As the annual Austin, TX event readies to roll out its first in-person edition in two years, its packed slate offers plenty for attendees. Here are the best bets.
Two years after its 2020 edition was moved to a virtual-only affair, SXSW is zipping back to (in-person) life with its upcoming 2022 event. Once again, movie junkies, TV obsessives, tech whizzes, and music nuts are all about to descend on Austin, TX for ten days of cultural mirth and discovery.
While a number of other film festivals have had to rejigger their plans in recent months (most notably, Sundance, which had to pivot to another virtual edition just days before it was set to roll out in Park City, UT in January), SXSW stands out: it’s one of the first major U.S. festivals to get back to a mostly in-person affair since the start of the pandemic. And this year’s programming won’t disappoint those who opt to travel to Texas for the event, with a slate packed with both proven quantities and actual discoveries.
The festival, in its 29th edition, will run from March 11 – 20. As previously announced, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s film, “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” will open the festival. The Season 3 premiere for FX’s “Atlanta,” starring Donald Glover, LaKeith Stanfield, and Brian Tyree Henry, will screen on Closing Night. Both make this list for obvious reasons (i.e. they’re good and well worth anticipating).
We’ve pored over the slate to pick out a variety of new projects to get excited for, including some already bound for a screen near you and a few still hoping to lock in new homes. All are among the best SXSW has to offer.
David Ehrlich and Ben Travers also contributed to this article.
“Apollo 10 1/2:” A Space Age Childhood
Richard Linklater’s latest animated gamble combines the youthful nostalgia of “Boyhood” with the rotoscoped imagery of the director’s “Waking Life” and “A Scanner Darkly,” this time through his most personal lens. A dreamy trip back to Houston circa summer of 1969, “Apollo 10 1/2” explores the moment that NASA landed on the moon through the memories of an elementary school boy who imagines his own lunar journey at the same time.
Woven together with an immersive feature-length monologue by no less than Jack Black as the adult-aged protagonist, the movie is a charming and playful look at the space race and the fantasies it inspired for a subset of American society eager for distraction from other Earthly problems. Yet another Linklater meditation on time and memory that doesn’t overstate its complex ambition on the surface, “Apollo 10 1/2” proves that ultimate slacker filmmaker remains America’s great “hangout movie” director, and you couldn’t ask for a better time for that reminder than the first in-person SXSW Film Festival in two years. The film arrives on Netflix next month. —EK
“Bodies Bodies Bodies”
Director Halina Reijn (“Instinct”) comes to SXSW with this A24-produced slasher movie with a stacked cast: Amanda Stenberg, Maria Bakalova, Rachel Sennott, and Pete Davidson are among the stars in this story of affluent young people who huddle down in an isolated mansion during a hurricane as their playful games take a deadly turn.
With a script co-written by filmmaker Chloe Okuna (whose Sundance hit “Watcher” also plays midnight at SXSW), “Bodies Bodies Bodies” promises to be dark and funny look at the vapidity of wealth among Gen Z-ers whose self-obsession can easily turn into self-destruction. It’s also an Avengers-level team-up of emerging talent, with everyone from “Shiva Baby” breakout Sennott to “Borat 2” Oscar nominee Bakalova set to bring their acting chops into fresh satiric territory. —EK
Fresh from directing a few episodes of HBO’s “Winning Time,” Trinidadian filmmaker Damian Marcano’s first feature is a rascally and unpredictable stoner comedy about the efforts of a disillusioned weed dealer who tries to hawk his product by burying it in the cheese he makes at a dairy factory. In the meantime, he evades the advances of the pregnant woman he may or may not want to spend the rest of his life with and copes with the ongoing advances of the law. Strange visions and slapstick hijinks ensue, as the movie chugs forward with a goofy energy so infectious that even the subtitles have a tendency to dance around.
A welcome snapshot of an underrepresented society that enlivens a genre that needed the sprucing up, “Chee$e” is both an endearing romp and a serious look at one man eager to escape his insular island life at all costs, even if it destroys him in the process. —EK
“Diamond Hands: The Legend of WallStreetBets”
Unless you were hiding under a rock early last year (and, hey, who can blame you), you probably heard about the time that a bunch of Reddit users inflated the stock price of GameStop and sent stock market analysts into a frenzy of confusion and speculation. Well, you read the stories…now see the movie!
