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Culture’s Choice: Best Films of 2020

Culture’s Choice is a series of articles where our culture writers share their reflections and recommendations of their favourite art of 2020.

Ishaan Rahman: Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm

Sacha Baron Cohen makes a return in Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm, a sequel to his 2006 mockumentary hit. Cohen plays a filmmaker from Kazakhstan, Borat, who is sent to America to improve relations with President Donald Trump. This time, he’s joined by his fifteen-year-old daughter, played by Maria Bakalova with innocence and farce. Bakalova’s character has been raised in Kazakhstan and preconditioned to believe every chauvinist female stereotype.

The film’s over-the-top satirical comedy brings countless laugh-out-load moments, each ranging from light-hearted to borderline disturbing. Though unlike its predecessor, the film is very focused and timely, particularly on US politics and the November elections.

As in his other films, Cohen and Bakalova interacted with real-life Americans who did not know they were in a movie, which brings many laughs. However, these interactions also expose an American populace ridden with misinformation, misogyny, anti-semitism and general bigotry.

There’s a method to Cohen’s madness in the Borat sequel. He’s able to do what mainstream journalists, pundits and politicians fail to do: portray how insane, repugnant and divisive contemporary politics is. In the end, he successfully delivers a pointed message in 2020 about the need to vote. With the record-high turnout in this contentious election, it looks like he succeeded.

Amiya Johar: The Social Dilemma

Jeff Orlowski’s chilling drama-documentary hybrid investigates human commodification and manipulation in the hands of capitalistic social media platforms. Justifiably far from non-partisan, the film intriguingly poses social networks’ addictive, encroaching features as an existential issue, impacting democracy and societal consciousness.

In a series of interviews, technological experts – lacking in balanced gender representation – who previously held executive positions at social media conglomerates, condemn their own creations. Particularly, the criticism of the technology industry’s business model for relying on surveillance capitalism and psychological manipulation provides educative and economic insights into the industry’s motivations for such breaches.

Body dysmorphia and radicalisation caused by social media are portrayed through a fictional narrative of a suburban family, entertainingly interrupting the monotony of recurrent interviews. However, insufficient elaboration on pragmatic solutions to the pervasive issue leaves a disconcerting aftertaste. Nevertheless, the seemingly dismaying narrative serves to disclose a suppressed reality that everybody should be privy to.

Elena Veris Reynolds: The 40-Year-Old Version

Radha Blank directs and stars in this semi-autobiographical debut, which showed at Sundance this year before being released on Netflix in October. The 40-Year-Old Version follows Radha, a once highly acclaimed playwright, on the cusp of her 40th birthday as she grapples with a midlife crisis. She teaches drama to teenagers and wants to write for big theatres again, but doing so would require her to sell out and write “Black poverty porn”. Everyone thinks she’s gone mad when she decides that she wants to start rapping. But it proves useful as an outlet as she watches her play, Harlem Ave, get twisted into a white liberal feel-good fest about gentrification.

However, the film is much more than a satire and critique of the entertainment industries and the way they co-opt black artists. It’s also a self-reflective, witty look at Radha’s own life and values. It’s a love letter to the art of cinema, to New York, to black artists of all kinds. It’s also laugh-out-loud funny, from Radha panicking and calling herself “Radha-mus Prime” when asked for her rap name, to the kids she teaches devising a play about sex where they play the sperm and eggs. The entire cast give detailed, nuanced performances, with Blank herself and her rap producer D (Oswin Benjamin) both bringing a beautiful vulnerability to their characters, one that underlines their tender relationship.

Honest, hilarious and deeply moving, The 40-Year-Old Version is like no film that’s been made before.

Natalia Vasnier: Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy is a film that got released on Netflix in November and has received a wide range of opinions. Based on a true story from the memoirs of J.D. Vance, the film follows his life as Yale Law student who suddenly receives a call from home, informing him that his mother has just overdosed. The news flood him with constant flashbacks of his childhood as a boy, and the analepses explain the complex relationship he has with his mother and grandmother, and the events that shaped his character over the years. The movie encompasses the hardships of family legacy and the will to build one’s future life. The final quote of the film is an ode to the message the movie portrays: “Where we come from is who we are, but we choose every day who we become. My future, whatever it is, is our [his family’s] shared legacy”.

Overall, I enjoyed this movie, contrary to the number of negative reviews of it. I think it shows a side of an American family that is not usually portrayed in mainstream movies. We see the reality of the health care system, the complication of socio-economic background in influencing one’s future, and the life of a drug addict and her convoluted bond with her children.

Editor-in-Chief

BA Culture, Media and Creative Industries student. Writer for Roar News' Culture and Comment. Poet. Artist. Puppy person.

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