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Steven Soderbergh's Brilliant Career

Beyond Contagion: 9 Essential Steven Soderbergh Movies

Beyond Contagion: 9 Essential Steven Soderbergh Movies

(04/08/2020)

A nearly decade-old movie, CONTAGION, turned into an unexpected hit this year. It's a left-field success for filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, who has been making funny, moving and potent movies for more than 30 years. If CONTAGION brought you into the Soderbergh fold, here are nine more movies by the director which should land on your must-see list.

We love Soderbergh because he's willing to try nearly any combination of tactics to find the perfect marriage of story and visual style. He has made big-budget movies with starry casts (OCEAN'S ELEVEN) and improvised movies shot on digital video with those same big-name actors (FULL FRONTAL) and non-professional performers (BUBBLE) alike. He's made science fiction (SOLARIS), horror (UNSANE), and profiles of historical figures (CHE), entertainers (BEHIND THE CANDELABRA) and gutsy activists (ERIN BROCKOVICH).

Just when you think Steven Soderbergh has done everything (including retire!) he comes back with something unexpected. He's a treasure, and if you're new to his movies there are so many great surprises in store.

Sex, Lies and Videotape

Essential Steven Soderbergh Movies: Sex, Lies, and Videotape

[Image Credit: Miramax]


This isn't Steven Soderbergh's first movie — that would, oddly enough, be a concert movie for the classic progressive band Yes — but it is certainly his breakout effort. James Spader stars as Graham, whose practice of videotaping revealing interviews with women becomes a flashpoint in the lives of three people around him. Soderbergh's movie helped ignite widespread interest in the American independent film movement of the early 1990s but it isn't a relic of a bygone era. SEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE is as provocative now as it was 30 years ago, as it takes a deep look at true intimacy.

Kafka

Essential Steven Soderbergh Movies: Kafka

[Image Credit: Miramax]


After becoming an indie darling with the seemingly personal SEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE, Soderbergh pulled the first of many dramatic career left turns. His follow-up is KAFKA, a strange black and white thriller which imagines ideas in Franz Kafka's novels as a web of conspiracies and hidden secrets. Jeremy Irons leads a cast that is absolutely packed with great actors — Theresa Russell, Joel Grey, Ian Holm, Armin Mueller-Stahl and Alec Guinness — and while KAFKA's literary oddity doesn't always click, it is never less than ambitious and fascinating.

Out of Sight

Essential Steven Soderbergh Movies: Out of Sight

[Image Credit: Universal Pictures]


With not-yet-stars George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez, Soderbergh turned Elmore Leonard's novel into a cracking romantic caper. We recently talked about the many virtues of OUT OF SIGHT, and here we'll simply say that it is an unquestionable new classic in which several different genres collide.

The Limey

Essential Steven Soderbergh Movies: The Limey

[Image Credit: Artisan Entertainment]


Soderbergh reunited with KAFKA screenwriter Lem Dobbs for the ultimate dad revenge story. Terence Stamp plays Wilson, an ex-con who, upon being released from prison, learns of the death of his daughter, Jenny. Suspecting that he isn't being told the entire truth, Wilson travels to Los Angeles, where he sets his sights on Jenny's former boyfriend, record producer Terry Valentine (Peter Fonda). As a crime movie, THE LIMEY is as tight as a drum, but it also has a strange and extensive flashback structure, which reveals Wilson and Jenny's lives together decades earlier, which turns the movie into a melancholy reflection on personal failure.

Solaris

Essential Steven Soderbergh Movies: Solaris

[Image Credit: 20th Century Studios]


Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky is rightly considered one of the greatest filmmakers, period, and remaking his landmark art-house science fiction opus, SOLARIS, might seem like folly. George Clooney stars as Dr. Chris Kelvin, a psychologist who is summoned by an old friend to assist on a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. Kelvin finds big problems on the station, and soon learns that the planet itself is communicating with the humans on the station in shocking ways. Soderbergh's version of the story stands on its own and, as it explores memory and relationships, it evolves into a companion movie to THE LIMEY.

Ocean's Twelve

Essential Steven Soderbergh Movies: Ocean's Twelve

[Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]


Any fan of Soderbergh's three Las Vegas-set comedy capers will have their favorite. OCEAN'S ELEVEN remade the 1960s Rat Pack comedy of the same name with a top-flight cast, including Julia Roberts, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Bernie Mac and Elliott Gould. OCEAN'S THIRTEEN is full of in-jokes and bizarre scenarios, with a great villain turn by Al Pacino. Our pick lands in the middle: OCEAN'S TWELVE, which takes a very big swing by having the character played by Julia Roberts pretend to be the actual Julia Roberts. It's also got a funny romantic plot Brad Pitt's character and an inspector played by Catherine Zeta-Jones, and a scene where Clooney and Pitt cry while watching Oprah. Much like the movie's elaborate heist, the storytelling gamble pays off, and this middle movie is a fizzy cocktail of star power and pure heist movie chutzpah.

The Informant!

Essential Steven Soderbergh Movies: The Informant!

[Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]


How many lies would you tell in a bid to make your fantasy life become reality? For Mark Whitaker (Matt Damon), an exec at a big food processing company, the answer is a lot. A whole lot. After learning that his company is engaged in illegal price-fixing, he becomes a whistleblower… and then becomes an informant for the FBI. Trouble is, Whitaker has his own schemes going, and soon loses track of where his elaborate lies begin and end. Soderbergh directs THE INFORMANT as an ironic corporate comedy, and guides Matt Damon to one of his best performances.

Magic Mike

Essential Steven Soderbergh Movies: Magic Mike

[Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]


When plans were announced for a movie with roots in Channing Tatum's youthful experience as an exotic dancer, there was a lot of laughter. How would that work, even with Soderbergh directing? In fact, it worked amazingly well, and MAGIC MIKE is a very funny and equally moving account of friendship, ambition and greed, with impressive dramatic and physical performances from Tatum, Matthew McConaughey, and Joe Manganiello. And, yeah, the dancing is magic. (Soderbergh acted as cinematographer and editor — which he does for many of his own movies — for the equally great sequel, MAGIC MIKE XXL, directed by Gregory Jacobs.)

Unsane

Essential Steven Soderbergh Movies: Unsane

[Image Credit: 20th Century Studios]


Steven Soderbergh's tendency towards experimentation was on display very early in his career. Decades later, he continues to try new things, such as shooting a major movie entirely on an iPhone. That choice adds an unnerving immediacy to the story of a young woman, played by Claire Foy of "The Crown," who is confined to an institution against her will, and forced to deal with the attentions of a determined stalker. Soderbergh has flirted with horror in the past, and the psychological terror of UNSANE is so effective that we can't wait for him to dive back into the genre.



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