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Our 10 Favorite Performances Of The SXSW Film Festival

By The Pajiba Staff | Lists | March 14, 2013 |

By The Pajiba Staff | Lists | March 14, 2013 |

Joseph Gordon-Levitt — Don Jon: Joseph Gordon-Levitt is getting better and better at doing what all stars have to do to succeed: he wins you over so much with his good performances (and off-screen personality) that his good movies stick with you while his bad ones fade away. (Hey there, Premium Rush fan, if you’re out there.) His feature debut as a writer and director is a stylized, insightful look at the emotional baggage of porn addiction, and he’s fantastic as the swaggering lead character, who’s so caught up in his own insecurities he can’t see how close he is to losing control. It’d be easy to just make the guy a bruiser, but Gordon-Levitt gives him real soul. — Daniel Carlson

Amy Seimetz — Upstream Color: If you’ve seen writer/director/actor Shane Carruth’s first film, Primer, you’ll have a good idea of what brand of mindf*ck you can expect from Upstream Color. An intentionally vague, dream-like and disjointed plot centers around a pas de deux between Carruth’s male lead and the beautifully raw-boned Amy Seimetz. But Carruth is far better behind the scenes than he is in front of the camera and so Seimetz becomes the emotional anchor of Carruth’s whirling tale. It’s her face we hold onto when everything else stops making sense. — Joanna Robinson

Nathan Fillion — Much Ado About Nothing: Fillion is no stranger to flexing his comedic chops, and it comes as a surprise to nobody around these parts that he absolutely kills it in Joss Whedon’s imperfect Much Ado About Nothing as the comedic constable Dogberry. He just fits this role like a glove, and delivers Shakespeare’s lines with a glossy wit all the while lumbering about in a manner befitting the silent comedies of a bygone era. Fillion’s performance may not have been the best that we saw at the fest, and it certainly wasn’t the most dramatic, but it was hands down the most entertaining. — Seth Freilich

Scarlett Johansson — Don Jon: As we know from her hosting stint on Saturday Night Live, if there’s one thing ScarJo can do, it’s a trashy Jersey (or Bronx) accent. She brings it in full in Don Jon, and her performance is wildly successful, although it’s hard to tell if it’s great actresssin’ or simply a product of great casting: She plays a super hot, super trashy emotionally detached Marilyn Monroe by way of New Jersey. There’s no depth to the character by design, which makes it a perfect role for ScarJo. — Dustin Rowles


Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland — Mud: Matthew McConaughey may be the top-billed star for Jeff Nichols’ Mud, but it’s his young co-stars who are the real scene-stealers. Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland star as Ellis and Neckbone, friends in their early teens living along the Mississippi River in Arkansas. They are naturals, delivering two of the most believable performances from child actors in recent memory. Nichols gave them great material, and he stressed in a question-and-answer session after the screening they were neither playing versions of themselves nor simply saying as many lines as they could remember with Nichols and crew having to direct and edit around them. They not only learned but became their parts and infused them with a level of pathos many adults couldn’t replicate. McConaughey is great in the film, but you’ll leave the theater thinking about these kids. — Sarah Carlson
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Amy Acker — Much Ado About Nothing: Not everyone can handle the ins and outs of 400-year-old dialogue, but Amy Acker’s so good at it you forget just how old the source material for Much Ado About Nothing really is. She hits all the notes you’d expect from a Whedon female lead — spunky but vulnerable, passionate but cautious — but it’s the effortless way she does it that sets her apart from almost everyone else in the film. She’s engaging, funny, and the anchor of the whole film. That she isn’t in more movies is criminal. — DC

Kyle Chandler — The Spectacular Now I was just complaining last week that Chandler hasn’t done anything even remotely worthy of his talent since the end of “Friday Night Lights. I spoke too soon. As a deadbeat dad to a troubled and disconnected teen, Chandler obliterates his heroic Coach Taylor image. Rumpled, stubbly and completely absent emotionally, his southern fried take on the embodiment of a Jimmy Buffet concert is heart-breaking to watch. The film is likable enough on its own but doesn’t plumb any emotional depths until Chandler shows up. I hated watching him play a terrible father, but he was damn good at it. —JR

Julie Delpy — Before Midnight: Julie Delpy will frustrate the hell out of you in Before Midnight. Or really, her character Celine will, and that’s a compliment. Celine is flawed, and so is her lover Jesse (Ethan Hawke), in Richard Linklater’s relationship triptych, the third installment coming 18 years after the first. But she is believable. Delpy is perfect in her ability to participate in exhaustive dialogues — much of the movie consists of long, long scenes done in one take — that never feel forced or even rehearsed. Delpy and Hawke share writing credits with Linklater, both having helped develop the characters and direct them on the path they now find themselves on, almost two decades after meeting on a train in Vienna. Celine isn’t always easy to like, but Delpy still makes her lovable by making her real. — SC

James Franco — Spring Breakers: I don’t particularly care for Harmony Korrine’s brand of filmmaking, and this one was no exception. Only Korrine can make something as provocative as rampant drug use, gratuitous nudity, and mouth raping with a pistol as tedious as Korrine can. Nevertheless, James Franco transcends the Korrine moolash with a hilarious, magnetic, and incredibly skeevy performance as this sort of fake Scarface rapper d-bag who earnestly belts out a Britney Spears song in between gunplay and orgies. It doesn’t salvage the film, but at least when Franco is onscreen, Spring Breakers is close to watchable. — DR


Brie Larson — Short Term 12: Dustin will have his review of Short Term 12 up soon, and I’m sure he’ll have plenty to say about Brie Larson’s performance. And that’s because, while she’s been around for a while now and delivered quite a few entertaining performances, she’s never got her actressin’ on like this. Short Term 12 could have been a treacly, by-the-numbers Lifetime movie, but Larson turned it into something outstanding in a performance that is so good because it’s just so natural. Larson is warm and funny and grounded, and never tries to over do things. She just does it right. Remember how Jennifer Lawrence exploded after Winter’s Bone? Brie better buckle up because she’s about to take the same ride. — SF