You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

SXSW: 13 Buzziest Movies at This Year’s Film Festival

SXSW kicks off on Friday, with thousands arriving in Austin, Texas, to attend the film festival component. While there won’t be as many distribution deals as at Sundance or Toronto, SXSW can offer a strong launching pad for upcoming releases — last year, both “Neighbors” and “Chef” attracted lots of attention in Texas to  before they went on to becomes box office hits. And, of course, the festival is also as a showcase for smaller films seeking buyers, such as the Katie Holmes drama “Mania Days.” Here are the 13 buzziest titles playing at SXSW this year.

1. “Trainwreck
The hottest ticket at SXSW will be for Judd Apatow’s new comedy starring Amy Schumer as a thirtysomething journalist who, after a series of one-night stands, sparks a connection with a subject she’s profiling (Bill Hader). Over the years, Apatow has helped launch the careers of some of Hollywood’s biggest talents (from Steve Carell to Lena Dunham to James Franco), and this could be a star-making platform for the hilarious Schumer. The Universal Pictures release, which opens this summer, will show as a work in progress on Sunday night. – Ramin Setoodeh

2. “Ex Machina”
Best known as the writer of such classy sci-fi/genre pieces as “28 Days Later … ,” “Sunshine” and “Never Let Me Go,” Alex Garland makes his long-awaited directing debut with this futuristic Frankenstein saga starring Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander. The result has already drawn across-the-board raves on the occasion of its U.K. theatrical release, including from Variety critic Guy Lodge, who hailed Garland’s film as “a sleek, spare chamber piece … exquisitely designed and electrically performed.” – Justin Chang

3. “A Poem Is a Naked Person (24 Beats Per Second)”
While SXSW’s music-related documentaries are always a highlight, this is something special — a hitherto unreleased 1974 feature by the late director Les Blank about ’60s stellar session musician-turned-Me Decade headliner Leon Russell. The latter’s chops as a pianist and songwriter made him a favorite collaborator amongst luminaries in rock, pop, country and blues alike, including Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Joe Cocker. — Dennis Harvey

4. “Hello, My Name Is Doris”
In this dramedy from director Michael Showalter (the co-writer of “Wet Hot American Summer”), Sally Field plays a woman who finds herself in a romance with a significantly younger Brooklyn hipster (“New Girl’s” Max Greenfield). Those who have already seen this indie say that it’s a charming crowdpleaser that allows Field to finally carry a movie again (channeling a character similar to her matriarch from ABC’s “Brothers & Sisters”). – R.S.

5. “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine”
It’s safe to say that Alex Gibney’s latest documentary won’t be as much of a controversy magnet as his recent Sundance bombshell, “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief.” But between that expose and the recent “The Armstrong Lie,” there’s no denying that the hyper-prolific filmmaker is on a hot streak of late. This portrait of the Apple entrepreneur’s life and legacy, produced by CNN Films, should offer a characteristically thoughtful take on a subject who has clearly lost none of his fascination, if the forthcoming Danny Boyle-directed, Aaron Sorkin-scripted biopic is any indication. –J.C.

6. “Spy”
After “Bridesmaids,” the reteaming of director Paul Feig with his muse Melissa McCarthy is reason enough to look forward to this Fox comedy, which was shot in Budapest. McCarthy plays an “Alias”-like secret agent, and although she probably won’t be as suave as Sydney Bristow, she told Variety last summer that she does get to wear a lot of wigs. – R.S.

7. “The Final Girls”
The premise for this horror comedy  — about a high school senior played by Taissa Farmiga (from “American Horror Story”) who gets trapped in a 1980s slasher film — sounds like it was inspired by “Scream.” The festival’s programmers have given the movie a plum Friday night premiere spot, and Farmiga might be a breakout star of SXSW, since she also appears in another festival drama (“Six Years”). – R.S.

8. “The Invitation”
Early word of mouth is strong for this latest thriller by director Karyn Kusama (“Girlfight,” “Jennifer’s Body”) about a couple (Logan Marshall-Green and Tammy Blanchard) who break up after the death of their son, only to reunite three years later a dinner party in the Hollywood Hills. But not everything is as it once seemed. –R.S.

9. “Brand: A Second Coming”
SXSW opens on Friday night with this documentary about Russell Brand, but he has cancelled his festival appearance and now says he’s uncomfortable with the film. Nonetheless, this project follows the trend of celebrity docs (see Justin Bieber’s “Never Say Never”) that are often flattering to their subjects, and the uncensored Brand certainly has led a colorful enough existence to merit his own film (even if he’s not been able to connect at the box office). But the real question is: Will it be better than his ex-wife’s doc “Katy Perry: Part of Me”? –R.S.

