Sofia Coppola Needs to Escape the Safety Zone

by Anne Thompson
December 30, 2010 8:26 AM
34 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood
The Safety Zone is a dangerous place to be for filmmakers. When it comes to making movies, danger and risk is a good thing. And while I'm not saying that directors should pander to the widest possible audience, I do think that playing to an audience of one, yourself, is a must-to-avoid. Too many filmmakers seem to believe that staying in control is their best course. To a degree, it's wise not to cede control to the wrong people. But input and collaboration bring vital nourishment.

And connecting with an audience, be it small or large, is advisable too. I keep reading dismissive reviews of Coppola's Somewhere (76% on the Tomatometer), a movie that I respect and admire, while wishing that Coppola would open the windows and let in some fresh air. She's living inside a protected, hermetic world of friends, family and Coppolas, producer father Francis and brother Roman. After winning the screenwriting Oscar for her second film, Lost in Translation, Coppola ventured into big-budget filmmaking with Sony's lavishly stylish Marie Antoinette. With Somewhere, she retreated back to personally observing the insider world of Hollywood privilege she knows too well.

Somewhere is well-written, produced, directed and acted. Coppola knows what she wants and isn't pandering to anyone (here's my interview with her). But Coppola has tread this track too many times. She needs to open up to other collaborators and voices. But she is not receptive. Imagine: one of the most powerful and respected producers in Hollywood, Scott Rudin, had a project for her to consider. But when he tried to reach her, he couldn't get close.

There's something wrong there. Coppola needs to step into the outside world. Steven Soderbergh (who is threatening to retire, but that's another story) has talked of needing to avoid directing movies from the back seat of a limousine. Coppola isn't alone. I'd argue that staying inside the Safety Zone (not listening to other voices) has stifled the considerable talents of big-budget filmmakers and micro-indies alike: James L. Brooks, John Sayles and Jim Jarmusch come to mind. Any other candidates?

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34 Comments

  • Anne Thompson | January 6, 2011 6:08 AMReply

    M. Night Shyamalan is an excellent addition to my list of artists who are too hermetically sealed. He marches to the beat of his own drummer, in Philadelphia, and while I admire his ability to turn out original screenplays, he seems to need additional input from a creative partner he can trust. Nina Jacobson, when she was at Disney, tried to help him fix Lady in the Water and he took it to Warners, where it bombed. I am not saying that sticking to your own stuff is bad--just that there should be someone to bounce off ideas with, at some point.

  • Jimmy Baggs | January 6, 2011 5:52 AMReply

    Anne Thompson.... do you even know what you're talking about? Comparing Sofia Coppola to Spike Lee is silly because she's a mediocre filmmaker who wouldn't have a snowball's chance in hell to get the kind of films made that she does if she wasn't the daughter of one of the greatest directors of all time. She's made one good film, 'Lost in Translation'. Spike Lee isn't a strong writer? Have you seen any of his films before '25th Hour'? He wrote and directed arguably his best film, the critically acclaimed 'Do the Right Thing' Same with 'Malcom X', 'He Got Game' (which Edward Norton liked so much that he sought ought Lee to collaborate with ), and a handful of others. Please get your facts straight.

  • Jeff | January 6, 2011 2:02 AMReply

    I remember a discussion I was having a while back with someone on the subject of Stephen King. They argued that he'd taken a genre (horror) and milked it for all its worth. I can't really disagreed with that although he has branched out at times. I then pointed out that that same accusation could be leveled at many writers. You could say that Faulkner milked the Southern tragedy/gothic for all its worth.

    I won't say anything about Somewhere until I actually see it.

    Originally, as has been previously noted, directors would go from genre to genre on their pictures. John Huston and Billy Wilder are two classic examples of this, a current example would be Danny Boyle. Boyle has tackled the dark comedy, the horror film, the hard-hitting drama, satire, sci-fi and the love story, sometimes combining elements of all of them.

