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The 13 Most Thrilling, Exciting, Adventurous, Titillating, and Anticipated Films of the 2011 SXSW Film Festival

By Dustin Rowles | Lists | March 11, 2011 |

By Dustin Rowles | Lists | March 11, 2011 |

The Sundance Film Festival has a certain reputation for being one of those whimsiquirkilicious fests, and that’s true to a certain extent. There’s plenty there that doesn’t fit that mold, but then there’s quite a bit that hews closely to the whimiscal indie formula. It’s why I like Sundance so much.

SXSW is a different beast altogether. Edgier, riskier, darker. It’s like a week full of midnight movies screened all day long. But where there’s risks, there is also a downside: For every gem, there’s a turd sitting at the bottom of the bowl. And, as many of these films will be screened for the first time at SXSW, there’s no way of knowing what you’re going to get until you experience it. That’s part of the thrill of the annual film festival: It’s an endurance test to find the hidden pleasures. And with the Alamo Drafthouse, even the bad movies are easy to endure. The alcohol certainly doesn’t hurt.

Today, much of the Pajiba staff will be converging on Austin to take in six months’ worth of films in six days, which means you’re going to be seeing a lot of reviews over the next week. Many of these movies you will never have heard of; many others, you may never hear of again. Some, perhaps we can get you excited about, while others we can warn you away from when they hit theaters this year and next. Many of them, in fact, will be in theaters this month and next.

If you’re in town, besides checking out the festival screenings, I also encourage to visit a couple of panels being held on Monday. The first is You Are Not a Publicist: Criticism vs. Advertising, a panel idea that Daniel Carlson hatched. He’ll be sitting on that panel with Neil Miller from Film School Rejects, Todd Gilchrist from Box Office Magazine, Devin Faraci from Bad Ass Digest, and Marjorie Baumgarten from The Austin Chronicle. I expect this one will be occasionally contentious. Do check it out, Monday at 2 p.m. at the Austin Convention Center.

Meanwhile, I will also be sitting on a panel, as well, at 5 p.m. on that same day. The Blogger Centipede: How Content is Eroding Credibility will focus on plagiarism, ethics, and the troubling aspects of trade news coverage on movie blogs. I’ll be sitting on that panel from sometimes Pajiba contributor William Goss, Anne Thompson from Thompson on Hollywood, Matt Patches from THE FUCKING INTERNET, and Kate Erbland from Gordon and the Whale. I’m hoping for the opportunity to shout a lot.

Meanwhile, there will be a lot of films. These are the ones I’m most excited about, although at this point — besides WIN WIN — I have no fucking clue if any of them will be any goddamn good. And that’s part of the fun.

Attack The Block
Director & Writer: Joe Cornish
Cast: Jodie Whittaker, John Boyega, Alex Esmail, Franz Drameh, Leeon Jones, Simon Howard, Luke Treadaway, Jumayn Hunter and Nick Frost.

A funny, frightening action adventure movie that pits a teen gang against an invasion of alien monsters. It turns a tower block into a sci-fi playground. It’s inner city versus outer space.

A Year in Mooring
Director: Chris Eyre, Writer: Peter Vanderwall
Cast: Josh Lucas, Ayelet Zurer, James Cromwell, Jon Tenney, Taylor Nichols.

In his first leading dramatic role, Josh Lucas walks an isolated line between solitude and redemption. This quiet cinematic journey tells a of tale grief, solace and peace.

A Bag of Hammers
Director: Brian Crano, Writers: Brian Crano & Jake Sandvig
Cast: Jason Ritter, Jake Sandvig, Chandler Canterbury, Rebecca Hall, Carrie Preston

An offbeat comedy about two misfit best friends incapable of growing up, whose direction is tested by an abandoned child, worn beyond his years; together they invent the family they’ve always needed.

Director: Spencer Susser, Writers: Spencer Susser & David Michôd
Cast: Natalie Portman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rainn Wilson, Devin Brochu, Piper Laurie

Loud music. Pornography. Burning shit down - just a few of Hesher’s favorite things. And it’s just this kind of anarchy that’s needed to shake the burdens of sorrow from a boy and his father.

Director: James Wan, Writer: Leigh Whannell
Cast: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye, Ty Simpkins, Barbara Hershey

Dark spirits have possessed the home of a family whose son has fallen into a coma. Trying to save him, the family moves only to realize that it was not their house that was haunted.

Director: Errol Morris

Errol Morris further redefines and pushes the boundaries of documentary film with the tale of Joyce McKinney and the infamous “Case of the Manacled Mormon.”

The Beaver
Director: Jodie Foster, Writer: Kyle Killen
Cast: Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence, Cherry Jones

Two-time Academy Award® winner Jodie Foster directs and co-stars with two-time Academy Award® winner Mel Gibson in an emotional story about a man on a journey to re-discover his family and re-start his life. Plagued by his own demons, Walter Black was once a successful toy executive and family man who now suffers from depression. No matter what he tries, Walter can’t seem to get himself back on track…until a beaver hand puppet enters his life.

Foo Fighters
Director: James Moll

The definitive documentary of the last great American rock n’ roll band: chronicling Foo Fighters’ 16 year history from their first club gigs to the recording of their new album in Dave Grohl’s garage.

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop
Director: Rodman Flender

Did Conan O’Brien go on tour to connect with his fans or fill a void within himself? Rodman Flender’s documentary captures an artist trained in improvisation at the most improvisational time of his career.

Director: Tom McCarthy, Writers: Tom McCarthy & Joe Tiboni
Cast: Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor, Burt Young, Melanie Lynskey, Alex Schaffer, Margo Martindale, David Thompson

Tom McCarthy, acclaimed writer/director of The Visitor and The Station Agent, once again explores the depths and nuances of human relationships in his new film about the allegiances and bonds between unlikely characters.

Director: Greg Mottola, Writers: Simon Pegg & Nick Frost
Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Blythe Danner, John Carroll Lynch, with Sigourney Weaver, and Seth Rogen as Paul.

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost reunite as two geeks who meet an alien named Paul (Seth Rogen) on a pilgrimage to America’s UFO heartland. Their road trip will alter our universe forever.

Source Code
Director: Duncan Jones, Writer: Ben Ripley
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright.

When soldier Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up in the body of an unknown man, he discovers he’s part of a mission to find the bomber of a Chicago commuter train. In an assignment unlike any he’s ever known, he learns he’s part of a government experiment called the “Source Code,” a computer program that enables him to cross over into another man’s identity in the last 8 minutes of his life.

Director & Writer: James Gunn
Cast: Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Liv Tyler, Kevin Bacon, Michael Rooker.

In this outlandish dark comedy, James Gunn has created what is perhaps the definitive take on self-reflexive superheroes.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.