Steven Soderbergh’s career as a filmmaker began with Sex, Lies and Videotape, a massive breakout that not only launched his career — it changed the industry of independent filmmaking in America. While struggling to find his footing after becoming a household name at the age of twenty-six, Soderbergh never let himself become frozen by his early success or some preconceived notion of what his career would be. Instead, he emphatically followed any story that piqued his interest, regardless if it was building the slick Ocean’s franchise or an experimental film he shot in his hometown with friends, à la Schizopolis. He has been careful to build a career that was commercially viable so as to maximize his ability to be constantly creating and experimenting with films that were sometimes aggressively uncommercial. Along the way, he has fought to be as efficient a filmmaker as possible — constantly trying different approaches with new technology to make and distribute his films — while skirting Hollywood excess. So with Soderbergh’s latest, Let Them All Talk, hitting HBO Max, I’ve decided to rank all thirty-one of his feature films.
31. Full Frontal (2002)
As a film that’s loosely about Hollywood but is really about Soderbergh pulling the rug out from under himself to make sure he doesn’t become One Of Them, Full Frontal has moments of being unwatchable; with Soderbergh’s choice of partially shooting on nasty-looking early digital definitely playing some factor. While the film’s narrative-free screw-around mood can be enticing and there’s a couple of good comedic bits, the film’s looks at sex, race, and desperation in the movie business actually feel pedestrian, never really cohering at all.
30. The Underneath (1995)
“It’s just totally sleepy … This thing is just dead-on-arrival…” that’s what Steven Soderbergh has said of his film, The Underneath when looking back on it. And he would be correct, as the film feels like a training-wheels version of a modern Soderbergh film: We get the dynamic use of color, the innovative jumble of chronology, and the impish tinkering with genre tenets. The Underneath was in fact the film where Soderbergh, admittedly, hit a rock bottom in his career. But, thankfully, it’s also the film that inspired him to reinvent his aesthetic, which would soon lead to his most fruitful period. So we can at least thank The Underneath for that.
29. The Laundromat (2019)
Reuniting with The Informant! and Contagion screenwriter Scott Z. Burns, The Laundromat looks like it might be an “inside story” on the Panama Papers, but it’s more about insurance fraud and financial malfeasance. In form it seems in the vein of The Big Short, aligning with the edu-cinema route, yet The Laundromat is much more scattershot than Adam McKay’s film. McKay infused his film with righteous anger, yet Soderbergh’s never finds a way for his many interlocking stories to achieve any kind of dramatic traction or momentum, often ziging and zaging too frequently for us to really lock-in and care. (Full Review)
28. Side Effects (2014)
“It’s doesn’t make you anything you’re not, it just makes it easier to be who you are.” That’s one of the clear statements made in Side Effects, but that statement also at first seems to possibly be a thesis. And for the first half of the movie, it is. As we see the first fifty minutes of Side Effects satirically finding sharp insights into society’s relationship and reliance with modern medicine. The movie comes at its most rewarding when it’s exploring how drugs affect our personalities. But, then the second half of the movie arrives, coming in and drop kicking all the exposé material from the first half and turns the film into a trashy erotic thriller, reminding everyone that this is by no means a serious look at pharmacological abuse. Purely plot-wise, you’ll be way out ahead of this one if you pause for even a moment (specifically in the second half) to wonder about certain castings or just to simply watch as certain performances overplay their characters’ motivations/intentions. But also as things progress Side Effects not only becomes far too reliant on increasingly moronic and contrived twists, but everything thoughtful that came in the first half is undermined by the revelations in the second half. It’s a movie that isn’t really about anything apart from the reveal and genre change into trashy erotic thriller rather than the sober-minded exposé it first poses as. Which brings my biggest problem with the film: Soderbergh should not have directed this. Side Effects is a movie that should have been made about ’80s or early ’90s, and should have been directed by David Fincher, Adrian Lyne, or Brian De Palma. It’s likely from there where one of those filmmakers would have probably inspired past the script’s glaring contrivances and developed a happily lurid approach.
