Here's the thing about any major film festival: the true gems, the must-see-movies, will reveal themselves with time. The beauty of a fest like SXSW is that you can go into a movie knowing absolutely nothing about it and leave the theater having seen one of the best films of the year.
Because of this, making a "Top 10 Most Anticipated Films of SXSW" list is a bit of a fool's errand. For all I know, none of these films will end up being the best of the fest.
However, you can't not have expectations. It's impossible to browse the line-up and not get excited by one film or another. Why even go to SXSW if you're not already pumped for a few films?
So, without further ado and presented in alphabetical order, here are the 10 SXSW films you should go out of your way to see.
The Act of Killing
There is not film at SXSW this year that promises to be less fun than The Act of Killing, but there's also no film that promises to be more compelling.
What begins as a documentary about the Indonesian death squads of the 1960s quickly evolves into something even more horrifying, as the men behind the deaths of thousands of innocent people (who are celebrated as heroes today) are asked to re-enact their crimes on camera in the style of a Hollywood film.
Joshua Oppenheimer's film has proven controversial and divisive at other festivals and rightfully so: it's not every day that a film deals so bluntly with the evil that men do.
Big Ass Spider!
Look, this movie is called Big Ass Spider!, and yes, the exclamation point is part of the title. Of course it was going to make this list! There's something audacious about a title that blunt — it just demands your attention.
As part of the SXSW Midnighters line-up (a.k.a, where all of the weird and scary movies go), Big Ass Spider! has the responsibility to make its audience either squirm or scream or question all that's good and holy in this world.
That title is good start. With luck, the movie will deliver the late-night goods. The fact that it starts awesome character actor Greg Grunberg doesn't hurt either.
Grow Up, Tony Phillips
Director Emily Hagins has spent the past few years attempting to stop being that pre-teen girl who became internet-famous after making a zombie movie and start being a serious adult filmmaker with a voice worthy of your attention.
SXSW favorite My Sucky Teen Romance was a major step forward for the young director and Grow Up, Tony Phillips sees her stepping into unfamiliar and (dare I say it?) adult territory.
A Halloween-themed comedy about a "high school senior who doesn’t think childhood passions should have an expiration date," Grow Up, Tony Phillips showcases the continuing evolution of one of Austin's most promising talents.
Much Ado About Nothing
Director Joss Whedon has spent much of the past year living in the shadow of the enormous success of The Avengers, but he still managed to find time to shoot a microbudget, black and white adaptation of one of William Shakespeare's most beloved comedies starring a bunch of his friends… and by friends, I mean wonderful actors like Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg and Fran Kanz.
Whedon's television work has always reveled in the flexibility and beauty of language, so watching him direct a cast of his regular performers as they take on the words of the greatest writer of all time should prove fascinating (and hopefully hilarious).
Mud/The Spectacular Now/Upstream Color
What is this? Three movies in one?! Yeah, I'm cheating. Cutting this down to a top ten was hard. However, all three of these films have one thing in common: they were big hits at the Sundance Film Festival before they made their way to SXSW.
Mud is the next film from Take Shelter director Jeff Nichols and it stars SXSW mainstay Matthew McConaughey, which should be enough. The fact that it also stars Reese Witherspoon, Sam Shepard and Michael Shannon is just icing on a cake you already need to eat.
The Spectacular Now won the Special Jury Prize at Sundance, where it bowled over audiences and earned rave reviews for its young star, Miles Teller. Like any coming of age movie worth its salt, this sounds like a movie you need to see with an audience.
And finally, there's Upstream Color, director Shane Carruth's long-awaited follow-up to his brilliant Primer. Called impenetrable and brilliant in equal measure, it promises to be the most divisive movie at SXSW. Make sure you can be part of the conversation.
Why should you care about VHS when you threw away your VCR years ago? Rewind This! attempts to answer that question. This documentary is a journey through the home video revolution, exploring how it changed the way we consume media forever.
It also explores the thousands of movies that are only available on VHS and are in danger of vanishing forever unless film buffs work to protect them. SXSW has a habit of booking amazing, eye-opening documentaries and Rewind This! certainly sounds like it will continue that trend.
The Short Films
Yes, this one is another cheat, but it needs to be said loudly and often that if you skip the shorts program at SXSW, you's skipping some of the best and most creative work of the entire fest.
In addition to being able to see a dozen movies in the time it takes you watch one feature, seeing the shorts allows you to get in on the ground floor of some pretty amazing talent, letting you be that person who says things like, "Well, I was a fan of him back when he was making short films!"
The full-length films will always have an audience and you'll have a chance to see many of them on DVD in the future, so take a few hours to catch some amazing shorts before they vanish into the ether.
To call director Harmony Korine divisive would be a massive understatement. Find me someone who has neutral feelings toward his work, and I'll show you someone who actually hasn't seen any of Korine's films and is lying in a failed attempt to make me look bad.
His Trash Humpers bewildered SXSW audiences back in 2010 and now he's back with Spring Breakers, which appears to be his most accessible film yet while still remaining totally bonkers.
The film follows four college girls (including Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens) who find themselves embroiled in a world of crime and violence, forced to do some dirty work for an arms and drug dealer played by James Franco (in cornrows, no less).
I literally have no idea to what toe expect from this movie, but I do expect to have some kind of extreme reaction to it.
A few years ago, You're Next premiered at Fantastic Fest to ecstatic rave reviews and promptly vanished, its distributor having no idea what to do with it. Now that the film finally has a release date, it's returning to Austin for SXSW, where it has the unenviable task of living up to buzz that it's spent the past two years accumulating.
A home invasion horror movie that's better if you know as little as possible going in, You're Next looks like the one to beat in an already strong Midnighters line-up.
The past decade has seen the impossible happen: geek culture has become cool, causing countless old school nerds to lose their place in the new world order. Zero Charisma is a comic drama about this very subject, following a troubled "dungeon master" who finds his Dungeons & Dragons game infiltrated by a charismatic hipster.
Rather than simply make fun of geeks and nerds, Zero Charisma looks like a wonderful examination of a culture going through massive changes, looking at how outcasts react when the thing that they love suddenly becomes cool.