Jim Cummings’s Thunder Road has won Grand Jury Award in the 2018 SXSW Narrative Feature Competition, and Hao Wu’s People’s Republic of Desire takes the Grand Jury award in the Documentary Feature Competition. Here’s the complete list of winners with notes, when available, on what the critics have been saying about them.
Narrative Feature Competition Grand Jury Award: Jim Cummings’s Thunder Road. “The entire description in the SXSW program was only five words,” notes Brian Tallerico at RogerEbert.com: “’Officer Arnaud loved his mom.’ At first, the vagueness of that plot description aggravated me, but the truth is that this is an incredibly difficult film to describe. It’s mostly about those emotionally unstable moments that come after major life changes like losing a parent. It’s about death and loss, but it’s also often very funny. It’s episodic but somehow still feels genuine, largely because of the character Cummings builds at the center.” Variety’s Owen Gleiberman finds that Cummings “exposes the character he’s playing like an X-ray. He rips the band-aid off a certain kind of contempo middle-class heartland despair, and the result is an altogether uncanny small drama.” Stephen Saito: “It’s a stunner.” Update, 3/15: “Cummings’s unruly performance as the mustachioed anti-hero engenders a paradoxical character study, in which the filmmaker takes to both sides of the camera to beg the audience for empathy, but doesn’t make it easy,” writes IndieWire’s Eric Kohn. “It’s easy to imagine a variation on “Thunder Road” with Danny McBride as its lead, with the character’s chaotic life providing the vessel for a jarring black comedy. But Cummings has a different kind of sensibility: He strips out punchlines where they seem inevitable or upends them with grim developments that no humor can sugarcoat.” Updates, 3/18: “Like the short film, Thunder Road is funny,” writes Zach Gayne at ScreenAnarchy. “Very funny. Similarly it's also messy, cathartic and downright heartbreaking.” John Fink at the Film Stage: “Abruptly switching tones from the serious to the absurd, Cummings seems to be channeling both the verbal and physical humor of Will Ferrell in certain key passages, and yet the result is an often unexpectedly moving portrait of a fractured man.” Update, 3/19: “I’ve rarely seen a film pivot so quickly and so frequently between comedy and pathos, in a way that neither devalues the drama nor blunts the humor,” writes Flavorwire’s Jason Bailey. “It’s kind of a miracle, frankly.” Update, 3/24: FilmStruck as a few questions for Cummings.
Special Jury Recognition for Narrative Feature Competition for Best First Feature: Carly Stone’s The New Romantic. Updates, 3/15: The story “centers on Blake [Jessica Barden], a young woman who, frustrated with a lack of chivalry among guys her own age, turns to life as a sugar baby, dating an older man and receiving gifts in return,” explains Matt Grober at Deadline. “For Stone, the intention setting out with the film wasn’t necessarily based around the specifics of the narrative, but rather, a desire to spotlight a certain kind of female protagonist. ‘I love telling stories about women who are unapologetically making bold choices,’ the director said. ‘That’s kind of how the story took off, from that jumping point.’” Jenny Nulf for the Austin Chronicle: “Stone doesn’t emphasize the scandal of the relationship. Rather, she weaves through Blake’s complex desires. A child of divorce, romance is an idea that seems alien to her. The key is that Stone doesn’t write sex as either a superficial transaction, nor as an act that will lead to incredible emotional attachment. Blake navigates the morally vague world of being a sugar baby with complete control over her body and needs, which is what makes The New Romantic utterly genuine.” Update, 3/18: “Stone is vaguely interested in the biological imperative to gold-dig, a survival instinct she claims that humans share with tigers,” writes Amy Nicholson for Variety. “But the film only feigns at analysis. It’s as naïve about love as Blake herself.” Update, 3/19: At Ioncinema, Matt Delman notes that “there is a flash of hope with a fellow journalist, Jacob, played by Brett Dier, who turns out to be her knight in shining toga. Dier has natural comedy chops, and exudes such appealing charisma he could be the next Paul Rudd.”
