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Steven Soderbergh @ 50

You guyz. I totes forgot to honor Steven Soderbergh on his 50th birthday on Monday but The Stubborn Jodieness of Jodie, who also just turned the half-century mark, was all I could process. And process. And process. Anyway... Soderbergh announced his retirement so long ago and kept right on making movies that it's started to seem like a comic dark cloud that's hung over his career since, oh, sex, lies and videotape (1989).

I couldn't begin to list my 50 favorite things about him, or even my top ten films since I haven't been a completist and he's often as much of a deterrent as a draw for me (especially this past decade). But there's no denying that he's a restless, creative guy who occassionally crafts something masterful.

Here are his five essential films according to my brain... aka my favorites. I love them so much more than the rest of his output that it's not even close. That said I have very very dim memories of King of the Hill (1993) and some people swear by it. (Which five Soderberghs are closest to your heart?)

  • sex, lies and videotape (1989, Palme D'or at Cannes, Oscar screenplay nom)
  • Out of Sight (1998)
  • Erin Brockovich (2000, Best Director nomination with Oscar)
  • Oceans Eleven (2001)
  • Magic Mike (2012)

And how thrilled are you that Behind the Candelabra, his Liberace biopic, is not so very far away now?

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Reader Comments (30)

King of the Hill (great child performance by Jesse Bradford and early appearances by Katherine Heigl and Adrien Brody)
Out of Sight
Erin Brockovich
Ocean's Eleven
Magic Mike

January 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRaul

King of the Hill, all the way!

January 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSeeking Amy

THE INFORMANT! is by far my favourite Soderbergh movie. After that, it's probably TRAFFIC, ERIN BROCKOVICH and OUT OF SIGHT. I need to watch CHE again, as I believe I may appreciate it more upon second viewing (but, being 5 hours, it's hard to motivate myself to do so!), but for now I'll put the recent watch MAGIC MIKE at #5.

January 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterWellington Sludge

King of the Hill
Erin Brockovich
Ocean's Eleven
Magic Mike

... in chronological order, but more or less in order of enthusiasm, too, though I adore all five.

January 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

Ocean's TWELVE is such a masterpiece, his best movie. I love so much the 60's European twist he put in that movie, bringing the swinging 60's to his 50's charm cast. I love the zooms, I love the soundtrack (thank you Soderbergh for Ornella Vanoni), I love the French villain (Cassel playng capoeira!!!!), I love the locations, I love, above all things, Julia Roberts playing Julia Roberts.

This movie is so visually smart, so joyful... I love every.fucking,line,delivery by George Clooney, specially that "he's French", when he introduces Cassel to Roberts. I love the plot, so absurd. I was expecting a surprise cameo by Alain Delon, or maybe the reborn spirit of Audrey Hepburn in How To Steal a Million.


January 15, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Thank goodness you've focused our attention on something besides Jodie. That run of posts was painful and exhausting...

Favs are: Out of Sight, Che, Solaris (weird, interesting, sad, plus Natascha McElhone is mesmerizing), all of the Oceans (such great ensemble pics not unlike the ones Altman put together), and The Informant! (Cuz I'm a sucker for Matt Damon). Erin Brockovich was good but I didn't see the Soderbergh touch. Felt like a number of good directors could have put that one together. And, unfortunately I haven't caught up with Magic Mike. Looking forward to his take on Liberace. No way he's gonna retire unless he's planning some wild career change like becoming a science teacher???!

January 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPam

I'm going to make an argument for Schizopolis. It is the the one closest to my heart. Yes, it's pretentious and tries too hard, but it's a lot looser and fun than his other films. I've been really looking foreward to Behind the Candelabra and hope it brings him back to a freeer, sillier style.

January 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChristine

Traffic is his best. No argument.

January 15, 2013 | Unregistered Commentertr

Pam... uh. there was one post on Jodie Foster. Color me confused by your comment. Unless you mean the Jodie birthday celebration and that was like 2 months ago. There's been a lot of posts since then. lol.

Cal -- i' can't remember if i've even seen Oceans 12 but wow it made an impression on you.

January 15, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I confess that believe it or not, I still haven't seen "Erin Brockovich" or "Magic Mike", but considering the rest of his film career, I think my 5 favorites are:

-sex, lies and videotapes
-Out of Sight
-Che (specially the first half)
-The Limey (Terence Stamp should have been nominated to the Oscar!)
-Ocean's Twelve (I totally agree with cal roth, a great film, even better than the first one!)

January 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoel

Nick, I knew you'd pop up in here! did KING OF THE HILL ever come out on DVD. i know there was some despair among cinephiles that it was hard to find. I only saw it once in 1996 on vhs. so i barely remember anything other than that it starred jesse bradford and I only remember that because of Bring it On years later.

January 15, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

King of the Hill is on Netflix Instant. Which I know because I put it in my queue in a dizzying burst of glee months ago, and I still haven't gotten around to watching it. To my endless shame, I might add, because the man is almost certainly my favorite working filmmaker.

