Top 10 Festival Films You Haven't Seen Yet

Last year's unseen genre gems to add to your must-see list

The best of the fests (clockwise from top left): Assassination Classroom: Graduation, Colossal, Buster's Mal Heart, A Dark Song, Found Footage 3D, Stille Reserven.

One great perk of being a film fan in Austin is that, with so many festivals, it's easy to get a sneak peek at titles that won't hit screens for another year. So here's a quick rundown of some of the best, quirkiest, weirdest, saddest, most moving, and laugh-generating movies to which you can look forward.

1) A Dark Song

Screened at: Fantastic Fest

This extraordinary supernatural exploration on the keening, soul-wracking power of loss is a shadowy twin to Dr. Strange. Sophia Howard (Catherine Walker) and Joseph Solomon (Steve Oram, Sightseers) play apprentice and wizard as she hires him to give her one last moment with her dead son. This is a horror tone poem with a revelatory ending (read the full review here).

Chances you'll see it: Excellent. It's found a perfect home with IFC Midnight in the States, and Kaleidoscope internationally.

2) Assassination Classroom: Graduation

Screened at: Fantastic Fest

Previously in Assassination Classroom: a super-powered squid with a smiley face has blown up the moon, and has threatened to do the same to Earth unless he can teach a bunch of high schoolers how to kill him. Nothing about 2015's sci-fi action comedy made a lick of sense, and neither does the glorious sequel about UT and the losers of Class 3-E. Yet it's told with such love, such giddy joy, and such wacky gunfights, that it's a contender for best live-action anime adaptation to date.

Chances you'll see it: For some unknowable and unbelievably frustrating reason, even though the prequel was a box-office breaker in Japan, and the original anime and manga are big sellers, even the first in the cinematic franchise hasn't appeared in the U.S. yet.

3) Colossal

Screened at: Fantastic Fest

FF's imp of the perverse Nacho Vigalondo grows up. Colossal melds monster movie logic with relationship drama with having Anne Hathaway as a burnout party girl who suddenly discovers she controls a Kaiju stomping through Seoul, South Korea. It sounds like a silly concept, but those earlier films have been a warm-up for Vigalondo's most assured and nuanced work to date. Plus, this could be the game-changer performance for Jason Sudeikis.

Chances you'll see it: Great. Tom Quinn from Radius and Alamo Drafthouse boss Tim League acquired it as their follow-up release to Where to Invade Next, and have it penciled in for early 2017. Come back then for our interview with Vigalondo.

4) "Beautiful Dreamer"

Screened at: Other Worlds Austin

A mother (Jo Armeniox) is forced to give up her daughter when she heads into space. Like Salt and Fire it seems simple enough, yet this short adaptation of Ken Liu's 2012 short story "Memories of My Mother" is an eight-decade examination of a maternal bond extended by relativity.

Chances you'll see it: Shorts rarely make it to any kind of home distribution, but here's hoping for a streaming release post-festival season.

5) Buster's Mal Heart

Screened at: Fantastic Fest

Sarah Adina Smith got lucky when she cast Rami Malek just as he underwent a meteoric rise, courtesy of Mr. Robot. But then Malik got lucky by connecting with Smith, (writer/director of the visionary and magical The Midnight Swim), who gives him triple roles in this quieter, more meditative Donny Darko.

Chances you'll see it: Excellent, since it's been acquired by Well Go USA.

6) Salt and Fire

Screened at: Fantastic Fest

Werner Herzog, you magnificent bastard. On the face of it, the full-throttle auteur goes for a slow-burn apocalyptic drama, with billionaire polluter (Michael Shannon) kidnapping an environmental researcher (Veronica Ferres) to prevent her releasing a report on his ecological crimes. It's not any of that. It's Herzog's defense of the kind of ethnographic documentary filmmaking that he relishes. For anyone that thinks Herzog is a blithe misanthrope, this places his world-sized heart on plain display.