Special Jury Recognition for Narrative Feature Competition for Writing: Jinn, written and directed by Niljla Mu’min. Update, 3/15: “Los Angeles weather anchor Jade Jennings (Simone Missick) feels empty,” writes Amy Nicholson for Variety. “Her smile sags as soon as the camera pans away from another day of sun. The single mother wants more, so she visits a mosque, nervously ties on a head scarf, and announces that she’s converted to Islam. She’s sincere—at least, she swears she is, though her ex (Dorian Missick) notes with an eye-roll that when they first hooked up, she was ‘a New Age Black Panther and a Buddhist.’ . . . But Jinn, a phenomenal debut from writer-director Nijla Mu’min, isn’t Jade’s story. It’s her seventeen-year-old daughter Summer’s (an outstanding Zoe Renee), a high school senior just beginning to seek out her own identity when her mom thrusts one on her.”
LUNA Gamechanger Award for Narrative Feature: Olivia Newman’s First Match. “Adapted with confidence from her 2010 short of the same name, Olivia Newman’s raw and beautifully well-realized First Match introduces Monique as such a self-destructive force of nature that you’re almost relieved when the scrappy teenage protagonist eventually settles into a recognizable character arc,” writes IndieWire’s David Ehrlich. Update, 3/15: “Newman’s direction elevates the film without being too flashy,” writes Matt Delman at Ioncinema. “If you’re looking for a happy ending: be warned, this isn’t your typical Hollywood high school sports movie.”
Special Jury Recognition for the LUNA Gamechanger Award for Narrative Feature: Suzi Yoonessi’s Unlovable. Charlene deGuzman plays Joy, “a love and sex addict who is often driven to drink when things aren’t turning out her way,” notes Kate Erbland at IndieWire, “and once she starts drinking, she’s prone to indulging her other bad habits. Soon, she’ll lose everything—her job, her boyfriend, her home, her grip on reality—but the trick of Unlovable is how it packages dark topics into a disarmingly light package. Written by star deGuzman and fellow filmmakers Mark Duplass (who also executive produced the film) and Sarah Adina Smith, the film is loosely based on deGuzman’s own experiences with addiction and recovery.” And at the Talkhouse, deGuzman writes about how Unlovable pretty much saved her life. More from Stephen Saito. Women and Hollywood interviews Yoonessi. Update, 3/15: “Unlovable focuses on how Joy reinvents herself, through trial and error, and how she takes responsibility for starting over from square one whenever she trips, stumbles, and falls on the road to recovery,” writes Joe Leydon in Variety. “There are times when you’re tempted to turn away when Joy makes the latest in a long line of really bad, even self-destructive choices. But deGuzman’s performance is so arresting and engaging, you keep your eyes glued to her—if only so you don’t miss the next development that will be hilarious or heartbreaking or both.”
Documentary Feature Competition Grand Jury Award: Hao Wu’s People’s Republic of Desire. Updates, 3/15: “Tragic and terrifying in equal measure, Wu’s intimate portrait of China’s live-streaming culture uses one country’s recent past as a dark portal into our collective future, sketching a world in which even the most basic pleasures of human connection can only be experienced vicariously,” writes IndieWire’s David Ehrlich. “Filmed in cities throughout China between 2014 and 2016, a period of rapidly evolving socioeconomic changes, People’s Republic of Desire casts a critical eye at the various ripple effects triggered by the rise of a live-streaming platform called YY,” explains Joe Leydon in Variety. “Thanks to YY, anyone capable of discarding inhibitions and accessing a webcam could attract and maintain an audience of millions—provided, of course, they had the intangible right stuff to transform casual fans into cult-like fanatics.” And: “Shen Man and Big Li are the documentary’s subjects, the people of desire,” adds Jenny Nulf for the Austin Chronicle. “People’s Republic of Desire shows the decay of these stars’ lives, from sex scandals to divorce, but for a documentary that intends to show how nothing is private for these two online celebrities, it only skims the surface of their aspirations.”
Special Jury Recognition for Documentary Feature Competition for Best Cast: Gene Graham’s This One’s for the Ladies.
