A big part of how film festivals gain their cred over time is the films they’ve shown, right? What’s premiered there, then gone on to become a box office hit, a successful series or an Oscar contender? Despite the fact that Austin’s own Fantastic Fest is focused on genre films, which are less popular with the award-contender audience, it isn’t immune to this same look back at successes of years past.
We decided to take a look at the last five years of Fantastic Fest programming and choose one movie from each year that proves these lineups can’t be beat. We focused on U.S. and World Premieres, because there is a lot going for many of these movies, and we had to narrow it down somehow. Here are our picks:
2014: “Nightcrawler” (U.S. Premiere)
Jake Gyllenhaal might be an A-List actor, but this movie gives him a lot more to work with than many of his roles do. As Lou Bloom, Gyllenhaal is greasy, seedy and probably even psychopathic. Writer/director Dan Gilroy makes L.A. come alive as the setting for Bloom’s actions, while also using Rene Russo, Bill Paxton and Riz Ahmed in strong supporting roles. Just look at that cast! “Nightcrawler” is also a brilliant melding of genres: thriller, drama and neo-noir. Who could stay away from the darkness of humanity that this movie shone a light on?
2015: “The Devil’s Candy” (U.S. Premiere)
This straight-up horror movie might be an underrated gem. Starring Ethan Embry and Shiri Appleby (both icons of the late ’90s/early ’00s era), “The Devil’s Candy” is an ode to rock-and-roll and an exploration of the supernatural. The Devil in the title is no metaphor: This movie is about Satan worship, and the violence that can come of it. It’s a strong, Texas-based movie that will keep classic horror fans — not to mention fans of hard rock and metal — very satisfied.
2016: “The Handmaiden” (U.S. Premiere)
Not to be confused with “The Handmaid’s Tale,” this is a Korean film from director Chan-Wook Park. Literary fans may know it as an adaptation of “Fingersmith,” the historical novel by Sarah Waters. Both book and film are a series of twists and turns in high society. “The Handmaiden” is notable for featuring a number of possibly taboo scenes and subjects; the movie is explicit in both violence and sexuality. This is one dramatic mystery that no one should miss out on.
2017: “Anna and the Apocalypse” (World Premiere)
Ah yes, the zombie comedy. We’re all familiar with “Shaun of the Dead” and “Zombieland,” but the U.K.’s “Anna and the Apocalypse” brings something slightly different to the table: musicals. Yes, this teen horror-comedy has songs sprinkled throughout its run time. The music adds heart and humor to a genre that somehow might feel tired after just over a decade of mainstream success. Plus, Ella Hunt has a standout performance as the titular fighter of the apocalypse.
2018: “Cam” (U.S. Premiere)
Is it possible to feel nostalgic just one year later? There was a lot of buzz around “Cam” at Fantastic Fest 2018, and even more when it became available for the masses on Netflix. It may be one of the first times sex work was portrayed in a non-negative light, especially in a horror/thriller. It’s at least the first mainstream movie to do so. That’s thanks in large part to screenwriter (and former cam girl) Isa Mazzei, who brought the realism and humanity to the main character, portrayed brilliantly by Madeline Brewer. “Cam” is a wild ride, and all you might know by the end is that you enjoyed it.
There are so many films that have played at Fantastic Fests passed that we didn’t want to leave out, but we essentially would’ve just been transcribing the lineups at that point. We’re so excited for Fantastic Fest 2019.
What are your favorite films that have played the fest in the past? And which ones are you most looking forward to this year? Sound off in the comments below, or let us know on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
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Originally hailing from Pennsylvania, Jackie has called Austin home since choosing to attend the University of Texas, where she graduated with a degree in multimedia journalism. She loves spending time with her dogs, writing about pop culture in all its forms and spending time with friends – eating, drinking and doing trivia.