    Richard Linklater is another good example. He debuted with a cult classic about people walking and talking (Slacker). He then followed that up with one of the definitive teen movies of all-time (Dazed and Confused) and one of the best romances of all-time (Before Sunrise). At that point, he was set to become the Gen X answer to Woody Allen. Instead of following the obvious path, he went off and did a western (The Newton Boys), followed that with an existenialist parable (Waking Life), an adaptation of a play (Tape), a sequel to Before Sunrise, a social drama (Fast Food Nation), a sci-fi film based on a Phillip K Dick novel (A Scanner Darkly), a film based on Orson Welles and a mainstream comedy that's better than most mainstream comedies (School of Rock). Of the films he made in that period the only one that I can say I felt let down by was Bad News Bears, which seemed too commercially driven (School of Rock didn't feel that way).

    There have been times where directors have tried to move out of their comfort zones and either met with disaster commercially or the whole thing was an artistic downfall. Spike Lee's attempt at branching out with a World War II epic was pretty good as a movie yet it met with audience indifference at the box office. On the other hand, when Wes Craven tried to move away from thrillers and horror films, the result was a pitiful attempt at a Mr. Holland's Opus knock-off (Music Of The Heart). Likewise, Kevin Smith tried to move on from the Jersey slacker movies and kept running out of gas. He tried making a more serious dramatic film and the result was average at best (Jersey Girl). He also attempted a more mainstream oriented cop film and the result was horrendous (Cop Out). For Smith, I can say that his best, most ambitious film was Dogma, which showed him branching out quite well.

  • CppThis | January 5, 2011 4:42 AMReply

    While I definitely agree, I'm honestly not sure Coppola would exist outside said comfort zone--which maybe speaks to why she so desperately should try it. When you get down to it, all her films are really just different takes on the same story: aloof rich people wander around not doing anything. Can she even make a film that's not an obvious allegory for being a Coppola? Inquiring minds want to know.

    Anyway, as for others who need to do this I got 2.1 words for you: M. Night Shymalan. The man seems to have some talent but pretty much everything since Signs has been boring, uninspired crap. I mean, if someone says "a Coen brothers movie" you don't necessarily know much except it's probably pretty complicated with a lot of morally ambiguous characters, but if someone says "a Shymalan movie" you know already exactly how the movie works.

  • Sean C | January 5, 2011 2:33 AMReply

    I agree about calling out Spielberg, Scorsese, Fincher, etc (I disagree about Nolan, but I have not seen enough of his work to judge).

    Spielberg needs to completely go away from David Koepp, a writer whose scripts are so often filled with plot holes and uninteresting/ under develloped characters that they render the films dull and boring. Munich was poorly develloped, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull recycled a number of elements from Raiders of the Lost Ark, right down to the ending (that final death scene, for all the cheap looking special effects, bore far too much of a resemblance to the death scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but had none of the imagination or creativity. It was comical more than anything else).
    It's heartbreaking to see someone of such former creativity, turn into a guy who just wants a paycheck.
    It goes without saying that George Lucas is insane. And Scorsese hasn't made a good film in years. When a director turns to remakes, I know they have lost their ability.

    We really need to start calling out directors who are not working at their best anymore. If someone cannot start going full steam ahead, then they may as well not direct at all.

  • Michael J | January 5, 2011 12:58 AMReply

    Wow I love how this person calls out all of the "little" Hollywood directors who obviously the majority of movie goers won't take much offense to. I'd love to see this coward call out Steven Spielberg, Chris Nolan, Clint Eastwood, Scorsese, Fincher etc. What a loser.

  • Henry | January 4, 2011 11:45 AMReply

    Just wanted to say in regards to Nolan's successful run: today's studio system is crafted for blockbusters and that is what Nolan is a product of.

    Scorsese and Friedkin and many others have had big financial hits and critical successes over the decades, but they never really made movies for the sake of them topping summer box office. Nolan does every time out.

    The reason I don't think of Nolan as being very interesting is that I don't think we'll ever see him break out of this glut of massive scale low impact action movies that feel vague and hollow in retrospect.