Special Jury Recognition for Documentary Feature Competition for Best Feminist Reconsideration of a Male Artist: Sasha Waters Freyer’s Garry Winogrand: All Things are Photographable. At Hammer to Nail, Christopher Llewellyn Reed calls the film “ an excellent cinematic retrospective of Winogrand’s life and career, showcasing his achievements and influence on those who came later.” Women and Hollywood has questions for Sasha Waters Dreyer.
LUNA Chicken & Egg Award for Documentary Feature: Jenny Murray’s ¡Las Sandinistas! Women and Hollywood interviews Murray. Updates, 3/15: “U.S. residents probably best know the Sandinistas as the Communist-pegged bogeymen of the Iran-Contra debacle, though the realities of their actions and reforms are, of course, much more complicated than any one movie or Ronald Reagan-sourced soundbite could encapsulate,” writes Keith Uhlich for the Hollywood Reporter. “First-time feature documentarian Jenny Murray does a good job laying out the rise, fall and resurgence (in a much-debased form) of the revolutionary body. However, her main focus in ¡Las Sandinistas! is on the women who rose to prominence in the organization and were eventually pushed to the sidelines by their male counterparts.” And Stephen Saito interviews Murray.
Louis Black “Lone Star” Award: Dana Adam Shapiro’s Daughters of the Sexual Revolution: The Untold Story of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. Update, 3/15: “Shapiro’s film positions its subjects within an it-was-the-best-of-times-it-was-the-worst-of-times frame that’s never resolved,” finds Beth Sullivan, writing for the Austin Chronicle: “the Sexual Revolution of the Seventies encouraged women to liberate their bodies, and yet many of the cheerleaders were frequently body-shamed; the cheerleaders enjoyed celebrity status, and yet were only paid $15 (before taxes) per game; and the list goes on, much of it pivoting around gender inequality and the feminist historical context of the time.”
Adam Yauch Hörnblowér Award: Zeek Earl and Chris Caldwell’s Prospect. “From the honey-gold sunlight that spills amber-thick through a canopy of century-old trees to the dancing specks of iridescent pollen that swirl in the foreground of nearly every scene,” writes Variety’s Peter Debruge, “Prospect has one thing that most indie sci-fi movies don’t, and which any human desperately needs when traveling to unfamiliar worlds: atmosphere. Cleverly expanded from a short film of the same name, co-writer-directors Zeek Earl and Christopher Caldwell’s low-budget debut offers thinking audiences an economy ticket to a distant moon, scrapping most of the usual in-flight entertainment in favor of a lean excursion to a scenic space outpost.” In the Hollywood Reporter, Keith Uhlich finds Prospect “impressively made, if too-eager-to-please.” More from Christopher Webster at ScreenAnarchy. Update, 3/15: “To get a sense of how the ambitious debut came together, I chatted with Caldwell and Earl about some of the film’s odd details, and what they learned while making it,” writes Jake Utti in the Stranger. Update, 3/18: “A well-natured amalgam of both, say, Star Wars, and Duncan Jones’s Moon, especially in its impactful first half, Prospect tells the story of a teenager (Sophie Thatcher) and her father (Jay Duplass) who travel to a remote alien moon’s toxic forest on the hunt for a rare substance, aiming to make a mint,” writes Jordan Ruimy at the Playlist. “A visually splendid pastiche of more than a few science-fiction influences, the film is a low-budgeted affair running on an abundance of creative juices and maybe too many, in fact.”
Vimeo Staff Picks Award: Danny Madden’s Krista.
Karen Schmeer Film Editing Fellowship: Kristin Bye.
Excellence in Title Design Jury Award: Karin Fong’s Counterpart.
Special Jury Recognition for Excellence in Title Design: John Likens’s Godless.
Excellence in Poster Design Jury Award: Matt Taylor for his design for The Gospel of Eureka.
Special Jury Recognition for Excellence in Poster Design: Adam Zhu’s poster for A Little Wisdom.
Narrative Shorts Jury Award: Carey Williams’s Emergency.
Special Jury Recognition for Narrative Shorts for Acting: Shirley Chen for Krista.
Documentary Shorts Jury Award: Charlie Tyrell’s My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes.
Animated Shorts Jury Award: Alex Lim Haas’s Agua Viva.
