Hey everyone! I am so excited to finally be getting you my thoughts on the SXSW 2023 Film Festival and my ranking on each of the 11 films I saw while in Austin, Texas (12 if you consider Shazam: Fury of the Gods.)
Let me start by saying I had a great trip. It was my 2nd time in Austin and it’s such a fun town. The festival is massive, not only covering movies but music and innovative speakers. My pass was just for the movie portion but I’d like to go back again sometime and go to some concerts and other entertainment while I’m there.
I had heard some complaints from friends who arrived at the festival before I did- waiting in long lines, it taking 3 hours to get their badges- but that wasn’t my experience. I stayed mostly to the suburbs and got into everything I wanted to see whether I had an express pass or not.
I’m so grateful to the Chandler Family for letting me stay with them. It was so cute their little girls made my room a hotel room for my stay complete with a homemade key-card and reader. I honestly miss them and wish they lived closer so I could see the whole family more easily.
I also got to see friends attending the festival like Katie Carter and Anthony Digioia as well as my old friend Emily who drove all the way from San Antonio to have lunch. My only wish is that I lived closer to my friends because I miss them so much when I’m gone.
Ranking the Movies
Now let’s get to the movies. Like I said I saw 11 movies at the festival and it was a good mixture of documentaries, shorts, and both big and indie releases. There wasn’t anything that I hated (which is always nice at a festival) but some I liked more than others. Here goes:
11. Is There Anybody Out There?
I have to admit I fell asleep for a portion of this one. Part of that is fatigue on my part but the other part is a documentary that would have been better as a short. I think Ella Glendining is a super cool person and I enjoyed following her journey to find others with a similar disability; however, it starts to feel repetitive after a while, which hurt my interest. It’s not bad just a little on the dry side.
5 out of 10
10. With Love and a Major Organ-
I have mixed feelings on this one. It has some surreal and quirky moments and I appreciate its trying something new and artistic. However, some sequences seemed to be strange for strange sake and I left feeling unclear with what the director Kim Albright was trying to say. It’s set in a world where you can remove your organs, particularly heart, and give it to someone else- usually as some kind of act of revenge. Clearly she’s trying to say something about loneliness and modern-day relationships but I’m not really sure what that is? It’s an interesting movie but one that didn’t quite come together for me.
6 out of 10
9. You Were My First Boyfriend
Here we have another film I think would be better as a short. There’s lots of good ideas in You Were My First Boyfriend and I defy anyone to watch it and not find sequences they relate to, but there are also segments that feel way too long and it lost my interest. For example, director Cecilia Aldarondo spends a long time recreating a Tori Amos music video because it was a favorite of hers as a teenager. What could have been a few sentences about how music impacted her as a teenager ends up as a 20 minute making of a music video. That said, I did like the segment recreating a bullying incident at a sleepaway camp and it reminded me of when I had a similar incident in 8th grade. The title is kind of misleading because the high school crush segment is brief and it is more about her childhood best friend. That part I enjoyed and found quite moving so it was a mixed bag.
6 out of 10
8. Black Barbie: A Documentary-
I hate to sound like a broken record but this is another documentary that would have been better as a short. There’s a lot of good stuff here about Black Barbie but also the history of diversity at Matel and dolls in general. I loved hearing from the creator of Black Barbie and the other Black designers working at Matel over the years. The problem is they spend a lot of time on research with kids playing with Barbies and it starts to feel repetitive and dry after a while. Still, I’m glad this came out the year of the Barbie Movie and I hope people seek it out and have their kids play with all kinds of Barbies and dolls.
6 out of 10
7. Late Bloomers
This is a sweet if a bit overly-long friendship story. Karen Gillan plays a depressed young woman who breaks her hip spying on an ex-boyfriend of hers. While recovering she meets a Polish woman named Antonia who she begrudgingly begins to help and become friends. This helps her understand her own Mother who has Alzheimer’s. I think a lot of people will be able to relate to Karen’s character and while it does drag at times it has its heart in the right place.
