10 Good Steven Soderbergh Movies

Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 11:53 am

Steven Soderbergh Movies

Roger Ebert once referred to Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh as the “poster boy of the Sundance generation,” and he’s also been called “the Michael Jordan of filmmaking.” The latter moniker is due to his versatility, as Soderbergh frequently produces, writes, edits, and serves as director of photography for his projects (often using a different alias for each). The A-list of Hollywood must agree with these nicknames, because Soderbergh has worked multiple times with stars such as George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Julia Roberts.

But Steven Soderbergh movies aren’t always about big budgets and famous performers. He’s equally well-known for experimenting with the art of cinema, often following a major Hollywood production with something far more avant garde. This has resulted in a number of box-office bombs, but his hits more than make up for it.

Soderbergh has announced that he will retire from directing in the near future, so I think it’s high time we honored his career by looking at some of the best Steven Soderbergh movies. All of these films can be rented online, by the way, and becoming a member of Netflix is the best way to go about it.

Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989) – Soderbergh’s breakout film, and one which greatly contributed to the independent film movement of the 1990s. James Spader plays against type as a drifter who can only achieve sexual satisfaction by recording women talking about their erotic experiences. Andie MacDowell is the unhappy wife who makes his acquaintance, and Peter Gallagher and Laura San Giacomo round out the web of lies, infidelity, and sexual re-awakening. Sex, Lies, and Videotape won the Palm d’Or at Cannes, and it also helped Miramax rise to become the studio most closely associated with independent cinema.

Gray’s Anatomy (1996) – Soderbergh teams up with performance artist Spalding Gray for what’s essentially a one-man monologue. Gray is always entertaining, and this project marks his fourth (and final) effort in front of the camera. The topic of conversation is alternative medicine, as Gray relates his efforts to find treatment for a persistent eye condition. While Soderbergh doesn’t have the opportunity to work in many of his trademark techniques (score and montage), watching Gray weave his tale is still more than enough to keep most viewers entertained.

Out of Sight (1998) – After five box-office disappointments, Soderbergh rebounded with this adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel and started his long-running collaboration with George Clooney. The former ER star headlines as Jack Foley, a career criminal who escapes from a Florida prison and immediately begins planning a diamond heist. But before he can get the stones, he’ll have to outmaneuver U.S. Marshal Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez), a woman he quickly finds himself falling for. The hotel scenes between Clooney and Lopez show two performers at their best, both in terms of sex appeal and acting ability. This is not, however, a romantic comedy, so come prepared for some prison violence and other moments of unpleasantness. Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle, Steve Zahn, and Albert Brooks co-star.

The Limey (1999) – With a plot that bears just a bit of a resemblance to Get Carter, The Limey stars Terence Stamp as Wilson, a British con who heads to Los Angeles to investigate the death of his estranged daughter in a car wreck. He proceeds to bring down death and destruction on anyone who stands in his way, and Soderbergh’s use of flashbacks and juxtaposition enhance the sense of memory and regret. A masterpiece of the neo-noir crime genre.

Erin Brockovich (2000) – Julie Roberts captured a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Erin Brockovich, a real-life legal clerk who successfully spearheaded a case against a powerful American energy company. Soderbergh tones down the cinematic tricks this time around, allowing the Susannah Grant script and Roberts’ abilities to take center stage. It works, too, as Roberts gets to show off her range while playing a complex character who’s decidedly foul-mouthed and not always likable. Co-starring Albert Finney and Aaron Eckhart.

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Traffic (2000) – Winner of four Oscars (including a Best Director award for Soderbergh), Traffic weaves together a number of stories, each revolving around the drug trade and its destructive effect on human life. Michael Douglas is a judge who learns that his own daughter is an addict. Catherine Zeta-Jones is a housewife forced to confront the reality that her husband is a major drug distributor. Don Cheadle is a cop dedicated to smashing the influence of the cartels in the United States. And Benicio del Toro is a dedicated Mexican cop sickened by the corruption in his country and the poor living conditions. While many of these characters never meet, their actions have a direct impact on each other. Soderbergh once again demonstrates his versatility behind the camera, giving each individual storyline a distinctive visual style. While Crash may have won the Best Picture Oscar several years later, Traffic is the superior film.

Ocean’s Eleven (2001) – While two more sequels would follow, this first entry in the caper series is the best of the bunch. George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Julia Roberts head up an all-star cast that also includes Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Don Cheadle, and Casey Affleck. Clooney stars as Danny Ocean, a recently-paroled criminal who sets out to rob multiple Vegas casino vaults on the weekend of a big boxing match. Coincidentally, the owner of these casinos (Garcia) just so happens to be romancing Ocean’s ex-wife (Roberts). In order to pull off his scheme, Ocean recruits some of the best crooks and con-men around, and watching them plan the heist is just half the fun. Based on the old Rat Pack movie starring Frank, Sammy, and Dean.

The Good German (2006) – Meant to imitate the look of a 1940’s film noir, The Good German stars George Clooney as Jake Geismar, a Stars and Stripes reporter who becomes embroiled in the search for a missing SS officer, as well as the mystery surrounding the death of his driver (Tobey Maguire). Cate Blanchett co-stars as a Holocaust survivor, and Soderbergh fills this engrossing tale with a number of filmic techniques no longer used in Hollywood. If you’re a fan of Turner Classic Movies, I’d highly recommend this throwback.

Che (2008) – Clocking in at more than four hours, this two-part biopic about the life of iconic revolutionary Che Guevara (Benicio del Toro) is a fascinating look at the man behind the legend. The action picks up with the impending revolution in Cuba, and it follows Guevara all the way up until his death in Bolivia. Shot much like a documentary, each part of Che takes on a different cinematic style thanks to the experimental nature of Soderbergh. If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about the man who frequently shows up on t-shirts and pop culture imagery, this is the place to begin.

The Informant! (2009) – Matt Damon put on thirty extra pounds to portray Mark Whitacre, a real-life 90’s whistle-blower who teams up with the FBI to help expose illegal price-fixing on the part of conglomerate Archer Daniels Midland. But as the years roll by and Mark gathers hundreds of hours of recordings against his co-workers, his cheery persona begins to show signs of cracking. The film begins as something of a comedy, but the humor becomes much darker as Mark’s own struggles and failings are revealed. Scott Bakula co-stars as the FBI agent assigned to work with Mark.

While my list has focused on some of the more successful Steven Soderbergh movies, don’t forget that he’s turned out a number of low-budget, experimental films. If you’re interested in such things, do an Internet search for the following titles: The Girlfriend Experience, Full Frontal, Schizopolis, And Everything is Going Fine, Kafka, and The Underneath.

If you join Netflix, you should be able to find a respectable number of these titles for rent. We do receive a small commission when you sign up through our site, but it costs you nothing extra and goes towards the expenses of maintaining an online presence.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 15th, 2011 at 11:53 am and is filed under Good Movies. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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