Special Jury Recognition for Animated Shorts: Kangmin Kim’s Jeom.
Independent Episodics Jury Award: Ben Strang’s Beast.
Special Jury Recognition for Independent Episodics: Nadia Hallgren’s She’s the Ticket.
Midnights Shorts Jury Award: Santiago Menghini’s Milk.
Special Jury Recognition for Music Videos for Acting: “Territory,” The Blaze.
Music Videos Jury Award: “Second Hand Lovers,” Oren Lavie.
Texas Shorts Jury Award: Iliana Sosa and Chelsea Hernandez’s An Uncertain Future.
Texas High School Shorts Jury Award: Jenna Krumerman’s The Night I Lost My Favorite Jacket.
Special Jury Recognition for Texas High School Shorts: Sofia Rasmussen’s CCISD Strong.
Update, 3/18: SXSW has announced the winners of the Audience Awards:
Narrative Feature Competition: Olivia Newman’s First Match. Again, IndieWire’s David Ehrlich: “You believe everything about Monique (a brilliant Elvire Emanuelle). Where she’s going, where she’s been, how she plans to navigate between the two. And while it can be somewhat frustrating that such a vibrant and singularly well-realized heroine should have to grapple with some of the tired strictures of the coming-of-age saga that’s imposed on her, Monique pins each one of them with ease. She’s not the first person to fight her way out of the Brownsville projects (Mike Tyson grew up in the same Brooklyn neighborhood), but everyone has to blaze their own trail.”
Documentary Feature Competition: Gabriel Silverman and Fiona Dawson’s TransMilitary, which “introduces several outstanding trans service members whose peers and superiors are totally unfazed by their situation, knowing that being able to count on someone in the field is infinitely more important than what’s in his or her pants,” writes John DeFore in the Hollywood Reporter. “If it didn’t have to deal with the current commander in chief, this timely documentary would be an uplifting story of social progress, finding an upper level of Pentagon leadership that is far more open-minded than many would assume. As it is, the doc is a persuasive plea for tolerance in an arena where, it seems, the most destructive bigotry is coming from outside.” Stephen Saito interviews the directors.
Narrative Spotlight: John Hyams’s All Square. Michael Kelly (House of Cards) “is solid throughout All Square, but the movie hits too many familiar beats to be memorable,” finds Brian Tallerico at RogerEbert.com. “It’s one of those character dramas in which we can see all the narrative twists coming before the people in the story figure it out.”
Documentary Spotlight: Josh Lowell and Peter Mortimer’s The Dawn Wall. It’s “the steepest, sheerest surface of Yosemite National Park’s famous granite monolith, El Capitan,” writes Jennie Kermode at Eye for Film. “Around 900m in height, it was thought of as unclimbable, and certainly not something that could be free climbed—but on the 14th of January 2015, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson got to the top having done just that. Their victory attracted international media attention, but the picture created was of a single bold deed accomplished over the course of four days. In fact, it took years, and this documentary tells that story.”
Visions: Timur Bekmambetov’s Profile. It’s “a fast, lurid online-terror thriller that you’d describe as a curio if its helmer weren’t hell-bent on making the all-in-one-computer-screen movie a veritable subgenre,” writes Variety’s Guy Lodge.
Midnighters: Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade. “There are a number of strong ideas and even a few neat fight scenes in Upgrade in search of a more coherent, enjoyable movie,” finds Brian Tallerico at RogerEbert.com.
Episodic: Alonso Ruizpalacios and So Yong Kim’s Vida. The directors “strike a chord of authenticity that you'd probably expect to see in a movie playing at Sundance more than on the network [Starz] behind Ash vs. Evil Dead or that thing where Patrick Stewart yelled a lot,” finds Daniel Fienberg in the Hollywood Reporter. “The East L.A. filming is grounded and emphasizes little details — a post-funeral repast table covered in different types of flan, or the horizontal ‘gentri-fences’ that anger Marisol—over broad-stroke celebrations of Mexican-American culture.”
Excellence in Title Design: Eve Duhamel and Julien Vallee’s Offf Barcelona 2017.
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