Steven Soderbergh Movies

steven-soderbergh-movies


My post on Steven Soderbergh movies is the first Director Spotlight I’ve done of filmmaker who’s no longer actively making movies, but with Soderbergh’s retirement so new and so odd (at least to me), it doesn’t yet feel like he’s gone away.

Steven Soderbergh started making movies around the same time the Coen Brothers did, and along with Joel and Ethan (as well as Woody Allen), Soderbergh has been one of the most prolific directors of my lifetime. There have been 26 Steven Soderbergh movies in just 24 years as a feature filmmaker. Can you think of anyone with a more impressive streak?

What’s even more noteworthy, however, is Soderbergh’s stunning variety. Excepting the Ocean’s trilogy, of course, no Steven Soderbergh movie feels much like another. He’s the guy auteur theory proponents have the hardest time pinning down, which isn’t to say Steven Soderbergh movies don’t contain certain trademarks, but his “one for them, one for me” approach to getting movies made had the intended or unintended (I’m not sure) side effect of making his filmography jump around from, for example, a Tarkovsky remake to an Ocean’s sequel to a micro-budgeted drama about factory workers to a WWII noir with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Who does all that?

I’m on record stating I think we’ll have a new Steven Soderbergh movie within five years. Maybe that’s denial on my part, but someone this good doesn’t simply go away. So take some well-deserved rest, Mr. Soderbergh, and hopefully, we’ll see you by 2018.

Steven Soderbergh Movies

Sex, Lies, and Videotape

A man in a sexually unfulfilled marriage strikes up an affair with his wife’s sister. Meanwhile, a friend from his past visits and reveals his odd fetish of videotaping women giving sexually frank interviews.

RATING:
(1989, 1 viewing)

I only just watched Soderbergh’s first film, which gets credit for basically starting the American independent movement, and I’m still wrestling with why it didn’t come together for me. Sex, Lies, and Videotape is a film, I think, very much of its time, when I suspect its sexual frankness was a lot more taboo. And with technological changes, James Spader’s character’s odd sexual quirks don’t seem quite as foreboding as they might have pre-internet. It’s a quiet, talky film, which gives the four main performances the chance to shine, and while they’re all good, I’d hardly rate this one up there with Soderbergh’s best.

Kafka

An insurance agent gets involved with a secretive and dangerous group that’s committing bombings all over his town.

(1991, 0 viewings)

I don’t know why I always thought this film actually involved Franz Kafka…maybe it does? I don’t know because I haven’t seen it. But I will some time, that’s for certain.

King of the Hill

During the Great Depression, a young boy is separated from his family and forced to fend for himself while living in a seedy motel.

(1993, 0 viewings)

It sounds like one of Soderbergh’s more crowd-pleasing efforts, but that’s just a hunch based on the plot description. I’m sure there’s depravity in that story somewhere.

Underneath

A man who abandoned his wife returns home and attempts to woo her again, even under the watchful gaze of her new, sketchy fiance.

(1995, 0 viewings)

Soderbergh remakes an old noir, Criss Cross, that I’ve never heard of before. It sounds rather juicy, but I can’t seem to find a reviewer out there who thinks highly of it.

Gray’s Anatomy

Monologist Spalding Gray recounts a time when he tried anything and everything to avoid a complicated eye surgery.

(1996, 0 viewings)

This film has a sort of partner piece, and both were released by Criterion back in June 2012. I’ll admit to not feeling a terrible rush to see either, but I’m sure I’ll come around at some point.

Schizopolis

From IMDb: “Fletcher Munson is a lethargic, passive worker for a Scientology-like self-help corporation called Eventualism. After the death of a colleague, he is promoted to the job of writing speeches for T. Azimuth Schwitters, the founder and head of the group. He uses this as an excuse to be emotionally and romantically distant from his wife, who, he discovers, is having an affair with his doppelganger, a dentist named Dr. Jeffrey Korchek. As Munson fumbles with the speech and Korchek becomes obsessed with a new patient, a psychotic exterminator named Elmo Oxygen goes around the town seducing lonely wives and taking photographs of his genitals.”

