Sunday, May 26, 2013

Top 10 Steven Soderbergh Films

A sad day for movie lovers everywhere as tonight marks the final time Steven Soderbergh will ever release a new film. Or so he says. Since the disastrous making and distribution of Che, Soderbergh has promised that in five years time, he would retire from the world of feature filmmaking. Well, the years have passed, and it looks as though one of my favorite directors is sticking to his word.

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.

10. Schizopolis (1996)
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)

42 comments:

  1. I've only watched 10 of his movies (didn't even know he had made so many). Looks like I have some catching up to do.

    Sex, Lies and Videotape would top my list though.

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    1. He's really crushed out so many flicks in such a short period of time. I'm devastated that he's quitting.

      Sex, Lies is amazing. Love that damn movie.

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  2. Cool list, I'm about halfway through Soderbergh's filmography and have enjoyed most of it. I was never that fond of Che (despite Del Toro's great performance) but apart from that the likes of the Oceans trilogy, Traffic, Magic Mike, Side Effects, and The Informant have all been very solid films that I will always remember.
    I like that you pointed out that career shift in both stars of Out of Sight, there were times where I thought I was the only one who thought that lol. Some people still dig what Lopez is doing now I guess.

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    1. Thanks man. A lot of people dig what Lopez is doing now, and that's cool. But as far as film acting goes, The Back-up Plan and What to Expect When You're Expecting are far cries from Out of Sight, you know?

      Hope you like the Soderbergh you discover next!

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    2. Which will be Behind the Candelabra tonight man lol!

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  3. Here's my list of the films by Soderbergh that I've seen so far. I just finished my Cannes Marathon as I'm writing my post-mortem at the moment so I'm going to take a day off for tomorrow. I will be watching both Magic Mike and Behind the Candelabra this week and I've decided that I'll watch Eros next month. Especially as I've already got Soderbergh in my shortlist of future Auteurs pieces that I'm going to do for 2014 so I'm going to have some catching up to do as well as what Criterion DVDs to buy when the Barnes & Nobles sale is coming.

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    1. Groovy list. So Full Frontal for you... failed experiment? I really dig that movie. But I think I'm one of 5 people who actually like it.

      You've been killing it on your site, you definitely deserve a day off. Buy the Schizopolis Criterion when the sale comes around. Tons of great special features on there, including a commentary in which Soderbergh interviews himself.

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    2. I thought Full Frontal was alright. It has some interesting moments. I'll take it over everything else. Right now on my Criterion Wishlist for July, it's mostly some films by Jim Jarmusch and Jane Campion for their Auteurs pieces coming later this year. If I have some spare cash, I'll get Schizopolis.

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    3. I could definitely stand to see and buy some more Jarmusch flicks. That sale is so damn dangerous.

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  4. I'm probably the only person in the universe who has never seen a Soderbergh film.
    -Dan

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    1. Oh really? Well hopefully this list is a good place for you to start. I'd give everything in my Top 10 an A- or higher.

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  5. Traffic would easily top my list as well. Glad your Ocean's Twelve support shows up here. I've always enjoyed that one.

    I really need to see Solaris (both versions).

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    1. Yessss more Ocean's 12 support! I'm one of the very few people who actually prefers Soderbergh's Solaris to Tarkovsky's. Both are masterful though.

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  6. I have seen 10 of his films as well though only 3 of your top 10. Love Sex, Lies and Videotapes(my favourite), Love Traffic, never understood Ocean's Twelve(Whare does Matt Damon's Mom come from?? :P)

    Out of Sight and Che are the two films I have been really meaning to watch. I was excited for Solaris as well but I recently saw the original and... lets just say it can wait a little. :)

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    1. Damon's mom is an elaborate con woman. Just like his pops is an FBI agent... they both have the most solid covers ever.

      I really enjoy Che. It's long, but definitely worthwhile. Out of Sight is priceless.

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  7. Alex, your take on Ocean's 12 is interesting, but I don't really see it. I don't think it's a failure; it's a miscalculation. Soderbergh thought that what people liked so much about the original was the banter between the stars. He forgot to make a plot that anyone cared about. Still, I like the unconventional pick. In fact, a lot of your picks aren't the ones we'd usually see in this type of list, which is a good thing. I did find Bubble and The Girlfriend Experience to be cool experiments, but they would fall short of my list. Here is my Top 10 List:

    10. Side Effects
    9. Haywire
    8. Solaris
    7. The Informant!
    6. King of the Hill
    5. Ocean's Eleven
    4. Traffic
    3. Che (combining both parts)
    2. The Limey
    1. Out of Sight

    My opinion might change on the last few spots if I watched a few of them again. It's been a while since I watched Sex, Lies, and Videotape.

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    1. Glad you like the picks, Dan! I love how Out of Sight is near the top of most everyone's list. That's a classic piece of modern cinema right there. Also love seeing your love for The Limey. Such a great damn movie.

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  8. I better go see Out of Sight, Sex Lies and The Limey then! Love Soderbergh. Love the Ocean's trilogy, Side Effects and even Contagion.

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    1. You have three excellent ones to see. I love the hell out of all of them. Contagion was really good!

