After a two-year hiatus, SXSW will have a triumphant and long-awaited in-person return this week. The celebration of movies, music, and tech boasts such a sprawling lineup of premieres, concerts and talks that it can be pretty overwhelming. To help separate the “can’t miss” from the “why bother,” our team on the ground in Austin has polled festival insiders and studio hands for their suggestions and done a quick gut check to determine what will prevent you from suffering a serious case of FOMO.
From Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum’s wacky adventure flick “The Lost City” to the season 3 premiere of “Atlanta,” Variety shares the 10 must-see titles and acts to check out at SXSW. Be there or don’t even bother making the trip to Texas.
The Lost City
Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum look like they’re having a blast in the trailer for “The Lost City,” where she plays a kidnapped romance novelist who’s rescued by a Fabio-like model known for posing on her book covers. Will the second time at SXSW also be the charm for Tatum — who patrolled Austin a decade ago in a gag police uniform for the premiere of “21 Jump Street”?
“It’s probably the broadest thing I’ve ever done,” Tatum tells Variety of his latest action comedy. “I play a cover model, and she hates me and doesn’t want anything to do with me because I’m probably very annoying and dumb.” As for how they found their chemistry, Bullock says she’s known Tatum socially for years from having their kids attend the same school. “We had a script that set a very specific tone,” explains Bullock, who served double duty as a producer on the movie that Paramount Pictures will release in theaters on March 25. “When you see the film, you’ll be like, that is Channing and that is Sandy in terms of who should have been in the roles because of the oil and vinegar of it all.”
– Ramin Setoodeh
'Atlanta' Season 3
The third season of FX’s series will make its much-anticipated world premiere on the closing night of the festival, just one of several big TV bows. When we last saw “Atlanta” in 2018, Donald Glover’s Earn, Brian Tyree Henry’s Alfred (also known as the rapper Paper Boi) and LaKeith Stanfield’s Darius were on a plane to Europe for Paper Boi’s first big tour, with Earn having proven that yes, he actually has some skills as a manager. Now, though four years have passed for us, Season 3 of Glover’s unique, brilliant, Emmy-winning series will pick up where it left off: in Europe.
— Kate Aurthur
'The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent'
No scenery will be left unchewed as Nicolas Cage plays himself in Lionsgate’s very meta action-thriller, debuting nationwide on April 22. After a decade in the low-budget schlock wilderness, Cage is on something of a roll. He scored playing a vengeful chef with the critically acclaimed “Pig,” but “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” — in which he portrays an aging A-lister who is recruited by the CIA — may represent his greatest challenge yet. Sadly, Cage himself won’t know if he pulled it off. “I will never see this movie,” the actor told Variety last summer. “It’s too much for me to go to the premiere and sit there with everybody. Psychologically, too bizarre and whacked out for me.” We’ll be reporting live from the theater if he changes his mind.
— Brent Lang
'Everything Everywhere All at Once'
A celebration of all things Michelle Yeoh, this trippy action-adventure sounds like the antidote to the pandemic-era doldrums. The film is the brainchild of the Daniels — Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert — the filmmaking duo behind “Swiss Army Man,” the Sundance sensation that combined Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe and a farting corpse. This time, Kwan and Scheinert leave the gastrointestinal distress aside to focus on the story of a woman whose attempts to file her taxes are thwarted by a journey to another dimension. It’s the “it must be April 15 somewhere” movie we didn’t know we needed.
'Swimming With Sharks'
It’s been almost 30 years since George Huang gave us “Swimming With Sharks,” his cult classic about the degrading and cutthroat inner workings of the Hollywood backlot, starring Kevin Spacey as a narcissistic film producer who underestimates his long-suffering assistant. Actor-EP Kathleen Robertson has flipped the concept on its head and considerably turned up the heat with this revival, a Roku original series rescued from the defunct Quibi, which co-stars Diane Kruger as a movie mogul contending with a ruthlessly ambitious intern (Kiernan Shipka). “What does it really mean to be a complex, ambitious woman in 2022?” Robertson says. “I was drawn to the exploration of that idea. I’ve always loved slightly salacious, delicious ’90s psychological thrillers, and the idea of re-envisioning ‘Sharks’ — subverting it with two interesting, unexpected women — got me excited. Tonally, it feels like the right vibe for the times we’re living in.”