27. Unsane (2018)
Soderbergh’s second post-retirement film is a fun little genre exercise. With nods to Shock Corridor and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Unsane is a punkish thriller about a young woman, Sawyer (Claire Foy), who’s held against her will in a mental institution, confronting the fact that her stalker (Joshua Leonard) may or may not be one of the nurses. Shooting on an iPhone 7 Plus, the movie may be bit cavalier in its expert execution and pulpy plot twists, but Unsane‘s brazen disreputability ends up being a feature, not a bug, while still not overly lingering.
26. Bubble (2006)
The first film to ever be simultaneously released in theaters and on VOD, Bubble is strikingly modest for something that anticipated the future of the movie business, but it seems an innovator like Soderbergh would probably rather be prescient than perfect. Referring to itself as “Another Steven Soderbergh Experience” on its poster, this unclassifiable nugget of an indie predicted a digital landscape where cinema could be made by and about anyone. Shot on high-definition video and filled with a cast of non-professional actors who would never act again (the lead actress was discovered working at a KFC drive-thru window), Bubble is more interesting to watch how Soderbergh really tests whether banality can turn into the ominous, and the film kind of succeeds in that. As a sort of bone-dry procedural mystery, this stripped-down occasionally nifty experiment sees Soderbergh’s detached mood, where every vending machine and fast-food drink cup becomes a quaint curio of an alien lifestyle, arrive in an admirable but mixed delivery; soaking in the open experimentation, while also feeling the potholes that come with it.
25. Ocean’s Thirteen (2007)
Ocean’s Thirteen feels like the movie that Soderbergh was trying not to make with Ocean’s Twelve. In other words, it’s the weakest installment in the trilogy, being exactly what you would expect from a big-budget Hollywood sequel: It’s bigger, goofier, and safer than the original two in every respect. If anything, the film’s revenge plot is so unmotivated that you can almost see Soderbergh winking at you from behind the camera, as though the running joke behind this franchise of hangout movies is that audiences are amiably swindled into spending more time with these characters — there’s no need for a good excuse. While the casual vibe is fine this time around, the more strict commercial feeling is felt even more, lacking the boldness that was always apart of the franchise in some way. Still, it’s always fun to watch Soderbergh amuse himself with hilariously self-serving dashes of style. For a guy who’s always been so adamant with not repeating himself, avoiding a point of boredom, this trilogy-capper must have been quite a challenge.
24. Kafka (1991)
The idea of blending Franz Kafka’s biography and fiction is a wonderfully inventive concept, but one that Soderbergh couldn’t quite keep in balance as the young filmmaker of the time at times loses control of the tone of the layered world he’s created. The film is still with plenty of pleasures though, including the application of the black-and-white gothic horror elements in this story about a turn-of-the-century insurance salesman getting sucked into a bizarre and mysterious suicide. In a film with a slew of references, it’s fun to see Soderbergh use this canvas to work out influences and ideas to which he would return throughout his career. He’s often said that he knew where he went wrong with this film, and has since re-edited the film since the rights have returned to him, and is looking to release the new cut next year.
23. Gray’s Anatomy (1996)
The final of the Spalding Gray monologue films, Gray’s Anatomy sees Soderbergh locked in with a challenge. Compelled by the idea of shooting a film in just ten days, and spurred by the challenge of visualizing a wild story about eye surgery and potential blindness, Soderbergh took a singularly aggressive approach to his subject. He isolated Gray from a live audience and engulfed the man in a flurry of disorienting effects. Some of these elements add to the experience; others seemingly detract from it. At best, Soderbergh’s stylizations lend shape to one of Gray’s most rambling monologues, but there’s little they can do to help us seen a man who was struggling to see himself.
