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From Christopher Nolan and Darren Aronofsky to Vincent Gallo: Here's 9 Filmmakers Who Got It Right The Second Time (and 3 Who Didn't)

By Indiewire | Indiewire June 11, 2014 at 12:51PM

David Michôd's "The Rover" got us thinking about other successful sophomore features. Here's our list of favorites and three of the worst.
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"Memento," "The Brown Bunny," "The Elephant Man" and "Juno"
"Memento," "The Brown Bunny," "The Elephant Man" and "Juno"

David Michôd's "The Rover," which premiered at last month's Cannes Film Festival and opens this Friday, has been earning a fair amount of praise, mirroring what happened when his 2010 debut "Animal Kingdom" made a splash at the Sundance Film Festival. Like a beloved new band's sophomore album, a director's sophomore feature is often a crap shoot. A good second film can solidify a director's name on the radar, but a bad one can leave a terrible mark.

Here's our list of nine of the best sophomore features that came from already promising directors and three that didn't live up to a director's original vision. Have more thoughts? Leave your recommendations in the comments.

READ MORE: Why David Michôd Took Four Years to Follow Up 'Animal Kingdom' With 'The Rover' Starring Robert Pattinson

"Benny's
 Video" Dir. Michael Haneke (1992)

Michael Haneke's sophomore effort and second entry into his Glaciation Trilogy, "Benny's Video" resumed many of the concerns of his theatrical debut "The Seventh Continent" while breaking new thematic and stylistic ground. Enriching his former explorations of alienation, childhood curiosity and loneliness, and the violence that underlies modern social structures, "Benny's Video" cemented Haneke as a bold, self-reflexive filmmaker who was unafraid to question the cinematic medium and its relation to the horrors beyond, behind, and imbedded within the screen. The film continued his collaboration with the great Ulrich Mühe (who passed in 2007), in his reprisal of the archetypical bourgeois father Georg (first seen in "The Seventh Continent"); and inaugurated his partnership with the engrossing Arno Frisch, playing the title teenager obsessed with media who makes a video of his real-life murder of a girl. Frish would reappear (alongside Mühe) in the controversial "Funny Games" as a killer whose weapon is cinema itself. "Benny's Video" is Haneke's first excursion outside of the domestic sphere, furthering his criticism of bourgeois privilege and isolation, which would be brought to a formal climax in the masterful "Caché." Meanwhile, "Benny's Video's" look at how repressive fathers and stifling home lives can turn natural curiosity into violent aggression would reach its creative height in Palme D'Or winner "The White Ribbon." Confident in his craft (having honed his technical skills in television) and yet always self-questioning, Haneke searches for the possibilities of truth in artistic deception. Once stating, in a twist on a Godard line, "Cinema is 24 lies per second at the service of truth," Haneke's sophomoric experiment in violence as performance solidified his commitment to this cinematic ambition. (Melina Gills) Watch it below:

Boogie Nights

"Boogie Nights" Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson (1997)

There's this sense of gratitude we feel when we think about the way that Paul Thomas Anderson was able to make his debut film, "Hard Eight." The prodigious director was fortunate enough to receive donations from Philip Baker Hall, Gwyneth Paltrow and John C. Reilly to complete the crime drama. Fortunately, their faith in the man and his talents became even more apparent after the release of "Boogie Nights." It’s more ambitious, star-studded and is the kind of sophomore film that could put any director on the map. "Boogie Nights" follows the life of fictional porn star Dirk Diggler (Mark Whalberg) as he makes his way through the Golden Age of Porn that made up the 70s and 80s. Julianne Moore, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Burt Reynolds also star. It’s a colorful, beautifully directed and written feature that spearheads a world that is so often stigmatized. It’s also the film that launched the career of Mr. Anderson. For that we are eternally grateful. (Eric Eidelstein)

"The Elephant Man" Dir. David Lynch (1980)

