As the Austin Film Festival begins, many of the featured offerings are among this year's hotly anticipated titles. Oscar contenders like The Artist and The Descendants will take center stage, along with plenty of star power: the opening night film Butter is a Weinstein Company release with an ensemble of power players, Johnny Depp will be appearing for a Q & A after The Rum Diary—and even Beavis & Butthead are making a comeback appearance.
But there are hundreds of other films at the festival and, as the eight-day cinematic frenzy begins, here are a few less loudly trumpeted titles to keep an eye out for.
The straightforwardly-titled Some Guy Who Kills People stars Kevin Corrigan, who's known mostly for wacky bit parts on sitcoms like Grounded For Life but plays it straight as a small-town diner employee that has trouble dealing with his past. It's a surprisingly subtle film that mines the black humor of a slasher movie for some sympathetic pathos. Barry Bostwick (Spin City, The Rocky Horror Picture Show) ends up stealing each scene he's in as a small town sheriff one step behind. John Landis is credited as a producer on the film, and it toes the line between horror pastiche and dark comedy in the tradition of his best work, albeit on a seemingly very limited budget.
But sometimes adverse conditions can lead to the most creativity. The documentary One Night Stand follows the 24-Hour Musicals event in New York: various writers, composers and actors are challenged to create a short musical in the span of one day. Utilizing the frenzied countdown pacing of reality television, One Night Stand shows the writers' long night of stress-filled creation that is by turns nerve-wracking (one composer throws up) and existential, and follows as the performers feel the pressure of a rapidly approaching showtime the next day while they rehearse. Many recognizable names from television and theater are among the participants: Modern Family's Jesse Tyler Ferguson and 30 Rock's Cheyenne Jackson struggle to remember lyrics on the fly, while tv veteran Richard Kind is dumbstruck at having the most lines and songs in his musical (there are four produced all together). It's particular nail-biting to watch Saturday Night Live veteran Rachel Dratch grow increasingly flustered and nervous (she's paired with three much more experienced singers), despite live performance on short notice being very familiar to her.
Ok, Enough, Goodbye finds a middle-aged man in the city of Tripoli, Lebanon, equally out of his comfort zone. Daniel Arzrouni stars as a quiet man that runs a bakery with very few customers, and relies on his elderly mother for comfort, still living in her home—this is a phenomenon apparently very common in Lebanon that the directors Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia wanted to explore. When his mother abruptly packs up and leaves, Arzrouni's character wanders the city in an effort to releive his sudden loneliness, striking up oddly affecting relationships with a neighborhood boy and a prostitute. The sort of aimless, fly-on-the-wall vibe of Ok, Enough, Goodbye recalls the spirit of Kevin Smiths' Clerks, despite the cultural gulf in subject matter.
Finally, David Wexler's The Stand Up is another sweet, quiet tale of redemption, but it should really be called "The Kindergarten Teacher"- stand up comedy bookends the film but doesn't really play an important symbolic or therapeutic role (full disclosure: this reviewer is a stand up comedian and was thus unduly excited about this film). Jonathan Sollis stars as a comedian dealing with the recent death of his girlfriend that takes a job as a kindergarten teacher as a lsat resort. The premise sounds like something from a wacky Jonah Hill comedy, but The Stand Up executes it with restraint and complexity in a surprising way. Margarita Levieva plays a fellow teacher that inevitably becomes Sollis' love interest, but with personal issues of her own that elevate the character well out of Manic Pixie Dream Girl Territory.