22. The Girlfriend Experience (2009)
A film that’s more economically explicit than sexual while being set against the backdrop of the 2008 recession, The Girlfriend Experience leverages the business of an escort (Sasha Grey) into an unsubtle look at the role that money plays in American society, and how inextricable it is from our values and self-identity. It’s a rather sterile little movie of urban impressionism that functions more (and better) as a time capsule than a salient bit of commentary, but in the end there’s still something valuable about the sobriety of its perspective and Soderbergh’s impressionistic form.
21. Traffic (2000)
Traffic’s, with all its interlocking storylines, is more of a hodgepodge of quality. There’s a great movie: Benicio del Toro’s (who’s brilliant) storyline as a Mexican cop who’s slow moral awakening makes it much harder to do his job. There’s a decent movie: Catherine Zeta-Jones’ oft-contrived storyline as a pregnant Lady Macbeth figure to a drug lord. And there’s a bad movie: Michael Douglas’ overly tidy storyline as the newly appointed head of the National Drug Control Policy who begins to doubt the integrity of his mission when, ironically, he discovers that Topher Grace has gotten his teenage daughter addicted to every narcotic under the sun. All those various storylines are rolled into one and smoked at the same time, taking a three-pronged approach to the War on Drugs that tries to be comprehensive but instead ends up being a bit too clean and undoubtedly shallow. Soderbergh’s hyper-saturated epic is undeniably ambitious in form, yet the film is still split between reductive naïveté and easy suspense (essentially, I find myself spending a lot of the runtime just intriguingly waiting for del Toro to return to screen). Traffic is shot with Soderbergh’s trademark detachment, which makes its endless hamster wheel of inefficient law more effective, but it doesn’t stop it from playing like the pilot for a mixed-bag TV series.
20. Let Them All Talk (2020)
The second Streep-Soderbergh collaboration arrives as a step up from first (The Laundromat), with Let Them All Talk feeling both admirably and enjoyable breezy and low-key. Playing some with improvisation, Soderbergh and his excellent ensemble (Streep, Lucas Hedges, Dianne Wiest, Candice Bergen and Gemma Chan) find banter that’s both charming and compelling between their flowing relationships, if still interrupted in its final act. (Full Review)
19. Schizopolis (1996)
Schizopolis is a deranged comedy of confused identity and corporate intrigue. One that’s unapologetically absurdist, self-reflexive, and overflowing with big ideas and confrontational energy. Thankfully, the film has a deliberate, daring nature to it that often helps offset its sophomoric streak, but it’s the film’s willingness to fully experiment that remains refreshing to see.
18. And Everything Is Going Fine (2010)
A tour de force in smart and sensitive editing, And Everything Is Going Fine builds a monologuing eulogy to Spalding Gray’s life and his irrepressible lust for the everyday and his bottomless curiosity about the strange and beautiful world around him. Celebrating and doing justice to a subject who made his life and death works of art.
17. Erin Brockovich (2000)
This is a very conventional, based-on-a-true-story underdog-taking-on-the-corrupt-system type of film that’s slightly elevated with Soderbergh adding a layer of depth to the personal B-story underneath the A-story of a struggling single mom who brought down a massive energy company. It’s a film that balances the business of fighting the system with the struggling for domestic tranquility. It’s often formulaic but also has a lived-in emotional messiness that helps make it more compelling.
16. Haywire (2012)
Soderbergh has made it clear that all he really wants to do is play with genre, and Haywire is just that, as he brings non-professional actor/MMA fighter Gina Carano for a spy-action film that’s visceral in many senses. The film was received quite poorly by mass audiences (receiving a “D+” Cinemascore), and while the film does struggle with its lacking protagonist, it seems more that their hesitations suggest viewers were searching for a different kind of movie. There is no big idea to find in this midst of the film’s convoluted plot of double-crossed spies, nor a desire to lure an audience with quips. Instead, this lo-fi riff on the American action film is Soderbergh’s exercise in matching his stripped-down filmmaking approach with the physical energy of Carano. The director even goes as far as removing David Holmes’ score during the hand-to-hand combat scenes. With the best showdowns set in the confines of a normal-size hotel room, a diner, a snowy backroad, it’s not about scale, but skill. The result is a pulpy, brutal, palette-cleansing piece of genre filmmaking of an impressive extent.
