Top 10 Festival Films You Haven't Seen Yet

Fox fairies, ultra-violence, and amnesia dominated 2015

The faces you'll come to fear the most. Clockwise from top left: Ethan Embry in The Devil's Candy; Greta Fernandez in Embers; Mónika Balsai in Liza the Fox-Fairy; Tom Hiddleston in High-Rise; Black Phillip in The Witch; and Patrick Stewart in Green Room.

Every December, it's time for top 10 lists. Some are relatively easy: Who has the best cheese sandwich, who wrote the best law? It's easy, because you ate that sandwich, or that bill passed. But films get weird in a town like Austin, where the calendar is broken up by festivals, not seasons. When does the year start and end?

Every year, it's a trip through the archives. Did that movie hit multiplexes yet? Did it get a VOD release? Wait, that showed at festivals two years ago? That's why it's important to remember the films that got a festival screening, but haven't made it out into the cinematic wilds yet.

For good or ill, the distribution system has changed so much over the two years since I started doing these lists that it's less likely than ever that even the tiniest indie will go without some form of release. True, it would be great if they were making more money off it, but until there's more economic justice for filmmakers, at least their work is getting out there.

Downside? There are seemingly fewer films on the unreleased pile. OK, so not much of a downside. However, with the number of great festivals, big and small, across the calendar year in Austin, there's a raft of movies either looking for distribution or scheduled to hit screens, big or small, in 2016. With no further ado, here's some of the titles you really need to see or, if you're a distributor, think really seriously about putting out there.

1: Liza the Fox-Fairy

Played at: Fantastic Fest

Sometimes a movie comes along that just shouldn't work. Too many crazy ideas in one small script. And then sometimes you get a delicious, delirious concoction like Liza the Fox-Fairy. Imagine if Tim Burton, Leonard Bernstein, and John Waters made the next Final Destination: heady, enchanting, crazy, and utterly romantic, and Mónika Balsai makes Liza into the perfect naive, awkward, sexy, charming heroine.

Chances you’ll see it: No word on U.S. acquisition yet, which is a crying shame. Let's hope this multi-award winner gets the release it deserves and doesn't end up like the equally lauded, quirky and charming A Boy and His Samurai (four years on, and still no U.S. release).

2: High-Rise

Played at: Fantastic Fest

Anyone who has been watching Ben Wheatley's career since the bottle-drama brilliance of Down Terrace knows his arthouse dominance. But his adaptation of J.G. Ballard's majestic and terrifying dissection of the British class system is his first full-blown, unapologetic masterpiece (read our review here).

Chances you’ll see it: Excellent. The film has already been acquired by Magnolia for release through its high-end genre sub-label, Magnet.

3: Green Room

Played at: Fantastic Fest

Jeremy Saulnier proved with Blue Ruin that he understands violence. Not as a cartoonish thrill ride, but as a brutalizing tool for destruction and survival. Green Room amps up that theme to shocking levels, with a low-rent punk band suddenly besieged backstage by a cadre of neo-Nazis with malicious intent. Plaudits a-plenty have already been thrown at Patrick Stewart for his domineering performance as a fascist gang boss, but Anton Yelchin proves his extraordinary range with his depiction of the world's most unlikely action hero (read our review here).

Chances you’ll see it: You've got a few months yet to prepare yourself for this dose of ultra-violence: A24 have it inked in for an April 15 release.

4: Nina Forever

Played at: SXSW

Truly transgressive sexual horrors are a rarity, often merely disguising sexpolitation as psychodrama. There are rare exceptions, like the traumatizing A Serbian Film and elegiac Love Eternal, and Nina Forever is on that list. Snappy, snide, and unnervingly sexual (read our review here).

Chances you’ll see it: This odd romance will be out Feb. 12 via Epic Pictures Group. Happy Valentine's, everyone!

5: The Devil's Candy

Played at: Fantastic Fest

Metal movies have a horrible habit of being hit or terrible, terrible, cheesy miss (Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park, anyone? No? Not surprised). But Sean Byrne's follow-up to the terrific The Loved Ones is a thrash album given celluloid life. Ethan Embry's performance as a metal-loving artist who may be tapping into uncanny forces with his canvases is brilliant, scary, and has a soundtrack that is the perfect mixtape (read our review here).

Chances you’ll see it: No word yet, but if there isn't a bidding war over this sweaty, shocking slamdance of a movie, then there's no justice in the world.

6: The Witch

Played at: Fantastic Fest

Writer/director Robert Eggers has, first and foremost, created a period piece about the earliest days of the American colonial experience, with an English family exiling themselves beyond the safety of the fort's wooden fences. Eggers re-creates the world as the colonists would have seen it, with bloody, brutal witchcraft a terrifying reality. The end result is one of the more enthralling, captivating, and unique horrors in years, fulfilling the wishes for the period prequel to The Blair Witch Project promised years ago.

Chances you’ll see it: Evil is imminent. A24 will be unleashing The Witch on Feb. 26.

7: "The Pig Child"

Played at: Other Worlds Austin

This is the first time a short has made this list. Here's why "The Pig Child" breaks that streak. Because it's such a brilliant, perfectly conceived, queasy piece of genius. Slamming transhumanism into maternity, Lucy Campbell's unnerving examination of bio-ethics is perfect fodder for a feature (which she promises is coming).

Chances you’ll see it: Maybe not the short, unless it crops up online or as bonus material for the feature version that Campbell is working towards (ETA TBC).