David Lynch's first film "Eraserhead" began as his thesis work at the AFI Conservatory and grew into a much bigger project. It took five years to make and introduced him to the industry in a big way. It became a cult success, being one of the most important midnight movies of the 70s, and was eventually seen by Stuart Cornfield, an executive producer for Mel Brooks. A working relationship was then quickly formed and Lynch was given the financial backing for his new film. "The Elephant Man" is a black and white masterpiece about Joseph Merrick (whom the script calls John Merrick), a severely deformed man in 19th century London. Though it did not play to Lynch's love of surrealism and the non-linear, which he would become renowned for in future years ("Twin Peaks," "Blue Velvet," "Mulholland Drive"), the film was a hit both financially and critically, receiving eight Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor. Supported by John Hurt's incredible performance and Freddie Francis' impeccable cinematography, Lynch's sophomore film is an extraordinary exposition of the human condition, illuminating fatalistic concepts and the tragic separation of individual and community. (Oliver MacMahon)

"Juno" Dir. Jason Reitman (2007)

Reitman made a name for himself with "Thank You For Smoking," 2005's satirical take on the tobacco industry. He left the straight satire behind and went the touching comedy route with 2007's "Juno." Written by former stripper Diablo Cody, "Juno" told the story of a teenage girl (Ellen Page) facing an unplanned pregnancy. Reitman took Cody's already charming and funny script and added just the right touch of his "Thank You For Smoking" sarcasm and proved that he was a director who could be biting with his comedy while maintaining the heart of a story. Another plus was Reitman's ability to bring out the best in Jennifer Garner. Her performance as a woman determined to be a mother is one of the best of her career. (Casey Cipriani)

"Lost in Translation"
"Lost in Translation"

"Lost in Translation" Dir. Sofia Coppola (2003)

“The Virgin Suicides” was a hard act to follow for Sofia Coppola. Her strong directorial debut, a lyrical journey into the mindscapes of four emotionally repressed sisters, manages to be political, emotional, and darkly comedic in one fell swoop. Coppola built her reputation as the master of mood with this film as the foundation. "Lost in Translation," while retaining that ethereal spirit, saw her transition into realism. What "Lost in Translation" has that "The Virgin Suicides" doesn’t is a curiosity about the intricacies of relationships in the real world, a willingness to explore conversations spoken entirely in subtext and imagery that corresponds to the flesh of the characters. Deeply human performances by Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray anchor the film firmly in the present tense. Just as any sophomore effort should, "Lost in Translation" complicated the themes and style that were borne in "The Virgin Suicides," affording Coppola the ability to step out of her father's shadow and into a territory all her own. (Emily Buder)

"Memento" Dir. Christopher Nolan (2000)


In Christopher Nolan's directorial debut, "Following," he set out to show that he could manipulate time. With "Memento," Nolan stepped up his game: He proved he could time-travel. This sophomore masterpiece had Nolan building upon the noir-thriller genre even as he upended our conceptions of narrative. Leonard, the film's protagonist, lacks long-term memory, and as such "Memento" is the paragon of the mind-bending movie. It's arguably the best exploration of solipsism ever put on film. It tackles questions of truth, identity, memory, and existence at large, but also manages to avoid being esoteric. The fact that it maintains a fast pace and is just as gripping as any action film is a testament to Nolan's success. The film’s nearly flawless execution is bolstered by a tour-de-force performance from Guy Pearce. "We all need memories to remind ourselves of who we are."  (Emily Buder)

"Requiem For A Dream" Dir. Darren Aronofsky (2000)

"Requiem For A Dream"
"Requiem For A Dream"

In 1998, newcomer Darren Aronofsky came onto the scene with his directorial debut "Pi," an elaborate exploration of mathematical theory and the burden of genius. For his follow-up feature, he again strove for a bold thematic statement, tackling with grace the controversial nature of addiction and self-discipline. Lost in the fanfare of "Requiem for a Dream" -- its score becoming iconic and star Ellen Burstyn earning an Oscar nod -- is Aronofsky's unique vision. He expanded his style from the promising foundation of "Pi" and displayed the prowess that would allow him to make future hits like "Black Swan" and "The Wrestler." (Brandon Latham)

"Rushmore" Dir. Wes Anderson (1998)

