2015 Women & Movies

Living in the southern half of the planet, the long hot summer holiday months give me time to process my year of movies – and hopefully highlight some titles that other women may have missed out on.  Usually, I try to pick just 10 of my favourite “women-interest” films to share, but couldn’t cut down my initial ‘longlist’ of 30-odd films into a ‘shortlist’ this year, and have ended up with random ramblings in no particular order.

Forced to pick just one of the 5-Star offerings to highlight on my front page, I have chosen one of the Academy Award nominations for the Best Foreign Language film category:

mustang“Mustang” from Turkey. 5-starindex
Five orphaned teenage sisters splash about on the beach with  male classmates – innocent childish fun at the end of the last day of school before summer break. A neighbor passing by, reports what she thinks is illicit behavior to the girls’ family. The family overreacts, imprisoning the girls inside the house, subjecting them to endless lessons in feminine roles as preparation for arranged marriages. As the eldest sisters are unwillingly married off, the younger ones plan escaping the same fate.

I could find few faults with this movie, the ensemble cast were stellar in their performances, the direction and camera work powerful, in getting across messages with minimal dialogue, and the love between the sisters was a joy to behold.

Trailer available on  YouTube

As for the rest of my 2015 Women’s movies list, see over the page…..MORE—>

As mentioned above, it was difficult to sort my movies into any form of coherence, so have ended up grouping them together by (very) broad themes, in no particular order.

First up is biographical stories where mostly true stories are dramatised and despite any production flaws, I find these stories of women’s experiences worthwhile additions to the ongoing narrative of women’s condition, as well as often being inspirational: My top 3 recommended films of 2015 are:
♥Consent: The Louise Nicholas Story (New Zealand);
♥Difret (Ethiopia) and
Cleveland Abduction (USA).

Other Honorable mentions in this category are Big Eyes (USA) and Bessie (USA). Details at: Biographical Stories

I do NOT recommend The Girl King, a portrait of the medieval Queen Kristina of Sweden, despite its awards, positive reviews and obvious expensive production.
Partly because I question the factual basis, particularly in relation to the political events of the time in which Kristina was involved.  Similar to other modern period dramas, (eg Elizabeth (1998) ), the focus is on over-the-top personal relationship and sexual melodrama (whether lesbian or not), and the presentation of Kristina as an angst-ridden tantrum-throwing adolescent, was both irritating and boring in turns.

Next are stories with lesbian-interest themes, which is fairly broad.  Most contemporary lesbian films tend to focus on lesbian romance, youth culture, or Lifetime channel soap-opera style dramas showing lesbian relationships as having the same family and relationship dramas as anyone else.   Personally, I dislike romance and/or adolescent angst ridden films (whether het or lesbian) or soap-operas, and hence I find very few to my taste.

The only ones that stand out for me, are ones that are genuinely funny, display one or other of the heroines personally maturing or evolving through the story, (via a relationship or not) – and/or explore the position of lesbians in society.  My top 3 recommended films of 2015 in this category are:

Carol (UK/USA co-production);
♥ Summertime (France); and
All About e (Australia) .

Honorable mentions in this category include Bare and Raven’s Touch
Details at:Lesbian-Interest films

The final category is Just-for-Fun, with girl & women-friendly entertainment value:

Grandma (USA)
Lily Tomlin is delightful as the grandmother “Elle”, (who is breaking up with her latest girlfriend and still grieving over the death of her life partner) when her teenage granddaughter shows up asking for money for an abortion that day.  Elle is broke, but since neither woman wants to take the issue to the mother, they embark on a full day of trying to find someone to lend the money.  Great exploration of generational women bonding.

The Dressmaker (Australia)
The black humour threading through this story will not to be everyone’s taste. Tilly (Cate Blanchett), a successful dressmaker now in her 30s, returns to the small country town of her birth and her mother known as “Mad Molly” played so well by the delightful Judy Davis.  Tilly has no full memory of the death of a young boy, that had her sent away to boarding school when she was 10 years old, as she was blamed for causing the death.  Tilly tries to make friends/amends with the townswomen with her dressmaking skills, and uncover the truth of that afternoon, but is thwarted at every turn.  Ultimately, Tilly exacts her vengeance on the town which had destroyed her mother’s life, and tried to destroy her own.

Miss You Already (UK)
The friendship between two life-long girlfriends is put to the test when one starts a family and the other falls ill with cancer.  A worthwhile journey into the bonds of female-friendship, with wonderful performances by Toni Collette and Drew Barrymore.  The chemistry between the two actresses makes the movie stand out.

The Second Mother (Brazil)
Val is a live-in housekeeper in Sao Paulo. Val has been taking care of her wealthy employers’ needs, from cooking, cleaning to being a surrogate mother to their teenage son, whom she has raised since he was a toddler. But when Val’s estranged daughter Jessica shows up, the unspoken but intrinsic class barriers that exist are spotlighted. Jessica is smart, confident, and ambitious, and refuses to accept the upstairs/downstairs dynamic, testing relationships, loyalties and forcing everyone to reconsider what family really means.

