As a service for those Rocker readers wondering what this year’s SXSW Film Festival had to offer beyond rock documentaries, here are five standouts worth your time, when they come to your town.

Richard Linklater (Slacker, Dazed and Confused) reteams with his School of Rock star Jack Black for this offbeat true-crime comedy, based on a Texas Monthly article by co-screenwriter Skip Hollandsworth. Black is a revelation, shedding his usual manic rock-on persona and giving a gentle, sweet-natured comic performance as Bernie Tiede, a beloved small-town mortician in East Texas who runs afoul of District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson (a droll Matthew McConaughey) after his caustic widow friend (Shirley MacLaine) disappears. Playing a bit like Coen Brothers Lite, Bernie is both an amusing caricature of East Texas life and a darkly comic exploration of the true meaning of justice.

Black Pond
Nominated for Outstanding Debut at this year’s British Academy Awards, this one-of-a-kind black comedy co-directed by Tom Kingsley and Will Sharpe strays far from the beaten path in telling the story of a family accused of murdering a stranger they’d invited to dinner. Black Pond’s sense of humor ranges from bone-dry to borderline ridiculous (in a subplot involving a therapist played by comedian Simon Amstell), but it all hangs together, thanks to the original vision of the filmmakers and the strong performances, most notably the witty turn from Chris Langham as the beleaguered family patriarch.

Safety Not Guaranteed
Perhaps the first motion picture in history to be based on a classified ad, Safety Not Guaranteed was inspired by an actual magazine listing placed by a would-be time traveler seeking an assistant. Written by Derek Connolly and directed by Colin Trevorrow, the film finds a trio of magazine employees (including Parks and Recreation’s Aubrey Plaza) investigating the man who placed the ad (Mark Duplass of The League). What follows is a charming and often very funny ensemble comedy laced with an undercurrent of melancholy.



Somebody Up There Likes Me
Austin filmmaker Bob Byington established a uniquely absurdist, deadpan sensibility in such micro-budgeted features as RSO [Registered Sex Offender] and Harmony and Me. His latest effort takes that style to the next level in telling a story of friendship and love lost over the course of 35 years, among characters that never age. The film’s often bizarre sense of humor may not be to everyone’s taste, but the presence of Byington regular Nick Offerman, now famous as Parks and Recreation’s Ron Swanson, may bring the writer/director a larger audience than he’s enjoyed so far.

Sun Don’t Shine
As an actress, Amy Seimetz has been a staple of indie film in recent years, appearing in such past SXSW entries as Tiny Furniture and Silver Bullets. Her debut as a writer-director, Sun Don’t Shine, suggests that she has as promising a future behind the camera as in front of it. Somewhat reminiscent of the early work of Terrence Malick, Seimetz’s film follows a young couple (Kate Lyn Sheil and Kentucker Audley) on the run through backwater Florida, slowly revealing the impetus behind their doom-laden road trip. Moody and unnerving, Sun Don’t Shine casts a spell that lingers long after the lights come up.
This film is also playing at the Independent Film Festival Boston – Buy tickets by clicking here!