Split Decision: Sophomore Films

Welcome back to Split Decision! Each week, we pose a question to our staff of knowledgable and passionate film geeks and share the responses! We may never know if it is legal to park in the center of Broad Street, but we’ll answer movie questions all day long. Feel free to chime in on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments below!

This week’s question:

In honor of Annihilation what is a great sophomore film of a director you love?

All women are princesses. It is our right.

I’m going down nostalgia lane for my pick. Alfonso Cuarón’s sophomore film, A Little Princess, was also his first feature produced in the United States. It was one of my favorite films growing up because of its perfect blend of childhood fantasy, make-believe, and historical drama. It also probably instigated my adult obsession with Indian culture and history (there’s an abbreviated retelling of a Rama/Ravana epic complete with colorful set design like you’re in a classic theater). Which leads to my next point: this film is beyond gorgeous, earning Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction/Set Design. You can also see the beginnings of what would inevitably coalesce into his entry in the Harry Potter franchise, Prisoner of Azkaban. I feel it’s rare to see a family film with so much unique and sophisticated style and that is exactly what Cuarón delivers in this film. It’s been a little while since I’ve seen it, but there are still scenes that stick with me. As well as the beautiful color of saffron.  —Jill Malcolm

I had not seen director Tsai Ming-liang’s 1992 feature debut, Rebels of the Neon God, when I swooned over his sophomore effort, Vive L’Amour, in 1994. His unique, distinctive style of slow cinema absolutely captivated me and has since held me spellbound. Seeing his subsequent features, Goodbye, Dragon Inn, The Wayward Cloud, and Journey to the West, rank among my very favorite theatrical experiences. When Rebels of the Neon God received its belated U.S. release in 2015, I got a chance to interview one of my favorite directors for a retrospective of his work. Tsai is my cinema hero, I have a still from his film, I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone, hanging in my bathroom, and I named one of my cat after him, too. —Gary M. Kramer

After Eraserhead became a hit, David Lynch was hired to doThe Elephant Man, which would turn out to be his sophomore effort in 1980. It’s one of Lynch’s best. It has plenty of Lynchian flavor but is something unique in his filmography- a prestige drama. Starring Anthony Hopkins as psychoanalyst Mr. Treves, assigned to work with a heavily disfigured man named Peter Merrick (John Hurt) who has been living a life of torture and abuse as a freak show attraction. Treves discovers a deeply emotional, sensitive, art loving, intelligent person in Merrick. The scene where he shows Treves the picture of his long lost mother gives me a lump in my throat just thinking about it. “If only I could find her, so she could see me with such lovely friends here now; perhaps she could love me as I am. I’ve tried so hard to be good.” It’s truly one of the most humanistic films ever made, and a sign of a true master at work. —Andy Elijah

Requiem for a Dream, Darren Aronofsky’s follow up to his feature debut, Pi, still haunts me as one of the best, albeit most disturbing, pieces of filmmaking I have ever seen.  Aronofsky’s unique, kinetic style of storytelling— complete with jump cuts, time lapse sequences, and extreme closeups— was so new and interesting at the time, it was hard to believe this was only Aronofsky’s sophomore effort. Add Ellen Burstyn’s heartbreaking, Oscar-nominated performance, and you have one of my favorite films that I seldom have any desire to re-watch.–Jeff Piotrowski

Though Steve McQueen has made only three films, each one in its own way is so powerful, important, and beautiful. While I admire his first film, Hunger (2008), I really began to fall in love with McQueen’s sensibility as a director with his sophomore release, Shame (2011).

The film follows Brandon (Michael Fassbender) who has a severe sex addiction. Most films that focus on addiction (and yes, I’m definitely generalizing here) can be at best reductive and at worst can romanticize the addiction that they portray. Shame does neither of these things. The addiction is heavy, difficult, embarrassing, empty, and all-consuming. Aesthetically, Shame manages to bring great beauty to Brandon’s cold and harsh world. The thoughtful filmmaking, beautiful score, heart-wrenching yet subtle performances, and overall experience of this film make it one of my favorite sophomore efforts of all time. —Catherine Haas

Anyone who reads this site knows that my favorite movie is Boogie Nights, which also happens to be the sophomore effort of my favorite filmmaker, Paul Thomas Anderson. At just 26 years old, Anderson debuted with Hard Eight, aka Sydney, to much acclaim. Just a year later, he released the explosive Boogie Nights. Boasting a veritable who’s who of up and coming talent, Anderson’s ensemble tale of the rise and fall of fictional porn star Dirk Diggler had every reason to fail. The story is huge, the tone varies wildly from moment to moment, and the content is often questionable in the eyes of more prudish viewers. Yet by aping the format of other long-form “breaking into the biz” biopics, most notably Goodfellas, while infusing his own style into every frame (yes, there’s a beautifully choreographed disco dance in there), Anderson was able to make a huge mark on cinema and declare his name as an auteur to look out for.

