Trigger warning: mention of suicide.
I’m not here to tell you how to watch films in quarantine. There’s no right or wrong way to curate your lockdown list.
Some corners of the internet have been proudly showing off their stay-at-home film programmes. 60s New Wave? Completed it mate.
But this snide, show-off attitude won’t get us anywhere.
It’s okay to turn to comfort viewing over the avant-garde. It’s natural – in a literal pandemic – to rely on familiar favourites.
Today I’ve been staring out of the window whilst half-watching Modern Family re-runs. Yesterday, I binged all of Sofia Coppola’s films. Both are worthwhile quarantine picks!
Modern Family is what I watched back in Rotherham with my family as a teenager. To be honest, it’s one of the main ways I’ve been able to feel connected to them.
In a time of stress and alienation, sometimes that’s all you need.
However, I’ve been enjoying ticking off my movie to-do list at the same time.
Ever since I watched The Bling Ring as a teenager, I’ve been meaning to dive into Sofia Coppola’s work.
So, yesterday, I finally plonked myself down and got stuck in.
If you’re looking for a bit of lockdown inspiration, or you’re tired of scrolling through Netflix, now is the perfect time to get started with her work.
In fact, this week marks 20 years since her first film, The Virgin Suicides, was released in cinemas.
If you don’t want to watch all of her films, or just can’t be arsed, that’s okay. Below I’ve ranked all six, so you can pick and choose what you fancy.
There’s a handful of themes that run through Coppola’s oeuvre: loneliness, female sexual repression, celebrity culture.
However, each film is distinct in its own unique way.
Don’t come to Coppola for fast-paced plots – almost every beat of the story is played out on the character’s faces.
A glance, smile or pause is enough to propel each story forward.
Not all of her films are five-star bangers, but each one is worth a look. Here’s my ranking:
6. Marie Antoinette (2006)
There’s no denying that this is an interesting take on Marie Antoinette’s story.
In short, don’t expect a stuffy period drama.
Recently, the genre has been injected with a new lease of life. The Favourite, Emma, and Little Women have all subverted tired conventions.
However, they all owe a debt to Coppola’s spiky adaptation.
Coppola blends a stuffy period setting with a pop-filled soundtrack – and the occasional Converse sneaker.
These flourishes speak to Antoinette’s rebellious nature. Coppola’s filmography is full of teenage girls refusing to abide by expectations, which slots Marie Antoinette nicely into her oeuvre.
The film does lack the emotional depth of her other works. It also looks a little too much like a perfume ad or Versailles postcard for its own good.
However, it’s still well worth a watch, purely for it’s giddy attitude and gorgeous design.
5. The Virgin Suicides (1999)
Many consider this to be Coppola’s masterpiece.
I’m not entirely convinced, but it’s an incredible debut.
It tells the story of five sisters living in sleepy suburbia. The film opens with one of them attempting suicide, and the rest of the film deals with the fallout.
They live in a middle-class household with strict parents, who try to control their sexual and romantic impulses.
This isn’t your typical coming-of-age teen movie. If anything, Marie Antoinette has more in common with something like Mean Girls (2005).
Yes, there’s the typical boy-meets-girl plot. But Lux, played by Kirsten Dunst, subverts expectations at every turn.
At times, the imagery feels too highly constructed. The narration from a group of boys also feels misplaced.
But the air of grief and loneliness that hangs over the film sets it apart from other 90s teen movies.
4. The Beguiled (2017)
Coppola’s latest film is her most technically accomplished.
With the help of cinematographer Philippe le Sourd, she created her most gorgeous film to date.
Every frame is draped in Southern Gothic imagery. It anchors the film precisely in its Civil War setting and creates a brooding atmosphere of dread.
After finding an enemy soldier, a young girl takes the wounded man to her school. There, the women nurse him back to health.
This isn’t an irreverent period piece like Marie Antoinette. But classic Coppola themes crop up: female sexuality, sisterhood, and the pain of being a teenage girl.
This is probably Coppola’s most mature film – sometimes to a fault. Everything feels so tightly controlled that there’s little room for spontaneity.
However, by stripping back unnecessary details, the director allows us to focus on what matters the most.
Like Coppola’s best work, every look, glance and movement contains incredible emotional depth. The story itself has been told before, but never quite like this.
3. Somewhere (2010)
Usually, Somewhere is at the bottom of everyone’s Coppola watch list.
It won the Golden Lion at Venice, but also received a mixed critical response.
I can see why: there are a few too many pointless, lingering shots. Some of the set pieces are also a bit naff.
But it completely took me by surprise.
Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning are both incredible. Their relationship beautifully unfolds and has layers upon layers of emotion.
Dorff plays Johnny, a movie star who has to take care of his daughter. They hang out in hotels, go to awards shows and make up for lost time.
But this isn’t some cutesy father-daughter road trip movie.
It’s a melancholy character study and an intimate behind-the-scenes look at celebrity life.
In an industry that loves films about narcissistic (male) celebrities, it’s hardly a groundbreaking premise.
But even though Dorff might be the ‘star’ of the movie, Fanning’s character is equally mature and complex. No one writes teenage girls like Coppola – and Cleo might just be her best creation.
2. The Bling Ring (2013)
I really wanted to put this at the top spot.
This was my first Coppola film and it’s one of my all-time favourites.
Alongside Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012), it sparked my love for teen cinema.
It’s the most plot-driven of all of her films, which makes it an easy introduction if you’re not after a slow burn.
It follows a group of teenagers as they break into the houses of the rich and famous. Inspired by a true story, the film sees the gang steal Louboutins and Rolex watches after school.
Like most of her films, it’s hardly ‘relatable.’ Coppola is great at focusing in on the lives of the rich and famous – or, in this case, wannabe TMZ stars.
It’s not her most mature work, but it’s definitely the most fun.
Emma Watson, in particular, is an absolute blast. It’s not something you’d expect from her, either. Her character is narcissistic and snide – a far cry from her usual output. For my money, it’s her best performance.
There’s some great set pieces, too. A robbery is filmed from afar in one fixed, continuous take, which elegantly captures their greed and desperation.
All of this is accompanied by a killer soundtrack, which propels the action along.
Watching The Bling Ring seven years later makes it all the more impressive. Coppola’s snapshot of early 2010s celebrity culture – which has changed so much since – is absolutely spot on.
1. Lost in Translation (2003)
What else could take the top spot?
It’s an obvious choice, but this is Sofia Coppola’s masterpiece.
Weirdly, it’s the film I have the least to say about.
Lost in Translation follows Bob, a middle-aged movie star making a commercial in Tokyo. There, he meets newly-married Charlotte. Over the course of 100 minutes, we see their relationship unfold.
Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson are note perfect. The sequence where they go to a karaoke bar is one of the most magical things I’ve seen onscreen.
Never has loneliness been captured so beautifully.