Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Directors, Essays

Soderbergh’s Eleven: The Best of Steven Soderbergh

Remember when Steven Soderbergh announced imminent retirement a few years ago? Well, he’s apparently holding himself to his promise. Warner Bros. is promoting “Side Effects” as Soderbergh’s final film (apparently the upcoming “Behind the Candelabra” doesn’t count because it’s made for HBO).

Hard to believe, given the way he’s been turning out an average of two features a year, a terrific pace in a filmmaking culture where many directors spend years getting projects off the ground. You’d think that would take a toll on quality, but it’s been just the opposite: His track record has been solid as he hopscotches across genres and subjects. But, then, that’s been the very definition of his career all along.

Not just prolific (25 features in as many years as well as a couple of cable series), Soderbergh has been adventurous and ambitious. Since his debut feature, “Sex, Lies and Videotape,” helped turn the American Indie imprint into a cultural force, he’s tackled everything from big-budget capers (“Ocean’s Eleven” and sequels) to experimental exercises (“Schizopolis” and “Bubble”) and plenty in between.

He’s shot most of his own films since “Traffic” (under the name Peter Andrews) and edited almost as many (under the name Mary Ann Bernard), perfecting a particular visual aesthetic and rhythm that underlies his films. And he has earned the loyalty of a group of collaborators who return again and again for his projects, including George Clooney (with whom he formed the production company Section Eight), Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michael Douglas, Don Cheadle, Channing Tatum and many others.

I fully expect Soderbergh to return to filmmaking at some not-so-distant point in the future — how could someone who has shown such a passion for making movies give it all up? — but until then, here’s a survey of Soderbergh’s best to tide you over.

Andie Macdowell in ‘Sex, Lies and Videotape’

“Sex, Lies and Videotape” (1989)

Did the Sundance Film Festival make “Sex, Lies and Videotape,” or did “Sex, Lies and Videotape” save the floundering Sundance? Chicken-and-egg question aside, the confluence of the two was a seismic shift in American independent film culture: the “big bang of the modern indie film movement,” according to industry historian Peter Biskind. Steven Soderbergh’s feature debut was a startling adult film about, yes, sex and lies, but also love, commitment, aggression, retreat and the terror of true intimacy, all tackled with the earnest seriousness of a passionate young filmmaker. This was still Soderbergh in raw form, but his honesty, and his ability to tap the cultural zeitgeist, created the first hit to come out of Sundance competition, and it redefined the indie aesthetic. Steven Soderbergh was the new golden boy of the independent scene …

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