Directors Drea Cooper and Zackary Canepari track the way the playful Redditors of r/WallStreetBets tossed some cash around from their pandemic-era stimulus checks and wound up rocking the foundations of America’s financial system. It’s the ultimate cautionary tale of a social media age filled with them: crowdsourced lunacy more powerful than even the tricksters themselves could have anticipated. Fingers crossed that the movie can bring some clarity to this madness before it happens again…or at least clue us in if it’s already too late. —EK
Allyson Riggs, Courtesy of A24
“Everything Everywhere All at Once”
It’s a question that no one in the known history of our species has ever been forced to ask themselves: How do you follow a movie in which Harry Potter played an explosively farting corpse who taught Paul Dano about the joys of being alive? Conveniently, it’s also a question that only the demented geniuses who made “Swiss Army Man” could hope to answer, and my goodness… they’ve actually done it. They’ve come back with something so wild, ambitious, and hilariously unmoored that it makes their magnificent debut seem like an episode of “Young Sheldon” by comparison.
Imagine if the “The Matrix” had been directed by Stephen Chow’s visionary little brothers (or Phineas and Ferb) and you might have the tiniest inkling of what Daniels are up to with “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” which stars Michelle Yeoh in a career-defining performance as a Chinese-American woman who’s struggling to do her taxes. Sounds insane, right? Okay, well, things get slightly more complicated when Evelyn is contacted by a version of her husband from another universe (Ke Huy Quan, forever casting off the shadow of Short Round), and told that she alone has the power to save the entire multiverse from being destroyed by a god-like evil who’s close to her heart. How the movie fractures from there is hard to explain, but rest assured it makes very, very, very, very good on its title on its way towards reconciling the smallness of our lives with the infinity of their potential.
Eager viewers don’t need to wait too long to see it: A24 will release the film in theaters on March 25. —DE
“I Get Knocked Down”
Yes, they made a documentary about “Tubthumping,” the ubiquitous Chumbawamba song that essentially soundtracked the last three years of the 20th century. But “I Get Knocked Down” — directed by Sophie Robinson and founding Chumbawamba member Dunstan Bruce — is no straightforward music doc about the birth of a radio classic. On the contrary, the film catches up with Bruce on the cusp of 60, as the former rock star/political firebrand (FYI: Chumbawamba were all hardcore leftists!) stares down the collapse of Western civilization and looks for the strength to fight against the tides.
Billed as a “punk version of ‘A Christmas Carol,’” “I Get Knocked Down” holds Bruce’s feet to the fire and sees if he can still make good on the lyrics of his biggest hit. —DE
The latest lo-fi innovation from director Peter Ohs (“Everything Beautiful Is Far Away”) is a minimalist supernatural comedy that suggests early Jim Jarmusch by way of “An American Werewolf in London.” At its center is Jessica (Ashley Denise Robinson), a woman who escapes her stalker in the middle of the desert, only to find that his very annoying ghost (Will Madden) follows her there.
Joining forces with an old friend and mystic (Callie Hernandez), Jessica does whatever she can to get rid of the nosey voice from the beyond, whose lisp gives the movie its title. The result is a distinctive funny-sad look at alienation and the extreme desire for companionship in the middle of an empty world — the ultimate pandemic movie, and the latest economic vision from a rising filmmaker well worth the attention. —EK
“The Lost City”
Perhaps it’s time for this writer to quit her complaining: maybe the studio system really is getting ready to save the rom-com. At least, the casting of megawatt stars like Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum (plus bonus Brad Pitt and Daniel Radcliffe!) in a luxe adventure outing that pulls (very, very liberally) from genre classics like “Romancing the Stone” can’t help but feel inspiring. Even if the film, one of the usual high-comedy blockbuster affairs that tend to go over extremely well at SXSW, isn’t ultra-romantic, it sure looks funny, and the pairing of Bullock and Tatum is inspired.
Bullock plays a reclusive romance author (see! “Romancing the Stone”!) who is kidnapped while on tour with one of her latest books (plus Tatum, who is the literal face of her novels — think Fabio, with a more contemporary hair style). The pair need to work together to combat the zany billionaire who thinks that Bullock’s Loretta Sage holds the key to finding the eponymous lost city, and yes, wackiness and wildness (and maybe love??) ensue. The film will hit theaters on March 25, and we’re holding out hope it can light up both slap-happy SXSW crowds and wider audiences. —KE
“Marcel the Shell with Shoes On”
Dean Fleischer-Camp and Jenny Slate served up a delightful surprise to Telluride audiences last September, and now they’re bringing the world’s most adorable stop-motion tween shell to SXSW, where it will likely work the same heartfelt magic. According to general wisdom, it takes 20 beings to form a real community. When the feature-length film opens, the anthropomorphic seashell (voiced by Slate) has long been without such a population, instead whiling his days away alongside his sassy grandmother and a rotating cast of mostly disinterested AirBNB guests.
Like the trio of early short films Fleischer-Camp and Slate crafted around the stop-motion shell in the early aughts (plus a pair of best-selling storybooks), “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” adopts a breezy mockumentary style to tell the tale of the world’s most charming shell. This time, however, the duo (plus newbie partner Nick Paley, who wrote it alongside Fleischer-Camp and Slate) dig deeper into Marcel’s seemingly everyday life to unearth the usual tender feelings (he’s a tween shell! with shoes! he’s adorable!), plus a slew of insights that speak to far deeper emotions and ideas.
In a time beset with films consumed by questions of connection, community, and change, “Marcel the Shell” seamlessly marries big ideas with charm and humor (and inventive stop-motion work to boot). In short, it’s the cutest film about familial grief you’ll see all year, perhaps ever. A24 will release the film later this year, but we encourage fans of charming cinema get on board with this one ASAP. —KE
Australian director Bruce Gladwin’s innovative new feature was made as a collaborative effort with its ensemble of actors with disabilities. An adaptation of Back to Back Theatre’s acclaimed play, “The Shadow Whose Pretty the Hunter Becomes,” the movie revolves around the efforts of three activists in a strange dystopian environment who engage in a town hall about artificial intelligence.
That oddball premise gives way to a chaotic battle for control. An upgrade from Gladwin’s short film “Oddballs,” the movie promises to provide a unique platform for its performers by showcasing an innovative story that centralizes their creativity and performative talent all at once. —EK
“Soft & Quiet”
It may be impossible to fully prepare viewers for Beth de Araújo’s audacious feature-length debut, but that might be for the best. A full force gut punch that marries both incredible filmmaking ambition — de Araújo and her cast and crew filmed the entire feature straight through, four times in a row, picking the best one to play out in a single real-time edit — and a biting premise, no one is going to walk out of this one feeling good, but damn if audiences won’t walk away knowing they’ve seen something truly special.
“Soft & Quiet” plays with our notions of what real evil looks like, focusing on the Barbie-esque school teacher Emily (a riveting Stefanie Estes) who is preparing to spend her Friday evening with a bunch of like-minded pals, both new and old. What’s bringing them together, you might ask, and here’s hoping you’re ready for the answer: they’re trying to start a white supremacist organization, one focused on uniting “Aryan sisters” in service to, well, you know. That’s all unnerving enough, but when Emily and a trio of her friends move out of their cozy pie-and-wine meet-and-greet, the film really gets going.
Here’s a tip: Blumhouse recently boarded the film as producers, and those horror bonafides really kick into action once Emily and company run afoul of a pair of mixed-race Asian sisters who are just going about their own evening. To say much more would be to spoil the power of the film, which is easily the most terrifying outing of the year so far. —KE
Anyone who’s listened to Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast during the pandemic has probably heard him allude to the indie movie he just made with Andrea Riseborough — a project that partnered the unmistakable crank with one of the most chameleonic actresses alive and forced him to adopt a Southern twang as part of a fully dramatic role. And lo, that indie movie has arrived.
Written by Ryan Binaco and directed by veteran TV helmer Michael Morris, “To Leslie” stars Riseborough as a down-and-out West Texas woman who’s squandered the $196,000 fortune she won in the state lottery six years before this story begins; by the time we meet her, she’s penniless, abused, and crashing with the teen son she was meant to support. Maron plays the lonely motel clerk who gives Leslie a second chance when she needs one most, and the role is sure to push him out of his comfort zone in a way that might get him to go all-in on this acting thing once and for all. —DE
“Tony Hawke: Until the Wheels Fall Off”
Director Sam Jones gained unprecedented access to skateboarding icon Tony Hawk for this epic portrait of the athlete who brought vertical skating to the masses. Jones, a longtime friend of Hawk, spent years gathering footage of the daredevil’s maneuvers and his everyday life to craft a more intimate portrait that goes beyond the hype surrounding his talent.
