Southwest Movies
Credit: Diyah Pera; Jojo Whilden/HBO

Part musical festival, part film festival, part tech-head confab, SXSW is a unique event in the pop-culture firmament, bringing massive stars and indie up-and-comers in music, movies, and tech together in the Texas hill country of Austin. Running from March 9-17, the film festival has especially expanded its profile in the last few years: The 2011 SXSW fest featured premieres of Jodie Foster's The Beaver, the doc Conan O'Brien Can't Stop, the Jake Gyllenhaal thriller Source Code, the sci-fi comedy Paul, and the eventually Oscar-winning feature documentary Undefeated.

My colleague Karen Valby and I will be on the scene for this year's fest, which definitely looks to have its share of major highlights. Here's what's catching the biggest buzz heading into this year's SXSW:

The Cabin in the Woods — Produced by Joss Whedon and directed by Drew Goddard (i.e. the screenwriter for Cloverfield), this mysterious horror flick has been lying in wait for over two years thanks in large part to the MGM bankruptcy. Now that the film's been snapped up by Lionsgate and is finally heading to theaters next month, expect your Twitter feed to be inundated with reactions after Cabin's premiere on Friday night. And you should not read any of them. Cabin in the Woods is a film for which the words SPOILER ALERT were invented.

A Conversation with Joss Whedon — The next morning, at this SXSW Interactive panel, Whedon and I will circuitously discuss Cabin in the Woods and Whedon's other massive movie this year, Marvel Studios' The Avengers. Also likely on the docket: Whedon's indie production of Much Ado About Nothing, his ongoing expansion of the Buffyverse in comic book form, and whether we will ever see the Serenity take flight again.

21 Jump Street— Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as rookie cops who go undercover as high school students. But if the Centerpiece film of SXSW seems a bit, well, lowbrow for a major film festival — I mean, it is a studio action-comedy adaptation of a beloved '80s TV show — rest assured that this is not your typical action-comedy adaptation of a beloved '80s TV show.

Girls — In a SXSW first, the fest is screening the first three episodes of the upcoming HBO series from star and creator Lena Dunham and exec producer Judd Apatow. The 25-year-old Dunham's career launched at SXSW two years ago with her acclaimed indie film Tiny Furniture, which won the top narrative prize. And that leads us to the similarly named…

Small Apartments — This skewed dark comedy from music video director Jonas Åkerlund (Lady Gaga, Madonna) stars the most eclectic cast assembled in many a moon: Matt Lucas (Bridesmaids, Little Britain), Billy Crystal, James Caan, Johnny Knoxville, Juno Temple, James Marsden, Dolph Lundgren, Saffron Burrows, DJ Qualls, Rebel Wilson, and Rosie Perez.

Bernie — Local hero Richard Linklater's true-crime dark comedy stars Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey, and Shirley MacLaine (!).

A Conversation with Seth MacFarlane— The wildly prolific creator of Family Guy will talk about his multiple TV shows, his budding music career, and, most notably, his feature film directorial debut, Ted, starring Mark Wahlberg as a man who as a kid wished his teddy bear would come to life — and it did. MacFarlane, naturally, voices the bear.

In Our Nature — Zach Gilford (Friday Night Lights) and John Slattery (Mad Men) star as an estranged son and father who serendipitously end up at a vacation house with their girlfriends (Jena Malone and Gabrielle Union)

frankie go boom — More warring brothers, this time played by Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) and Chris O'Dowd (Bridesmaids). Ron Perlman's turn as a transgender hacker looks to be one of the most talked about performances of the festival.

Marley — Presented as the "definitive" doc about Bob Marley's life story, Kevin Macdonald's film won wide praise when it debuted at the Berlin Film Festival last month.

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