As we spoke about last time, the sophomore slump can be a real thing. However, that isn’t always the case. Many filmmakers have made their second time out just as good as the first. Sometimes, they’ve even done significantly better. So, today we’re once again going to be looking at some of the best sophomore features to date.
Last month, we starting running down the ten best sophomore features to fate. Because there were so many to choose from, it’s wound up being a two-part article, with this second installment just looking at titles from the year 2000 and beyond. It’s once again an absolute embarrassment of riches, as this follow-up list doesn’t even include the likes of “Annihilation,” “Anomalisa,” “Creed,” “It Follows,” “Knocked Up,” “Lady Bird,” “Little Children,” “Moonlight,” “Smashed,” and “Whiplash.” Those ten would more than make an acceptable list all on their own.
10“Good Night and Good Luck” (2005)
dir: George Clooney
After an ambitious debut with “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” George Clooney went gunning for Oscar with his sophomore outing. “Good Night and Good Luck” remains his best work behind the camera and showcased his eye for capturing strong performances. Throw in the way he mixed strong period detail with making what could have been a history lesson into something truly entertaining and you have a tremendous work overall.
9“The Town” (2010)
dir: Ben Affleck
Ben Affleck proved he was a hell of a director with his debut “Gone Baby Gone,” but “The Town” was a gigantic leap forward. A riveting crime drama that gives equal weight to action and emotion, this proved that Affleck was no one hit wonder. Instead of a sophomore slump, he showed that he could also direct himself to a strong performance. As far as sophomore features go, this is one of the most easily re-watchable. It’s mainstream entertainment, to be sure, but done with pinpoint precision.
dir: Steve McQueen
Again teaming with Michael Fassbender, Steve McQueen made something even bleaker his second time out than his debut “Hunger.” Fassbender upped his game for “Shame” and so did McQueen. A haunting character study of a sex addict, the pair remove all pleasure from the story. Instead of making it unbearable, it becomes hypnotic. That’s truly the sign of a master at work.
dir: Christopher Nolan
The first real hint of the Christopher Nolan the cinematic world loves so much came with this twisty noir tale. “Memento” received a ton of acclaim for how it unfolds backward, but even without that gimmick, this would be a top-notch effort. The added bonus of the toying with time just showed us an obsession Nolan would return to throughout his career. He’d never go back to this scale again, production-wise, but the ideas remain very much on his mind to this day.
dir: Jason Reitman
Jason Reitman began his award-winning collaboration with Diablo Cody here with his sophomore feature “Juno.” What could have been a quirky comedy instead became instantly quotable, heartwarming, and helped make Ellen Page an Oscar-nominated star. In addition, it was further evidence that Reitman is one of the most generous directors in the business when it comes to supporting players. He hasn’t stopped with that gift, he just displayed it perfectly with his second outing as director.
dir: Spike Jonze
Spike Jonze had an amazing debut with “Being John Malkovich,” so it would have been incredibly easy to stumble the next time around. Instead, teaming again with scribe Charlie Kaufman, he doubled down on weirdness and got a wonderful Nicolas Cage performance in the meta bargain. Just as ambitious in his sophomore feature, Jonze set himself on a course he’s still following to this day. He follows the beat of his own drummer and does it in an often incredible way.
4“Blue Valentine” (2010)
dir: Derek Cianfrance
For almost everyone, “Blue Valentine” was the first time anyone had seen a Derek Cianfrance film. After a barely seen debut, Cianfrance seared himself into your heart with this depiction of falling in and out of love. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams have rarely been better in this emotional napalm bomb of a film. Few works have personally cut to the core for viewers like this one was able to.
3“Requiem for a Dream” (2000)
dir: Darren Aronofsky
Sticking close to home, Darren Aronofsky created one of the most visceral cautionary drug tales his second time up to bat. “Pi” saw him experiment with some of the filmmaking displayed here, but in adapting Hubert Selby‘s novel, Aronofsky went for it. The way he depicts addiction, drug use, the highs, and the lows, it’s breathtaking. In all manners, he gets under your skin and remains there with “Requiem for a Dream.” Throw in a legendary turn by Ellen Burstyn and this is arguably the best film no one ever wants to see twice.
2“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004)
dir: Michel Gondry
One of the biggest leaps forward in terms of sophomore features, Michael Gondry paired with the aforementioned Kaufman for one of the more beloved modern romances out there. We’ve previously cited this film when discussing all-time March releases, and if not for that, it probably would have led this list as well. “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is just that good. For variety’s sake, consider this a 1A and 1B situation with the title below.
1“Lost in Translation” (2003)
dir: Sofia Coppola
If her debut “The Virgin Suicides” hinted at Sofia Coppola‘s greatness, her next movie “Lost in Translation” hammered it home. As far as sophomore features go, it’s not just a tremendous step forward, it’s one of the best ever. The performances she coaxed out of Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray are Oscar-worthy, with the latter received a well-deserved nomination. Coppola herself became the rare woman nominated in Best Director, while her impressively perceptive script won her the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. It’s simply brilliant.