Festival Preview: Fantastic Fest helps keep Austin weird

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FF_HeaderPreston Barta // Editor

Austin sees several film festivals each year, such as the Austin Film Festival and South by Southwest. However, none is as inventive and convivial as Fantastic Fest, which runs Thursday to Sept. 29.

Each year, festival co-founder and Alamo Drafthouse branch owner Tim League assembles a group of programmers and dedicated cinephiles to bring together a collection of films that surprise, gross out and blow minds. Some films are massive and feature stars you know, while others are titles you most likely would have never heard of or would see screen in this country otherwise.

With all of Fantastic Fest’s winning titles, it can be overwhelming to look at the lineup. So, let us narrow down the search with 10 films you should make the trip to the capital for.

arrival_3_4guide__largeARRIVAL

Except for EX MACHINA, the sci-fi genre hasn’t landed a true winner in some time. But if anyone can make a giant leap for cinema-kind it’s Denis Villeneuve (SICARIO, upcoming BLADE RUNNER sequel). He’s a patient firecracker of a filmmaker who expertly knows how to build tension, even in the slowest penciled scenes. Along with his all-star cast that includes Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, Villeneuve’s alien-infused feature may be one of the year’s best.

Screenings: Thursday, Sept. 22 at 5 p.m.

american-honey-2AMERICAN HONEY

This hard-partying epic nearly clocks in at three hours, but it’s told to be an immersive ride into the American heartland. It stars newcomer Sasha Lane as Star, an 18-year-old who leaves her Oklahoma home in search of adventure with a misfit named Jake (Shia LaBeouf). AMERICAN HONEY won the Jury Prize at the Cannes back in May and has A24 (EX MACHINA, ROOM) behind its distribution, so might want to mark this one “attending.”

Screenings: Friday, Sept. 23 at 8 p.m.; Tuesday, Sept. 27 at 2 p.m.

colossal__4guide__largeCOLOSSAL

Nacho Vigalondo (OPEN WINDOWS) hasn’t quite found his niche for feature filmmaking yet, but something tells me his festival closer COLOSSAL will wreak havoc in the best way possible. Anne Hathaway plays an alcoholic blogger who reconnects with an old friend (Jason Sudeikis) and takes a job at his bar. All of a sudden, a Godzilla-like monster starts terrorizing the city. Oddity and thrills ensue.

Screenings: Thursday, Sept. 29 at 7:20 p.m.

dog-eat-dog_5__largeDOG EAT DOG

Nicolas Cage movies today either run really bad or quite good. And when they’re good, Cage can throw you a meaty bone. From Paul Schrader (writer of TAXI DRIVER), DOG EAT DOG pits three criminals (Cage, Willem Dafoe and Christopher Matthew Cook) together to kidnap some babies. RAISING ARIZONA, anyone? As familiar as it may sound, the talent involved show signs of a film that’s less bark and more bite.

Screenings: Sunday, Sept. 25 at 11:15 p.m.; Thursday, Sept. 29 at 10:30 a.m.

handmaiden_4guide__largeTHE HANDMAIDEN

After making his English-language debut with the underappreciated STOKER, Park Chan-wook returns to his native land for a gothic thriller. With a healthy mix of eroticism and mystery, THE HANDMAIDEN winds the clock back to 1930s colonial Korea, where a woman (Kim Tae-ri) attempts to defraud an heiress (Kim Min-hee) while working as her personal servant. The word is the film cleans up well, and I believe it.

Screenings: Thursday Sept. 22 at 8:30 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 28 at 5:30 p.m.

a_monster_calls_1__largeA MONSTER CALLS

Steven Spielberg’s THE BFG didn’t leave a footprint in the box office, but A Monster Calls could prove successful. The venturous drama follows a young boy (Lewis MacDougall) trying to cope with his dying mother (Felicity Jones) by seeking truth and faith with the help of an ancient tree monster (voiced by Liam Neeson). The trailer’s visuals and emotional drive alone are enough to color anyone excited.

Screenings: Tuesday, Sept. 27 at 5:15 p.m.

raw_2_4guide__largeRAW

This movie is already making headlines. Just last week at the Toronto Film Festival, the cannibal-infested horror film caused several audience members to faint due to its highly realistic experience. While it may require a barf bag, RAW should have you hungry out of curiosity.

Screenings: Sunday, Sept. 25 at 6 p.m.; Tuesday, Sept. 27 at 5 p.m.

s_is_for_stanley_4guide_copy__largeS IS FOR STANLEY

Stanley Kubrick is one of the most peculiar filmmakers who ever lived. We still study his work to this day and pick out new meanings with each viewing. S IS FOR STANLEY documents Kubrick’s relationship with his personal assistant (Emilio D’Alessandro) and provides never-before-seen insight into the auteur. Kubrick lived a very private life, so any chance of getting to know him better is a trip worth taking.

Screenings: Sunday, Sept. 25 at 2:45 p.m.; Tuesday, Sept. 27 at 8:45 p.m.

westworld_5__largeWESTWORLD

With only two seasons of GAME OF THRONES remaining, HBO needs another hit. If you’ve seen any footage of this upcoming series, it’s sure to come out guns blazing. Inspired by the 1973 Michael Crichton film, WESTWORLD engages in a futuristic theme park populated by artificial beings, and it just may be the droids we’re looking for.

Screenings: Thursday, Sept. 29 at 5 p.m.

zoology_4guide__largeZOOLOGY

OK, check this synopsis out: A middle-aged woman (Natalya Pavlenkova) feels insecure about her life until she mysteriously grows a tail. Fantastic Fest is known for their bizarre features. However, sometimes weird can pay off, and it does big time with ZOOLOGY.

Screenings: Thursday, Sept. 22 at 5:45 p.m.; Monday, Sept. 26 at 8:15 p.m.

All screenings take place at the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar Boulevard in Austin. Screening times and ticket information (badges runs $145-$470, with individual ticket information to be announced) can be found on www.fantasticfest.com.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.