Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Soderbergh's Thirteen

After nearly twenty years of feature length filmmaking, Steven Soderbergh remains one of the most original and important of all American directors. His career has been a fascinating mixture of fiercely independent work and overwhelmingly commercial but uncompromising material. He is one of the few directors around who has managed to combine the two, and be successful at both. I have seen the majority of Steven's work, with SCHIZOPOLIS and BUBBLE being my two biggest omissions, and I thought to go along with OUT OF SIGHT week I would give a nod to my favorites. So in descending order, here are my favorite Soderbergh projects so far. I have no doubt that his upcoming GUERRILLA will make this list "Soderbergh's Fourteen".

13. THE UNDERNEATH (1995): Soderbergh's disappointing, but still worthwhile, mid nineties noir finds him in a bit of a rut just before his major creative rebirth. Still, the film is better than most give it credit for and Elisabeth Shue is extremely good in it.

12. KAFKA (1991): I've never quite warmed up to Steven's odd SEX LIES AND VIDEOTAPE follow-up but it is still an intriguing little experiment. The film is gorgeous to watch and both Jeremy Irons and Theresa Russell are excellent. The rumored upcoming Criterion disc is sure to make it all the more inviting.

11. ERIN BROCKOVICH (2000): My distaste for Juila Roberts clouds what is otherwise a very strong film. Roberts is good in the main title role, but the real reason to watch it is for Steven's confident direction and the scene stealing Albert Finney.

10. OCEAN'S THIRTEEN (2007): The newest was the weakest but it was still a lot of fun. The addition of Pacino and Barkin certainly helped what could have been a very tired retread of the first two.

9. TRAFFIC (2000): The film that won Steven many awards is a solid and thoughtful production, although it doesn't compare to the original BBC or USA remake. It is hampered by some poor casting choices, but the work of Benecio Del Toro and Catherine Zeta Jones is remarkable.

8. FULL FRONTAL (2002): The little film everyone loves to hate is half a masterpiece, and only slips in the Julia Roberts movie section. Mary McCormack is sublime and Catherine Keener is savagely good in this, one of Soderbergh's most under appreciated films.

7. OCEAN'S ELEVEN: Soderbergh's most financially successful film is undeniably infectious and fun. Featuring a cast of some of the brightest stars in modern American cinema, and an astonishing score by David Holmes, OCEAN'S ELEVEN is is unstoppably entertaining.

6. K STREET (2003): One of the great television series of the decade that was unfortunately cancelled after less than ten episodes. Smart, funny and searing with Mary McCormack delivering yet another showcase performance for him, Soderbergh's K STREET was too good for television.

5. SEX LIES AND VIDEOTAPE (1989): Soderbergh's feature length debut remains one of the most important first films of the past three decades. Smart, funny, inventive and undeniably great. This film, along with Gus Van Sant's DRUGSTORE COWBOY, helped bury the eighties and signaled the nineties as a much more invigorating decade in American cinema.

4. OCEAN'S TWELVE (2004): Trumps the first one on every count...genre bending, self-referential and masterful, OCEAN'S TWELVE is one of the great films of the decade. The fact that it continues to be reviled only fuels my love for it.

3. SOLARIS (2002): Along with IT'S ALL ABOUT LOVE, I'm not sure if there is a more underrated film from this decade around. Criminally ignored by both the critics and public, Soderbergh's great remake is a haunting, emotional masterpiece. For my money its the best science fiction film since Ridley Scott's BLADE RUNNER.

2. THE LIMEY (1999): Soderbergh's thrilling tribute to the sixties is the stuff of legend. Featuring Terence Stamp in a career defining performance, and some of the most inventive cutting ever, THE LIMEY is an unforgettable experience that works on a near impossible number of levels...a really stunning film that just gets better and better with each viewing.

1. OUT OF SIGHT (1998): The film that put Soderbergh back on the map and teamed him up with his most valuable cinematic partner, George Clooney, for the first time. My look at this film will continue throughout the week.