6 out of 10
6. Animated Shorts Program
I am so grateful to Morgan at Rotoscopers for helping me get my press credentials. As such I reviewed the animated shorts over on their site including my ranking of all 10. You can read that here.
5. Hung Up on a Dream
Pretty much every festival I attend has a band documentary- usually a classic rock band that is underappreciated. Sundance had one on The Indigo Girls, NYFF had one on David Johansen and the list goes on. SXSW has Hung Up on a Dream which is about the band The Zombies. Of all these band documentaries this one is towards the top. The journey of The Zombies is so unique and I felt like I got to know each of the band numbers. It’s not your typical wild rock n roll life but more of a story where luck often wasn’t on their side but they enjoy the ride anyway. It was cool 2 of the band members were there and had a panel after the movie. They seem like really cool guys and I enjoyed learning about them.
7 out of 10
Because of my eye issues I don’t play many video games but Tetris is the one exception. I’ve wasted many an afternoon mixing up blocks into rows, so I was fascinated to learn about all that went down in the creation and licensing of the game. Taron Egerton plays Henk Rogers who discovers the game in 1988 and Nikita Efremov plays Alexey Pajitnov who invents the game in the USSR. The movie starts off a little slow. The first 20 minutes feel like nothing but board meetings but then when the USSR, Japan, UK and USA factions all get involved it starts to get more exciting. Eventually it becomes a story of unlikely friendship between Alexey and Henk. It was neat to have the real life Henk and Alexey at the screening but even so this story of international intrigue should entertain any fan of the game.
7 out of 10
3. Peak Season
Bittersweet love stories seem to be the theme of 2023. We had Past Lives, Flora & Son at Sundance and now Peak Season at SXSW. This one is set in beautiful Jackson Hole, Wyoming and follows engaged Amy (Claudia Restrepo) as she finds a friend in local vagabond fly fishing instructor Loren (Derrick DeBlasis) while her fiancé is away. Of course I prefer more traditional romances but this is still very well done. The dialogue feels authentic and natural and the mountains are stunning. I think anyone who loved Cha Cha Real Smooth last year will enjoy this movie- except I prefer this and its ending to that.
8 out of 10
2. Join or Die-
I’ve been a big fan of Robert Putnam’s work since I was a political science undergrad from 1998-2002. If you don’t know he wrote a book called Bowling Alone which looked at trends in joining groups and how that impacts all parts of American life including politics. In this movie Join or Die we catch up with Putnam and see how group behavior has changed in the 20 years since his book. If you think about it so much has changed in those decades including obviously online groups and the recent pandemic. I honestly think everyone should watch this movie. It’s put together in an approachable and entertaining way and it’s a conversation we need to be having.
8 out of 10
1. Molli and Max: In the Future-
Naturally SXSW was very proud of the fact this year’s surprise Best Picture winner EEAAO premiered at their festival in 2022. And in my opinion if any film is going to repeat that success it is this quirky sci-fi romcom Molly and Max: In the Future. This film basically takes When Harry Met Sally and puts it in a brightly colored engaging space world. I’m not the biggest sci-fi person but this doesn’t take itself too seriously and has fun with a world of bright colors and 2 friends, Molli (Zosia Mamet) and Max (Aristotle Athari) who meet with an undeniable spark and then proceed to spend the next 2 decades running into each other and almost falling in love. I enjoyed pretty much everything about this fun romance with an engaging script and visual effects that include miniatures, practical effects and CGI/green screen. It all worked quite seamlessly and Athari and Mamet have delightful chemistry. I hope this gets a good rollout because it is charming.
9 out of 10
So there you have it! I had a great time at the festival and saw a lot of terrific movies. I also got to cover my first red carpet for a movie (or series) premiere while I was there which was a wonderful experience. It was for the Disney Plus series A Small Light, which I didn’t get to see yet but had a great time talking to the cast and crew.
What do you think of the movies I saw? Any stand out to you or look interesting? Let me know in the comments section.
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