Sofia Coppola movies are defined by desolate landscapes, lonely characters, a wry sense of humor, and painterly compositions. For fans of this aesthetic, it’s pretty hard to get it wrong, and Coppola’s nearly 20-year track record attests to the consistency of her talent. From her feature-length debut “The Virgin Suicides” through her latest endeavor, “The Beguiled,” Coppola’s dreamlike visuals and deadpan tone have remained a distinctive voice in American cinema, one filled with gentle, forlorn faces and a world that always seems as though it’s on on the verge of devouring them whole. (If there isn’t already a Reddit forum theorizing that all Coppola movies exist in a single universe governed by the laws of sadness, someone should kick it up.)
While Coppola’s career was set in motion to some degree by the influence of a very famous father, her filmmaking capabilities are hardly dictated by Francis’ accomplishments. The tough, masculine sagas of “The Godfather” and “Apocalypse Now” exist a world away from Sofia Coppola’s intimate portraits — all of which, it must be said, feature strong-willed women. In May of this year, Coppola became the second female director in history to win best director at the 70-year-old Cannes Film Festival, and you couldn’t ask for a better filmmaker to make up for lost time. The hallmarks of her style reflect a complete artistic vision.
All of which is to say that a ranking of Coppola’s movies from “worst to best” should not imply that a single bad movie exists in Coppola’s oeuvre. At the same time, Coppola’s storytelling approach has found her tackling a range of subjects over the years with varying results, some of which are more wholly satisfying than others. Nevertheless, chances are strong that if you’ve responded to one Coppola movie, you’ll find something rewarding in all of them, and will find that process of examining her entire body work to offer even more riches than any single movie can provide.
With the release of “The Beguiled” marking the first theatrical opening of a Coppola movie in four years, here’s a look at how her output holds up to date. Only feature-length films qualified (her early short “Lick the Star” is out there for anyone who wants to see how it fits in), and at the time of publication, Coppola’s filmed version of the opera “La Traviata” has yet to screen around, so it’s also not included. Needless to say, the 46-year-old Coppola shows no signs of slowing down, and any overview of her accomplishments will likely need a big update in the years to come.
7. “A Very Murray Christmas” (2015)
It’s almost a cheat to include this Netflix quickie, a musical revue set in Manhattan’s Carlyle Hotel against a flimsy Christmas Eve plot that’s basically an excuse for Bill Murray to do his thing. On the brink of recording his Christmas special, Murray realizes that the bulk of his guests can’t make it due to a snowstorm, but manages to throw together a lively show anyway by improvising the night away. Standout vignettes include a hilarious, awkward sequence in which he drags a baffled Chris Rock onto the stage for a rendition of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and Maya Rudolph belting out “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” Cheeky cameos from the likes of George Clooney, Miley Cyrus and Jason Schwartzman round out the playful ensemble, and they basically exist to prop up Murray’s marvelous capacity to charm the room.
Unfurling with a loose, freewheeling quality, this is the least Coppola-esque movie that Coppola has directed — until you consider how late-period Murray, with his melancholic gaze and bittersweet embodiment of fame’s alienating qualities, basically owes his existence to “Lost in Translation.” In that context, “A Very Murray Christmas” may be the closest Coppola ever comes to making a “Lost in Translation” sequel, although it’s more like a B-side that suggests even a sad, aging artist past his prime can find some modicum of solace in his art.
6. “The Bling Ring” (2013)
Coppola flirted with the prospects of celebrity in her youth, and her movies have constantly assaulted the destructive impact of fame, but “The Bling Ring” is her most ambitious statement on the matter. Adapted from a Vanity Fair article about teens who burgled the homes of celebrities they admired, the movie sticks close to the perspective of its gushy teens, led by an overconfident Emma Watson. The ease with which the team of five young thieves unearth celebrity addresses and plot their schemes with digital technology speaks gives a cogent identity to the malaise of 21st century youth culture, and it’s spiked with the most outwardly satirical moments in Coppola’s career.
The conclusion, in which the star-worshipers become vapid stars themselves, completes the movie’s cynical vision. While at times a bit too blunt for its own good, this is still a Sofia Coppola movie through and through, and particularly effective at letting its rambunctious anti-heroes run the show. (It’s safe to say they’ve found a more constructive outlet for their boredom than the ill-fated stars of “The Virgin Suicides.”) The final credit for the great cinematographer Harris Savides, “The Bling Ring” turns the architecture of outlandish Hollywood mansions (including a real one owned by Paris Hilton, who cameos) into angular mountains of royalty that the young marauders conquer with ease. Thematically, “The Bling Ring” is a strange, uneven work about the dangerous effects of showbiz, but Coppola’s unpredictable approach endows the overall package with profound concerns for a new generation.
5. “Somewhere” (2010)
Coppola’s first film after the tumultuous experience of “Marie Antoinette” is a comparably small movie that returns her to the familiar arena of “Lost in Translation” with another tale of a bored celebrity trapped by the vapidity of a well-heeled existence. But while Murray’s Bob Harris is in the twilight of his career, Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) is just getting started. Living in the confines of L.A. Chateau Marmont, he juggles boring publicity obligations with aimless one night stands, stuck in a superficial loop. While some critics found “Somewhere” too similar to earlier Coppola movies, the movie contains some of quietest moments in her filmography.
Coppola fleshes out the emptiness of Johnny’s world with exquisite long takes that juxtapose his opulent surroundings with his bored, vacant expressions. Into this somber tableaux emerges Johnny’s 11-year-old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning), whose affection for her father forces him to confront the meaninglessness that has enshrouded his world. It’s an obvious twist, but Dorff and Fanning have such believable chemistry that they manage to imbue fresh depth into the familiar father-daughter bonding routine, so much that Johnny’s eventual meltdown after seeing his daughter off to camp feels like the only natural end point. Winning the Golden Lion at the Venice International Film Festival, “Somewhere” provided a welcome reminder that Coppola’s recurring fixations had solidified into a key element in her artistic identity.
4. “The Beguiled” (2017)
Coppola’s most straightforward movie to date finds her adapting the minimalist Civil War drama of Thomas P. Culinan’s novel using many of the same beats found in Don Siegel’s 1971 version starring Clint Eastwood, but applies her own expressionistic filter to the B-movie material. The story of a hunky injured Union soldier (Colin Farrell) taken in by an abandoned Virginia girls’ school headed by the domineering Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) has a premise that wouldn’t seem out of place in a softcore porn film. Coppola seems to acknowledge as much with playful hints at the eroticism associated with Farrell’s arrival as the young, sheltered women in the house begin to lust over him — especially Alicia (Elle Fanning) and Edwina (Kirsten Dunst).
But there’s an underlying eeriness to their attraction, and to the soldier’s ambiguous motivations as he gradually regains his strength, which sets the stage for the darkly comic suspense of the final act. Echoing the household of “The Virgin Suicides,” the movie transforms into a contained story about woman taking control of dire circumstances on their own terms. The tight, minimalist style that carries the movie forward speaks to the confidence with which Coppola enacts her tricky tonal balance, juggling campy extremes and more sophisticated ideas about femininity and isolation that have defined her work from the outset. It’s a taut, entertaining genre exercise with the potential to expand Coppola’s appeal beyond the insular arena of her devout fan base.
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