22. ‘Ocean’s Twelve’ (2004)
How evident is it that the Amsterdam hashish consumed on location had an effect on the final product? Very. While the first movie certainly skirted credibility, this disjointed sequel relies far too much on magical technology and celebrity inside jokes, like Julia Roberts’ Tess pretending to be a Julia Roberts lookalike. It does, to its credit, contain the most blissfully ludicrous scene in the trilogy, wherein Vincent Cassel breakdances through a laserfield to techno music. Awesome.
21. ‘Solaris’ (2002)
As if Andrei Tarkovsky’s original tone poem wasn’t boring enough, Soderbergh takes to the sci-fi genre with the disdain of someone fingerpainting over a renaissance painting. This remake finds Clooney’s astronaut coming face-to-face with his dead wife aboard an eerie orbiting space station. What should have been a “2001”-like meditation on memory turns into a painful slog of nonsense. In no uncertain terms this is the filmmaker’s worst effort to-date.
20. ‘The Good German’ (2006)
In trying to ape both the style and filming techniques of “Casablanca” and other ’40s era black & white classics, Soderbergh and Clooney imitate to the point of irrelevance. George Clooney plays a war correspondent stationed in Berlin who gets wrapped up in a mystery involving a beautiful Holocaust survivor (Cate Blanchett) and American transportation of war criminals. The subject matter is charged, but this is all style and no substance, with just enough material to create an intriguing fake trailer.
19. ‘Full Frontal’ (2002)
The cheap little handheld prosumer camera movie that broke Soderbergh’s golden streak at the box office, this supposed “companion piece” to “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” has little to do with that earlier masterpiece other than it’s shot on videotape. It tries to give you an inside baseball look inside the making of a movie, but the behind-the-scenes shenanigans are all improvised to death by capable actors like Julia Roberts and Catherine Keener.
18. ‘The Underneath’ (1995)
This neo-noir thriller starring Peter Gallagher was made during the post-“Sex, Lies” fallow period when Soderbergh was still trying to find his footing after such early success. The plot involving a man trying to get back together with his ex-wife while also pulling off an armored car heist has some superficial similarities to “Out of Sight,” but that one is superior in almost every way.
17. ‘Ocean’s Thirteen’ (2007)
An amiable enough trilogy capper that, while not as grossly indulgent as the second movie, feels in many ways like a retread, the cast spinning their wheels and running on the fumes of their charm. Bernie Mac is utterly wasted again, but Al Pacino’s hotel magnate makes a good villain, even if the caper to take him down seems to cost more than they’re stealing.
16. ‘Che’ (2008)
Soderbergh’s two-part epic on the Argentine revolutionary, shot mostly in Spanish, was nothing if not ambitious. Although it performed admirably for such a niche project, it never quite hit the mark of greatness its ambition suggested, and took a toll on Soderbergh himself. “You know, for a year after we finished shooting I would still wake up in the morning thinking, <em>Thank God I’m not shooting that film</em>,” he said.
15. ‘The Girlfriend Experience’ (2009)
Another one of Soderbergh’s cinematic stunts, cast mostly with unknowns except for film critic Glenn Kenny and, in the lead role… pornstar Sasha Grey! So how does this multi-talented female thespian fare under the tutelage of an Oscar-caliber director? She’s no Julia Roberts, that’s for sure, but she holds her own. Her high-class call girl’s conflicted nature as both a sharp businesswoman and a superstitious astrology follower leads to some bad decisions, made believable by Grey’s world weary naïveté.
14. ‘Bubble’ (2005)
Cast entirely with non-actors in West Virginia, including a young girl discovered at a KFC drive-thru, this foray back into the unscripted, microbudget world of “Schizopolis” is applied to a very bleak small town drama. It’s a simple story of loneliness leading to friendship leading to jealousy leading to murder, but the performances have an earnest rawness typically absent from big Hollywood fare.
13. ‘Magic Mike’ (2012)
What looked like a $ 7-million art movie turned into the MUST-SEE male stripper flick of last year, soon to spawn sequels and Broadways shows. This is a perfect example of how Soderbergh’s obscure sensibilities and ability to attract top-drawer talent (Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey) can sometimes lead to massive success. If anything, the “Saturday Night Fever”-like phenomenon surrounding this film must have him at least questioning his decision to retire.
12. ‘Schizopolis’ (1996)
This microbudget comedy experiment was done at the low-ebb of Soderbergh’s career, but he insists it was a freeing, palette-cleansing experience that energized his successful commercial run in the years following. Sodie himself plays a speechwriter for a Scientology-like cult whose strained relationship with his wife (played by his actual ex-wife Betsy Brantley) leads to some bizarre behavior, including taking over the doppleganger body of the man she’s having an affair with… what???
