28 Films To Watch At This Year's SXSW

03/10/2015 11:55 am ET | Updated Mar 10, 2015
Warner Bros./A24/Fox/Universal/SXSW

This year's South by Southwest Film Festival is loaded with big names, quirky projects and lots of potential breakout stars. Before everything kicks off on Friday, take note of these 28 movies -- a list that includes everything from big studio comedies to a documentary about Tower Records. Stay weird, SXSW.

  • "Trainwreck" (dir. Judd Apatow)
    What SXSW Says: "Blockbuster filmmaker Judd Apatow ('The 40-Year-Old Virgin,' 'Knocked Up,' 'This Is 40') directs Universal Pictures' 'Trainwreck,' starring breakout comedic actress Amy Schumer ('Inside Amy Schumer'). Cast: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, Colin Quinn, Vanessa Bayer, Tilda Swinton, Lebron James, John Cena. (Debut of a Work in Progress)"

    What We'll Add: Back in 2011, Universal screened an in-progress cut of Paul Feig's "Bridesmaids" at SXSW. Last year, the studio brought an unfinished "Neighbors" to Austin. Both films blew up soon after, and went on to reap those buzz benefits at the box office. We're fully expecting "Trainwreck" to follow suit.
  • "Spy" (dir. Paul Feig)
    What SXSW Says: "Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) is an unassuming, deskbound CIA analyst, and the unsung hero behind the Agency’s most dangerous missions. But when her partner (Jude Law) falls off the grid and another top agent (Jason Statham) is compromised, she volunteers to go deep undercover to infiltrate the world of a deadly arms dealer, and prevent a global disaster. Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, Miranda Hart, Bobby Cannavale, Allison Janney, Peter Serafinowicz, Morena Baccarin and Jude Law (Premiere)"

    What We'll Add: The trailer for "Spy" was a decided "meh," but Fox and Feig must have a lot of confidence in the latest Melissa McCarthy jam if they're bringing it to Austin. As mentioned, the actress scored here with "Bridesmaids" in 2011, so maybe "Spy" is a return to form following the disappointing "Tammy."
  • "Get Hard" (dir. Etan Cohen)
    Warner Bros.
    What SXSW Says: "With a 10-year stint in San Quentin hanging over his head, yuppie Brad hires city Darnell to toughen him up for prison life. Cast: Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, Tip 'T.I.' Harris, Alison Brie, Craig T. Nelson. (World Premiere)"

    What We'll Add: Like "Spy," the trailers for "Get Hard" aren't doing much to evince confidence, but we've heard this movie is quite funny. That Warner Bros. is bringing "Get Hard" to Austin backs those whispers up: The studio failed to launch "Burt Wonderstone" in Austin two years ago, so perhaps it learned a valuable lesson about what works at SXSW.
  • "Hello, My Name Is Doris" (dir. Michael Showalter)
    What SXSW Says: "An isolated 60-year-old woman is motivated by a self-help seminar to romantically pursue a younger coworker, causing her to stumble into the spotlight of the local hipster social scene. Cast: Sally Field, Max Greenfield, Beth Behrs, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Stephen Root, Elizabeth Reaser, Jack Antonoff, Natasha Lyonne, Tyne Daly. (World Premiere)"

    What We'll Add: The last movie Michael Showalter directed, 2005's "The Baxter," was one of the sweetest deconstructions of the romantic comedy in modern memory. Hopes are high for this movie, which has one of the most eclectic casts at this year's festival.
  • "Ex Machina" (dir. Alex Garland)
    What SXSW Says: Alex Garland, writer of '28 Days Later' and 'Sunshine,' makes his directorial debut with the stylish and cerebral thriller 'Ex Machina,' starring Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, and Alicia Vikander. Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander. (North American Premiere)

    What We'll Add: Thanks to "Force Awakens" stars Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson, "Ex Machina" looks like the best "Star Wars" prequel Charlie Brooker never made.
  • "The Road Warrior" (dir. George Miller)
    Warner Bros.
    What SXSW Says: "In the post-apocalypse future, where humans fight over the few remaining stores of gasoline, Mad Max offers to drive a tanker through a gauntlet of psychos to safety on the coast. Special Q&A to follow with George Miller. Cast: Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Virginia Hey, Emil Minty, Kjell Nilsson, Max Phipps, Vernon Wells, David Slingsby, Steve J. Spears."