15. Logan Lucky (2017)
A silly movie by a serious man who’s refused to become a self-important artist, Logan Lucky wants you think it as a minor Soderbergh. The premise alone, so obviously a riff on Soderbergh’s biggest film that one character straight up uses the phrase “Ocean’s 7-11,” is enough to position this low-key heist comedy as little more than a joy ride around a familiar track, and it’s true that watching Channing Tatum and pals rob a race track in Charlotte isn’t as exciting as watching George Clooney and company rob casinos in Vegas. But if Logan Lucky begs you not to take it seriously, that doesn’t mean it lacks real soul. An old-school caper in a modern age where movies have to be either huge or humble, Logan Lucky is stuck between the past and present. Steven Soderbergh has always belonged in that fertile middle ground, and, as his return from a short-lived retirement, this film took him to a place where he belongs.
14. Magic Mike (2012)
An at times enjoyable hangout movie that’s as well a post-recession study of greed, Soderbergh’s shirtless spectacular is in some way compelling because it never forgets that the heart is the strongest muscle in the human body. Okay, that might not be literally true, but it at least feels right. With Channing Tatum shining in the lead role, Magic Mike wants to be a bit more exuberant than Soderbergh’s sterile style allows for, and Cody Horn is too dull of a love interest for a movie in which every character is interesting enough to be a lead, but neither of those completely drag the movie down. As poorly as the film was marketed — which made it look like a disposable MTV movie — Magic Mike is pleasurable ride tinged in melancholy that thrives in the compassion of its tight knit subculture.
13. The Good German (2006)
A convoluted noir shot in the style of a classic black-and-white studio picture, The Good German might look like it was made by Michael Curtiz, but it sure sounds like it was made by Steven Soderbergh. This is a movie where money talks, even though it tends to keep secrets. It “allows you to be who you truly are,” one character declares, ignoring that he lives in a world where even identity is very much for sale. As a guilt-centric formal exercise that draws from the likes of Casablanca, The Third Man, and Notorious, The Good German feels even more in the vein of Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven, as both lace dreamy nostalgia with a contemporary cyanide kick. Restricting himself to period lenses and staging, eschewing any technique that wasn’t available to filmmakers of the era, Soderbergh does for postwar Hollywood what Guy Maddin has done for silent cinema — and, like Maddin, he risks alienating everyone who isn’t a diehard cinephile (the film’s original negative response shows just that). For all its melodramatic trappings, The Good German remains an exercise in aesthetics, beautiful but just a tad bloodless. Its romances fall into awkward, uninteresting grounds and its mystery is as scattered and impenetrable as Berlin itself. Still with all that, it’s pretty exhilarating to see how Soderbergh cashed in all the chips he made on the first two Ocean’s movies and got Warner Bros. to finance something so willfully uncommercial. But even more importantly it’s also a film that further proves the notion that not every work of art needs be deeply moving. And if Soderbergh’s touch here is clinical and remote, his eye compensates with touches of its own. There’s plenty of love on display, it’s just directed at the medium itself, not the characters. And I would say there isn’t a problem with that at all.
12. Behind the Candelabra (2013)
While it still doesn’t fully break out of the boundaries of a TV-movie biopic and still runs into the obstacle of how its central couple’s dynamics are a little too familiar, Behind the Candelabra still exceeds as a portrait of celebrity loneliness amongst melodrama and excess. Soderbergh plays at a pretty restrained rhythm throughout, letting Michael Douglas and Matt Damon and production designer Howard Cummings do a lot of the work. The film as well retreads without expanding upon Soderbergh’s obsession of bodies as transactions. But even with that though, there’s Michael Douglas, who turns in near career-best work, digging deep beneath the flamboyant mannerisms (even as he expertly replicates them) to reveal an universal archetype of momentary infatuation, motivated primarily by a toxic combination of lust and fear.
11. Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
Ocean’s Eleven is many people’s favorite Soderbergh joint, but for me, it’s just a solid piece of mainstream entertainment, one of confidence, simplicity and an impeccable ensemble. Every square inch of this movie is dripping with personality; from Matt Damon’s anxious pickpocket to Carl Reiner’s old-timer master of disguise, each member of the squad is memorable in their own way, and the precision with which Soderbergh arranges them during the big heist is hugely satisfying every time. I don’t find this to be the strongest of the trilogy (we’ll get to that later), but it’s still a film that seems like it’ll never get old.
10. High Flying Bird (2019)
The second of Soderbergh’s two iPhone-shot films, High Flying Bird is a film entwined in the backroom wheeling and dealing of a sports agent, a basketball movie without any basketball. Lead by a terrific Andre Holland and Tarell Alvin McCraney’s serpentine, idiomatic screenplay, the film’s more a plucky, windy fable of labor and capital in the 21st century. At times it really feels like a sneaky heist film: It’s in the end when we find out what the secret plan was. But that feels in line with the somewhat radical thing that Soderbergh and McCraney deliver here. (Full Review)
9. Contagion (2011)
An unnervingly believable bio-thriller that addresses a global pandemic with a multi-faceted approach similar to the one Soderbergh used to a weaker extent in Traffic, Contagion was the perfect vehicle for the director’s sterile digital ambiance, the film follows the progress of its pathogen with clinical detail, disposing of its memorable characters with all the love that viruses show to their hosts. Anchored by an anxious Cliff Martinez score and brought to life by a deep ensemble, Contagion is a nauseatingly compelling movie that knows our civilization is even more fragile than we care to realize.
8. King of the Hill (1994)
With all its pleasures, what King Of The Hill notably lacks is a streamlined narrative. The film is adapted from A.E. Hotchner’s memoir, and like most memoirs, it’s pretty informal in form. In lesser hands a film adaptation of it could easily have felt random and discursive, with just one isolated incident after another. Soderbergh’s adaptation engineers a superb balancing act among the disparate threads of the young protagonist’s story, expertly creating the illusion of order from what’s actually a lot of scattered chaos. Lighthearted moments ride alongside scenes designed to tear your heart out. It’s all pretty expertly judged, especially in its perspective, as it employs a child’s-eye view of hardship in a way that emphasizes youth’s endless resilience and adaptability; rather than a miserabilist trudge, it’s a film that recognizes that, even when handed big challenges, a fourteen-year-old is still a fourteen-year-old. It’s a familiar innocence lost story, yet it’s de-idealization is quite evocative.
7. Che (2008)
Taking over Benicio del Toro’s passion project after it feel apart with Terrence Malick attached to direct, Soderbergh once again reinvented himself as a filmmaker while putting a completely different spin on the conventional biopic. Soderbergh became obsessed with researching the life of the titular controversial revolutionary. Eventually, he completely restructured the script into a two-part film (with a single four-hour version sometimes screened) that told the story of Che Guevara’s successful (Cuba) and unsuccessful (Bolivia) guerilla uprisings. What’s fascinating about Soderbergh’s approach to the film is there is little attempt to make a subjective viewpoint from Che’s perspective. Instead, Soderbergh used all of his knowledge of his subject and his filmmaking prowess to make a more intimate, fly-on-the-wall epic. With less than eighty days to shoot what is essentially two movies — set against the backdrop of two very different jungle wars — Soderbergh was also working for the first time with a more professional digital camera: the Red One. Soderbergh worked with his small core of close collaborators for the first time on a larger scale and transformed himself into the efficient, instinctive one-man visual storyteller he dreamed of being when he started being his own cinematographer in 2000. His visual language grew to become even more determined and stripped-down under the constraints of time and flexibility of the camera. As the filmmaker himself acknowledged, he emerged from Che a completely different filmmaker, delivering a great work in the process.