    It's been awhile since The Prestige and I fear that was Nolan at his most artful and expressive. I have no hope whatsoever that he will make anything that could be called his "King of Comedy" equivalent or for that matter his "Last Temptation of Christ" or "Bringing out the Dead" or even "New York, New York".

    It's easy to say "Nolan's had 7 hits in a row and Scorsese never had that" except that by those calculations Brett Ratner and Tony Scott are Scorsese's superiors.

  • Layne | January 4, 2011 6:48 AMReply

    Unfair article.

    You have to take into consideration the fact that Sofia is a writer/director of original material. Writer/directors cut from that cloth by nature make insular (and often impenetrable) films, often re-visiting the same themes over and over again.

    Fassbinder, Bergman, and Fellini were called geniuses for it. Unfortunately (and rather hypocritically), when an American filmmaker does it, they're "protected", being "hermetic", and playing to an audience of themselves. And that's simply unfair.

    It's very rare that a writer/director consistently makes films that are outside his/her comfort zone. There was, after all, only one Billy Wilder.

    Consider James Cameron, George Lucas, Shyamalan, Tyler Perry. All of them have achieved massive commercial success writing their own stuff, yet all four have in recent years been called "hacks".

    Cameron's cricitized for being a master of spectacle but little else, Lucas takes shots for re-visiting Star Wars over and over, and Shyamalan and Perry are just drug through the mud.

    Yet all four have been consistently successful on a commercial level. Even Shaymalan's lowest-grossing film still made $72 million (whereas I don't think Fassbinder's 23 theatrical films combined grossed that much in the U.S.).

    On the indie side, you've got Wes Anderson, Baumbach, Tarantino, Rodriguez, and The Coens, all of whom are a mixed bag. Yet their films are without a doubt the work of passionate and talented artists who are constantly trying to re-define the medium. Sometimes the audience is there, sometimes they aren't.

    When the audiences do stay home (as they did through most of the Coen's early career, the last couple Wes flicks, all of Baumbach's flicks except "Squid & The Whale", and Tarantino's awful "Death Proof", whereas Rodriguez has done okay with most of his films), you seem to be taking that as a sign that they need to expand their horizons a bit more, bring on additional collaborators, and listen to "other voices".

    But how exactly will that help? Kevin Smith directed a film with a script he didn't write for the first time in his career last year and that movie was damn near unwatchable.

    Part of the joy of being a Bay, Ratner, Spielberg or a Scorsese is you can jump from project to project, genre to genre, and nobody will ever accuse you of repeating yourself.

    When YOU'RE the one starting with the blank page and bringing it to the screen yourself, you can't help but repeat yourself. Writer/directors only have so many ideas, and it's that unique style and worldview that brings me back time and time again.

    Sofia might have struck a disonant chord with "Somewhere" (and I agree the film was a little too Antonioni-ish for itself), but I don't think she's going to become the fillmmaker you're suggesting she should any time soon.

    Presumably she could work on the biggest projects on sheer name value alone. Scott Rudin calling and Sofia not answering seems mind-boggling to us, but it shouldn't be taken as a "Who do you think you are?" snub. To Sofia it was probably just a shrug of the shoulders. She wants to do her own thing, and make personal films---if that's what gets her out of bed in the morning (although the author seems to be arguing that she has precious little reason too, considering how "privileged" and "hermetic" she is), then who are we to criticize it?

    My larger point is no matter what kind've material any of these writer/directors bring to the screen (and no matter who writes it), you're still going to get that vision that is distinctive to every single filmmaker.

    Sofia, like Baumbach and Wes (what the hell would either of them do with a freshly sold spec that's been corporately-dumbed-and-watered-down anyway?) are writer/directors of original material who are intent making films for themselves and their devoted fanbases, just like writer-directors have been doing for decades.

    There have only been a handful of writer/directors who've had what most would consider mainstream success (Cameron, Lucas, Shyamalan, Tarantino, Perry, as mentioned above).

