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The Criticwire Survey: Soderbergh's Best Movie

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by Matt Singer
February 4, 2013 10:04 AM
4 Comments
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"Out of Sight"
"Out of Sight"

Chris KlimekWashington Post:

"I'll confess I haven't seen most of Soderbergh's no-budget, nonprofessional actor experiments, or 'Schizopolis,' which I will certainly seek out when his new cut of it surfaces. Allowing for all that, 'The Limey' narrowly edges out 'Out of Sight' as my favorite Soderbergh joint. Tell me about Jenny!"

Glenn KennyMSN Movies/Some Came Running:

"You gotta be kidding me."

Adam KempenaarFilmspotting:

"'Out of Sight.' Because of Don Cheadle ('you don't got to give me no tone of voice'), Steve Zahn and his sunglasses, the Clooney-Rhames chemistry, and oh, that love scene."

John Keefer51Deep.com:

"Any movie that gives you the line 'ice cream for freaks' must be recognized so I'll say 'Out of Sight.'"

Sean HutchinsonLatino Review:

"The variety of Steven Soderbergh's filmography as a whole is perhaps more interesting than the films themselves. His style is that he has no style, and his chameleon-like shifts from a one-for-them, one-for-me mentality made for interesting chatter if not for interesting movies. That said, his best film is most likely 'Traffic,' a far-reaching movie that toes the line between putting a personal directorial stamp on an otherwise star studded -- albeit gritty -- ensemble that tried to say a lot but in the end only ended up looking really pretty. It's perhaps his most aesthetically defined movie to date, and one that doesn't get lost in its own experiments. It has a few good performances, including Michael Douglas as the weary and newly appointed U.S. drug czar and his addict daughter played by Erika Christensen, but Benicio del Toro's understated turn as a Mexican police officer torn between right and wrong is a real gem."

Drew HuntChicago Reader/The Talking Pictures:

"Jesus, what a question. Is there even answer? His filmography is perhaps the richest of any contemporary filmmaker, filled with disparate yet no less cohesive flavors, tones, and styles. I suppose my immediate answer is 'The Limey,' but as soon as I send this email I know I'll change my mind to one of these: 'Contagion,' 'The Girlfriend Experience,' 'King of the Hill,' 'And Everything is Going Fine,' 'Schizopolis,' 'Haywire,' 'Che,' or 'Kafka.'"

Peter HowellToronto Star:

"It's tough to choose a favorite from Soderbergh's diverse and potent output. But I think 'The Limey' tops the lot. It hits the sweet spot between his art house and mainstream sensibilities, and features Peter Fonda and Terence Stamp in career-peak performances. Extra kudos for clever use of Stamp flashbacks from 'Poor Cow.'"

Jordan HoffmanFilm.com/ScreenCrush:

"I find merit even in Soderbergh's lesser films, but the artistic stride he was in from 1996 ('Schizopolis') through 2004 (his segment in the 'Eros' anthology) is simply unprecedented. The apex, for me, was his all-too-forgotten HBO series from autumn 2003, 'K Street.' These ten 30 minute episodes (all shot by Peter Andrews and cut by Mary Ann Bernard) represented Soderbergh as a total filmmaker, and one who could pull miracles out of his hat in record time. The show's gimmick was to build a story that incorporated that week's news (and what a time for news!) into the overarching story, so the blending of scripted drama and 'guest opp' (there were some members of Congress who used 'K Street' as a soap box) is jaw-dropping. On an aesthetic level, 'K Street' is where Soderbergh cut his teeth on video, a format I had hitherto poo-pooed, but I now recognize it as a viable method of visual storytelling, indeed the correct method for Soderbergh's sensibility. 'K Street' is not on Blu-ray, but you can buy a used DVD copy off Amazon for as low as $1.56 (I just checked). The news being what it is, the unqualified references to Jayson Blair, the question of who leaked Valarie Plame's name or jokes about rabble-rousing comments from Philadelphia's then-mayor John Street will have none of the resonance, but, no doubt, the distance will only make our eternally tumultuous political class seem all the more ludicrous."

Eric HavensDownright Creepy:

"To me, Steven Soderbergh's best film isn't the one with the most pedigree or directorial wizardry. His best film is the one that had me on the edge of my seat and tensely invested in the outcome of the story, 'Contagion.' Though my brain can probably admit that 'Contagion' is probably not the film most would hold up as quintessential Soderbergh, my gut is pretty adamant that it is the film that could be held up as the most effective. Or maybe I'm just nervous about other people's sneezes."

Scott FoundasThe Village Voice:

"It's tempting to say 'Sex, Lies, and Videotape,' because it came as such a jolt. Soderbergh was so young and yet seemingly so fully formed. It's still one of his best, of course, but if I had to pick just one to take to the desert island, it would be 'Out of Sight,' which is both deliriously pleasurable and seemed to announce the second, great, unexpected phase of Soderbergh's career, as the last of the great Hollywood craftsmen."

