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The Best and Worst Movies of SXSW 2013

Your film editor has returned from Austin, where SXSW’s robust selection of fascinating panels and workshops kept my film consumption lower than I might’ve liked. But the dozen SXSW film entries I did get to see offered up an assortment of riveting performances, inventive filmmaking, and recurring motifs; a quick round-up of the best and worst (of what I saw, at least) is after the jump.

muchado

THE BEST

Much Ado About Nothing
Joss Whedon modernizes the dress, cranks up the slapstick, and fills his cast with regulars and friends who give Shakespeare’s dialogue a distinctively screwball snap. His reimagining of the Bard’s classic is respectful but not reverential; he fills the edges of the frames with goofy business and gives the entire affair the feel of a party that won’t end (which, considering the off-the-cuff nature of the film’s production, it sort of was). We’re all invited, though, which is much of the picture’s charm — it’s sweet, coy, sexy fun.

Short Term 12
Destin Cretton’s drama is set at a foster care facility for teens, and he uses the emotional intensity of the location well; it’s the kind of place where anyone can lose their grip at any time (including the staff). What’s more, it’s a film that gets what a cruel and hopeless place the world came seem like, when you’re a certain age and of a certain disposition. Cretton’s direction is personal and close, sometimes uncomfortably so, but he gets rich, nuanced performances out of his cast — particularly the wonderful Brie Larson, who transforms from an unknowable puzzle to a character of astonishing openness and vulnerability. It’s a kind movie, with a good heart.

Drinking Buddies
Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson play co-workers and best friends who start to feel the pang of something more, but Joe Swanberg’s ensemble comedy/drama isn’t just a mumblecore When Harry Met Sally; in fact, what at first seems an obvious narrative with too-tidy schematics becomes something messier, more inhabited, and more interesting. The relationships are thoroughly convincing — not just Wilde and Johnson, but Johnson and Anna Kendrick (who put across the ease and comfort of long-timers with real warmth) and Wilde and Ron Livingston (whose entire performance is filled with inspired physical comedy of the subtlest form). And this is the best work I’ve seen from Wilde: her performance is simple, lived-in, and just plain good. Same goes for the movie.

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