Chances you'll see it: Acquired by XLrator Media, so look for a 2017 release.

7) Don't Kill It

Screened at: Fantastic Fest

One of monster horror's greatest tropes is the gnarled old creature hunter who arrives to help our beleaguered heroes. Don't Kill It by Mike Mendez (Big Ass Spider!) turns the conceit gleefully on its head and shakes it like a bloody snow globe, with Dolph Lundgren as a demon slayer, stuck in another nowhere town with another bunch of idiots (read our full review here).

Chances you'll see it: It's really up to you. Mendez has an Indiegogo campaign to pay for distribution. Help get it on screens here.

8) Found Footage 3D

Screened at: Austin Film Festival

Austin filmmaker Steven DeGennaro knew exactly what he was doing when he made his horror-comedy, melding two formats that film fans love to hate.

Chances you'll see it: No solid word yet, but there's definitely a lot of buzz after the film and cast came home from festival season with a van-load of awards.

9) Goran

Screened at: Fantasia

A gem of a black social comedy I managed to catch remotely out of Montreal's favorite genre fest last year. Imagine a Croatian Curb Your Enthusiasm, but instead of awkward bourgeois pre-dinner silences, it's suspected murder, debauchery, and a lovable loser who just isn't that lovable.

Chances you'll see it: So far, no word on any U.S. distribution.

10) Stille Reserven

Screened at: Other Worlds Austin

The best dystopian fiction is predicated on one simple idea: take an aspect of life that defines us (reading, love, eating) and imagine the dictatorship that rips it away. This remarkable Austrian near-future drama posits a cold-blooded world in which we are no longer safe to even die (read our full review here).

Chances you'll see it: No word on a U.S. release yet, but it seems ideal for an out-of-the-box distro house like Artsploitation or Oscilloscope.

That's the 2016 festival slate done with, but what happened to the class of 2015?

1) Liza the Fox-Fairy: File under "Are you kidding me?" Look, this deliciously kitschy Hungarian ghost musical may seem like a hard sell. But there is no excuse for this oddball gem not being somewhere on American screens.

2) High-Rise: Ben Wheatley's masterful adaptation of JG Ballard's novel got a theatrical release in March, and is on Netflix and Blu-ray now (read our Fantastic Fest 2015 review here)

3) Green Room: Jeremy Saulnier's astounding punks-under-siege thriller made it to cinemas and Blu-ray, even if it carries a sheen of sadness after the death of star Anton Yelchin (read our Fantastic Fest review here and our interview with star Macon Blair here).

4) Nina Forever: The darkest girl-meets-boy-and-his-dead-girlfriend romance imaginable got a special Valentine's Day release, and is on VOD now (read the SXSW 2015 review here).

5) The Devil's Candy: The long wait for Sean Byrne's Austin-shot horror-metal opus is nearly over, with IFC planning a March release (read our Fantastic Fest review here).

6) The Witch: The astounding Puritan period horror was an early year smash, and is on Blu-ray and year-end Top 10 lists now (read our review here, and our interview with director Robert Eggers here).

7) "The Pig Child": The ambitious body horror short is on Vimeo now (watch it here) and director Lucy Campbell has promised a feature-length follow-up.

8) Too Late: Dennis Hauck's neo-noir got the 35mm roadshow release it was made for, and is on VOD now (read our review here).

9) Tear Me Apart: This grisly but moving take on the post-apocalyptic cannibal trope (with the cannibals as the heroes) is on Amazon Video now, and is free to watch if you're a Prime member.

10) Embers: Staying post-apocalyptic, Claire Carré's amazing take on a world without the burden and joy of memory is an unmissable calling card for a great new talent. Catch it on VOD and iTunes now (read our review here).

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Fantastic Fest, Other Worlds Austin, Austin Film Festival, Fantasia Fest, A Dark Song, Beautiful Dreamer, Buster's Mal Heart, Colossal, Don't Kill It, Found Footage 3D, Goran, Salt and Fire, Stille Reserven

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