Alonso DuraldeTheWrap/What The Flick?!:

"'Out of Sight,' which is also George Clooney's best film, Jennifer Lopez's best film, the best screen treatment of an Elmore Leonard story, and one of the great American movies of the 1990s."

Edward DouglasComing Soon:

"I'd probably have to go with 'Traffic' just because that was such a powerful drama and really ahead of its time, which is probably why he won an Oscar for it. But I'm just as big a fan of 'Contagion' and 'The Girlfriend Experience,' which fall on the opposite range of budgets in which Soderbergh tends to work."

Billy DonnellyAin't It Cool News:

"Hands down, it has to be 'Out of Sight,' and not just because no other film has been able to get Jennifer Lopez anywhere near as great, which is a feat in and of itself. 'Out of Sight' is cool, stylish and sexy (not an easy mix to pull off), with plenty of substance to go with it between its smart story and rich characters. Just go down the cast, and you'll find actor after actor who have their strengths showcased by Soderbergh, whether it's the quiet and cool calm of Clooney or the attitude of Don Cheadle or the sleaziness of Albert Brooks; each character lands the perfect match to bring them to life. 'Out of Sight' certainly is the most re-watchable of Soderbergh's films, as you won't find me changing the channel anytime I come across it, and with the added chemistry of Clooney and Lopez bringing that flirtatious aspect of 'Out of Sight' together in full force, this is the one film that Soderbergh seems to nail from beginning to end. There are no weak spots here."

John DeCarliFilmCapsule:

"My favorite Soderbergh film is still 'Traffic.' I hope his impending retirement isn't permanent, because, year after year, you could always count on Soderbergh to deliver either thought-provoking artistically daring films or extremely entertaining popcorn films, or both. One of the things I most appreciate about Soderbergh is his range, and while I like almost all to some degree, 'Traffic' is for me his most successful. It combines his aesthetic and narrative inventiveness with an extremely deft touch at juggling a complex story, multiple interwoven themes, and an ensemble cast. You need only look at other 'hyperlink' films like 'Crash' and 'Babel' to realize how difficult it is to pull off a project like this without resorting to preaching and platitudes. Soderbergh will be missed."

Tony DayoubCinema Viewfinder/Press Play:

"'Out of Sight' and 'The Limey' made for a phenomenal one-two punch when originally released in the late '90s. Both utilize a cut-up editing style -- rarely used effectively by anyone other than Nicolas Roeg -- to enhance what are otherwise rather timeworn genre tales. Each film also manages to elevate their respective leads to iconic movie star status. In the case of 'Out of Sight''s Jennifer Lopez, some may say undeservedly. But most would agree that as far as 'The Limey''s Terence Stamp is concerned, it was a long time coming."

Michael DaltonMovie Parliament:

"'Ocean's Eleven.' Not only Soderbergh's best film but one of the best -- if not the best -- remakes of all time."

Jake ColeNot Just Movies:

"Gotta be 'The Limey.' Soderbergh has gotten great performances out of his actors over the years, but none tops Terence Stamp's alternately terrifying and rending work as the hardened con searching for answers about his dead daughter. The constant subversion of expectations fuels both reactions: when Soderbergh keeps his camera outside the warehouse Stamp shoots up, he makes the old man's reemergence and his strained yell, 'You tell him I'm fucking coming!' all the more forceful. Meanwhile, flashbacks culled from script fragments and Stamp's own creative past lay the foundation for the film's hardest blow, the realization that vengeance serves only to redirect one's own sense of culpability for a tragedy."

Marc CiafardiniGoSeeTalk.com:

"'Ocean's Eleven,' to me, easily stands out as Soderbergh's best film mainly for the style, elegance, swagger, and sophistication running rampant in every frame. It's lighter fare than most of his other work but that's what helps keep it from getting bogged down with the complexity of the plot. Of course a lot of that can be chalked up to the amazing cast (which tend to go hand in hand with a Soderbergh film). But while films like 'The Limey,' 'Traffic,' 'Out of Sight,' 'Contagion' and recently 'Haywire' are all well-crafted and solid films he does get a little too heavy and convoluted. Not to say he's full of himself or pretentious but his films tend to be a little more serious than they need be. Maybe that's just me but for the balanced, light and slightly carefree film fan in me, it's gotta be 'Ocean's Eleven.' Let's just pretend 'Ocean's Twelve' doesn't exist, okay?"