The Birdman was the face of video games more than 20 years ago, but emerged from a busy scene, and “Until the Wheels Fall Off” promises to map that out as well — with additional showcasing of fellow skateboarders like Rodney Mullen, Stacey Peralta, and Lance Mountain. Diehard skateboard fans will salivate through the footage, while newcomers are bound to learn that there’s more to Hawke than just a few gravity-defying moves. —EK
“The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent”
Artistically unfulfilled and confronting financial ruin because he bought too much Superman memorabilia or whatever, Nicolas Cage agrees to attend a mega-fan’s birthday party in exchange for one million dollars. In real life, that probably happened. In “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” it definitely does — only this time, the whole thing is a cover story for the C.I.A. to take down Spain’s most powerful drug kingpin (Pedro Pascal). Hijinks ensue.
That Cage has recently gotten his mojo back with roles in films like “Mandy,” “Pig,” and “Prisoners of the Ghostland” makes this the perfect time for Hollywood’s most inimitable actor to spoof his own mystique, and the fact that he’s co-starring with Ike Barinholtz, Neil Patrick Harris, and Tiffany Haddish suggests that he’s ready to laugh along with us. That director Tom Gormican’s only other film credit is the shallow Zac Efron vehicle “That Awkward Moment” gives us some pause, but anyone capable of selling Cage on this premise is slinging at least a little genius, and the “Face/Off” jokes alone will probably justify the price of admission. Lionsgate will release the film in theaters this April. —DE
“Under the Influence”
“Under the Influence” finds one YouTube phenomenon turning his camera on another: Casey Neistat directs this probing documentary look at the rise and fall of viral video sensation David Dobrik, who amassed billions of viewers and global celebrity during the early days of the platform. Neistat follows Dobrik from the popularity of his early stunts through his evolution with major brand sponsors that made him wealthy and powerful. He also tracks the fallout of reporting that showed Dobrik and his so-called “Vlog Squad” posse had crossed the line with some of their female fans, an outcome that puts his future in doubt. A fascinating meditation on the high risk/high reward aspect of 21st century fame, “Under the Influence” is sure to stir debate about the nature of Dobrik’s popularity and what made it endure for so long. —EK
“The Innkeepers” and “The House of the Devil” filmmaker Ti West has spent the past few years using his talent for small screen affairs, including directing gigs on series as diverse as “Them,” “The Resident,” and “Tales from the Loop,” but he returns to his scrappy, scary roots with the very on-brand “X.”
Bolstered by an enviable cast — Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Brittany Snow, Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi, and Martin Henderson, just to start — the pandemic-filmed chiller marries West’s affection for brutal violence and rampant cinephilia, with juicy results. Set in 1979, just after crossover hit “Debbie Does Dallas” forever changed America’s perception of porn, “X” follows a somewhat disparate group of friends, lovers, and co-workers who alight for a weekend away at a secluded Texas farmhouse (first mistake) to make their own porno, without realizing that said farmhouse’s owners are still on the property (second mistake) and they are exceedingly not into smut.
Or, well, are they? You may think you know where this is going, but trust us, you really, really don’t, and the pleasure of this twisted little ditty is all in the surprise. A24 will release the film in theaters on March 18. —KE
One of the most celebrated half-hour programs of the last decade, “Atlanta” is set to return for its third and fourth seasons in 2022, the latter of which will be its last. But the big question facing Season 3 (which premieres its first two episodes at the festival) isn’t how it will set up the series’ ultimate ending. (Donald Glover’s winding tale of friendships tested by developing careers has always been unpredictable from scene to scene, let alone episode to episode and season to season.) The question is how the show itself has changed in the nearly four years since it last aired.
