SXSW can be fun and all, but after everything is over, what really matters (for a film critic) is being able to predict the spring movie climate. Looking back over my past six years attending the world famous film festival in Austin, there are typically at least two stand out films. At least two films that are good enough, even in March, to land on my top ten list and/or jump to early awards consideration. Last year, Ex Machina and Love & Mercy were both early awards contenders. The year before, both Boyhood and Grand Budapest Hotel debuted at SXSW and went on to each receive best picture nominations at the Oscars.
This year I was admittedly underwhelmed by the 10 films I saw, and doubt even my top two films - Midnight Special or Transpecos - will end up on my end-of-year best or nominated for any awards. Still, I caught a wide variety of films from musical biopics, westerns, romance, comedy, horror, etc. The success of most film festivals always depends on the time of year they occur, and the films that fill their slate. SXSW skews more independent than most, and isn’t as much of a buyers’ market as say Sundance or Toronto, where distributers flock and debate busy day on Wall Street. The first quarter isn’t a great time for films either.
While both Midnight Special and Demolition came into SXSW with release dates and distributors, the real winner was Transpecos, making its world premiere. At the time of this publication, Transpecos still doesn’t have a distributor, but as I predicted after seeing it and hearing the buzz on Twitter, it won the audience award. It was the most important film I saw at the festival; the one that had the most emotion and social relevance. It also has a breakout performance from Austin-born actor Gabriel Luna, who in a fair and balanced world, would be an early frontrunner for best actor.
Many of the films will have wide or well-promoted limited releases due to their marquee star attachments. Yet others will barely, if ever, find their way to cinemas. What’s worse are the films I missed due to a busy schedule of red carpets and interviews; you always worry something slipped through the cracks. (Although last year's SXSW Grand Jury Prize winner Krisha is hitting theaters this month, and it’s a big waste of time.)
For more SXSW 2016 coverage, visit texasartfilm.com.