    What We'll Add: This is a good time for George Miller. He directed "Mad Max: Fury Road," which Warner Bros. will release in May.
  • "Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck" (dir. Brett Morgen)
    What SXSW Says: "'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck' is a raw and visceral journey through Kurt Cobain’s life and his career with Nirvana through the lens of his home movies, recordings, artwork, photography, and journals."

    What We'll Add: "Montage of Heck" debuted to raves at this year's Sundance Film Festival. The Nirvana doc, which will air on HBO on May 4, also includes a previously unheard song by Cobain.
  • "Wild Horses" (dir. Robert Duvall)
    What SXSW Says: "A Texas ranch family's idyllic life unravels as the Texas Rangers reopen and investigate a 15 year-old missing person case. Cast: Robert Duvall, James Franco, Josh Hartnett, Luciana Duvall, Adriana Barraza, Jim Parrack, Angie Cepeda, Devon Abner. (World Premiere)"

    What We'll Add: Fresh off an Oscar nomination, the 84-year-old Duvall directs his first film in 13 years.
  • "Steve Jobs: The Man In The Machine" (dir. Alex Gibney)
    What SXSW Says: "An evocative portrait of the life and work of Steve Jobs that re-examines his legacy and our relationship with the computer. (World Premiere)"

    What We'll Add: It wouldn't be a film festival without a new documentary from Alex Gibney.
  • "One & Two" (dir. Andrew Droz Palermo)
    What SXSW Says: "Two siblings discover a supernatural escape from a troubled home, but find their bond tested when reality threatens to tear their family apart. Cast: Kiernan Shipka, Timothee Chalamet, Elizabeth Reaser, Grant Bowler. (North American Premiere)"

    What We'll Add: Shipka gets a chance to leave Sally Draper behind in this coming-of-age story that doubles as an indie origin story for some lost "X-Men" character.
  • "Stone Barn Castle" (dirs. Kevin Ford & Adrien Brody)
    What SXSW Says: "A chronicle of the journey to restore a historic barn in Upstate New York. (World Premiere)"

    What We'll Add: Adrien Brody bought the film's titular dwelling in 2007, and spent the next seven years renovating the historic castle. The film follows the ups and downs of Brody's personal life throughout the construction in a way that makes this documentary a distant cousin of Richard Linklater's "Boyhood."
  • "Raiders!" (dirs. Jeremy Coon & Tim Skousen)
    What SXSW Says: "In 1982, two 11-year-olds in Mississippi set out to remake 'Raiders of the Lost Ark.' After seven turbulent years, they finished every scene except one. Thirty years later, they attempt to finally finish their fan film and realize their childhood dream. (World Premiere)"

    What We'll Add: Tackling the world of fan culture and what viral videos looked like before YouTube, "Raiders!" is a must-see for anyone who grew up in the 1980s.
  • "Fresno" (dir. Jamie Babbit)
    What SXSW Says: "'Fresno' is a comedy that follows lonely but stoic lesbian Martha (Natasha Lyonne), whose sister Shannon (Judy Greer), a sex addict with no impulse control and a long history of poor decisions, winds up back in Fresno cleaning hotel rooms with her. Cast: Natasha Lyonne, Judy Greer, Aubrey Plaza, Fred Armisen, Jessica St. Clair, Molly Shannon, Michael Hitchcock, Ron Livingston. (World Premiere)"

