Critics' Picks: The 10 Best Films of SXSW 2018

6:30 AM 3/19/2018

by Justin Lowe and Keith Uhlich

THR film critics' favorites from the fest (below, in alphabetical order) include a studio sex comedy starring Leslie Mann, a two-part Elvis doc, a Wisconsin-set character study and the latest from indie stalwart Andrew Bujalski.

Blockers Still 1 - Publicity - H 2018
Quantrell D. Colbert/Universal Pictures

  • Blockers

    Parents played by Leslie Mann, John Cena and Ike Barinholtz set out to ruin prom night for their daughters in Kay Cannon's directing debut, a riotous sex comedy that plays to the strengths of its performers — from screen novices to the vet of the cast, Mann, who may never have had this good a showcase. — John DeFore

  • Elvis Presley: The Searcher

    In a psychologically penetrating two-part doc, Thom Zimny (director of a series of excellent Bruce Springsteen films) manages to rescue Presley from decades of caricature and shallow mythologizing, focusing on the musical curiosity and passion that drove the man long after he became a King. HBO will air it next month. — J.D.

  • The Gospel of Eureka

    Worlds collide in this stellar documentary about an Arkansas cityEureka Springs, that's home to both a sizable Christian and a substantial queer population. Co-directed by Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher, the film explores the strange, often surreal affinities between the city's disparate residents and the peace — tenuous though it may be — that's been brokered between them. — Keith Uhlich

  • Nossa Chape

    Sibling filmmakers Michael and Jeff Zimbalist and their co-director, Julian Duque, trace the aftermath of a devastating plane crash for a Brazilian soccer team, focusing on three players who survived the accident, in this poignant doc. It's a stirring portrait of individual and communal grief and a gripping sports film that requires no knowledge of the sport. — Sheri Linden

  • Pet Names

    Set over a few days of leafy Midwestern summer, this concise drama, sensitively directed by Carol Brandt, focuses on a young woman who returns home to care for her ailing mother and ends up facing unhealed wounds between her and her ex. With its lyrical sense of place and terrific performances, it's a strong example of low-budget regional filmmaking. — S.L.

  • A Quiet Place

    A terrifying thriller with a surprisingly warm heart, John Krasinski's third directorial outing is a monster-movie allegory for parenting in a world gone wrong. A couple with kids in real life, Krasinski and Emily Blunt, both terrific, play parents in a place where even the slightest noise can lead to sudden death. It's a scary ride that makes just the right pauses for emotional effect. — J.D.

  • Ready Player One

    A rollicking adventure through worlds both bleak and fantastic, Steven Spielberg's adaptation of Ernest Cline's best-selling novel about a teen's quest to win control over a virtual universe makes changes to the book's specifics and structure but keeps the spirit and thrills intact. Gamers are far from the only ones who will respond to the frequently dazzling result, which strikes an ideal balance between live action and CGI. — J.D.

  • Support the Girls

    Reminding statistics-minded festivalgoers (who rightly applauded the number of SXSW entries directed by women) that men can make feminist movies too, Andrew Bujalski's very fine latest focuses on the solidarity of the all-female waitstaff at a sleazy sports bar. The filmmaker gives two plum leads to excellent African-American actresses (Regina Hall and musician Shayna McHayle), but the easygoing workplace comedy never feels like it's prioritizing politics over storytelling. — J.D.

  • Thunder Road

    Spun off from one of the most memorable short films in recent years, Jim Cummings' deserving Grand Jury prizewinner is an eccentric portrait of grief. Playing a man who must fight for custody of his daughter while he's mourning the death of his mother, Cummings earned both nervous laughs and bemused tears. (And despite expanding his original idea to feature length, he left us with compelling reasons to watch the short as well.) — J.D.

  • Wildling

    Fritz Bohm's impressive debut stars Bel Powley and Liv Tyler in a contemporary creature feature that works beautifully as both an unsettling allegory about adolescence and a smart take on current social issues. IFC Midnight's April release provides fresh new perspectives on themes of female empowerment, and could carve out a solid niche in home entertainment formats. — Justin Lowe