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
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
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
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
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