Okay, real talk: My name is David, and I’m a Sofia Coppola fanboy. “The Bling Ring” is my “Man of Steel.” I saw “Lost in Translation” seven times in theaters. I’m somewhat ashamed of the fact that I’ve watched the film inside the hotel in which it takes place, but probably not nearly as ashamed as I should be (it was like incepting my own ennui). You know the scene where Bill Murray serenades Scarlett Johansson with history’s most wistful karaoke cover of Roxy Music’s “More Than This?” I may (or may not!) have sang that same song in that same room (ugh, of course I did). My zeal for Sofia Coppola’s other films is perhaps a touch more tempered, but I adore them all in their own way, and have so compulsively revisited each of her five features that they’ve assumed the familiarity of a childhood home, where the architecture is of eminently human design, yet feels like it simply never could have been built any other way.
It’s futile for me to try and distill my affection for Coppola’s films into a single unifying element, but – as I wrote in my review of “The Bling Ring” – it’s worth noting that the true stamp of her work isn’t a single socioeconomic milieu or a sensitive understanding of modern remove, but rather the consistent “empathy she harbors for characters who seem known to everyone but themselves.” There’s something comforting in how sincerely she inquires about these characters, refusing to judge them even when their loved ones / neighbors / public / subjects have been quick to render their verdicts.
With “The Bling Ring” hitting theaters in New York and Los Angeles this weekend (before expanding nationwide on June 21st), I thought it might be maddening fun to rank Sofia Coppola’s five features from worst to best. Turn on some Phoenix and let's begin.
5.) THE BLING RING (2013)
"I want to rob."
Perhaps this would be a good time to remind everyone that context is critical when it comes to a list like this. “The Bling Ring” may be my least favorite Sofia Coppola film, but – as my review suggests – it’s nevertheless a brilliant portrait of a society that has lost control of its culture, and currently stands as one of the year’s best movies. Perhaps Coppola’s most literal meditation on the dynamics of celebrity, “The Bling Ring” is at once both a departure from her typical work and a compelling reminder of why she’s a truly singular filmmaker. It’s also worth noting that I’ve only seen “The Bling Ring” once, and Coppola’s movies only tend to bloom upon repeat viewings.
Quoth my review: Uncharacteristically loose and deceptively frivolous, “The Bling Ring” is as much of an attack on The Hills Generation as any of Coppola’s previous films were an exercise in self-pity, which is to say not at all. On the contrary, Coppola takes an incident that seemed like a garish indictment of modern civilization and, from this mishegoss of hot pink Louboutins, carves a rich (and even urgent) portrait of a society that has lost control of its culture, a place where aspirations have become the ultimate impediment to actual happiness.
4.) MARIE ANTOINETTE (2006)
"I shall never forget that you are responsible for my happiness."
Anecdotally, “Marie Antoinette” might be Sofia Coppola’s most divisive film, but this lightly anachronistic and unspeakably gorgeous biopic remains for me one of the only movies to have ever restored an authentic humanity to an infamous historical figure. A raucous and gilded period piece that completely upends the typical approach to such historical portraits, “Marie Antoinette” immediately confronts the most common understanding of the reviled young queen, watching her laze about under the crunching guitar riffs of Gang of Four’s “Natural’s Not In It.” Coppola’s intro so overwhelmingly fulfills the audience’s expectation that it makes parody out of our preconceptions, reminding us that Marie Antoinette may be remembered as a caricature, but she was ultimately just a girl of flesh and blood. The film hardly functions as a defense of the teen queen’s behavior, instead choosing to marvel at the absurd circumstances of her rule, reconciling history with the human element.
At the very least, Coppola was granted rare permission to shoot on location at Versailles, and cinematographer Lance Acord sure makes the most of the opportunity. In other words, where the hell is the Blu-ray, Sony?
3.) THE VIRGIN SUICIDES (1999)
“Obviously, doctor, you’ve never been a 13-year-old girl.”
Coppola’s first feature, a remarkably assured adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides’s breakthrough novel, serves as an enigmatic primer for her auteurist tropes and tricks. A moody and mysterious suburban tragedy that uses the suicides of five blonde sisters as a means of exploring the fundamental unknowability of other people. High on 70s swagger and set to Air’s impossibly perfect score (more on the infinite pleasures of “Playground Love” later this week), “The Virgin Suicides” anticipated Coppola’s fascination with celebrity culture by exploring it on a local level, using a high school setting to reconcile the twin forces of myth and maturation.
You’ll never forget the meaning of the word “hurricane.”
2.) SOMEWHERE (2010)
“Do you like to ride a scooter?”
Ah, “Somewhere,” it seems as though the world is finally catching on to your glories. Released to mild fanfare in late 2010, Coppola’s first feature since becoming a mother was yet another film about a confined white celebrity suffering from themselves, and several critics took her to task for this supposed wheel-spinning. But repeat viewings have revealed “Somewhere” to be a deceptively simple triumph, fading star Johnny Marco and his young daughter Cleo anchoring Coppola’s sweetest and most tender story, Stephen Dorff’s (!?!?) detached performance helping the movie to balance its simmering sentiment with the psychic dislocation of an Antonioni film.
To lift from my old Moviefone review: Aesthetically, 'Somewhere' is Coppola's simplest film, but it's as rich with detail as anything she's made. Every facet of the film conspires to lock Johnny in his limbo, from a seamless transition with which he and Cleo are teleported to Milan to Harris Savides' cinematography, which so blows out the L.A. vistas beyond Johnny's Chateau window that the hazy sea of white seems like a dimensional divide. The camera seldom moves (choosing instead to ponder static wide shots of empty rooms, thus giving the viewer all the freedom in the world but nowhere to go), and the usual cavalcade of pop tunes has been almost entirely replaced by impeccably sharp sound design.
It's repetitive but never redundant, an inwardly spiraling movie that ends with a straight line that some will find jarring, others majestic. Johnny doesn't leave the film so much as he escapes it, and the beguiling final sequence should ultimately force even Coppola's most dedicated detractors to consider the character as more than just another bored rich guy. Johnny Marco is simply trying to make the things that are important to him important to him, and his first step back into the real world feels every bit as daunting as Frodo's first step beyond the Shire. 'Somewhere' might work on an exceptionally small scale, but it's exceptional all the same.
1.) LOST IN TRANSLATION (2003)
“You’re not hopeless.”
At this point, I really don’t know what I have left to say about Sofia Coppola’s second feature. It remains my most cherished film of the aughts, beating out more canonically accepted neo-classics like “Werckmeister Harmonies,” “In the Mood for Love” and “Songs from the Second Floor.” I’ve long since given up evangelizing its perfection in the hopes of actually swaying anyone’s mind – while I refuse to make any sort of absurd distinction between “favorite” and “best,” I’m well aware that my affection for “Lost in Translation” exists at less of a formal level than it does a formative one.
At this point, I’m so overly familiar with the movie that, I have to impose Lars von Trier-like “obstructions” on myself in order to critically consider it in a constructive way. To that end, when a recent Reverse Shot symposium invited contributors to write about a single instance of a color in a recent film, I challenged myself to see if I could manage to scrounge up 2,000 words on the pink underwear that Scarlett Johansson rocks in the movie’s iconic title shot. More difficult still, I decided that I couldn’t be a total perv about it. For the brave, here’s how that turned out.
P.S. Has anyone seen my shame?