    Are you really going to say that the reason Sayles and Jarmusch haven't struck mainstream gold is because their heads are too far up their asses?

    By the way, your Soderbergh quote is not only unfair but wildly out-of-context. First of all, the guy's written maybe a handful of his nearly 20 films, and the last thing Sofia is doing with her micro-budgeted films is directing from the back of a limo, nor has she given any indication of going in that direction.

  • BlackHistoryMonth | January 4, 2011 3:20 AMReply

    I haven't seen Somewhere yet, but I must say that Coppola's first three features (The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette) are all masterpieces, and she is one of the few directors with a perfect track record (if you don't count her short, Lick the Star). I am anxiously awaiting Somewhere to see if she has broken that yet. Also, in terms of these first three films, it was appropriate for her to stay inside a certain type of "zone" because they are a thematic trilogy. From what I've heard and seen of Somewhere is that it is an odd choice as her first film outside the trilogy. I can see how she might be stuck in a safety zone but she has already proved herself beyond a doubt to be one of the best living directors and I have faith that she hasn't drifted too far from THAT zone with her latest outing.

  • skiplittle | January 4, 2011 2:05 AMReply

    i find all the talk that directors who tell stories about privileged people (such as wes anderson, noah baumbach, coppola, etc.) to be quite strange. people write what comes out of them, and they make great pictures. some people are going to write about well- or better-off people's problems and life struggles and successes, and their stories don't have to be a scrooge xmas carol, will he give the poor guy money or not to be justified in telling. everyone in every context has stories to tell, and i relate to them as much as anything, even if i've never made above 30,000 a year.

  • Oliver | January 4, 2011 2:00 AMReply

    Anyone who seriously compares Nolan to Kubrick, I question how much of Kubrick you've seen other than '2001'. Where in Nolan's work is the outrageous satire of 'Strangelove' or the audacious style of 'Barry Lyndon'?

    Nolan makes *good* films -- but they are far too insistently, portentiously convinced of their own worth to be *great* films.

    Now, compare David Fincher to Kubrick and we might be getting somewhere...

  • Anne Thompson | January 3, 2011 7:13 AMReply

    I am not asking Sofia Coppola to sell out to the studios. She can do whatever she wants; she's set. She has overseas funding, producing support from her family. Nothing is wrong--she can keep on forever if she keeps her budgets low. In fact doing that is almost always a good thing. The Coens are doing it exactly right--modest budgets, reasonable control (they did trim True Grit to get a PG-13), and access to the best of what the studios have to offer. The Coens are willing to take risks, try different things: remakes (The Ladykillers), star vehicles (Intolerable Cruelty), personal films (A Serious Man), broad comedy (Burn After Reading). Their source material is varied. They aren't just sticking inside their own heads. They take chances.

    It is so tough to make movies these days that many filmmakers have to compromise, to the detriment of personal expression. They give up their freedom in order to work, often with disastrous results. I LOVED The Door in the Floor and The Woodsman. I admire Aronofsky's bullet-headed independence--and I bet he does a good job with Wolverine.

    Each case is different. Spike Lee has a good eye like Sofia Coppola, but he is not a strong writer. He does better when he's got good scripts and he casts them right. 25th Hour and Inside Man were really good. Many filmmakers have passion projects they can't get made. So they do other things instead.

    Like Coppola, Jarmusch seems content to have his conversation with a small group; that works for him. I find that he is treading and retreading familiar ground. He seems indulgent, he's not pushing for something structurally or narratively more accessible to more people. Does that mean I feel left out of the conversation? No. I'm just getting tired of it.

    Similarly, I have admired John Sayles for decades. He is a terrific writer and director, but his audience seems to be shrinking as he keeps making movies that are harder to finance and distribute. It's his choice, his money, his films to make his way. But something isn't working here. Again, he seems to be talking to himself--he has long worked with the same people, edited the films himself. What if he changed it up a bit?

    Woody Allen has opened up a tad by leaving New York now and again for Europe. His scripts are still able to lure the best actors, who help to bring them to life. This model still works for him.