    What We'll Add: Babbit just directed that great episode of "Girls" where Hannah's dad comes out.
  • "All Things Must Pass" (dir. Colin Hanks)
    What SXSW Says: "'All Things Must Pass' is a feature documentary that explores the rise and fall of Tower Records, and the legacy forged by its rebellious founder, Russ Solomon. (World Premiere)"

    What We'll Add: Our teenage self, the one who went to Tower Records on the Upper West Side while waiting to see movies at AMC Lincoln Square, is pumped.
  • "A Wonderful Cloud" (dir. Eugene Kotlyarenko)
    What SXSW Says: "When Eugene’s ex-GF Katelyn lands in LA to disband their business, the two of them must negotiate between past tensions and future possibilities, in this raw bittersweet rom-com that walks the line between fiction and reality. Cast: Kate Lyn Sheil, Eugene Kotlyarenko, John Ennis, Vishwam Velandy, Rachel Lord, Lauren Avery, Elisha Drons, Niko Karamyan, Tierney Finster, Mikki Olson. (World Premiere)"

    What We'll Add: Sheil plays Lisa on "House of Cards," the new owner of America's favorite guinea pig, Cashew.
  • "GTFO" (dir. Shannon Sun-Higginson)
    What SXSW Says: "Almost half of all gamers are women; yet, female gamers are disproportionately subject to harassment and abuse. 'GTFO' seeks to investigate misogyny in video game culture and questions the future of this 20 billion dollar industry. (World Premiere)"

    What We'll Add: Sun-Higginson's documentary hopes to show audiences that sexism in gaming started long before Gamergate reached critical mass.
  • "Deep Web" (dir. Alex Winter)
    What SXSW Says: "'Deep Web' gives the inside story of one of the the most important and riveting digital crime sagas of the century -- the arrest of Ross William Ulbricht, the entrepreneur alleged to be “Dread Pirate Roberts,” leader of online black market Silk Road. (World Premiere)"

    What We'll Add: Alex Winter, aka Bill from "Bill and Ted," directed the Napster documentary "Downloaded," which debuted at SXSW in 2013. This EPIX original doc looks similarly enticing.
  • "A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story" (dir. Sara Hirsh Bordo)
    What SXSW Says: "From the producers of the most viewed TEDWomen event of 2013 comes 'A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story,' a documentary following the inspiring journey of 25-year-old, 58-pound Lizzie from cyber-bullying victim to anti-bullying activist. (World Premiere)"

    What We'll Add: Find out more about Lizzie Velasquez's inspiring story here.
  • "Life in Color" (dir. Katharine Emmer)
    What SXSW Says: "With no place to live, two strangers are stuck house sitting together. To get back on their feet, this odd couple reluctantly help each other overcome the very personal obstacles that are holding them back in life and from each other. Cast: Josh McDermitt, Katharine Emmer, Adam Lustick, Fortune Feimster, Jim O'Heir. (World Premiere)"

    What We'll Add: Keep an eye on Katharine Emmer, one of the first-time filmmakers at SXSW.
  • "Ktown Cowboys" (dir. Daniel Park)
    What SXSW Says: "Against the alluring backdrop of LA’s Koreatown, five legendary partiers go out for one more night of 'Ktown' debauchery, eventually growing up by throwing down like they did in their glory days. Cast: Danny Cho, Bobby Choy, Peter Jae, Sunn Wee, Shane Yoon, Eric Roberts, Steve Byrne, Kim Young Chul, Simon Rhee, Daniel Dae Kim. (World Premiere)"

    What We'll Add: "Ktown Cowboys" is one of the fest's buzziest titles. Let's hope for a "Spring Breakers" moment.
  • "Final Girls" (dir. Todd Strauss-Schulson)
    What SXSW Says: "Max and her friends are mysteriously transported into a famous 1980s horror movie that starred Max's mother, a celebrated scream queen. Reunited, they team up to fight the film's maniacal killer and find their way back home. Cast: Taissa Farmiga, Malin Akerman, Adam DeVine, Thomas Middleditch, Alia Shawkat, Alexander Ludwig, Nina Dobrev. (World Premiere)"