11. ‘Haywire’ (2011)
This third collaboration with screenwriter Lem Dobbs (“Kafka,” “The Limey”) resulted in a similarly fractured narrative, only this time applied to the action spy thriller genre. By using real-life MMA fighter Gina Carano, Soderbergh subverts the status quo for “Bourne”-style movies by giving all the fight scenes an authenticity and urgency typically missing from big stars’ shakycam shenanigans.
10. ‘King of the Hill’ (1993)
Based on the memoirs of Hemingway biographer A.E. Hotchner, this is a charming period piece about a young boy named Aaron (Jesse Bradford) coming of age as he lives on his own in a hotel, with both parents dispatched elsewhere. Features some early film appearances from Katherine Heigl, Adrien Brody, and Lauryn Hill (!).
9. ‘Contagion’ (2011)
This sprawling, highly realistic examination of a viral epidemic and the effect it would have on a global scale. Soderbergh’s focus drifts from the inner workings of the CDC to a family man (Matt Damon) who is devasted by the loss of his wife (Gwyneth Paltrow), all while keeping the audience engaged at a level heretofore unseen in similar virusploitation pictures like “Outbreak.”
8. ‘Erin Brockovich’ (2000)
The first major homerun of Soderbergh’s career cast Julia Roberts as a feisty (and sexy) legal file clerk who drums up a class-action suit against a gas company that has poisoned residents of a small town. The first of four collaborations with Roberts, and the one that earned her a little gold guy at the Oscars, this film was remarkable as a tough subject made commercially palatable by a director whose taste normally veered towards the esoteric.
7. ‘The Informant!’ (2009)
Matt Damon gained considerable weight to star as Archer Daniels Midland executive Mark Whitacre, a mid-level corporate knucklehead whose aid to the FBI as a whistleblower against his company’s price-fixing infractions become secondary to his own wrongdoing. The gradual mental collapse of the character is charted through a voiceover that escalates in craziness, and Soderbergh uses these unconventional tactics to sharply satiric effect.
6. ‘Kafka’ (1991)
A surreal and solipsistic journey into the mind of one of the 20th century’s most enigmatic literary figures casts Franz Kafka (Jeremy Irons) not so much in a biopic situation but as a character stuck in a very Kafka-esque conspiracy plot. Although a box office disaster that sent Soderbergh into a decade-long dry-streak, the film itself is a black and white wonder to behold, taking stylistic cues from Orson Welles, Carol Reed and Terry Gilliam, and just a hint of color towards the surreal finale. The director plans to go back and reconstruct his true vision in a new home video release soon, as the film is desperately overdue for re-evaluation.
5. ‘Out of Sight’ (1998)
George Clooney’s bankrobber and Jennifer Lopez’s U.S. Marshal tango together as he breaks out of a Florida prison in order to rob a wealthy mark (Albert Brooks). Not only was this the beginning of the beautiful friendship between Sodie and George Clooney, it also marked the first of many collaborations between he and Don Cheadle. Cheadle’s prisoner Maurice “Snoopy” Miller gets the film’s best line too: “He could accidentally hurt himself falling down on something real hard, you know? Like a shiv, or my d*ck.”
4. ‘Traffic’ (2000)
The director took home the Oscar for Best Director (while also nominated for “Erin Brockovich”), thus assuring him enough power to really go wild in the years after. This take on America’s war on drugs cross-cuts three interlocking stories of corruption on the mean streets of Mexico with Benicio del Toro’s honorable cop, a pregnant Catherine Zeta Jones’ plot to keep her husband out of jail, and Michael Douglas’ drug czar has to bring his daughter back from the brink of cocaine addiction.
3. ‘The Limey’ (1999)
Not Sodie’s first foray into crime movies by any means, but one of his first attempts at playing with conventional narrative. He rather famously sliced and diced the sequence of events in Lem Dobbs’ script much to the screenwriter’s disapproval, and then included footage of star Terrence Stamp from Ken Loach’s 1967 film “Poor Cow” to flesh out the backstory of his cockney criminal out to avenge his daughter’s death.
2. ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ (2001)
Perhaps Soderbergh’s most thoroughly winning commercial endeavor, his smoooooth remake on the Frank Sinatra rat pack vehicle makes planning a Las Vegas casino heist look like a month at summer camp. An all-star cast including the central trio of George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon all look like they’re having a grand old time, while the wizened Carl Reiner lends some gravitas to his old time grifter.
1. ‘Sex, Lies, and Videotape’ (1989)
This is the film that galvanized a generation of young filmmakers to buck the system and breakthrough to the mainstream on their own terms. The lives of a frigid wife (Andie MacDowell), her cheating husband (Peter Gallagher), and her sister who he’s having an affair with (Laura San Giacomo) are further complicated by the arrival of James Spader, an impotent man who interviews women and gets off on the tapes.