Parasite director Bong Joon Ho names 10 filmmakers to watch in 2020
Your watch list sorted.
Bong Joon Ho, the director of Oscar-nominated film Parasite, is guest editing the BFI’s March issue of Sight & Sound magazine. In it, he shares storyboards from the film -- which also won the 2019 Palme d'Or, making him the first Korean filmmaker to win the award -- and writes a tribute to director Kim Kiyoung, whose psychosexual horrors The Housemaid (1960) and Woman Of Fire (1971) had a huge influence on his own work.
Most excitingly though, given he’s currently celebrating his twentieth year as a director, Bong thought it only fitting to select the emerging filmmakers he believes will be central to the next 20 years of cinema.
“The year is 2020, a number that belongs to a sci-fi film in itself,” Bong says in the issue. “I do not wish to summon these directors for the sake of discussing the future of cinema. I simply wish to discuss the films they have already created (even though it may only be two or three films). But in the end, this inevitably concerns the future of cinema. Because, when we watched Wong Kar Wai’s second film Days of Being Wild (1990), we might have already dreamed of In the Mood for Love (2000) in our minds. Or... when we watched Blood Simple (1985) by the Coen brothers, we might have already been experiencing No Country for Old Men (2007), which would come two decades later.
“So what can we expect to unfold over the next 20 years for the 20 directors listed here? The compulsive visuals of Midsommar (2019), the pitch-black ocean that meets the quiet gaze of Asako 1 & II (2018), the beauty of The Lighthouse (2019) emitting black-and-white light beyond that ocean, the children’s endless chatter in Yoon Gaeun’s films, the astonishing cinematic miracle that is Happy as Lazzaro (2018). What future do these films suggest for their directors? One thing remains certain: they will continue to shoot films.”
In this extract from the issue, Sight and Sound's staff writers further unpack some of the filmmakers Director Bong has his eye on, like Jordan Peele, Ari Aster and Robert Eggers (yes, Bong, we know), while also shining a light on lesser-known directors like fellow South Korean Yoon Ga-eun, Alice Rohrwacher and Hamaguchi Ryusuke:
Selected directing credits: Bombay Beach (2011), LoveTrue (2016), Honey Boy (2019)
Har’el’s sensuous, exuberant movie-making verve was apparent from her first music videos for the band Beirut and others, but it was her first feature, Bombay Beach -- a documentary set on California’s backwater Salton Sea, in which her subjects performed their feelings in breakout dance numbers -- that made clear this was not a filmmaker who was going to stay inside the lines. She’s since found common cause with Shia LaBeouf, who performed nude in her video for Sigur Rós’s “Fjögur Píanó”, produced her second doc LoveTrue – another performative triptych, this time exploring modern conundrums of young love across the US – and wrote and starred (as his own abusive dad) in last year’s autobiographical traumatic-childhood drama Honey Boy. Har’el’s formal flamboyance, it turns out, is a sign of hunger for real feeling. She also made her mark in advertising, not only winning awards but pushing her #FreeTheBid campaign to open doors for female directors.
Selected directing credits: Moths (2010, short), Storm House (2011, short), The Silken Strand (2013, short), Room 55 (2014, short), Bath Time (2015, short), Saint Maud (2019)
One of the most exciting new British talents, Glass has made bold interventions to genre tropes, of a kind that Bong would surely approve. Inspired by visual effects master Ray Harryhausen, she began making home movies as a teenager, before attending the National Film and Television School in 2014. Her short films carved a distinct space for themselves in contemporary horror, often focusing on female protagonists: Room 55 explored the sexual awakening of an English housewife in the 1950s, while Bath Time concerned a woman suffering from an anxiety disorder. Her highly original first feature Saint Maud, which premiered at festivals last year and is released in the UK in May, is a psychological gothic horror about a nurse (Morfydd Clark) who becomes dangerously obsessed with saving the soul of a hedonistic dancer suffering from cancer (Jennifer Ehle).
Selected directing credits: Corpo Celeste (2011), The Wonders (2014) and Happy as Lazzaro (2018)
Rohrwacher’s mysterious, dreamy coming-of-age tale Corpo Celeste contains the hallmarks of her cinema: a mix of magic realism and neorealism, innocent characters butting up against corrupt behemoths, and a mesmerising depiction of the everyday world in Hélène Louvart’s 16mm cinematography. Her next two features felt even more like fairytales. The Wonders (which won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes) stars her sister Alba Rohrwacher as the mother of an off-grid beekeeper family whose bonds start to splinter when one of the daughters stars on a reality TV show. Happy as Lazzaro further probes the rift between agrarian and modern life, and contains one of the most dazzling twists -- and tracking shots -- in recent memory.
Selected directing credits: Passion (2008), The Depths (2010), Touching the Skin of Eeriness (2013), Voices from the Waves (2013), Storytellers (2013), Happy Hour (2015), Asako I & II (2018)
Hamaguchi’s graduation film, Passion, was entered into competition at the Tokyo FILMeX festival in 2008, and he has been notably prolific since, but his international breakthrough came in 2015 with Happy Hour, a masterful epic -- nearly five-and-a-half hours long -- about four female friends. With its naturalistic pace and part-improvised scenes, the film drew comparisons to Jacques Rivette. The textures of Happy Hour were given a more contained form in the two-hour Asako I & II, a doppelganger romance about memory and romantic delusion based on a novel by Shibasaki Tomoka. Asako is a woman who falls for a handsome, caddish man, only for him to leave as abruptly as he took up with her. Two years later, she meets a man who looks identical to her departed lover but is his opposite in personality. Always inventive, wrong-footing and surprising, Hamaguchi’s work constantly leaves you wondering where it will turn next, anxious to follow it wherever it goes.
