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The Austin Indie Film Examiner's top five films of SXSW 2014

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Caught up on sleep yet?

South by Southwest (SXSW) 2014 officially wrapped up Sunday with its annual softball game & BBQ as attendees begin to recover from the film and music festivals that each ended late Saturday night.

This year's film festival featured many outstanding and innovative films with 68 films coming from first time filmmakers. In all, 123 feature films played the SXSW film festival as part of 9 different categories used to thematically separate films and issue awards.

My initial plan was to write up a top 10 list like I normally do but I found upon examining my full list of films I saw at this year's festival that there was a clear separation between the films in the top five of my list and the rest of the films below them.

With that said, here are the top five reasons as to why SXSW 2014 was once again one of the finest film festival programs in the world.

1. "God Help the Girl"

Too cute and fun to resist, "God Help the Girl" is a whimsical musical based on the album of the same title by the film's writer/director Stuart Murdoch of the band Belle & Sebastian and vocalist Catherine Ireton. Shot completely on film (16 mm and Super 8), the adorable film features endearing performances from Emily Browning ("Sucker Punch"), Olly Alexander ("Enter the Void") and the always quirky Hannah Murray. Coincidentally, Murray once again plays a goofy character named Cassie like she did on the TV series "Skins" which just adds to her appeal. Also, while the film oozes with charm, there is enough of a dark element to Browning's character Eve and her story that the film doesn't seem annoyingly cheery or detached from reality. That dark element mixed in with the pleasant music makes this film a true winner from start to finish.

2. "Before I Disappear"

A very close and exceptionally worthy runner-up, "Before I Disappear" is the highest ranking film not to have appeared on my top 10 most anticipated list prior to the festival. That was a silly oversight on my part that I am glad didn't keep me from enjoying this incredible film. Shawn Christensen, the film's writer, director and lead actor, has found a way to successfully develop his Oscar winning short film "Curfew" into a captivating feature length drama also worthy of high praise. Featuring the same young actress from the short (Fatima Ptacek), the tale about a down-and-out man having to care for his young niece overnight shines with strong lead characters and imaginative cinematography. Sad you missed it? "Before I Disappear" was announced on Monday as one of the first three films to be included in the 2014 Hill Country Film Festival program in 2014. The Hill Country Film Festival will be held in Fredricksburg, TX from April 30 to May 4.

3. "Seeds of Time"

Prior to the festival, I never imagined a documentary about seeds and saving them would land in my top three films post-festival but that's indeed the case. "Seeds of Time" is a captivating and important documentary about the dwindling variety in the world's food supply and humanity's lack of preparedness for the effects of climate change on our food supply. A look into the work and life of Svalbard Global Seed Vault founder Cary Fowler, "Seeds of Time" flourishes with a commanding call-to-action, attention grabbing graphics and beautiful images of the world we live in. Those characteristics will help "Seeds of Time" invoke the proper emotions needed for a documentary like this one to take hold in a person's heart and mind.

4. "Sequoia"

How do you make a film about a 23-year-old cancer patient who is planning her own suicide enjoyable and pleasant? Just ask director Andy Landen and writer Andrew how because that's exactly what they did with "Sequoia." Starring Aly Michalka ("Easy A") as the dying Riley and Dustin Milligan as the Christian sweetheart Ogden, "Sequoia" uses the harsh realities of life and the struggles within life to create a lovable and relatable drama. With a often hilarious dose of family drama happening amongst Riley's family away from Riley and Ogden, "Sequoia" finds the delicate blend between drama and comedy to make itself standout in a crowded SXSW field.

5. "I Believe in Unicorns"

A story of first love and the development of maturity in a young woman, "I Believe in Unicorns" blends indie film characteristics with a refreshing dose of fantasy. That refreshing dose of fantasy comes from the use of gorgeous stop-motion in several fantasy sequences. These sequences show the young Davina's (Natalia Dyer) thoughts and imagination as she falls for the handsome yet troubled Sterling (Peter Vack). With these sequences, "I Believe in Unicorns" distinguishes itself as one of the most unique films of the SXSW program. Adding a icing on the cake is the fact that the film is the first feature from writer/director Leah Meyerhoff. Meyerhoff's writing gives the young Davina the proper respect and maturity a character like her deserves and leaves the viewer feeling inspired even when things don't work out perfectly for those involved.

Looking for more SXSW coverage? Stay tuned in the coming days for more reviews of SXSW 2014 films.

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