Ashley Menzel’s Top 8 Films of SXSW 2018

Ashley Menzel’s Top 8 Films of SXSW 2018

Film festivals are always a mixed bag. You will see some spectacular filmmaking, storytelling, and performances, but you will also see some terrible films. This year, we were fortunate at SXSW. Janet Pierson did a fantastic job programming this year, and we were lucky enough to see some remarkable films. The following are my personal top 8 films of the festival in no particular order:


A Vigilante

By no means is A Vigilante an easy film to watch, but it is a necessary story to see and hear. Olivia Wilde holds this film from start to finish with such an intimate and emotional performance. It is undoubtedly one of her best performances to date. The range of emotions is staggering from a cold-hearted vigilante to a broken but not defeated victim of domestic abuse; you have to be in awe of the performance making A Vigilante one of the best of the festival.

Summer ’03

There was another big-budget studio film at the festival that was receiving praise for being THE female coming of age comedy, but Summer ’03 is far superior in every way. Joey King plays a young girl working through the death of her grandmother and one of the final summers of her high school life. Summer ’03 gets what those other bigger budget films don’t, and that is that you can have raunchy sexual humor, but it has to be balanced with spectacular performances, writing, and character development. Without those, it is just another gross-out sexual humor film that does little service to the females wanting to see their coming of age stories represented on the big screen. Bravo to Becca Gleason for this spectacular film and showing everyone how it is done.

A Quiet Place

A Quiet Place was probably one of the biggest surprises of the festival for me. I do not like horror films or being scared, but I couldn’t look away from this film from the very beginning. What John Krasinski has created is an atmospheric masterpiece keeping every audience member on the edge of their seats. The performances by Noah Jupe, Millicent Simmonds, John Krasinski and Emily Blunt are superb, making us truly invested in their characters and sharing in their horror and sorrow.


This film is weird, bizarre, but hilariously funny and heartfelt. It features an unlikeable woman named Kate played by Taylor Schilling who has to babysit her oddball niece in the suburbs of New Jersey. The film is written and directed by Laura Steinel, and it is a truly impressive first feature. The script is genuinely hilarious with sharp deadpan humor delivered perfectly by Taylor Schilling. Again, it is a film that features an imperfect and unlikeable woman learning how to better understand and show empathy to others is something that we don’t see very often.

Hearts Beat Loud 

I’m a sucker for a film with some great music and Hearts Beat Loud is undoubtedly one of them. It is a treat to see Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemmons perform songs together. Their chemistry is terrific as father and daughter. It is a film that tackles many topics such as growing up, moving on, the creative process, family, and relationships. It is a beautiful feel-good film for the music lovers out there and a perfect choice for SXSW.

Fast Color 

Fast Color is not what I expected it to be at all but in the best way possible. It tells the generational story of the women in one family who have unique skills that could help humanity. It addresses the complexity of the relationship between mother and daughter in such a touching way and reminds women of the strength and the beauty within them.Gugu Mbatha-Raw,  Lorraine Toussaint, and Saniyya Sidney create such a realistic family dynamic that is as beautiful as it is dysfunctional. The story created by Julia Hart and Jordan Horowitz is a beautiful tale and something that begs to be seen over and over again. 

You Can Choose Your Family 

You Can Choose Your Family starring Jim Gaffigan, and Logan Miller is a fascinating film that shines because of the chemistry between the two main actors. Logan Miller makes an incredible performance further cementing his place in my mind as the next prominent young actor. Jim Gaffigan, despite his wonderful sense of humor and comedic performances, also gives an emotionally raw and varied performance in this film. The authenticity of emotions and relationships between the characters make You Can Choose Your Family one of the best films of SXSW 2018.

Ready Player One

Ready Player One was one of my most anticipated films of the year and the screening was just electrifying. Everyone in the audience was so excited, it was palpable. The film itself is a geek’s dream, bringing to life a beloved book and bringing back some of our favorite characters from the 80s, and pushing the frontiers of film technology. Ready Player One while not 100% true to the books brings the story of Parzival, Art3mis, Aech and the rest of the gang to the big screen. Helmed by Stephen Spielberg, Ready Player One is a cinematic experience that needs to be seen on the big screen with a big soda and giant popcorn.

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