Suffragette (UK)
Beautifully presented dramatisation of some of the characters of more militant factions of the UK Suffragette movement, and critical events in the years before WW1.  A worthy addition to the canon of herstorical narratives, along with films such as Made in Dagenham, The Women’s Day and North Country.

Advantageous (USA)
A thought-provoking speculative sci-fi film. Gwen and her daughter Jules live in a near-future city where decadent opulence overshadows economic hardship – in a performance by the lead actresses full of silence. The common feminist theme of using silence allows several messages to be seen and heard ideas of ‘choice’, (when limited career/family choices can have serious long-lasting consequences), the struggle to maintain some joy and dignity between mother and daughter in such a world, and the ‘body beautiful’ being the primary social value of women.

Mythica (US) Parts 1 & 2 (with Part 3 soon to be released)
‘Sword & Sorcery’ with a young woman heroine leading the good fight against the evil. Fun adventure story with visually spectacular landscapes and magic effects, some comic moments and CGI monsters – recommended for the girl in all of us who wanted to “do stuff”, and not just stand around, look pretty and scream a lot.  Excellent production, especially as the sequel films were crowdfunded on Kickstarter.

Cirkeln – aka “Circle” (Sweden)
A Swedish young adult fantasy film, based on the world best-selling YA novel by  Sara Bergmark Elfgren and Mats Strandberg. It is the first in an intended trilogy of films based on the Engelsfors trilogy.  The story follows a group of 6 teenage girls with little in common – other than that they attend the same high school.  They discover that they have been  become witches. The girls, known as the Chosen Ones, are destined to save the world from an approaching apocalypse caused by demonic evil loosed from the underworld.  However, the girls must get over their differences of class, interests and lifestyle and learn to work together.  An unusual and well-done portrait of girls learning to work together.

The Shamer’s Daughter (Denmark)
Another Nordic adventure fantasy offering in a semi realistic medieval fantasy world with dragons and witchcraft.  It follows Dina, a 12-year-old girl who has inherited her mother’s supernatural ability to look straight into the soul of other people through their eyes, making them feel shame and guilt.  When the sole heir to the throne is wrongfully accused of the horrible murders of his entire family, Dina’s mother is lured to the capital under false pretenses to make him confess. When she declares him innocent of the crime, she is taken prisoner.  Dina is then forced to the capital in her mother’s place, where Dina also declares him innocent.   Dina and her family are then on the run into adventure in order to solve the crime and put the rightful heir on the Throne.

Bleeding Heart (USA)
A women-in-action indie film.  May, is a yoga instructor who was adopted out as a baby, and discovers a half-sister, Shiva, who is trapped in prostitution with an abusive pimp boyfriend.  While Shiva initially insists she does not need “saving” or any help to get out of her situation, she eventually makes a move and May supports her.  Unusual and valuable exploration of women-bonding and the sisterhood vibe between the two actresses is great to watch. Warning: Some physical violence with inferred sexual violence, but not overly explicit.

Momentum (USA)
I enjoy the fun of an occasional formulaic kick-butt action heroine story, especially when the heroine is not “working for the man” but takes her own initiative and makes all her own decisions, and beats all the guys :-). Alex is a mysterious retired thief, and is pulled in by her former partner for one last heist. She quickly finds it was never just about the diamonds and she was being set up. A brutal murder sparks a cat and mouse chase between Alex and a master assassin.  So she must uncover the truth behind the heist set-up, and discover why she has been made a target.

Bound to Vengeance (USA)
Presented as a B-grade horror/violence/slasher flick – but, I was totally surprised by this film. A young woman is chained and held captive in a derelict basement. Making her escape, she ransacks the house, and discovers that 6 other girls like her are experiencing a similar situation. Determined for vengeance and justice, she forces her captor to reveal the locations of these 8 women so they too can be saved, at any cost. The horrifying reality of sex trafficking and slavery is commendably done by the director and production crew.  All the characters are believably realistic and all the more scary for being so realistic.  The film highlights the trauma, and also the extreme psychological damage all of these women have suffered in different ways (including the lead actress) without ever once actually showing the action of sexual violence. 

One last note on the popular Mad Max: Fury Road – I saw it, it was just OK – as a common average car-chase action film with some over-the-top blood and guts.  *Yawn*. Besides, the story totally erased all the charm found in the first two movies in the series, before Hollywood mangled it with the third film Beyond Thunderdome, and yet again in this 4th one.

However, there are some lip-service token-feminist nods to eco-feminism, and while this is highly unusual in these types of popular films – and it was great to see their brief cameos – they were very (very) brief (don’t blink or you’ll miss them) in the context of a long film.  Also, the revered women’s land that Furiosa was trying to get to, had obviously failed (or they wouldn’t have mostly died off with a handful of homeless elders on bikes in the wasteland), and ultimately they needed the male Hero – ie Max – to get them away, and talk them into returning before they ran away into the desert.    Message? That women still need a man, women can’t do it by themselves.

 

 

 

 

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