Words by Ona Ojo, Ella Rowe Hall, Thomas Benny, Finegas Stocking and Megan Evans (in order of appearance)
Illustration by Shafia Motaleb @artsyfifi
Sorry to Bother You (2018) dir. Boots Riley
Riley’s directorial debut is an absurdist dark comedy set in an alternate modern-day Oakland. Despite an unpromising start in a telemarketing office, young, black and anxious Cassius ‘Cash’ Green quickly rises through the company after learning he can skilfully employ a ‘white voice’ to pitch to customers. At the same time, his co-workers, spurred on by guerrilla activist group Left Eye, engage in rapidly escalating protests against unfair work conditions.
The film follows Cash’s internal conflict: broke and living in his uncle’s garage, he is reluctant to join the protests and risk losing his promotion or newfound wealth; but he desires to stand by his friends and, in his own words, to do something that matters before he dies. This comes to a head in an unimaginable twist when he attends a party for work.
The film’s dazzling visuals alone make it worth the watch. Each telemarketing call transports Cash directly into the potential customer’s home, a physical representation of his interruption in their daily life. And a fan-favourite, Detroit (Cash’s girlfriend) often wears massive, glittering earrings that write out phrases like “Tell Homeland Security We Are the Bomb” across the pair.
Boots Riley satirises code-switching in a biting commentary on late-stage capitalism, power and the politics of race. After watching Sorry To Bother You, you’ll be excited to watch again, both for it’s captivating design and storytelling. As well as, for the more subtle critiques of how we live and work under capitalism today that you’ll find with each rerun.
Get Out (2017) dir. Jordan Peele
Jordan Peele. Not just a well-regarded actor, but a writer and director of increasingly exceptional standards. Although not his most recent movie, the 2017 film ‘Get Out’ is unquestionably his incredible break into the directing sector which the awards more than recognise; Peele becoming the first African American to win an Oscar for the best original screenplay and the first to be nominated for producing, writing and directing within the same year.
Furthermore, Peele’s film foregrounds a young African American man as he first meets his wealthy white girlfriend’s family for the weekend, in which the underlying sense of racial hostility upon his reception is nothing but the beginning of a certainly eerie tale. Protagonist Chris Washington is painstakingly the only black male present besides the maid, gardener and servant within this nightmarish, almost 1950’s style setting. Unfortunately for Washington, his fellow black peers are anything but supportive or reassuring brothers and sisters- their creepy characteristics and interactions beg more questions than security or answers.
Peele’s film deserves all its appraisal and then some, as his sinister film subtly critiques the lingering, everyday racism and the often horrifying, isolating realities of being a black man; trapped in a white man’s world. Moreover, not only is Peele’s film immensely entertaining, intriguing and mystifying, but also a political statement challenging racism, implying people can be corrupted by such racial hatred and violence as seen throughout slavery, the existence of the KKK and the abominable ongoing existence of white supremacists.
Peele’s representation of true black expression and talent therefore strongly qualifies itself as highly recommendable; not just all year long, but especially given the current racial pandemic encapsulating our lives today. Moreover, as viewers and fans, we will not stop supporting the BLM cause and righteous BAME directors; just as we can safely say Peele will rightfully never stop awing his audiences and smashing film industry records.
Oldboy (2003) dir. Park Chan-wook
올드보이 / Oldboy (2003), from the South Korean director Park Chan-wook. A notorious mastermind for violently twisted stories, trials the audience with the protagonist’s wrenching grasp for absolution, accompanied by a relentless quest for revenge.
Oh Dae-su, a hopeless drunk as well as husband and father, is captured and imprisoned for 15 years in a punishingly plain hotel room, his only company being a television – where he learns he has been framed for the murder of his wife, a haunting painting which unforgivingly stares into him, and the sleep gas that frequently pours into the room. This personal hell Dae-su is plunged into paradoxically serves as a confession booth, forcing him to try and recall all those he has wronged. While wondering whom would deliver such torment upon him, the television is his only source of information, learning, and relief. When Dae-su is released, the story erupts into a bloodthirsty hunt for his jailer, with vengeance being the primary motivator.
