The official Cinematical presence at the 2006 Fantastic Fest was the wonderful Jette Kernion, and I think she managed to bang out about eight reviews ... while the fest was still running! I saw JK everywhere, from the queues to the parties to the local barbecue pits. Frankly I think her coverage rocked the house, and I'm not just saying that because she let me butt in line with her for The Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell.

But since the FF guys were cool enough to welcome Cinematical with such eerily open arms, I figure it's only right to share my favorite movies, moments and memories of mayhem from the 2006 FantFest. And so I shall.

The Best Flicks

Simon Rumley's seriously disturbing The Living and the Dead, the Swedish vampire flick Frostbite, Adam Green's fun-time slasher throwback Hatchet, William Friedkin's compellingly intense Bug and the quietly cool haunted Brit flick Lie Still. I also had an unexpectedly good time with Mel Gibson's Apocalypto -- and although I'd already seen Abominable, The Host, The Fountain, Pan's Labyrinth and Severance, they're all films I have no problem recommending. Oh, and William H. Macy's performance in Edmond ... wow.

I also trekked away from the festival to enjoy a good portion of Feast -- which was negated by my plane ride home. Lindsay Lohan's Just My Luck was the in-flight movie, and that flick packs perhaps the worst screenplay I've dealt with in three years. Stunningly bad.

Oh, and right before I nodded off every night, I watched just a little bit more of The Office: Season 2. If you don't watch this show, you're plain old robbing yourself of multiple peals of bulky laughter. And why would you want to do that?

The Best Foods

You think Austin and you think Texas. You think Texas and you better think barbecue! Holy moley my friends: When I say I had two of the best BBQ meals of my entire 3+ decades, you must believe I'm not just blowing smoke. The two places we ate (Smitty's and Opie's) are not what you'd call "refined dining," but the dishes were clean, the employees were great and the food was... Yikes. You haven't lived till you've had pork ribs that literally melt like butter as you jam 'em down your throat. (I'm told there are several excellent vegetarian-style restaurants in Austin, but we had too much beef on our face to notice them.)

But 75% of my meals were ingested at the Alamo Drafthouse Movie Theater, which I'll happily describe right now: As you walk in it looks like a normal movie theater -- until you notice that each row of seats has a waist-high (and very long) table in front of it. You scan through the menu, jot your order down on a slip of paper, and wait for a staff member to crouch (speedily) by, double-check your requests, and scurry off to the kitchen. And I'm not talking about crappy hot dogs or heat-lamp nachos, folks. The Alamo has steaks, burgers, chicken, seafood, beer, wine, desserts, appetizers -- and some of the finest vanilla milkshakes I've ever tasted. Oh, and those potato skins... Damn I miss Austin already.

The Best Folks

Spend nine minutes with SXSW head honcho Matt Dentler and you've probably earned a friend for life. The guy's a prince. No less groovy is Mr. Tim League, the guy who runs the best movie theater in the country (and that's not hyperbole), and his lovely wife Karrie, who I believe could win a national award for Most Gracious Hostess. Fellow jurors Wiley Wiggins and Christian Hallman made for a fantastic pair of arguers, which certainly helps when you're trying to dole out a few awards to some well-deserving movies.

Filmmakers Sean Hogan, Ryan Schifrin, Adam Green, Simon Rumley, Jimmy Moran, Jeff Mahler, Phil Mucci, Lucky McKee and the teeny, tiny, very lovely Angela Bettis. The journalists who spend time only with the Hollywood big shots are really missing out; you simply won't find cooler people than indie-makers.

Ah, and all my fellow movie geeks: Jay Slater of Film Threat, Peter Martin of TwitchFilm, Chris Cargill of AICN, Blake Ethridge of Cinema Strikes Back, Tim Basham of Paste, and my adorable colleague Laura Kyle of eFilmCritic.com. And of course an affectionate round of applause for the Alamo Drafthouse staff, most notably Devin, Jessica, Willy, Fernando, Keir-La, Zack, Justin and Liz. You think YOU work with some well-schooled movie geeks?? The Drafthouse staff is like the Universal All-Star Team for mega-obscure movie minutae. And they know how to party.

Basically, leaving Austin was like climbing onto the yellow bus home after an awesome summer at overnight camp, really sad to say goodbye -- but already hopeful and looking forward to next year. And yes, you're invited.