    It's easy to say that he or she should have done this or that while sitting on the sidelines. In Coppola's case, I just want her to have all the advantages she can, of access to the best material available to her, to not keep herself needlessly shut off.

  • Anne Thompson | January 3, 2011 5:02 AMReply

    Most directors who worked within the Hollywood system were expected to do anything and everything, on assignment. The rare exceptions --Howard Hawks, John Ford--at the top of the food chain were able to manipulate the system and leverage their success to their advantage. Their auteur voices were able to ring through, even as directors for hire.

    The top studio directors today also have more say--but you know it's getting tough when Ridley Scott has to settle for a Robin Hood retread. The downside of today's free agent system is that it's not like the old days when the studios gave a wide range of directors regular employment, even if the material wasn't to their taste, and trained them to be jack of all trades.

    Today, the A listers and VFX masters land the costly tentpoles, while the emerging talent who are easy to manipulate tend to get most of the meat-and-potatoes assignments, leaving an entire middle segment of experienced directors on their own, heading to TV, cable, or retirement. While some are figuring out that the studio gravy train is over and they should go indie, many have no idea how to function that way, even though many viewers like me would prefer to see the indie version of a movie anyway.

  • Brian | January 3, 2011 4:37 AMReply

    Even though I have mixed feelings about nearly all their films (except TRUE GRIT, which I like very much and consider to be the best film of 2010), I admire and respect the Coen Bros. for exactly the reasons you outline in your comment above, Anne. They do different things. They go off in different directions from their previous films. They're always interesting, even when they're infuriating.

    Anyway, I just want to take a step back in time and point out that once upon a time directors were expected to do all kinds of films. An obvious example is, of course, Howard Hawks, who made westerns, war films, expert romantic comedies, and even a musical (GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES) which gave Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe roles that are among their best.

    A less obvious example, but someone whose career I revel in, is Gordon Douglas, who directed from 1935 to 1977 and who made a sci-fi classic (THEM!), top-ranked crime dramas (BETWEEN MIDNIGHT AND DAWN, THE DETECTIVE), musicals (YOUNG AT HEART, ROBIN AND THE SEVEN HOODS), westerns (THE DOOLINS OF OKLAHOMA), historical dramas (THE IRON MISTRESS), Jerry Lewis comedies (WAY... WAY OUT), secret agent movies (IN LIKE FLINT), Elvis movies (FOLLOW THAT DREAM), horror comedies (ZOMBIES ON BROADWAY), film noir (KISS TOMORROW GOODBYE), biopics (SO THIS IS LOVE), war films (FIRST YANK INTO TOKYO), swashbucklers (THE FORTUNES OF CAPTAIN BLOOD), blaxploitation (SLAUGHTER'S BIG RIPOFF) and tons of Our Gang and Hal Roach comedies.

  • Ryan Sartor | January 3, 2011 1:36 AMReply

    I feel like the logic of this argument is flawed. There are all of these examples of filmmakers who should get out of their comfort zone, but where are the success stories of ones who have done so in a creatively successful manner? It's one thing to be the Coens and take a call from Scott Rudin, but what other mega-producer is worth taking a call from? I think people always want creative control, and if they give any of it up, it's for money, not out of some effort to make better art.

    Spike Lee did a good job with "Inside Man," but it wasn't distinguishable as a Spike Lee Joint--it just felt like any other action/heist movie.

    Two filmmakers from 2004, Tod Williams and Nicole Kassell, made "The Door in the Floor" and "The Woodsman", respectively, and when the phone didn't ring, they followed those films up with "Paranormal Activity 2" and the unreleased Kate Hudson brick "A Little Bit of Heaven", unrespectfully. Do you think they will have their "cred" in tact if they try to get funding together for another indie? I doubt it.

    Look at the Weitz brothers. Not indie filmmakers by any stretch, but they directed the fantastic "About a Boy" before playing Hollywood with "New Moon" (Chris) and "Little Fockers" (Paul).

