This Week: What We Learned About Ben Affleck, September Disappointments, and More

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  • Publish Date: September 17, 2010

Not every director experiences a sophomore slump

ImageBetter behind the camera?

This week saw the release of a pair of films from second-time directors, and each managed to improve a bit on the reviews earned by his debut. Mark Romanek's Never Let Me Go 68 scored slightly higher than the one-time music video director's 2002 debut, One Hour Photo 64 (though that could change as the former rolls out into more cities in the coming weeks). And Ben Affleck appears to be turning into a serious film director, earning strong notices for his bank heist drama The Town 73, just as he did for his 2007 debut Gone Baby Gone 72. (Another actor-turned-director, Philip Seymour Hoffman, also earned generally good reviews this week for his directorial debut Jack Goes Boating 63.)

Romanek and Affleck are not alone in scoring equal or better reviews for their second film than their first; a check of our database indicates that directors experience Metascore increases for their second films slightly more often than they do decreases. Below, we list some of the most extreme jumps in quality between directors' first and second movies over the past dozen years.

Comparing Directors' First and Second Films (1998-2010)
1st Movie Metascore   2nd Movie Metascore Change
Biggest rebounds from inauspicious debuts *:
Larry Charles
Masked & Anonymous (2003) 32   Borat (2006) 89 ↑57
Michel Gondry
Human Nature (2002) 56   Eternal Sunshine of the
Spotless Mind
(2004)
89 ↑33
Started strong, got even better:
J.J. Abrams
Mission: Impossible III (2006) 66   Star Trek (2009) 83 ↑17
Debra Granik
Down to the Bone (2004) 76   Winter's Bone (2010) 90 ↑14
Sofia Coppola
The Virgin Suicides (1999) 76   Lost in Translation (2003) 89 ↑13
Biggest sophomore slumps **:
Tom Dey
Shanghai Noon (2000) 77   Showtime (2002) 32 ↓45
Rob Marshall
Chicago (2002) 82   Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) 54 ↓28
Richard Kelly
Donnie Darko (2001) 71   Southland Tales (2007) 44 ↓27
Pierre Morel
District B13 (2006) 70   Taken (2009) 50 ↓20
Rian Johnson
Brick (2006) 72   The Brothers Bloom (2009) 55 ↓17

* Excludes directors whose first and second films both failed to receive positive reviews (even if there was an improvement).
** Excludes directors whose second film was still in the "good" (green Metascore) range.

You can't judge a movie by its book

Never Let Me Go 68 and The Town 73 have one other thing in common: both films are adaptations of novels. (The former is based on Kazuo Ishiguro's acclaimed book of the same name, while the latter comes from Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan.) There have been many such adaptations so far this year, and there certainly does not appear to be a lot of correlation between book quality and movie quality or book sales and movie box office. But, as you can see from the list below, half of these adaptations have received generally positive reviews from critics (indicated by green Metascores), which is actually a fairly good success rate: through the middle of August, only 45% of all 2010 releases had green Metascores. Too bad it seems like people would rather stay home with their Kindles than go to the theaters to see most of these movies.

Films Adapted from Novels, 2010
  Movie Metascore   Box Office (U.S. only)
1 The Ghost Writer 77 bar 15.5 bar
2 The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo 76 bar 10.0 bar
3 How to Train Your Dragon 74 bar 217.6 bar
4 The Town 73 bar tbd  
5 Never Let Me Go 68 bar tbd  
6 The Girl Who Played with Fire 66 bar 6.9 * bar
7 Shutter Island 63 bar 128.0 bar
8 Youth in Revolt 63 bar 15.3 bar
9 The American 61 bar 29.6 * bar
10 The Twilight Saga: Eclipse 58 bar 299.8 * bar
11 Diary of a Wimpy Kid 56 bar 64.0 bar
12 Ramona and Beezus 56 bar 25.5 * bar
13 Alice in Wonderland 53 bar 334.2 bar
14 Percy Jackson... The Lightning Thief  47 bar 88.8 bar
15 Flipped 45 bar 1.4 * bar
16 Dear John 43 bar 80.0 bar
17 Charlie St. Cloud 37 bar 31.2 * bar
18 Repo Men 32 bar 13.8 bar

* Movie is still in theaters.

Even good bands release subpar albums

ImageAn off year for Blonde Redhead

While September so far is proving to be a relatively strong month for new music after an uneventful late summer, it's not without its disappointments. Below, we look at albums released during the past few weeks by artists who usually score higher. (And, yes, we know we picked on Interpol last week too; we promise to leave them alone next week.)

September Albums with Lower-than-Average Metascores
Artist Newest Album Metascore Avg. Score of Past Albums Diff.
Blonde Redhead Penny Sparkle 63 78 3 other albums ↓15
Pitchfork says: "If you happen to be a music coordinator for Banana Republic, Penny Sparkle is an early Christmas gift. For everyone else, you're left to wonder whether 2010 will produce a more profoundly boring album from a band who actually had a reputation to uphold."
Brandon Flowers Flamingo 60 66 4 albums by The Killers ↓6
Q says: "What we have here is a Killers record made without the Killers that sounds like The Killers and is almost as good as The Killers, but not quite."
Interpol Interpol 65 77 3 other albums ↓12
Spin says: "Interpol sounds both strangely distant and overly familiar, like a band struggling to remember who they are."
Of Montreal False Priest 72 78 6 other albums ↓6
PopMatters says: "False Priest doesn't do enough to reel folks like me back into the hype machine, mainly because the lyrics are simply too dense and abstract to enjoy in this setting."
The Thermals Personal Life 72 78 4 other albums ↓6
A.V. Club says: "To its credit, the disc sounds like a band tweaking its signature noisemaking and groping toward something new. That transition promises to be amazing, but Personal Life feels more like a weary shifting of the gears than a drive to a definite destination."
Underworld Barking 64 72 4 other albums ↓8
Drowned in Sound says: "Barking is still a credible effort and a pleasant listen, but it is also unremarkable and, had it been released by artists whose fame didn't precede them, it probably would not have made any waves."

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Comments (1)

  • Mitch Tough  

    I was so damned disappointed by Richard Kelly's follow-up to Donnie Darko. I thought that guy was a genius - uh, no. And I'm still shocked that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo did so poorly in theaters. That is a GREAT movie. Have no idea how good the book is, but based on how it's sold in this country, I can't imagine it's bad. What gives???

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