(1996, 0 viewings)

I don’t even know what to say about Schizopolis. It sounds bonkers, and I know I’ll be watching it soon, so I’ll just wait until that day comes to comment further.

Out of Sight

A bank robber and a US Marshall he kidnaps share a sly moment of attraction and become caught up in a big-time crime.

RATING:
(1998, 1 viewing)

There’s a lot of love out there for this film right now what with the recent passing of the source material’s author, Elmore Leonard. I’ve always found it a tad overrated (at least insofar as I don’t think it’s Soderbergh’s very best film), but there’s no denying it’s a strongly written noir with plenty of charm to spare.

The Limey

A British criminal, straight out of jail, heads to Los Angeles to find his daughter’s killer.

(1999, 0 viewings)

Another noir from Soderbergh, this one sounds a little heavier than Out of Sight. Every time I hear it discussed or read about it, it’s in reference to Terence Stamp’s lead performance. Most agree he absolutely knocks it out of the park.

Erin Brockovich

A broke single mother attempts to help a lawyer bring down a major California power company for polluting a town’s water supply. (Click here for my full Erin Brockovich review.)

RATING:
(2000, 2 viewings)

It gets hated on because it’s an uplifting piece of work that won some awards, but I’ll go to my grave defending both Julia Roberts’ stellar performance and Soderbergh’s on-point direction in Erin Brockovich.

Traffic

America’s newly appointed “Drug Czar” finds out his teenage daughter is an addict.

RATING:
(2000, 1 viewing)

For my money, Soderbergh’s best, if not his most enjoyable movie. Looking back at all of Steven Soderbergh’s movies, it’s hard not to see the early aughts as his most fruitful period. Traffic won him a Best Director Oscar (and one of his competitors that year was himself—for Erin Brockovich). He’d follow Traffic, an insanely well-edited drama—with his best commercial film before falling into a sort of pattern of vacillating between greatness and mediocrity. So in a way, he’d never again live up to the potential he showed during this two-year run, but most directors don’t have a two-year run like this ever.

Ocean’s Eleven

A charming con man rounds up a gang of 11 thieves with unique skills to try to rob three Vegas casinos simultaneously.

RATING:
(2001, 3+ viewings)

Like I said above, this is the best commercial Steven Soderbergh movie and a film I can go back to over and over and over again for guaranteed entertainment.

Full Frontal

Seven men and women in the hours leading up to a mutual friend’s Hollywood birthday party.

(2002, 0 viewings)

Boy, what a drop off. After making his best prestige picture and best commercial effort back to back, Soderbergh releases what’s widely regarded as his worst motion picture—one I don’t have very much interest in seeing at all if not for the director’s name.

Solaris

A civilian psychologist is sent on an urgent mission to investigate the crew of a space station in trouble.

(2002, 0 viewings)

Soderbergh’s remake of Tarkovsky’s sci-fi classic didn’t fare particularly well with audiences or critics, but I think opinion toward the film has come around some since 2002.

Ocean’s Twelve

His nemesis has tracked him and his team down, so Danny Ocean recruits another to join him in Europe to attempt three huge heists.

RATING:
(2004, 3+ viewings)

Much better than its reputation, Ocean’s Twelve, most argue, suffers because it knowingly winks too often to its audience. But that’s precisely what I love about the film. It sort of acknowledges its ridiculousness, which sets all that aside and allows you to have a good time.

Bubble

A murder rocks the lives of three factory workers in a down-and-out Midwestern town.

(2005, 0 viewings)

Possibly Soderbergh’s smallest movie, and the one that’s been seen the least. I’ve always been intrigued by its creepy poster, but never so much that I felt compelled to rent it.

The Good German

A journalist covering the Potsdam Conference in post-WWII Berlin finds himself entangled in a murder involving his former mistress and driver.

