South by Southwest, once known as an intimate stomping ground for tiny films, has turned into the Comic-Con of the spring. Starting today, thousands will descend in Austin for the splashy red-carpet movie and TV premieres, as well as concerts (hello, Solange), panels and keynotes speeches ranging from Joe Biden to Lee Daniels. In keeping up with the political climate, there’s even a Planned Parenthood rally, called “Never Going Back,” co-hosted by Tumblr on Sunday
afternoon.The annual gathering, which started as a music festival in 1987 and has quickly expanded from there, is now a must-stop for studios and networks. In recent years, hits like “Furious 7,” “Sausage Party,” “Trainwreck,” “Spy” and “Neighbors” have all come to Texas before dominating multiplexes across the country. And in 2012, “Girls’” debuted with a then-unknown Lena Dunham. Here are Variety’s pick for the 17 buzziest projects at this year’s SXSW.
1. “Song To Song”
In a major coup that speaks to SXSW’s growing influence, Terrence Malick—the reclusive director who typically launches his indies in European film festivals like Venice, Berlin or Cannes—is coming to Austin for the opening-night premiere. That must have felt right, because this musically themed drama is set here, anchored by the A-list cast of Natalie Portman, Michael Fassbender and Ryan Gosling. –Ramin Setoodeh
2. “The Disaster Artist”
James Franco’s resume as a director may be uneven, but in “The Disaster Artist,” he seems to have found an ideal vehicle for so many of his pet obsessions, detailing the creation of Tommy Wiseau’s bad-movie-classic, “The Room.” The pre-premiere buzz is that this could be one of the festival’s best discoveries. -Andrew Barker
The iconic Harry Dean Stanton stars in the title role — and, really, do we need to say anything else? OK, here goes: Veteran character actor John Carroll Lynch makes his directorial debut with this indie drama about an ornery 90-year-atheist who finds himself drifting toward something like enlightenment while interacting with the other inhabitants of his off-the-grid desert town. And if that’s not enough to pique your interest, consider the movie’s crazy-quilt of a supporting cast: Ron Livingston, Tom Skerritt, Beth Grant, James Darren, David Lynch — yes, that David Lynch — and Ed Begley Jr. – Joe Leydon
N.W.A may have dominated the headlines, but no history of L.A. hip-hop is complete without an account of 213, the initially unsuccessful Long Beach trio whose members Snoop Dogg, Warren G and Nate Dogg would collectively go on to create the soundtrack for much of the early ‘90s. This documentary from young director Karam Gill assembles all the living principals for a look back. -A.B.
5. “Atomic Blonde”
This Universal Pictures tentpole, with Charlize Theron as a stone-cold assassin for “John Wick” director David Leitch, looks smarter than your average action movie. If it fares well in Texas, that will position it well to clean up at the summer box office. –R.S.
6. “Baby Driver”
We have three questions for this heist thriller directed by Edgar Wright: (1) Will it restore Ansel Elgort to his “Fault in his Stars” box-office glory days? (2) Will Jon Hamm, channeling his “Bridesmaid” comedic side as a serial partier, outshine mobsters played by Kevin Spacey and Jamie Foxx? (3) Why were there online rumors–that turned out to be false–that Meryl Streep was making a cameo in this movie? –R.S.
7. “The Ballad of Lefty Brown”
Jared Moshé earned his spurs five years ago with Dead Man’s Burden, his well-received directorial debut, in which he managed the tricky feat of respectfully acknowledging traditions of the Western genre without actually mimicking classic oaters. Now he’s back in the saddle again with another sagebrush saga, this one featuring Bill Pullman in the title role as the longtime sidekick of legendary outlaw Eddie Johnson (Peter Fonda). When Johnson is sent to Boot Hill after trying to go legit, it’s up to Lefty to do what a man’s got to do. Supporting players include Kathy Baker, Jim Caviezel, and Tommy Flanagan. –J.L.
8. “Fits and Starts”
The screenwriter of 2015’s SXSW favorite “Hello, My Name Is Doris,” Laura Terruso returns to Austin with her directorial debut, about the low-key rivalry between married writers of uneven acclaim. -A.B.
Coming on the heels of “Personal Shopper,” this thriller about a celebrity (Zoe Kravitz) and her assistant (Lola Kirke) is directed by Sundance favorite Aaron Katz (“Land Ho!”). It’s said to be one of the more commercial offerings among this year’s indies. –R.S.
10. “Most Hated Woman in America”
Tommy O’Haver (“Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss”) directs Melissa Leo in this fact-based film about the life and murder of endlessly controversial atheist activist Madalyn Murray O’Hair, who was kidnapped in Austin in 1995. -A.B.
11. “Win It All”
Fresh off his Netflix series, “Easy,” hyper-prolific writer-director Joe Swanberg returns to SXSW, where he launched his mainstream breakthrough, “Drinking Buddies,” in 2013. “Win It All” stars Jake Johnson, with a supporting part for Keegan-Michael Key. -A.B.
This Sony Pictures space epic looks like “Gravity” meets “Alien”—astronauts stuck in a space capsule with extraterrestrial beasts. And thanks to its cast of Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebeccca Ferguson and a post-“Deadpool” Ryan Reynolds, we’re intrigued. It’s this year’s closing night film. –R.S.
13. “American Gods,” Starz
Touted as becoming the “Game of Thrones” of Starz, the hotly-anticipated television adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s best-seller makes its world debut. Mixing the concepts of old gods of traditional mythology and new gods that have risen as society has changed, the high-stakes fantasy series has been buzzing among critics who have screened the first episode — if nothing else, for its out-there quality. Ricky Whittle and Ian McShane, who star as the fan-favorite characters Shadow Moon and Mr. Wednesday, will be on hand at the fest, along with producers Michael Green and Bryan Fuller, who has certainly proven he knows how to rile up a crowd with his legions of “Hannibal” fans. -Elizabeth Wagmeister
14. “Dear White People,” Netflix
The series follow-up to the 2014 indie, which bowed at Sundance. Following several black college students at Ivy League universities as they navigate campus life through the lens of social injustice, cultural bias, political correctness and activism, the series feels right for 2017. -E.W.
15. “I’m Dying Up Here,” Showtime
Jim Carrey serves as an executive producer on this drama series set in the infamous L.A. stand-up comedy scene of the 1970’s when the careers of most comic superstars, like Carrey, kicked off. The ensemble cast is led by Academy Award winner Melissa Leo, who plays the owner of a comedy club. -E.W.
16. “The Son,” AMC
What could be buzzier than James Bond in Texas? Pierce Brosnan returns to the small screen in his first major TV role since “Remington Steele” in AMC’s 10-episode drama, based on the novel of the same name, which spans 150 years and three generations of the McCullough family, led by Brosnan’s patriarch character. -E.W.
17. “Prison Break,” Fox
The only broadcast show to head down south to SXSW, Fox’s revival of “Prison Break” brings back all of the original stars for a continuation of the story that ended eight years ago. The advanced screening is technically unaffiliated with the festival, but that doesn’t mean fans won’t go wild for a sneak peek in Austin. -E.W.
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