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Ranking: SXSW 2016 Films From Worst to Best

on March 20, 2016, 4:30pm

South by Southwest is all about surprises — some good, some bad. What started out admittedly rocky — ahem, having a personal existential crisis for being (so far) the only critic let down by Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some — quickly turned around with a number of intriguing and exciting titles, from Mike Flanagan’s terrifying Hush to Irene Taylor Brodsky’s haunting documentary, Beware the Slenderman.

From there, the film festival became a roller coaster of ups and downs, all of which you’ll see in this exhaustive recap of our 32 full-length film reviews. Oddly enough, there wasn’t anything we particular loathed; in fact, we were fairly enthused with even our lowest ranked fare. That’s a relief in and of itself and also speaks to the overall quality.

sxsw film paramount kaplan Ranking: SXSW 2016 Films From Worst to BestIt should be noted that we’ve chosen to leave out several titles that we’ve already covered at past festivals, specifically Don Cheadle’s Miles Ahead, Jean-Marc Vallée’s Demolition, Chad Hartigan’s Morris From America, Jim Hosking’s The Greasy Strangler, Babak Anvari’s Under the Shadow, and Mickey Keating’s Carnage Park.

Once again, we missed some much-heralded films — specifically, the acclaimed jury award winners: Adam Pinney’s The Arbalest and Matt Ornstein’s Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America — and couldn’t make it into a workprint screening of Key and Peele’s forthcoming action comedy, Keanu.

Nevertheless, this year’s South by Southwest was an absolute thrill ride, one where JJ Abrams could pop up and introduce a new print of Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm, or where Doug Benson might kick out an obnoxious texter during a movie screening. Both of these happened and we witnessed all of it.

Here’s your chance to relive some of it.

–Michael Roffman
Editor-in-Chief

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Don’t Breathe

don't-breathe

Grade: C-

Like the Detroit setting, the film’s rapacious content is just another narrative tool for Fede Alvarez. He employs it to shock and disgust, but it is used with a sense of irresponsibility when considering the real-world implications. The film is disappointing because of its great possibilities. Alvarezs Evil Dead left many wondering what this visually talented director would do next. Inconsistent and offensive, Don’t Breathe is not the follow-up many will have wanted. The man has talent, and still looks to have a hopeful future. But next time, please don’t send us to Detroit. [Read Marten Carlson’s full review.]

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Claire In Motion

Claire in Motion

Grade: C-

Any sense of mystery or suspense quickly dissipates as the film returns again and again to repetitive and terse exchanges between Claire and Allison, whose revelations aren’t as surprising as they’re probably intended to be. Any hints as to Paul’s whereabouts are either ephemeral or conjectural, and, while true-to-life, this results in a plot that seems to stall every time it starts lurching forward. This frustrating lack of closure is an important aspect of Claire in Motion‘s raison d’être, but it doesn’t bear much cinematic fruit. The movie is, unfortunately, just quite dull. [Read Randall Colburn’s full review.]

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The Waiting

the waiting e1458429913129 Ranking: SXSW 2016 Films From Worst to Best

Grade: C-

Screenwriters Mark Bianculli and Jeff Richard are too obsessed with driving their freshman thesis home, to the point that they fracture their own storytelling by overstuffing the narrative. It’s kind of ironic; for a film that’s all about perspective, you’d think they’d at least get that facet right, but no, they hop from the past, the present, and into the mind of a dead man with ease. By the end, you start feeling like Grainey yourself, enough that you kind of want to stand up and scream, “Get off my lawn, you goddamn film!” [Read Michael Roffman’s full review.]
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Pet

 Ranking: SXSW 2016 Films From Worst to Best

Grade: C

Once Holly’s in her kennel, Pet becomes bogged down by flashbacks, ghosts/imaginary friends, and other ham-fisted devices that dump the surprises in the viewer’s lap instead of unveiling them through pathos and ambiguous performances. While Monaghan and Solo add their own tics to the archetypes of stalker and nice girl early on in the film, they each feel like completely different people once the movie switches gears. This suggests that all that came before was a facade for Seth and Holly rather than just another facet to their characters. That’s not the intent, of course — Slater very much wants both members of the twisted couple to be complicated — but the acting says otherwise. [Read Dan Caffrey’s full review.]
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Gary Numan: Android in La La Land

garynuman Ranking: SXSW 2016 Films From Worst to Best

Grade: C

Directors Steve Read and Rob Alexander get a little too greedy with their subject, and as a result, their documentary starts to sag under its own ambitions. It’s perfectly understandable. Gary Numan is notoriously reclusive, and as fans, it’s only natural for the filmmakers to want to explore too many aspects of his life, rather than a handful of interesting elements. [Read Dan Caffrey’s full review.]
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My Father, Die

