Spotlight by Dean Treadway: 8 Must-See Narrative Features at the 2015 ATLFF

Even though I've only caught a little over 50% of the forty narrative films selected to be part of this year's Atlanta Film Festival, at this halfway point I inevitably have to arrive at a list of favorites. If you consider yourself an adventurous moviegoer forever on a quest for the new and different, here are eight choices you can rely on to provide you with just those hard-won qualities:

A DESPEDIDA (FAREWELL) (Marcelo Galvao, Brazil, 90m) My favorite film thus far at this year's ATLFF is this heartbreaking but never overdone examination of one person's final crack at dignity. In a performance of supreme bravery and athleticism, Nelson Xavier plays the Admiral, a once vital man whose 92 years have finally caught up with him. Rising slowly on a particularly good morning, he dresses and cleans up with fierce and treacherous difficulty, resolving to have one last day all to himself minus the doting of worried kids and caretakers. Marcelo Galvao's assured direction keeps things tense in a fast-moving city bustle that blurs past the Admiral's achingly slow, score-settling trudge towards that one final liaison with his much younger "brown sugar" (a devastatingly lovely and caring Juliana Paes). Consistently engrossing despite its measured pace, and completely fearless as it portrays the inevitable decay of the human body and the occasionally resultant rise of the spirit, A Despedida is something of a miracle: rarely have I seen a movie that bares the humility and wisdom of old age as does this extremely bittersweet and honest painting. It's definitely one of the masterpieces at this year's festival. In Portuguese with subtitles. A Despedida (Farewell) plays at the Woodruff Arts Center's Rich Theater on Saturday, March 21 at 4 pm; tickets can be purchased online here.

WILDLIKE (Frank Hall Green, USA (Alaska), 104m) In another of my absolute favorites of this year's ATLFF crop, writer/director Frank Hall Green follows the nervous path walked by 14-year-old Mackenzie (Ella Purnell in a compelling debut performance) as she takes up residence with her suspicious uncle (Brian Geraghty) in his Juneau, Alaska home. Quickly finding he's not to be trusted, she ankles it into the chilly wilderness, searching for a connection to anybody with which she can feel a modicum of safety. This leads her to an older man, Rene Bartlett (played with quiet power by a superb Bruce Greenwood), whom she finds hiking the mountainous trails as he attempts to escape his own dark past. Shadowing his steps, she strikes up a cautious, needy friendship—one with irritations that Bartlett often wishes he wasn't being saddled with. Cinematographer Hillary Spera perfectly captures the snow-capped yet utterly green beauty of Alaska while she also contributes piercing close-ups of characters whose deep hurts are dramatically in need of some healing time. Meanwhile, composers Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans provide the film with an alternately tense and tunefully evocative score. Still, it's the confident cast (which includes Ann Dowd, star of 2012 AFF entry Compliance), backed by Green's searing and always authentic screenplay, that one walks away remembering most thankfully. WildLike plays at the Plaza Theater's main auditorium on Saturday, March 21 at 5 pm; tickets can be purchased online here.

KRISHA (Trey Edward Shults, USA (Texas), 82m) Both monstrous and pathetic, with a mesmerizing command of the camera, Krisha Fairchild delivers a blistering performance as "heartbreak incarnate" in writer/director Shults' feature-length adaptation of his acclaimed short film. In it, the 60-ish Krisha is returning home after being estranged from her family for decades. It is Thanksgiving, and as the typical family mainstays are staged--the frantic cooking, the overly-competitive games, the ardent arguing and  soul-baring--Krisha past misdoings come slowly back to haunt both her and her family. Shults films this disaster in a dynamic slow-burn fashion, with a constantly moving camera shuttling between vividly lit tableaus, making this one of the most striking visual experiences of the festival. Highly emotional and even at times stunningly harsh, and with a terrific ensemble cast that's perfectly game, Krisha is a movie that staunchly rattles us with more than a few unsettling conclusions. Krisha plays at the Plaza Theater's upstairs auditorium on Saturday, March 28 at 4:45 pm; tickets can be purchased online here.