For a movie that pushes close to a three hour runtime, there’s no reason why Boogie Nights should be so eminently watchable (and rewatchable), but it is. I find something new to love about it every time my eyes behold it.

Fun fact: Mark Wahlberg and Burt Reynolds both expressed regret over having done the film, citing that the content runs contrary to their respective moral codes. Shame, it’s easily the best work either performer has ever done. Yes, I’ve seen Transformers: The Last Knight.

Funner fact: Somewhere out there exists an army recruiter who likely tried to call and follow up on the pitch he gave to a young man at the mall. That young man was me, and the number I gave him was fake. So was the name: Chest Rockwell. —Dan Scully


Like Dan, I am going to stay on brand and choose J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek. A wonderful movie, It captures the spirit of the franchise but isn’t slavishly devoted to it. And the cast has amazing chemistry, with Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, and Anton Yeltsin all giving great performances that mesh perfectly. If J.J. Abrams’ success comes from a magic genie, his first wish was to always have the right cast for his films. The film manages into introduce all of these characters in a succinct but effective way, and looks fantastic while doing it. In an age when too many blockbusters were “grim ‘n’ gritty” this one was a shining beacon of light. —Ryan Silberstein

After receiving good notices and modest box-office returns for a little picture called Citizen Kane, former child prodigy and eternal Renaissance man Orson Welles set his sights on Booth Tarkington and dysfunction in the American family. Alas, the commercial failure of The Magnificent Ambersons quickly earned Welles a reputation as an “enfant terrible”, rendering it difficult for his artistic aspirations to come to fruition in a system which increasingly rejected idiosyncrasy. Yet, even in its butchered form, The Magnificent Ambersons still dazzles and endures, due in no small part to Welles’ visual dexterity and one of the finest ensembles in American film.

Charting the downfall of a 19th century family who finally fail to adapt to the industrialized 20th century, The Magnificent Ambersons consolidates epic themes into a tale of psychological warfare and familial strife, a good portion of which involves the son, George (Tim Holt), seeking to prevent his mother, Isabel (Dolores Costello, giving a rare sound film performance), from uniting with her true love (Joseph Cotten) following her husband’s demise.

Above all else, time seems the main focus, both narrative time (represented by Welles’ bitterly nostalgic portrait of early 20th-century life) and film time; as in Kane, Welles utilizes sequence shots to capture entire scenes sans cuts, ultimately preserving the emotional authenticity and immediacy of theatre while still enforcing a directorial presence with meticulous staging and suggestions of offscreen space, the latter effectively expressed through sound and character eye-line. It’s very likely we’ll never see the omissions, which include Welles’ original ending (the tacked-on “happy ending” is the one major misstep), but, even in its truncated, 88-minute form, Ambersons weaves an entrancing spell with its nearly Shakespearean sweep, finally rivaling the majesty of Kane, if not surpassing it in some respects. – Dan Santelli

John Carpenter is among my favorite filmmakers, and with Assault on Precinct 13 he establishes nearly all of his trademarks, from the synthesized atmosphere of his music to his cynical portrayal of humanity. And while his first film, Dark Star, certainly has some of these elements as well, it very much feels like someone’s first film, full of incomplete ideas and meandering themes. Assault on Precinct 13 is almost operatic by comparison, slowly establishing a world and its characters and then lighting a match beneath them to see how they react. And while the movie does have a cynical slant to it, as Carpenter’s films often do, what I appreciate most about it is the humanity that bubbles to the surface once that match is lit. It seems to me that Carpenter has faith in individuals, but very much fears the systems those individuals create. In my mind the tiny human moments of heroism and forgiveness are of utmost importance to Carpenter, even if his endings are always rooted in cynicism. Perhaps more nuanced than anything he would make later, Assault on Precinct 13 is ultimately one of the best films of Carpenter’s career and is worth revisiting as often as you do Halloween or The Thing.Garrett Smith


Author: Ryan Silberstein

Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.

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