Ranked

Every Sofia Coppola Film, Ranked

The Bling Ring or The Beguiled? With On the Rocks now in cinemas, Ella Kemp sorts through the filmmaker's sumptuous canon so far...

A Sofia Coppola film is a beautiful, often unknowable thing. In an industry so plainly skewed towards blank check directors of the male variety, her body of work is regularly – among film fans of a certain sort – pulled out as a means of proving that, yes, women make movies, too. 

While her reputation as the only female director couldn't be further from the truth, the singular brilliance of Coppola’s work still deserves indelible praise. She hazily frames characters who roam, who peer in and who wander, who live their lives with the nagging suspicion that part of them might just be floating slightly above it all. Sofia Coppola makes movies like daydreams, that waft through the air and into your bones to firmly keep a hold for years after. 

Through sisters and tourists, queens and crooks, the filmmaker never loses sight of a person’s soul. Now, as her seventh film hits cinemas, behold: every Sofia Coppola feature to date… ranked!

 

7. The Bling Ring (2013)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

On paper, the nonchalant criminals at the heart of Sofia Coppola’s furthest swing into heist movies seem right at home in her world – a gang of wealthy, bored young women (and an unsuspecting new boy at school), fame-obsessed, too intelligent for their own good. But in practice, the execution of The Bling Ring feels a little too aloof – too loyal to these real-life teens’ disinterests and desires – to connect with the viewer in the same way other Coppola soul-searchers have done. It’s the end of the 2000s, and so music and fashion belong to an era that hasn’t aged too elegantly, and nor have the youths hungry for online validation just on the cusp of a whole new decade of Instagram influencers who would change everything. In other hands, at another time, The Bling Ring could very well be considered a fine, elegant film. But these kids are grating, this topic frustrating.

 

6. The Beguiled (2017)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

History lays the foundation for a meaty Coppola character study, giving the filmmaker ripe material to explore the prickly dynamics between women – sisters, teachers, mothers, rivals – during the Civil War in 1864. Almost 200 years later, nothing much has changed. We’re jealous and wicked, playful and resentful, and there is no length too great when it comes to the pursuit of pleasure. The filmmaker adapted Thomas P. Cullinan’s novel of the same name with a devastatingly impressive cast – Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning, Kirsten Dunst – and became the second woman ever to win the Best Director at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival for her achievements. The film’s acerbic wit, as the women of a Virginia girls school tiptoe around Colin Farrell’s Corporal John McBurney, makes this far more than a stale period piece, or a derivative remake of Don Siegel's 1971 original. The Beguiled ranks “low” on this list purely because the bar is so high – yet we’re talking about fractions of difference in terms of the film’s hierarchical quality. Elegant and piercing, channelling the same washed-out daydream aesthetic as The Virgin Suicides without ever losing its bite, there's nothing old-fashioned about it.

 

5. Somewhere (2010)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Ten years since the release of Somewhere, Coppola must be feeling pretty smug to see the whole world catching on to the brilliance of Elle Fanning. Just 12-years-old when the film premiered at the 67th Venice International Film Festival – and won the Golden Lion – the young actress was introduced as a major talent opposite Stephen Dorff in this contemplative family portrait of a has-been actor rekindling his relationship with his daughter. It was the first indication of the filmmaker’s fascination with father-daughter dynamics (which matures organically with her latest, On The Rocks), taking place almost entirely at the infamous Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles – apt for Coppola’s brand of wealthy, comfortable lifestyles that still suffer from a sense of alienation. The film moves slowly, clearly exposing Dorff’s Johnny Marco as something of a lugubrious liability. But it never erupts into a shouting match or traumatic face-off between Johnny and his daughter Cleo. Instead we watch him watch her, learning to ice skate, making poached eggs for breakfast, and as the pair silently say goodbye, no tears, no force, you're still able to see their hearts are breaking. She found a star in Fanning, and gave Dorff his richest role to date.

 

4. On the Rocks (2020)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

At first blush, Sofia Coppola’s seventh feature will either be lauded or reviled for seeming so different to her other titles. Where is the airy teenage girl? Where are the washed-out hues of a romantic, nostalgic youth? This is today, this is New York, Rashida Jones is a mother, and she’s tired. But this is arguably Coppola’s most introspective and clear-minded feature to date – another portrait of female loneliness, though in spite of its world spinning a little faster, it has two feet firmly on the ground. The filmmaker reunites with her muse Bill Murray, having the most fun I’ve seen him having in my lifetime, as Laura’s debonaire father Felix. Those two lost souls who swam in the big city fish bowl of Lost in Translation – those slippery strangers-cum-friends-cum-potential soulmates – are now father and daughter, inextricably bound and forever loyal, despite years of guilt and resentment being the glue that holds them together.

