Before HBO airs his Liberace biopic, Behind the Candelabra (which has been getting rave reviews out of Cannes), here’s a look back at the 10 Soderbergh films that have stuck with me most. I’ll admit, the list may seem a tad unorthodox, but that’s a pretty accurate word to describe Soderbergh’s entire career. Here’s to hoping Soderbergh is a man of weak will, as I truly don’t think contemporary cinema will be the same without him.
You know what I love most about Steven Soderbergh? The fact that he’ll try anything. For Schizopolis, he ignored every convention of filmmaking and delivered his first, and still most blatantly absurd experiment. The film has no narrative plot and often has its characters describing what they are saying as opposed to what they are feeling. If this doesn’t make sense it print, well, that’s because it doesn’t make sense on screen either. But that’s sort of the point. Or something.
9. The Girlfriend Experience (2009)
Soderbergh has often lamented that, whether purposeful or otherwise, he has based much of his career around the “One for them, One for me” model. He makes a profitable movie for a studio, the follows it up with an indie experiment. The Girlfriend Experience is one of my favorite such tests – a micro-scale drama starring film unknowns (well, narrative film unknowns), shot boldly and edited on the fly. GFE is as cool as its ice-cold color palette. I’m in love with its style.
8. Magic Mike (2012)
The biggest surprise of Soderbergh’s career is this remarkable character study of embellished hope and reckless abandonment. Sure, Magic Mike was marketed to fill the seats with housewives, but this is far from the romp send-up many expected. Entertaining, hilarious, and smart. So very smart.
7. Bubble (2005)
In a career filled with experiments, Bubble is my favorite. Made using little money, a tiny crew and virtual unknowns, this ingenious tale of pressure-cooked jealousy has always managed to captivate me. Its modesty is obvious, but shockingly beneficial to its story.
6. Ocean’s Twelve (2004)
Just hear me out. Steven Soderbergh has made plenty of films that deliberately fight the power. He goes outside the system and does it his own way, with little care to financial gain or critical adoration. And believe me, I know many would argue Ocean’s Twelve, and all its apparent self-importance, deserves to be label as a massive miss. Well, not me. I think this film is the anti-sequel. It’s so obviously self-aware, that to call it anything other than satire is just wrong. In short, Ocean’s Twelve is the biggest Fuck You of Soderbergh’s career. And he’s made quite a few of them.
5. The Limey (1999)
I love the quiet power of The Limey. I love how this inventive little revenge flick uses every possible cinematic flourish to heighten its appeal. Terence Stamp delivers what may be remembered as a career best performance, while Peter Fonda plays a Hollywood goon to perfection. And they’re a small piece of what makes this film so worthy.
4. Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989)
I’m sure that Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies and Videotape will be remembered as one of the finest debuts in film. Watching it today, I’m so impressed by its confidence. In story, acting and technical execution, the film is simply a marvel. Many people argue that good cinema, true cinema, original cinema, has all but left us. Soderbergh’s debut film is the first sentence of a great rebuttal. The rest of the films in his career follow suit.
3. Solaris (2002)
It’s just so patient. And gorgeous, and poised, and eerie and aware. Soderbergh’s Solaris is, in many respects, the anti science fiction film while still maintaining a sense of loyalty to the genre. Many might see it as slow, but I see it as deliberate. I see a filmmaker in constant need of delivering a new perspective – in tone, feel, and design. I’ve always been taken with Solaris, but after rewatching it for this post, I realize how much I truly love it. Its style was tailor-made to my tastes.
2. Out of Sight (1998)
The most fun film of Soderbergh’s career is this breezy crime thriller, which appears to never grow old. I love its shifting narrative, over exposed lens, tough script, and, of course, the convincing chemistry of its two stars. Its funny, in a way, Out of Sight was the start of George Clooney’s career as a serious actor, and the end of Jennifer Lopez’s. But no matter, everything aligned in perfect harmony here. I can honestly watch this one on repeat.
1. Traffic (2000)
No need to relist all the ways in which Traffic works (as I’ve done, many, many times on this blog). What’s important is that this film speaks to me. Its pain, for one, is something I’ll be forever taken with. It embraces the darkest of human nature and, by the end, courteously leaves us with an overwhelming sense of hope.
The last line of this film is, “We’re here to listen.”
Think about that.
Ranking the Rest
11. Che (2008)
12. Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
13. Full Frontal (2002)
14. The Informant! (2009)
15. Haywire (2012)
16. Contagion (2011)
17. Side Effects (2013)
18. Erin Brockovich (2000)
19. K Street (2003)
20. Ocean’s Thirteen (2007)
21. The Underneath (1995)
22. The Good German (2006)
23. Kafka (1991)
24. Gray’s Anatomy (1996)
25. And Everything Is Going Fine (2010)
26. King of the Hill (1993)
27. Equilibrium, segment Eros (2004)