    Other filmmakers whom I greatly admired, Doug Liman and Jon Favreau, have gone from directing the likes of "Swingers", "Go" and "Made," to "Jumper" and the "Iron Man" films. I like "Iron Man" but Jon Favreau is so talented, that it's such a shame to see him directing films that would be fine in the hands of less talented people.

    There's something to be said for sticking to one's guns. My favorite filmmaker, Albert Brooks, is only able to make a film every six or nine years, and "Looking For Comedy In The Muslim World" wasn't great, but it was an Albert Brooks film. Pedro Almodovar said it best when he commented that a film is a conversation between the filmmaker and the audience. I'd rather have an 'okay' conversation with Jim Jarmusch or Sofia Coppola than any talk with Amy Pascal or Rich "I only make cartoons and Marvel movies" Ross.

  • banjo | January 2, 2011 7:33 AMReply

    I gotta say, Christopher Nolan isn't anywhere near as good as the other filmmakers you guys listed. His ideas are pretty shallow and his craft is the standard run of the mill Hollywood style. If he wants a place among the greats, he's going to need to give us something much more intellectually and emotionally satisfying than what he's offered so far. It seems to me he only looks good in comparison to the glut of garbage out there. He's got talent, but he has yet to utilize it to create something brilliant. And no, his streak is not unprecedented. Spielberg has him beat.

    As for Coppola, it would be nice to see her take on a genre picture. Something plotted. Combining her visual and tonal style with a story that moves forward at a decent pace could yield some pretty great results. Sometimes it takes a standard genre framework to really pull out the greatness in a filmmaker. I haven't been that disappointed with any of her films (though I haven't seen Somewhere yet), but it would be nice to see her tackle something with more meat and excitement.

  • KGK | December 31, 2010 10:17 AMReply

    Success + elitist media adoration + singular style + disconnected reality of Hollywood = BORING SHIT

  • Thomas | December 31, 2010 6:58 AMReply

    Oh, I am with you on how great Nolan is, Christian. I saw INSOMNIA on opening day because I was a fan of MEMENTO (and also of the original INSOMNIA.) I would say Nolan's streak is pretty high up there among Hollywood directors. The only ones I would rank higher off the top of my head are Coppola in the 70s, Hitchcock in the middle 50s and Billy Wilder in the middle 40s to the early 50s.

    I would like to think streaks can go on and on but, alas, all these streaks end and the fanboys move on. I am a fanboy myself so I know the culture a bit. I wish there was a little more reflection on some of these guys' careers. Take the good with the bad, you know? Nolan will make some mediocre films in his career. People might even forget about him. Doesn't mean his work isn't worth still thinking about and valuing.

    If I were Friedkin after THE EXORCIST came out, I would probably have told myself, "Wow, I will never match those highs again but that will be okay. Doesn't mean there aren't a few more interesting movies in me."

  • Thomas | December 31, 2010 6:22 AMReply

    I sympathize with Anne is Compromised. There is a tendency for web-based critics to follow conventional wisdom. "Christopher Nolan is the greatest guy ever." "Every movie he makes is a masterpiece." "Nolan is the new Kubrick."

    All this "one critic topping the next critic in how much they can praise Christopher Nolan" deprives us readers of a realistic commentary on a very interesting director. If someone was to question, even a bit, THE DARK KNIGHT, that conversation is pretty much over.

    All this Nolan-love will disappear once he makes his equivalent of SUPERMAN RETURNS. Bryan Singer was the Christopher Nolan of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Then he "stumbled" with SUPERMAN RETURNS and people now act like he was a worthless hack all along.

    What I don't get is why do we have to label anybody? These labels are all temporary. Wasn't William Friedkin the Christopher Nolan of the 1970s? Wasn't Michael Cimino the Christopher Nolan of the 1980s?

    These guys are all still alive and yet we just don't care.

  • Christian | December 31, 2010 6:14 AMReply

    Yeah I'm not disagreeing, just pointing out that Nolan's track record is almost unheard of, and in my book, saving the face of mainstream Hollywood movies.

