Our top 10 movies of SXSW 2019


It’s been a fantastic year for movies at SXSW. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve eaten more queso than I care to see again in my lifetime, and, attending for the first time, I can’t adequately express how much I reveled in the BBQ and copious amounts of Lone Star. But, most importantly we’ve had the opportunity to see and review close to 40 movies, which is a fantastic feat for any festival. Ranging from eccentric to astounding, contemplative to downright fun, here’s a roundup of our highest-rated movies, the best that “South By” had to offer over the course of the last 10 days.

For Sama – 9.5

“There are few words I can really use to describe this documentary: it’s certainly a document in the most literal sense — a recording of events in a few individuals’ lives, which gives it a factual, journalistic approach to the political uprising. However, it’s also a deeply personal story and it couldn’t have been told by anyone other than al-Kateab. Using real footage recorded during her day to day interactions in Aleppo between 2012-2017, it records the rise of the Islamist regime and the destructive civil war through her own eyes, but most importantly told through the lens of a mother, deeply affectionate towards her daughter, doing everything that she can to protect her and to try to make the world a better place for her.”

The Art of Self-Defense – 8.5

“What is so great about The Art of Self-Defense is that it tackles such serious issues in a way that makes them incredibly easy to understand. By taking everything to the nth degree and then delivering the story in flat, obvious dialog the movie shows how ludicrous many of our societal standards are. I’m being explicitly vague about how the film plays out, which is restricting some of the commentary I can make on it, but that’s because watching it unfold the way it does is part of the way the movie takes down our culture’s ideas of American manliness. Its steady ramp-up is the obvious conclusion to a world where toxic masculinity is taken to the extreme and that is both hilarious and scary.”

Boyz in the Wood – 8.5

“What follows is a masterclass in subverting expectations at nearly every step. You expect three rough teens to bully one nice teen. You expect redneck farmers to murder any teenager who dares to set a foot or tip a cow on their shit-smeared fields. You expect the idiot of the group to be just that, an idiot.  You’d never expect that he’s actually a wolf in sheep’s clothing, an idiot savant of such enlightenment that he’s actually seeing reality play out hundreds of steps beyond what you or I might perceive. What sounds like lunacy from the mouths of babes proves to be prophetic heralding of the highest intellect and proves to be with the most righteous of comedic beats punctuated with hip hop beats at every turn.”

 The River and the Wall – 8.5

“It has — repeat, has — to be seen on the big screen. It’s cinematic in the truest sense of the word, being filmed in 4K, but also the sheer scale of the landscape it portrays is vast beyond belief. With an Appalachian score reminiscent of Copland, it seems to be the American heartland in its purest form, and the stark contrast between the heartlessness of a border wall severing the link between people groups, even between man and nature, is clear for all to see.”

Vision Portraits – 8.5

Vision Portraits is the rare kind of film that you’ve always hoped to see, heralding back to the earliest use of montage in cinema in the 1920s and evoking a fresh sense of experimental, artistic filmmaking. Director Rodney Evans truly has the spirit of an artist, and his sensitivity to the issues of blindness — actually bringing people into the ‘liminal space’ between sight and blindness — is singularly powerful.”

Red Dog – 8

“The impetus that led to this explorative film about family history? Dick’s mother’s decision to raise her young son while working as a go-go girl at the Red Dog Saloon, an establishment that Oklahoma City has on at least one occasion tried to declare a public nuisance. It was basically home, as he was a toddler. Now, as a man in his thirties with two young children of his own, Dick’s asked her ‘what were you thinking,’ and she decided to answer. Red Dog pulls together a motley crew of former Red Dog affiliates and with the help of some clever animation and a score designed by Dick himself, spins an epic yarn that is indeed about family, the f*#ked-up ways they’re sometimes made, and how it can all lead to the right place in the end.”

 Museum Town – 8

“It’s a success story, it’s visually arresting, it has a wry sense of humor and it benefits all parties involved. As a cinematic piece, it holds your attention from its opening shot to its concluding frame. I found myself, head tilted back, taking it all in, as if I were viewing the art MASS MoCA holds for the duration. Well worth your time, as an art fan, as a curious mind, or as someone who enjoys a good yarn.”

 Them That Follow – 8

“There’s a lot to be said for directors who can bring their film to life by choosing the right atmosphere to do it, especially given the visual nomenclature of such a specific community like this one. Then there’s the cinematography which quickly stole my heart. It was a quiet admiration at first, with multiple shot selections standing out as I watched Them That Follow, but as time’s continued, it’s only strengthened my appreciation for the film. Jutkiewicz has a true eye. His shot selection and composition are top-line and appropriate to our aesthetic age—Poulton even remarked as much to me in an interview, that she wouldn’t be surprised to see him winning an Oscar soon.”

 South Mountain – 8

“The movie honestly wouldn’t work without Balsam, who portrays Lila with a buried anger that never erupts but is constantly there. Her attempts to salvage her marriage, her anger, her slips; everything is filtered through the perfectly restrained lense of a stunning performance. A moment of weakness between her and Edgar as they slide out of each other’s lives could have been ruinous to the movie’s themes but instead feels like an emotional blast of reality other films would shy away from thanks to the two actor’s performances. I doubt South Mountain will get much attention come award season, but if anyone deserves recognition its Balsam.”

 Booksmart – 8

“Wilde’s journey through the film is fast-paced enough to avoid dull moments and lingers just enough on most jokes that it doesn’t feel like overkill. It’s an impressive feat for a first film, and the ability to capture the intricacies of bonded friendship as the two try to create one more great memory before the next phase of their life starts. There are certainly comparisons to Superbad, Animal House, and even Juno at times in action and in dialogue (Devers has an Ellen Page tint in this film). Finding a new edge to a party movie is a tough ask, but the combination of Wilde and writers Sarah Haskins and Emily Halpern found a way to forge a new direction. Booksmart is funny, endearing, and a genuine testament to friendship.”

Sian Francis Cox
Sian is Flixist’s UK Editor and has written for sites including Escapist Magazine, Destructoid, and Film Enthusiast.