6. Ocean’s Twelve (2004)
Soderbergh has always openly thought of himself as more of a collage artist than a bonafide auteur. And unlike someone like Quentin Tarantino, Soderbergh tends to be more in service to his influences than his influences are in service to him. But if that’s true — as the filmmaker humbly swears that it is — why do so many of his best movies feel like they couldn’t possibly have been made by anyone else? Retrofitting an unmade George Nolfi script (previously called Honor Among Thieves) into a dazzlingly idiosyncratic, go-for-broke sequel about the difficulty of making sequels, Ocean’s Twelve was a victim of its own ingenuity; the most unfairly maligned film in Soderbergh’s oeuvre. Less of a heist movie than it is an abstract investigation of the genre and its expectations, this relatively fun caper has the audacity to make the audience into its primary mark, and that pissed off a lot of people during its original, negatively received release back in ‘04. They’ll all come around, one day. Maybe. Still though, once you’re in on the joke, it’s pretty fun to watch Soderbergh weaponize the glitz and glamor of his most incredible cast, using all of that nuclear charisma as a means to distract us from the con at hand; not only is the Julia Roberts sequence the hilarious big swing of a blockbuster that plays inside baseball better than Full Frontal ever could, it also gets to the heart of what the Ocean’s movies are all about: the seduction of star power.
5. The Informant! (2009)
On a broad level, The Informant! can seem like a familiar film of a standard, more conventional pattern, a cautionary tale of spiraling bad-faith decisions. In actuality, it’s pretty far from that, the idiosyncrasies that Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns infuse into this story of wry laughs add a variety of textures; from the ugly period fashions to the bright ’60s title fonts to a frisky, bubbling (sometimes overbearing) Marvin Hamlisch score. It may seem like a whimsical farce but The Informant! is less a farce and more a dark comic puzzle, one that’s hilarity is undercut by a curious anxiety that floats free of its protagonist (Matt Damon in a very strong Trojan Horse performance) and settles over the audience. It’s that protagonist who, though ridiculous at times, is also elusive, even enigmatic. One of the many baffling wonders of the film is his running voiceover that almost always makes it seem clear what’s going through his head — but that doesn’t help viewers decode him, or get any closer to him as a person. Even in high-stress situations, his mental processes are a nervy, hilarious babble of musings ranging from being about polar-bear hunting techniques to poisonous butterflies. He seems a million miles away from his own life, which helps explain how he makes such a profound yet fascinating mess of it. It’s his enigmaticness that might make this film impenetrable for some, or make this puzzle of a collective tragedy quite compelling. For me, it’s the latter.
4. The Limey (1999)
Going into The Limey, Soderbergh had been experimenting with an editing style that slipped through time and space to juxtapose emotional beats from different scenes, and when he was able to master it with some key moments in Out of Sight, it gave him the confidence to try and tell an entire story this way. Soderbergh and screenwriter Lem Dobbs built a perfect vehicle for the formal experimentation in telling the simple story of an ex-convict (Terrence Stamp), who comes to L.A. to search for the real story behind his daughter’s “accidental” death and the involvement of her record producer sugar daddy (Peter Fonda). As Soderbergh shoots entire dialogue scenes in multiple locations and repurposing footage from Ken Loach’s 1967 film Poor Cow (which stars a younger Stamp), the elliptical editing structure creates the emotional texture of a memory that perfectly reflects the internal state of the protagonist. Most impressively, by building the formal experimentation off the simple one-on-one detective/revenge narrative structure, The Limey works in its impressionism and as a crime story.