8: Too Late

Played at: Fantastic Fest

Cinema was built on gimmicks. From the train coming at the audience to William G. Castle's electric shock seats for The Tingler, what makes the best ones work is that the gimmick adds something to the narrative. Dennis Hauck's idea to make a neo-noir of five single-shot scenes, each exactly the length of a reel of 35mm film, may seem like a trick, yet its back-and-forth narrative transcends the format and instead captivates the audience. Flashes of Pulp Fiction, to be sure, but he evokes the febrile claustrophobia of Wild at Heart-era David Lynch. And above all is Hawkes at his heartbreaking, self-destructive best.

Chances you’ll see it: Great, especially if you life near an Alamo Drafthouse. They'll be taking part in a Spring 2016 release through mTuckman Media, with nationwide 35mm screenings (and only 35mm), as Hauck intended.

9: Tear Me Apart

Played at: Austin Film Festival

Cannibalism in horror tends to be schlocky and gruesome. Nothing wrong with that, but this British post-apocalyptic drama takes a much more thoughtful approach. More tone poem than narrative, it finds sympathy in the flesh-eating plight of the last survivors of an unseen plague (read our review here).

Chances you’ll see it: No word on a U.S. release yet, but here's hoping.

10: Embers

Played at: Other Worlds Austin

Memory is a tricky thing: It defines us, but limits us. Writer/director Claire Carré's debut feature posits a world without memory, as people stumble around in a reality that only stretches back as far as the last corner turned, or the last night's sleep. An astounding analysis of who we are (and who we think we are), Embers rightfully took the inaugural Mary Shelley Award at Other Worlds Austin (read our review here).

Chances you’ll see it: No solid word yet, but Carré said she is currently looking for distribution.

Honorable mentions

This has been a fantastic year for indie genre films, with a near-endless stack of amazing releases yet to come. This list could readily have included the fabulous Baskin (imagine Clive Barker vacationing in Turkey), brilliant sealed-bottle black comedy Zinzana, gorgeously stylized crime drama The Frontier (which should make a perfect double bill with Too Late, if anyone wants to start booking that), and the uproariously funny Night of the Living Deb, which was the perfect palate cleanser after the often weighty and cerebral cinema of Other Worlds Austin.

The same all holds true for Mickey Keating's Polanski-esque Darling, and all eyes are on him for his next flick, the Sundance-approved Carnage Park. At the polar opposite end of the spectrum to Keating's stylized psycho-sexual terror, The Boy and the Beast is an anime that deserves cross-over success.

Plus, it has to be said that the brilliant, bloody, mordant, and intriguing He Never Died would have made this list, but it just snuck through with a VOD and iTunes release on Dec. 18. Go watch it now.

Oh, and while we're talking about it, someone give A Boy and His Samurai a proper U.S. release. ASAP. Not kidding.

And now, as is the tradition, time to find out what happened with the title's on last year's list:

1: Tokyo Tribe: Sion Sono's madcap hip-hop musical came out of Fantastic Fest and got a well-deserved home release through XYZ Media (read our review here).

2: What We Do in the Shadows: Not only did this glorious vampire comedy from SXSW get a theatrical and home release, but it's getting a lycanthropic sequel. Remember, werewolves, not swearwolves (read our interview with star Jemaine Clement).

3: Faults: One of the year's most astounding two-handers, Leland Orser and Mary Elizabeth Winstead got a theatrical release and is on home release and Netflix now (read our SXSW review here).

4: Spring: Drafthouse's release of this amazing genre mash-up (part Dagon, part Roman Holiday) got a little overshadowed by the runaway success of their gonzo re-release of the deranged Roar, but time is on its side, and it's available on DVD and Blu-ray now and hopefully forever – it's that wonderful (read our interview with co-creators Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead).

5: The Duke of Burgundy: Peter Stickland's delicious and evocative follow-up to the brain-stretching Berberian Sound Studio got a January theatrical release through Sundance Selects, followed by a home co-release with Shout! Factory.

6: The Well: It took a name change, but as The Last Survivors, this post-apocalyptic tale of teens in an arid future came home via Dark Sky Films (read our interviews with star Haley Lu Richardson, and writer Jacob Forman and director Tom Hammock.

7: It Follows: The Fantastic Fest 2014 runaway success exploded into mainstream cinema via Radius TWC, with its innovative idea of a ghost as STD. Not bad for a micro-budget indie out of Detroit, and it's still picking up awards buzz now (read our interview with director David Robert Mitchell, "It Follows Goes Everywhere," March 26, 2015).

8: Let Us Prey: Another Fantastic Fest pick, this morality tale of the Devil that came out of the sea got a home release via Dark Sky Films (read our interview with star Pollyanna McIntosh and director Brian O'Malley).

9: Capsule: There were only small hopes that this high-concept ensemble student drama from Holland via Other Worlds Austin would get a U.S. release, but fingers crossed for 2016 (read our review).

10: Everly: Joe Lynch ricocheted back from the heartbreaking studio butchery inflicted on his Knights of Badassdom, and came back guns blazing with this Salma Hayek-fronted actioner, out on DVD and Blu-ray from Anchor Bay now (read out interview with Lynch, "Joe Lynch Guns for Everly," Sept. 9, 2014).

Keep up with all our SXSW coverage at austinchronicle.com/sxsw.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Top 10s, Fantastic Fest, Other Worlds Austin, SXSW, Austin Film Festival, Embers, The Devil's Candy, Too Late, High Rise, Lisa the Fox-Fairy, Green Room, The Witch, The Pig Child, Nina Forever, Tear Me Apart

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