best films of sxsw 2016

Scariest Scene: Looking Under the Bed in Under the Shadow

Under the Shadow is terrifying from its first scenes. Set in Tehran, Iran in 1988, the slow-burning first half show us, in great detail, what it’s like to live in a nation where a “Cultural Revolution” has stripped women of their rights and literally reduced them to second class citizens. To make matters worse, Iraqi missiles are exploding in the city on a regular basis. The film even mines tension from the main characters owning an illegal VCR and a small collection of American videotapes. Babak Anvari‘s movie is scary stuff before the demonic entities arrive (drawn by the fear in the air) and begin to menace the main characters. Since he already has the audience on edge, Anvari allows the climax of the film to transform into a macabre haunted house, showering the audience with jump scares and monsters and surreal imagery. Oh, and at one point, Narges Rashidi‘s Shideh looks under a bed. And the movie wins this award.

best films of sxsw 2016

Funniest Scene: Every Joe Manganiello Scene in Pee-wee’s Big Holiday

Pee-wee’s Big Holiday is a constant source of joy, a movie crafted with love by people who care about this character. The traditional Pee-wee Herman gags are wonderful, Paul Reubens is still a joy as this character, and all of the newcomers slide right into this strange universe. The whole movie is just nice, and all of the jokes manage to be hilarious without being mean in the slightest. This difficult balance is best summed up by Joe Manganiello, who plays himself in the film. The Magic Mike XXL and True Blood star befriends Pee-wee after learning that he has a lot in common with this small-town oddball, and their burgeoning relationship is bizarre and wonderful and just plain sweet. Manganiello is a great sport, playing his role with utmost sincerity. What could have been an ironic performance ends up being adorable. You laugh with Manganiello being ridiculous instead of laughing at him and that’s Pee-wee’s Big Holiday in a nutshell.

best films of sxsw 2016

Most Pleasant Surprise: I Am Not a Serial Killer

The best feeling you can have at a film festival is when you stumble into a movie that you know nothing about and emerge from the theater knowing that you’ve seen something special. I had no expectations for I Am Not a Serial Killer (it was just a random pick to fill a slot where I had no priorities) and it ended up being one of my favorite movies at SXSW this year. I’m actually shocked that the film didn’t generate more audible buzz – it’s a better and more satisfying midnight movie than most of the films in this year’s “Midnighters” category. It’s an intriguing mystery, a nasty creature feature, and a chance to watch Christopher Lloyd remind us that every film that doesn’t cast him is missing out on utilizing one of our great actors. If you like your horror movies to come packaged with humanity in addition to (admittedly cool) monsters, I Am Not a Serial Killer is a must-see.

best films of sxsw 2016

Most WTF Moment: The Final 20 Minutes of Sausage Party

The work-in-progress version of Sausage Party that screened at SXSW was incredibly unfinished. Giant stretches of this raunchy, R-rated animated comedy were not fully rendered and a number of shots were hand-drawn or still frames. There’s still a ton of work to be done and any kind of definitive review would be unfair. And yet, it can be said with full confidence that nothing you see in 2016 will top the final twenty minutes of the film for sheer, batshit insanity. There are no spoilers here. You deserve to let this movie happen to you while you’re fresh. While you’re innocent. Love it or hate it, the climax of this film, a cartoon about talking food, will dig a deep trench in your psyche and embed all kinds of images you may never be able to shake. I want to see Sausage Party again because I want to see the finished version (and see if I was crazy for laughing so much at this screening), but I mostly want to watch other people watch the climax. I want to look into someone else’s eyes as their brain boils.

Continue Reading /Film’s SXSW 2016 Awards >>

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