A Different Direction: 4 Films from 2015 that Surprised Me

 

When I was a sophomore I decided that I wanted to major in film and media studies. At the time I didn’t realize how much time, money, and energy I would need to spend watching the latest films! Every year I fall further behind – it turns out in order to be a “movie buff” you need to watch not only the “great classics” but you also need to keep up with the latest films. This year I made it a goal to watch more movies than last year. For me, I guess that means watching seven or eight of the hundreds of films that are produced worldwide each year.

My favorite films of 2015 tended to be directed by people from outside of the United States. And, although there were some great films that were produced this year from inside our nation’s arbitrary borders (The Revenant for example), I want to draw some attention to four films from four different countries that made an impact on me – either through the cinematography, stories, soundtracks, or all of the above. These following four films turned out to be different than I expected – in a great way.

Mad Max: Fury Road Director George Miller, Australia

Okay, when I went to see this film I knew it was going to be an action movie – but I didn’t know it was going to be the best action movie I had ever seen. If you haven’t heard of Mad Max: Fury Road, you probably live in the dystopian, post-apocalyptic society that Max lives in. Australian director George Miller kicked off 2015 with a furiously fantastic action-packed rollercoaster ride. When I walked out of Mad Max I physically felt out of breath – but I was also exhilarated. If you haven’t seen this film, you really should. Miller’s use of the camera during action sequences is absolutely impeccable. Cars blow up but it makes sense and isn’t simply for looks (although the giant flamethrowing guitar might have been). Besides the fascinating use of special effects – which leaves you wondering how it can look so real – the story is complex and multidimensional – a critique of patriarchy for some, capitalism or pollution for others, or maybe of all three and more!

Ex-Machina Director Alex Garland, United Kingdom

Alex Garland from across the pond brings us this wonderful philosophical film Ex-Machina. Philosophical you say? Isn’t it another science fiction/technology/robot film? Well, no, not quite. Garland’s Ex-Machina is one of the most “human” science-fiction films I’ve personally ever seen. Garland manages to question the line between biology and technology with his stunning use of artistic, haunting, shots of the Norwegian wilderness contrasted with the modern, industrial mansion our main character lives in. Coupled with some hard questions written into the dialogue, we begin to wonder along with the main characters how we truly decide when something is human, if evolution means our own destruction, and whether or not there is a “right” path when it comes to artificial intelligence.

The Assassin Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Taiwan

Hou Hsiao-Hsien combines historical and political tensions of China’s 8th century into a shimmering, seductive assassin film. Although categorized as a martial arts film, The Assassin is not your stereotypical fast-action, kung fu fighting movie. Hou Hsiao-Hsien presents a more artistic and nuanced view of how assassin, Yinniang, handles a difficult situation in which she is sent to assassinate her cousin, of whom she was once betrothed. Although The Assassin has been criticized for its slow pace, I found it to be an interesting perspective to see a situation unfold slowly so the viewers could truly feel the weight of the decisions Yinniang was forced to make. Plus, the film is absolutely beautiful in a very secretive manner. Hsiao-Hsien truly makes us feel like we are peeking into a world and time that we aren’t supposed to see.

Theeb Naji Abu Nowar, Jordan

Naji Abu Nowar’s film Theeb, is in some regards a coming-of-age film. The film follows the survival story of a young Bedouin boy named Theeb as he makes his way through Wadi Rum desert. Theeb’s journey happens during a time of great change for nomadic life – the story is set during the time of World War I, when the British were building a grand railway in the desert and inciting revolts against the Ottoman empire. In the midst of great change, Theeb must also deal with growing up as his world is complicated before him. For me, one of the best parts of this film is that we make this journey with Theeb, and we learn along with him that the world is not so black-and-white. For example, Theeb faces but also allies with his enemies to survive. Nowar’s film is greatly enhanced by the vast landscapes of the Wadi Rum desert and mountains, which highlight the beauty of Western Saudi Arabia, and by a wonderful soundtrack that brings Bedouin culture to life.

-Katelyn Faulks