Steven Soderbergh is an Oscar-winning filmmaker who embodies the best of the art form: he can make mass entertainment movies for everyone, and he can look at the world in a unique, independent way that pushes the art form and challenges the more discerning movie goer.
His latest film, the wildly entertaining “Haywire”, opens Friday. To celebrate, we are going to look at his ten best cinematic moments.
I don’t have “Contagion”, “Solaris” or the Ocean’s sequels on the list – which doesn’t mean they don’t have great moments and are great movies…the fact is, Soderbergh has a career that is full of great movies…but we have to start somewhere, so here we go!
10 – Haywire. 2012. A black ops super soldier seeks payback after she is betrayed and set up during a mission. Gina Carano stars as Soderbergh’s kick ass operative…this movie is non-stop action and energy – give the Director credit for going straight to this after the serious drama of “Contagion.”
Gina Carano is a terrific choice to play the lead. Carano is an actress, model, television personality – and most importantly, is a retired mixed martial arts fighter. Carano appeared as the Gladiator “Crush” on American Gladiators. She has been referred to as the “Face of Women’s MMA.”
This is the female version of “The Bourne Identity”, and the latest example of a Director who wants to stretch out – and so here you have it, Soderbergh’s kick ass action thriller. Go see it this weekend!
9 – Sex, Lies & Videotape. 1989. Now back to the beginning. Soderbergh burst onto the scene with his first movie, a cultural watershed in independent film making. A sexually repressed woman’s husband is having an affair with her sister. The arrival of a visitor with a rather unusual fetish changes everything.
James Spader, Andie MacDowell and Laura San Giocomo star along with Peter Gallagher in the movie that put independent films back into the mainstream.
Andie MacDowell is Ann, the wife who is betrayed. James Spader is Graham, a new face with a unique perspective…
Ann: Nothing’s what I thought it was. John’s a bastard. Let’s make a videotape.
Graham: No, I… ahem… I don’t think that’s a good idea.
Ann: Why not?
Graham: Because I don’t think it’s a choice that you’d make in a normal frame of mind.
Ann: And what would you know about a normal frame of mind?
Beautifully written, acted and directed, this is the “Godfather of Independent Film.”
8 – Traffic. 2000. Steven Soderbergh directed this hard-hitting look at America’s problem with drugs…and he made it the same year as “Erin Brockovich” – and was nominated as Best Director for both. A towering achievement.
“Traffic” is a multi-layered look at America’s war on drugs – told through four separate but ultimately inter-connected stories. A conservative politician who’s just been appointed as the US drug czar learns that his daughter is a drug addict. A trophy wife struggles to save her husband’s drug business, while two DEA agents protect a witness with inside knowledge of the spouse’s business. In Mexico, a corrupt, yet dedicated cop struggles with his conscience when he learns that his new boss may not be the anti-drug official he made himself out to be.
Michael Douglas, Benecio Del Toro and Catherine Zeta-Jones lead a multi-national cast that delves deep into the sordid world of drug-running – and its relationship with governments…
General Ralph Landry: You know, when they forced Khruschev out, he sat down and wrote two letters to his successor. He said – “When you get yourself into a situation you can’t get out of, open the first letter, and you’ll be safe. When you get yourself into another situation you can’t get out of, open the second letter”. Well, soon enough, this guy found himself into a tight place, so he opened the first letter. Which said – “Blame everything on me”. So he blames the old man, it worked like a charm. He got himself into a second situation he couldn’t get out of, he opened the second letter. It said – “Sit down, and write two letters”.
Robert Wakefield: [laughs] Yep.
7 – Going Underground: The Girlfriend Experience / Bubble / Full Frontal – 2009 / 2005 / 2002
This trio of low-budget independent, underground films showed that Soderbergh wanted to do more than make big hits – he wants to explore the art of film making.
Adult film star Sasha Grey gives a compelling and intense performance as a high-end Manhattan call girl meeting the challenges of her boyfriend, her clients, and her work. Here’s how she explains her job:
Chelsea: Sometimes clients think they want the real you, but at the end of the day, they say they don’t. They want what… they want what you want to be. They want you to be something else. They don’t want you to be yourself.
Interviewer: Suppose I’m that rare client that really wants to…
Chelsea: If they wanted you to be yourself, they wouldn’t be paying you.
A terrific, intimate look at life.
Bubble, 2005. Set against the backdrop of a decaying Midwestern town, a murder becomes the focal point of three people who work in a doll factory. This ultra low-budget film starred real people, telling a real story. So much so that much of the film’s dialogue is improvised. The cast’s own homes were used as sets.
This is an experiment in story telling, and quite compelling.
Full Frontal: A day in the life of a group of men and women in Hollywood, in the hours leading up to a friend’s birthday party. Julia Roberts, David Duchovny. Blair Underwood and Catherine Keener all drove themselves to the set ready to film…a low-budget experiment to deconstruct the art of movie making. Some of the dialogue includes this:
Arty: [on the set of Arty’s play, “The Sound and the Fuhrer”] Great. Now I have three hours to find a new Ava Braun.
Hitler: You know what? Fuck her. And here’s why.
Hitler: Number One – Anyone who’s offended by drinking blood, obviously doesn’t drink blood.
Hitler: Number Two – Anyone who drinks as much blood as I do knows it has no effect.
Hitler: Number Three – There is absolutely no scientific connection between drinking a shot of blood a day and being an extraordinary actor.
Hitler: And Number Four – it is impossible to prove Number Three.
6 – Ocean’s Eleven – and then came the blockbuster. In 2001, Soderbergh remade the iconic Frank Sinatra / Dean Martin Vegas heist movie, putting George Clooney and Brad Pitt in those roles. Nobody thought the original was particularly good – legend has it that Sinatra refused to do a scene more than once, and the “Rat Pack” spent all of their time enjoying Las Vegas more than they did making the movie. Danny Ocean and his eleven accomplices plan to rob three Las Vegas casinos simultaneously.
Julia Robert, Bernie Mac and Matt Damon are just a few of the celebrities who show up in the film, a funny, intense and intricate heist movie.
Here is Clooney talking to Elliott Gould, the guy putting up the money to fund the robbery:
Reuben: You guys are pros. The best. I’m sure you can make it out of the casino. Of course, lest we forget, once you’re out the front door, you’re still in the middle of the fucking desert!
And after Clooney pulls off the heist, he talks to Terry Benedict, the mogul who has been ripped off, played by Andy Garcia…
Terry: All right, you proved your point. You broke into my vault. Congratulations, you’re a dead man.
These movies reiterate what a great film maker Soderbergh is…coming soon, the next five terrific Soderbergh classics!