Oldboy is a stylish, clear-cut chronology of raw, ceaseless, violent emotion that is combined with an excellent amount of absurdity which moves the story forward at a charging pace, keeping it gripping and exciting throughout. Chan-wook challenges the viewer with a striking mystery which is injected with a dry, bitter sense of humour, and thrillingly captured fight scenes toned with a humble, sorrowful soundtrack. All of which is encapsulated in a stunning neo-noir setting. Describing this film as powerful would be an understatement. It bleeds and then bursts with a tumultuous amount of energy, dousing the audience in blood-red shock.
Columbus (2017) dir. Kogonada
The cliché of a successful directorial debut is a work which blasts its way onto the big stage, leaving mouths frothing and senses frazzled, the anointment of a new cinematic auteur emblazoned in the public consciousness (yes, I know that’s the ninth this month)! For former video essayist turned feature maker Kogonada, however, it is perhaps more apt to see first film Columbus as a delicate whisper, which passed by most amidst the snap, crackle and pop of whalloping blockbusters of the public eye.
A quietly profound debut, the movie charters the life of two lost souls native to the sleepy, but stunning eponymous town of Columbus, Indiana. With an older man and younger woman at it’s heart, the movie plays like an inverted Lost in Translation. Rather than being explored in a city to which the two are alien, the theme of non-belonging is instead examined in one they know so well.
Cho’s Jin reluctantly returns to his hometown after his architect father falls critically ill, whilst Richardson’s Casey deliberates whether to leave for the life of higher education she seems destined, or remain existing in the architectural haven she so adores. It’s this connection with artistic structures that the two combine over following a chance meeting, spending the film’s duration perusing the cities hidden depths, re-shaping each other’s understandings of these structures.
To immerse his audience in the reverential awe these slabs of concrete hold over his protagonist’s takes masterful direction. Kogonada’s deliberate framing of each shot ensures we the audience see the world through the character’s lens. The fabulously understated performances, in spite of the character’s tough realities, feels empathetic and grounded too.
Columbus may be viewed as an artistically intellectual work, but it’s humanist approach to art feels refreshing and inclusive. Casey’s friend Gabriel hypothesises early on that a professor who dismisses a video game, loved by his student, as irrelevant is failing to appreciate the value art holds to different individuals. It is true, therefore, that some may find Columbus a slow-burning bore. But for those patient enough to immerse themselves in it’s landscape, there are many riches to be found.
Submarine (2010) dir. Richard Ayoade
Submarine, produced by the incredible Richard Ayoade, epitomises the relentlessness of a first love, as well as a first heartbreak, in a comedic manner. Craig Roberts stars in this coming of age movie as a fresh, hopeful young man who struggles to accept his place in society, while trying to navigate the pressures evoked through sex, based in 1980s Swansea and adopted from Joe Dunthorne’s novel. Ayoade adopted the influences from fellow filmmakers Wes Anderson and Michel Gondry with its personal and confident production.
The movie itself provides an excellent nostalgia story to follow on emotional vulnerability, loneliness and the reality of real life. It is not only a quirky journey of love and loss, but Ayoade was keen throughout the production to present a musically inclined composition that deals with serious issues such as mental health, bereavement and martial breakdown, just to name a few.
Submarine managed to score a deal within Sundance Film Festival in 2010, which shows its strong fan base and great critical acclaim. As well as Alex Turner, the frontman for The Last Shadow Puppets contributing five original soundtrack songs. It presents artistic stylisations of self-aware narration and idealisation that maintains our sympathy whilst reminiscing our adolescent periods, and capturing these moments in such a meaningful format. Ayoade was also nominated for a BAFTA for his outstanding debut as British director and producer for the directorial and described by a Guardian critic as a ‘tremendous new voice in British film’.