Best of the 2010s: My Favorite Films of 2015

Mustang (Directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven)
From my review:
Filled with humor and joy, Mustang is a timeless story. It transcends any particular religious or geographic specifics and conveys an experience that is felt by women across the globe at varying levels of intensity. Societies seem to have a preoccupation with controlling the will of their female citizens, based on a fear of loss of control. Director Erguven states firmly that this type of energy is impossible to contain, and through Lale, she tells a story that gives hope to those who may feel like they have no more freedom.

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Movie Review – Birdboy: The Forgotten Children

Birdboy: The Forgotten Children (2015)
Written & Directed by Alberto Vázquez & Pedro Rivero

On an island in a seemingly endless sea, where a factory in the industrial zone exploded, leaving this place a decaying hell, lives Birdboy. Birdboy is a teenager possessed by a demonic force that makes its home in the lighthouse just off the shoreline. Despite his dark nature and dependency on meds to keep this demon at bay, Birdboy is loved by Dinky, a mouse girl from a troubled family. Dinky is a runaway who, with her friends Sandra the rabbit and Little Fox, have pooled their money to try and buy a boat so they can finally escape this place. This animated Spanish-language picture is very dark and most definitely a mature adult-oriented film dealing in themes of mental illness, addiction, and abuse.

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Movie Review – Embrace of the Serpent

Embrace of the Serpent (2015)
Written & Directed by Ciro Guerra

The story feels familiar, well-tread territory. A visitor from the Western world ventures into the dark jungles seeking knowledge, a cure, a remedy, wealth, and fortune. A strange and mystic native guides them through this exotic land, and it either ends in triumph or tragedy, the Westerner at the forefront of the story. Filmmaker Ciro Guerra takes this framework and subverts it, turns this into the account of the native with the Westerner becoming a background supporting figure. Guerra tells of two visitors to the same native Amazonian shaman, thirty years apart, but both men are seeking the same curative plant. Through these dual points in time, the audience can witness the decay of native cultures, ravaged by the effects of interlopers on their land.

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Movie Review – Ixcanul

Ixcanul (2015)
Written & Directed by Jayro Bustamante

It’s a deceptively told and shot tale, much like the camera pushing through the coffee plants, quietly and slowly, revealing secrets about our protagonist. Ixcanul is the story of Maria, a young woman, who is a Kaqchikel Mayan living the volcanic soil hills of Guatemala. She has been promised to Ignacio, the coffee plantation foreman for whom her father works. She secretly meets with Pepe, one of the workers, closer to her age and eventually gives up her virginity to him. Pepe half-heartedly promises to bring Maria along with him when he begins the daunting trek to cross the United States border. Of course, he slips away in the night, leaving Maria with a growing burden that will derail her parents’ plans for her.

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Movie Review – Son of Saul

Son of Saul (2015)
Written & Directed by László Nemes

In the midst of the obscene and the profane does it make sense to eke out some small piece of the sacred? What value do rituals and beliefs have when confronted when the horrific abomination of humanity’s darkest hour? Do we need to shield these artifacts of faith, these dying flames from decimation? First-time feature director László Nemes chooses to film the story with an impressionistic style, almost every single scene so tightly focused on Saul, a Hungarian Jew imprisoned at Auschwitz. The background is nearly abstracted in nearly every scene, our protagonist being shoved along through a seemingly never-ending series of atrocities against humanity. Saul reaches out clinging to a practically useless ritual as a means to disconnect from what is happening around and to him.

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Movie Review – Brooklyn

Brooklyn (2015)
Written by Nick Hornby
Directed by John Crowley

The immigrant experience is familiar fodder for filmmakers, and New York City is often the setting for many period pieces about new arrivals to our shores. Brooklyn is the story of Eilish, an Irish woman who crosses the Atlantic to start a new life in America. She’s set up in a boarding house with a job at a large department store by her Catholic priest sponsor. Eilish struggles with homesickness but eventually works past it, helped by a burgeoning relationship with Tony, a young Italian man. Tragedy strikes back home in Ireland, and Eilish is forced to return with plans to go back to NYC. However, she finds new horizons available to her in Ireland that may change her plans.

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Movie Review – Girlhood

Girlhood (2015)
Written & Directed by Céline Sciamma

Marieme is a sixteen-year-old black teenager living on the outskirts of Paris. She learns that her school’s guidance counselor is pushing for her to follow a vocational track as her academics don’t appear to be high enough for an academic one. Marieme knows the expectations of her mother, who works as a custodian, are that she eventually go to university. In this moment of frustration, the young woman finds friendship with a trio of girls. These young women are known for getting into brawls with other women in their neighborhood, and through them, Marieme feels like she has power in an otherwise powerless position in the world. Over the course of this year, she will move from being a child into a young adult and have to face the obstacles and struggles that come along with that territory.

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