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Flashback Five – SXSW’s Most Memorable Premieres

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james_rocchi_FF.jpgIn its 15 years, Austin’s SXSW has gone from plucky upstart to major film festival. Famous for its youth-skewing movies, this year’s world premieres include I Love You, Man and Observe and Report. What better way to salute the fest than to look back at some of the its most memorable debuts.

1. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)
Jason Segel was back in Austin this year with I Love You, Man, but his first star-making turn as a leading man and screenwriter was with the broadly funny breakup comedy, Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Only time will tell if the Sarah Marshall sequel/spin-off featuring Russell Brand’s rogue rock star Aldous Snow, Get Him to the Greek, will also make its bow here.

2. Knocked Up (2007)
Seth Rogen was also in Austin this year (with Observe and Report), but Knocked Up, a romantic comedy of great expectations, was his first SXSW premiere. The movie was a hit both at the festival and when it arrived theaters, and it solidified Rogen and director Judd Apatow as major players at the box office.

3. Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay (2008)
What better crazed party town to premiere a wild party movie? With its heroes Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) making a surprise stop-off at the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas in their flight from justice, this movie almost qualifies as a local film.

4. Stop-Loss (2008)
Not every SXSW premiere needs to be funny. Director Kimberly Pierce’s first movie since Boys Don’t Cry stars Ryan Phillippe and Channing Tatum as soldiers conflicted about returning to the Iraqi front. Underappreciated when it arrived in theaters, it’s still a movie well worth seeing.

5. Spellbound (2002)
The perfect movie to premiere at a festival with an accompanying interactive conference; no doubt the pocket-proctor set could sympathize with the documentary’s clever-but-awkward young spelling bee competitors. This charming doc would go on to be nominated for an Oscar.

Honorable Mentions:

1. The Lookout (2007) features Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a traumatized janitor who gets pulled into a bank heist by Matthew Goode. This noir throwback earned acclaim for its perverse plotting.

2. Medicine for Melancholy (2008), Barry Jenkins’ new-school urban romance of life, love and gentrification debuted in theaters in January, but its run of great reviews began in Austin. With winning performances by The Daily Show‘s Wyatt Cenac and Tracy Heggins as a one-night stand who spend the next day together, it’s as hopeful as it is hilarious.

3. 21 ( 2008) was inspired by the real-life experiences of MIT math whizzes trying to beat the Vegas house. Starring Jim Sturgess and Kevin Spacey, it bowed at SXSW as well.

4. Hannah Takes the Stairs (2007) was writer-director Joe Swanberg’s breakout movie, one of a number of films that kick-started American indie moviemaking’s new generation.

5. Helvetica (2007), a documentary about, yes, the font, was another homerun for Austin’s mixed crowd of movie lovers and technology mavens.

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