I really need to see the handful of Soderbergh's productions that I haven't yet soon. Any recommendations on where to start are appreciated.

For more on Steven Soderbergh please visit this excellent site.


Brandon Colvin said...

Wow. We have a very different evaluation of Soderbergh.

My list would go something like this:

1. Traffic
2. Schizopolis
3. Ocean's Thirteen
4. The Limey
5. Out of Sight
6. Ocean's Eleven
7. Sex, Lies, and Videotape
8. Ocean's Twelve
9. Erin Brokovich

I haven't seen the others, but I really want to see "Bubble" and "Kafka."

Jeremy Richey said...

Hey Brandon,
Thanks for the comment...This is a good example of two great minds thinking differently.
It's funny how our lists here are almost opposites...I didn't know you liked OCEAN'S 13 so much. It was just behind the original for me with 12 being my favorite (and your least favorite!!)...
I think the thing that keeps me a bit away from TRAFFIC is my love for the two tv versions. SCHIZOPOLIS I obviously need to see.
My top three is set...I doubt if he'll ever make another film I love as much as OUT OF SIGHT (but I'd love to see him pull it off). No SOLARIS on your list???
Anyway, I enjoyed seeing your list...thanks for sharing and commenting.

Brandon Colvin said...

Oh, woops. "Solaris" should totally be my number 2. I forgot to include it.

Mr. Peel said...

You've never seen SCHIZOPOLIS??? You need to go and rectify this immediately! I also recommend Getting Away With It, his book partly made up of interviews with Richard Lester which also contain diary excerpts which detail the state of Soderbergh's career during the mid-90s.

Will Errickson said...

What sucks about OUT OF SIGHT--and really, nothing about it sucks--is that every time I recommend it to people and mention that "J. Lo" is in it, they simply put up an enormous wall over which I cannot get, no matter how I try. I can't say that I blame them, but really, the seduction scene of she and Clooney in the hotel bar after she's rejected those three business clowns is one of my favorite scenes from the entire decade. Marvelous stuff. Their loss.

Rogue Spy 007 said...

Not sure what my listing would be of his films, but I think I've enjoyed all of them. Out of Sight, Ocean's 11, The Limey, and Traffic are my favorites.

Steve Langton said...

I'd plump for SCHIZOPOLIS as my fave Soderbergh, with TRAFFIC a clos second even though I preferred the TV series which I think was screened on Channel 4 over here. Not an Ocean's fan, though I've only sen the first.

colinrudge0380 said...

I also love The Limey and Out Of Sight the most out of Soderbergh's work.

Erin Brocovich would be my next choice (one of the greatest tributes that could be made to it is that I decided to show it to my parents one day - there was a lot of groaning about it being about a boring subject, yet afterwards my dad was almost desperate to know more about the real life story behind the film! That is the sign of a great film - that it can grab somebody with next to no interest and even some antipathy in the subject. It might mean that people who would really have liked it purposefully avoided it at the cinema and on DVD however!)

I did not see King of the Hill on your list, but that would be my next favourite Soderbergh - it has a bit in common with Kore'eda's later film that was based on a true story, Nobody Knows. Another story that could be mawkish and terribly sentimental is beautifully handled.

Then Kafka - it might be a messy film but I find it endlessly fascinating. I like the shift into colour for the scenes inside the lair near the end of the film and of course any film with Jeremy Irons and Teresa Russell is immediately essential viewing! I had not heard about a Criterion release - that would be great!

Then Solaris - the only reason it is not higher is simply because I liked Tarkovsky's film so much, but Clooney and McElhone are excellent.

Schizopolis - a film full of great moments. They might not all add up to a great film in total but there is more than enough there to enjoy and to reward many repeated viewings. A necessary film for Soderbergh I think, but not one that really feels indulgent at the same time, as I felt about Full Frontal.

The Sex, Lies - which is only so low because it has been a while since I last saw it!