  • Anne Thompson | December 31, 2010 5:34 AMReply

    Point is, no matter how talented you are, it doesn't take long to become out of sync with your audience. I agree that Woody Allen belongs, with Jarmusch and Sayles, in the realm of the indie filmmaker who tunes to the beat of his own drummer; but isn't that rhythm getting awfully familiar? I'm asking Coppola. as she looks ahead, to change her tune a little.

    Friedkin was arguably as big as Nolan in his prime, and had a remarkably long run at the top, for any filmmaker.

  • Christian | December 31, 2010 4:44 AMReply

    Thomas: I understand where you're coming from and I agree for the most part; but succeeding seven times in a row can't be swept under the rug. Both Dark Knight and Inception are both enormously successful, but he has also made one of the most acclaimed indie films of the past 20 years.

    And I must add that Friedkin do have a revered name in film. It's not like he is forgotten, he just makes shit movies now.

  • Thomas | December 31, 2010 4:12 AMReply

    Friedkin is an odd one, Christian. He was one of the youngest people to win the Best Director Oscar (age 36) and then his next movie THE EXORCIST was one of the biggest movie in box office history at the time and was nominated for 10 Oscars and then a very mixed record.

    I guess my point being was that immense success can just disappear very suddenly. Friedkin, at a similar age, was arguably more accomplished than Nolan and yet he is little more than a footnote since then.

  • Anne is Compromised | December 31, 2010 3:49 AMReply

    What worries me about Anne's pieces lately is that I feel that on-line journalists in general feel a need to be needlessly sensationalistic in an attempt to invite responses from readers. This is as irresponsible, in a way, as shilling for an on-line advertiser. In this case, she is shilling for Indiewire and herself.

    Ann, I don't think you really think that Sofia needs to "open the windows". I also don't think that you think that Jim Jarmusch should do the same. If so, you are in fact ignoring the fact that those two filmmakers actually recently tried pieces outside their traditional realms and then "went home" to what they work on best. To compare either to James Brooks is extremely lazy and falsely incendiary. Brooks, while having made entertaining films, has always "fed the machine", while Jim and Sofia have always tried to find their own way.

    But in general I feel a terrible desperation in this lazy on-line criticism. I feel you are pandering to the tyranny of constantly being evaluated by the value assigned to readers who "click through" or "respond", that has made your journalism feel quite shrill and vacuous lately.

    Some great filmmakers, like Godard, changed styles constantly throughout their careers. Ozu, on the other hand, made very similar films over and over again. Who is the greater artist? I think that would be a very difficult question to even pose, and I don't think anyone can ever answer that question.

    Sofia Coppla has only made four films. Her last film, Marie Antoinette (which I despised, to be honest, and thought was one of the most irresponsible films of the last decade) was extremely different that Somewhere. Yet, I think accusing her of repetition is short-sited. I also think that your headline is more concerned with garnering yourself readers and responses than serious journalism.

    Ann, let's be honest. As an industry journalist you have always been - to a certain degree - "in the pocket" of the industry that feeds you. This was obvious to atone in the industry who read your pieces during your stint at the Holllywood Reporter. What I find discouraging in your tone in the past year is a certain pandering to a potential on-line readership, where the title of your piece itself is attempting to goad the reader of the email blast to "click-through" to the article. The on-line equivalent of a carney "barker".

    I find it sad - and indicative of a negative effect of on-line journalism on the social discourse of our time, that you have resorted to consistently trying to pander to the lowest common denominator in this desperate attempt to get people to "click through" to your pieces.

    You have the capacity to be a better writer, and to actualy have a valid critical voice in the current cultural landscape. I'm sure the world of on-line journalism must have many negative pressures working against your using that voice, but I would urge you to try to focus on it and be true to yourself, not yours and Indiewire's bottom line. You are capable of such work, and I think in the end Indiewire will be best served if you actually focus on that voice.

