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Ranking Sofia Coppola's films in order of greatness

“The unexpected connections we make might not last, yet stay with us forever.” — Sofia Coppola

Within this quote, we get the true essence of Sofia Coppola, former actor, famed director and bonafide Hollywood royalty. Coppola, the daughter of Eleanor Coppola and the widely esteemed director of Apocalypse, Now and The Godfather Francis Ford Coppola, quickly moved out of acting and set her sight on something grander, emulating her father and becoming an acclaimed filmmaker in her own right.

In truth, Sofia may well have been primed to be a primadonna, but she has flourished within the commonality of modern life. No matter the scope or the timeframe, Coppola’s films have always leaned on the fleeting connections we make.

One of the most intriguing directors of her generation, Coppola, operates entirely in her own field. Having directed only seven feature films in her years in the chair, with a fair chunk of them receiving widespread critical acclaim, it seems strange that she hasn’t yet cashed in on the clamour for her work. Having debuted with the unreasonably impressive The Virgin Suicides in 1999, a film which saw break into the realm of directing without so much as a second glance back.

Since then, the director has taken charge of some modern-day cult classics. Titles such as Marie Antoinette and Lost In Translation stand out, but there is more to her canon than those big names. Coppola has always had a perfect handle of writing female stories and, throughout her seven films, has accurately depicted the multi-faceted challenges that face girls and women in this male-dominated world. She may well have a lifetime of filmmaking knowledge under her hate whenever she needs it, but the real pleasure in a Coppola film feels as though all of the characters are tangible figures in our own lives.

If you’re not aware of Coppola’s work and are looking for a few films to grab your attention, then look no further. We’re ranking the director’s seven feature films in a bid to provide education on Sofia Coppola. There are two absences from the full list of Coppola’s filmography. The 2015 Netflix special A Very Murray Christmas is, of course, missing, as is her direction of the 2017 live performance of La Traviata. However, looking at the calibre of the seven below, we needn’t worry.

Sofia Coppola films ranked worst to best:

7. On The Rocks (2020)

It’s always difficult for the newest releases to truly shine within a definitive ranking of an artist’s work. After all, On The Rocks, a charming comedy starring Rashida Jones and longtime collaborator Bill Murray is certainly not a bad film. However, without much room to breathe, it’s hard to get an accurate depiction of where it should sit within Coppola’s canon. In truth, with a few more months of reflection, the film could move up the list but, as for now, it is at the bottom o the pile.

Murray and Jones star as father and daughter and sees Murray’s Felix try to apprehend his daughter Laura’s husband Dean, played by Marlon Wayans, as she suspects him of cheating. Written and directed by Coppola, there is very little to dislike about the film but where most of Coppola’s work comes with a poignant nugget of revelatory truth, On The Rocks is a little too ‘on the surface’.

6. Somewhere (2010)

Like any great filmmaker, Coppola draws from her own life to help tell the stories in front of her. For 2010’s Somewhere, those stories were a little closer to home. Again penned by Coppola, the film does take up some of the themes surrounding Coppola’s own Hollywood childhood but has since seen the director warn people off taking the film as a pure biography. Instead, Coppola claims the film is more closely linked to her life as a mother, not a child.

Starring Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning as another father-daughter team, we do get the sense of Fanning’s Cleo becoming the parent of the situation as Dorff’s Johnny lives out his Hollywood dreams. Compared to the rest of Coppola’s catalogue, this piece folds under the weight of her best work. Of course, there are themes of parenthood entwined within the film, but it is some wrapped up in the glamour of celebrity life that it isn’t as tenable as her other pictures.

5. The Beguiled (2017)

Adapting novels is a safe wheelhouse for Coppola, and there is more than enough juicy texture to get through on Thomas P. Cullinan’s 1966 novel The Beguiled but where this film feels a little strange is that it feels very close to the 1971 adaptation of the same novel starring Clint Eastwood and Geraldine Page. That film did have one notable moment which Coppola chopped — an incestuous backstory for Miss Martha.

