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Top 10 Festival Films You Haven't Seen Yet

By Richard Whittaker, January 5, 2014, 8:00am, Picture in Picture

One of the worst, nay, most depressing aspects of living in a town with so many film festivals is that you get to see so many amazing movies that seemingly disappear without trace.

Sometimes, it's just a matter of patience. Sometimes, it's just about accepting that a great film will turn up on VOD and never be seen in cinemas again. And sometimes they just sit on a shelf, gathering dust, and that's just a crying shame. Films are made to be seen, and so I've gone through my old notes from SXSW, Fantastic Fest, and the Housecore Horror Film Festival to find a few titles that I really believe deserve a proper chance to find a real audience

1: Found

Screened at: Housecore Horror Film Festival

Scott Schirmer's $8,000 grind/arthouse shocker stuck with me more than any other film this year. The tale of a boy and his serial killer big brother is undoubtedly not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. Schirmer talked to me earlier in the year about adapting Todd Rigney's dark and unforgiving novella, and the film is every bit as unrelenting and incisive.

Chances you'll see it: Apparently, even though the film has won dozens of awards at multiple film festivals (including the Housecore Rot-Scars for scariest movie and best hero) the North American rights are still up for grabs (contact www.theoctoberpeople.net for info.) You can still pick up Rigney's novel. More info at www.foundmovie.net.

2: Coherence

Screened at: Fantastic Fest

Another micro-budget movie (as director James Byrkit explained during Fantastic Fest, the cost of one actress' wig for reshoots was bigger than the complete original shooting cost) but to very different effect. A suburban time travelling paranoia fantasy, rightly called the new Primer, Coherence came out of nowhere and left the fest as one of the real buzz titles. It's also the best thing Nicholas Brendon has done post-Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As I asked in my review, seriously, why is he not getting more work?

Chances you'll see it: Really great. The Fantastic Fest Next Wave Award Winner was picked up by Oscilloscope Laboratories and is scheduled for a 2014 release.

3: Death Metal Angola

Screened at: Housecore Horror Film Festival

One of Houscore's most surprising titles, Death Metal Angola has the weirdest provenance (a Fulbright-backed documentary about hard rock in Africa, directed by performance artist Jeremy Xido.) But trust me: This may be the feel-good movie of the year. This is about young people finding a way to rebuild their country, one riff at a time, and proves the healing power of music. Plus some Angolan metal bands are. Bad. Ass.

Chances you'll see it: The rights are still up for grabs via Wide House, but Xido is still organizing screenings on his never-ending DMA Resilience Tour.

4: Love Eternal

Screened at: Fantastic Fest

When you think necrophiliac cinema, you normally go straight to gross-out horrors like Nekromantic. Put all those ideas about rotting rutting to one side. Brendan Muldowney second feature, based on Kei Ôishi's novel Love With the Dead, is about emotional disconnection. Yes, the subject matter is going to make some people squeamish, but it's necrophilia, not necrosexuality. The film is tender and tragic, and marks Muldowney's arrival as potentially the most fascinating Irish director working today.

Chances you'll see it: Unbelievably, no word yet of American distribution.

5: Slow Southern Steel

Screened at: Housecore Horror Film Festival

Heavy metal's biggest, doomiest, stoniest bastard child, Southern metal has got a bad rap as good ol' boy neo-Confederate racist bull. But first time director and Rwake vocalist CT's passion project does a lot to undermine those cliches. It's not a white-wash job: He tackles controversial issues like the use of the Stars and Bars, explaining rather than defending. But most importantly, his rough-hewn, handheld doc gives this bar-room bruising scene some real recognition.

Chances you'll see it: File under "it's complicated." Talking with CT at Housecore, he explained that the sheer amount of music he shot is a rights nightmare, but he's seemingly trying to clear it up. In November, he promised on the film's Facebook page that he's going to try to get it available online.

6: Blue Ruin

Screened at: Fantastic Fest

An eye for an eye leaves the world blind, and that's the central moral of Blue Ruin. Differing parts Pale Rider, Paris, Texas and The Dharma Bums, it's a low-key tale of an emotionally damaged man setting out on what he sees as a quest for justice. Instead, he simply becomes another cog in a machine of violence. As Marjorie Baumgarten wrote, star Macon Blair "owns this film. … Teetering between arousing our sympathies and our disgust, Dwight becomes a complex figure and the film grows from a simple revenge tale into a character-based drama."

Chances you'll see it: Ask the Weinsteins. They acquired it through Radius-TWC after Cannes and were eyeing a November 2013 release. That became January 2014, and now it's just some time in 2014.

7: The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears

Screened at: Fantastic Fest

Less a film than a puzzle box, Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani's followup to Amer is a hypnotic, frustrating and captivating neo-giallo about a man hunting for his wife in an apartment building that seems to defy all laws of logic, time and space. Haunting, weird and sensual, it demands multiple watchings, just to get your head around its trippy, super-saturated color palette.

Chances you'll see it: Well, if you're planning a trip to France or Belgium in the Spring, you'll be fine, but no sign yet of a US release.

8: We Gotta Get Out of This Place

Screened at: Fantastic Fest

Directing brother Simon and Zeke Hawkins slam out of the gate with this dusty Texas heist movie like young Jim Thompson's with a rusty .45. The obvious comparison is Blood Simple, but there's more than a few traces of neo-junior-noir Brick in its tale of high school seniors shaking down the local crime under-boss. This is violence among the grain silos, washed down with Big Red and blood, and Mark Pellegrino as the shitkicking psychopath Griff turns in one of the year's most riveting performances.

Chances you'll see it: No word yet, but if this Texas-shot bruiser doesn't turn up in Austin some time, it'll be a sin.

9: The Sacrament

Screened at: Fantastic Fest

It's no secret that we're huge fans of director Ti West, actor AJ Bowen, and actor/director Joe Swanberg around here. Put all three together (which happens quite a lot) and we're definitely in. But The Sacrament represents a quantum leap for all three. West drops the traditional trappings of horror for a verite-style depiction of cult suicide. He originally wanted to make a multi-part miniseries about the Reverend Jim Jones and his People's Temple, telling more than just the Jonestown Massacre part of the story. When that fell through he created this slim, supple masterpiece of religious fervor gone deranged. Bowen's interview/face-off with cult leader Father (played by Gene Jones) is a masterclass in tension.

Chances you'll see it: Another Magnet acquisition, this is headed to VOD on May 1 and theatres June 6

10: Grow Up, Tony Phillips

Screened at: SXSW

We'll end with the oldest and most local film on this list: Emily Hagins' wonderful ode to not quite growing up (or at least doing it on your own terms.) Another wonderful AJ Bowen performance, this time as the sleazy cousin of the titular Tony (Tony Vespe), a Halloween obsessive who can't see past the end of his box robot costume. This charmer (by far Hagins' best feature to date) played at SXSW and got a lot more than just local support. Deservedly so: It's charming, funny and exquisitely observed.

Chances you'll see it: Yes, but you'll have to wait. Originally, the plan was a VOD release for the scaring season last year, but that all fell through due to (as the film's Kickstarter site explains) "the realities of the movie industry." Still, good news: There'll be a VOD release from Rogue Arts later this year, with a full DVD release date in time for (guess when?) Halloween.

Honorable mentions

Pretty much any slot in this list could have easily gone to Elijah Wood and Nacho Vigalondo for pitch-perfect real time thriller Grand Piano; the excellent found footage shocks of Afflicted; Eli Roth's bloody wonderful Green Inferno; the splendidly visceral Big Bad Wolves; or Ben Wheatley's upcoming historical head trip A Field in England. All coming to a screen near you soon.

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