Best of the Fest: A Recap of the Best SXSW Feature Films

Austin’s South by Southwest has become one of the biggest film festivals in the United States and is surely one of the most enjoyable, strictly based on its sense of community and atmosphere.

However, as with any collection of movies this big, it takes some work to separate the roses from the thorns.

After countless hours of screenings, Red Carpet Crash put together a list of the five best feature films of SXSW.

5. “Creep”

The most exciting aspect of a film festival may be the chance of uncovering something special. For any critic or cinephile, there’s nothing like finding a film you have never heard of, from a filmmaker you also have never heard of, but wholeheartedly appreciate right off the bat. “Creep” was that movie for a number of SXSW attendees.

“Creep” tells the story of videographer (Patrick Brice) who answers a Craigslist ad for a job in a remote area, but soon find that things get a little strange and eerie when he meets his client, Josef (Mark Duplass).

After the “Paranormal Activity” franchise, it seems as though every movie studio has been trying to recreate the same success with a cheaply made found footage film. However, many of them, such as “Apollo 18” (2011) and “Devil’s Due” (2014), have failed to reach that status. Enter first-time feature director Brice.

Not since 2012’s “The Cabin in the Woods” have I had this much fun watching a movie of this nature. It blends a few genres together, the main ones being horror and comedy, and it works seamlessly. Brice and Duplass, who both wrote the film, managed to pull off one heck of a wicked flick, restoring faith in found footage films.

4. “Chef”

After a string of big-budgeted films such as “Iron Man” (2008) and “Cowboys & Aliens” (2011), director Jon Favreau yields to his indie roots and cooks up a fine dish of a film with “Chef.”

With its powerful cast, including Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman and Robert Downey Jr., the comedy story follows a chef (Favreau) who loses his job and hits the road with his new food truck business in hopes of restoring himself.

What makes the film so appetizing is Favreau’s passion for the story and industry, as exhibited when the narrative reaches the road. The director even goes as far as to film part of the movie in Austin, stopping at Franklin’s BBQ, which made “Chef” all the more enjoyable for festivalgoers.

“Chef” is a stunning yet simple film with a heart the size of Texas. SXSW could not have picked a better film to open the festival.

3. “Joe”

Spinning a wild story of friendship, violence and redemption, writer-director David Gordon Green (“Prince Avalanche,” 2013) made another trip to the festival with his best film to date, “Joe.”

Starring Tye Sheridan and Nicolas Cage, the film is an unforgettable tale of the Dirty South.

Sheridan (“Mud,” 2013) continues to solidify his mark as one of the most essential young talents in Hollywood, while Cage provides audiences with an honest performance that hasn’t been seen in years.

Cage’s titular hero is a simple man with simple problems, surrounded by complex relationships. Watching them unfold and resolve on screen made “Joe” a serious nail-biting experience and one of the best of the festival.

2. “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” had already won over audiences and critics at the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year. But it was apparent from the crowd lined up around the block at SXSW’s premiere that the buzz carried overseas. Luckily for those who made it into the screening, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” was well worth the wait.

Inspired by the works of Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig, Anderson’s story of a hotel concierge in the 1930s rides a line between fantasy and reality, as well as comedy and drama, blending the genres into a pleasing culmination of distinct elements.

Backed by an all-star cast, including Ralph Fiennes, Jude Law and Bill Murray, Anderson adds another extraordinary feat to his already striking film repertoire.

1. “Boyhood”

Children grow up so fast. That’s the idea behind “Boyhood,” Richard Linklater’s masterpiece that captures the life of a young Texas boy (Ellar Coltrane) from childhood until his first day at college.

However, unlike most films, which tend to plan a six-month to yearlong production, Linklater shot “Boyhood” annually across 12 years using the same actors.

The technological achievement of maintaining continuity while filming over such an extended period is a noteworthy tribute to Linklater’s ability. It is a work of directorial patience and innovation rarely seen in the movie industry, and how Linklater crossed the finish line after that long is a question beyond most audiences and filmmakers. It’s only a bonus that the film is damn good.

Best of the rest: “Frank,” “Bad Words,” “Obvious Child” and “Neighbors”

Worst of the fest: “The Heart Machine,” “Predestination” and “The Wilderness of James”

Feature photo: Ellar Coltrane plays Mason in the 12-year long production of “Boyhood.” Photo courtesy of IFC Films.

Previously published on

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.