On the Rocks often feels fizzy and fun, borrowing screwball tropes and whizzing through a starry New York to see whether Laura is being cheated on by her aloof husband Dean. But the most rewarding moments are those between father and daughter, musing on why men and women disappoint each other, how loving someone on your own terms so often seems like it’s not enough. They chat through martinis and whistle away the years spent apart, but Jones and Murray – and Coppola in her caustic writing – always cut through the fluff to make you think long and hard about the puzzle pieces of your own life. Who do you trust? Who do you wish you were spending your birthday with? The ice may quickly melt, but there’s a wistful, unresolved sadness to On the Rocks that really lingers.

3. Lost in Translation (2003)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Coppola has described the two lead characters in Lost in Translation as experiencing a “romantic melancholy,” which feels like the most defining trait of her best-drawn creations. There is a sense of disconnect between what these people are doing and how they’re feeling – having a bad time in a perfect place – that has connected with audiences since 2003. There are few films more beloved on social media, in popular culture, than Lost in Translation – electronic music producer Fatima Yamaha even sampled one of Johansson’s most famous lines of dialogue on his track “What’s A Girl To Do.” The line is simple, with Johansson’s character Charlotte telling Bill Murray’s Bob Harris: “I just don’t know what I’m supposed to be.” She’s just graduated, he’s having a midlife crisis, and somehow the decades separating them have led them to the same point. They yearn for connection, from any other individual other than themselves, but also for a sense of introspective comfort that just seems to be slipping through their fingers.

The brilliance of Lost in Translation lies in the fact that such destabilising feelings are never made disorienting for the viewer. Coppola remains at a careful distance, drawing these people sharply but never thrusting us into scenes of immense discomfort. It’s with Bob’s quiet lines of reassurance that you feel your own life come into focus. “You’re not hopeless,” he tells Charlotte – effortlessly, with a pat on the foot, no eye contact, just above whisper-level. But it's enough. Nothing should feel forced when you’ve finally found what you’re looking for.

 

2. The Virgin Suicides (1999)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

The spirit of The Virgin Suicides is one of romantic fatalism – of a dangerous youth obsessed with the fleeting pleasures always dancing on the edge of the world. That such a seminal portrait of girlhood marked Coppola’s debut is still staggering – the assurance, at once visual sonic and emotional, is so potent. The filmmaker adapts Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel (also his debut) about five upper-middle-class sisters whose lives are transformed by the suicide attempt of the youngest sister, and the boys next door who are deeply obsessed with them all. The film isn’t perfect, as many have pointed towards Eugenides’ own failings in essentially writing five refractions of the same young woman rather than shading his characters with much specificity, and there is of course a risky through-line in the way these girls and boys dream so plainly of death and what lies beyond. But Coppola walks the tightrope beautifully – as does her star Kirsten Dunst, who quickly became a key collaborator. It’s a rare skill to frame adolescence as both intense, life-altering, and also lazy, dreamlike, transitional. There’s no fluff in The Virgin Suicides, no contempt for these young people wandering through an existence at once totally mundane and unbelievably lyrical. Coppola found a sweet spot, and made magic.

 

1. Marie Antoinette (2006)

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Coppola reunited with her muse Kirsten Dunst (their second of three collaborations) to tell the story of Queen Marie Antoinette in the years leading up to the French Revolution, gifting us with one of the most glorious, sugary and hedonistic musical dramas ever committed to the screen. Milena Canonero proves herself to be one of the finest costume designers of all-time, piling on the towers of French Ladurée pastries and luxuriating in gold-flecked ceilings, intricate pastel design – corsets, lace, pearls, feathers, and jewels flowing without end. Dunst captures the young queen’s frustration, too, as her marriage to the Dauphin of France (Jason Schwartzman, outstandingly awkward) lacks the intimacy and the heat she's yearning for. But a New Wave and post-punk soundtrack illustrates Marie Antoinette’s exploits thrillingly, without anyone needing to point out the jarring design – it’s all for us. The Strokes, Siouxsie and the Banshees, New Order and the Cure somehow find a home in 18th century France, as style gives depth to the substance.

Quizzed, obviously, by those who were devastated to see history in this lavish and playful light, Coppola plainly said: “It is not a lesson of history. It is an interpretation documented, but carried by my desire for covering the subject differently.” The use of the word “desire” is key, as Marie Antoinette maps the wants and needs of its queen, framing the kind of character Coppola knows best, in a world we’ll never get enough of. Marie Antoinette is a lonely woman, a human being trapped by her title, her gender, the expectations this world has forced upon her. Instead of crying over it, desperately scrambling for facts to remind us just how unfair the situation was or asking how much more Marie Antoinette might have done, Coppola and Dunst instead give her permission to laugh, to dance, to dream, and to eat cake. There has never been a period piece like it, nor a more genius meditation on a woman’s alienation. Long live the queens.

On the Rocks is now showing in cinemas.

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