Sean ChavelFlick Minute:

"'King of the Hill' is the best film Steven Soderbergh has ever made, and oddly the best film never to get a DVD release (it's Soderbergh's fault due to his non-participation in allowing it to happen -- he doesn't like 'looking back' at any of his old movies). More than John Steinbeck ever achieved (yes, that would mean 'The Grapes of Wrath'), 'King' is a powerful story of surviving the Great Depression. Jesse Bradford, at 14, plays the kid who has to make ends meet on loose change. Few films touch me on repeat viewings as much as this one. Soderbergh's film can be found on Instant Netflix and it's often on HBO cable."

Sean M. BurnsPhiladelphia Weekly/The Improper Bostonian:

"I'm probably not alone in choosing 'Out of Sight,' because it's the perfect synthesis of Soderbergh's jazzy, experimental techniques with his knack for canny, populist storytelling. Also, if you watch this movie on a date there's no way you're not getting laid afterwards."

Danny BowesTor.com/Movies By Bowes:

"I'm going with a four-way tie between 'Out of Sight,' 'Schizopolis,' 'The Limey,' and 'Ocean's Twelve.' Trying to pick just one best Soderbergh film is like trying to pick one best orgasm. And, as with orgasms, one should not neglect the impulse to get a little weird and go for more than one when picking a best Soderbergh. I like Steven Soderbergh, is what I'm saying."

William BibbianiCrave Online:

"'The Limey.' Always."

Nicholas BellIONCINEMA:

"Soderbergh's best has to be his 1991 film 'Kafka,' in which the author's work becomes his life. Jeremy Irons stars as the victim of his own Kafkaesque insanity and the film features an awesome supporting cast features Joel Grey, Ian Holm, Alec Guinness, Armin Mueller-Stahl and a still promising post-Roeg Theresa Russell."

Adam BattyHope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second:

"I hold 'Schizopolis' up as one of the great pieces of hyper-personal cinema. Such is the combination of a liberatingly low budget and the casting of Betsy Brantley, Soderbergh's own ex-wife, in the role of the female lead. It reminds you of just how brave a filmmaker Soderbergh can be, too. It's difficult to name another piece of work ('The Master' aside) that explores the subject of alternative lifestyle-type religions quite as well as 'Schizopolis,' in spite of (or perhaps because of?) its zany and unconventional approach." 

Edwin ArnaudinAshvegas:

"'Ocean's Eleven' is Soderbergh at his most confident and liberated. Though the heist plot and big-name cast make it easy to dismiss as fluff, the work is an art film through and through. Soderbergh's technical wizardry elevates an already stellar script and ensemble dynamic, and that he was able to put his signature on such an overtly Hollywood project is a con just as impressive as the one executed by Danny Ocean & Co. Far more than a star-studded victory lap after his Best Director win for 'Traffic' (though certainly that, as well), it's his most focused and entertaining work, and therefore his best."

The Best Movie Currently In Theaters on February 4th, 2013:
The Most Popular Response: "Zero Dark Thirty
Other Movies Receiving Multiple Votes: "Amour,"Django Unchained,"  "Argo," "Tabu."

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More: Steven Soderbergh, Criticwire Survey

4 Comments

  • Darrin | February 9, 2013 12:59 AMReply

    I'm amazed that anyone at all singled out Ocean's Twelve - that one is easily the worst of the Ocean's trilogy. This was the one that everyone involved with apologized for when O-Thirteen came out (though it's become standard to apologize for the previous sequel when you're promoting the next installment). It was a huge mess that ended up making no sense once the final twist was revealed.

  • Angelo | February 7, 2013 12:22 AMReply

    My personal favorite is "King of the Hill". Not the cartoon. The film. Made in the early '90's. Anyone who calls Soderbergh "cold" or "icy" should see this film. I saw this when it first came out in theaters, and I saw it twice more with friends. It ripped my heart out and handed it back to me still beating. It's a chamber drama compared to the operatic "Ocean's 11". It's about being good in a world gone bad (at least to me), and the ethical situations in the film are incredibly complex, sometimes devastating, but ultimately optimistic. The fact that Soderbergh would make this film doesn't surprise me. What surprises me is how every filmmaker and critic interviewed for this poll overlooked it. Oh yeah, and it's got a prophetic scene that involves actor Spalding Gray that adds a slightly elegaic undertone to the whole thing. See it if you haven't already. It's on Netflix.

  • Chris L. | February 6, 2013 4:30 AMReply

    "King of the Hill" all the way for me. It's all the more poignant because so few remember it (or they assume you mean the animated TV series) and because Soderbergh evidently lost interest in straight-ahead storytelling of this kind, prefiguring his "retirement." But the movie sacrifices none of his analytical intelligence while it's breaking your heart. It ought to be a recognized classic.

  • Michael | February 4, 2013 12:47 PMReply

    Neat reminder of what a tremendous career he's had. "Out of Sight" being the overall consensus feels right (as does the complete omission of his worst film, "Erin Brockovich"), though I wish I'd seen more love for "Ocean's 11"

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