As the daughter of an already acclaimed filmmaker, Sofia Coppola was faced with a fairly big challenge establishing her own identity as a director, when she first started making feature films back in 1999. Since then, she has not only successfully emerged from the shadow of her father, but also become a strong, female auteur with a great body of work. With her 2010 film Somewhere, she became the first American woman to win the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. As one of the few prominent female directors in Hollywood, her films are ripe with beautiful heroines, interesting, often pale colour palettes, cool clothes and even cooler soundtracks. Her films certainly share her well-known quiet demeanor, as her less-is-more approach to filmmaking subtly leaves distinct marks on audiences. Her filmmaking style is very distinct and focuses on mood and atmosphere instead of heavy plot and dialogue.
– Tara Costello
#4: The Bling Ring
The 2013 vision of the American dream is one of grossly vapid and misplaced entitlement, if the movies have anything to say about it. As much as coming-of-age stories like Mud and The Kings of Summerare building a trend at the halfway point of the year, the new age of narcissism is making an equally bold rush on Western cinema: first,Spring Breakers; then, Pain and Gain; and now, Sofia Coppola throws her hat in with The Bling Ring, a deliberately dispassionate look at some famous-for-wanting-to-be-famous kids who stole from the rich simply because they could.
– Justine Smith
Sofia Coppola’s films have always worked best when she’s showing the monotony of life. She can make staring at a wall seem like a candy coated, slightly depressing dream. 2010’s Somewhere is her most natural looking film. Stephen Dorff gives an incredible performance as Johnny, an actor whose recovering from a broken wrist and suddenly left to take care of his young daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning), while making him question his rather meaningless life. Johnny isn’t a bad guy; he’s just bored and stuck in a place he’s indifferent to. And that’s where the real beauty of Somewhere lies. Coppola lets the camera sit quietly observing these uncomfortable but transformative moments between father and daughter. Somewhere manages to be both funny and heartbreaking at the same time. I dare anyone not to be devastated by Johnny’s apology to Cleo for never being around. It’s a stunning, wrenching moment that encapsulates the entire beautiful film.
#2: (TIE) Marie Antoinette
Winning an Academy award for costume design, Marie Antoinette is undoubtedly Sofia Coppola’s most lavish and indulgent of productions, and quite deliberately so. Condensing the reign of the Austrian Archduchess-turned-Queen of France, Coppola gains an unprecedented amount of access to the Versailles Palace. In the title role, Kirsten Dunst is less than spectacular in her few emotionally ravaged moments, but she hits a nonchalant detachment that would prove essential in stoking the fires of the French Revolution. Dunst also shares moments in her arranged marriage to a hilarious Jason Schwartzman as the aloof Louis XVI that are as poignant as they are comedic.
Channeling Kubrick in her meticulous staging and Malick in smaller moments of lyricism, Coppola understands when to truss up her subject’s luxurious forays and when to tone them down. With a burst of pastel, the film builds to a cloyingly sweet aesthetic with saturated pinks and rich golds that crests in a superficiality only diminished by its denouement’s dull grays and blues. Coppola is clearly interested in a personal context as much as an historical one, positioning the young Queen’s story somewhere between teenage apprehension and damning ineptitude. The balance doesn’t always work — Coppola conveniently does away with the American Revolutionizing and worldly context for long stretches in the middle — but there’s a skillful doubling of the interests of the crown and those of Marie Antoinette as simultaneously trite and monumental. Unlike Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette isn’t aided as much by Coppola’s cavalier understanding of time, but the director’s mindfulness of scale and decorum allows her to undress sequences and arcs that cleverly double for the extravagent fashion of the period itself.
Featuring cuts from Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Strokes, and The Cure, Marie Antoinette is often reduced to its anachronistic soundtrack, but Coppola’s song choices make use of a doomed narrative, providing a rockstar pallor to the French regime’s decadence and at once outing Marie Antoinette and Louis XIV’s glaring failures as monarchs. If they are too young to rule, they surely are far too young to die.
#2: (TIE) The Virgin Suicides
After her performance as Mary Corleone in The Godfather III was slated by critics, it is hardly a surprise to see Sofia Coppola follow in her father’s footsteps and become a film director. Her feature-length debut, The Virgin Suicides (1998), sees her transform Jeffrey Eugenides’ tragic story of the Lisbon sisters into a sunkissed, suburban drama with a melancholic synthesiser soundtrack that is laced with nostalgia.
While the story encompasses certain themes from her short film Lick the Star (1998), such as isolation and the bleak outcome of the female protagonist (in this case, five of them), the fresh-faced innocence and mystery of the sisters – led by the coquettish Lux Lisbon (Kirsten Dunst) – captures the attention of the audience, not to mention the teenage boys in the local neighbourhood.
The film follows the events after the suicide of Cecilia, the youngest Lisbon sister, as her sisters become forcibly isolated from the community by their parents, who attempt to protect them from negative influences in a somewhat misguided but well-meaning manner. However, it is the frustration the sisters feel from this lack of control, which ultimately drives them to take their own lives. Indeed, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
The Virgin Suicides establishes Coppola’s dreamlike approach to filmmaking and her ability to create enigmas of her leading characters, enabling her to recreate a bleak story into a feature closely resembling a poignant and haunting memory.
– Katie Wong
#1: Lost In Translation
Few movies have more exquisitely captured that sense of isolation and loneliness of strangers in a strange land, of the melancholy ennui of those stuck – literally and figuratively – between here and there, as Lost in Translation. Coppola’s biggest success (Lost grossed more than her four previous films combined), it taps that teasing, haunting question which dogs us all late at night, staring at the ceiling, running down the navigational decisions of our lives and wondering about the road not taken, the door not opened, the connection not made: what if?
It is the wispiest of stories: Bill Murray is Bob Harris, a movie star on the downhill side of his career in Tokyo to pick up a paycheck shilling for a Japanese liquor company, and Scarlett Johansson is newly-married Charlotte, idled in the same hotel as Murray by her knothead photographer husband (Giovanni Ribisi) off on a shoot. Bob and Charlotte cross paths in the hotel bar, help each other kill time, and bit by bit begin to connect in a subtle, soulful way.
Soulful is the right word: they’re both lost souls. “I just don’t know what I’m supposed to be,” Charlotte confesses, a young woman whose life has yet to start, while Bob (“I’m just completely lost,” he tells his wife on a long distance call, she thinking he’s talking about carpet samples) has that creeping midlife sensation his might be over. But for a few days, in each other’s company, they are no longer lost.
A love story marked only by a goodbye kiss, a romance with nothing more passionate than pleasantly shared time, Lost is more poem than narrative; an ode to regret, to lost possibilities, to the words of the 19th century poet, John Greenleaf Whittier: “For of all sad words of tongue and pen, The saddest are these: ‘It might have been’.”
– Bill Mesce