  • Daniella Isaacs | December 31, 2010 3:10 AMReply

    "Anne Is Compromised" seems to be the one with the axe to grind here. I thought this piece was fairly respectful. It is interesting to look at people who arguably get stuck in a rut and then break out spectacularly. Ingmar Bergman comes to mind. PERSONA, SHAME, and FANNY AND ALEXANDER were all big risks for that filmmaker, departures from what he had been doing. They are also three of his best films. As for Ozu (or Rohmer, for that matter), same damn film over and over. Honestly, when I look at the list of Ozu films on Netflix or wherever, I ask myself: "have I seen this one or not?" Then I choose something by another director.

  • Christian | December 31, 2010 1:41 AMReply

    Thomas: Neither Bryan Singer, Michael Cimino or William Friedkin made seven critically acclaimed (and financially successful) movies in a row. In fact, not many directors have. Not even Scorsese has done that.

  • J. Sperling Reich | December 31, 2010 12:23 AMReply

    I might not completely agree with including John Sayles and Jim Jarmusch in a list of directors who stay inside the "Safety Zone". Sure they have moments where their work takes a more conventional approach, but that hasn't stopped them from taking on less straightforward stories.

    Given the current economic climate, I wonder if some filmmakers aren't able to fund films that are out of the "Safety Zone" or if stories that might have been more courageous to start with get watered down as a compromise to get financing.

  • Dixon Steele | December 30, 2010 11:26 AMReply

    I too disagree about lumping in Sayles. The man has a liot of intregrity and wants to make films about characters & themes that don't fit into the studio cookie-cutter formula.

    You should be lauding him, Anne, not chiding him.

  • Leo | December 30, 2010 10:57 AMReply

    Nicole Holofcener comes to mind on the subject of filmmakers who though terrific at what they do, need to step outside of their comfort zones. Indeed both Coppola and Holofcener seem to be perfecting their approach with each successive film. I loved both Please Give and Somewhere. Yet, I long to be surprised by these two. Both those films were more or less what I expected from them going in. Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu also comes to mind. Once again, a very specific medium from which he never steps out of. Biutiful was flawed, but heartbreaking, yet unsurprising. It felt derivative of his other works.

    These filmmakers should take a page out of the Coen Bros' notebooks and try to shake things up rather than recycle. Even if as in True Grit, not everyone is jumping from the walls over the final achievement, at the very least one must concede the result is fresh.

  • Thomas | December 30, 2010 10:52 AMReply

    I am going to take this on a slightly different tangent and say I think Leonardo DiCaprio needs to try a different tack in his career. He needs to use his considerable clout to hype some promising up-and-coming director. Look at who he has worked with since TITANIC - Woody Allen, Randall Wallace, Danny Boyle, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese (4 times), Edward Zwick, Ridley Scott, Sam Mendes, Christopher Nolan and Clint Eastwood. I love these directors but DiCaprio needs to move off the elite A-List. I would love to see him work with somebody like John Sayles or Shane Meadows or Neil Jordan or Martin Campbell. Heck, I would like to see Leo star in Andrew Davis' comeback film, whatever that is.

  • gm | December 30, 2010 10:45 AMReply

    NY Times critic A.O. Scott gave Somewhere accolades:

    "But the waters of this film are not only still and deep but also bracingly clear, and the most remarkable thing about it may be how much it implies while saying so little. There is barely any quotable or memorable dialogue, and yet its images are so eloquent that they demand to be seen over and over again."

  • Dana | December 30, 2010 10:39 AMReply

    James L. Brooks is exhibit A in the case against staying within the zone. "How Do You Know" was painfully bad -- exactly the sort of movie you might expect to be produced within an echo chamber.

  • Murtada | December 30, 2010 9:34 AMReply

    don't agree on John Sayles, I think his movies are not as insular. But latter day Woody Allen, definition of self indulgent.

  • Christian | December 30, 2010 9:24 AMReply

    Somewhere was by far the most pretentious borefest of the year. Even Alice in Wonderland had more to offer than this snoozefest.

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