SXSW 2013: Top Films of the Festival


[From March 9th – 17th, Flixist will be providing coverage from South by Southwest 2013 in Austin, TX.  Prepare yourselves for reviews, interviews, features, photos, videos, and all types of shenanigans!]

As we were wrapping up our coverage from SXSW 2013, we realized we saw a lot of great films (over 30!). When it came time to choose Flixist’s Top Films of SXSW, we also realized that we didn’t see a lot of the same films. In spite of this, however, we used math sciences to determine our favorite/best three films per editor, resulting in the nine best films of the festival.

We laughed, we cried, and we had a lot of fun watching these films. Read on to see why these nine films were our favorites of SXSW 2013.

Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color will divide audiences. At the end of the film, people behind me were confused and dismissive, wondering what they’d just watched, and little angry that they’d just watched whatever it was. In line for another SXSW movie, people behind me were debating the movie’s substance or lack of substance. When the film is released in April, the conversation will continue, and I can’t wait to have it with my friends. Oddly, I thought Upstream Color made sense on some loose metaphorical, emotional, and thematic level. I’ll have a longish piece on the different ways that the movie can be read closer to the release of the film. (As with any enigmatic work, none of the interpretations should be considered definitive.)

Maybe I loved Upstream Color because I’ve felt the same sort of loneliness, anchorlessness, and alienation explored in the film. It’s a movie that speaks to those experiences in a way that goes beyond straightforward narrative or language. I just went along with it like a piece of music — nodding my head, tapping my feet, davening. Whatever the case, I can’t wait to watch Upstream Color again. – Hubert Vigilla

SXSW Review: Upstream Color

This is a movie that is going to get a lot of crap from people who don’t understand it, because on the surface it seems like Girls Gone Wild. If you scratch that surface, however, there’s a brilliantly shot, directed and edited film about American culture, sex, women and the fantasy of spring break. Harmony Korine constructs a film that uses a loose narrative structure and repeating motifs to barrel through a sex filled fantasy and slam it into reality. It’s a gritty, scary and often times challenging film that may be one of the best of the year. Here’s where I should put something about attractive women in bikinis as well, but it feels cheap in the presence of a film that is commenting on that exact kind of machismo. – Matthew Razak

SXSW Review: Spring Breakers

Coldwater floored me. It’s dark, gruesome, brutal, emotional, and captivating all at the same time. Coldwater is the name of the rehab facility where protagonist Brad is forcefully sent to by his Mom due to “delinquent behavior,” but the title also aptly describes the sensation you feel after watching it. Its gritty portrayal of corruption will have any young adolescents rethink their rebellious behavior, while make the rest of us thankful we never had to go through anything as bad as the “inmates” in this film did. – Geoff Henao

SXSW Review: Coldwater

Come fall and winter, you’ll be hearing a lot more about The Act of Killing, a chilling documentary about the Indonesian massacre of 1965-1966. Co-director Joshua Oppenheimer said that part of the reason he made the film was his sense of duty to record the stories of the killers. One of these killers, Anwar Congo, shares his stories in his own words and in bizarre cinematic recreations. By documenting this process of storytelling, Oppenheimer shows why the survivors were afraid to share their tales and why the act of self-glorification from the killers may be the sign of some deeper vulnerability.

Though often disturbing and at times surreal (comically/absurdly so, which is the point), The Act of Killing is also a profoundly human portrait of a dark period in history. It’s a movie about the uses of narrative and fear, and also about how storytelling can finally reveal our own true face — scarred and awful — staring back at us in the mirror. – Hubert Vigilla

SXSW Interview: Joshua Oppenheimer (The Act of Killing)

It’s rare that you tune into a horror film that’s both legitimately scary let alone original, but You’re Next is both. A simple home invasion slasher when it starts, the movie takes twists and turns you won’t see coming and does it all in gloriously bloody fashion. Smarter than most of the fare out there, but still able to have fun, if you see one horror movie this year that isn’t Evil Dead than this should be it. – Matthew Razak

SXSW Review: You’re Next

Evil Dead is one of the rare examples of a remake/reboot actually coming out just as entertaining as the original it was based off of. Full of homages and allusions to 1981’s The Evil Dead while updating the cheesiness and upping the gore, horror fans old and new will find something to like in Fede Alvarez’ rendition of the horror film staple. I don’t even like horror films, yet Evil Dead still ended up being one of my favorites of SXSW 2013. It’s that good. – Geoff Henao

SXSW Review: Evil Dead

I suspect that A Band Called Death will be considered this year’s Searching for Sugar Man. Both are about talent Detroit musicians who are ignored and then later rediscovered. That similarity is unavoidable, but I think A Band Called Death distinguishes itself from Searching for Sugar Man given the nature of the band itself and their unique story. Death was a family affair: three black brothers rocking out in the neighborhood as loud as the MC5 and The Stooges.

Directors Jeff Howlett and Mark Covino put a lot of their focus on the compelling Hackney family story, though other half of the fun is the collector culture and musicology that got the band discovered decades later. At the center of it all is the invisible presence of the late David Hackney, the man who helped give birth to the band and also kept it alive. His passion is felt throughout the film. – Hubert Vigilla

SXSW Interview: The directors of A Band Called Death

SXSW Interview: The Detroit protopunk band Death

For a movie entirely shot in Austin and crowdsourced Zero Charisma is fantastic. Scratch that: it’s just plain fantastic no matter what. A comedy that hits on nerd culture perfectly while somehow making you like one of the least likable protagonists ever. It’s a movie that will ring truer with nerds out there than with mainstream, but the funny beats work no matter what and leading man Sam Eidson is an actor we’d love to see more of on a very regular basis. – Matthew Razak

SXSW Review: Zero Charisma

We’re all self-admitted Joseph Gordon-Levitt fans at Flixist. In my eyes, he can practically do no wrong. In his writing and directorial debut, he further proved my theory. Don Jon is a romantic comedy that isn’t quite a romantic comedy. It goes deeper than the typical popcorn rom-com, yet doesn’t overwhelm casual audiences with its message about stereotypical portrayals of masculinity and sex. In fact, this little paragraph is more heavy-handed the film itself. We all know JGL as a great actor, and Don Jon proves that he’s just as great as a writer/director. – Geoff Henao

SXSW Review: Don Jon