GOD BLESS THE CHILD (Robert Machoian and Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck, USA, 92m) Deftly walking the tightrope between documentary and narrative filmmaking, this challenging work very simply chronicles one day in the life of the Graham family. In it, we follow an often overwhelmed teenager (Harper Graham) as she tends to the needs of her four younger brothers, all of whom spend the day battling each other in games of strength and burgeoning masculinity. All the while, Harper is searching and waiting impatiently for the parent who is missing in action. Superbly shot in low light and long takes that keenly place us in this poverty-stricken world, God Bless the Child gives us an often uncomfortably real sense of the joys, and the burdens, of raising a family with little support financially or emotionally. It's a plotless movie that some might find difficult, yet I felt it was constantly engaging and even sometimes wondrous in its daring, transporting abilities. God Bless the Child plays at the Plaza Theater's upstairs auditorium on Wednesday, March 25 at 7:15 pm; tickets can be purchased online here.

CHRISTMAS, AGAIN (Charles Poekel, USA (Brooklyn NY), 84m) Kentucker Audley delivers a superbly low-key performance in writer/director Poekel's wonderfully well-observed narrative filmmaking debut. In it, Audley plays Noel, the depressed night man at a Brooklyn Christmas tree lot whose drab routine is goosed up after he rescues a young girl (Hannah Gross) he finds passed out on a freezing park bench. Scored with a lively source music soundtrack and filled with the sort of alternately annoying and benign characters anyone who's worked retail could easily recognize, Poekel's film successfully transmits both a sense of the Christmas blahs and of holiday hope without ever obscuring the story's humanity with maudlin sentimentality. Christmas, Again plays at the Plaza Theater's upstairs auditorium on Sunday, March 22 at 6:30 pm; tickets can be purchased online here.

L'ANNEE PROCHAINE (NEXT YEAR) (Vania Leturcq, Belgium/France, 103m) Clotilde and Aude are high school best friends who make plans to enroll at the Sorbonne in Paris the following year. Writer/director Leturcq, in her first feature, follows these young women as they each struggle to discover their unique voice in their chosen fields, while also stumbling their way through romantic entanglements and family obligations. Along the way, the women find their search for knowledge is uncovering an ever-widening rift in their relationship—one that may be irreparable. Anchored surely by precocious lead performances from Constance Rousseau and Jenna Thiam, NEXT YEAR, while examining a friendship undone by competition and suspicion, confidently portrays those tentative steps taken when first venturing out into adulthood. In French with subtitles. L'annee Prochaine (Next Year) plays at the Plaza Theater's upstairs auditorium on Saturday, March 28 at 2:15 pm; tickets can be purchased online here.

POS ESO (POSSESSED) (Sam, Spain, 81m) Even as it ticks off homages to a litany of popular genre movies, I can say--without fear of reproach--that I've never seen anything like Spanish director Sam's expertly crafted stop-motion animated horror story. Watching it is like seeing Wallace and Gromit being split open and gutted before our terrified yet somehow bemused eyes. The film follows a faith-challenged priest and his inevitable clash with Damien, the devil-possessed child of Spain's most famous bullfighter and his Flamenco-dancing superstar wife. Genre fans will have fun spotting the references, most obviously to William Friedkin's The Exorcist, but also to films like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Gremlins, The Evil Dead, Alien, and even well-loved horror obscurities like The Beast Within and The Gate. Though this is definitely not a film for kids, with its nudity and shocking plasticine gore, Possessed smartly navigates the rarely tread line between the animation and horror genres. For fans of both, this one's not to be missed. In Spanish with subtitles. Pos Eso (Possessed) plays at the Plaza Theater's upstairs auditorium on Friday, March 20 at 9:45 pm; tickets can be purchased online here.

APARTMENT TROUBLES (Jess Weixler and Jennifer Prediger, USA (Brooklyn, NY and Los Angeles, CA), 77m) Frothy but with the sharp edge of desperation, Apartment Troubles is the impressive feature debut of writer/directors Weixler and Prediger who star as Olivia and Nicole, two struggling Brooklyn artists trying to keep up with the ever-escalating rent being imposed on them by their stern landlord (Jeffery Tambor). When the pressure becomes too much for them, they mount an escape to Los Angeles, where they take up with Nicole's rich and famous aunt (a lively Megan Mullally) and discover that their friendship is at a point where it could either be deepened or destroyed. With notable appearances by Will Forte, Christopher “Kid” Reid and Lance Bass, this breezy yet slyly emotional comedy provides a terrific platform for the talents of these newly-minted filmmakers. Apartment Troubles plays at the Plaza Theater's main auditorium on Sunday, March 29 at 2:15 pm; tickets can be purchased online here.

Atlanta native Dean Treadway is the Co-Host of Movie Geeks United, the internet's #1 weekly podcast devoted entirely to movies, with 750 industry guests and four million listeners worldwide. His blog, filmicability, has over 500 articles obsessing over films present and past and is approaching 1 million hits.