— Matt Donnelly
'The Last Movie Stars'
Ethan Hawke directs this look at the lives and legacies of screen legends Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, with the help of a cavalcade of A-list talent that includes Laura Linney, Oscar Isaac, Sam Rockwell and George Clooney. The multipart series isn’t a straight doc. It uses its arsenal of acting heavyweights to read reflections from Newman and Woodward as well as the thinkers and creators who orbited the actors, a group that includes Gore Vidal, Elia Kazan and Sidney Lumet. “They had a real love and respect for acting, and that’s where the magic comes in,” Hawke says. “They pushed each other to be the best versions of themselves.”
'Apollo 10 1⁄2: A Space Age Childhood'
The SXSW premiere of “Apollo 10 1⁄2” is serendipitous, as Richard Linklater’s animated sci-fi movie about the first moon landing, in 1969, wrapped its Austin shoot just days before COVID shut down the city. Linklater, a Texas native who took film classes at Austin Community College, fondly remembers the first-ever SXSW in 1987, with someone “standing up on a chair in the lobby of the Dobie Theater, announcing the winners of the festival from a little sheet of paper. So intimate, but very cool from the jump.” And he’s proud to return to the fest with a Netflix project that draws from his own childhood fantasies: “I didn’t know I couldn’t grow up and be a cartoon character till I was about 5 and someone explained to me you can’t be Bugs Bunny.”
— Selome Hailu
'Bodies, Bodies, Bodies'
This slasher movie starring Pete Davidson, Amandla Stenberg, Maria Bakalova and Lee Pace is the early front-runner for generating the loudest shrieks at SXSW. A24, which will release the film in theaters on March 14, has become synonymous with a certain kind of horror: highbrow, low-fi and stacked with talent. Davidson was supposed to attend the festival two years ago, with his autobiographical comedy “The King of Staten Island” selected as the opening-night film, before the pandemic shut down the world. It’s only appropriate that the festival would have him back for a bloody good time.
Wet Leg (and Other Must-See Acts)
The SXSW Music Festival went through a long period where invading superstars threatened to overshadow the indie showcases that have traditionally been the fest’s bread and butter. (Think Lady Gaga at Stubb’s, which some worried was a shark-jumping moment.) But in 2022, there are few huge names on the schedule, which may mean the fest is hewing closer to its roots, or might be a sign that sponsors and big stars are still COVID nervous. That leaves the 2021 breakout act Wet Leg as being possibly the most anticipated band on the slate, with the 200-plus showcases also including oldie-but-goodie alternative names like the Dream Syndicate, And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, KT Tunstall, Kristin Hersh and Suzanne Vega, and current draws like Alex the Astronaut, Charlie Hickey and Aeon Station. If you’re looking for music’s household names, you’ll find more of them in the speakers lineup, which includes Lizzo, Beck and Sara Bareilles.
'The Return of Tanya Tucker, Featuring Brandi Carlile'
SXSW remains the only major movie gathering to include an entire sub-slate of music films every year, and 2022 is no different, with at least 16 such features. The most intriguing titles range from a look at prog rockers King Crimson’s five-decade career to a doc about Chumbawamba’s “burnt-out” lead singer trying to find a new post-band future, and even Tierra Whack starring as herself in a “psychological thriller”/mockumentary. Maybe the most homegrown music doc: “The Return of Tanya Tucker, Featuring Brandi Carlile,” a fly-on-the-wall look at the Texas country legend working on her ultimately Grammy-winning comeback. Carlile commissioned the film the day before recording sessions for 2020’s “While I’m Livin’.” Says director Kathlyn Horan, “Brandi was thinking about conversations she had with [producer] Rick Rubin about this being like the Johnny Cash ‘American Recordings’: He had said to her, ‘Make sure you capture this,’ because he hadn’t.”
— Chris Willman