Monday Morning Quarterback Part II

By BOP Staff

February 13, 2013


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Kim Hollis: Taking Steven Soderbergh at his word that he's truly going to retire, we're going to take this opportunity to look at his career as a whole. What are your favorite and least favorite films of his? What is your perception of him as a director overall?

Brett Ballard-Beach: In no real order:

Favorites: Out of Sight, The Limey, Ocean's Twelve, Che, King of the Hill, Schizopolis

Least: Full Frontal, The Good German, Ocean's Thirteen

Haven't seen several of his most recent (And Everything is Going Fine, Contagion, Magic Mike, Side Effects)

Favorite scene/image: The freeze-frame on George Clooney ripping off his tie in frustration at the outset of Out of Sight

He's a stylist who managed to work in the mainstream without ever entirely becoming mainstream, scoring a surprise "smash" and conversation piece with his first film, making mostly small offbeat films throughout his first decade and then entering a commercial stretch that produced three consecutive $100 million hits and an Oscar win in a two-year period. This allowed him another decade to keep balancing the would-be box office hits (Contagion) with the more offbeat star-driven pieces (The Informant!) with the uncategorizable (Bubble, The Girlfriend Experience). Without wanting to engage in hyperbole, I think his is pretty much the model for any director who accepts the challenges of working on both big-budget studio pictures and micro-budget improvisatory character sketches. Having summed all that up, I don't know that I have formed a true opinion of him. I think I perhaps admire a lot of his work more than "love" it, but then most of it wasn't work that was made to be "loved." Like a completely different director (Robert Altman), I respect that he was willing to tackle pretty much every genre and that the more cold, clinical side of his directorial persona could be balanced with unexpected warmth and tenderness.

I also don't believe that he's retiring.


Edwin Davies: I've still got to catch up with some of the stuff he did in the mid-00s, but of the stuff of his I have seen I'd probably rank my Top 5 as follows:

The Limey, King of the Hill, And Everything Is Going Fine, The Informant!, Traffic

There's not really many of the others that I out and out dislike, but Kafka would easily be my least favorite.

Like Brett, I think I admire Soderbergh more than I actually like him, and the same is true for most of his films. A lot of them are too icy and clinical for me to really engage with them (it's perhaps unsurprising that my favorites are the ones that are, in one way or another, more emotionally fraught than a lot of his work) but he has never been less than interesting. He managed a fine balance between his commercial sensibilities and the smaller, weirder passion projects that the commercial stuff helped get made, but even the commercial stuff displayed a terrific level of craft and originality, even when he was remaking older works. He could create something as sleek and efficiently entertaining as Ocean's Eleven one moment, then do a complete about face and make something like Solaris which had no chance of connecting with a wide audience, but which he clearly cared a great deal about. He was an real artist who knew how to navigate the murky waters of working in Hollywood, though it's easy to see why that might have worn him down over the years.

Also, I think this is going to be a retirement in much the same way that Jay-Z "retired" from music after The Black Album. When you're that good at something for so long, it's hard to stay away. A few years away might revitalize him, though, given the furious pace he has kept up in recent years: Side Effects is the fourth Soderbergh film to come out in the last 18 months, after all. People that prolific are usually uploading stuff onto YouTube, not releasing it in over 2,000 theaters.

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