 Ranking: SXSW 2016 Films From Worst to Best

Grade: C+

It’s too bad that My Father, Die indulges in so much bad behavior. Sean Brosnan (son of Pierce, by the way) is clearly a talented director, but there’s a mania to the film that detracts from its power, especially once intertitles appear during the closing credits that draw unwarranted and unnecessary comparisons to Irish playwright J.M. Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World, another story of attempted patricide. Brosnan would benefit from a streamlined approach, one that emphasizes his talent for subtle character work and breakneck chases over greasy depravity. More often than not, a good story is all you need. [Read Randall Colburn’s full review.]
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Spaceship

 Ranking: SXSW 2016 Films From Worst to Best

Grade: C+

Early in the going, it would be easy to mistake Spaceship for a Gregg Araki movie. Scantily clad teens abound, as do the psychedelic colors, slow motion, and supernatural touchstones that dominated Araki cult flicks like Nowhere and Doom Generation. But Alex Taylor’s odd, dreamy film slowly comes into its own, due in large part to the director and writer’s tonal consistency and an evocative world that’s cunningly deceptive in the way it toes the tightrope strung between reality and fantasy. [Read Randall Colburn’s full review.]
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War on Everyone

 Ranking: SXSW 2016 Films From Worst to Best

Grade: C+

John Michael McDonagh seems to have more to say in War on Everyone, but it’s lost among the narrative and stylistic inconsistencies. Characters mention ISIS, women’s rights, and police brutality — all hot-button issues and pieces of social criticism — but they just don’t add up here. Bob offers nuggets of wisdom as he pontificates, but our laughter deflects real understanding. The influence of the buddy comedies of Shane Black is obvious, but the film never reaches the heights of a film like Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang. War on Everyone is always funny, but it could have been so much more. [Read Marten Carlson’s full review.]
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Everybody Wants Some

 Ranking: SXSW 2016 Films From Worst to Best

Grade: C+

Rather than expand the scope and involve a rogues gallery of corollary characters — such as Zoey Deutch’s Beverly, who becomes a beacon of light 60% of the way through the film — we’re stuck with a group of guys who drink, duel, and dance. A lot of it’s funny — for instance, any scenes involving Glen Powell’s admittedly charming Finnegan or Tyler Hoechlin’s testy McReynolds — but hanging out with these guys eventually becomes a chore. That lack of perspective will undoubtedly affect how Everybody Wants Some ages through the years. [Read Michael Roffman’s full review.]
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Teenage Cocktail

Teenage Cocktail

Grade: B-

During the brief talkback after the screening, the moderator pointed out to John Carchietta how, despite his ickiness, Frank is a somewhat sympathetic character. Carchietta didn’t seem to agree with the sentiment, stating that, at the end of the day, Frank remains a creep and deserves anything bad that could possibly happen to him in the movie. I’m not at all saying that pedophiles are decent people and shouldn’t be punished, but it’s interesting to see the director drawn to the vengeful moments of the film, when he actually ends up nailing the more subtle, painful aspects of teenhood. That’s a harder thing to pull off than a grindhouse flick, which makes Teenage Cocktail an impressive, if slightly uneven, debut. [Read Dan Caffrey’s full review.]
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The Smart Studios Story

 Ranking: SXSW 2016 Films From Worst to Best

Grade: B-

Featuring a veritable who’s who of Alternative Rock 101 — so, Billy Corgan, Dave Grohl,Shirley Manson, Donita Sparks, Jimmy Chamberlin, Doug Erikson, Tom Hazelmyer, and many, many more (in addition to Vig and Marker, obviously) — Wendy Schneider attempts to trace the roots of that movement back to not only Smart Studios but the Midwest in general. At an all-too-lean 90 minutes, she doesn’t give herself much time to do the job to the fullest, but it’s still an enjoyable and enlightening watch. Chock full of never-before-seen archival footage, squiggly animations, chummy anecdotes, and enthusiastic interviews, the scrappy rock doc that could is a “little piece of heaven” for nostalgic fans everywhere. [Read Michael Roffman’s full review.]
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The Art of Organized Noize

organizednoize Ranking: SXSW 2016 Films From Worst to Best

Grade: B-

If one can get past the bloated runtime and unnecessary stroking of egos, The Art of Organized Noize is a story that demands to be heard by anyone with an interest in hip-hop. Even today, when the art form is arguably more progressive than ever in its creativity, no one operates quite like Wade, Brown, and Murray, who are more of a free-thinking band than the typical rap producers. When you have Outkast, Future, and even an egomaniac like Diddy praising your workmanship and innovation, that’s saying something. [Read Dan Caffrey’s full review.]
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