3. Solaris (2002)
I’ll never stop loving Soderbergh for following up his solid popcorn trifecta of Erin Brockovich, Traffic, and Ocean’s Eleven with something as dripped in heady, ethereal pontification as his Solaris adaptation (or remake) is. Like Andrei Tarkovsky did with his 1972 adaptation, Soderbergh takes virtually no interest in the genre machinations that very much made up numerous studio sci-fi films of the time, and instead has his film take space and makes it as much psychological as physical, drawing a profound and moving existential love story from one man’s desperate psyche. It’s profoundly lonely, probing with its pace measured, its dialogue elliptical. The meditative effect of it all like being dipped into a sensory-deprivation tank, with spectacularly vivid imagery. Taking a planet that’s actually less a planet and more a state of mind, Solaris comments rather brilliantly on the elusive, slippery nature of memory, which can reprocess and distort the truth in order to make life more bearable. And though it’s glazed in chilly surfaces — the Kubrickian use of space in Soderbergh’s tactile cinematography, Cliff Martinez’s gorgeously ambient score — the film still draws some of Soderbergh’s heftiest emotional depth within his entire oeuvre. Like the most enduring science fiction, Solaris has the pull of various Big Ideas, but they also, notably, never sever the heart from the mind.
2. Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989)
It’s no insult to say that, in the years since Sex, Lies and Videotape first hit theaters, Soderbergh has rarely topped it — even as his style has evolved and his technique only grown more dazzling and inventive. In truth, his debut is the model of the Great First Feature, a groundbreaking planting of the flag that instantly cements a filmmaker’s name. The story behind the film’s creation is now almost legendary: A then-twentysomething unknown, Soderbergh wrote the script in eight days, inspired by the ugly end of a relationship. He would later say that he cut himself into “quarters,” meaning that the film’s four principal characters contained different parts of him. As such, Sex, Lies and Videotape is an exquisite study of a married couple (Peter Gallagher and Andie MacDowell) whose sex life is crumbling. He’s having an affair with his wife’s sister (Laura San Giacomo) when his old college chum (James Spader) comes to town, advocating a belief that talking about sex is actually more satisfying than the physical act. Famously winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes over Spike Lee’s also fantastic Do the Right Thing, Soderbergh’s film now plays as a warning for a narcissistic society that soon would become more fascinated in documenting itself than in experiencing real life. In retrospect, Sex, Lies and Videotape is one of the most straightforward things he’s ever done — and still one of the most insightful about people’s need to deceive and be deceived.
1. Out of Sight (1998)
The con as both an art form and a personality type is a continual interest of Steven Soderbergh, as his films make a point of showing the similarities between a criminal’s craft and their own personality — with misdirection practicality becoming the importance of timing and knowing your tools. This all might be because while Soderbergh may be the American director most fascinated with showmanship and its tricks and façades, his films aren’t really extravagant; their showmanship is like a swindler’s or a magician’s, the confidence that a minimum amount of angles can make a scene. So when his sensibilities becomes conjoined with that of Elmore Leonard’s you’re likely in for a treat. And, as seen with Out of Sight, indeed you are. The surface of Out of Sight is cool and deceptively breezy, while the film’s soul is about regret and a yearning for something more out of life. Continuing a Leonard mainstay of a character-over-plot emphasis, Out Of Sight actually has a lot in common with Soderbergh’s Ocean’s movies, in that the values of its filmmaking are identical to those of its plot. The big one is chemistry, seen obviously in its classic central screwball pairing. Jennifer Lopez and George Clooney make an incredible screen couple, the tough cop and the softhearted crook with perfectly opposite motivations — she lives to catch, he to escape — that are also the two drivers of a chase plot. The visual storytelling is some of Soderbergh’s most dexterous, aided by the late great editor Anne V. Coates, who helps keeps the film’s jazzy rhythms a-flowing. And even with that aforementioned chase plot, conflict is less central to Out Of Sight than in something like the Ocean’s trilogy, yet they all similarly come down to treachery versus trickery, with antagonists who represent the antithesis of the movie’s artistry: They are overarmed, greedy, unruly, and don’t know how to take their time. What makes its unlikely love story work is that, like Out Of Sight itself, it’s ultimately about pleasure.