Sofia Coppola. Coppola has given us one of the best films of the 00’s decade and five of her six films have landed in the top 100 of their respective decade. She’s yet another one of the directors that critics decry as “style over substance”. Because of that- Sofia is now dreadfully underrated by the critical consensus. She’s a style-plus director with her own trademark visual style, consistent themes, who makes films of painterly splendor. Specifically, her first three films (The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette) make for a remarkable start to a career as an auteur.  

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from Marie Antoinette— a film that is a miracle of mise-en-scene– symmetrical design here with transcendent costume work

Best film:  Lost in Translation.  I don’t think there is any debate here to be had as its one of the best 10 films of the 00’s decade. It’s a visually masterful travelogue, the career best work from the actors involved, and has simply one of the best scenes (the inaudible whisper) in cinema history.

Lost in Translation– the film reaches a crescendo here

total archiveable films: 6

top 100 films:  1 (Lost in Translation)

characters in isolation even in a crowd– much like the cafe scene in Varda’s Cleo From 5 to 7

top 500 films: 2 (Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette)

top 100 films of the decade: 5 (The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette, Somewhere, The Beguiled)

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a marvelous debut– The Virgin Suicides features stylistic powers that show a true talent at work like this gorgeous dissolve edit
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and the character intros in freeze-frame like Truffuat’s Jules and Jim

most overrated: Nothing. Blind Ring is her low-point—but it’s still not overrated.

most underrated:   Marie Antoinette is still outside of the top 20 of 2006 on the TSPDT consensus list (21st century list edition)

  • After lost in translation (and largely because it came after that masterpiece) this was viewed as a major disappointment upon initial release but it’s a visually stunning film. Sofia was given a larger budget for this after lost and it’s not a perfect film- but the money is up there on the screen and it’s quite transcendent
  • Oscar win for best costume is well deserved- Milena Canonero worked with Francis Ford Coppola (cotton club, godfather III), Kubrick (the shining, clockwork orange, barry lyndon), Wes Anderson (Darjeeling, life aquatic, brand Budapest), out of Africa, titus, dick tracy– a virtuoso genius.
  • Casting of Dario argento daughter
  • Talented ensemble- some of them in cameo or seldom used like judy davis, steve coogan, tom hardy
  • You can see the similarities to barry lyndon and wes Anderson with the symmetry and exacting detail in the décor
  • There’s some interesting sofia/father autobiographical stuff going on here with the unready young and naïve heiress coming into the world she’s not quite ready for—along those same lines dunst (who is great here) and her Antoinette is not a flake (though I think the social criticism of paris hilton and other empty-headed heiresses (all shopping and tiny dogs) is still on-point)- she’s young and naïve and she turns jaded and selfish when those close turn against her
  • Filmed inside Versailles for first time- it’s magnificent photography and set pieces
  • Largely a dialogue-less movie with an inspired 80’s “me-generation” soundtrack and amazing visuals
  • Prologue shot of indulgences is a great foreshadowing shot
  • Isolation shot—dunst alone on the balcony amongst the massive castle—again- this film doesn’t really need dialogue at all—heavy soundtrack and montage heavy as well
  • Not sure the “fools rush in” song fits- feels out of place
isolation in Sofia Coppola’s cinematic universe

gem I want to spotlight:    Somewhere

  • A meditation on isolation and celebrity that has to be seen in the context of Sofia’s brilliant oeuvre. These are hermetically-sealed worlds- Virgin SuicidesThe Beguiled— privilege- Bling Ring, Marie Antoinette
  • Opens with a metaphor that annoyed some but I loved it- Stephen Dorff is literally driving his Ferrari in circles on a road to nowhere then spends the bulk of the film in his Hotel California hell—Bonfire of the Vanities
  • Golden Lion in Venice winner
  • A tone poem—I wish the visuals were a little stronger (we’d have a sure must-see top 5 of the year film) but still- more European or art-house in atmosphere and total lack of care for a plot—all of her work is like this
  • Malaise and ennui—Antonioni
  • Car is a constant metaphor—it breaks down—then he leaves it for the powerful finale
  • Phoenix score- they’ve  worked with Coppola—there’s not much there till the “love is like a sunset” final
  • The opposite of Lynn Ramsay—Coppola’s characters are not post-trauma zombies, they are sleepwalking (literally falls asleep as part of the form) and lost in their insulated world. Dorff says “I’m not even a person” to his ex-wife
  • Great film form all over the place from Coppola- we have the twin strippers, he’s constantly looking at the found and surrounded by pills and beer. This doesn’t make for narrative but that’s not the goal—unlike some of her best work (Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette) or like Antonioni’s similarly themed work (L E’clisse) it doesn’t make for great visuals either. Another reoccurrence is Dorff falling asleep with strippers dancing and in a girl’s lap. Meets Benicio Del Toro in the elevator. Massage from a guy. He has no idea what day of the week it is. It’s sad/funny
  • Duration and repetition
  • We need more of the gorgeous zoom of the father/daughter laying by the pool and less Nintendo Wii playing to make this a masterpiece
  • Exactly half way through the film the ex-wife says “she’s yours” about daughter- great form
  • Elle Fanning’s daughter- she cooks, they get a song sung to them on the couch, Dorff’s brother and her uncle is a good guy learning about her—there’s growth here, the underwater tea part—this is life and it’s unsentimentally realized by Coppola in the day to day
  • Again, it’s not beautiful (Marie Antoinette) and Coppola is no great writer- she’s about capturing tone and form—closer to Jarmusch—repetition but not a Jarmuschian fish out of water premise- she has her world’s well established
  • Repetition of his clothes, flannel, white t, glances from and to women

stylistic innovations/traits:    Her films, all of them, are thoughtful medications on celebrity, loneliness, affluence and sort of an existential malaise. Narrative isn’t the concern and she’s not a great dialogue writer (which is a little ironic because she won the best screenplay Oscar for Lost in Translation). Her films are about surroundings and characters—about setting the tone (style) and circumstance (backdrop) and letting the characters go. Some of her stylistic traits remind me of Truffaut (especially The Virgin Suicides with their freeze-frame character intros) but really she has a 1960’s-70’s European style about her–Antonioni is another one I think of- he easily could’ve directed Somewhere… ennui. Sofia Coppola is very similar to Lynn Ramsay— but Coppola’s characters are not Ramsay’s post-trauma zombies, they are sleepwalking (literally falls asleep as part of the form in Somewhere) and lost in their insulated world. All of Sofia’s protagonists live in a hermetically-sealed world (she wouldn’t done a great version of The Little Mermaid if Disney would’ve let her) coming from privilege (this is personal cinema for the daughter of Francis Ford Coppola). Her films are filled with characters looking from inside a window looking out (each and every film) and there are many shots of characters in isolation with their imposing surrounding (like the opening of say Punch-Drunk Love to show this loneliness.

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hermetically-sealed- isolation in loneliness in the films of Sofia
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from Virgin Suicides
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Lost in Translation
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Lost in Translation
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The Beguiled
Virgin Suicides

top 10

  1. Lost in Translation
  2. Marie Antoinette
  3. The Virgin Suicides
  4. Somewhere
  5. The Beguiled
  6. The Bling Ring
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The Beguiled (here), Lost in Translation, and especially Marie Antoinette have wall-art photography throughout

By year and grades

1999- The Virgin Suicides HR/MS
2003- Lost in Translation MP
2006- Marie Antoinette MS
2010- Somewhere HR/MS
2013- The Bling Ring R
2017- The Beguiled R/HR

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives