There’s a routine of complaints traditionally leveled at Sofia Coppola. Beyond the faux pas of being born rich, she’s been drawn as more of a choreographer of tableaux than a storyteller. Critics have bemoaned her visions of character interiority signaled by dreamy music cues and symmetrical framing over wordy dialogues or dredged-up performances from her stars, who are inevitably blonde and beautiful. Particularly since Lost in Translation’s reverse-xenophobia meet-cute, Coppola has alternated between accusations of flaunting her privilege and hosannas for being honest about it.
But if The Virgin Suicides, Marie Antoinette, and (perhaps more debatably) Somewhere girded themselves against these considerations by putting their own haute-bourgeois blinkeredness front and center, the terrain is far murkier in Coppola’s The Beguiled. This is a filmmaker obsessed with feminine beauty and ephemeral tragedy of time’s passage—so just how boilerplate is her Civil War-era chamber piece supposed to be?
In conjunction with the release of The Beguiled, we ranked her films from worst to best. Steve Macfarlane
7. The Bling Ring (2013)
As this film’s Bling Ringers raid sprawling manses for McQueen sunglasses, Alaia dresses, and Birkin bags, Coppola responds with a propulsive collage of modern pop iconography, filling the screen with paparazzi shots, step-and-repeat footage, mock Facebook pages, and breathless montages of red-carpet stars who strut through these teenagers’ hollow dreams. Like Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers (of which this film is most certainly a piece, right down to a girl tauntingly sexualizing a pistol), Coppola presents a cautionary tale of aural and visual aggression, backing her vast buffet of all-corrupting merchandise with floor-shaking tracks like Sleigh Bells’s “Crown on the Ground.” But whereas Korine’s film left room for an eerie wealth of implication, Coppola’s main thrust grows repetitive and hits a wall of E! True Hollywood Story blandness, forcing viewers to look to the fringes for points of interest. R. Kurt Osenlund
6. The Beguiled (2017)
The dollhouse restrictions that Coppola has set for herself cast a dirge-like pall over everything that eventually happens, combing the story—alongside her previous parables—into a kind of haunting collective feminist memory. Even held against the flashback-laden psychosexual hysteria of Don Siegel’s version, The Beguiled feels concise to the point of constipation. Lush with texture and atmosphere, each passing moment is opulently cinematic—and yet the overall assemblage comes off inorganic at best, taxidermied at worst. It would have been far riskier to ground the film’s narrative vantage with Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), Amy (Oona Lawrence), Alicia (Elle Fanning), or Martha (Nicole Kidman) and to keep it there. Instead, Coppola serves up a cautionary revenge tale told from multiple perspectives, and thus none at all. What results is her least audacious, and most conventionally respectable, work yet. Macfarlane
5. Lost in Translation (2003)
Coppola’s follow-up to The Virgin Suicides is equally drunk on ethereal passages in time. Here, though, it’s not the difficult rift between adolescence and adulthood that her characters must reconcile, but a more expansive one between two cultures whose hang-ups are encoded in their respective pop landscapes. Bob Harris (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), not unlike the emotionally disconnected characters of Tsai Ming-liang’s What Time Is It There?, see their every disaffection reflected (literally and figuratively) onto the sounds and landscapes of the city they inhabit. The film’s allure is a self-consciously hip one, emanating from Coppola’s own fascination from the culture she photographs. This transfixion initially feels naïve, but that’s because Coppola doesn’t pretend to know Japan any better than her characters do. All the while, she lovingly evokes the film’s many spiritual awakenings via a mod palette that increasingly color-codes her characters to their surroundings as the story moves slowly toward its sad but enlightening final moments. Ed Gonzalez
4. A Very Murray Christmas (2015)
Bill Murray has given many variations on defeated shells of men, but his work here is arguably most reminiscent of Lost in Translation’s Bob Harris. In fact, A Very Murray Christmas’s emphasis on the connection between strangers makes it something of a spiritual cousin to Coppola’s 2003 film. But it replaces Lost in Translation’s endless neon-encrusted cityscapes with a deceptively warm aesthetic and cramped hotel kitchens and bars. In so doing, A Very Murray Christmas takes subtle aim at pandering modern-day holiday traditions in which simulations of joy are the only form of currency. While some of the musical set pieces invoke classic Christmas songs, none have a particularly joyful vibe beyond the unspoken exchanges between characters that connect over their mutual loneliness. Nevertheless, A Very Murray Christmas doesn’t so much expose the Christmas season itself as fraudulent as it shines a light on the heightened sense of personal despair associated with the season that the manufactured holiday songs and television specials strategically ignore. Ted Pigeon
3. The Virgin Suicides (2000)
A faithful, vibrant Sofia Coppola adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides’s novel about the unfathomability of teenage girls, The Virgin Suicides captures the album-rock ambience of mid-1970s suburban adolescent purgatory with just the right quantities of fetishism and pity. Edward Lachman’s sourball-candied cinematography and Air’s languid musical theme were key ingredients in this smart, regretful fairy tale of the failed rescue of a quintet of Michigan Rapunzels from their repressive parents by a chorus of clueless, telescope-equipped local swains. (It did free Coppola of her Godfather III acting albatross.) Will Kirsten Dunst ever again approach the pathos she stirred waking up alone on the 50-yard-line? Bill Weber
2. Marie Antoinette (2006)
Coppola is obsessed with Marie Antoinette’s pleasure, holding out her hand and contriving for her a series of mini revolutions (she claps, to everyone’s shock, after a court performance and, later, carries on an affair with a gorgeous and virile soldier) in order to hint at the girl’s desire to react against that which was preordained—to carve out her own space away from the busy hands of oppression. Cynics will reduce these moments to feminist fiddling, but they are, in fact, very humane considerations of the corset-like effect ritual had on Marie Antoinette’s will. The film is a great fashion show, but it also constitutes a great makeover—an elegy to frustration, where every color and sound evokes the longing and rapture of a girl who didn’t understand her adult responsibility. “Am I here?” the girl asks while playing the drinking game known to us as Celebrity. Her answer is implied later, when she bows to the barbarians outside her gate. It registers: “I am here.” Remarkably, Coppola doesn’t ask us to take Marie Antoinette as she thinks she was, but as she probably was: a little girl who didn’t know better. Gonzalez
1. Somewhere (2010)
Somewhere is a Hollywood film about Hollywood that completely ignores the rules of traditional narrative filmmaking, and of indie filmmaking: This experimental pop film stands on its own, peerless and without precedent, at least in the movies. And it’s only in relationship to music that I can position the film. With its sugar-pop harmonies created out of flowing waves of dissonance, Somewhere is like Nowhere, the 1990 album from the British band Ride that was a key work in the shoegaze movement—also known as “the scene that celebrates itself,” not unlike the criticisms often unfairly hurled at Coppola. The film kicks in with a hum; a low sound, like the sound of a car’s revving engine, rides underneath the rock song that accompanies the opening credits, enveloping and overwhelming viewers until they’re disarmed. Miriam Bale
Oscars 2019: Who Will Win? Who Should Win? Our Final Predictions
No one is okay with the Academy Awards the way they are, and everyone seems sure that they know how to fix them.
No one is okay with the Academy Awards the way they are, and everyone seems sure that they know how to fix them. Cut out the montages, bring back honorary award presentations, give stunt performers their own category, let ranked-choice voting determine every category and not just best picture, overhaul the membership ranks, hold the event before the guilds spoil the surprise, find a host with the magic demographic-spanning mojo necessary to double the show’s recent audience pools, nominate bigger hits, nominate only hits. Across the last 24 days, Ed Gonzalez and I have mulled over the academy’s existential crisis and how it’s polluted this year’s Oscar race so thoroughly that it feels eerily similar to the 2016 election cycle all over again. We’re spent, and while we don’t know if we have it in us to do this next year, we just might give it another go if Oscar proves us wrong on Sunday in more than just one category.
Below are our final Oscar predictions. Want more? Click on the individual articles for our justifications and more, including who we think should win in all 24 categories.
Picture: Green Book
Director: Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Actor: Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
Actress: Glenn Close, The Wife
Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Supporting Actress: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Original Screenplay: Green Book
Adapted Screenplay: BlacKkKlansman
Foreign Language: Roma
Documentary Feature: RBG
Animated Feature Film: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Documentary Short: Period. End of Sentence
Animated Short: Weekends
Live Action Short: Skin
Film Editing: Bohemian Rhapsody
Production Design: The Favourite
Cinematography: Cold War
Costume Design: The Favourite
Makeup and Hairstyling: Vice
Score: If Beale Street Could Talk
Song: “Shallow,” A Star Is Born
Sound Editing: First Man
Sound Mixing: Bohemian Rhapsody
Visual Effects: First Man
Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Picture
The industry’s existential crisis has polluted this race so thoroughly that it feels eerily similar to the 2016 election cycle all over again.
“I’m hyperventilating a little. If I fall over pick me up because I’ve got something to say,” deadpanned Frances McDormand upon winning her best actress Oscar last year. From her lips to Hollywood’s ears. No one is okay with the Academy Awards the way they are, and everyone seems sure that they know how to fix them. Cut out the montages, bring back honorary award presentations, give stunt performers their own category, let ranked-choice voting determine every category and not just best picture, overhaul the membership ranks, hold the event before the guilds spoil the surprise, find a host with the magic demographic-spanning mojo necessary to double the show’s recent audience pools, nominate bigger hits, nominate only hits.
But first, as McDormand herself called for during her speech, “a moment of perspective.” A crop of articles have popped up over the last two weeks looking back at the brutal showdown between Saving Private Ryan and Shakespeare In Love at the 1999 Academy Awards, when Harvey Weinstein was at the height of his nefarious powers. Every retrospective piece accepts as common wisdom that it was probably the most obnoxious awards season in history, one that indeed set the stage for every grinding assault we’ve paid witness to ever since. But did anyone two decades ago have to endure dozens of weekly Oscar podcasters and hundreds of underpaid web writers musing, “What do the Academy Awards want to be moving forward, exactly? Who should voters represent in this fractured media environment, exactly?” How much whiskey we can safely use to wash down our Lexapro, exactly?
Amid the fox-in-a-henhouse milieu of ceaseless moral outrage serving as this awards season’s backdrop, and amid the self-obsessed entertainers now wrestling with the idea that they now have to be “content providers,” all anyone seems concerned about is what an Oscar means in the future, and whether next year’s versions of Black Panther and Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody have a seat at the table. What everyone’s forgetting is what the Oscars have always been. In other words, the industry’s existential crisis has polluted this race so thoroughly that it feels eerily similar to the 2016 election cycle all over again, and Oscar’s clearly splintered voting blocs may become ground zero for a Make the Academy Great Again watershed.
In 1956, the Oscars took a turn toward small, quotidian, neo-realish movies, awarding Marty the top prize. The correction was swift and sure the following year, with a full slate of elephantine epics underlining the movie industry’s intimidation at the new threat of television. Moonlight’s shocking triumph two years ago was similarly answered by the safe, whimsical The Shape of Water, a choice that reaffirmed the academy’s commitment to politically innocuous liberalism in artistically conservative digs. Call us cynical, but we know which of the last couple go-arounds feels like the real academy. Which is why so many are banking on the formally dazzling humanism of Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma and so few on the vital, merciless fury of Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman.
And even if we give the benefit of the doubt to the academy’s new members, there’s that righteous, reactionary fervor in the air against those attempting to “cancel” Green Book. Those attacking the film from every conceivable angle have also ignored the one that matters to most people: the pleasure principle. Can anyone blame Hollywood for getting its back up on behalf of a laughably old-fashioned but seamlessly mounted road movie-cum-buddy pic that reassures people that the world they’re leaving is better than the one they found? That’s, as they say, the future that liberals and Oscar want.
Will Win: Green Book
Should Win: BlacKkKlansman
Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Adapted Screenplay
After walking back almost all of its bad decisions ahead of this year’s Oscars, there’s no way AMPAS isn’t going to do the right thing here.
Eric and I have done a good job this year of only selectively stealing each other’s behind-the-scenes jokes. We have, though, not been polite about stepping on each other’s toes in other ways. Okay, maybe just Eric, who in his impeccable take on the original screenplay free-for-all detailed how the guilds this year have almost willfully gone out of their way to “not tip the Oscar race too clearly toward any one film.” Case in point: Can You Ever Forgive Me? winning the WGA’s adapted screenplay trophy over presumed Oscar frontrunner BlacKkKlansman. A glitch in the matrix? We think so. Eric and I are still in agreement that the race for best picture this year is pretty wide open, though maybe a little less so in the wake of what seemed like an easy win for the Spike Lee joint. Nevertheless, we all know that there’s no Oscar narrative more powerful than “it’s about goddamn time,” and it was so powerful this year that even the diversity-challenged BAFTAs got the memo, giving their adapted screenplay prize to Lee, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, and Kevin Willmott. To bamboozle Lee at this point would, admittedly, be so very 2019, but given that it’s walked back almost all of its bad decisions ahead of this year’s Oscars, there’s no way AMPAS isn’t going to do the right thing.
Will Win: BlacKkKlansman
Could Win: Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Should Win: BlacKkKlansman