about sums it up, except for the fact that a lot of mind-blowing things occur, and it’s a horror film that should make as big a splash as “Scream” did in 1996. Cast: Kristen Connolly, Fran Kranz, Anna Hutchison, Chris Hemsworth, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford.
The SXSW-specific selling points of this film are easy. First, Texas golden boy Matthew McConaughey plays a crazy contract killer. Second, the plot revolves around a desperate Texas debtor (Emile Hirsch) who plots to kill his mother with help of his family (Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon), who are asked to offer up their teenage daughter (Juno Temple) as a retainer to hire the hitman. Third, the film just landed an NC-17 rating for all of its gratuitous violence. Bonus highbrow fact: The seemingly crazy story is based on Pulitzer Prize-winner Tracy Letts’ (“August: Osage County”) award-winning play.
“21 Jump Street”
Yes, this is a big-screen reboot of a very popular TV show from the ’80s. No, it does not star Johnny Depp, but he might make an appearance. “21 Jump Street” is the biggest, most-buzzworthy name on this list, chiefly because of all the positive, uproarious feedback from copious advance screenings. The movie is the epitome of a crowd-pleaser, with a talented all-star cast: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Brie Larson, Dave Franco, Rob Riggle, Ice Cube and plenty more. In a nutshell, it is the story of two mediocre new police officers who are sent to work undercover at a high school to try to infiltrate its troublesome drug ring. The film has just about everything: action, adventure, laugh-out-loud comedy and a little bit of romance, plus some killer surprise cameos.
“Big Easy Express”
This film is almost quintessentially SXSW in that it fully captures the spirit of what the festival is all about, exposing people to different aspects of art, culture and commerce. Directed by Emmett Malloy, who also helmed the White Stripes doc “Under Great White Northern Lights,” “Big Easy Express” features folk music-friendly bands Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Old Crow Medicine Show as they travel from Oakland, California, to New Orleans on an eight-day railroad tour/musical adventure in the summer of 2011. It’s a film that is full of warmth, good music and good vibes that will make you feel like a part of the party while sad that you missed it. Bonus fact: The bands are making the trek to Austin for a special performance event pegged to the film’s premiere.
Super Secret Screening / The Entire Midnighters Series
The Super Secret Screening is not actually a film title, but a placeholder for the fest’s much-buzzed-about special-event film presentation that has been around for 15 years. This screening is always a big hit because it involves a very high-profile guest and a crowd-pleasing film, which is more often than not a highly anticipated upcoming release. Also, the SXSW folks have fun with its listing in the program: “Director(s): Can’t tell you. Producer(s): Who knows? Screenwriter(s): Your guess is as good as mine. Cinematographer: Someone amazing. Principal Cast:
Great actors.” The Midnighters series, of which the Super Secret Screening is a part, is worth a mention because these 11 or so films are usually genre-friendly and outside the box, most of them graphic and violently so. The Midnighters this year are: “The Aggression Scale,” “Citadel,” “Girls Against Boys,” “Intruders,” “Iron Sky,” “John Dies at the End,” “Modus Anomali,” “[REC] 3: Genesis,” “The Tall Man” and “V/H/S.”
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