RATING:
(2006, 1 viewing)

It’s been forever since I watched this, but I remember being extremely impressed by the technique behind this Casablanca homage. I probably owe it another look in the near future.

Ocean’s Thirteen

When a wealthy casino owner swindles one of his partners out of a fortune, Danny Ocean strikes back with a vengeance.

RATING:
(2007, 2 viewings)

The final Danny Ocean movie is just about on par with Ocean’s Twelve for me. Al Pacino is a riot as the film’s chief villain, but even better is Andy Garcia, who gets a chance to let loose and actually join the Ocean gang. Fun stuff, albeit nothing groundbreaking.

Che

A two-part, four-hour-long biopic chronicling the life and times of Ernesto Guevara, who helped topple the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.

(2008, 0 viewings)

The length has always scared me off, I guess, because if planned right, I could watch at least three, maybe four Steven Soderbergh movies in the amount of time it would take me to finish Che. Still, the film has its admirers. It’s a small, but devoted bunch, and I ought to find out sometime soon if I’m among them.

The Girlfriend Experience

A high-priced call girl balances her work and personal life during the economic crash of 2008.

(2009, 0 viewings)

I don’t know why I didn’t finish it, but I started this once, dozed off, and never came back to it. Maybe that says something?

The Informant!

The government springs into action after a powerful agro-business executive goes rogue on his own company, accusing its leaders of price fixing.

RATING:
(2009, 3 viewings)

My opinion moves up and down a lot on this rather slipper Soderbergh comedy. On the one hand, the score is riotous. On the other, it’s quite intrusive. On the one hand, Matt Damon is brilliantly manic. On the other, it’s a completely weightless performance and role. The Informant! is certainly unique, and I enjoy it, but it also exhausts me.

And Everything Is Going Fine

Soderbergh collaborates with Spalding Gray once again, but this time, it’s posthumously as he chronicles the monologist’s creative process.

(2010, 0 viewings)

And here’s Gray’s Anatomy‘s partner piece I mentioned earlier. Yeah, my thoughts there basically apply here, as well.

Contagion

A contagious virus is killing millions, and various bureaucrats, scientists, public figures, and ordinary citizens try to stay alive in a rapidly changing world. (Click here for my full Contagion review.)

RATING:
(2011, 3 viewings)

Underrated insofar as most think it’s merely very good, while I think it’s a modern masterpiece. The editing, the score, the slick characterizations, and overall mood signal a director on top of his game.

Haywire

A freelance black ops agent is double crossed and must fight alone to protect her loved ones and kill those responsible. (Click here for my full Haywire review.)

RATING:
(2012, 1 viewing)

Sorry, I just never quite got the appeal of his one. The fight scenes are well-choreographed, but the entire picture is a little too muted for my taste.

Magic Mike

A young man is schooled in the ways of life by his fellow male strippers.

RATING:
(2012, 1 viewing)

Not a great film, but a supremely fun one.

Side Effects

A young woman turns to prescription drugs as she struggles to cope with her husband’s recent release from white-collar prison. (Click here for my full Side Effects review.)

RATING:
(2013, 1 viewing)

A noir even Hitchcock would be proud of. It’s cool to see Soderbergh continuing to reinvent himself near the end of his career.

Behind the Candelabra

The famous piano player and showman Liberace enters a tempestuous relationship with a younger man. (Click here for my full Behind the Candelabra review.)

RATING:
(2013, 1 viewing)

Not his best, but a very worthy send-off. I hope you change your mind on retirement, Mr. Soderbergh. We need you, man.

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One Response to Steven Soderbergh Movies

  1. Steven Flores September 17, 2013 at 12:36 am

    The ones I haven’t so far as of right now in chronological order are: Kafka, King of the Hill, Gray’s Anatomy, Schizopolis, Erin Brockovich, Bubble, The Good German, and Haywire.

    I’m so glad that I was one of those that actually got to see Che in its entirety at the special roadshow screening. It’s truly a cinematic experience like no other.

    Reply

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