One such alteration is obvious: In Season 3, “Atlanta” is moving to Europe. Events will pick up in the middle of a European tour, as Alfred (Brian Tyree Henry), his cousin Earn (Glover), their wild-card friend Darius, and Earn’s ex-girlfriend Van (Zazie Beetz) adjust to living with the success they aspired to when the show first started. The rest of the plot is being kept under wraps, but executive producer and Emmy-nominated director Hiro Murai is helming the first three episodes, while longtime collaborators Stephen Glover and Stefani Robinson serves major roles behind the scenes. “Atlanta” is SXSW’s marquee event (and Closing Night headliner) for a reason. Even after so much time away (and with an ending already in sight), Glover’s series hasn’t been forgotten — and won’t be anytime soon. —BT
The long wait to see a live-action Master Chief will finally end in front of a live audience in Austin, TX. “Halo,” the serialized adaptation of the wildly popular Xbox video game franchise, went into development in 2013, experienced various delays, and even switched networks from Showtime to Paramount+ before setting its launch for March 2022. (“The Man Who Fell to Earth,” which moved from Paramount+ to Showtime as part of an unofficial trade, will also premiere at SXSW.) The hype intensified after the first full trailer debuted during the NFL playoffs (paired with an early renewal for Season 2), proving the ongoing original series represents a key piece in Paramount’s streaming push.
So, what can fans — and non-fans — expect in Season 1? For starters, a standalone story: “Halo” the TV show isn’t pulled from any of the video games’ story arcs, even if it features many of the same characters and conflict. It’s the 26th century. Humankind is at war with an alien threat called the Covenant. To lead Earth’s armies, Dr. Catherine Halsey (Natascha McElhone) has developed the Spartan II project: a force of genetically engineered super-soldiers, led by Master Chief Petty Officer John-117 (Pablo Schreiber). The tall, skillful warrior serves as our primary window into the action, which will play out on a grand scale — from choreographed hand-to-hand combat to vast shootouts in outer-space — befitting the big-budget endeavor. Will the work pay off? SXSW will be our first chance to find out. —BT
“The Last Movie Stars” (CNN+)
Director Ethan Hawke has enlisted an incredible team of filmmakers to help depict the life and impact of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, two of cinema’s all-time icons. Starting with their early days working in New York and traveling through their years in Hollywood’s limelight, the documentary (told in six chapters) is built around interviews conducted for a separate project.
Decades ago, Newman commissioned Stewart Stern to speak to friends and family for a planned memoir, and the screenwriter sat down with the likes of Elia Kazan, Sidney Lumet, Karl Malden, Sidney Pollack, and more, as well as Woodward and Newman themselves. Though that piece never came to fruition, Hawke had the interviews transcribed and brought in George Clooney, Laura Linney, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Zoe Kazan, Sam Rockwell, and Karen Allen to voice those original conversations for “The Last Movie Stars.” He also recorded new interviews with Sally Field, Melanie Griffith, Martin Scorsese (who also serves as an executive producer), and more to further frame how Woodward and Newman’s singular careers — and relationship — became so inspiring. —BT
“Shining Girls” (Apple TV+)
Two of modern TV’s most admired artists come together for “Shining Girls,” an eight-episode limited series starring Elisabeth Moss and directed by Michelle MacLaren. Both two-time Emmy winners, Moss is a verifiable hit factory when it comes television, moving from “Mad Men” to “Top of the Lake” to “The Handmaid’s Tale,” all of which have been hailed among the medium’s top-tier titles. MacLaren has handled a few Golden Age classics herself, starting with “The X-Files” and running through “Game of Thrones,” “Breaking Bad,” “The Leftovers,” “The Deuce,” and “Better Call Saul.” Seeing the director and star work together, alongside showrunner Silka Luisa (“Strange Angel”), makes “Shining Girls” an event unto itself.
“But what is it about,” you ask? Adapted from Lauren Beukes’ 2013 novel, the series follows Kirby Mazrachi (Moss), a Chicago newspaper archivist whose journalistic dreams were put on hold after suffering a traumatic assault. But when a recent murder mirrors her own attack, she teams with a reporter (Wagner Moura) to identify the assailant and the investigation only deepens from there. Co-starring Phillipa Soo, Amy Brenneman, and Jamie Bell, the high-profile series looks to continue its talents’ hot streaks and become an Emmy contender later this year. —BT