What makes Wes Anderson films so distinctively Wes Anderson-y? It's arguably the direct, 
perfectly ­timed cadence that the characters adopt for all dialogue, and you can see that begin to really develop in "Rushmore." Actually, this sophomore project kicked off a lot of the things we look forward to in Anderson features, including Bill Murray, a hotel, and a kid that shows dubious signs of being a prodigy. All these things and more were lacking from freshman effort "Bottle Rocket," a dysfunctional ­family­(ish) comedy that ended with a character directly revealing the irony of the plot to us, instead of letting things remain subtly understated. The biggest similarity between the two features is Luke Wilson; we're okay with this. But the best parts of "Bottle Rocket" and "Rushmore" came together for third feature "The Royal Tenenbaums":­ dysfunctional family, Murray, Wilson, understatements, etc. "Rushmore" was the needed link. (Taylor Lindsay)

"Trainspotting"
"Trainspotting"

"Trainspotting" Dir. Danny Boyle (1996)

Of Danny Boyle's highly impressive filmography ("127 Hours," "28 Days Later" and "Slumdog Millionaire"), his second feature, "Trainspotting," seems to be the only film that proves it can last the test of time. While his dark comedy and debut "Shallow Grave" was a great launching pad for a little-known Ewan McGregor, it's Boyle's cult classic "Trainspotting" that really brought him out to the forefront. The sad but comedic film follows a group of impoverished heroin addicts who reside in Edinburgh, Scotland in the 1980s. It's a gritty, haunting portrait of addiction and poverty that epitomizes a starting point for the leaps and bounds Boyle continues to make in his work. (Eric Eidelstein)


And three of the worst...

"Another Day in Paradise" Dir. Larry Clark (1998)

In 1995 American photographer Larry Clark (known for his controversial series "Tulsa") directed a screenplay penned by a then 19-year-old Harmony Korine ("Spring Breakers," "Julian Donkey-Boy") called "Kids." The film, his first, was a fascinating portrait of postmodern youth culture, depicting a day in the life of a group of sexually-active, drug-taking teenagers in New York City. It wowed audiences and scared critics, who lambasted it as edging towards 'child pornography.' Sadly, however, Clark's second pic didn't live up to its standard. "Another Day in Paradise," based on Eddie Little's novel of the same name, lacked the dirty realism of "Kids" and failed to hit its mark. Combining his low-key style with a grandiose plot of the 'Bonnie & Clyde' variety, Clark's effort got a little ahead of itself. The result was a little too tricky, lazily playing around with slow motion and poorly formulated flashbacks (it can be commended, however, for it's experimental use of point-of-view). Furthermore, its casting choices were questionable. James Woods as a self-professed "junkie" and "real good thief" didn't sell and a young Vincent Katheiser (Pete Campbell in "Mad Men") and only showed glimpses of his potential. (Oliver MacMahon)

"The Brown Bunny" Dir. Vincent Gallo (2003)

"Aeon Flux"
"Aeon Flux"

Vincent Gallo's debut film "Buffalo 66" is a truly inspired work of art. Starring Christiana Ricci and the director himself, it is an obscure insight into the workings of the human mind and its bewildering complexity. His sophomore effort, however, is not. Sadly, "The Brown Bunny" is, for the most part, an indulgent mess. The 2003 art house" film takes everything way too far. It maximizes minimalism and is at times simply gratuitous. The director's cut isn't as bad as the original (cutting about 25 minutes) but still isn't anything to be proud of. It lacks sincere emotion and is too wound up in recreating something of a bygone era (Warhol's "Chelsea Girls"). (Oliver MacMahon)

"Aeon Flux" Dir. Karyn Kusama (2005)

Karyn Kusama's first film, "Girlfight," is in retrospect a showcase of wasted potential. The intimate girl boxing drama won big at Sundance in 2000, and star Michelle Rodriguez was catapulted into stardom. But now Rodriguez's most high-profile work involves making out with Vin Diesel in "Fast and the Furious" movies (admitted, there are worse fates) and Kusama has "Aeon Flux" on her resume. In adapting MTV's plot-light cult favorite animated series, Kusama created some striking visuals, but ultimately couldn't keep the movie from being an incoherent mess. She's bounced back since, picking up some TV directing and the horror film "Jennifer's Body." But "Aeon Flux" remains a disaster. (Liz Shannon Miller)

This article is related to: List, The Rover, Rushmore, Lost in Translation, The Elephant Man, Memento, Requiem for a Dream, The Brown Bunny, Boogie Nights, Trainspotting, Juno, Michael Haneke





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