As we continue our Steven Soderbergh retrospective leading up to the premiere of his HBO Film Behind The Candelabra, we look back at the director’s Top Five films. I will admit to you now that, although I am a Soderbergh fan, I am not a Soderbergh aficionado. Of his 26 films and documentaries, I have only seen 16 of his films. But I feel my knowledge of Soderbergh is sufficient enough to speak on his filmography anyways. And thus I offer you his Top Five films
Honorable Mention: Ocean’s Eleven
The movie that made George Clooney and Brad Pitt the two coolest guys in Hollywood and made Las Vegas a glamorous place people wanted to be, Ocean’s 11 is a brilliant remake of the 1960s Rat Pack film. This time around George Clooney took up the titular role of Danny Ocean. Danny Ocean and his friend Rusty (Brad Pitt) assemble a crew to rob the vault of three combined Vegas Casino on a fight night of $150 Million. Things get complicated though when it’s revealed that the Casinos belong to Danny’s romantic rival Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), who is currently dating Danny’s Ex Wife Tess (Julia Roberts). Endlessly cool and always slick, Ocean’s 11 brought some of that old Sinatra magic back to Hollywood.
5. Side Effects
“Depression is the inability to construct a future.”
Jude Law’s character tells Rooney Mara’s character this in Side Effects, the movie that currently holds the honor of being Steven Soderbergh’s last American theatrical release. Side Effects is a sexy tale of a person gone wrong and all the people she brings down with her. Rooney Mara plays Emily Taylor, a troubled young woman who finds her mental state unraveling as her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum) is being released from jail after serving four years for insider trading. Finding herself in a state of hopelessness, she finds herself crossing paths with Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law). After a series of older and established medicines have no effect, Dr. Banks puts Emily on a new drug with wonderful effects. Things turn dark though when problems begin to manifest themselves. Side Effects is a brilliant piece of sexy and twisty story telling, as Soderbergh attacks a simple enough story that could been lesser in the hands of someone unable to master the nuances of such a complicated story. But instead, Soderbergh releases a film that is so far one of the best films of 2013 and, in my opinion, one of the best films he has ever made.
“It’s all about the money.”
These are the words spoken by Mexican Police Officer Javier Rodriguez in Traffic. This 2000 adaptation of the British miniseries is arguably Soderbergh’s most critically successful film. Heck, Traffic helped Soderbergh become the second director EVER to be nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Director in the same year, AND he became the only director ever have to have two films nominated for Best Picture. And then he lost Gladiator, a film I think is highly overrated (but that’s a topic for another time). But Traffic took home the Best Director Oscar all the same. The story of illict drug trafficking between the United States and Mexico has a lot of big things going on, but is fascinating because of the small stories in the middle of it. The film is told in three concurrent storylines: A Mexican cop (Benecio Del Toro) trying to stop a corrupt system around him. A US Drug Czar running around Ohio looking for his daughter, who is a drug user and a runaway. And DEA agents (Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman) trying to infiltrate a massive drug dealing operation as its leader (Steven Bauer) is on trial with his wife learning the truth about her husband’s lifestyle and the complications of his survival. When Traffic was released in 2000, Americans were beginning to question the nature of the Drug War. 13 Years later, most would say the Drug War has failed and we need to move on—and this film is a testament to such an idea.
3. Sex, Lies, and Videotape
“You never used to say the word “fucking”.”
This is something that Ann says in Sex, Lies, and Videotape, and it is just another display of the power intimacy can have on another person; it can change everything about them. This is the feature film where it all began, as Steven Soderbergh’s 1989 Palm d’Or winning film about desire and the nature of sexuality was a landmark of the independent film movement of the late 80s and early 90s, and a precursor to America’s obsession with confessional television. I wrote about this film early last week and encourage others to revisit that. This is essential viewing for all Soderbergh fans and hard to watch for those who aren’t entirely certain what is to desire something versus those who just want something.
2. Out of Sight
“It’s like seeing someone for the first time, and you look at each other for a few seconds, and there’s this kind of recognition like you both know something. Next moment the person’s gone, and it’s too late to do anything about it.”
Jack Foley’s words say all about the moment you think you see someone who yours forever, and you don’t act. I should get this out of the way now—this is my favorite Steven Soderbergh film, and it currently holds a place in my Top 10 favorite films of all time. This is film that really planted the seed in me that I wanted to be involved with filmmaking when I was a teenager. It has everything you could want from a film—it’s smart, it’s sexy, and it’s funny. The story of a delightfully sexy romance between an escaped bank robber Jack Foley (George Clooney) and US Marshal Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez), Out of Sight is equal parts noir and tragic romance, with a dash of 1950s heist films (Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing comes to mind). With great supporting work by Ving Rhames, Steve Zahn, Don Cheadle, Albert Brooks, and Luis Guzman; Out of Sight is a film that simply gets better with age.
1. The Limey
“Bide your time and everything becomes clear, and you can act accordingly.”
This is some advice from the main character of Steven Soderbergh’s 1999 The Limey. The Limey wasn’t an Oscar winner or Palm d’Or winner. It wasn’t a massive hit, and it was a small film that played 105 screens and didn’t even make its money back on its small budget. But when I think of what is the essence of a Steven Soderbergh film, this film is always the film that hits all the marks when I tell people about Soderbergh. It’s a small, intimately crafted tale of a father’s revenge. Wilson (Terence Stamp) is a British ex-con who travels to Los Angeles to find out more about his daughter’s death. Although labelled as an accident, Wilson finds that Jenny’s friends think her boyfriend Terry (Peter Fonda) may be behind what’s going on. What happens on screen is a masterful telling of a story from a man with a goal. If you have ever seen Stephen Frears’ 1984 film The Hit, you know that if you give Terence Stamp enough time on screen and great dialogue, he can mesmerize. And that’s what he does in The Limey. I don’t know what it really is about The Limey that makes it so great, but it’s just a film that has its own unique style that is so enthralling. If you get a chance, take a dive into The Limey. You won’t regret it.
Steven Soderbergh’s last film Behind The Candelabra debuts on Sunday May 26 on HBO.