Nobody really wants to see my top 5, as it would make me look like the most willfully pretentious twit on God's earth, but I will say this: once upon a time, I bought the DVD of Schizopolis sight unseen, and when I got home, my roommate and I decided to sample the first scene, just to get a taste. 100 minutes later, we realised that we'd watched the whole movie, and to this day, we use "to Schizopolis" as a phrase meaning, "I loved every little bit of that movie so much that I accidentally watched the whole thing". It's just so daffy and fun in its artiness. Not just my favorite Soderbergh, but on my shortlist of all-time favorites, period.

But, I mean, hell, I loved Full Frontal, so I probably just don't know nothin'.

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTim

N--Oops, I meant THE COMMENTS on your post a couple of days ago. They made me dizzy.

Tim--Tks for the Netflix plug. I'll add King of the Hill to my streaming queue right now!

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPam

I've only seen 11 of them, but Ocean's Eleven, Kafka and Solaris are my favorites, followed closely by Contagion.

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJason Cooper

Erin Brockovich
sex, lies and videotape
Oceans 11
Out of Sight or The Limey (for grimy gangsters)

What a director!

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

Erin Brokovich and Out Of Sight, though I love / appreciate a lot of his other films, those are the two that if they are playing again on tv and I am channel surfing I will stay on the channel and watch again and again and never get bored. I have yet to see Magic Mike.

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterrami (ramification)

King of the Hill
Out of Sight
Erin Brockovich

I give 10/10 for these (I don't have high standard ^^) but his other movies didn't do much for me at all (including Sex, Lies and Videotape).

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJi

sex, lies, and videotape
King of the Hill
Out of Sight
The Good German

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterArkaan

Solaris, easily, is my favourite - such eerie, stunning craftsmanship on every level, from the production design to the effects to the acting (Pam is right, Natasha McElhone is bewitching) to the music. It was one of the films that really made me fall in love with cinema - it hit me in my early adolescence and it was an absolute revelation.

But he's such a vital, varied director - I'll take Ocean's Eleven, Out of Sight (that height of sexiness is hard to pull off), Erin Brockovich and hell, Full Frontal, which I genuinely think is almost great.

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Sex, Lies, and Videotape
Erin Brockovich
Magic Mike
Behind the Candelabra (can't wait!)

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

My favorite Soderbergh films:

King of the Hill
Out of Sight
Full Frontal

Really admire Ocean's 11, sex lies and videotape, Schizopolis, Haywire and The Informant! as well.

His work as a producer in the early 2000s with George Clooney was also vital - it's how we got Far From Heaven, Insomnia (and thus the Hollywood career of Christopher Nolan) and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, among others. I wish those crazy kids had kept their company together - neither of them have done work as interesting apart as they did together.

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

1 Traffic

[insert universe-sized gap]

2 Erin Brockovich
3 sex, lies and videotape
4 Ocean's Eleven
5 Out Of Sight

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRobUK


Erin Brockovich
The Girlfriend Experience
Ocean's Eleven

SO happy he lied about retiring, he's perhaps the most interesting American auteur in terms of how he wants to try it all.

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJose

If I could be another living person, it might just be Steven Soderbergh. He's just so damned INTERESTING.

Schizopolis, while not in my Top 5, is completely bonkers and I love it for that! Still have not seen Solaris, Contagion, or King of the Hill (thank you Netflix Instant!), but my Top 5 in no particular order would be:

Erin Brockovich
Ocean's Eleven
Magic Mike
Out of Sight
and probably The Informant! just for Matt Damon's unhinged performance. The Limey and sex, lies and videotape follow closely behind.

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

Oh my God, The Limey! That would definitely bump Full Frontal out of my top 5. Can't believe I forgot that.

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

The Limey certainly deserves recognition here--one of the best and most fun films in Soderbergh's admittedly uneven filmography. It's possibly my favorite of his films, with honorable mentions to Out of Sight, Traffic (tonally messy, but a great cast), Erin Brockovich, Ocean's 11 and Contagion.

As for Behind the Candelabra, there are so many ways that project can go off the rails it's silly.

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterW.J.

I'd have to see Traffic again. I remember being only mildly impressed the first time.

My two faves are The Limey (and yes, the criminally underrated Terrence Stamp definitely deserved an Oscar nom) and Erin Brockovich, for a great movie star turn by Julia Roberts but mainly for THE Albert Finney's warm and fuzzy lovability, which had never been tapped before. Leave it to Soderberg to give great roles to these two icons of '60s British cinema.

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

Traffic has diminished somewhat next to The Wire, which really put it to shame. But I was surprised when I rewatched it a couple years ago that it holds up. Terrific casting really helped.

January 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterArkaan

He is such a great director. I love most of his movies. If I have to choose five maybe these would be Erin Brockovich, Solaris, Ocean´s 11 & 12, Out of Sight and Sex, Lies and Videotapes.

And I love too The Limey, Traffic, Che, King of the Hill... even I like a lot Full Frontal and apreciate some parts of The Good German. However, I didn´t enjoy at all Magic Mike.

January 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHelen M.

Helen M -- what didn't u like about Magic Mike. That's my favorite of his since Erin Brockovich. Soderbergh is so good with mainstream movie stars, really. Habitually. Which is a nice surprise given that his own tastes are slightly frindge I suspect.

January 18, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

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