10. “The Grief of Others”
Few debut films in recent years received more praise and yet were seen by fewer people than Patrick Wang’s “In the Family,” a low-key, self-distributed drama about a gay man seeking custody of the son he raised with his partner, after the latter’s untimely death. Coping with loss would appear to be central to the director’s follow-up, the story of a family reeling from the death of a baby just a few days after his birth. At 102 minutes, the film is much shorter than its nearly three-hour predecessor, but with any luck will retain Wang’s exquisite delicacy and attentiveness to detail. –J.C.

11. “Peace Officer”
The documentary from Austin-based filmmaking duo Scott Christopherson and Brad Barber taps an issue that has risen to public prominence in the past couple years: whether the mission “to serve and protect” is still primary among certain U.S. police departments that have taken increasingly aggressive stands against unarmed citizens, and against any criticism of their methods. Its protagonist is a former rural Utah sheriff investigating the SWAT team he founded 30 years earlier  — a unit whose recent actions reflect a reckless militarization of law enforcement nationwide. –D.H.

12. “GTFO: Get the F% Out”
Another documentary on a hot-button topic: pervasive sexism in the videogaming world. Shannon Sun-Higginson’s survey stretches from the misogyny experienced by those relatively few females employed at major game designing and manufacturing companies to the harassment routinely doled out by male gamers toward women online. –D.H.

13. “Mania Days”
After “Dawson’s Creek,” Katie Holmes thrived in smaller dramas like “Pieces of April” and “Wonder Boys.” She returns to her indie roots (in one her best performance in years) with this love story about a bipolar poet in a mental institution who falls for a patient with the same condition. The underrated Luke Kirby (HBO’s “Tell Me You Love Me,” “Take This Waltz”) plays her boyfriend. –R.S.

More Film

  • Alita Battle Angel

    Box Office: 'Alita: Battle Angel' No Match for China's 'Wandering Earth' Overseas

    Hollywood movies like “Alita: Battle Angel” and “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” are doing respectable business overseas, but they’re proving no match for foreign titles at the international box office. The Chinese New Year is bringing in huge business in the Middle Kingdom. China’s sci-fi epic “The Wandering Earth” pulled in a [...]

  • ABA_062_DAU_0060_v0409.87501 – Rosa Salazar stars as

    Box Office: 'Alita: Battle Angel' Wins Dismal President's Day Weekend

    Fox’s sci-fi adventure “Alita: Battle Angel” dominated in North America, but its opening weekend win isn’t leaving the box office with much to celebrate. Tracking services estimate that this will be one of the lowest grossing President’s Day weekends in years. Ticket sales are on pace to be the smallest bounty for the holiday frame [...]

  • Bohemian Rhapsody

    'Bohemian Rhapsody,' 'Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' Among Cinema Audio Society Winners

    Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” won the Cinema Audio Society’s top prize for sound mixing at Saturday night’s 55th annual CAS Awards. The film is Oscar-nominated for sound mixing this year along with “Black Panther,” “First Man,” “Roma” and “A Star Is Born.” In a surprise over heavy-hitters “Incredibles 2” and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” Wes [...]

  • Oscars Placeholder

    Make-Up and Hair Stylist Guild Applauds Academy's Stance on Airing Every Oscar Winner

    Rowdy boos were followed by triumphant cheers at the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild Awards on Saturday in Los Angeles, as the Hollywood union touched on a week of controversy over a reversed decision to hand out four Oscars during the show’s commercial breaks. Hair and makeup was one of the four categories that would [...]

  • Marvelous Mrs Maisel Vice

    'Vice,' 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' Lead Make-Up and Hair Stylists Guild Awards Winners

    Adam McKay’s Dick Cheney biopic “Vice,” starring Oscar nominees Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Sam Rockwell, won two awards at the sixth annual Make-Up and Hair Stylists Guild Awards Saturday night. The film won for best period and/or character makeup as well as special makeup effects. “Mary Queen of Scots” received the prize for period [...]

  • Bette Midler

    Bette Midler to Perform on the Oscars (EXCLUSIVE)

    Bette Midler will perform “The Place Where Lost Things Go” at the Oscar ceremonies on Feb. 24, Variety has learned. Midler, a longtime friend of composer-lyricist Marc Shaiman, will sing the song originally performed by Emily Blunt in “Mary Poppins Returns.” The song, by Shaiman and his lyricist partner Scott Wittman, is one of five [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content