The Traffic - it was a fantastic film but for me the Channel 4 miniseries from the early 90s was fantastic. Lindsay Duncan and Bill Patterson owned their roles - but it was a sign of how good Soderbergh's film was that his film still managed to reproduce those scenes and not be fatally flawed by the comparison.

Then The Underneath - I remember thinking the editing techniques that worked so well in The Limey and Traffic did not work as well here, but that also makes the film essential viewing for seeing Soderbergh pushing his style to extremes.

Then the Ocean's films (or rather the first, as I have not yet seen the other two!). Nice to see everyone having a great time and to lose myself in for a couple of hours.

Full Frontal - The other necessary purging film that Soderbergh seems to have to occasionally make, but unfortunately this one did not seem to work as well as Schizopolis or even The Underneath. At the same time however it is still a mark of the quality of his films that this can constitute what I consider to be his 'worst' film!

I have picked up Ocean's Twelve, Bubble and Eros but have not yet sat down with them (and have not yet picked up the DVD of The Good German yet)

Jeremy Richey said...

Cool Brandon,
Glad to hear you dig SOLARIS as well...vastlu underrated film.

Thanks Mr. Peel,
That book sounds interesting and I will make sure I see SCHIZOPOLIS asap.

Hey Will,
Thanks for the comment. I know what you mean. Lopez is amazing in the film. It is really tragic what she did to her career, but as far as OUT OF SIGHT goes she is just that. That scene you mentioned is one of my particular favorites as well...

Thanks Keith...we share some of the same favs...

Hey Steve,
That original series of TRAFFIC is astounding. I totally agree. The more recent American series was surprisingly complex and brillinat also. Check it out if you ever can...

Thanks Colin for the graet and detailed comments. They are terrific to read, and reminds me that I need to see KING OF THE HILL as well.
Check out the OCEAN'S films sometimes. I'll go to my grave plugging the second even though I am pretty isolated in my love for it...

Thanks again to you all...

Cinebeats said...

My own list:

1. Kafka (My favorite of his films, but I think you might have to be really familiar with Kafka to enjoy it)
2. The Limey (a close second)
3. Sex, Lies and Videotape
4. Solaris
5. Traffic

I'm afraid I wasn't very impressed with the rest, but I have trouble with the casting in a lot of his films and I'm afraid it colors my opinion of them. It's interesting to see what you and others think of his work.

Bob Turnbull said...

Hi Jeremy,

Just found your site courtesy of Neil's The Bleeding Tree and I'm working my way backwards through the posts.

Had to comment on Soderbergh though. First and foremost, it's great to find someone else who loves "Ocean's Twelve". I wrote about it on my blog some time ago for the Misunderstood Blog-a-thon and stated that it wasn't a heist film but an art film. The little editing tricks, the blues and oranges, the MUSIC (I love all of Holmes' scores with Soderbergh as well)...

I also just re-watched "Out Of Sight" a few weeks ago and loved it even more than the first time I saw it. Indeed that seduction scene is tremendous (I love the little pauses) and Jennifer Lopez was not only excellent in the role, but quite stunning.

The only film of his that hasn't grabbed me in at least some way was "Gray's Anatomy" - I thought the style of it would get me through, but I have to say I just didn't find Spalding Gray that interesting...Soderbergh seems to have an Untitled Spalding Gray Project in the works according to IMDB, so we'll have to see what that's all about.

I liked The Underneath more than you (great use of colour), wouldn't rank Traffic quite as high (great moments, but some flat ones too) and really recommend Schizopolis (it's just aload of fun - especially viewed with the Soderbergh interviewing Soderbergh commentary).

OK, I'm getting fanboy-ish...I'll stop now.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks so much Bob! It is so great to hear some love for OCEAN'S TWELVE. I have added Eternal Sunshine's link to my film links...and even gave your article a mention in my newest post.
Keep up the great work, and thanks so much for the comments and link. I really enjoyed it.