Smaller-to-medium sized studios release their movies at film festivals like SXSW to build momentum before releasing them. In an era of globally recognized, branded entertainment, these smaller movies need all to help they can get. Breaking out of a crowded field is tough, but some of these movies seem to have to chops to do just that. A quick run down:
Everybody Wants Some!!
Following up his Oscar winning Boyhood with a semi-sequel to Dazed and Confused, Richard Linklater and Paramount appropriately debuted his new movie Everybody Wants Some!! at SXSW. The coming of age drama-comedy received unanimous praise from the crowd and critics. Richard Linklater’s hilarious and rambunctious vintage ode to the free spirit days of college has a giddy, broy heart. With an 80’s backdrop and Texan swagger, consider this baseball comedy a worthy addition to his filmography. A potential cult classic to be cherished after multiple viewings (though not all will agree and some will appreciate it more than others). This is very much a boy movie and the talk of the film festival during the several days I attended.
The documentary about New Orleans football player Steve Gleason’s struggle with Lou Gehrig’s disease titled Gleason fits perfectly for the recently launched SXSports which focuses on issues facing competitive games. This was savvy to screen on Friday night at the Paramount when the sports industry was in town for the weekend. And it payed off in regards to much need publicity. Gleason was the surprise winner of the Audience Award in the Festival Favorites category. Open Roads plans to release this sometime this summer in conjunction with Amazon Studios eager to find an audience.
Hunt For Wilderpeople
Before making Thor 3, What We Do in the Shadows filmmaker Taika Waititi may not have Jemaine Clement, but the audience at the Vimeo theater didn’t miss him. Waititi’s deadpan humor thrives in this sincerely biting coming-of-age adventure pitting a juvenile delinquent, his dog Tupac, and Uncle Hec (Sam Neil) in the woods on the run from law enforcement and child services. A serious children’s movie that maintains a fun loving, but mature attitude, this is what summer movies uses to be like before they were hijacked by big blockbusters. Awkward moments, absurd circumstances, quirky characters, fierce one-liners and hilarity all ensue. What a treat poised for indie breakout glory when it opens in theaters this summer.
Morris From America
A24 is hot after their across the board Oscar wins last month for Amy, Ex Machina, and Room. Earning significant prizes at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, they know a winner when the see one. In what has been described as the romantic and coming-of-age misadventures of a 13-year-old American living in Germany, writer/director Chad Hartigan (the beloved but little seen This is Martin Bonner) latest Morris From America is a heartfelt drama that tells a unique story. An African American kid from the States aspiring to be the next Notorious BIG struggles to culturally adjust to his new school in Germany. He dates a girl, raps at the school talent show, stands up for himself, learns the language, and quarrels with his dad. A24 plans to release this one later this year.
Though the Weinstein Company is not the kind of studio you’d expect at SXSW, they brought their musical for younger audiences to discover. Based on what I heard, it sounds like a bon-a-fide hit with its feel good vibe and catchy songs. I kept hearing great things from people that saw the latest movie from the filmmaker behind Once and Begin Again. And the Sing Street truck had a dominate presence in the roads of downtown Austin. The music-centric movie seemed like an ideal place at the SXSW film festival which combines music and movies. Sing Street opens next month followed by a nationwide roll out.
Under the Shadow
The Iranian horror movie acquired by Netflix was a buzzy title from Sundance. Writer/director Babak Anvari embeds a mother and daughter suffering from the anxiety of bullets and bombs. Smooth tension, big jumps and great scares, this is reminiscent of horror cult classic The Babadook. It was immersed with creepy moments in the third act. My late night screening at the Alamo Ritz had a good mix of viewers both young and old as well as American and international. One guy fell asleep and snored loudly reminding the audience that not everyone can handle subtitles past midnight the day after a time change. I can’t wait for horror fans to see this one so it can be discussed and debated. No release date yet.
Other movies that had strong buzz included Jake Gyllenhaal’s Demolition which won the audience award among steep competition. Audiences seemed to be dazzled with Jeff Nichol’s Midnight Special and I hope Warner Brothers plans an aggressive roll out. It sounds like a real crowd pleaser. I heard great things about the horror-comedy The Greasy Strangler which was picked up by Drafthouse Films slated for a fall release. Director Jim Hosking offers his distinct vision and tone and Alamo Lamar hosted a fun after-party.