Austin's South by Southwest has been steadily building its reputation as a world-class film festival since first introducing the medium to the mix back in 1994. Some notable recent successes: The Hurt Locker debuted there in 2009, and went on to win the Oscar for best picture; Lena Dunham famously got her start there with 2010's Tiny Furniture, which took home the best narrative feature award and won her the admiration of Judd Apatow; and 2011 saw a sneak preview of a still-unfinished Bridesmaids, the same year that The Weinstein Co. snapped up Undefeated for a reported seven-figure deal. (It won an Oscar, too.)
The nine-day festival kicks off tonight with two high-profile world premieres at the storied Paramount Theatre: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, a broad comedy starring Steve Carell, Jim Carrey and Steve Buscemi as Las Vegas illusionists, and Evil Dead, a shiny new spin on Sam Raimi's 1981 cult classic that, in the spirit of the original, eschews all CGI in favor of old-fashioned technical ingenuity.
With 133 films screening, plus conversations with Danny Boyle and Matthew McConaughey, and even the return of Jeffrey Tambor's crowd-pleasing acting workshop, narrowing down your SXSW experience becomes a sometimes agonizing task. That said, here are five narrative films that have been building must-see buzz on their way to Austin.
The craft brewery explosion gets its rightful moment in the sun with this new comedy from director Joe Swanberg, who has cut his teeth on over a dozen micro-budget mumblecore films since 2005, including Kissing on the Mouth and Hannah Takes the Stairs, which launched Greta Gerwig's career. Swanberg inches into mainstream territory with his latest, a dry comedy about two brewery workers (Olivia Wilde and New Girl's Jake Johnson) who enter into a beer goggle-enhanced relationship. It also stars Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston, and was shot by Ben Richardson, who lensed the stunning Beasts of the Southern Wild.
Big Ass Spider!
Everything you need to know about Big Ass Spider! is right there in the title. But if that's not enough to convince you, then there's this hilarious trailer for the new monster flick, which features impressive special effects and even its own version of Antoine "Hide Your Kids, Hide Your Wife" Dodson. Part of the festival's Midnighters series, it's a rollicking homage to the kind of low-budget horror movies that proliferated in the 1950s.
Much Ado About Nothing
How do you follow up a summer blockbuster that has grossed over $1.5 billion worldwide? In Joss Whedon's case, you go small. Very small. But as the writer-director with the cultish following knows, it's not the size of your budget (or bulging green muscles) that counts -- but rather the strength of your script. His Much Ado About Nothing, stuffed with his favorite actors and shot in just 12 days at his house in Santa Monica, wowed critics at its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. Now it's time for its U.S. premiere. The first trailer looks downright charming.
And now for something completely different from cinema's reigning DIY bad boy, Harmony Korine. Featuring former Disney stars Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens -- and current Disney star James "Oz" Franco -- Spring Breakers is the story of a quartet of college girls who rob a fast food joint to pay for their annual getaway, only to be sucked into the wake of a Kevin Federline-esque drugs and arms dealer (Franco).
Short Term 12
A breakout performance by Brie Larson (21 Jump Street, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) is just one of the highlights from this dramedy, director Destin Cretton's follow-up to 2012 Sundance favorite I Am Not a Hipster. Larson, who also starred in Sundance breakouts The Spectacular Now and Don Jon's Addiction (both screening at SXSW '13), plays a counselor in a home for troubled youth, and hides her own dark past from her boyfriend and co-worker, played by The Newsroom's John Gallagher, Jr. The film was one of eight selected from a pool of over 1,200 for consideration in the fest's Narrative Feature Competition. Winners will be announced at the SXSW Film Awards 2013, taking place Tuesday, March 12 at 8 p.m. at the Paramount Theatre.