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  9. Soderbergh is one of those directors that I really want to watch all the films of. In fact, I bought The Limey the other day and watched Magic Mike last night (girlfriend got to pick the film, but I think I enjoyed it more than her). I'm still missing a few significant ones (namely the more experimental picks) but my list would be thus:

    10. Sex, Lies and videotape
    9. The Informant!
    8. Ocean's Thirteen
    7. Erin Brockovich
    6. Haywire
    5. Ocean's Twelve
    4. Contagion
    3. Magic Mike
    2. Ocean's Eleven
    1. Out of Sight

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    1. Solid list. I'd be interested to hear what you think of his experimental flicks. That's so awesome that you liked Magic Mike more than your GF. That's a crafty little movie right there.

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  10. I'm...not that well acquainted with him. All I've seen are:

    Traffic
    Contagion
    Haywire
    Sex, Lies and Videotape
    Side Effects
    Magic Mike

    But among them, Sex, Lies and Videotape would be at the top of my list. (And surprising as it might sound, Side Effects is a close second.)

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    1. I loved Side Effects. I really need to see that on Blu-Ray, I bet it looks fantastic.

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  11. Awesome to see Solaris so high up on your list, my top 3 would probably be the same except Solaris and Traffic would switch places. I really love Ocean's 12...it's just so much fun.

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    1. I love how big of a Solaris fan you are. When I watched it a few days ago, I found myself so taken with it. It really resonated with me. Amazing film.

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  12. You ever considered doing one of these for Werner Herzog? Or one of the comprehensive directors posts? It would be a positively mad undertaking (dude's made over 60 films), but man's reach should exceed his grasp, else what's a heaven for?

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    1. I've been slowly working on a directors post for Herzog for the past few years. But yeah, like you said, he's made so many damn films, and tracking them all down is literally impossible. I should just buckle down and do the damn thing, gaps be damned.

      Thanks for the push!

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  13. Damn. Great list. This gave me a bunch of new movies I have to see. I completely forgot he did Oceans 12...that just sounds wrong now. I may have to rewatch that just to see what you mean about the Soderbergh "fuck you."

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    1. Thanks man! I just mean that Ocean's Twelve is a movie that doesn't care. It doesn't care about convention, structure, pleasing fans of the first, making money, and so on. Infuriating for some (if not most...) but gold for me.

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  14. As a fellow Soderbergh fan, this list really made me smile. Soderbergh is such a versatile filmmaker, one who can jump between the line of visual excess and a camera that is living, breathing and deliberate, of popcorn and high cinema. I watched The Informant!, Oceans Twelve and The Limey back to back to back last night in prep for Candelabra. I'd been powering through his filmography before I went to see Side Effects and further cemented him in my eyes as one of the finest visual directors alive. His use of color, his naturalist camera, his shots of architecture, his use of typography OH GOD his typography made me want to be a filmmaker more than anything else. Soderbergh is the fucking man and I hope he wakes up one morning and says `Well, better make some more movies.`

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    1. Love your enthusiasm! If you're that big of a Soderbergh fan, I HIGHLY recommend his audio commentaires. They are gold for any fan of cinema. So fascinating. From those commentaries, I've learned that Soderbergh is a huge "font snob" and spends days choosing the proper fonts for his films. And they are always so perfect, I love it.

      So happy to hear you're such a fan. I really hope he wakes up with that thought one morning as well.

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  15. You included Ocean's Twelve?! YOU INCLUDED OCEAN'S TWELVE!!!

    Alex...I want to cry with happiness. I have desperately defended that movie over and over and over. I love it so much. I think it is unrelentingly brilliant (and meta), a comedic masterpiece, and so much better than the first one.

    Every time I come to your site I leave more ecstatic than the last time.

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    1. Oh god, I read your first sentence and thought, "Oh boy... here comes an attack."

      Dude, this makes me so happy. I really do love the hell out of that film, and have always been a little bummed that it has been shit on so much. You're so right, it's a meta, comedic masterpiece.

      Love your comment!

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  16. After seeing you praising Ocean's 12 I think I owe it a 2nd viewing (and 13 as well). I've been trying to go through Soderbergh's films, currently seen 19 of them. My top 5 would probably be;

    5. The Girlfriend Experience
    4. The Limey
    3. Traffic
    2. Sex, Lies, and Videotape
    1. Ocean's Eleven

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    1. Nice list.

      His films post-Sex, Lies/pre-Out of Sight aren't as outstanding as some of his later work, but they definitely hint at where he was going.

      I love Ocean's Twelve to death.

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  17. I love that Soderbergh's filmography is so eclectic that everyone would have a completely different top ten list. I have only seen two from yours -- Magic Mike and Traffic -- but both are so good. Will be keeping an eye on your list as I work my way through more of his films.

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    1. You're so right, everyone's Soderbergh Top 10 list would be completely different. I love that about his films.

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  18. Two films that don't get enough love in Soderbergh's filmography are "King of the Hill" and "The Underneath". King of the Hill may be his most emotional film and is an excellent coming of age tale. The Underneath while not perfect has a fantastic early William Fichtner performance, great visuals and would work as a great companion piece to Side Effects.

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    1. The tricky part of this list was not giving all of his films grades. Of his features, I do think King of the Hill is his weakest, but I'd still give it a B, which is a good grade, you know? And I love The Underneath as well. Two sadly overlooked films right there.

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    1. I think it's okay. Soderbergh has said he's remastering it and will soon release a wildly different version of it. I can't wait to see that.

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