The film follows a Union soldier, McBurney, played by Coli Farrell, who is injured and later looked after by Nicole Kidman’s character Miss Martha. McBurney becomes the obsession of the young girls who live at Miss Martha’s Virginia school, and Coppola does well to play on this and other humanity-driven areas of intrigue. She shows her skill as she illuminates what can be a choking text.

4. The Bling Ring (2013)

Based on real-life events, a gang of teenagers hungry for fame uses the power of the Internet to break into the homes of celebrities and rob them of their wealth. They even break into the ’00s icon, Paris Hilton’s house and steal some jewellery — this gang was known as the Bling Ring.

Emma Watson shed off her good-girl image and played the role of Nicki Moore, the character based on the real-life Alexis Neiers. Watson watched Neiers’ reality TV show to understand and study the character to execute the role with perfection. But, in truth, the real joy of the piece is getting lost in the furore and allowing oneself to dream of breaking into the richest homes in the world and taking it for your own. It is this teenage rebellion that Coppola captures so well — providing all the kick out at the world brilliance that one might hope for.

3. Marie Antoinette (2006)

If you do happen to class yourself as a millennial, there’s a good chance that this is your undoubted favourite Coppola film. Starring Kirsten Dunst as the Converse-wearing titular character, Coppola became a force to be reckoned with on this film. It is the perfect mix of delightfully styled and expertly crafted alongside a robust coming-of-age story that does not pander or ponder but cuts and thrust to the finish line. Few directors are willing to take on historical characters of such esteem. Still, Coppola lays over her own template on the figure of Antoinette and shapes her in a modern refrain.

It’s not just in the styling or the storytelling that Coppola triumphs. She, like her father, has an uncanny knack for picking the right song or piece of music for the right moment, and she expertly demonstrates this on Marie Antoinette. In fact, absolutely everything in this film works. It sings entirely one tune and provides an engaging, if not a wholly undefined, retelling of Antoinette’s unavoidable fate.

It may not be her best film but it is certainly as close as one can get to a perfect distillation of Coppola’s style.

2. The Virgin Suicides (1999)

For Coppola’s very first film, we have Sonic Youth maestro Thurston Moore to thank. The singer pushed Coppola into picking up the novel The Virgin Suicides and turning it into today’s cult classic movie. Written by Jeffrey Eugenides in 1995, Coppola always felt that the story accurately exposed the differences in upbringings between boys and girls. Though initially scared to direct the film, Coppola eventually took up the mantle and announced herself on the world stage.

Looking back at the film now and it is hard to recognise it as anything but revolutionary. For too long, the idea of a teenager on film was relegated to mawkish tropes and needless hyperbole. However, Coppola provided a richly textured view of teenage life and underpinned the deathly dynamics that continue to surround modern living. The story was relished by audiences in 1999, as it still is to this day.

Aside from any critical acclaim, the film represents a turning point for Coppola. The first film she directed, The Virgin Suicides was the first time in her life that she was recognised for her own achievements and not perceived as hanging on the coattails of her father. One thing’s for sure, we’re certainly glad she ditched acting and sat behind the camera.

1. Lost In Translation (2003)

Sofia Coppola’s film brings about a fuzzy feeling in your heart while breaking it at the same time. The main characters share a “romantic melancholy” that permeates through the screen. It’s one of those films which has gone on not only to be a part of Coppola’s iconography but a mainstay cultural touchstone for all those who witnessed it the first time around.

A middle-aged American actor Bob Harris, having faced marital problems and the anxieties of being at the waning phase of his career, goes to Tokyo to promote Suntory whiskey. Charlotte, a Yale University graduate, accompanies her photographer husband to Japan. While her husband pursues his dreams, Charlotte grows more disillusioned till she stumbles upon Bob, and together, they form a beautiful bond of poetic conversations and shared sadness.

Of course, one of the most poignant remaining points of the film is that whisper. The shared whisper at the end of the film is not discernible; somehow, it reflects the hushed and intimate affair the two hapless souls shared in Tokyo. They may well be operating within a crisis, though separately experiencing their own spirals. But they have found a connection in their disillusionment which feels as bright and arresting as love itself.

It’s a winner, there’s no doubt about it.

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