Forget the weather: everyone knows the worst parts of winter are the cinematic dregs dumped into cineplexes this time of year while the art houses are clogged with awards show leftovers from 2019. But spring is just around the corner and festival season’s already in full swing with a crop of fresh new films for 2020, including Culture Vulture’s picks for the must see, can’t miss titles coming soon to the screens of South-By-Southwest from March 13-22.
Deciding what to experience at the all-you-can eat Austin, TX pop culture buffet is an annual challenge, typically dictated as much by the vagaries of schedule and seating capacity as pre-festival buzz, and this year’s program features an especially intriguing line-up of projects, from the premiere of “Snowpiercer” (a post-apocalyptic new TNT series based on the 2013 film by Oscar “It” Kid Bong Joon Ho) to “The Dilemma of Desire,” director Maria Finitzo’s documentary about four women attempting to improve cultural “cliteracy” surrounding the female orgasm.
And while I may wind up attending either or both of those screenings…my personal itinerary of Must See, Can’t Miss screenings for SXSW 2020 as of this writing includes:
1. “The King of Staten Island”: SXSW’s prime opening night slot goes to Judd Apatow’s world premiere feature film showcase for “Saturday Night Live”‘s troubled live-wire marijuana enthusiast Pete Davidson (playing a troubled live-wire marijuana enthusiast). Though destined for wide release, the charismatic cast (including Marisa Tomei, Bill Burr, and “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”‘s outstanding Bel Powley) should make for one of the week’s liveliest post-screening Q&A sessions.
2. “Cut Throat City”: Given that he made his albums intentionally cinematic so that people could “listen to a movie in their car” while driving, the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA’s directorial chops combined with a socially relevant crime drama set amid the decimation of post-Katrina New Orleans and an A-list cast including Wesley Snipes, Terrence Howard, and Ethan Hawke seems likely to be another one of the festival’s especially memorable world premieres.
3. “She Dies Tomorrow”: The premise of this thriller is plenty intriguing as two friends (indie darlings Kate Lyn Sheil and Jane Adams) are both gripped by an inexplicable yet visceral sense that…well, the title says it all. But the real reason this world premiere is a must-see is that Amy Seimetz’s previous feature as a writer/director, the 2012 crime drama “Sun Don’t Shine,” was one of my favorite SXSW films of all time (not to mention that she’s also directed episodes of “Atlanta,” likewise one of my favorite TV shows of all time).
4. “Miss Juneteenth”: Billed as a “festival favorite” after its critically acclaimed Sundance premiere, this Texas-set feature debut by writer/director Channing Godfrey Peoples centers on a single mother (Nicole Beharie) grooming her rebellious daughter (Alexis Chikaeze) to claim the titular beauty pageant title in what sounds like a potential audience award winner and SXSW favorite, as well.
5. “The Lovebirds”: Kumail Nanjiani, Issa Rae, and director Michael Showalter form a supergroup of funny for this lovers on the lam tale of a couple falsely accused of murder in a world premiere likely to provide some of the biggest laughs of the week (outside of SXSW’s parallel comedy festival).
1. “Once Upon a Time in Uganda”: From Ed Wood and Spike Lee to Austin’s own Richard Linklater and the “mumblecore” movement (including Greta Gerwig, Lena Dunham, and the Duplass Brothers, all of whom largely came to prominence at SXSW), indie filmmakers are defined by a scrappy determination to finish their movies by any means necessary — making this true-life tale of a partnership between a New York film programmer and “Africa’s Tarantino” (co-directed by Cathryne Czubek and Hugo Perez) a perfect fit for the festival’s traditionally strong documentary slate.
2. “Clerk” – And speaking of must see docs about indie icons, another scrappy go-getter made good gets his close-up in this profile (by Malcolm Ingram) of the one-time convenience store cashier turned filmmaker, SModcaster, and cult-of-personality provocateur whose View Askewniverse predated the MCU by over a decade.
3. “For Madmen Only” – Another can’t miss film/comedy fest crossover is Heather Ross’s tribute to Del Close, the legendary Second City improv guru who personally mentored and/or inspired everyone from John Belushi to Tina Fey while helping to launch the modern pop culture humor industrial complex.
4. “Have A Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics”: Meanwhile, Donick Cary’s documentary goes even further in terms of SXSW convergence by adding live music (courtesy of Yo La Tengo) to this very special St. Patrick’s Day screening of comic documentary mayhem as Sarah Silverman, Rosie Perez, Nick Offerman, King Ad-Rock and other talking “heads” share their positive and negative experiences with lysergic acid diethylamide.
5. “Feels Good Man” & “TFW NO GF”: And finally, for those seeking more dramatic documentary fare about the current state of the world, these two separate features offer thematically linked perspectives on recent U.S. events, with director Arthur Jones examining the bizarre transformation of a cartoon stoner frog into a symbol of the alt-right — some (but not all) of whom similarly overlap with the sometimes angry, often sorrowful community of incels (a.k.a. “involuntarily celibate” twentysomethings) profiled in Alex Lee Moyer’s examination of a largely invisible yet influential online demographic.