Selected directing credits: Atlantiques (2009, short), Big in Vietnam (2012, short), A Thousand Suns (2013, short), Atlantics (2019).
Diop shot to attention playing the daughter in Claire Denis’s 35 Shots of Rum (2008) and has acted alongside directing ever since. Her films are docufiction hybrids, often concerned with migration and marked by a sense of ghostly longing. Atlantiques, which followed a young man crossing from West Africa to Europe, won the Tiger Award at Rotterdam. For A Thousand Suns she tracked down the lead actor from the landmark 1973 film Touki Bouki made by her uncle, the great Senegalese cinema pioneer Djibril Diop Mambéty. Her first fiction feature, the Cannes Grand Prix winner Atlantics, expanded on her first short, but flipped the focus to tell a fable of migration from the unusual perspective of the sisters, mothers and lovers left behind. Diop’s inspired use of the supernatural to emphasise their sense of loss stood out even at a time when many directors are turning to genre.
Selected directing credits: Proof (2010, short), Guest (2011, short), Sprout (2013, short), The World of Us (2016), The House of Us (2019)
One of the most exciting of a new generation of female filmmakers in Korea, Yoon’s work has been characterised by its intimate, insightful observations about the lives of children and adolescents -- a subject Yoon has pursued outside her filmmaking too, as a lecturer at film clubs in schools in Seoul, and as an educator with the Korean Film Museum. International recognition came in 2011 when Guest became the first Asian film ever to win the Grand Prix at the Clermont-Ferrand short film festival; then in 2013 Sprout took the Best Short Film Award at Berlin. Her first feature, The World of Us, entered the world of a vulnerable, lonely 10-year-old girl, with great empathy. The follow-up last year, The House of Us, focused on three 12-year-old friends over one summer, drawing similarly wonderful performances from her child actors.
Selected directing credits: Get Out (2017), Us (2019)
As one half of the comedy double act Key & Peele, Peele had already proved that he was capable of writing sketches that cut deep into issues of the day with an intelligence matched by their anger and their hilarity. Still, Get Out was something else -- a brilliant “social thriller”, as Peele himself classed it, that addressed the pervasive racism in a supposedly more liberal era with a lacerating clarity. Last year’s Us again spoke to our times as few other films have. With his company Monkeypaw Productions, Peele is also having a decisive influence on diversity in the industry -- in cinema, with productions including Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman and Nia DaCosta’s forthcoming Candyman remake, and on television, with the forthcoming Lovecraft Country and Peele’s rebooting of The Twilight Zone. One imagines that the pioneering creator of The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling, would have recognised in Peele a kindred spirit.
Selected directing credits: The Strange Thing About the Johnsons (2011, short), Munchausen (2013, short), Hereditary (2018), Midsommar (2019)
“I met Ari Aster once in New York. He’s a unique guy. I love his talent,” says Bong Joon Ho, who didn’t hesitate to nominate Aster as one of his directors to watch. With his shorts -- especially the astonishingly confident The Strange Thing About the Johnsons -- and his two features to date, Aster has given horror cinema a shot in the arm just as jolting as Jordan Peele has. Hereditary was hailed as one of the most frightening films in years, with its wall-climbingly effective tale of horror in the family home, at the centre of which is Toni Collette’s astonishing performance. His followup, Midsommar, confirmed that his debut was no one-off, with its inventive take on ‘daylight horror’, and once again with an outstanding performance, this time from Florence Pugh. Aster has said that he now plans to move into different genres. Who’d bet against Aster, like Bong, making those genres his own?
Selected directing credits: Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015), The Rider (2017)
This will be the year that Chloé Zhao breaks out of the arthouse. With her Marvel movie The Eternals she joins Taika Waititi and Ryan Coogler in the ranks of indie directors who have made the leap to directing comic-book franchise films. This tale of immortal superheroes battling each other couldn’t be more different from her work to date, about young people leading precarious lives in Trump’s heartland, all shot with skeletal crews and non-professional actors. Songs My Brothers Taught Me is a melancholic study of life on a Native American reserve in South Dakota, but also an affecting portrait of a boy dreaming of escape but not wanting to abandon his sister. Her second feature, The Rider, about a rodeo rider named Brady (played by real-life horse wrangler Brady Jandreau) who suffers a debilitating head injury, took her back to the reservation. Authenticity and intimacy are the backbone of both films. Zhao’s Nomadland will likely surface this year too -- a story of the underbelly of the American West in the form of a road movie, starring Frances McDormand as a van-dwelling nomad who loses everything in the 2008 recession.
Selected directing credits: The Lighthouse (2019), The Witch (2016)
Robert Eggers has had the kind of career trajectory that filmmakers dream of: a breakout debut -- the supernatural chiller The Witch -- and a follow-up The Lighthouse, with Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson as two lighthouse-keepers in the 1890s, that was the talk of Cannes last year. While Eggers was getting his debut off the ground he worked as a production designer, and his meticulous attention to visual detail helps make his films so effective. At a time when folk horror is undergoing a resurgence, his heavily researched period gothic tales stand out with their singularly eerie atmospheres. In The Witch, Eggers plunged viewers into the harsh world of early English settlers in the New World in the 1630s. In The Lighthouse, he turned the assault up a notch with a near square aspect ratio, black-as-coal monochrome palette and full-on cacophonous soundtrack. To quote its gloriously bawdy and colourful script, it “sparkles like a sperm whale’s pecker”.