    What We'll Add: Just the description alone gives us a whiff of "Cabin in the Woods," the meta-horror movie that blew up at SXSW in 2012.
  • "7 Chinese Brothers" (dir. Bob Byington)
    What SXSW Says: "A man unaccustomed to telling the truth learns to at least describe it. Cast: Jason Schwartzman, Tunde Adebimpe, Eleanore Pienta, Olympia Dukakis, Stephen Root. (World Premiere)"

    What We'll Add: An intriguing logline and the presence of Schwartzman and TV on the Radio lead singer Adebimpe put this high on our must-see list.
  • "Breaking A Monster" (dir. Luke Meyer)
    What SXSW Says: "'Breaking a Monster' chronicles the break-out year of the band Unlocking The Truth, as the 12- and 13-year-old members first encounter stardom and the music industry, transcending childhood to become the rock stars they always dreamed of being. (World Premiere)"

    What We'll Add: Who doesn't want to watch kids becoming rock stars?
  • "6 Years" (dir. Hannah Fidell)
    What SXSW Says: "A young couple bound by a seemingly ideal love begins to unravel as unexpected opportunities spin them down a volatile and violent path and threaten the future they had always imagined. Cast: Taissa Farmiga, Ben Rosenfield, Lindsay Burdge, Joshua Leonard, Jennifer Lafleur, Peter Vack, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, Molly McMichael, Jason Newman. (World Premiere)"

    What We'll Add: Put Fidell, who directed "A Teacher," on your radar of up-and-coming filmmakers to follow.
  • "Night Owls" (dir. Charles Hood)
    What SXSW Says: "After Kevin has a one night stand with Madeline, he discovers she’s actually his boss’ jilted mistress. When she takes a bottle of sleeping pills, Kevin has to keep her awake... and over the course of the night they begin to fall for each other. Cast: Adam Pally, Rosa Salazar, Rob Huebel, Peter Krause, Tony Hale. (World Premiere)"

    What We'll Add: The two-hander gives Pally a lead role, and portends as a breakout for Salazar (best know for a guest arc on NBC's "Parenthood").
  • "Mania Days" (dir. Paul Dalio)
    What SXSW Says: "Two manic-depressive poets meet in a psychiatric hospital and begin a romance which brings out all the beauty and horror of their condition until they have to choose between sanity and love. Cast: Katie Holmes, Luke Kirby, Christine Lahti, Griffin Dunne, Bruce Altman. (World Premiere)"

    What We'll Add: Katie Holmes tried her hand at festival life with "Miss Meadows" during last year's Tribeca to mixed results. Let's hope this film, from Spike Lee protegé Paul Dalio, fares better.
  • "Unexpected" (dir. Kris Swanberg)
    What SXSW Says: "An inner-city high school teacher discovers she is pregnant at the same time as one of her most promising students and the two develop an unlikely friendship while struggling to navigate their unexpected pregnancies. Cast: Cobie Smulders, Anders Holm, Gail Bean, Elizabeth McGovern."

    What We'll Add: "Unexpected" was one of the most highly touted indies to come out of this year's Sundance Film Festival, giving Kris Swanberg (wife of Joe Swanberg) her first breakout film.
  • "BRAND: A Second Coming" (dir. Ondi Timoner)
    What SXSW Says: "'BRAND: A Second Coming' follows comedian/author Russell Brand’s evolution from addict & Hollywood star to unexpected political disruptor & newfound hero to the underserved. Brand is criticized for egomaniacal self-interest as he calls for revolution. (World Premiere)"

    What We'll Add: Russell Brand's best role yet may be as himself.

Earlier on HuffPost:

Stars At SXSW
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